The Worldwide War on Women by David Williams, Sunday, December 10
To anyone who reads the daily news (and also examines history) it is clear that we as a species learn little to nothing from the past. After fighting two World Wars, and countless smaller ones, you’d think we’d come to realize that giving away all our power to one person is suicidal. How many wars have originated from dictatorships? The Good Philosopher King (for which Plato advocated), has rarely, if ever, been found. For as the adage goes—absolutely power corrupts absolutely. And while we have mostly moved away from outright feudalism and monarchy, the human desire for an ironclad ruler has not vanished from the face of the earth. Admittedly, democracy is slow moving, laborious, cumbersome, contentious, and as Churchill said, “is the worst form of government – except for all the others.” But at least in democratic governments corrupt power can be overturned with a vote instead of genocide, and individual freedoms and speech exist that other forms of government will not allow.
But throughout the world, including the Free World, we are seeing a spike in fascism and authoritarianism, with dictators often being voted into office, not merely overtaking governments through military coups. In truth, all power can only find its way to the hands of one man or one woman if other people allow it. Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Stalin—were all monstrous men made powerful by other human beings who facilitated their rule. So, why this continual desire for what (on some level) people must know is NOT in their best interests—despotic strong-men? What is it in Human Nature that makes so many of us willingly give away all our power to a strong-man, power that inevitably will lead to hell?
As I have written before, we like to forget the essential fact that we are animals through and through and not the immaculate conception of the gods. Like all other life forms, we too evolved under the forces of natural and sexual selection, which have shaped our being, giving us a mix of traits—from warlike to altruistic—from compassionate to cruel. We are primates, closely related to our ape ancestors, from whom we diverged some 6 million years ago. And looking at apes we can often see the antecedents of our own behavior, stemming from our very similar brains and DNA.
Primatologist, Jane Goodall, who has spent a lifetime studying wild chimpanzees in Tanzania, recognized in Donald Trump some of the same posturing as exists in alpha male chimpanzees. Dominance in males creates the basic social pattern in chimpanzee troops, which gives the top males first choice in mating, while the family unit itself is made up of just the mother and her offspring. Males battle each other through dominance and bluff displays, creating loud rackets, breaking branches, tossing things, hooting and hollering, throwing big outrageous tantrums. Chimps males also form alliances with other males who might aid them in toppling the current alpha. Politics! Jane Goodall was also the first to discover that chimpanzee males will band together to attack other chimpanzee males from adjacent troops, and these deadly attacks are viscous, premeditated, and gruesome. Chimp behavior helps to explain why it is that we humans are infatuated with “strong men,” dictators and despots who use supreme cruelty to get ahead. For behavior we share with our closest cousins (chimps) means it most likely existed in our common ancestor.
Hierarchy and status are ingrained in animal life, going back to the beginning, with competition existing even in the (as Dawkins called them) selfish genes. Yet, one-celled animals did eventually come together to form multi-cell organisms, as living in social groups provided many benefits. Survival depends upon a mix of traits, for us and for other species, and we are very social animals, needing a gang. But most humans groups are not egalitarian, at least not any more. Clearly, we have evolved some impressive brains, but our higher thinking is built upon the lower, and as neuroscientist Antonio Damasio says, “We are feeling machines that think, not thinking machines that feel.” Emotion rules our choices in most cases, but our emotional decisions often lead us to disastrously wrong conclusions—like believing it is good to bow down to a godlike ruler (who eventually will reveal himself to be an emperor without any clothes). But our brains love to play tricks on us, causing us to have faith in make-believe.
Trump (our own emperor without clothing) has often expressed his great love for other strong-men, like Putin, whom Trump called a genius for invading Ukraine. And then there are his well-known love letters to the dictator Kim Jong Un. Trump relishes the worst impulses in human beings, loving bullies (as he is one), and he ran his presidency like a mafia boss. Now, with ninety-some felonies charges against him, still half the population of the US cheers Trump on for another term as president. We see the same all over the world—where despots who disdain democratic rule retain power–Lukashenko in Belarus, Ilham Aliyev in Azerbaijan, Ashar al-Assad, President of Syria, Isaias Afewerki, President of Eritrea, and on and on. I’d put Benjamin Netanyahu on this list as well for his undemocratic rule over the judiciary (to save his own skin) and his total allegiance to Right-Wing zealots, which had a lot to do with inflaming the surrounding region, which itself is ruled by massive totalitarian forces fueled by blind religious fervor and oppression.
How do we promote a democratic spirit over authoritarianism, over brutes who ravage the landscape and act in their own self-interest? For the last 10,000 years, since the rise of agriculture and city-states, we have gone the way of caste systems and social classes, where wealth is accumulated at the top and rulers and oligarchs retain total control, while the masses get little. Yet, it is we the people who give despots their power by giving away our own. How do we convince our fellow homo sapiens not to bow down to an alpha, elevating a mere mortal into near godlike status, no matter what he has done? We have to go deep into our primal psyche to figure this one out, confronting the ancient tendencies written in our genes, admitting that there is something wrong, that a significant portion of us really love tyranny, deceit, bullying, and madman rule.