You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Democracy in Animal Groups’ tag.

Neo liberal capitalistic societies tend to promote narratives that reinforce their preferred system of rules and expectations.  Examining counter examples and counter-narratives is a necessary task of those who not only want to change society, but also for those who wish to improve the societal conditions in which they exist.  The assumption in question is the animal dominance idea.  It goes like this:

   “Mammals tend to have “alpha” animals – leaders.  Doesn’t this prove that monarchies are more biologically normal that self-sacrificing or consensus-based or egalitarian democracies? [..] It turns that dominace-based political and economic systems are the exception, not the rule, in the arc of human history, and they have a nasty habit of imploding every century or so, so as a succession of European, African, South American, and Asian empires show.”

  […]

  “The prevailing assumption has always been that because there are identifiable “alpha” members of animal groups – from alpha males amount gorillas to alpha females among wolves – these alpha members must also exercise despotic rules over the other in the tribe, pack, or community”

  […]

“Conradt and Roper discovered that democracy always trumps despotism, both over the short and the long term.  When a single leader(despot) or small group of leaders (oligarchy) make the choices, the swings into extreme behaviour tend to be greater and more dangerous to the long term survival of the group.  Because in a despotic model the overall needs of the entire group are measured only by the leader’s needs, wrong decisions would be made often enough to put the survival of the group at risk.”

“With democratic decision making, however, the overall knowledge and wisdom of the entire group, along with the needs of the entire group, come into play.  The outcome is likely to harm anybody, and the group’s probability of survival is enhanced. ‘Democratic decisions are more beneficial primarily because they tend to produce less extreme decisions,’ they note in the abstract to their paper. 

-Hartmann, Thom. Threshold: The Crisis of Western Culture pp. 118 – 120

   So, these biologists (see L. Conradt and T. J. Roper’s original article here) putting forward a set of assumptions that contradict the neoliberal “despotism is the way” set of ideas about how animals organize and work (and how it ‘naturally’ occurs in human affairs as well).  The democratic impulse, at least according to this paper, is alive and moderately pervasive in the mammalian kingdoms (for a quick summary check out James Randerson in the New Scientist).

I’m quite happy with these results.  But that is not to say that they are necessarily the correct interpretation of all the facts of the matter.  Our species tendency to pick the fact and narratives that support our own preferences is the bigger lesson to be aware of.  I urge my readership to look into both accounts and judge the facts for what they say, not what we wish to them to say.

However, if we continue with democratic animal narrative we can reasonably say something along the lines of what Thom Hartmann says in the closing paragraph of that chapter.

   “Those who advocate a dog-eat-dog, “survival of the fittest at the expense of society as a whole” approach to economics and governance are advocating, essentially, for cancer in our body politic.  They are ignoring the surrounding environment [see corporate ‘externalities’], which demands a balanced, homeostatic, and altruistic culture.  On every continent in the world we find living cultures and cultural remnants that knew this well and that developed elaborate and successful ways to prevent sociopathic individuals whose obsession centred on acquiring wealth at the expense of others, keeping others from being successful at growing and metastasizing.”

-Threshold: The Crisis of Western Culture p.125

  I think that there is a fair chunk of evidence that we have let the anti-democratic factions exercise too much control and power in our society.  The ruthless exploitation of people and the environment in the name of progress under capitalism reveals a tendency toward the despotic cancerous nature that has typified much of capitalistic theory and practice as of late.  We need to be able to explore and understand different methods of organizing our societies and perhaps swinging the pendulum more toward a society that is more altruistic and more democratic in nature.

 

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