Some puzzling political phenomena I’ve pondered lately:
- We trust government more when we feel vulnerable to it, and then avoid info that might undermine such trust.
- We don’t elect actors and other celebrities, who we seem to trust, respect, like, know, etc. more than the politicians we elect.
- We think we’d be horrified live under a king, but quite enjoy stories set in such places.
- We over-estimate leader autonomy, neglecting their need to serve supporting coalitions.
We love to look down on submissive sheep who accept domination by the powerful. And we think of ourselves as quite different, eager to control our leaders via democracy, and to keep them from becoming kings. Some of our actions even fit well with this story. But many other actions fit badly.
I hypothesize that much of this hails from our homo hypocritus heritage. Humans developed language to express and enforce social norms, most importantly to limit domination and related supporting behavior, such as bragging. But then foragers quickly learned to dominate and submit covertly, just out of reach of language-based norm enforcement. So we should expect to have many complex, subtle, and mostly unconscious capacities to dominate and submit, while pretending otherwise.
Thus we should expect to see people giving lip service to resisting domination, while largely accepting it when resistance is costly. We should be prone to telling ourselves that our dominators serve our interests well, when in fact we are just scared of being beaten down. We tell ourselves that our leaders’ power is solid, even when we notice cracks, to avoid appearing disloyal. And we tell ourselves that we want likable leaders, when we are actually more impressed by strength. Homo hypocritus cowers in a corner, pretending to examine a spot on the ground.
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