Conformity and Order - On Big Apes and Presidents

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

Conformity and Order
On Big Apes and Presidents

Competition within human groups is inevitable because each individual is programmed by selfish genes. And so countrymen and countrywomen will compete with each other for resources such as mates, status, and wealth. However, the value of suppressing in-group competition in order to ensure successful competition with outsiders is fundamental. This imperative is captured in a famous American pre—Revolutionary War song, written by Founding Father John Dickerson, which rings, “Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all! By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall!” The Bible too presages the dangers of division: “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.”90 Such maxims derive from an ancient human instinct to drop in-group differences in the presence of an outside threat.

Psychological research can measure this impulse in action. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, for example, crime rates dropped precipitously across the United States as Americans banded together. Murder rates in New York City dropped 40 percent in the six months following the attack, and we find the same drop in antisocial behaviors in many other societies in the midst of war or environmental crises.91 Research has also found that witnessing death or injury during the 9/11 attacks predicted a higher RWA score.92 These results underscore the idea that political conservatism is an evolved strategy that switches on in response to male coalitionary violence; a glaring yet rarely mentioned fact is that every one of the 9/11 hijackers was male.

The drop in antisocial behavior (violence, stealing, and rape against the in-group) and the increase in RWA after 9/11 help to illustrate that conforming to group norms to promote collective defense is an important component of the conservative strategy. This purpose becomes clearer when we consider the extent to which conservatives view breaches in the social order as dangerous. Concerns tapped by items drawn from the RWA scale are also illustrative here (note, too, the role of dominant leaders in enforcing norms; italics are mine):

• The facts on crime, sexual immorality and the recent public disorders all show we have to crack down harder on deviant groups and troublemakers, if we are going to save our moral standards and preserve law and order.

• The situation in our country is getting so serious, the strongest methods would be justified if they eliminated the troublemakers and got us back to our true path.

• The only way our country can get through the crisis ahead is to get back to our traditional values, put some tough leader in power, and silence the troublemakers spreading bad ideas.

• What our country needs most is disciplined citizens, following national leaders in unity.93

Thus, from the RWA perspective, social order has practical value as a means to facilitate defense (or even conquest). Perhaps not surprisingly, both maintaining order and providing defense are enterprises championed by powerful men.

Whether in war or peacetime, functioning societies require order, and dominant males have an ancient role in enforcing order among their male subordinates. Strong alpha chimpanzees, for example, maintain order in the troop with violence and threat displays, which makes male upstartism a costly proposition.94 Yet when we grant men too much power, we invite abuse. Granting power to the largest, loudest, most aggressive males may at times protect the in-group, but authoritarianism is a poor strategy for improving the human condition overall, particularly as we engage in ever more cooperation across national boundaries. Authoritarians may temporarily keep the peace at home, and their projections of strength may occasionally dissuade attack from the outside, but they also start wars and oppress their subordinates. Moreover, not all means of establishing order require a powerful male. In fact, there is a good case to be made that social order is best established by placing a ceiling on the amount of power that men can acquire and by transferring greater power to women. The following chapters will explore this dynamic, as well as the reasons why men have historically resisted giving women control.