Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What are "leaders" for?

So, if our mental mechanisms designed to navigate through the physical & social worlds are being hijacked by unscrupulous power-seekers, I have to ask if we need leaders at all?

And it seems that maybe we don't. Complex social behavior emerges in surprising places without the benefit of "leadership". Like in slime molds, whose individual cells come together to create fruiting bodies & other complex behaviors without anybody shouting orders.

Without the benefit of anything that looks like leadership, social insects like ants & bees are able to produce complex behaviors we normally assume are reserved to humans: agriculture, slavery, food-storage, & elaborate communication. Leaderless fish, birds & various insects effect coordinated complex movements.

But we're more important than slime molds & ants, so maybe there's a need for human leaders, right?

Well, even anarchy apologists like Robert Nozick can't find a way to deny that we absolutely have to have government. But that's more about arbitrating disputes than "leadership".

Social norms do force us into specific roles, however, & finding ourselves in a group with a gap, we tend to fill it. High school social cliches appear everywhere the same: the jock, the stoner, the egghead, the prom queen, the B.M.O.C. Maybe the presence of the B.M.O.C. suggests we WANT a leader, whether or not we actually need one.

Unsurprisingly, "while narcissists are more likely to become leaders, results of one of the studies suggests that, once in power, narcissists don't perform any better than others in that leadership role."

Jared Diamond implies in his book "Why is Sex Fun?" that "leadership" probably has more to do with the evolutionary strategies of males than it does with any good it provides to the society. Basically, more power = more access to resources = more reproductive opportunities. It certainly worked for Ghengis Khan.

That goes a long way toward explaining the male to female imbalance of elected representatives, actually. I think it was Feinstein who commented in the wake of yet another Capital Hill sex scandal, "I've noticed that 50-year-old Congresswomen don't have the same effect on their interns as 50-year-old Congressmen do."

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