Equality Versus Hierarchy

Sex, Power, and Partisanship: How Evolutionary Science Makes Sense of Our Political Divide - Hector A. Garcia 2019

Equality Versus Hierarchy

Every year since 1945, there has been a white-tie fundraising dinner for Catholic Charities held at the lavish Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City. This is an elite event where the rich, the powerful, and the famous gather to donate and be seen. In an election year, it is usually the last event during which the two presidential candidates will share a platform before the election. The candidates typically use this forum to deliver humorous speeches and gently roast their competitors and his or her respective party.

In 2000, Al Gore and George W. Bush shared the stage. Gore's joke took a feathery jab at conservative tax policies favoring the rich: “One of my favorite shows is Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Well, it should really be called Who Wants to Be after Taxes a $651,437.70 Person? Of course, that's under my plan. Under Governor Bush's plan it would be Who Wants to Be after Taxes a $701,587.80 Person?”1

The crowd erupted with laughter. George W. Bush followed with a now infamous quote that seemed to flaunt Gore's satirical accusation, which also drew laughs: “This is an impressive crowd—the haves and the have-mores. Some people call you the elite; I call you my base.”

The exchange between Gore and Bush exemplifies the tamest, most playful example that one may ever see of disagreement on the issue of how best to divide resources. Bush was no doubt also taking a poke at himself and his party, however wrapped in truth it may have been. But the remarks touched upon an ancient struggle over resources, one linked to powerful emotion centers in the brain. Perhaps not surprisingly then, Bush's words left many liberals incensed, and the joke was repeated to portray Republicans as greedy, unempathic crony capitalists, including in Michael Moore's 2004 documentary Fahrenheit 9/11. In John Kerry's 2004 run for president, he even used “Haves and Have Mores” as a slogan for the Republican opposition, which he opposed with slogans such as “John Kerry: Leaving Billionaires Behind since 1945.”

Still, these were just words. Concern over the control of resources has historically played out in arenas far more contentious and far more dangerous. Poignant examples include the Communist and Socialist revolutions that have arisen around the world, far more globally than most of us know—in Europe (e.g., France, Russia, Finland, Hungary, Spain, Yugoslavia), Asia (e.g., China, Mongolia, Vietnam, Laos, Malaya, Afghanistan, India), South America (e.g., Cuba, Peru, Nicaragua, El Salvador), Africa (e.g., Ethiopia, Congo), and in many other nations. At their core, all of these leftist revolutions arose in an effort to equalize unequal wealth, and their opposition countered to prevent redistribution. These revolutions have resulted not just in good-natured ribbings but also in mass destruction and rivers of blood.

Political scientists have had no difficulty placing ideological differences on how to distribute wealth along the liberal-conservative continuum. A highly consistent empirical finding is that political liberals tend to favor wealth equalization, whereas conservatives tend to favor the economic status quo. But political ideologies and the economic policy preferences associated with them are only recent expressions of ancient evolutionary imperatives. Thus, our ideology-based economic disputes are usually driven, often unconsciously, by the timeless competition over resources necessary to survive and reproduce. Among humans, as among all social animals, a higher position on the dominance hierarchy affords preferential access to territory, food, and mates. And so, while political science rarely describes socioeconomic stances in evolutionary terms, the struggle to maintain dominance hierarchies, or to equalize them, reflects our long history vying for position in rank-stratified primate social groups. Moreover, if conservatism reflects an “extreme” form of the male brain, and liberalism its inverse, then we would expect to find evidence that conservative economic policy is embedded in male reproductive strategy, and liberal economic policy in female reproductive strategy. Indeed this is exactly what we find.