Tuesday, March 13, 2007

"Primitive" Politics

"Human beings will be happier - not when they cure cancer or get to Mars or eliminate racial prejudice or flush Lake Erie but when they find ways to inhabit primitive communities again. That's my utopia. "
Kurt Vonnegut

Of the many lessons we could learn from pre-agricultural cultures, one of the most valuable may concern politics. In hunter-gatherer societies, political power is diffuse and fluid. Leaders are generally not really "chosen" in any concrete way; people just gravitate toward those who seem to inspire confidence, based upon their track record, character and generosity. So one person might be "leader" when it came to questions of where to hunt, while another might be "leader" in questions of domestic disputes, and so on. But there is one quality that universally disqualifies anyone from becoming a "leader" in these societies: the desire to be a leader.

Wanting to be in a position of authority is seen as a sure sign of lack of character and is a clear demonstration of bad decision-making. After all, being a leader is a pain in the ass. The leader is expected to be generous, so he/she normally has the smallest hut, shares the most food, is the first one awakened to deal with any late-night crisis, etc. Who, but a fool, would choose such responsibility?

What we call ambition is seen as disgraceful self-importance, a pathetic lack of self-respect and perspective.

Perhaps this is why our political system so often seems like a beauty contest where only the ugliest can compete. Look at the pantheon of self-important, attention-starved, ass-kissing losers we have to choose from! Witness the self-humiliation required for entry into the contest, even from someone like McCain or Kerry, who one would think are above such a need.

The only light on the horizon, as far as I'm concerned, would be a Draft Gore movement, that succeeded in convincing Mr. Gore to come to the aid of his party and planet. He seems genuinely uninterested, so such a movement would have to be passionately convincing. And this is as it should be. We should have to convince reluctant leaders, otherwise they're not worth following.

The political process in the United States today reminds me of looking for darkness with a flashlight. The process defeats the purpose. With apologies to Groucho Marx, I wouldn't want any leader who would want to be my leader!

1 comment:

Shaquille Davis said...

you and Vonnegut are so full of shit