War as the Source of RWA - On Big Apes and Presidents

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

War as the Source of RWA
On Big Apes and Presidents

What has never been fully explored is how RWA, like SDO and political conservatism more generally, reflects a long and violent history of mate competition among men. Some illustration of its value can be seen in how neatly the three constructs of RWA—aggressiveness, submission to authority, and adherence to social convention—map onto military social organization. First, deference to authority forms the very basis of military hierarchy. In the combat theater, unquestioning obeisance down the chain of command is essential. Military actions require quick, coordinated, and decisive action, which is facilitated by adhering to a strict hierarchy with centralized decision-making capacity. Imagine how slowly a military force would act (and how quickly it would be defeated) if decision-making was democratic and all men were not particularly obliged to obey commands. Second, aggression against outsiders “sanctioned by established authorities” (as Altemeyer describes RWA) is the very purpose of militaries. Third, high conformity to military convention is not only evident in military jargon, dress, haircuts, and formations but also in conformity to rules and procedures, which is necessary both for maintaining order among testosterone-filled men and for coordinating their actions. Perhaps understandably, then, military cadets score higher on authoritarianism than do those in the civilian world.78

Further “submitting to authority” and “adherence to the social conventions” are often one and the same, for it is often the male authorities who dictate social convention. In other words, conforming to the social order can also mean accepting the dominance hierarchy, which includes the authority and rules of the alpha male at its apex. This dynamic is ubiquitous and captured neatly in the phrase “for king and country,” a maxim that originated in Britain and was meant to connote in-group loyalty. Practically speaking then, for men, observing convention means not competing for dominance with the in-group leaders or “jumping rank,” as the behavior is known in the military.

The takeaway message is that RWA reflects a group-level survival strategy among humans in a dangerous and highly competitive natural world. Among Earth's life-forms, the ability to engage in organized, cooperative enterprises provides a powerful survival advantage. This ability to coordinate not only explains intergroup competition but also why the small, relatively weak naked apes of our ancestral past were not wiped from existence on the predator-laden plains of Africa where they arose. Without organized alliances we would not exist today.