Big Men on the Left - On Big Apes and Presidents

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

Big Men on the Left
On Big Apes and Presidents

In considering the connection between conservatism and masculinity, the presence of leftist strongmen across history may seem paradoxical. Let us briefly consider whether alpha leftist and alpha right-wing leaders are really the same animal. French philosopher Jean-Pierre Faye was the first to describe the horseshoe theory, the concept that political orientation forms more of a horseshoe than a continuum, with the extreme Right and extreme Left nearly touching in the middle. On the extreme Right you have authoritarianism (where the dominant male has total power) and on the extreme Left totalitarianism (where the state has total power), both of which bear striking resemblance to one another. Avi Tuschman explains the theory:

The two ends of the horseshoe spectrum do not actually touch…. The extreme right's ideology takes ethnocentrism and hierarchy to an extreme. In practice the extreme right's policies are more likely to result in genocide. The ideology of the extreme left takes anti-ethnocentrism and egalitarianism to an extreme. In practice, these governments are more prone to ethnocidal assimilations and politicidal purges (such as Stalinist Russia, or Cambodia under Pol Pot).48

Ideologically this model has merit, and conceptually it brings the ruling fists of men like Stalin and Hitler even closer together. When we distill ideology down to its evolutionary base, the two “sides” become even less distinguishable. The behavior of prominent male leaders of the extreme Right and extreme Left suggests both are equally driven by evolutionary competition for power, wealth, and females, which, as we have been discussing, are all zero-sum (i.e., inegalitarian) enterprises.

For example, leftist totalitarians also strive to project bigger size and strength, which among primates is essential to male dominance. Kim Jong Il, for example, wore platform shoes and a bouffant hairstyle purposefully to make himself appear taller and more imposing.49 Joseph Stalin wore shoe lifts also, stood on wooden platforms during parades, and changed his given name Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili to Stalin, which translates in Russian to “man of steel”—not exactly a moniker conveying disinterest in power.50 China's Communist leader Mao Tse-Tung also understood the need to project power, as well as the populace's need for dominant leaders. Mao argued that the personality cult was necessary to “stimulate the masses.” It was difficult, said Mao, to “overcome the habits of 3,000 years of emperor-worshipping tradition.”51 While Mao may have underestimated the span of time humans have been engaged in leader worship, he and his cabinet were sure to emphasize power difference, promoting even Mao's ideas to take a greater status than those of other men. In one speech, his defense minister Lin Bao said, “Every sentence said or written [by Mao] is truth,” and that “one sentence is equal to ten thousand sentences by us.”52

Nor have leftist dictators been soft on outside tribes. Mao called for violence against the enemy, said to include “all those in league with imperialism—the warlords, the bureaucrats, the comprador class, the big Landlord class and the reactionary section of the intelligentsia attached to them,” and he too preached xenophobia: “After the enemies with guns have been wiped out, there will still be enemies without guns; they are bound to struggle desperately against us, and we must never regard these enemies lightly. If we do not now raise and understand the problem in this way, we shall commit the gravest mistakes.”53 Like other alphas, Mao exterminated his political enemies. Under his Communist, social, and economic campaign, the Great Leap Forward, up to forty-five million people were starved, beaten, or worked to death54 (by comparison, fifty-five million died in the entirety of World War II55). Stalin, the man of steel, was responsible for the deaths of some nine million.56

Among leftist dictators, xenophobic aggression also comes with sexual conquest, as we would expect from male primates. Despite being the leader of the largest left-wing political movement in the world, championing an ethos of equality (that included sexual equality), Mao was a notorious womanizer who was reported to have indulged in sex parties and who kept a constant flow of young women on rotation in his quarters.57 Needless to say the male proletariats of Mao's China weren't invited to share in his sexual spoils. Similarly, despite Fidel Castro's carefully crafted public image as a modest, fatigue-wearing comrade, his ex-bodyguard reported that the Cuban dictator kept some twenty lavish properties, a yacht, a private island, and a battalion of mistresses.58 When asked in an interview how many children he had, he boasted, “Almost a tribe.”59 Kim Jong Il and his successor, Kim Jong Un, have also used their power and wealth to keep “pleasure squads,” hundreds of teenage girls used to service them and elite government officials, while they gorged on Black Sea caviar and French cognac.60 This while the North Korean populace starved.

Moreover, when liberal dictators ascend the primate hierarchy, the public deifies them, sometimes with great encouragement by the leaders themselves. The Vietnamese Communist revolutionary Ho Chi Minh achieved godlike status, and like the pious lining up for a glimpse of Christ's reliquaries, hundreds of devotees still queue daily to see Ho's embalmed corpse in Hanoi. Lenin's body is treated similarly in its Moscow shrine, and while alive his atheistic propaganda machine coopted deist concepts; in a play on words and concepts, one maxim transformed the idea that God (or Jesus) is always with us, with “Lenin is always with us.” But for an unabashed case of a contemporary walking god on Earth, we look to North Korea. Mandatory images of the Kim dynasty alpha gods are worshipped everywhere. Rare footage inside the insulated nation shows citizens prostrating themselves in front of Kim Jong Il's photo, wailing, and praising his greatness and omnipotence. North Koreans are literally instructed to worship the Kims as their gods.61 Needless to say, appointing oneself a god is not an egalitarian gesture.

In trying to understand the clear contradiction between egalitarian word and hierarchical deed among these leaders, it's worth noting that many of them didn't start out as dictators; they often began living closer to their egalitarian ideals, only to turn as they gained power. As philosopher Peter Singer poignantly asks, “What egalitarian revolution has not been betrayed by its leaders? And why do we dream the next revolution will be any different?”62 As we have previously discussed, male primates lower on the hierarchy have a fitness incentive to adopt political philosophies that seek to right power imbalances. The problem, however, is that those same primates also have a fitness incentive to revert to a hierarchical order once they assume power, increasing their influence, expanding their territory, and maximizing their access to women. In this sense, the leaders of leftist movements have an incentive to shift “right,” moving from their emphasis on equality, toward hierarchical control, and ultimately taking on the role of dictator. But the crucial point is that male mate competition is a unifying theme between both the extreme Left and right-wing leaders of the world. This commonality helps to explain the ideological inconsistencies we notice when so-called egalitarian leaders behave as despots.

In fact, research on the general populace, examining psychological traits such as aggression, the desire to force conformity, and obeisance to leaders, has largely failed to find “true” left-wing authoritarians. Canadian psychologist Robert Altemeyer, for example, developed a scale to measure left-wing authoritarianism (LWA) with statements such as, “Socialist revolutions require great leadership. When a strong, determined rebel leads the attack on the Establishment, that person deserves our complete faith and support,” and “A leftist revolutionary movement is quite justified in attacking the Establishment and demanding obedience and conformity from its members.” Analyses failed to find strong left-wing authoritarians but instead found that those who scored high on LWA also scored high on right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) and displayed the highest hostility and dogmatism.63 American psychologist Sam McFarland examined political psychology in the Soviet Union and found that high RWA predicted hostility toward and mistrust of America, bias against women, prejudice against outside groups such as capitalists, and that those high on RWA were typically members of the Communist Party.64 Altemeyer explains these results:

The most cock-sure belligerents in the populations on each side of the Cold War, the ones who hated and blamed each other the most, were in fact the same people, psychologically. If they had grown up on the other side of the Iron Curtain, they probably would have believed the leaders they presently despised, and despised the leaders they now trusted.65

In other words, the male-oriented, tribalistic psychology that we find on the right wing runs deeper than political parties, or even political systems. In this sense, the extreme politically Left citizen can be better understood as the gendered psychological Right in the manner we have been exploring, just like the brash cults of personality that they tend to follow.