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Trump’s Chimps

When Jane Goodall first studied chimpanzees in the wild she learned that they are peaceful animals for the most part. The problem with her first study was that it was limited mainly to female chimps, including the very good mother, Flo.

As time went on and more data was collected it became evident that chimp behavior could be anything but peaceful. Especially among male chimps vying for power. I say male chimps because unlike bonobos the males are bigger , stronger and more aggressive than females. And unlike gorillas, our more distant relative, the common chimpanzees live in larger groups with multiple males.

The political power structure of chimps centers around groups of males, supporting each other. One male chimp stands above the others. He achieves this role through violence and intimidation. He makes the other male chimps cower before him. Then he uses that collective power to maintain control of the group.

In order to keep that power he must continually reassert his dominance. Once in a while a younger chimp may challenge him. At that point his gang comes to support him and fend off the challenger. At some point, however, when he starts to get old and vulnerable another chimp will successfully challenge him and become the new leader. Demanding the same allegiance from the group. Subserviant males would approach the ruler and hold out a hand in demonstrating their complete loyalty.

Of course there will be males who simply leave the group run by the bully. It was noted in the group that Goodall studied. A number of males left the original group and went to an adjoining territory. The original males , led by their boss, tracked down the other males. But they did not attack them as a group.

They waited until they found a male alone, then the entire gang systematically attacked and beat the ex-patriot to death. They did this to each male as they found him. Ambushed. Brutal gang attacks on lone males. Those murdered males had been part of their society and probably related to some of them. The attacks occurred for no apparent reason since the break off group was not threatening their territory.

As we now know, chimpanzees are our most closely related primate. (Some claim bonobos are just as close or closer). Some anthropologists have suggested that human beings are, in fact, a type of chimpanzee. But, since humans make the categories they decided they were unique.

Which brings me to Trump’s chimps.

Are there some genetic components in human beings that demand the type of leadership Trump provides? Violent. Vindictive. Allowing no deviation from the leader. Total humiliation of others, even his closest supporters.

Do human beings, at least many of them, welcome the bully as leader. The tough guy who manipulates others to do his dirty work. The man who governs by intimidation.

Are democracies doomed by human DNA?

Julius Caesar. Adlof Hitler. Napoleon Bonaparte. Idi Amin. Pol Pot. Josef Stalin. Mao Zedong. Saddam Hussein. Donald Trump. Henry VIII. Putin. The list goes on.

No strong man acts alone. He intimidates others who buckle under his will. He eliminates anyone who defies him, further intimidating those around him. A technique so old and so often used that it is hard to imagine there is not some genetic component.

Perhaps Trump’s chimps are normal and those of us who believe in democracy are the outliers, genetically. Perhaps democracies are doomed to eventually give way to authoritarianism. Perhaps there is an inherent need for humans to reject the idea of group decision making in deference to a strong man. After all, democracy demands responsibility. Isn’t it easier to give that responsibility to one man and unburden the individual from thinking and acting. Easier to give up responsibility for society. Empathy is hard.

A frightful idea. That Trump’s chimps are the inevitable end game of our democracy.The “normal” ones. Encoded in our DNA.

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Words, Part 1

“In the beginning was the word…” so begins the Bible followed by both Christians and Jews.  In Hindu mythology, the word “Om or Aum” is the first sound of creation. The Qu’ran is thought to be the word of Allah by Muslims. Members of the Church of Later Day Saints believe that Joseph Smith of upstate New York was given the words of god on golden tablets.

Words are important. Of all the species still on Earth, it is homo sapiens alone that uses speech to communicate sophisticated ideas. Other animals use sounds to express fear and danger and affection and contentment. Chimps use signs and sounds. Bonobos have been taught to use symbolic language to express complete ideas. Some other primates even use sign language to communicate when hunting in groups. There is something in the DNA of primates that demands communication. We are all social animals.

Words are important.

Primates use body language and words to communicate. The key word is “communicate”. Communication does not necessarily mean that a human or other primate is interested in communicating the truth.

For example, we have evidence that when some Rhesus monkeys see food they call out to others and share it. Once in awhile, however, a monkey will keep quiet or even give a false predator warning cry to distract from the food source. They lie. They communicate something which is false. Then they sneak the food for themselves.

We depend on words. When someone lies to us it becomes very difficult to trust them again. When someone misuses words (that is lies) under oath, we consider them criminals. Even presidents. Bill Clinton was impeached by the Republican Congress for lying.

He was not impeached for having an affair. He was not impeached for any illegal financial dealings. The 4 year long investigation of Bill Clinton and his wife’s finances (Whitewater) found nothing illegal. The Starr investigation after spending mllions of dollars  found no criminal behavior based on the original mandate, which was to look at the Clinton land deals.

Both articles of impeachment against Clinton dealt not with any financial wrongdoing, but the fact that he lied about his sex life when under oath.  You may wonder why the Starr investigation was expanded into his sex life, but that is another matter. A corruption charge was never supported, but his lies about his sex life were considered important enough to expel him from the presidency. So, he was impeached for words he said.

Our current president has , according to the factchecker at the Washington Post, told over 2,000 lies and misstatements in less than his first year in office. Over 2,000 documented examples of intentional miscommunication. Since he is not under oath, none of those lies are actionable under the law. But that degree of miscommunication may be one reason why he has an approval rating below 40% in most polls.

When words are used for miscommunication then the very idea of language becomes damaged. Language is supposed to be a positive force through which we convey ideas and beliefs and emotions in an honest way. When language is exploited regularly to miscommunicate it leads to a general distrust of any communication. When words are used as weapons, rather than tools of honest communication, all language becomes suspect.

We see attacks on the press, attempting to delegitimize the one institution which is based on words. Honest words. ( I deal with this in another post a year ago: https://josephurban.wordpress.com/2017/01/30/lugenpresse-testing-the-waters/)

Politicians, of course, depend completely on words. When they lie by misstatements or omission to intentionally deceive people it is especially disturbing. We see them lie most often when the facts and evidence do not support their assertions. A good example is the reemergence of the supply side economics which failed miserably under Mr Bush. Tax breaks for the wealthy to boost jobs. It just does not happen, but that does not stop the lying.

My own Congressman, Tom Reed, NY 29 is especially adept at the half truth and miscommunication. He miscommunicated not only his own views (as seen by his actions) but impugns his political opponents by lying about their views as well. And he is very good at it. So he gets re-elected.

So, while “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is true on the playground, it is not true in politics. Words are the core of politics because they are used to convince others to act.

We currently live in an era where those with the most political power are determined to stay in power through miscommunication. Not by the power of their ideas.  Not by the benefits to the people derived by their actions. But by miscommunicating to such an extent that even 2,000 lies a year does not bother them.

Next time I will look at the variety and scope of the miscommunication, the misuse of words, by those currently in power.

 

https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/06/090615-monkeys-lie-food.html

https://books.google.com/books?id=pEuVe5zT-4cC&pg=PA74&lpg=PA74&dq=rhesus+monkeys+food+lies&source=bl&ots=-A5bfEwk2c&sig=O1nv-XXYhQ78i5HQpx2hrNFXrzc&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwimo8G74tzYAhWDUd8KHYalBlgQ6AEIUDAL#v=onepage&q=rhesus%20monkeys%20food%20lies&f=false

https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/clinton/stories/articles122098.htm

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2018/01/10/president-trump-has-made-more-than-2000-false-or-misleading-claims-over-355-days/?utm_term=.dc90a42256a8

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