Political Narrative I: This Simple Idea is the Reactor at the Heart of Humanity’s Death Star

 

Planet busterMany conservative priorities flow from an ancient narrative built around one planet-busting ideaand progressives sometimes fuel it.

This article is the first in a series about political and cultural narrative.  

Human beings are story tellers. We make sense of our lives and the world around us by weaving tales—typically with ourselves and people like us as protagonists and heroes or—when things don’t go our way—victims. Narrative organizes our thinking so that a single concept or sentence can evoke a bigger set of ideas and related emotions. That is why the title of this article invokes an epic story.

Political movements, like other groups, organize themselves around stories—grand narratives scripted to answer questions such as these: What is the plot of history? Who matters? Who are the heroes and villains, and who do they protect or hurt? What is our quest, our promised land, and how do we get there?

Sometimes this might be better phrased in more selfish terms—Who is in our tribe, and how do we come out on top? Often though, idealism and self-interest get mixed together, and because we humans are so centered in our own experience and so good at self-deception, it can be difficult to tell the difference. Within the stories that organize our thinking, we all see ourselves as good guys, even if history will later disagree.

Conservatives—including otherwise fair-minded and decent people–sometimes have priorities that defy my sense of reality and morality. As conditions evolve and these priorities don’t, I believe they put at risk not only the future of American democracy but also the future of our planetary life support system. When I, as a psychologist and writer, try to wrap my brain around what’s going on, I find myself bumping up against an ancient story, one that imbeds an idea so bad and yet so appealing that it may ultimately prove to be a planet buster.

A word of disclaimer: The word conservative doesn’t mean the same thing to all who describe themselves that way. For example, libertarian conservatism has different roots from cultural conservatism. For some folks, fiscal prudence or personal responsibility is the organizing principle their conservative worldview. But deep in the minds of many self-described conservatives lies an ancient, archetypal narrative that has shaped human societies for millennia. The basic story can be told in religious or secular language, but these two have been woven together for most of history, so I will tell the Western monotheistic version believed by my parents and our conservative Evangelical community:

The Ancestral Story  

With God in his heaven and his appointed authorities in their appointed positions, all is well with the world. Hierarchy provides order and stability, and each of us has his or her place in the proper order of things. From the beginning, this has meant men over women over children, bosses or masters over workers, “chosen” bloodlines over others, powerful tribes and civilizations over weak, and humans over other animals. Creation is man’s for the taking because it was made for us, who were made in the image of God, though some more so than others. Heaven on earth–or as close as we can get–is when everyone recognizes and lives properly in accordance with divinely-appointed roles and rules. Wealth and military victories accrue to the righteous.   

In one form or another, with one god or many or none, some version of this narrative has been the dominant paradigm for millennia. I call it the Ancestral Story because it is the story believed by our ancestors and because it is the ancestor of most modern political theories, which split off as either reactions against it, defenses against those reactions, or reactions against reactions.

It can be traced as far back as the Iron Age, where it underlies the familiar stories and laws of the Hebrew Bible and Quran; and in some parts of the world today, roles it defined then have changed little in the intervening centuries. What liberals may think of as a genetic lottery, much of humanity has been seen as part of a divine plan that properly confers power on chosen men, bloodlines, or tribes thus creating stability and wellbeing for society.

Since the Ancestral Story stretches back in time, which makes it the story of the past and the present, people who believe this story are fundamentally change-averse—in a word, conservative. Many harken back to golden ages, real or imagined, when this model was ascendant and provided social order, stability, and prosperity to those who most mattered.

Because this script for how society should work is hierarchical and male-centric, cognitive linguist George Lakoff called it the strict father theory of politics. It should be noted, though, that the organizing principle of the story is more primal than the words “strict father” might imply. Human relationships—and our relationships to other species—in this narrative, largely trace back to biology and to one simple concept: might makes right. (At its biological root, the strict father model of the family derives from the same underlying principle. Men both protected and ruled women and children because they were physically stronger; masters ruled slaves because they could.)

Since winners write history, we view historical events through a lens that further binds together might and right. We tend to think that good guys win and, conversely, that guys who win are good—because that’s how winners tell the story. Strength and virtue end up closely paired, and hierarchies that evolved eons ago from might makes right end up seeming intuitive and natural.  

Modeling an individual life or a political system on the Ancestral Story doesn’t necessarily lead to a dog-eat-dog way of life. It can.  But within the overarching structure, exceptions and nuance abound, and through the ages, humanity has developed words for these exceptions like grace, mercy, charity, pardons, or noblesse oblige. Religions that sanctify the traditional power hierarchy also encourage people to temper their use of power, and people who are religiously or culturally conservative often care deeply about those they perceive as weak—women, children, the poor and ill— those that Jesus in the Gospel According to Matthew calls “the least of these.”

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. –Matthew 25:40 NIV

But aspiring to a benevolent hierarchy, one that treats the weak with kindness, is different from thinking the weak have a right to band together and insist on equality. And voluntary self-restraint on the use of power feels very different from external restraints imposed by law and regulation.

One Theme to Bind Them

Today, defenders of traditional hierarchy and derivative priorities often deploy reasoning that doesn’t invoke theology, and most wouldn’t explicitly endorse the idea that might makes right. Even so, the lineage of their thinking can be traced back through cultural institutions and sacred texts to the Ancestral Story and the human (or, perhaps, pre-human) tendency to confound power with virtue. Some, of course, make no bones about the fact that their priorities derive from Iron Age texts.

Once you superimpose the Ancestral Story and derivative social structures, seemingly unrelated or contradictory conservative priorities cohere: strong military, gun rights, nationalism, the sanctity of the patriarchal family (including opposition to child protections and female-controlled contraception), racial favoritism, the ambivalent courtship of church and state, oligarchic government, low taxes for the wealthy, unfettered capitalism, resistance to worker rights, minimal safety net programs, freedom to pollute or use up natural resources, and a deep wariness of outside tribes that might compete for power.

Liberal social policies benefit many conservative voters, especially those who are struggling to get by, but they almost all, to some degree, threaten the conservative cultural narrative. To people who have internalized that narrative and played by its rules, expecting specific perks from society in return, that threat can feel personal and visceral.

As we all have read or heard many times, the Tea Party and the Trump voting base include people whose lives haven’t played out as they hoped or whose wellbeing feels fragile. That alone is a hard burden to bear, but on top of that stress, many feel their social contract has been violated. The give and get promised by the Ancestral Story relies on assumptions of stability and continuity. But that is not what we’ve got. Familiar extraction and manufacturing jobs have become obsolete; many main streets are boarded up; young people move away and abandon the church; a young man often can’t afford to support a wife and children on a single income like his father did; some families are downwardly mobile; and change is accelerating with no end in sight.

These cultural and economic trends have many causes—globalization, consolidation, automation, resource depletion, and—not the least—policy decisions. But rather than finding explanations in some objective set of data (which is really hard for any of us), we humans tend to interpret our experiences through the lens of scripts we have trusted all along. And for believers, the Ancestral Story points to a set of culprits.

Women are claiming their own bodies, poor blacks are challenging authority, marriage is being reshaped, atheists are scorning the sacred, and immigrants who sneak across the border are receiving scholarships to colleges that working class white kids can’t afford. According to the Ancestral Story, it’s all very wrong. And from any point of view, the consequences for both individuals and our culture at large are enormous. Small wonder these violations of the old order generate anxiety, alienation, and, sometimes, rage. Small wonder many conservatives deploy the power they have in an effort to set things right.

The Lure for Progressives

Conservative efforts to live and legislate the Ancestral Story seem obvious to many progressives. What may be less obvious is this: When progressives don’t notice that might makes right is the reactor at the heart of the conservative death star, we sometimes fuel it—usually by sending double messages—even though it is fundamentally at odds with liberal or progressive aspirations.

It’s easiest to see this, perhaps, in some of the fantasy stories that we love. Consider two recent movies that have shattered barriers by upending the traditional power hierarchy, Wonder Woman and Black Panther. Both movies broke through iconic blockages; they were literally block-busters, and I hope Black Panther wins Oscars next year. But both, in a way that is deeply satisfying to conservatives and progressives alike, also underscore the linkage between physical strength and moral strength and so send mixed signals.

In Black Panther, the scene where the two prospective kings wrestle at the side of a cliff takes might makes right back to its most primal roots in human history: May the best man win, where strongest fighter and best suited to rule are synonymous. At an archetypal level, the epic battles in both movies—or Star Wars or Lord of the Rings—fit the NRA playbook: the only way to stop a bad guy with a big bad weapon is a good guy, or now woman, with an even bigger, badder weapon. (These well-loved epics also reinforce a second dimension of the Ancestral Story—that some bloodlines are special and should rule others—but that is a different article.)

I point this out not because I think that these two movies could or should have been different, given what they set out to do and the genre. Nobody can tackle everything at once, and the satisfaction we get from stories that fuse right with might help draw crowds to the theaters to experience the novel ideas on offer. Also, Black Panther pivots the heroes from winning power to sharing it. It repudiates the human pattern of power-hoarding, while in Wonder Woman, metaphorically, truth and peace defeat war. I have no desire to challenge the movie writers; but I do want to challenge fellow progressives to be self-aware.

Sometimes, perhaps, the only effective challenge to brute force is brute force. Sometimes, perhaps, only the master’s tools can dismantle the master’s house. But we must never forget that is what we are using, because what those tools can’t do is build something radically different. Beating force with greater force can flip a dominance hierarchy, but unless something truly novel happens afterwards, that is just a new variation on an old storyline.

Worse still, reality being what it is, might-makes-right storylines inevitably in the long run advantage those who traditionally have held power: the men with the biggest weapons. Men will always, on average, be physically stronger and more aggressive than women. Wealth will always be stronger than poverty. Humanity is unlikely, any time soon, to abandon a global arms race that traces all the way back to sticks and stones.

Ultimately, then, the only way to create real and durable change is not to flip who is on top—the future is female, brown is the new white—but to flip our gut reaction to the fundamental premise underlying most of human history, to restructure our thinking and emotions to the point that we no longer find might-makes-right stories intuitive and satisfying.

This article is the first in a series about political narrative. To read the second, “Why Progressives are Tearing Each Other Apart,” click here.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org.  Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including The Huffington Post, Salon, The Independent, Free Inquiry, The Humanist, AlterNet, Raw Story, Grist, Jezebel, and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies.  Subscribe at ValerieTarico.com.

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About Valerie Tarico

Seattle psychologist and writer. Author - Trusting Doubt and Deas and Other Imaginings. Founder - www.WisdomCommons.org.
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24 Responses to Political Narrative I: This Simple Idea is the Reactor at the Heart of Humanity’s Death Star

  1. Even in the term “brute force” we may see a recapitulation of the pattern. The “brute” who prevails by force may be one who has successfully challenged a traditional power structure. Thus they are a brute, an animal who has defied the ordained order. We might consider that “brutal” is not the only mode of force; as we are called on to defend ourselves against violence we also must defend against becoming brutal within. But we must at the same time find our own countervailing forcefulness–or perish.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Munroe Scott says:

    Right on, Valerie. Keep them coming.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Steve Ruis says:

    Okay, Valerie, I want you to remember: you started it. ;o)

    The Ancestral Story is a very good start, but I suggest we take a step back and ask “Who wrote this story?” Was it ordinary people, slaves maybe? Obviously not. As with all of these narratives, they are written by the winners, like history. These narratives were established to justify the behavior of the winners. They do not represent the reasons why the winners won, so much as a story to prevent any contestation of those wins. The rich outlaw thieves, because they have something to steal.

    These narratives were created by the elites to control the masses. The religious elites and secular elites form an uneasy alliance but in general they work hand in glove for the simple expedient that together they are much more powerful than apart. Apart they contest with one another and weaken their own power. Occasionally god-kings pull off a compounding of the two, but if you look closely even that is not that simple. Even the infallible Pope has a whole bureaucracy that doesn’t act as if they believe in that infallibility. The divine rights of kings wasn’t developed by secular leaders but by religious leaders buying into power. What religion got back was state collection of tithes, freedom from taxation, oppression of their enemies (the Religion Wars of seventeenth Century Europe and thenabouts for example).

    The conservative context is a simple one politically: namely that the institutions of society are stabilizing of society and so are inherently good. So conservatives back the military, the police, churches, law and order, etc. The problem more recently is that people are calling themselves conservatives because there is a political constituency that one can adopt by just wearing the mantle. Donald Trump is not a conservative. He has derided law enforcement, the schools, the courts, etc. No conservative would do that unless it put money into their pockets. (The only consistent narrative is wealth is power.)

    In an era in which the prosperity gospel can thrive we must declare this country to be Egypt because a river of denial runs through it.

    I love your perspectives and also your writing and look forward to reading the next piece.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Susan says:

    I would like to interject that in The Lord of the Rings, although there is certainly an enormous amount of brute force being bandied about, in the end, it is the actions of some very small, “powerless” folks, namely Frodo and Friends, who make all the difference.

    Like

    • Michael Pullmann says:

      Also, the good guys don’t win by getting a bigger, badder weapon than they bad guy. They win by taking his weapon and destroying it.

      Like

  5. As a woman, I think we are blessed to be able to see the folly of Might Makes Right better than most men. And I do think that it will be women who lead the way to a better human future, if indeed there is one. But, after a few decades of women turning their backs on male superiority memes, I see young women today, at least the ones who are seeking corporate power (and ironically, the ones totally deprived of it, on the other end of the income inequality game) ceding power to men, and to manly ways. I see tech-savvy women using traditional oneupmanship to climb the ladder on the backs of underlings, or anyone who appears to be weaker, I see women returning to the hair. clothing and makeup styles of yesteryear to show they are serious about the rules of the corporate workspace, willing to self-hobble to be accepted into the Boy’s Club.

    By adopting these old patterns of dominance and submission (however sexy they may be in bed), we fall into a perennial trap, and well…we have much work to do, all over again. I thought we already fought this fight. Damn…

    Like

  6. mikespeir says:

    Wow! I’m definitely going to be following this series.

    Like

  7. Alexi says:

    First, to be clear, I’m a Deist. Some thing, force, something incomprehensible to us, created all of this at some point somehow, maybe even by accident, and I don’t know what that/who is. There is boundless mystery beyond our senses. Just look at quantum physics and spooky action at a distance and entangled particles etc. I’m no fan of organized religion. In fact I’m barely a fan of organized sports!

    You’ve made a good attempt to say a lot of things. It doesn’t really work imo because evidence abounds in other societies planetwide that don’t subscribe to a Judeo/Christian/Islamic history. From Asian societies to jungle tribesmen. So that puts a bit of sand in the vaseline so to speak. There are hundreds of religions; over millennia, and somehow, mysteriously, nearly every society seems to have come out the same way; Tribal & Hierarchical from the very tippy top of “society” to the very lowest most underprivileged of them all.

    I believe what you’re looking at is simply the survival of the species and how it plays out in human society. There’s no religious indoctrination amongst a pride of lions or wolves and yet most of what we see in humans in replicated in the wild.

    The “patriarchy” is a function not only of control but also of caring and survival. Men protected women and children because they cared about them; not to control them. The ulterior motive does not always have a negative bent. The survival of the gene is just as important to every other member of society as it is to the men.

    Religion (Western as we know it) begins with a relationship with God. To Jews, “chosen” means nothing more than chosen to be responsible for carrying out God’s commandments. That means a lot of things, but essentially it means be ETHICAL. Do Not Steal, Honor your Parents, Do Not Lie, Be Loyal to your Spouse, Do Not Commit Murder, Set aside a day a week to commune with your family, Honor your God (ie. don’t forget these rules of the road), etc etc.

    Organized Religion, like racism is a societal and mental construct used to justify the maintenance of dominance within and society fraught with competition.

    Start here: “I against my brother; I and my brother against my cousin; I and my brother and my cousin against the world.” And give it another shot.

    You can also check out Robert Sapolsky discusses physiological effects of stress
    ‘We’ve evolved to be smart enough to make ourselves sick’. Stanford.

    And there’s an enormous Whitehall study that speaks to hierarchy you can look to as well. Sorry I’ve no link for it.

    I fear that right now you’re merely examining the justifications commonly used to buttress our current system rather than the causes. Uncover the cause to find the solution. But first, define the problem much more specifically.

    PS. “Conservatism” to me is just a label people give themselves to preserve the piece of the status-quo that works for them.

    PPS. Than you for the article! Thinking on thees things is the only way to begin improving life for everybody.

    Like

    • Susan says:

      “The “patriarchy” is a function not only of control but also of caring and survival. Men protected women and children because they cared about them; not to control them. ”

      I guess the patriarchy was also protecting slaves and in our culture, people of color, and queers and well…sorry, but I CALL BULLSHIT.

      Spoken like a man, who thinks we need protecting. We do not, except from you.

      Yes, “thought” like this makes me angry, tries to tell me that my thoughts and feelings are flawed, incorrect and to replace them with HIS thoughts, his feelings, HIS excuses for why the world is so fucked up. I am not buying it.

      Men need “protecting.” From themselves.

      And take your “deist” fantasy dreams, your “protection,” and time travel back to a time when that might have flown, because your kind were in total control of everyone’s point of view. That’s not the case anymore, too many of us have flown the coop. Bye, bye!

      Like

      • Alexi says:

        “I guess the patriarchy was also protecting slaves and in our culture, people of color, and queers and well…sorry, but I CALL BULLSHIT.”

        That’s fine. You are welcome to call it anything you like. Although I fear it’s because you’ve chosen to take my comment personally as opposed to in relation to the subject matter. You are not the subject matter. Men should not be the subject matter and neither should women. SOCIETY is the subject here. To play the blame game gets us nowhere.

        Susan, do you imagine women did not have slaves? Do you imagine women didn’t order slaves around or punish them or BUY them or sell them or selfishly benefit from them? Do you imagine the likes of Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman (cure the gays) and the 52% of White Women that voted for Trump are men? Do you imagine that only men voted for Roy Moore? Do you imagine that women did not support wars that their respective countries fought on each and every side?

        You think men don’t care about their children? You think they take marriage vows for life because they don’t care about their wives? Do you not realize that men die earlier than women because of the sacrifices they make doing manual labor and dealing with stress to support their families doesn’t happen?

        Here’s the POINT that you miss while trying to place blame on a single gender: ALL OF SOCIETY IS IN THIS TOGETHER. That means ALL of society, women too, are participants and co-creators of what our societies look like. Who raised those men you hate so much to be the way they are? Everybody has a role in this!

        Women have mated with strong men for thousands of years. Why? Women have generally shunned “wimps” as not being “manly enough”. The expression “man up” has nothing whatsoever to do with women, yet society as a whole expects men to somehow embody this mythic image of manliness/strength, or you don’t get to procreate.

        Women mated with strong (wealth is a form of strength btw) men to be taken care of, to be protected, to live well etc. Women raised their boys to be “strong”. Women take to “alpha males” and not to “beta males”, rewarding the “alpha” with continuing the family line. That’s not abnormal. That’s a function of how societies have worked because the underlying issue is COMPETITION and survival.

        Now, that the question of survival has been generally solved there are other questions to be addressed about all of our roles in society.

        That my thoughts make you angry is not a surprise. I’m asking that EVERYBODY take responsibility for the future and that means you’re not allowed to sit back and play the blame game. It requires introspection and responsibility. It’s not easy. It takes work.

        Freedom IS responsibility. Be responsible for your own role in your own life. Or as they tell the men…. keep your nose to the grindstone, your shoulder to the wheel, do not ever complain no matter how bad it is, stifle your feelings and your pain, and MAN UP!

        Liked by 2 people

      • susan says:

        I wasn’t going to dignify your ignorance with any sort of reply, but I just thought I would share my first reaction to your comment: Nausea, with a side of pity.

        Like

      • Alexi says:

        Nausea with a side of pity? Keep it.

        Be an adult and respond to a post with something other than ad hominem and personal attacks. At this point your behavior is nothing more than deflection, gender bashing, and bullying from upon your high horse of self ordained morality. It’s beyond off-putting.

        If you’re happy spending the rest of your life gender bashing and playing a blame game rather than taking responsibility for your own here and now I guess that’s on you.

        BTW, Men are 1/2 of societies’ equation. If all you manage to do is insult us you’re going to continue to find yourself short of the allies you need to implement any changes you seek to make.

        Your gender bashing and gender blaming is putting men in a no-win situation. When 1/2 of society is in a no-win situation 100% of society loses.

        Why not examine a different pov. You could start with Karen Straughan

        Like

    • Thank you, Alexi. Lots of great points. Like you, I don’t think that control and caring are mutually exclusive. People make complicated trade-offs. It is also true that many people have had those tradeoffs forced on them. And I loved your comment that when have of the human race is in a no-win situation, we all lose.

      I was a bit puzzled by some of your pushback, as we seemed to be saying the same thing.

      “There are hundreds of religions; over millennia, and somehow, mysteriously, nearly every society seems to have come out the same way; Tribal & Hierarchical from the very tippy top of “society” to the very lowest most underprivileged of them all.
      I believe what you’re looking at is simply the survival of the species and how it plays out in human society. ” Hmm. I think i tried to say that but maybe didn’t do so adequately. And yes, that traditional religions sanctify and reinforce the traditional dominance hierarchy.

      I think that all human societies are hierarchical to some degree, necessarily so, with instability as the alternative, but they aren’t all hierarchical to the same degree, and it doesn’t seem like all hierarchies are equally rooted in brute strength. IOW, i think we have options here. I think that challenging traditional/conservative political and religious ideologies is both possible and can create societies that are more free and fair while maintaining stability. Because of course the other side of the stability equation, which is summed up in the “if you want peace work for justice” mantra, is that excessive hierarchy and lack of individual freedom of movement within it, is also unstable.

      Like

  8. Joe Reedholm, Georgetown, TX says:

    Thank you Valerie for starting this sequence. A local UU minister refers to the patriarchy as “father knows best” religion or ideology, which covers more ground for me. My gut reaction to Alexi is in line with Susan’s–the issue is about power. But then all social dealings are about power.

    I am amazed as I dig more into Erich Fromm’s works that he dealt with today’s issues of severe tribalism and misogyny >50 years ago. What others criticize as utopian suggestions now look like the only possibility we have of dealing with resource exhaustion, global warming, and nuclear war.

    Fromm even anticipated the integration of physical and cultural evolution initiated by E. O. Wilson, which concludes that the “morals” of cooperation are genetic, not religious. Also, religions with omniscient gods are a late invention of civilization, not something that hunter-gatherers needed.

    Anthropology findings since Fromm’s death have justified his belief that tribes before the onset of civilization were as likely to be matriarchal as patriarchal. Then, the WORD was used by males to usurp the mantle of creativity from life giving females. Until males could display their prowess in naming and building things, they were sterile compared to females. This synopsis doesn’t do it justice, but Fromm’s analysis explained a lot to me about penis driven religion.

    Thank you again for your work.

    — Joe

    Like

  9. hostirad says:

    I agree that it can be useful to distinguish different forms of political persuasion, as you did in your brilliant post on the Social Liberal Story and the Structural Oppression Story. I wish you had done a little more of that here. So much more could be said about different forms of conservatism other than mentioning that libertarian conservatism and cultural conservatism have different roots. (By the way, I think that “economic conservatism” is a more appropriate term than “libertarian conservatism.” Libertarianism is distinctly different from both liberalism and conservatism.)

    At any rate, the Ancestral Story narrative really got me thinking about different forms of hierarchies, and especially about the way that human hierarchies have evolved. Scientists who study the behavior of other social animals have noted that hierarchies are common in the animal kingdom and probably evolved as a mechanism for controlling potential harm from overt aggression. In every generation of, say, Uganda Kob, males participate in regular ritualized battles over territories and will mate only with females who choose to enter the victor’s territory. Because the aggression is ritualized, serious physical harm is very rare. The strongest, most agile males (those with genes for healthy robustness) typically win the encounters, passing their good genes on to the next generation.

    Although ritualized aggression in other species often seems to be about “might makes right,” that is not the whole story. In some primates, the alpha males achieve dominance by their success in forming coalitions with other males. Hence, social intelligence gets you to the top of the hierarchy and genes for social intelligence are passed on.

    Early hominids were probably mildly hierarchical, although probably more egalitarian than other primates, according to recent anthropological theory. There was surely some competition to achieve alpha male status with preferential access to females. But resources could not be accumulated in prehistoric times, so resources were probably shared roughly equally.

    Human beings show vestiges of the kind of aggressive competition and territorial behavior that lead to hierarchies in other social species. But humans are obviously so much different now, thanks to the cultural changes brought about by the advent of agriculture and development of technologies for fighting. While we still have mock battles (ritualized aggression) in the form of sports, the accumulation of resources that began with agricultural storage has made possible large-scale warfare. Modern weapons allow killing at a distance so that you do not have to look the enemy in the eye. There are no opportunities for appeasement gestures (like the wolf’s exposing his jugular vein). The victors rape and pillage. Huge economic disparities have arisen through the use of violent force. And today’s beneficiaries of all this past violence do not have to prove themselves fit each year like Uganda Kob. Those of the very-rich who acquired their wealth through inheritance will naturally be conservative. No matter that they did not prove their worthiness to be in the 1%. They simply enjoy the power that comes with wealth and have no desire to give it up. Currently they are in their legal rights to do so because the current political and economic systems allow them to remain in power.

    Are the super-rich today justifying their status through the Ancestral Story? Perhaps. It seems to me that the core of the Ancestral Story is that hierarchy is inevitable. But the reason for inevitability differs across different narrative versions of the story. There’s the religious, God-ordained-it-that-way inevitability. There’s the Social Darwinist survival of the fittest notion of inevitability. Those tropes are old and boring and should be retired.

    What I’d like to see is a social experiment where everyone starts life with equal opportunity in environmental resources. Like when everyone begins the game of Monopoly with the same amount of money. That currently does not happen. Instead, children are born into families that differ enormously in economic resources. Access to quality education is not the same for everyone. Children’s parents differ in terms of their parenting skills and support. Communities differ in terms of economic opportunities. They also differ in terms of crime and drug trafficking.

    If we were able to set up perfectly equal opportunity for everyone, I wonder if a hierarchy would emerge. It might because of genetic differences that affect intelligence, creativity, conscientiousness, and emotional stability. These factors would affect individual differences in the successful accumulation of resources. If so, should society decree that wealth be redistributed to make everyone equal again? Free enterprise-supporter argue that this would decrease the motivation to innovate and be entrepreneurial. I’m not so sure–I think that many of the greatest scientific discoveries and technological advancements that have improved the quality of life had nothing to do with profit-seeking. Who knows?

    Well, I’ve rambled on enough. As you see, I found this post very thought-provoking.

    Like

  10. Thank you for this very interesting set of thoughts. I agree that this analysis is very incomplete and doesn’t adequately distinguish different forms of conservatism — although I think there are echoes of right-makes-might in most I have considered.

    Liked by 1 person

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