Monday, October 16, 2017


The news has me thinking about Napoleon again.

Harvey Weinstein is just the latest Great Man to be exposed as a complete and utter toad: a rapist, a bully, an appalling hypocrite. As with many others, the thing that baffles me most about the story is the way his underlings stayed loyal to him through all of it, helping him hatch his sexual schemes, putting up with his abusive bullying.

To me the most disturbing thing about my species is the way so many long to become the followers of Great Leaders. A typical Great Leader, so far as I can tell, is a complete narcissist who has no regard for anyone else whatsoever. And yet millions are perfectly happy to serve such men, giving them loyalty in return for disdain. Their very selfishness is inspirational to some followers.

Why are Trump rallies full of small businessmen who must know that Trump has made a habit of stiffing people just like them? Women who know how he talks about women? People smart enough to know that he is a dangerously unstable liar?

The answers are surely complex, but I suggest that one part is the thrill of submitting to the Great Man's dominance, of being swept along in the wake of a great ship going somewhere exciting and grand. The supreme confidence of the narcissist who cannot even recognize when he has been wrong is irresistible to far too many humans.

Judged by either our norms or those of their own societies, a great many of the most famous people in history have been insane. Their ability to transcend the limits that bind ordinary people is part of their appeal: unlike the rest of us, they can ignore the truth in front of their noses, deny with straight faces that they have any flaws or have ever made mistakes, lie without compunction, believe that their grand and crazy schemes will come to pass. And the sick thing is, sometimes it works.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

My belief is this behavior is a stubborn hold-over from our evolution.

We're still effectively a bunch of apes, and we still think like it. When a "Great Leader" comes along and displays this unshakeable confidence, we respond to that confidence on some level instinctually.

And it typically isn't the most prudent, compassionate, or thoughtful of apes who becomes the leader of a troop or tribe. It's the biggest bully - the one most willing to rule by fear, injustice, and cronyism.

Evolutionarily speaking, the biggest nastiest ape with the strongest penchant for rape, murder, and open tyranny was the most likely to succeed and to procreate, so long as they could maintain a core of compliant (if not truly loyal) followers through favoritism, and so long as they could shut down potential competitors before any could steal away the allegiances of the majority of the population.

Bullies who succeed stay in power, while those who fail get overthrown, replaced by other different bullies, or sometimes by coalitions of non-bullies who have just gotten fed up with the tyrannical conditions. You can see this in various species of apes, including ours.

Really, if you ever wonder about this or that human behavior, it's almost always worth your time to stop and ask, "Do chimapanzees do this too?". Because it turns out our closest biological cousins really do think and act almost exactly like us - they shun and other; they bully and intimidate; they lie, cheat, and steal; they wage wars; they commit genocides; they rape and enslave; they rule with iron fists; they conduct rituals and employ symbolism as a weapon; et cetera, et cetera.