Egret and crab

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Constraining the aggressive alpha male

Very interesting article by Thomas B. Edsall at the NYT - Why Trump won't let go of his dream of domination. I realize that many of you won't be able to get through the paywall. 

Much of the article is the thoughts of psychologists and cultural anthropologists and I will copy a few sections that I thought were interesting.

Trump’s behavior in office — from his aggressive morning tweets to the Cabinet meetings he held in which obsequious beta males, like the vice president and attorney general, engaged in elaborate rituals of submission in the presence of their alpha — mirrors closely the tactics of domination and intimidation exhibited by alpha chimps in chimpanzee colonies. More than any other American president in memory, and like Putin and Orban, Trump exhibits what evolutionary social psychologists call “dominance” leadership, which is an evolved tendency (tracing back at least 5-7 million years in human prehistory) to attain status and exert influence in groups through brute force and intimidation. Dan P. McAdams - Northwestern

For coalitionary proactive aggression against a formidable alpha male to be adaptive, it was critical for sub-elite males to ensure that their alliance was stable and that the execution could be performed at minimal risk to alliance members. Only then could they act safely without retribution from the alpha male or his sycophants.

Alpha alliances of sub-elite males could kill coercive alpha males, drastically reducing the reproductive success of coercive alpha males. Such control would also have signaled the limits of acceptable intragroup aggression. The direction of selection on male aggression thus changed as a result: rather than selection favoring coercive behavior that males used to achieve and maintain alpha status, the actions of alpha alliances ensured that selection acted against it. Simultaneously, the necessity of coordination and cooperation for targeted conspiratorial killing of alpha males meant that selection favored proactive aggression, and especially coalitionary proactive aggression. Sarkar and Wrangham

The explanation that best accounts for a novel selection pressure leading to a reduction in reactive aggression starting around 300,000 years ago is the emergence of collective intentionality in the form of language-based conspiracy. The evolution of this newly sophisticated cognitive ability would have led subordinates to socially select against aggressive fighters, creating a reverse dominance hierarchy. The spread of the new style of hierarchy could have occurred by individual learning or by selection of group-cultures, and would have paved the way for diverse selection pressures to additionally influence the evolution of the characteristically human social traits. Wrangham

In his book “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion,” Haidt cites Boehm while making the case that the early acquisition of weaponry played a crucial role in the democratization of authority within groups of humans:

Imagine early hominid life as a tense balance of power between alpha males (and an ally or two) and the larger set of males who are shut out of power. Then arm everyone with spears. The balance of power is likely to shift when physical strength no longer decides the outcome of every fight. That’s essentially what happened, Boehm suggests, as our ancestors developed better weapons for hunting and butchering.

Once early humans had developed spears, Haidt continues, anyone could kill a bullying alpha male. And if you add the ability to communicate with language and note that every human society uses language to gossip about moral violations, then it becomes easy to see how early humans developed the ability to unite in order to shame, ostracize, or kill anyone whose behavior threatened or simply annoyed the rest of the group.

We’re always in danger of slipping back into the dynamic of dominance. In democracies, voters, on average, favor the taller candidate and often crave a “strong leader." Presidents and prime ministers, for their part, often arrogate more power than the constitution allows. The system of laws that constrains the leader’s power is often tested to its limits, and in countries that are not democracies, their only hope may be what Sarkar and Wrangham call an “alpha coalition,” namely the coup-plotters that many of us hope might someday depose Putin. Pinkham


My random thoughts regarding this line of inquiry was a question about those trogs that follow the "strong man leader" being on a lower evolutionary quadrant of some kind, making real communication and understanding with the knuckle dragging dullards near impossible. 

The second thought was that Carl Jung would have a field day with this in an archetypal sense. It is pitched right down his collective wheelhouse.


Scrota said...

Roll up your pant legs reading threw this pile. Everything said here could be written
about anyone you don't like, starting with what's looking back in the mirror.

It really doesn't matter what is written about anyone running in the GOP cuz the
ballot-harvesting perfected in California in 2016 has spread across the country.
And even now the left are paying people in advance to gather up voters to deliver come election time, not using drop boxes any more because they were found out. Now it's
all through the mail.

The hard part is what to do with all those votes harvested that
are for the other side. Change the vote or shred it cuz they won't get paid for it. And the voter will never know.

Name Withheld by Request

Jon Harwood said...

I dunno, when I observe the election workers here in SD county it’s just hard to reconcile what I see with some ballot stuffing conspiracy.