Alpha Male

Rebecca was talking about something she heard on the radio about how Rudy Giuliani is surprisingly popular even among people who oppose his views on abortion and marriage, and it’s pretty much widely accepted that it’s because he was the mayor of New York on 9/11. But do people ever stop to ask why this is so important?

Sometimes I hear people ask why it’s important that kids learn about evolution in school. “What difference does it make”, the argument goes, “since the origin of humans has nothing to do with anyone’s daily life anyway?”

Leaving aside the obvious retort that we can’t teach falsehoods about science just because they’re not relevant to daily life, I think politics is a good forum to demonstrate why people need to understand that we did, in fact, come from stupid hairy primates. And not just because politicians themselves are often stupid and hairy, although that is often true. I’m talking about the alpha-male syndrome.

You see, we humans are still stupid hairy apes, but we won’t admit it. That’s why we mindlessly follow the alpha-male. Why do you think George W. Bush won the last election against Kerry? Do you really think it was because Kerry’s policies were worse than Bush’s policies? Hell, 9 out of 10 voters aren’t even sure what to believe about anything any more, except for the core group of foaming-at-the-mouth Bible thumpers who would gladly vote for a hamster if he opposed gay marriage. People voted for Bush because he seemed like the alpha male, not because they thought he had better judgment.

Why do you think the accusation of indecisiveness was so devastating to Kerry’s political campaign? Because an alpha male makes a decision and stands by it. He is proud. He would never do something like re-examining his original position, or changing his mind in light of changing circumstances, or lying awake at night torturing himself with questions about what to do. Oh no, the alpha male stands strong and proud and makes his decision, no matter how stupid, with conviction! And we want to follow this kind of man.

Why do you think that every study of executive compensation shows that there is a direct correlation between height and promotion, as well as salary? Do you think that an extra three inches of height actually makes you a better executive? Of course not. We’re the smartest apes on the planet but we’re still apes, and we want to follow the alpha male. Why do you think there has always been a strong contingent of people who think that the rulers of the country need more power concentrated in their grubby hands, not less? Because we’re apes, and we want to follow the alpha male. Why do you think those same people tend to think the rulers need less oversight (or as they put it, “meddling”) from other branches of government? Because we’re apes, and we want to follow the alpha male.

Think back to your childhood. Who did the kids look up to? Surely not the smartest kid in the class. They looked up to the alpha male. There’s always an alpha male, and because we’re nothing but smart apes, we want to follow him. Many people don’t even question this or dispute it. Some might even argue that it’s healthy and normal (funny how those two words are often spoken together, as if one necessarily includes the other).

But ask yourself why you want to follow the alpha male. Is it because the alpha male will necessarily make the best decisions? Of course not. History is littered with examples of alpha males making stupid decisions, such as Alexander marching his entire army across a barren desert, Napoleon advancing deep into Russia, or General Lee ordering his men to walk into a perfect killing zone at Gettysburg. And in so many of these cases, the bad decisions were not just a coincidence. They were directly caused by the alpha male’s weaknesses: his pride and his stubbornness. Worse yet, these are the best alpha males that history has to offer. Most alpha males skip the “brilliant success” stage and go straight to “arrogant and foolish”.

So why do we follow these kinds of men? Why do we want to follow the man who seems most like an “alpha”, rather than the man who seems to have the most prudent judgment, the most knowledge, and the most intelligence? Once again, it all comes back to our origins. We don’t make decisions like this for rational reasons. We make decisions like this because we’re apes, and we want to mindlessly follow the alpha while beating our chests and scratching our privates. We’re apes. Accept it.

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