I started thinking about democracy recently while watching a David Attenborough documentary about primates. I realize that there’s quite a jump between A and B there, but follow me a bit: Why don’t we see a lot of democracies in nature? Are we just that much better than the animal kingdom? Seeing nature put on the show it does leads me to believe that this may not be the case. So where do we get Democracy from? Why is it here? Why is it so great?
Everything is a system.
Including all of the ways we’ve learned to interact with other humans. We designed very few of these systems on purpose. Usually we start with an idea (democracy, for example), then we build the system around it (people vote for what they want, the people they elect give it to them). Evolutionary actions like these don’t stop. They keep growing. Any organism in the wild will seize on any resource or trick available to it in order to ensure their own continuance.
Thus politicians must be thought of as an entity competing against us for their own interests, rather than a member of our own “tribe”. They are the organisms. They have developed the traits necessary to take advantage of the political environment they find themselves in. We can’t see corrupt politicians as a failure of the system. Rather, it seems we must see them to be a consequence. Put another way: they’re only natural.
We social humans are an organism like any other. We’re subject to the same unforgiving rules of natural and sexual selection. No one needs to tell a guy to go out and fuck chicks, we all want to do that. The way we learn to do it is what will have worked for our fathers. These natural drives and inclinations lead to countless cultural variations on the same themes. We have biases, feelings, and little moments of irrationality. These are the compounded end-result of billions of chemical equations all honed to work in one particular way. Obvious problems have arisen since we’ve moved on to a nearly post-scarcity world. Yet here we are, still stuck with a chemical operating system that was optimized thousands of years ago on the Serengeti.
Humans are nothing if not adaptable.
We find funny little outlets for all of these idiosyncratic longings all of the time. Just look around you! How many products and businesses are designed to appeal directly to an irrational impulse? Fast food is popular because your body is set-up to crave and store fat for any rainy days you may encounter while out hunting woolly mammoths. With that kind of workout unavailable to us, we’ve ended up with an evolutionary misfiring in this particular system. This hitch has led us into all kinds of complications for our bodies. We know it’s bad for us to eat too much of this shit. Once again; It’s only natural.
Since we know that humans are willing to give up logic and reason at the drop of a chemical hat, maybe we can finally stop kidding ourselves. We could take a real shot at understanding why our particular species does what it does. Look at chimps, our hillbilly cousins who chose to stick to the backwoods of Africa rather than join us upright out on the plains. Chimps are roughly 98.9% genetically similar to humans, and a visiting alien might not even care about that difference. However, on our terms, it seems like a massive divergence of both physical form and, more importantly, intellect.
We insist on separating ourselves
For the same reason we shun the stupid poor, the white trash, and ghetto crowd. Shame. We see the other animals doing things we would love to do: birds fly, fish swim, and bonobos fuck like champions. The difference is that we have such a highly developed social system of interaction. Everything we do must be passed through a series of filters. We judge our own actions based on how other humans might take them. Shame is just another powerful human bias. Social cohesion is the only thing that kept early humans alive. With this, evolution slowly compounded on a rudimentary system for social feedback so it could tailor individual behaviors to group needs.
The top dog gets to decide what is shameful and what is not. This creates a powerful incentive for individuals to attain status and thus power. If you have the power to decide what is right and wrong then you can act on all of your human urges. Your programmed wants. All of the idle fantasies in your given society. If one can aspire to power, then one has also aspired to indulgence.
Armed with this Nietzschean master-mentality, we can create our own reality. Our leaders are just the chimps that are the best at seizing power. Evolution has given them every weapon they need in order to take advantage of how humans organize on a big scale.
Democracy is an interesting experiment
It just doesn’t fly in an evolutionary world. We all love the idea of democracy because it promises the potential of any individual to have the ability to affect change in their society. The notion that power could ever be equal or even static is foolish. Power flows to whoever is best able to take it. Democracy promises to divvy up this power and spread it equally among every individual in society, but this is categorically incorrect.
Democracy simply provides another environment for humans to compete within. Those that have the natural ability and skill to convince a majority of people can now exercise their will on the other portion. A referendum or vote will never “go your way” unless you are the one tabling the motion. Your vote is simply a consequence of a lust for power; taken advantage of by an individual who figured out how to leverage the system the best.
Our obsession with power is locked hand in hand with our sense of shame.
If we could only be the one in charge! Then we could have our shame be exiled away! Every act we’ve sought to commit through our inner chimps could finally be allowed in “polite” society. Why do we fight these things? Why deny that humans will always seek to consolidate their power, and that power cannot be shared? It may be unfortunate for some, but it is reality. We will always see leaders change. We will always see legacies be born and fade away. Civilizations will rise and fall.
We can’t help but drag our shame into politics.
Perhaps it’s time we figured something else out. Come on now, think outside the box.