Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Mathematical segregation

Recent research from Duke, that seems to confirm earlier studies, shows that human habitats tend to get segregated if the density exceeds certain threshold. They find that cities are more likely to get segregated along racial, ethnic and other dimensions, when the proportion of occupied sites to total available sites exceed 25%. They argue that mathematical simulations show such a result. Perhaps, a simpler explanation for the finding is that available space and associated options allow the inhabitants to delay the decision to segregate. As density increases, they are forced to exercise the option to segregate as further delay reduces their value. In either case, it is instructive to note that the need to segregate for humans is as fundamental as food and sex. The timing of their segregation decision is simply value maximizing and market based.

It seems humans, shackled to their clan legacy, are unable to break from the hard wired needs to be close to their own kind and far from the rest. What is ironic is that for most of their history – from 100,000 years to 10,000 years – the characteristics they used to identify clan membership included know-how and family ties. Modern humans, while maintaining the desire to segregate, have found much less substantial aspects to segregate – such as the color of skin and political affiliations. And recently, they have overlaid that with even more meaningless attributes – such as religion and location.

Those holding out for a more peaceful world, should understand that humans are ill-equipped to rise above the legacy they have been handed. In an attempt to rationalize it, they seem to have made it worse.