Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Evolution of Democracy

It is clear to many of us, in the wake of the right-wing victories in the 2016 election, that democracy is fragile. What might have happened if Trump had lost the election? Would he have gracefully accepted defeat, as Clinton did? Probably not. At least not gracefully. Throughout his campaign he declared that he would accept the election results only if he won. While I doubt he would have called his followers to violent action, he almost certainly would not have told them to restrain their passion; he would, without saying it in so many words, have encouraged his followers to begin acts of violence. Of course, we will never know, unless the Republicans lose big in 2018 or 2020.

My point is that democracy can survive only if the dominant race remains in control. The majority white race (which is actually, as described in another essay, a coalition of minority white races) likes democracy only as long as it leaves this race in control. Sure, Obama was president for eight years, but there was not one moment (except about a half a year at the beginning) when he was not under continual attack and aspersion. The Republican approach to a black presidency was to try to demolish it. They think democracy is nice but don’t let it go too far.

In this sense democracy is like any other animal behavior system. Animal behavior systems can evolve. That’s part of how we ended up with two very closely-related species of chimpanzees: the regular chimp (Pan troglodytes), which is often violent, and the bonobo (Pan paniscus), which is usually peaceful. Chimps spend a lot of time fighting, while bonobos spend a lot of time making love. A bonobo troop is like one long orgy, or so it seems to human observers. As Frans deWaal says, chimps resolve sexual conflicts with power, while bonobos resolve power issues with sex. There is nothing fundamental in primate behavior about either peace or war. It can change over evolutionary time.

In humans, behavior can change over much shorter periods of time. There is nothing about democracy that is fundamental to American character; we have it for now, but (as has happened so often in the past in other countries) humans can quickly abandon it and embrace totalitarianism if that’s what it takes to maintain white supremacy. So far, which path we take remains open to us.

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