Why the Empire Fell


Imagine the scene: on the plains of Africa there live groups of apes. These are to become the ancestors of Mankind. In one such group, Leto, a dominant male, keeps order. The order he brings is to the advantage of the group. There is little squabbling or in-fighting. Instead, each member of the group can devote his energies to collecting food, watching out for predators, and trying to invent fire-making. Should this group be threatened by a rival group, then its internal cohesion will see it through the conflict.

Leto is kind, just, fair, competent, and popular. He is the perfect leader in every way. Everyone in the group gets his attention. Naturally, he benefits from his popularity. He gets the most access to the group's females. One can expect that in the next generation, there will be many of the genes which helped to make Leto a leader, and such a good gentle leader. In time, the genes which shape personality will tend more and more each generation to favour behaviour such as Leto's, and by the time humanity gets round to inventing farming, all people will be good and just.

Didn't happen, did it. Why not?

The key is reproduction. Leto's rule may be fair and just in the short term, and those in his group may benefit today from his rule, but he is increasing the rate at which he is passing on genes, and as long as this is true, then he must be decreasing the number of genes being passed on by other males, because in the wild, females breed about as fast as they can, and they have a limited capacity for child-bearing. This means that there is a strong selective pressure on other males in his troop to oust him from power.

This is what I think happened: a few lesser males in the troop got together and toppled him. They didn't do this because Leto's rule was bad. It wasn't. It was the best rule possible. They did it because they were driven to increase the number of shags they got. The quality of Leto's rule was irrelevant. As long as the top male ape gets more sex than lesser male apes, then all male apes will prefer themselves to be the top ape, above any other. If females rule the group, this doesn't change this fact. Even if females are in charge of the group's overall behaviour, within that group, some male apes will get more access to those females than others. There will be a male hierarchy within the group.

The genes for being a kind and good leader did get passed on, because Leto's reign did allow him to father a few offspring, but other genes than his got passed on. The jealous, spiteful, selfish genes of the lesser males got passed on after the coup. The world continued to be a dangerous place, full of plots and power-struggles, and the human genome ended up with genes which made sure that a hefty proportion of the population would be ambitious. Leto's group suffered terribly from the rule of the new males. Two of them killed one of the others, then one of the victors was wounded and banished. Infant mortality rose, and half the group got taken over by another, while the other half fled to poorer land elsewhere.

This is why there is always an opposition to every government. I predict that we shall never hear the following speech made in any parliament in the world:

"I would like to address The House in my capacity as leader of the opposition, and say that never has any nation been governed so well as this nation is now. The incumbent government is so clearly competent, so clearly successful, and so clearly acting in the best interests of the population at large, that it would be an appalling act of selfishness on the part of my party to stand against it in the proposed election. Elections cost time and money, and all this would be wasted if the result were to be a re-election of the current administration, and it would be a calamity for all if my party were to be elected. I am certain that the members of my cabinet could never be half so decisive, so fair, so efficient as those ruling us now. Therefore, for the good of this nation, I hereby announce that my party will field no candidates in the proposed election, and that the government is granted another term of office, during which I expect that I shall disband my party altogether, in order to allow the government to devote more time to the important duty of running the nation."

Not only do all governments have opposing parties, but all governments are opposed on every act they make. Every company boss has to bear in mind that someone wants his job. Every star footballer knows that rivals in his team want him to fall in the esteem of the manager. This is programmed into us, thanks to Leto's rivals. This might not make the world better, but it is the way the world is.

This is why the Empire fell. Which empire? Take your pick. Absolutely regardless of how much obvious benefit an empire may bring to a region, men will cultivate hatred of it, and will encourage uprisings of one sort or another. People will prefer to be at the top of a dung heap to being half way up a mountain. In a region where war is a constant feature, and poverty abounds, an empire may come and bring order, peace and prosperity. Within a short time, there might be education, roads, sanitation, justice, and wealth. No matter how obvious it is to any objective observer that the empire's presence in the region is responsible for these benefits, there will be those who resent the empire and who regard it as an evil imposition. Leto's rule ended despite his excellence. Empires fall despite theirs.

Those people who seek to overthrow the Empire will mainly be men. This is because it will be men who benefit more from that overthrow. In bloody revolutions, lots of men get killed, and few women. Interestingly, and fittingly, all over the world, womenís voting habits are more conservative than menís. It seems that women are more content with their rulers. Instability is a bad thing in a society, so women will favour it, as will the men who are doing well out of the status quo. Small surprise that the most revolutionary people are low status men.

Humans have an innate nature, and it seems that ambition is part of us. Men tend to be more status-conscious than women, and this is linked to ambition. You have to be ambitious to get or maintain high status, and high status brings a particularly large improvement to the breeding prospects of males. It seems to me that another innate trait is that low-status humans will have a natural resentment of rulers, and a natural wish to see them toppled. This may seem far-fetched, but we have the emotion of love which makes us naturally attached to breeding partners, and thus more likely to stay with them. We have the emotion of jealousy which makes us compete for lovers. We have emotions which make us find all manner of specific things attractive and repulsive. Women find high status men more attractive. Many women may claim that they fell in love with the personality of their rich husbands, but the wealth of their husbands is still clearly a major factor in the women's choice of mate. Instinct can blind a woman to the ugliness and boringness of rich men, and make her love them. Why then is it so far-fetched to imagine that people might have inherited genes which blind them to the excellence of rulers, and make them resentful of them? The stakes are high. Each rung on the social ladder for a male baboon makes on average a difference of one offspring. If humans and their ancestors were similar, then Nature would be under considerable pressure to find a way to make humans oust their excelling rulers.

In fact, I do not think that these instincts were created from scratch in humans. It is far more likely that the beginnings of them resided in very old ancestors indeed. Humans just built on older animal urges.

Are we doomed to repeat this folly forever? I suspect that we are. As long as there is a connection between having greater numbers of children, and being further up the hierarchy, then Nature will continue to create people whose ambitions serve to harm the public good. Interestingly enough, however, in a modern world of careers, lengthy education, and contraceptives, this link looks as though it might disappear. It could even reverse, and people towards the bottom of hierarchies might start to have more children than those higher up. The very long-term effect of this could in future millennia be that there is a selective pressure to lack ambition, and to find ambitiousness unappealing in others. That, though, is a very long way away.

Looking to the present, is there anything we can do to help matters? Well, probably very little, but if everybody got a bit better at spotting good rulers when they see them, then this would help. The present culture in Britain is to regard anyone in power as deeply imperfect, and therefore unworthy to rule. True, many of those in power have more than the usual number of genes from the foul apes who ousted lovely Leto, but it could be that our rulers are better than the alternatives. Similarly, we might become more diligent at seeking the motives of those who criticise the status quo. What will they gain from the toppling of the current rulers? Perhaps the best rulers would be people who had other professions and just ran countries as a hobby on the side. The best sort of rule might be by people who don't know that they're in power. These people would simply make decision based on what they thought best, rather than what might be most popular or what might disarm rivals. Here, though, I'm getting away from evolution, and into the realms of sci-fi politics.


BACK TO EVOLUTION MENU

Written by Nikolas Lloyd