The Biology of Politics
Where moral values actually come from
In 2018, missionary John Allen Chau sailed to North Sentinel Island to bring the native people Christianity.
They shot him full of arrows.
He never set foot on the island. Neither did his ideas. Nor did his germs.
In shooting first, asking questions never, Sentinelese preserved their society and cultural identity, one that presumably has been intact since the Stone Age.
They likely don’t have an “official foreign policy”. Yet their behavior displays what we might call “hyper-conservative.” And it gives us a clue to the pre-rational origins of political beliefs.
Most of us would like to think we arrive at our political beliefs through pure reason.
The more honest among us may accept that our beliefs come, at least partly, from social influences (family, community, the media we consume).
But the root of our political leanings isn’t rational, and isn’t even social.
Conservatives are more likely to feel disgust.
A 2014 study measured how disgusted people felt when showed various unsightly images.
Their disgust response was measured by neural activity in the amygdala and basal ganglia— parts of the brain correlated with threat detection.
Interestingly, the neural activity did not always correspond with the subject’s verbal response— Sometimes the person said they weren’t disgusted, when their brains said they were. But it did always correlate with their political stance.
They found that a subject’s disgust reaction could predict their political leaning with a 95% accuracy.1 The more disgusted a person was, the more politically conservative they happened to be.
The disgust response evolved an emotional proxy for avoiding pathogens.
You can’t see germs on a rotting carcass. But you can be grossed out by the sight and smell so that you don’t touch it.
Nor can you see smallpox on a person. But you can see if they are a foreign land through their appearance and customs.
A strong disgust response over anything “unusual” things can keep you from touching something that might infect you.
That goes for infections of the body and infections of the mind…
Conservativism seeks to maintain.
Cultural pathogens (foreign beliefs, customs, memes) can be just as damaging to a group— especially one larger than Dunbar’s Number (~150persons).
For many strangers to take collective action they need a collective identity. For a group to have a collective identity, they need to have certain abstract beliefs in common— spiritual, cultural, nationalistic etc.
This is why one of the first orders of business for any nation-builder has always been control of morality. (viz: History of Man II Chiefs to Kings: Solid State War in the Bronze Age.)
So as human society evolved, the primal disgust response that protected a group from biological infection evolved into a morality for protecting a group from cultural infection— conservative policies.
Tight borders, social uniformity/traditionalism, and hierarchy all help conserve the group identity.
Small government, low taxes, and reduced regulation allow a people to feel more autonomous. (Every individual is closer to the Perimeter.)
Conservatism is the low volatility strategy. It aims to keep things the same to avoid new problems… though it also avoids new benefits.
But what about liberals?
Liberality: Tolerance + Outrage
Liberality is a little more complex, because as a social strategy it’s relatively newer.
Conservatism makes sense for any group that is autonomous: small nomadic tribes and the ruling class of states.
But for non-autonomous (subjugated) peoples, a strategy based on preserving autonomy doesn’t make sense.
A tribe forced into slavery, or even a people coerced into joining an agricultural state, has a totally different game to play.
In Episode II we covered this psychological schism through what Nietzsche called Master vs. Slave Morality.
Master Morality was the framework that allows a people to conserve their power.
Slave Morality was a newer kind of moral framework with a dual application:
To help the lower class tolerate their reduced freedom
To overthrow the ruling class if subjugation became unbearable
Tolerating Reduced Freedom
Subjugated peoples didn’t have a choice of to what germs or cultures they were exposed. Therefore, having a strong disgust response wouldn’t serve them.
As far as pathogens went, they were best off developing immunity as quickly as possible.
As far as culture went, they might as well mix and homogenize.
Liberalism correlates with city life for this reason.
In any high population density location, one cannot act completely on free will without bumping into someone, literally and figuratively.
So ethics that make it easier to get by with others such as tolerance, inclusion, and collectivization (sharing resources) simply makes more sense than being disgusted.
And cooperation with strangers makes a lot of sense when looking to break free:
Disgust works as a primal way to defend yourself from an invisible threat (germs or foreign ideas). It especially works if your tribe has a clear hierarchal structure behind an Ableman.
But to get a non-hierarchal group to band together and attack a stronger power (viz: revolt), you need a different emotion: Outrage.
Outrage differs from disgust in that it requires peers. You can’t feel outrage in a vacuum.
Outrage is the driving emotion behind Mob Mentality.
It’s what allows many individuals to band together and drop their resistance to aggression.
And on a macro level, the mob has certain advantages over a individual-led hierarchy.
Subjugated peoples typically can’t compete with the ruling class in symmetrical warfare. (Or else they would have never been subjugated.)
So they have to innovate.
Luckily liberal philosophy already welcomes new and foreign ideas, making a liberal society ripe for technological innovation.
But all benefits come with a cost…
Welcoming all new ideas reduces efficiency. Liberal groups are more susceptible to infighting.
In fact, every revolutionary group in history that was able to maintain their power post-revolution always ended up switching to a hyper conservative strategy. (i.e. Communist China & USSR, Christianity & Islam.)2
Liberal groups have to become authoritarian once taking power, otherwise they will welcome another revolutionary group to oust them.
Liberalism is the high volatility strategy. It welcomes innovation and new actions, at the expense of also welcoming unforeseen risks.
While every political pundit will rationally justify why his/her stance is “right”, all political leanings ultimately come from biological survival strategies:
Conservatism aims to preserve autonomy.
Liberalism aims to first tolerate lack of autonomy, and second to allow the subjugated to revolt.
Each strategy has it’s pros and cons. Therefore versatility and balance between the strategies is necessary for the success of any social group.
History of Man IV Two National Characters shows how these two strategies played out in the wars between hyper-conservative Sparta and hyper-liberal Athens.
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The Network State by Balaji Srinisawan