Friday, November 12, 2010

Darwinian Leadership and Human Society

Professor of business, Paul Lawrence, says he has discovered a new idea he calls “Renewed Darwinian” theory. He tells us it addresses questions that have “been amazingly ignored by the academics”, but have “been on the minds of humans since we have had history”. It is a renewed version of Darwin! The common idea is that Darwin is all about the survival of the meanest and the fittest. The most ruthless survive. But Lawrence thinks there is more to it than just being mean fit and ruthless.

It is curious that anyone nowadays should think, like a Christian fundamentalist, that Darwin’s notion expressed as survival of the fittest means that the physically fittest, or the meanest, are the ones who survive the struggle for existence. Evolutionary theory says there are more ways to be fit besides having big muscles, big teeth or claws, and a disregard for anything other than self. And nor have these other methods been ignored by the academics, unless Lawrence is talking about academics like himself, academics in fields other than biology. The academic experts in biology and evolution never doubted that there are many ways of being fit to survive, from being very small to being very big, from being very fast to being very slow, from having unusual senses like echo location to having other peculiar qualities like intelligence, and so on.

Professor Lawrence seems amazed by some of Darwin’s views expressed in his book The Descent of Man:

Any creature, whatsoever, that has the social instincts comparable to those of humans and the intellectual capacities close to those of humans would inevitably develop a moral sense of conscience.

Lawrence explains:

Now, what he’s saying here is that if humans—any creature—had the drive to bond, a social instinct, and a drive to intellectual drives like to comprehend, would have the conscience to help them fulfil those two drives because without conscience you could not fulfil those two drives.

In attempting to explain it further, he tells us a great deal about the mentality of many modern Americans, the people of the “Christian Nation”. He says:

We’ve all heard of the Golden Rule: “Do unto other as you would have them do unto you”, But, we’re not quite sure what it means!

Despite all that Christianity, Americans and, it seems, especially American corporate and political bosses, do not know what the Golden Rule means. That is quite staggering but explains a great deal that has utterly baffled us foreigners, who have admired aspects of American life, but been bemused by American mass selfishness, lack of empathy for others, and readiness to kill everyone they meet in the world to get their own way.

It also confirms a Pew Poll that showed us that, though maybe 90 percent of Americans might claim to be Christians, three quarters of them do not know enough about Christianity or relevant aspects of their own constitution to be able to honestly claim they actually are Christians. Let is not assume that all of them are sociopaths, but simply that the US is not the freedom loving place they like to propagate for the good of the rest of us. Most Americans bend to the pressure of their peers because they are afraid of becoming the butt of their peers’ humor, or worse in a country with more guns than people, put up with their disdain and anger.

People have a natural social need or drive to bond with others, and a desire to be liked and respected. They are indeed aspects of evolution because humanity is a social species. We have evolved to live together, and for that to have happened, we have to have certain instincts or traits like the ones that Lawrence has just discovered, albeit late by over a century. For all that, it is to be hoped that Lawrence will continue to carry forward his ideas into the territories where they are anathema, into the US in general, and management there and in many other countries too.

Four Drives

So has Professor of business studies Lawrence actually understood Darwinism to come up with something novel? Well, he says that humans beings have other drives besides the drive to gain resources. He says we are born with four drives, essential for our basic survival. They are necessary for our species to thrive as a whole species and they are encoded in our DNA and we sense them and feel them mostly by the emotional messages we get from our subconscious as we witness the world around us.

These four drives are:

  1. to acquire, to possess, to own things that are necessary for our survival and to enhance our status as individuals
  2. to defend our resources from hazards, not only ourselves, our loved ones and our possessions, but our beliefs
  3. to bond in long term, mutually caring relationships with other humans
  4. to make sense out of the world, to build knowledge that lets us get on with with our everyday lives.

Well, there is not much there that the academics did not know, though it might indeed be new to financiers and business men who always behave as if the whole purpose of life is to grab as much as you can, even though you have no idea how to use it all when you have it.

Lawrence seems to believe that these principles he thinks he has newly discovered go beyond the preservation of particular genes, but he has not so far shown that these traits he describes are not conditioned by genes. But, now perhaps he gets to do his job when he tells us that good leaders take into account all four drives, not just the desire to acquire. He asks us to note that we all have these drives as human beings, and the good leader recognizes it, and ought not put all the emphasis on greed. In practical terms, it means, Lawrence says:

  • the drive to bond—treat people honestly, do not lie to them, and keep your promises to them
  • the drive to comprehend—tell people the truth not lies, and not spread misinformation
  • the drive to defend—be there when the going gets tough, to back up your staff, friends and anyone you have relied on to do work you asked them to do.

These are the ways to have strong long term relationships, and they are natural ways for humans to behave. It is natural too for huimans to look to a leader, but you have to have and keep their respect by helping them understand, acquire and develop basic human drives for themselves. It is having a good conscience, because the Golden Rule in application makes the helper and the receiver feel good, and ready to reciprocate the assistance in future.

Lawrence rightly equates good leadership with good moral leadership. Leaders without any conscience, or one only poorly developed, simply cannot have any fellow feeling:

They do not know what compassion is, they do not know what empathy is, they do not know even what love is. That is something they are never going to experience in their life because they don’t have that feature in their brain when they are born.

If we try to figure out how do we respond to fulfil those drives for ourselves, and are successful in doing so, people will begin to pay attention to us, and maybe think they’ll trust us to leadership. Leadership grows out of one’s own success in leading one’s own life. But, though we mostly have the necessary abilities, we have to refine them, practice them, train our minds to be more effective in ourselves and leading others. So, experience is also needed.

An example is that the world has a lot of organizations loaded with distrust. People do not trust enough in each other to cooperate properly. They think they are going to be undercut some way. The good leader can use the skills inherent in humanity to encourage cooperation, but people have to feel secure enough.

Our Sociopathic Leaders

It is refreshing to hear him say that a disproportionate number of leaders are sociopaths, who lack the drive to bond with others. It is a problem for less than 4 percent of the population, but Lawrence guesses that 10% of people in positions of power may be sociopaths. Like Tony Blair, the former PM of the UK, and in many people’s opinion an archetypal sociopath, they are often charming, and use their charm and lack of scruples about others to climb to positions of power.

A lot of history records the fact that such people have gotten into important positions. The Renaissance was an effort to move away from a sociopathic kind of leadership. The Constitution of the United States was a effort to create a government able to keep free of such leadership. Balancing the power, and not getting power concentrated in any one office are ways of avoiding that kind of leadership.

Some prominent leaders in business are highly suspect of being sociopathic. Lawrence suggests the recent Wall Street crisis, with the crash in the market and the resulting worldwide depression, illustrates sociopaths at work. Some in the big banks saw that by buying subprime mortgages—granted with little regard whether they could be repaid and so subject to foreclosure—they could sell them to Wall Street banks which could dice them up into derivatives and sell them as Triple-A bonds to people who were trustees of pension funds and endowments, and collect 100 percent on the dollar for them. The bonds were phony, worth maybe half of their face value when they bought them.

And that was the con, the absolute fraud that was pulled off. And we still don’t have a clear understanding by the public or even by the Department of Justice that that is what happened, and we should be prosecuting those people and getting the evidence out that will prove that those are criminal actions.

Conclusion: Is “Renewed Darwinian” New?

Profesor Lawrence does not have anything new in scientific terms but he does something new in speaking out about the perilous state we are in through neglecting the traits of our evolved nature. The western economic system, called capitalism, requires us to act as if we were solitary creatures fending only for ourselves, and perhaps our immediate families, in a state of nature—meaning acting like savages. Humans though are not savages, not solitary, and the reason is that we have evolved to be social animals who live amicably together in groups by sacrificing a little personal freedom—the freedom to be savage towards others—so that others will work with us in a community for our mutual advantage.

As soon as someone took more than a fair share of the communal produce, human society traditionally shamed them, and if that did not work, it expelled them from the group, exiled them. They were left to fend for themselves by themselves, unless another group was willing to accept them. As most groups will have realized why some human was wandering alone, they would have been chary at admitting them into their own group.

Now we cannot expel people from society, but bad crimes are seriously punished. The bad crimes that, so far, have not been seriously punished are the banking and financial crimes, like the scam described by Professor Lawrence. It is time these criminals against humanity were properly punished, and it is time that immoral profits by the few at the expense of the many were progressively taxed and redistributed so that there is no underclass of people abandoned on the grounds that they are work shy, when there is not enough work to go round.

A society of chimpanzees will look after the ones among them that are not fully capable, and even the alpha male will show care and compassion to a defective or disabled chimpanzee. Why cannot human leaders be the same? Obviously, they can, and professor Lawrence suggests how, but society has the right and the duty to protect itself against the massively greedy, who move their money to wherever in the world it will continue to accumulate profit, irrespective of what happens to the poor and unemployed in their own country. These are the people without consciences that Lawrence describes. They are indeed criminals. Punish them!

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