Suppressing Competition and In-Group Order - On Big Apes and Presidents

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

Suppressing Competition and In-Group Order
On Big Apes and Presidents

Achieving stable alliances, however, requires overcoming certain challenges, most particularly the male drive to ascend the hierarchy; thus alliances require suppressing competition within the ranks. In the struggle for survival, the most effective maneuvers come from groups able to suppress in-group competition to serve joint goals such as defense. Ants and other social insects offer a vivid example. By suppressing competition within the colony, ants have been able to achieve complete dominion over individualistic insect species by displacing them or turning them into food. If there is any species that rivals humans for its coordinated, militaristic dominion, it is ants. As renowned myrmecologists (ant scientists) E. O. Wilson and Burt Hölldobler describe, “The foreign policy aims of ants can be summed up as follows: relentless aggression, territorial conquest, and genocidal annihilation of neighboring colonies whenever possible.”79

Through self-sacrificing alliances (which have been studied by the US military80), ants rule the insect world, and every macrocosmic life-form in their vicinity is either chopped to pieces, stabbed, or sprayed with acid, and dragged back to the nest and consumed. So successful has this strategy been that collectively these miniature warriors equal the total biomass of humans on Earth, and no family of ultra-social insects (such as ants, wasps, bees, etc.) has ever become extinct.81

But, as mentioned before, for cooperation at this level to work, ants have to suppress competition. Ants are able to achieve this in part by sharing 75 percent of their genes (human siblings share 50 percent) and through sterility in their soldier class.82 Sterility removes mate competition from the alliance and creates genetic incentive to defend the queen, as their only means of passing on genes, with complete, self-sacrificial loyalty.

Alliances among men are also cemented through shared genes and restricted competition. Through our history of patrilocality, male alliances emerged from bands of highly interrelated male kin. Among men in groups, the risk of annihilation by outside men creates genetic incentive to defend one another as brothers and to sequester the rival tribe's territory and females. And while shared genes have thinned out as the human population exploded around the globe, today's male collectives use cultural means to suppress competition by exaggerating similarity—through group identity, common language and dress, and psychological adaptations such as RWA.

But men have a tendency to violently compete for mates, which destabilizes alliances. Rather than developing an entire sterile class, as with ants, the solution for men has been to enforce strict adherence to sexual boundaries. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, the concern over sexual boundaries is a prominent feature of the RWA scale, as seen in statements such as the following (all reverse scored):

• There is nothing wrong with premarital sexual intercourse.

• A lot of our rules regarding sexual behavior are just customs which are not necessarily any better or holier than those which other people follow.

• There is absolutely nothing wrong with nudist camps.83

Those with high RWA tend to take umbrage with the kinds of sexual behaviors listed here and tend to emphasize sexual rules and customs. But framing these tendencies as mere conservative prudishness, which is not uncommon among liberal critics, misses their utilitarian value.

In military settings, where coordinated male action is most critical, sexual boundaries are legislated far more strictly than in civilian law; US military penal codes harshly punish adultery with confinement, fines, and risk of dishonorable discharge. In 2016, two-star general David Haight was stripped of his stars, demoted to lieutenant colonel, and run out of the military for having an extramarital sexual affair.84 In contemporary morality, adultery is seen as a regrettable but not mortal error, so this response might seem extreme. But in evolutionary terms, extramarital affairs remove females from the mating pool, which creates mate shortages and can result in male-on-male conflict. And when the affairs involve other men's mates, male fury is roused. In the military context, both of these factors have the potential to erode group cohesion. In fact, evolutionary scientists have surmised that marriage may have arisen as an in-group rule designed to help men respect each other's mating claims, which makes alliance-making possible in a sex with programming designed to aid in violent competition for women.85

As it turns out, suppressing male mate competition is powerfully wired into our endocrine systems. Research has found that olfactory sensitivity to androstenone, a chemical related to testosterone, is related to a preference for social order and social hierarchies. This preference, moreover, is concentrated in those with conservative political ideologies.86 In other words, we can (literally, if unconsciously) smell this chemical, and those who are better attuned to its smell are more likely to prefer a clear, stable hierarchy. Testosterone itself appears to be regulated in part by male alliances. Research on rural villagers in the Caribbean island of Dominica finds that when male teams compete in games against men from outside villages, their testosterone levels rise. But in competitions with men from their own villages, testosterone levels stay low, providing a biological means to keep coalitionary peace.87 Strikingly, research has even found that men show elevated testosterone in the presence of attractive women but not in the presence of women who are pair-bonded with men from their own coalition.88 Thus, the sexual restrictiveness that so often characterizes the conservative Right has some basis in maintaining male coalitions.

Given the concentration of religiosity on the Right, it is perhaps not surprising that religion, too, codifies the rules of male coalitions. The Judeo-Christian religion emerged during a shockingly violent era in the Fertile Crescent, where tribes of men regularly raided the neighboring tribe, hacked their male rivals to pieces with dull bronze weapons, and captured their women. In this era, suppressing in-group male competition was urgently necessary to ensure coalitionary defense. Thus, we have the seminal commandment from Moses: “Thou shall not covet thy neighbor's wife.”

Raping the wives of the out-group was fair game for Moses's men, however, and the Bible is replete with wartime rape references. Here, rape is commanded against foreign nations but suppressed within nearby nations, which were very likely tied through kinship:

When the LORD your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the LORD your God gives you from your enemies. This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby.89

There are other evolutionary reasons for sexual control among conservatives, which we will explore in the next chapter, but maintaining warring male coalitions is central among them. Another means to maintain coalitions, also captured by RWA, is the conservative emphasis on social conformity.