Monday, October 10, 2016

The Death of the Alpha Male


I was reading a Washington Post article today in which two body language experts weighed in on the candidates' performances in the second presidential debate yesterday.

What interested me was the fact that they called Trump's pacing, scowling, and snorting "aggressive" and "alpha male behavior," while they deemed Hillary's sitting when Trump spoke as "weak" and her plastic smile as he lobbed accusations and threats at her as "inappropriate."

As any woman knows, you're not likely to win a battle of the alpha males when you don't have a penis, so don't try. Non-alpha males also learn not to try to fight fire with fire when it comes physical aggression and the threat of physical aggression. Of course, passive aggression and tricksterism are learned skills which is why the bullies and jocks fare better in high school than in most other aspects of life... except for politics.

What's funny is that while I have been trying to organize my thoughts on this post today, the idea that keeps weaving it's way in and out of the various points I'm trying to connect into one coherent thought is actually a phrase from the Bible, where Jesus proclaimed that the meek shall inherit the earth.

When I was a child, I understood the meek inheriting the world as something that could only happen with divine intervention; maybe the second coming, or some kind of outside action, like the troop of baboons whose alpha males died from eating tainted meat (since the alpha males take all the meat for themselves).

The story of the "Garbage Dump Baboon Troop" is a fascinating one. The baboons were being studied in Kenya since 1978 by biologists Robert Sapolsky and Lisa Share to learn about the kind of self-induced stress modern humans are under because baboons, like us, are at the top of the food chain and much of their stress is social, not survival. (They also have the same stress induced illnesses like hypertension and heart disease.) So the alpha males in this particular troop died off and the social stresses on the remaining troop members decreased dramatically as everyone settled into a life of grooming and comradery. What's more, when new males wandered into the troop and tried to bully their way to the top, they were quickly taught that such behavior would not be tolerated, and they were forced to assimilate to this novel, peaceful culture (in baboon terms). Not surprisingly, these peaceful baboons saw a dramatic drop in their stress levels and a marked decrease in stress related diseases.

It’s difficult to find much hope in this story because it took an outside force to do away with the assholes and allow the meek baboons to inherit an asshole free world. The problem with humans and baboons is that we're all bullied into believing we are safer and happier with the biggest bullies at the top, lest our troop fall prey to a troop with an even bigger asshole at it’s helm.

But right now the human race is at a pivotal point in its history.

Massive cultural shifts like LGBT rights are sweeping the Western world while women in other cultures are winning basic human rights and the lowest social castes are demanding that their children have access to education. The lines between countries, socioeconomic classes and religions are starting to blur as we continually move toward the understanding that we are all more alike than we are different, and we can all prosper more by working together.

These fundamental shifts are threatening to the few at the top who benefit the most from the status quo, and they have been busy sounding the alarm that human existence is a zero-sum game and if those people over there are gaining, then our good people here are losing. From ISIS to Brexit to Duterte, the alpha males are blustering and bombing their message that the only safe place to be is under the guard of the biggest, baddest baboon on the block.

And so the rise of Trump which was comical at first has become quite worrying in the context of the razor thin margins around the world in which the votes have landed ever so slightly on the side of authoritarianism and demagoguery. It’s too late to muster the courage to elect a modern day FDR like Bernie Sanders. That ship has sailed. I can’t say that I have been an enthusiastic supporter of Hillary, in economic terms she represents the status quo. I have simply been anti-Trump.

That changed with last night’s debate.

I saw in Hillary every time I’ve had to soothe an alpha male’s wounded pride to mitigate the damage he’ll inflict to defend his ego; I saw every time I’ve had to smile and demure and slowly back away from an alpha male while fighting the urge the run, every time I’ve had to brush off or ignore implied threats, phrase my ideas in a way that they’ll be listened to by the alpha male in charge: don’t speak too intelligently... don’t agree too readily… offer a solution in a way that he’ll think it was his idea... and of course, learn to watch your back without looking like you’re watching your back.

I saw in Hillary a woman who has managed to execute the intricate dance of rising to the top of an alpha male’s world and still has to smile placidly as one last threatened, angry baboon lobs his feces at her face.

But there was immeasurable power in that fake, plastic smile.

Go ahead, little man, throw your poop. Show everyone how lost and powerless you are in this burgeoning world where you are already extinct.

Good riddance.