Wednesday, 9 November 2016
Trumpism and Darwin
It's the morning after and Ms America is trying to remember the night before, and in to what trouble she may have fallen, when…
The horror stricken face is just perfect, in evoking the terror felt by everyone in the world, who is not a Trump supporter. It's a fear that grew from dismissive ragging, into burgeoning concern and, following the Republican Party nomination, undeniable dread. The nightmare that was never meant to happen, never could happen, not in a million years, just got real. Time is money, and a billionaire can buy short cuts.
If trouble is ahead, then it would be helpful to know in what form it may appear, and from over which horizon, but, predicting that may prove as complex as forecasting the election result. Clearly, it wasn't just about personality, exaggeration to the point of falsehood, minorities, misogyny and emails, although, no doubt, each had its own part to play, but those characters from a national tragedy may only have been understudies, to much bigger rôles on the World stage. Fellow Unbound author, Paul Kingsnorth (The Wake, The Beast) explains in a very well thought out piece, "The Revolutionary Moment" and possibly the real reason for America trumping “The System”. It's well worth a read, but do come back. I'll wait at the beginning of the next paragraph for you.
There you are! Hi, good isn't it? So, Trump and Darwin, no obvious associations, were it not for a recent, rather revealing survey carried out for Slate by a trio of political scientists (the science of politics, more likely than, researchers who happen to be activists, although…).
The survey sought to investigate whether Trump’s own, well-documented racism is a factor influencing his number of supporters, specifically, “if the [whites in the U.S. who believe that black people are not as evolved as white people] were also more likely to support the Republican nominee”.
Their results are repulsive in unearthing the deep-rooted racism that I can’t imagine pervades the white American populace, alone: especially post-Brexit, and the handling of migrants before and since. An insulated fervour also seems to be bubbling away, ever ready to break the surface in the U.K., and throughout northern Europe.
2,000 non-hispanic, American whites were asked to place blacks and whites on this scale, based upon a once scientifically held belief, but now rejected with undeniable proof (for further reading on this, I can recommend Stephen J. Gould’s “The Mismeasure of Man”, 1981 & 1996, Norton). 38% of the sample placed blacks lower than whites, with the assumption that they were assessing blacks as being less evolved.
An extended trial also asked the thinking behind the above process of assessment. Responses were of the sort, “I consider blacks to be closer to the animal kingdom,” “[blacks] lack the intelligence and morals [of other races],” “[black people] carry and conduct themselves [in ways that are] almost animalistic,” and “[black people have] the highest rate of murders [evidence that blacks are] people who act like animals.”
Looking into the underlying demography and group structures in their samples, the researchers found no defining tendencies for affiliation to a political party nor class / income bracket, per se: 33% Democrats and 34% high-income compared with 39% Republicans and 41% low-income.
The only other variable that was found to be strongly associated with positioning on the evolution scale was support for Trump (quantified as a warmth-of-feeling percentage). 28% of the bottom quartile, essentially opposing Trump, placed blacks lower on the evolutionary scale than themselves and other white Americans, but here’s the clincher, this compared with a whopping 52% (a unit of measure to be known from this day forth as a Brexit, bx ) of Trump supporters in the top quartile.
So, if all the sampling and data capture, statistics and inferences were carried out correctly, over half of the whites who voted Trump into office this week are of the mind that blacks are subhuman, and not people at all. Black Civil Rights just took a huge step into the past. Add in Trump's cynicism to climate change and Mike Spence's advocation of ‘gay cure’ therapy and, …, well, it's tragically ironic that these people are thinking others less human than themselves.
If you have been following these Shed Posts, then you'll know about the "Distance from Darwin" motif that forms the backbone of "The Dissent of Man". You'll remember that this is a gradient that traverses the spectrum of humanity, upon which everyone occupies a place, determined by their views and beliefs about evolution, especially that of humans. Those positions along the gradient don't map onto any actual evolutionary gradient. Of course, we are all the same species, even Trump voters, but it does represent the displacement of humans from nature: from being animals, to some other, higher entity, imbued with spiritual meaning, or self-serving aggrandisement.
Why this imagined superiority over the rest of the animal kingdom is shared by the vast majority of humans is a wonder, but requires the space of another book to do justice. Perhaps one for the future. If it were ever to be written, a core question would be, if all the properties and constructs of organic life (adaptive traits) are products of evolution, and therefore exist by surviving life-threatening conditions (natural selection), or being linked to other characters that confer that benefit (spandrels), then why do humans think their powerful brains any more useful than, say, an eye to an owl, a fin to a flounder, or a claw to a clouded leopard? And before you say, because of all the sophisticated things we can do with it, including manufacturing weapons to subjugate ourselves and other species, that is still an adaptation. The question is whether its net effect has been protection or jeopardy. Which brings us back to the NRA, KKK and Trump, and an almighty mess!
The obvious interpretation of Trump’s rise in the shadow of his ultra-successful father with (allegedly) dubious links to the Klan, is that he has always been on a quest to qualify himself in Daddy's eyes, and prove to everybody else that he is his own man. This would follow the classic understanding of the consequences when a subordinate has been belittled and kept in place, then overcompensates with the projection of a contrived, strong personality, in order to mask their true self-loathing and lack of confidence. The result is a braggadocio, who claims to have all the answers, knows all the important people, and is great at everything, and wants to "just tell you something". Sound familiar?
The character springing to mind before the US elections this year would have been, HOWARD KATZENBERG, Terry Gilliam as doomed, yet chirpy, dinner guest in “The Meaning of Life”.
HOWARD: Let me just tell you something, Mr. Death.
GRIM REAPER: You do n--
HOWARD: Just one moment. I'd like to express, on behalf of everybody here, what a... really unique experience this is.
JEREMY: Hear, hear.
ANGELA: Yes, we're so delighted, uh, that you dropped in, Mr. Death.
HOWARD: Can I just finish, please?
DEBBIE: Mr. Death, is there an after-life?
HOWARD: Dear, if you could just wait, please, a moment,--
ANGELA: Are you sure you wouldn't like some sherry?
HOWARD: Angela. Angela, I'd like to just say this at this time, if I could, please. Really.
GRIM REAPER: Be quiet!
HOWARD: Can I just say this at this time, please?
GRIM REAPER: Silence! I have come for you.
ANGELA: You mean... to--
GRIM REAPER: Take you away. That is my purpose. I am death.
GEOFFREY: Well, that's cast rather a gloom over the evening, hasn't it?
HOWARD: I don't see it that way, Geoff. [sniff] Let me tell you what I think we're dealing with here: a potentially positive learning experience to get an--
GRIM REAPER: Shut up! Shut up, you American. You always talk, you Americans. You talk and you talk and say 'let me tell you something' and 'I just wanna say this'. Well, you're dead now, so shut up!
GRIM REAPER: Dead.
ANGELA: All of us?
GRIM REAPER: All of you.
GEOFFREY: Now, look here. You barge in here, quite uninvited, break glasses, and then announce, quite casually, that we're all dead. Well, I would remind you that you are a guest in this house, and-- [whock] Ah! Oh.
GRIM REAPER: Be quiet! Englishmen, you're all so fucking pompous, and none of you have got any balls.
DEBBIE: Can I ask you a question?
GRIM REAPER: What?
DEBBIE: How can we all have died at the same time?
GRIM REAPER: The salmon mousse.
GEOFFREY: Darling, you didn't use canned salmon, did you?
ANGELA: I'm most dreadfully embarrassed.
GRIM REAPER: Now the time has come. Follow. Follow me.
The syndrome, if it can be called that, was formally developed by sociologist Theodor W. Adorno and his colleagues at Berkeley, and published in 1950 as “The Authoritarian Personality”. The condition was defined as, “Having a strict superego that controls a weak ego unable to cope with strong id impulses”. Since that first treatment, there has been much debate over their approach. Even so, personality types have undergone extensive study, with notable discoveries such as the proliferation of psychopaths in boardrooms, and how high-achieving women in competitive business tend to sabotage the promotion of other women, and act aggressively towards them, more so than with male counterparts. These are interesting trends to observe, but that is as far as such studies can go. Beyond, there is only a subjective meditation on causal meanings. Hence, the huge but misdirected investment of trust in the Myers-Briggs Personality Test which has made or waylaid the career ambitions of millions.
Thankfully, cognitive science is making up for lost ground. By using MRI scans, technology is providing a method that is much more direct, revealing the areas of the brain that are associated with those personalities, and how activity across the brain interacts variously in markedly different people, super-egoists included.
It's not surprising that Trump's ego attracted attention from early on in the presidential proceedings. More unusual perhaps, is that take suggests Trump is a conduit for the ghost of Reagan, disinterring the establishmentarian ethics long held by the GOP (Grand Old Party / Republicans). Modern society has forced an uncomfortable move beyond their conservative zone, in its liberalist strive for equality and rights, but now traditionalist standards have a voice again.
An alternative view presented in political scientists, Marc Hetherington & Jonathan Weiler's excellent 2009 "Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics" interprets that self-same conservatism as being at the root of the fear that motivates authoritarians, the electorate in this modern, updated version of the Berkely model. Critically, the cross-boundary blurring of traditional affiliations, race, religion, income, etc., is the very same outcome now seen for Trump's support. Instead of traditional differences, new concerns have become so large, that dealing with them is the demanded priority.
The most worrying for World peace, perhaps, grew out of 9/11, and fomented by the spread of ISIS and their attacks in Europe. The authoritarian klan is bonded by their shared, "fear of threats, physical and social, and, more than that, a desire to meet those threats with severe government action — with policies that are authoritarian not just in style but in actuality. The scale of the desired response is, in some ways, what most distinguishes authoritarians from the rest of the GOP," and, "the willingness to use government power to eliminate the threats — that is most clear among Trump supporters."
Trump supporters want simple solutions for complex issues, dealt out by a figurehead, who speaks plain English-American they can understand, without the clever rhetoric and obfuscated answers. Because, "He tells it like it is",
this “something that is more deeply held” is inherent in the cognitive styles of the more and less authoritarian. Those who score high in authoritarianism tend toward concrete, black and white understandings of problems, while those who score low tend toward more nuanced, potentially ambiguous understandings of problems. As the parties have become sorted along these lines, it has become increasingly difficult for one side of the political divide to understand the other’s positions on a set of hot-button issues. This, to us, is the key source of what feels like polarization in contemporary American politics.
That's the final paragraph in Hetherington & Weiler's book, and it echoes a divide that exists starkly defined by some political currencies, and more stepped and gradual by others. It's also the commonly held view of the science-religion debate: polarised and unyielding, but, as we can see, it possible that's only because they're using the wrong currency.
Underlying every single thought is our most powerful adaptive trait. The net effect in applying our brains to decisions, like who to vote for in the 2016 presidential election, will only be seen in retrospect, and catastrophes aside, after very many years. But, despite our differences, it is a common feature for us all, and I would say, an obvious place to look for improved understanding about what pushes us apart, and what assembles us united.
The myriad of ideas about our origins, the reasons for our existence, and our relation to other animals has the same fundament for pivoting data as white Trump supporters looking at an evolutionary scale: of separating oneself from an alien entity, one that perhaps is seen as a threat, and certainly of less value. Accumulating that data, a gradient is defined, for us, stretching from close allegiance with natural beginnings and belonging, out to the opposite pole, where others have divorced themselves entirely from nature, in preference believing they are here, living a special and select life. I think I know towards which end Trump would place himself, but then again, his unpredictability is what partly made him President. One thing is for sure, for far too many people across the globe, the next decade is going to pose an insurmountable obstacle, just to survive.