Monday, January 23, 2017

How our evolutionary psychology elected Donald Trump.

While I feel that in principle our world might be best governed by a multinational meritocratic elite (of the sort that just met in Davos Switzerland) I can’t even begin to feel the same kind of emotional bonding to this vague impersonal entity that I feel towards my hometown of Austin Texas, or Madison Wisconsin where I spent my adult working life. (And, business oligarchies governing the world have shown much more regard for maximizing profits than for the maintenance and quality of local human communities, the entities that most of us care about and can bond to.) Our brains evolved and are hard wired for caring most about family and tribe. Brooks makes these points very compellingly in his recent Op-Ed piece that notes the old German sociological distinction between gemeinschaft and gesellschaft.
All across the world, we have masses of voters who live in a world of gemeinschaft: where relationships are personal, organic and fused by particular affections. These people define their loyalty to community, faith and nation in personal, in-the-gut sort of ways.
But we have a leadership class and an experience of globalization that is from the world of gesellschaft: where systems are impersonal, rule based, abstract, indirect and formal.
Many people in Europe love their particular country with a vestigial affection that is like family — England, Holland or France. But meritocratic elites of Europe gave them an abstract intellectual construct called the European Union.
Many Americans think their families and their neighborhoods are being denuded by the impersonal forces of globalization, finance and technology. All the Republican establishment could offer was abstract paeans to the free market. All the Democrats could offer was Hillary Clinton, the ultimate cautious, remote, calculating, gesellschaft thinker.
It was the right moment for Trump, the ultimate gemeinschaft man. He is all gut instinct, all blood and soil, all about loyalty over detached reason. His business is a pre-modern family clan, not an impersonal corporation, and he is staffing his White House as a pre-modern family monarchy, with his relatives and a few royal retainers. In his business and political dealings, he simply doesn’t acknowledge the difference between private and public, personal and impersonal. Everything is personal, pulsating outward from his needy core.
Brooks goes on to argue that what made Trump right electorally will also make him an incompetent president. The danger is not so much the rise of fascism, a new authoritarian age, but that "everything will become disorganized, chaotic, degenerate, clownish and incompetent." How does the ultimate anti-institutional man sit at the nerve center of a four-million-person institution?

I think a good analogy is to hope that over time these millions of people, like the nerve cells in our brain, will do a "work-around" the focal lesion (Trump) to restore and maintain normal operations of the system.

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