I propose that Homo sapiens are not by nature susceptible to sustainable governance. My purpose isn’t to convince the reader of my thesis but only to demonstrate its plausibility, even if only when considered from a limited perspective. This is going to be short and simple because I am not a historian or a political scientist. My interest in the topic arises from looking at the different forms of government currently forming the global community. None of them are doing a very good job, so I wondered if this was a problem with finding the perfect, or at least best suited, command and control administration or something more fundamental.
It turns out that governing systems are classified according to how they organize power or the source of their power. I presume this is a reference to political power or maybe legitimacy. For example, political power can be organized in several ways: Anarchy has no central state and trusts people to work out their differences amicably (laughable), more often than not serving as a bridge between other power structures (e.g. Afghanistan); Confederations are unions of sovereign states, like the European Union; Unitary States are what they sound like, a strong government controlling pretty much everything (85% of modern nations); and finally we have Federations with hierarchical government structures (think the U.S. and Germany).
I’m going to skip family, tribe, band, and clan organizations based on kinship.
Even the Mongols didn’t use Anarchy as a form of government. The others have been tried repeatedly and failed. The Sumerian Confederation is hard to pin down because it grew organically from people settling in Mesopotamia over thousands of years. Population density was low and they got along just fine, until one of their local rulers became the first recorded monarch in history.
Sargon didn’t do it alone. He obviously found plenty of young men willing to die for his cause, whatever that was. Maybe “Make Akkad great again!” His empire lasted a century after his death. The Athenian Confederation lasted less than fifty years. You do remember the Peloponnesian War? Moving on, Unitary States tend to be absorbed by empires, like the one King Sargon created from the Sumerian Confederation. The Roman Empire was adept at absorbing entire nations under the relentless onslaught of its legions. The Han Dynasty won a war of attrition to rule China for four centuries, constantly interrupted by civil wars. The British Empire lasted from the 16th to the 18th centuries.
I can’t help but wonder what will be the fate of so many Unitary States in the modern world?
The United States is the first recorded Federation in the history of the world. Thus, it’s a rather new invention but one requiring a lot of cooperation–dare I say trust?–to function effectively. None of the Federations have had enough time to fail yet although they have been tested, as in the American Civil War and Germany’s struggle in the twentieth century, i.e., two world wars.
The central theme to the organization of political power is that all forms of governance lead ultimately to war and the dissolution of the state/empire, to be replaced by something similar.
Enough of that. Now I’m going to blow through the Source of Political Power list because it is (laughably) long. This comes down to who has the brute force to impose their will on the people, and how this decision was made. It’s always male Homo sapiens with deadly weapons who decide, their determination expressed through one of the structures I just summarized.
Just for fun, I’ll list the different sources of power, before throwing the entire concept into the trash heap. Here it is: Autocracy; Democracy; Oligarchy; Demarchy (not a real thing but someone thought it was a good idea); Direct Democracy; Electocracy (like Putin being elected); Liberal Democracy; Liquid Democracy (you’ve got to check this out for yourself); Representative Democracy; Social Democracy; Soviet Democracy; and last but not least, Totalitarian Democracy (think Venezuela).
All of these ridiculous “forms” of government aside, the average duration of an empire (the most popular form of government in the historical record) is 250 years.
There was nothing fundamentally wrong with the Han Dynasty, the Roman Empire, or even the British Empire; ending these administrative organizations didn’t improve anyone’s life or advance the march of progress. I now come to the central point of this post…
The nearest relative to Modern Man (i.e. Homo sapiens) is the chimpanzee (aka Pan troglodytes), a social and gregarious species of great ape that forms bands as large as 150 members, not so different from Human hunter-gatherer groups. These “monkeys” actually form very complex societies. Nevertheless they have a substantially smaller prefrontal cortex than Homo sapiens. This is where it gets a little weird…
I grew up on Star Trek and really bought into the idea of one world that had survived several catastrophes, humanity having gotten its act together and joined the other sentient species populating the galaxy. Then I learned about time scales longer than a human lifespan–what an eye opener. Everything I’ve summarized in this post occurred within the last ten-thousand years. Homo sapiens branched from Pan troglodytes about 6 million years ago, a long time from a human perspective, on the order of 300K generations, which sounds really big; but here we are, isolated bands of humans behaving like chimpanzees in a few secluded areas of the world, or so we like to think…
There is no difference in the brain of the most “primitive” human’ alive today and mine. I’m going to jump ahead here but I encourage anyone who reads this to prove me wrong…
To summarize a lot of popular psychology books, the human brain is no better than a chimpanzee’s at remembering all the people it comes in contact with on a daily basis. Despite this limitation, our grossly enlarged prefrontal cortex allows us to process and analyze far more environmental data than a chimpanzee. Hmmm…let’s not get carried away; we can process a lot more social information but we don’t know what to do with it, and therein lies the problem.
I’m climbing way out on a sagging limb, maybe just a sprout, when I take a deep breath and finish this post.
Being smarter than chimpanzees doesn’t make us gods; we are no more capable than Pan troglodytes of forming social groups but, unlike our simian cousins, we can fool ourselves into a false sense of empowerment because of the narrative skills our enlarged prefrontal cortex supplies, which explains (to my mind) why…
Mankind is ungovernable and doomed to repeat a pattern of dominant and submissive behavior for the foreseeable future.
We cannot escape who we are…