The news that the House Republicans cannot elect a Speaker is pure schadenfreuden joy to these old curmudgeonly ears. Wholly fractious disagreements, Orange Fat Man! We haven’t seen this level of dysfunction in Washington since the Orange Fat Man was there! While we’re all watching it with our popcorn and MnMs and pop and stuff, we may as well learn from it, too, right?
It is as though gawd herself is shrieking that I should be writing this post right now about this very topic because it makes the perfect illustration of Cultural Evolution because this new inter-disciplinary field of study that examines the way societies, countries, and empires have changed over time. Their conclusion is that human culture has evolved to cooperate, and it is that cooperation that has enabled us to be the most dominate species on the planet and soon coming to a planet near you! This post is largely based on Peter Turchin’s book, “Ultrasociety: How 10,000 Years of War made Humans the Greatest Cooperators on Earth.“
CULTURAL EVOLUTION is a description of the process of change that occurs to society over time. Culture is “information capable of affecting individuals’ behavior that they acquire from other members of their species through teaching, imitation and other forms of social transmission.” In order to explain what we’re witnessing in microcosm in the Republican House caucus and in macrocosm in the United States today, we’ll use theory of cultural multilevel selection.
CULTURAL MULTILEVEL SELECTION is a model of cultural evolution that suggests that evolutionary principles can be used to describe changes to individuals within a group, groups of individuals, and groups of groups. When applied to human societies, it suggests that competition between societies drives the evolution of human societies. It explains the development of ultrasociality (cooperation among exceedingly large groups of unrelated individuals). It suggests that when two societies came into competition with each other, the cultural traits of one would succeed and “eliminate” the cultural traits of the other either through genocide, displacement, or assimilation.
In order for millions of individuals to exist as a functioning society whether they are insects or mammals, the individuals must cooperate. Cooperation in societies of millions of people means trusting folks you don’t know to do the right thing and being altruistic — helping people you don’t know even though you aren’t likely to receive a direct reward. It follows then, that more successful societies will be those in which trust and altruism, right?k We can even use this analysis on smaller organizations, like say the Republican Party or their House caucus.
According to Turchin’s research and mathematical model of the rise and fall of civilizations, which has been tested using historical data spanning millennia, the key to success is having a large number of cooperators working together to solve the problems of the day. Let’s save the explanation for a later blog post. It’s interesting, but trying to go through it is harshing my enjoyment of this Republican moment of dysfunction.
The Republican House Speaker Debacle
Republicans have spent decades promoting the obstinate refusal to compromise or cooperate with the evil Democrats who hate us for our freedoms. Newties big contribution to our culture other than the principle of cheat on your spouse with terminal illness because, bonus, she’s going to die anyway, amirite? was that we could frame the debate by using inflammatory divisive rhetoric, painting the other side as being pure evil. This was the beginning of politics that led to the Karl Rove idea of turning a positive into a negative and the Swift Boating of John Kerry and political assassination of Max Cleland by Rick Wilson — YES THAT RICK WILSON.
Essentially, Republicans learned — through imitation — that divisive hateful fear-mongering rhetoric was the way to win. And, it was as long as it caused divisions in the ranks of your opponents and kept your group goose stepping in lock step. We all remember the Republicans of the nineties, aughts, and teens voting as a block, never dissenting from the party line. It always left me scratching my ass wondering why Democrats couldn’t or wouldn’t do the same, but always being a little relieved that they didn’t. Feel free to add your thoughts and memories of this era in the comments.
Trump was the epitome of this divisive style of politics. However, something strange happened on the way to the authoritarian dystopia, the Democrats got better at cooperating. Sure there were tiffs between the Squad and more moderate members, sure Bernie sniped with the moderates, sure Schumer didn’t seem as touch as Reid did, but somehow Democrats have won in the last three cycles.
The Republican House Speaker Race
Now, the Republican caucus is pulling itself apart at its seems like some poorly stitched together Frankenstein monster. When the winning party can’t put aside their individual differences and needs long enough to elect a Speaker for the House, you know something is deeply wrong with the culture of that organization. This is the best and clearest example of how a intra-organization competition means defeat in inter-organization competition.
The Republican Party, especially in the House, have reached the tipping point of competitors versus cooperators. There are too many Mad Dog Greenes, Fully Loaded Boeberts, Assault Weapon Biggs, Wrasslin’ Gym Jordan, Date Rape Gaetz, and Insurrectionist Perry who are only interested in furthering their own careers for the GOP to be functional. Once an organization or society loses its ability to cooperate, it goes the way of the Roman Empire.
This disintegration of the Republican Party is the culmination of a near forty year field experiment in which rugged individualism and self-absorption have become the winning themes of our elections. Our federal government has grown increasingly dysfunctional because of the Republican refusal to cooperate in any way with Democrats. As a result, our national debt service is under threat again with Republicans salivating at not extending the debt limit to pwn the libs and plunge the world into utter chaos.
In the larger scheme of things, the instability caused by Republican and MAGA decisiveness is literally threatening the country. Turchin and Sergey Nefedov (Russian historian) published their study of eight states or empires that collapsed because of declining levels of cooperation was the most important factor in their collapse.
There you have it. Republicans are at a crossroads. They can keep on their divisive path and we all engage in a race to see whether they implode as a political party or they destroy us as a nation first. And that, dear readers, is science fact.
DON’T GIVE US MONEY! GIVE US
Categories: Social Psychology