Social Psychology

McCarthy and House Republicans in Disarray: Victims of Their Own Divisiveness

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?

Cultural Evolution

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

Divisive Rhetoric

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.




Image Attribution

Million pieces puzzle” by Nimrod Bar is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

12 replies »

  1. After more than a decade of making their Speaker’s life a living hell whenever they got the majority in the House, the Republicans may not be able to choose one without the support of some Democrats. That is the price of having been the Party of NO for so long and having a tiny margin of majority.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Bob!

      I can’t believe how badly McCarthy has handled this. I figured that McCarthy would become Speaker, but after receiving twenty no votes, I’m starting to wonder if he can survive.

      It just shows the level of dysfunction that the party has fallen to and it doesn’t bode well for the rest of us.

      I’m wondering if the Dems might want to nominate their most conservative caucus member to see if they can get a coalition of 218 for them.


      Liked by 1 person

      • McCarthy’s confident expectation of becoming Speaker, and the assumption of many that he would was based on the prediction of the Red Wave. Now, with the GOP majority by only 5, count them, 5 members. any 5 or more of the party can block whatever the majority of the caucus want to do. This is a lot like the last Senate for the Democrats when their plans could be blocked by only one or two hold outs. But Manchin and Sinema weren’t radical, “burn it all down”, authoritarian narcissists and insurrectionists. They could be negotiated with. The “Freedom Caucus” don’t believe in negotiation.

        I don’t know that McCarthy could long survive any attempt to get Democrat votes. If it got out that he was even trying, that would sink him. So, if McCarthy just can’t get enough of the hold outs to vote for him, and the rest of the GOP caucus doesn’t capitulate to the radicals and elect their candidate, then a bi-partisan candidate from the Dem side, or a sufficiently traditional moderate Republican, or an Independent (are there any in the House?) may be the only way forward. That, in itself would be unprecedented in that chamber. It would also be a powerful message of marginalizing the insurrectionists. Of Course, if more than five of them get hauled off to jail, the Dems would have the majority again for a little while.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Howdy Bob!

          I’m hoping the Dems can turn this incident into decent messaging for the 24 campaign. Compromise and cooperation is the heart of governing a democracy. We really don’t want it all one way or another. In some ways, it is a continuation of the Great Civics Lesson we embarked upon in the 2016 campaign.

          I don’t think there’s any real hope of the Republicans and Dems working together to elect a speaker. I suppose eventually one side or the other of the Republican quarrel will find someway of saving enough face to make voting for a speaker possible, but it demonstrates just how unmanageable the Republicans have become. In 2013, Ted Cruz stopped the government with his mantra, “Winning is easy, don’t compromise.” They haven’t learned anything since. They’ve only become worse about it all.

          If we’re lucky, five or six Republicans will have tired of it all enough to quit the party and become independents throwing the majority to the Dems. Okay, you can dream, right?


          Liked by 1 person

          • Given that the core demand of the freedom Caucus is using the threat of debt default to force the enactment of their agenda of dismantling so much, and making good on the threat if they don’t get their way, I think those five or six Republicans bailing out of their dysfunctional party may be the only answer. Not even Kevin McCarthy can agree to to take down not on;y the US economy, but the world’s.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Howdy Bob!

              The next big fight will be over the rules package. I understand that many of the moderates are unhappy with the concessions McCarthy has made. So, we’ll see. I guess it will get worse before it gets better.

              The Dems will be willing to bail McCarthy and moderate Repubs out on the debt ceiling and other economic measures. Those MAGA folks have given Jeffries a huge lever to use with McCarthy. You want our votes to increase the debt ceiling, here’s what you’re going to do…

              It’ll be Boehner and Ryan on steroids.



    • Howdy Taurus!

      I have written about what a civil war would look like here. It wouldn’t be like the Civil War with two standing armies. It would be more terrorist strikes and guerrilla warfare with attacks on infrastructure, like say, shooting electrical substations so that thousands are out of power for a week or more… oh wait, that’s already happening. Like racist lone shooters going to businesses and schools shooting lots of people dead in the name of starting a race war… oh wait, that’s already happening. Like kidnapping the governor of state and putting her through a kangaroo show trial before executing her… oh wait, that’s already happening. Like taking over a government park with gunmen because of disagreements over property taxes… oh wait, that’s already happening.

      We already are in a low-level civil war. Lots of Republican politicians are urging their followers to commit more acts of violence against the general public and against their scapegoats. I count us as lucky that we didn’t have widespread violence at polling stations or counting centers in the last election. We’ll be able to gauge how successful we’re being in resisting this authoritarian movement by how many acts of rightwing terrorism we have to suffer through.



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