Peer pressure, living the way your community expects you to live, helps regulate society informally.
Gossip is an important method for keeping each other accountable, and ensuring we all know what's expected.
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There are now 31 comments... what are your thoughts?
  1. Linuxrocks123 says


    I am SO SO glad we do not live in this type of society anymore. True self-actualization depends on breaking free of caring what other people think of what you do. Only then can you truly make your own choices.

    Additionally, I don’t buy all the hormonal stuff from the last page. It smells way too much like a classic, unfalsifiable, evo-psych “just so” story.

    • You don’t have to buy the hormonal stuff—or any of this, for that matter. But I do try not to present anything that theorists posit as “just so.” As much as possible, I rely on peer-reviewed experimental studies when researching the science stuff—like which hormones do what and how—so at least it ought to be falsifiable. It may even be false! True, there is necessarily some speculation in details of early origins, but I am trying to limit it to ideas that seem to fit the observed data, by people smarter than me.

      Your thoughts on self-actualization are right in line with mine. (I probably ought to care MORE what people think of me!) But we are products of our time, and today’s world is almost unimaginably different from that one. What is true for us today, as you rightly suggest, is not necessarily true for others back then.

      Which leads to an interesting question I’ll throw out to everyone:

      If you lived back then, in that context, would you feel the same way as you do now? Would you feel frustrated if you couldn’t break free of caring how others perceive you? How much can we take the values we’ve acquired in our present context, and apply them to our state of nature?

      And more to my (eventual) point: what about the other way around? How much—and how meaningfully—can we take what we’re learning about our state of nature, and apply it to our own reality?

      • For your first question, I know I wouldn’t do too well. I don’t identify myself with groups or tribes, and being forced to do so for my livelihood would be a cage. (And obviously everyone around me would probably figure out quickly that I hated them – not a good recipe for my own survival!)

        I think that the place where we’re most likely to see something vaguely like the state of nature that you present is small towns where everyone knows everyone else. Everyone wants to know what everyone else is up to, people are expected to participate in shared rituals (early modern man may not have had religion, but I’ll bet every band had its own ritual practices), every adult has a certain degree of responsibility for all the town’s children, and there’s intense peer pressure to conform to local norms (with ostracism for those who don’t comply).

    • I personally do not like the idea of “breaking free of caring what others think of what you do”. Yes, self-actualization is important and can be at odds with that, but in the end we’re still social beings, and we desperately need each other. Insofar as we need others and others need us in return, I think it is not only normal but desirable to look for admiration by your peers.

      I think the problems start when the people whose opinion you depend on aren’t your peers anymore.

      • I think the problems start when the people whose opinion you depend on aren’t your peers anymore.

        An insightful comment. I have more than a little to say on this theme as we go.

        • In hierarchical societies, we’re not just concerned with what our equals say about us, but what our superiors say about us. A bad reputation among equals is fairly reciprocal – equals can only really judge you as much as you can judge them in return. Everyone has to care about their reputations. But when someone has political, economic, or other kinds of privilege compared to you, their ability to influence your reputation is much larger than your affect on them. If you get a bad reputation as an employee from one boss, that can have an effect on your ability to find employment anywhere. If you try to give your boss a bad reputation as an employer though, you not only need more people working with you to get those rumors any traction, but even if they do get that reputation, their ownership of their business still gives them economic advantages that you don’t, and other workers may still have to just put up with them as a bad employer if there is a competitive labor market.

          • “and other workers may still have to just put up with them as a bad employer if there is a competitive labor market.” A competitive labor market would imply many employers as well as many employees. So you wouldn’t need to put up with a bad employer in that case. That being said, I understand your point. Some people have a greater ability to influence the reputations of others than those others do. That being said, We now see extremely powerful people with bad reputations, like president Trump. So your reputation with people in general doesn’t really matter, in a material or economic sense. Your reputation with the people who are in a position to do something to you or for you is what matters in an economic sense. The aspect of your question that I find the most interesting is: What about when those people whose opinions you depend on for self-worth, as opposed to strict economic reasons, are people whom you will never actually meet? Like a leader of a political or religious or other movement that you are a part of? Or a celebrity? Or even a long-dead author or scholar whose ideals you adopted for whatever reason. Such that the people whose opinions you tie your worth-o-meter to are to a large extent imaginary people. In other words, what if we find ways to use people whom we will never really meet for self-worth, and divorce our feelings of self-worth from the opinions of those we actually interact with? Is such a thing possible? If so, what happens when it is the case?

      • Aksej,

        We only desperately need each other if we choose to be needy. It is true that, in one sense, we have never needed each other more than we do now, because the vast majority of people, at least in developed countries, never learn the skills necessary independent survival. Growing food, for instance, is a niche job occupied by small numbers of workers using large, industrial machinery — and those workers never learn how to build or fix that machinery. We are a specialized society.

        But that same specialization means that, in a much more meaningful sense, we have never needed each other less than we do now. If you don’t like the people you’re around, or the things they like to do, it has never been easier to find different people, and to never see the people you decided you don’t like ever again. Social interaction might be a human need — but it has never in the history of the world been easier to quickly sift through large numbers of people to find the ones with whom social interaction will be least contentious, most interesting, and most fun for all parties.

        Thus, it is not desirable to look to admiration from your peers. If your peers do not like you for who you really are and what you really think, you can easily find different ones who will accept the real you. If you one day discovered that everyone except five people in the whole world finds you completely disgusting as a person, that would be awesome — you just made five friends.

        So that’s why caring we don’t need to care about what others think of us. The reason self-actualization depends on breaking free of that is because self-actualization depends on DECIDING WHO YOU ARE, AND WHAT YOU WANT. And deciding what you want to do with your life is actually hard. If you let anyone else’s voice get in your head and confuse you, and make you think you don’t like or want what you actually do like and want, because you know others won’t approve of you if you like and want those things, you have no chance of ever actually figuring yourself out. And that would be a tragedy.

    • I think that most of the criticisms that Evo-psych gets in the press are not entirely fair. The article that you cited mentioned evo-psych only really looking at human universals, not human differences. That used to be true. But it isn’t true anymore, there are now lots of research on differences between humans both as individuals and as groups being done from an evolutionary perspective. For example, its isn’t news that children raised in stressful environments do worse in school, are more likely to commit crimes, and more likely to breed young. But now evolutionary behavioral scientists think that that is because stress signals the brain to adapt to a high-risk environment, one were waiting to have kids and focusing in school won’t pay off. For groups, we know that societies with an excess of marriage aged women compared to marriage aged men tend to be more violent and less happy. Whereas societies with an excess of marriage aged men tend to be repressive and socially conservative. Which evo-psych specialists think is because a marriage market favorable to men forces women to adopt short-term mating strategies, which leads to men fighting each other over women more fiercely. The piece also mentioned religion. Well now some scientists think that Religion evolved to maintain social cohesion by providing a collection of costly signals that distinguish insiders from outsiders. Which explains why religion tends to decline in developed countries with strong states, where the social support that religion provides isn’t necessary anymore. This is all from The Myth of Culture by Nigel Barber, by all means check it out.

    • We need to bring shame back into our culture. I’m tired of seeing “self actualized” barefoot women in pajamas holding a dog in line at Starbuck’s.

  2. I don’t know where you’re going with this exposition. I suspect that by the time you get where you think you’re going, it will rest on a chain of speculation at best suggestive, but too long to be at all persuasive.

    • I’m not super worried about my endpoint seeming speculative. If I do it right, it shouldn’t. But “too long to be at all persuasive”—that’s my fear.

      This whole digression of “government from the Paleolithic to Philadelphia” was supposed to have been complete by this page. It’s supposed to be over and done with, and we’re only just now wrapping up the Paleolithic! I’m spending entire pages on topics I’d planned to dispatch with a panel. Partly because I’ve been taking too damn long between pages (for a variety of reasons). I’ve denied myself the steady momentum that keeps writing from rambling. But mostly because I think this stuff is fun, and it feels like I have all the space in the world to play with it, so why not?

      It’s like a goldfish, expanding to fill the available space. Without deadlines or page limits, I’m only restrained by what I think worth covering. Not a good idea when I think it’s all worth covering! My typed notes for this section alone are nearly 130,000 words long. That’s not even counting the stacks of spiral notebooks I’ve filled as I read up and noodle through. A hundred and thirty thousand words? The Return of the King? For a digression?

      I don’t need an editor, I need a bulldozer.

        • Nah. A comic is better for learning actual content. A podcast you passively listen to while doing something else, but reading a comic is an act of active engagement. A podcast is linear, a comic you can go back, go back and forth, skip around, pause over a scene, skip to exactly the panel you want to see again… A podcast is stuck with whatever pacing the audio has, a comic you can read at your own pace, as fast or as slow as you wish. And a picture does paint a thousand words, saving a whole lot of extra description (or so I’ve heard, at least), which a podcast can’t do.

          The CLE series’ I’ve taught were like podcasts, and they were fun to do, but they were nowhere near as fun to make as the comic. That’s important, too.

          • Part of the fun of a comic is how the author illustrates abstract concepts. In the search and siezure arc, if I recall correctly, “stereotypes” (social, not cognitive) was illustrated with a Hispanic gardener. Try using 1000 words to succinctly capture how quickly people make certain judgements.

      • You’re not the first teacher to go off on giant, highly informative tangents that take up entire class periods.

        We’re learning. We’ll still be here – just keep at it!

  3. conan says

    I think I’d much rather have short-to-medium length pages like this. The super-long pages(when they aren’t that way because of Infinite Canvas/artistic reasons are a huge bother to mentally parse. Could you try to make future comics be a new page at new “clauses” like that?

  4. Since you seem to be getting some flac on this one, I just want to let you know – this is my favorite stretch of the comic since the beginning.

  5. Cyrus Nash says

    You wrote, “self-government was all the government humans needed for sixty thousand years,” but what you’ve really been saying is, it was all the government we *had* for that time, and more than zero of the people from that era survived to have posterity. That’s not the same as saying it was a good-enough system.

    Isn’t this practically the same as saying, “bleeding, leeches, and herbs were all the medicine people needed for sixty thousand years,” and suggestively wagging your eyebrows at penicillin and insulin?

    • Not quite. It’s all we needed because it worked very well for the kind of society we had. As we’ll start seeing in (I promise) just a couple of pages, once we started changing the kind of society we lived in, the kind of government we needed also changed. It’s a really cool story, but more importantly it’s a very useful grounding for the different points of view we’ll be encountering throughout the various debates of Constitutional Law, which is why I’m taking the time to work through it in this coda to Chapter 2.

      Imagine that there’s a “phase space” for government, a space with all the different forms of government that could possibly exist, including those that have never yet existed. As with everything else in nature, what you actually get is most certainly going to be the one that uses the least energy. Like a soap bubble⁠ — it could be shaped like a cube, or a tube, or an anorexic rhinoceros, but it invariably settles on a sphere. Because the surface is held together by the energy of surface tension, and a sphere has the smallest surface area (i.e., least energy) enclosing any given volume. Soap bubbles are spherical because, in the phase space of their possible shapes, the sphere get the best result with the least energy. Back to government. In a band-level society, the best result with the least energy results from natural, informal, self-government. Anything more than that is spending unnecessary energy to create institutions and hierarchies that are not only not needed, but may even be counterproductive. But in a larger, more complex society, self-government breaks down. You need more complexity and organization. Which costs energy. More energy needs to be spent, to hold the social soap bubble together. And that’s where government becomes necessary.

      So I’m not saying it was all we needed because we didn’t know better (à la leeches and bloodletting). I’m saying more sophisticated forms of government wouldn’t have been better. Formal, institutional narratives simply weren’t needed for that form of society to work really well. As with any other species, the natural way worked naturally well, so long as humans lived in their natural form of society.

      Of course, we haven’t done so for many thousands of years, and our default instinctive natural pre-tribal way simply doesn’t work any more. (And attempts to return to that way of life usually fail.) Instead, we’ve adapted our cultures and institutions, and we continue to adapt them to the realities of the world we live in. But our instincts are still there, and as a result we might see some conflicts and difficulties in governmental systems as they evolve over the coming pages.

      • “Nature” does not promise that what you get is whatever uses the least energy. Evolution is a heuristic system, which is not guaranteed to produce the best outcome. In fact, compared to other heuristic methods, evolution easily gets stuck in local maxima.

    • Bleeding and leeches were fads of civilization, which here would argue that the government civilization has imposed on us has been largely harmful. Other estimates of the value of civilized medicine are not much more enthused. “It is only in the last century that one could expect to benefit from going to the doctor.” [And while the quality of medicine in the last century has improved greatly, the quality of government has not. All we seem to have gained is an increase in quantity.]

      • At least part of that is perceptual. An increase in the quality of medicine is easily measured by how many patients live or recover. The quality of government is not so easily measured. For some of us, the only true measure of the quality of government is how small and ineffective it can be made. For others, it is the level of social or economic equality of the citizenry, while still others would measure it by the size of the military or the GNP.

        Without an agreed upon metric, quality is impossible to measure.

  6. Chris says

    Am I the only one who is reminded of high school? This “diversion” makes a much better guide to surviving that experience than all the books I read back then. Hope to see more soon.

  7. There was something about this concept that bugged me that I couldn’t put my finger on, until now. In our current society, social regulation through peer pressure is usually thought of as a bad thing. Everyone says that we should break away from societal expectations and think for ourselves. So the question is: When did we start thinking that living the way others expect you to live is a bad thing rather than a good thing? What changed?

      • I want to believe you. But we have been on this page for months, and you haven’t even gotten to reverse dominance or insulting the meat. So I expect us to get there sometime around when my grand children are old enough to drive.

        • First of all, how did you know that was in my outline? I’m not sure if I’ll keep it when I get there, but still…

          Second, this section was supposed to be completed in early 2018, but life happened then kept happening. Although I enjoy this project very much, other things have to take priority. Believe me, if I could have cranked this out faster, I would have! Nobody is more frustrated at how long this is taking than I am. My original schedule was to be finished—not with this chapter, but with all of Con Law!—by about now.

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