Friday, April 29, 2011

The True Nature of Government

Me on the nature of government, from a comment left at EconLog:

Government is a social ape hierarchical power structure, where power is weilded for the sake of power. We see this in all primate hierarchies except one -- bonobos, which are a special case I will discuss momentarily. We used to think that the governing hierarchies of social mammals came about to ensure more breeding opportunities for the alpha, but genetic tests proved otherwise -- sometimes the alpha would actually have slightly fewer, as the rest were sneaking around behind his back, breeding with the females in the shadows. So that's not why the alpha male in mammalian hierarchies evolved. Nor, does it seem, to have to do with getting more food, as that distribution seems more or less even -- though the alpha can and often does get first dibs, and grants such favors to favorites as well. In chimpanzees, the alpha males lead war and hunting troopes -- which is actually dangerous, and exposes them to being more likely to be hurt. Alpha male apes also tend to grow much more massive in response to becoming the alpha. This is the origins of human governance, then, in ape social hierarchies. From what primatologists can tell, it seems that the hierarchy is simply power for the sake of power. It may contribute to protection against outside groups, but that seems to be the primary benefit to the group, which is often oppressed by the alpha and his followers. Of course, if the alpha is too oppressive, he may find a coalition that even includes the females overthrowing him.

Add language, and what you have are people grabbing power for the sake of power and using language to persuade everyone else that they are doing it for the benefit of everyone else.

Now, as promised, the bonobos. They are unusual in that the females are slightly larger, and thus the bonobos are led by females. There is less meat-eating, because the males hunt, but any meat they get, the females just take it from them. Almost all conflicts are resolved using sex. Yes, all conflicts. Sex is also used as a greeting and for trade.

Behaviorally, humans are closer to chimpanzees than bonobos, though.
Go down further on the comments. Arnold Kling agrees with me. :-)
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