In some respects human communities function like intelligent subjects. They acquire and process knowledge, and then act on it. This collective "intelligence" is not reducible to individuals: information obtained by direct observation is recorded on paper and electronically, communicated to others by various physical channels, stored in libraries and on servers, from which it can be accessed long after the fact, and especially now partly processed and acted upon by computers (and in the past by people who behaved quite mechanically in the process). We talk about public attention, public memory, public knowledge, and even public consciousness. What's more, we get to see it all from the inside, as in Searle's Chinese room.
The analogy finds support in unexpected quarters, the foremost continental authority on consciousness and intentionality:"The central feature of Husserl's theory of community is the notion of 'personality of higher-order'. Different sorts of communities ranging from the family to the state are understood as analogous to the individual. A community is a "multi-headed ... yet connected subjectivity", and as such a subjectivity it too has a 'personality', displaying particular tendencies, moods, and traits such as memory - indeed, many of the features usually attributed to individual existence... the personal features of the community are something 'new;' they are not a mere conglomeration of individual features". See Buckley's Ch.10 in Husserl and the Sciences.
The analogy to brain, neurons, nerves, muscles, etc., is far from perfect, but there is something to it. More than Block's China brain simplification allows. What about "mental states"? In communities there are those intangible "culture and tradition". They do not distribute over individuals, nor reduce to material infrastructure, from which nonetheless they can be partly recovered (as happened with the culture of classical Greece). Yet there is no apparent immaterial psi-field, where they might reside, and they have tangible physical effect on collective behavior. Parts of them (such as philosophy and social sciences) are dedicated to social self-reflection, as in "consciousness" reflecting on itself. But the best part is again that we get to observe them from inside the room, so to speak.
Of course, social activities hardly compare to executing a program, so Searle's argument against the strong AI stands. But Searle also believes that only biochemical processes possess a special umph that can produce "mental states", and Block argues against functionalism in general, so presumably both would deny "mental states" to community as a whole. But not Husserl it seems, who is more materialistic on the issue than some materialists. Humanity itself may or may not be a philosophical zombie.
Question: Dennett characterized the Chinese room and the China brain as intuition pumps, can Husserlian "personality of higher-order" serve as a counter-pump? It seems (to me) intuitively easier to identify "culture and tradition" with community's "mental states" than to find something suitable in Searle's or Block's scenarios. What exactly makes the difference, if there is any? For purity let's replace humans with philosophical zombies (if need be), by definition this would leave community functioning exactly the same, including the role of "culture and tradition". So can this psycho-social analogy serve as a counter-pump and make the systems reply to Chinese room more plausible, or is there a difference in some key aspects that breaks it down?