Hand with words

The Alpha, God, and Authoritarianism

By Bill Schweisheimer

Many species of animals which engage in collaborative behavior in order to survive have what appears to be a pecking order of dominancy.  With some lower species with more primitive social organization that pecking order may fluctuate seemingly from moment to moment or from one occasion to the next.  With higher level species with more complex social behavior for the sake of a group’s survival that pecking order may be more enduring.  Take wolves, for example, who hunt in packs.  They select alpha males and/or females to lead the pack in hunting and their dominance may be more enduring, sometimes lasting for years.  The alphas among them are considered their leader(s) and generally given broad deference – unless challenged by an aspiring upstart.

It is my contention that Homo Sapiens is also inclined toward being ruled by alphas.  It is primordial authoritarianism and it is very likely hard-wired into our genetic makeup.  It’s no small wonder that many of our governments around the world are authoritarian regimes.  It is a primitive way for mankind to regulate social orders.  Indeed, it’s also an expeditious way to govern – no deliberative bodies to engage in endless discussions and arguments to form consensus.  And if someone or some group challenges the authority of the alpha – well, it’s “off with their head(s),” so-to-speak.  Unfortunately, authoritarianism is not inclined toward addressing the equitable distribution of resources.  Rather, to the victor and his/her toadies, go the spoils.

Democracy, on the other hand, was developed to address the problem of the more equitable distribution of resources, whether it’s food, shelter, a social safety net, education, etc.  However, it’s a somewhat flawed system which is dependent upon a knowledgeable, well-informed, and invested citizenry.  And in order to be so well-informed requires that most actors in the polity engage in good faith and honesty.  Democracy cannot long endure when bad faith and deception go rampant.  That’s what appears to have happened in recent years in the U.S.  And we’re not out of the woods yet – not by a long shot.

The desire for a charismatic leader is a very human trait.  It’s part and parcel of what is looked for in a human alpha, whether leading people toward righteousness or nefarious ends.  Christ and Hitler were both charismatic in their own ways.  Charismatic leaders tend to emerge when the Zeitgeist (temper of the times) is right – when there’s a confluence of events which makes possible the selection of someone who has the right characteristics to be accepted as an alpha leader at a given time in history.  Trumpism is such a Zeitgeist-driven event which was facilitated by sundry misrepresentations, distortions, and outright lies.

In my opinion the search for a great alpha leader is very much akin to man’s quest to find a benevolent god who will hear our prayers and save us from life’s dangers and harm.  As such seeking an alpha or a god are both a function of Jung’s construct of parental imagos – idealized images of what we wish an alpha or God were like, based on how we might envision the perfect parental imagos for ourselves.  Because we cannot know God, we create this image of what the most perfect, idealized image of our parent(s) would look like in our mind’s eye – and that becomes our representation of what God or our idealized alpha leader would be like.  No wonder these constructs are so stickily and steadfastly maintained.  Who wouldn’t want their idealized parent(s) to be there for us forever (or at least as long as we live) in the form of our conception of God or one’s personal alpha leader.

However, with maturation, development, and having gone around the block a few times there comes the realization that perhaps there isn’t a personal deity or benevolent leader who will be there for us when the going gets tough – that, apart from our friends, significant others, and more remote support systems, we are alone in the world and dependent upon our own resources and that of our social system.  Even if there is a God, a creator of the universe, that god may not necessarily be cognizant of our individual existence or situation.  When push comes to shove, perhaps the best we can do is to follow the old adage that “the Lord helps those who help themselves.”  It pushes one to exercise a sense of agency – to struggle to take care of ourselves, our loved ones, and our fellow man – including to engage in social activism in order to make the world a better place in which to live – to engage in tikkun olam, to repair our imperfect world.  And, who knows, perhaps within each of us there lies some spiritual fragment of whoever or whatever may have created our universe?  However, in the absence of that kind of knowledge we are probably well-advised to follow Iris DeMent’s song title, “Let the Mystery Be.”

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