Dunbar’s Number, the Monkeysphere, the Main Factor Behind Vaccine Hesitancy
Many of those who have taken the Covid-19 vaccines cannot understand why there are anti-vaxxers or people hesitant or unwilling to get vaccinated. It is a fact that between 95-99% of those in the hospital who are infected with the coronavirus, are unvaccinated. Between 95-99% of people who die from the coronavirus are unvaccinated. As of 09/17/2021 there are more than 671,000 dead from the coronavirus in the U.S.A. And to say it again, these people are 95-99% unvaccinated people, preventable deaths. These are facts.
Some say these people are selfish or stupid. That’s an easy thing to say but does it really explain why the unvaccinated are choosing to remain so or even go to extremes like taking ivermectin, a deworming drug used in killing parasites? Why would someone take a drug like ivermectin that has no proof of working to treat the coronavirus but not take a specifically formulated vaccine designed to prevent getting ill with the coronavirus?
The primary factor behind this phenomenon is a theory I ran across over a decade ago called Dunbar’s number. Robin Dunbar was studying primates and primate brains. He discovered that primate’s group size was correlated to their brain size. The bigger the monkey’s brain, the larger the group that they interacted with on reasonably positive terms. The legend goes that someone gave him the biggest primate brain he had studied so far and he estimated based on previous primate group sizes and brain sizes that this primate was capable of interacting in groups up to about 150 fellow primates. This brain turned out to be human.
We can kind of see where this is going. When modern humans evolved we use to live in villages. As time went on we started living together in larger and larger groups, villages, towns, and cities. Our brain size increases have not kept up with the number of people we interact with. If someone is not considered part of our group then they are seen as outsiders and our perception of group members and outsiders are radically different.
The Monkeysphere is a theory based off of Dunbar’s number. It postulates that society does not work because 99+% of the population of our states, our country, our world are outsiders, they are not in our monkeysphere. It goes against our biological nature to empathize with those outside of our monkeysphere and see them the same way that we see those in our ingroup. We trust and listen to those in our ingroup. However we view outsiders with suspicion and distrust.
One example of the monkeysphere at work is road rage. Would you curse a friend of family member for their driving? Well, I don’t know you personally, but probably not. Yet the anonymous stranger doing a 35mph in a 45mph zone gets cursed at as you wonder why they are driving so slow.
Joseph Stalin once said, “a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths are a statistic”. This is precisely the effect of ingroup/outgroup dynamics, the monkeysphere. We feel the death of one member of our ingroup far more closely than a million deaths of those in our outgroup. On 9/11 approximately 3000 Americans died due to a terrorist attack by Al Qaeda. Since then approximately 900,000 people around the world have been killed by us in the war on terror. Do we memorialize the deaths of those 900,000 people? No. But every year we memorialize the deaths of Americans on 9/11 with the message ‘never forget’.
So where does the monkeysphere leave us with the unvaccinated? The unvaccinated listen to those within their monkeysphere on the topic of vaccination and covid vaccines. One aspect is that they tune in to rightwing news sources who they trust and are a part of their monkeysphere. The rightwing news media tells them vaccination is a matter of personal choice and freedom. Even in my own family some have not gotten vaccinated yet. Why? Because someone in their monkeysphere, who they trust and turn to, recommended against getting vaccinated for covid. In turn, they trust this person a great deal and value their advice more greatly than other members of their ingroup nevermind their outgroup. Regardless of the fact that we have all been vaccinated as babies against a number of diseases, vaccination against covid has become politicized. Instead of turning to health professionals like our family physician who resides on the outskirts of our ingroup we turn to people closer to us within our monkeysphere.
As you can see, the monkeysphere really screws us up and can result in us making bad decisions all because we trust people we shouldn’t or don’t trust people we should.
So what do we do about it?
I suppose there are two approaches. One would be to place all people in our outgroup and treat all people as outside our monkeysphere. With this mindset one would be like Dale Gribble from King of the Hill who is known for saying, “Never trust nobody.” Would you really like to go through life never trusting a living soul?
The better and more difficult path would be to try and treat everyone, strangers, people you don’t know well, as if they were within your monkeysphere. Love they neighbor as you love thyself, all neighbors. If everyone was within your monkeysphere who would you trust about the covid vaccine? Probably medical professionals like the CDC and FDA. If you have serious difficulties you can turn to you primary care physician who you have probably seen for years and reasonably trust. You likely wouldn’t trust that relative who is into conspiracy theories and thinks the covid vaccine has microchips in it or the one who says its better to let your immune system fight it off. Facts matter and the best educated of those in the world will tell you that 95-99% of those in the hospital who are infected with the coronavirus, are unvaccinated and between 95-99% of people who die from the coronavirus are unvaccinated.
So, don’t let the monkeysphere damn you into trusting the wrong people and making poor decisions. Trust the experts. If you haven’t already, go get vaccinated. You will be helping yourself and your fellow man avoid getting infected.