Saturday, 7 September 2019

The current political divide: an evolutionary explanation

The political left-right divide seems to have reached a new peak, with right wing-politicians having become dominant even in highly democratic countries, such as the USA and the UK. These right-wing politicians, like Donald Trump or Boris Johnson, who are revered and reviled at the same time.
The majority of people are still centrist and the political divide is increasingly becoming a rift between family, friends, and communities. Where does this divide come from? In my view, it has a long evolutionary history. People have a mixed ancestry of hunter-gatherer, pastoralist and farmer genes. As ridiculous this might sound, there is a high correlation between personality and subsistence economy e.g. hunter-gatherers are highly egalitarian and altruistic (as a consequence of alloparenting),  farmers are hard-working, routine-loving and conscientious and pastoralists are adventurous and very helpful as well as status-oriented.

If we have a look at the definition of the political wings, it becomes clear that left-wing is very much a hunter-gatherer phenomenon (equality and liberty), whereas right-wing (order and duty) is a farmer phenomenon.
Pastoralists can be on both sides of the divide, depending on what counts more for them: being pro-social or social status. However, pastoralist sociality tends to be in-group sociality.
From: Pastoralism
Most of the extreme right-wing politicians are therefore of the pastoralist type. If you look at today’s right-wing politicians, most of them are ESTP (SP being pastoralists) in Myers-Briggs: 
Donald Trump (USA), Boris Johnson (USA), Matteo Salvini (Italy), Marine Le Pen (France), and many more, as you can find out from this website. 
What these pastoralist leaders have in common is a very narrow focus on their own tribe, as can be seen from movements like MAGA or BREXIT. Some of these leaders are outright racist, like Geert Wilders, some are bullies, like Donald Trump as a child, some might even be great leaders, like Winston Churchill was.
However, a narrow focus on your own community without a wider vision for the future or our planet is not a sustainable recipe in a globalized world. Building walls does not solve any problems. Parochial pastoralism is a thing of the past and leads to a lot of “Tragedy of the Commons” kinds of problems like global warming. These kinds of problems cannot be solved with a pastoralist mindset. And this is probably how most ancient civilizations ended. Jared Diamond has famously argued in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed that for a culture to thrive several factors are important:
  • sustainable economy
  • maintaining friendly relationships with their neighbors
  • trade with their neighbors
  • ability to recognize future problems
Unfortunately, right-wing politicians are inept at all of these points. Most of all, they are inept at recognizing future problems, like climate change. They view all their problems as exogenic, i.e. coming from outside threats like refugees. The one thing pastoralists leaders are really bad: finding the problems that come from the inside, that would conflict with their narcissistic personality. 

Some common problems with pastoralist thinking in our information age: 
  • value status and power more than egalitarianism
  • might feel they are even above the law
  • not very tolerant towards diversity
  • exclusion of certain social groups/xenophobia
  • antiquated exaggeration of sexual dimorphism, machismo
  • discrimination of women
  • short-term rather than long-term thinking and planning 

Dedicated to Jared Diamond for all his inspirational books.

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