Who Are They



This is a tricky one. My Monkey Logic column started out as a kind of joke. Look! Ha Ha! We are Monkeys! We think we are soo smart! Typical human hubris! But as I wrote the pieces, it turned out the hubris was mine. I’d believed the insight that ‘we are animals’, was quirky enough to riff a few amusing essays off of. Perhaps I might make a few people think, I thought. Maybe nudge a few into changing their environments to make life a bit more comprehensible to a poor perplexed Monkey cowering in each of their heads.

Writing the essays, I got pulled into thinking about primate hard wiring; how each generation of our species learnt how to survive sharing a patch of forest/savanna/classroom with angry, chest-beating Alphas. I mused at how, over millions of years, lippy apes, who pissed off the Alphas, got beaten to death with branches before bringing children into the world; evolution informing us, in its typical blunt fashion, that it’s best to not mess with the Alpha; not to question power.
We are herd animals, or troop animals, which is basically the same thing. We no longer live in the jungle or on the open savanna, but we still have that old Monkey Logic running in our ape minds. Logic built to make the Alpha happy. Our behaviour is wired to anticipate what the Alpha wants: don’t sleep with his mate, don’t rock the boat, go along with the latest fashion, aspire to buy a Rolex, align with consensus opinions, do what you are told! OBEY!

I stopped finding it funny. My writing may have suffered. Sorry about that. Things were serious. It looked like human behaviour really was dominated by subconscious forces; animal emotions; evolutionary heuristics; MonkeyLogic if you will.

I am not burying the lead. I promised to reveal who THEY are, and I will, I wanted to set the evolutionary stage first. So, here goes, who are THEY?

At one level they are our own creations. Psychological pathologies personified. Mental demons projected into the world. If you are familiar with the film, they are the monsters from Forbidden Planet.

We are simps [not chimps, look it up], sycophants. 80% of us will never comment on the emperor’s lack of clothes, however much his nudity puts us off our soup. There has to be a THEY because our primate programming needs something to put on the pedestal waiting in our minds. We want to read about their affairs and what appliances they have in their kitchens. 80% of us need this pointless nonsense in our lives. It doesn’t matter that they are dumb Apes like us. We don’t care. If the troop decides they are the Alphas, we are programmed to care who they sleep with and whether they bake good cakes.

We imagine our masters into existence. We make rods for our own backs - then we hand them to anybody with a blue tick, a black AmEx, or golden Rolex.

But most of THEM, the people we look up to, are just as confused as we are. They have more stuff, but they are shaved-apes way out of their depths, just like us, except they are often less happy and more stressed. They don’t really understand how they got into the first-class line in the first place. They suspect it might have something to do with all the handbags and expensive shoes they own, but they can’t be sure. They never had to clean the toilet and they don’t know why. This scares them. They worry that if they say or do the wrong thing, somebody might make them put on a pair of marigold yellow gloves and start! The last thing these imposter-alphas want is to draw attention to themselves. They suspect there might be real monsters out there ready to tear them apart if they slip up. They are right.

Most people don’t have the capacity to lead. Of those who do, most are unwilling to make the impossible moral choices necessary to perform the job. Anybody who does step up in this world of terrible compromises must therefore be both capable AND ruthless. This doesn’t necessarily make them bad. There are a few good leaders who are both of these things. They understand that talking softly and carrying a big stick means that sometimes you might have to hit somebody over the head with it. But how does this hypothetical ethical leader react when the people who need hitting are innocents? What if not hitting them only hurts more innocents? What if the trolley will always crush someone and you need to choose who… NOW! CHOOSE! WHO DIES?! CHOOSE! What if there are no good answers? What do you do then? Even if you started out as one of that vanishingly small fraction of people who can, want to, and want to for the right reasons? What then? Confronted with the impossibility of the task? I think you give up in the face of this abyss. You retreat into delusion. You convince yourself you are in charge while abdicating real responsibility to others. You take the payoff that is waiting; million dollar speaking engagements; chauffeur driven transport for the rest of your life; fancy trips to Caribbean islands on private jets with pretty young stewardesses. You never admit these are payoffs. You allow the tricky decisions to pass to the bankers, the generals, and the regulators. You displace any residual horror by speaking at the UN, choosing a new CEO, shopping for a new housekeeper, or attending TED or WEF. You plug your ears to the screams.

This is true for those leaders who didn’t start out as psychopaths in the first place. The less said about the latter the better.
As I warned, it is tricky. There is no cabal of Illuminati huddling in Bavarian castles, discussing the bloodline of the Son of Man [well there might be, but it would be a side show]. There is instead a lot of ignorance, a lot of bureaucracy, and a little evil.

So, to summarize, THEY are:

Imposters; most are simply the 20% the universe decides will always have the lion’s share, regardless of any underlying meritocratic justification [check out Zipf’s law, or the 80–20 rule ]. The wiring of our monkey brains ignores any obvious deficits and insist their ideas and wellbeing must be lofted above our own petty wants and needs. Out of their depth, these individuals are often scared and confused. They are always looking for a real Alpha to agree with:

Leaders; the few good men and women who start out clean only to shatter on contact with the fractal fuckedness of the modern world. Minds reeling from the horror they delegate to:

Bureaucracies; endless committees, algorithms, think-tanks, and corporations. All the non-human entities that have intent without compassion or comprehensions, and which are, in turn, run by:

Psychopaths; those who understand it all and just kind of like the sticky feel of our blood on their hands.

THEY is a gestalt beast, easier to picture as a ravenous, sadistic evil from another dimension, than a collection of policies and peons (think British Telekom or AT&T).

THEY is a mob of emergent, crowd-sourced evil made up mostly of dumb b-list celebrities and mundane-middle-managers.

THEY is the MAN. It doesn’t matter if they are in denial, deliberately ignorant of the horror their compliance is supporting, uncomprehending algorithms maximising numbers that have no meaning, or cold technocrats playing with lives as a child plays with Lego.

THEY is a fortification of compliance; an adobe insect castle built from our own archaic behaviour to protect the bloated corrupted grubs of power skulking in dark tunnels below.

THEY is POWER.

Whenever I suspect I might be one of THEM, I use whatever puny levers of power are available to me, to make sure I remain one of US instead.

In the next and final essay in this series, I am going to tell you what THEY want.

It’s a Negotiation Btches!

 

Read below or watch/listen to Broadcast #4 where I read the essay from the bridge of the Sanity Retreat:
 

 
 

The swarming social insects divide up work between castes:
Worker
Warrior
Breeder

Like ants and bees, humans are social creatures. We are a little more flexible than termites. We are individually smart [caveat 1: at least relative to an ant; caveat 2: in most cases] so our nests, and our roles within them, are less well defined. Depending on our mood, and on the availability of resources, the ‘hive’ we pledge our loyalty to might be family, kin, tribe, or species; but, just like a worker bee, or a warrior ant, we are all allocated our predetermined roles. We call these archetypes:
The Hero
The Outlaw
The Explorer
The Sage
The Innocent
The Mother

The patterns of behaviour are persistent. They crop up again and again in our fiction and mystical writing. This is because they are behaviour pre-sets that prepare an individual for a specific role in our hive/society. These archetypes are our human ‘casts’. They were created by evolution to help our species cope with the various trials of life by assigning challenges to ‘specialists’ equipped to deal with them.

Societies can change their attitude by varying their mix of ‘casts’:
Sparta, focused on The Hero, while Athens, preferred The Sage.

The same concept is common in the corporate world. We are told that effective teams are made a mix of personality traits:
The Strategist
The Builder
The Innovator
The Coach

These names are less mystical than the Tarot archetypes, but the concept is the same. People tend to fall into different buckets, and, by mixing and matching these personality traits, a skilled manager can improve the productivity of her team.

It should be noted that because we are dealing with squishy human psyches here, the divisions between archetypes, aka personality-categories or casts, will be blurry and somewhat arbitrary. They will also be fractal. If we zoom in on the tip of a branching category we will always be able to divide further, right down to the individual. Perhaps it is easier to go the other way then, and zoom out until we are all split into just two groups:
The Leaders
The Followers

Which are you?

I suspect a disproportionate number of you will say ‘The Leader’. It is more romantic to be a leader. Follower has negative connotations, but evolution is not sentimental, in a social species, we can’t all be leaders; imagine a room full of cats to get a glimpse of that society! For a smooth functioning hive, most of us need to be followers. Each hive only really needs one leader — one per tribe, for humans something like one in a hundred, one per cent. But evolution will ensure a couple of spares, and, if we add in the next generation waiting in the wings for when the king gets too grey and weak to lead, we might end up with something like an eighty-twenty split between the follower-cast and the leader-cast.

The necessary excess of leaders will consign the majority of individuals displaying leader-archetype characteristics to follow; this will not sit well and will be a source of much conflict within the hive, but this overhead is preferable to ending up with no leaders at all. At the same time, some follower-archetypes will be thrust into leadership positions—in many cases by those above, emplaced because they pose less of a threat to those who put them there.

In short, archetypes are behaviour-presets installed by evolution to ensure optimal performance at the level of the hive [clan/tribe/church/corporation etc]. Most of us — the eighty per cent — are built to follow. We are susceptible to messages from our leaders, from the authority figures of the tribe. We instinctively perform loyalty displays; even if we are not aware that this is what we are doing when we put on our suits and ties and climb into our BMWs to drive to the monthly sales meeting.

 

When we see starlings murmerating, we can’t find individuals. The entire flock seems to move with eerie synchronicity. Humans, also social animals, are the same. When our swarm moves, we respond; subconsciously and immediately. When those around you begin to wear bell-bottom trousers, you buy them too. When all the ladies on the television use Persil washing powder, you will feel awkward if you don’t switch from Ariel. When the citizens around you decide that group X are subhuman Untermenschen you too will withdraw your compassion from their awful plight…

I am not being flippant. Scientific studies show that more than sixty per cent of us will murder an innocent with a 450-volt fatal shock of electricity if a man in a white coat tells us to. If you are not familiar with this unsettling fact, check out the chilling “The Perils of Obedience” by Stanley Milgram.

 

In another study on social conformity, Solomon Asch found that seventy-five per cent of people will agree to a truth they know to be false if it aligns them to the choices of the other individuals around them.

Philip Zimbardo found that just by putting on a uniform people are empowered to abuse those in their charge.

You need to understand this about yourself. The obedience that eighty per cent of us are compelled to perform is a vulnerability in our minds. It is no different from having a medical propensity to a certain condition. Like a bad-back that goes out when you lift something heavy. Once you are aware of your frailty, you can exercise, build up the muscles around your weakness and compensate.

The experiments I mentioned were performed in the 1970s. People have known these dark secrets about ourselves for a long time. For most of us, when we learn of this moral frailty built into our species, we feel a little shame; but other human casts don’t see this psychological vulnerability as a bad thing, in fact, they saw it as an opportunity! The original science was sponsored by the military, but the knowledge of these weak places in the defences of our minds is now widely distributed in the civilian world and deployed daily by advertisers, propagandists, and other persuasion engineers.

I am sure that many of you will have an area of expertise in which you are regularly perplexed by the irrational behaviour of the majority in your field. ‘How can people be so dumb’ you will think as you watch them all fall into the same shallow logical traps. If you choose to scratch back the sand and explore deeper, you may notice that in most cases this irrationality is not random noise pulling the truth in multiple directions, but a systematic bias towards facts which benefit those currently doing pretty well out of whichever status-quo currently dominates their particular discipline. If you manifest some attributes plucked from the leader-end of the archetype-spectrum, you may conclude that the fear, uncertainty, and doubt you are witnessing is not organic, but manufactured. If you are a follower you may not have noticed anything wrong at all. Or perhaps you reassure yourself by believing that the irrational behaviour of the majority is due to innocent incompetence…

It is not.
We know that advertising works.
We know we are monkeys vulnerable to persuasion.
We know that others have known this for fifty years.

Can you make yourself believe that an effective weapon that can be stealthily deployed without detection to achieve power and financial rewards will not — and has not — been deployed? If you do, take one of my Smoking-is-Good-for-You cigarettes while you sit down in front of your Clean-Coal fire to read about those ridiculous battery-electric vehicles that will never catch on…

Our leaders are mostly followers. They don’t even know what they are up to. Like most of us, they just do what they are told. It is not possible to climb high in a corporation or government by questioning your betters; sure, a few genuine free thinkers do sneak through. Like Job’s, Musk, and Branson when a true genius appears, you will know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him. [Jonathan Swift]

Even the elites benefitting from this wanton social manipulation are mostly innocent. Rich and powerful people are born into the follower cast too. They grow up drinking from a bottomless bowl of soup which they will continue to slurp down until the system bursts — unless we show them where the bottom is, and tell them when enough is enough!

 

In my books, I write about a seagull embedded in a virtual flock. He is happy, responding to the flock’s dance, never knowing he is alone and the other seagulls are digital, virtual, and fake.
This might be you.
The tribe around you, especially if it is on TV or Facebook might very well not be real. Are you sure you are not following the bots, shills, and simps towards some dark island littered with seagull skulls?

Knowing that your obedience is being manipulated is very uncomfortable.
It makes you feel bad,
nothing will change,
…so why am I haranguing you so?

I have been asked this quite a lot recently, I think I know the answer, it’s because:

It’s a NEGOTIATION btches! 

If we don’t at least ask for what we want, what is the chance we will ever get it? If we don’t at least let them know that we are onto the scam and that the deal on the table is unfair, how likely is it that they will offer up a better one?

This is nothing new. We have done this negotiation before: emancipation and equality for women, freedom of sexual identity, worker rights, civil rights for racial minorities, etc.

Nothing is fixed. When we take our eyes off the prize and stop paying attention they like to roll things back. When you see a power grab, especially when it is universally supported by institutional voices who humiliate, terrorize, and censor any debate or discussion, consider the possibility that they are at it again!

Sure the rich and powerful will always take the lion’s share, but we don’t have to make it easy for them to shake us down! At least let’s have some self-respect and haggle a little!

Make your obedience conditional.

The first step out of an abusive relationship is to recognise the problem, let me, a friend, point it out then:
They know how you tick.
They know you will do what you are told; especially if the people-around-you are doing the same.

BUT, and this is your power, YOU are one of the-people-around-you for someone else. You are part of somebody else’s flock.
They react to your moves.
If you can break off, fly crooked, think different, challenge at least one of the absurd facts that your inbuilt cognitive vulnerabilities makes it so hard for you to question, you will be starting the negotiation for a better deal!

 



 
 
As always, if you’d like to drop me a note, you can find me on Twitter at @weston_toby
Check out my novels which are SciFi action-adventure where I get to choose who wins the struggle for humanity’s future!