Of body parts, the head is disproportionately influential. That’s true in social structures, too. Most humans like to feel aligned with those on top, no matter who. It’s surely not a rarity for human kids to idolize a parent when they’re young. How comforting it is to think your father/ leader/deity is wise and powerful. If I have faith in someone very, very self-assured, it makes me feel more safe and more secure, and spares me the onus of having to think for myself.
Some humans yearn for royalty and even dynasty. How else explain that “W,” a Cheney and some Kennedys, or, currently, Don, Jr. rate a following at all? Despite distinct deficiencies, such legacy celebrities are borne aloft on nothing but their brand (or family) name.
Because it seems imperiled at this point, there’s been a lot of talk about democracy of late. One troublesome trend is the income or affluence gap. “The rich get rich, the poor stay poor,” as Uncle Lenny said. We may all be equal in the eyes of the law, but that’s of little solace if your gas and power are shut off while Jamie D., your rich-ass boss, is island-hopping on his private yacht.
When I was young, my parents went to South America on a two-week cruise. What spooked them most about the trip was seeing vast disparities in wealth. They walked past stinking, squalid slums where people lived in cardboard shacks with open sewers oozing between, while just a few yards down the street, beyond a looming wall with broken glass along the top, were luxurious neighborhoods owned by the glamorous rich.
Democracy’s an oddity. Most societies retain tribal structures more in keeping with animal society – distinctly hierarchical – in which The Alphas clearly own the game. Beside your family name and history, ascendancy is based on strength, aggressiveness and cleverness (and, in our species, willingness to cheat.) We’re told we have a meritocracy, as if the playing field were really flat. A tenant farmer’s child can be President, they say. Imagine that!
In cultures un-besotted by enchanting dreams of fairness and ideal equality, we find an ethos much more like the barnyard or the wild; a pecking order, if you call it that. The tribal shogun/warlord or your current C.E.O. is not someone you cross or trifle with. Where power is overt, enforced, and clearly recognized, the most important phrase for human wellness is “Yes, Sir.” *(I could have said “Yes, Ma’am,” of course, but groups where brutish strength prevails are very nearly always run by men.)
I hear you thinking, “That’s not new; I wonder why he mentions it at all.” Well, this is why he mentions it: A half-a-dozen months ago 70 million American voters chose a candidate who publicly endorses violence. More recently, a bunch of hardcore hooligans attacked our capitol. They saw themselves as freedom fighters, not as terrorists, and as they smashed down doors and windows and trampled police, to show their patriotic zeal, they chanted “U.S.A.!!” and “Stop The Steal!” I hope, like me, you like your current politics surreal.
The world seems largely split between two types of nincompoop: The ones who love and crave authority, and those who hate and fear authority. (Which one are you?) The former tout security; the latter seek equality, which brings us back to – ah! – democracy. What lies a head?