June 11, 2011

"The natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on Earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man, but only to have the law of nature for his rule." --Samuel Adams
"Hume's paradox as stated by Noam Chomsky: In his work on political theory, [English philosopher David Hume] describes the paradox that, in any society, the population submits to the rulers, even though force is always in the hands of the governed." [1] - PFRM: Hume's paradox The Prosperous Few and the Restless Many (Interviews with Noam Chomsky) Copyright 1994 by David Barsamian
"Hume's paradox of government arises only if we suppose that a crucial element of essential human nature is what [Mikhail] Bakunin called "an instinct for freedom." It is the failure to act upon this instinct that Hume found surprising. The same failure inspired Rousseau's classic lament that people are born free but are everywhere in chains, seduced by the illusions of the civil society that is created by the rich to guarantee their plunder." [2] - Noam Chomsky, Deterring Democracy (South End Press 1991, 1992) Segment 19/20

Just because it "feels right?" VClip 1

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Charlie Rose interviews Nobelist Milton Friedman, 2005 AD

An Instinct(s) for Freedom?


Is there indeed such a thing as "an instinct for freedom?" Do we have one?

We left a previous chapter, Chapter 9, ^^whThe Hierarchists Among Us, carrying an unsettled quibble with Christopher Boehm.

The quibble originates with Boehm's suggestion that our small-group ancestors consciously over-came hierarchical dominance/submissive tendencies by intentionally suppressing them within their groups. The quibble is he doesn't explicitly posit a genetic connection for this almost universal suppression. His overall presentation, on the other hand, does suggest just such a genetic connection.

The key observation is, according to Boehm, egalitarians "had been found on every continent", "in a bewildering array of ecological niches," among ancestors who "foraged, farmed, and herded animals," and "used many different residence and descent rules and a variety of kin terms" (Boehm 1999:30). If we assume all these groups were similarly beset by around 13% genetically predisposed to be persistent free- riding leaders, since these groups remained egalitarian, we must also assume suppression of leaders and hierarchy was also found in this "bewildering array" of circumstances as well.

To start with, remember from Chapter 3, Hierarchy and Leadership? Not in my group!, while our small group ancestors used a "minimum necessary force approach," they would still universally criticize, ridicule, ignore, shun, ostracize, banish, desert and, if necessary, ultimately kill insistent leaders.

In short, suppression of hierarchy was as universal a phenomenon among small-group humans all around the world as was the genetic tendency toward hierarchy. These groups didn't even know other groups existed let alone that they also suppressed hierarchy. Why did our ancestors independently all around the world universally cherish independence of thought and action (Ch. 3), and cherish it to such an extraordinary extent they would all suppress a natural and persistent part of their genomic expression (hierarchy) in order to maintain it?

The fact that this suppression of hierarchy and persistent hierarchical leaders is so wide-spread strongly implies that there is a genetic component involved. That is, it's highly likely that the love of "independence of thought and action" (that is, freedom) - - - as well as suppressing the hierarchical-dominance behavior which destroys such freedom - - - are also expressions of genetically encouraged tendencies.

While Boehm doesn't explicitly suggest a genetic basis for egalitarianism and supression of hierarchy, none the less nested within his presentation are strong indications that, subconsciously at least, he believes such a genetic basis exists. He observes remember, "human nature tends to make [submitting to other individuals] unattractive." (Boehm 1999:232) What is the source of human nature if it's not genetic? And further, Boehm suggests,

"With respect to both the hunter-gatherers and the tribesmen in my sample, the hypothesis was straightforward: such people are guided by a love of personal freedom. For that reason they manage to make egalitarianism happen, and do so in spite of human competitiveness--and in spite of innate human tendencies to dominance and submission that easily lead to the formation of social dominance hierarchies." (Boehm 1999:65) [italics emphasis added]


"In my opinion, nomadic foragers are universally--and all but obsessively--concerned with being free from the authority of others. That is the basic thrust of their political ethos, which applies equally to all the main political actors." (Boehm 1999:68) [italics emphasis added]

If our small-group ancestors, as did the Eskimos for example, cherished "independence of thought and action as a natural prerogative," (Boehm 1999:53) were all "guided by a love of personal freedom" - - - and if a concern "with being free from the authority of others" is indeed universal and all but obsessive and "is the basic thrust of their political ethos" (and if anytime the behavior of a main political actor "threatens the autonomy of others" it "therby becomes deviant" (Boehm 1999:67) this makes a genetic origin of supression of persistent hierarchical "leaders" the most likely explanation. The alternative -- that all these groups somehow spontaneously, independently, and universally learned similar leader suppression all around the world -- would have to be one heck of a world-record coincidence.

I am by no means the first person to suggest a genetic origin for such things -- remember Mikhail Bakunin's "instinct for freedom" -- and Hume's and Rousseau's echo of it -- as presented by Noam Chomsky in the opening clips for this chapter.

However, Chomsky goes on to say that, "There have been efforts to ground the instinct for freedom in a substantive theory of human nature. They are not without interest, but they surely come nowhere near establishing the case." I believe with Boehm's work -- and what we've done with it here -- that is probably no longer true. It seems to me Boehm's work has provided more than adequate evidence for the existence of Bakunin's "instinct for freedom" and indeed very good reasons to suspect a genetic basis for it.

That is, it is our genetically specified predispositions that, like the instincts which cause a cat to mark its territory, cause humans to almost universally "cherish independence of thought and action as a natural prerogative," to be "guided by a love of personal freedom," to be "universally--and all but obsessively--concerned with being free from the authority of others," and to consider behavior which "threatens the autonomy of others" as deviant. And we can probably chalk-up our ancestors' predisposition to resist the temptation to "establish an order of dominance and paramountcy" (Fried 1967:33 in Boehm 1999:34) as another of our inherited tendencies toward freedom.

At this point, I would suggest that describing these various predispositions as an instinct may be misleading. As you'll see, there are many facets and aspects to the drives that predisposed our small-group ancestors -- and presumably us as well -- to create free societies. So, from now on I will write of "instinct(s) for freedom" -- or, perhaps, "drives for freedom."

If correct, a genetic origin for leader supression completes our solution to Knauft's apparent genetic puzzle: There has never been a loss of hierarchical tendencies in our genome at all: These genetic tendencies have always been there but were just, until relatively recently, very effectively surpressed by our small-group ancestors - - - at the behest of another part of our genome, in particular, our instincts for freedom. Thus Knauft's "puzzle" is completely solved.

So, as we would expect under those circumstances, and already know, our ancestors were instinctively predisposed to deal with the dangers posed by the hierarchical part of our genome, particularly in the form of "leaders" - - -

Hunter gatherers may speak abstractly about personal freedom, but often they prefer to deal in specifics, as when they detail desirable or undesirable traits in leaders. Their political blueprint is highly practical, and "the adverse political forces they face--forces that make for an increase in hierarchy and a decrease in personal autonomy" --can become formidable. A potential bully always seems to be waiting in the wings, and people are prepared by their ethos to deal with such a threat summarily. (Boehm 1999:68) [emphasis added]

These sometimes not-so-subtle genetic predispositions caused our small-group ancestors to universally suppress hierarchy (which is the arch-enemy of independence, personal freedom, and autonomy), all across the globe. At least until recently in the anthropological time-frame -- at least until The Great Transitions beginning about 10,000 to 13,000 years ago. These predispositions would explain why our ancestors -- and many of us -- seem to "have a problem with 'Authority.'" Since these predispositions are nearly universal, it would be hard to imagine their having other than a genetic basis.

Just as you'd expect of genetic traits, evidence that such instincts regarding "leadership" remain active still exists - - -

"If we move to the Busama of New Guinea, Hogbin believes that men are actually reluctant to step into a leadership role. The same is widely reported for other culture areas. As inferred from the ethos, such reluctance is itself a desirable trait: egalitarians are innately suspicious of power-hungry individuals." (Boehm 1999:109)
"All men having power ought to be mistrusted." -U.S. Founding Father James Madison
"The danger is not that a particular class is unfit to govern. Every class is unfit to govern." --Lord Acton, Letter to Mary Gladstone, 1881
"As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy." -Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
"If ever time should come, When vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in Government, Our Country will stand in need of it's experienced Patriots to prevent it's ruin." -Samuel Adams

And, with a practical bent, even mythic philosophers -- and seminal old-time economists agree - - -

"Socrates: And those who govern ought not to be lovers of the task. For, if they are, there will be rival lovers, and they will fight." Plato, The Allegory of the Cave, The Dividend Line, The Republic, Book 6
"The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it." --Adam Smith
Perhaps most of us agree with Camus in Chapter 9 "just walk beside me and be my friend" -- and J.R.R. Tolkien, author of "Lord of The Rings," when he observed,
" ... the most improper job of any man, even saints (who at any rate were at least unwilling to take it on), is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit to it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity." -The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, 1995, p. 64. [3]

Certainly the members of many small groups see it just that way [4] - - -

"For the Kalahari !Kung, Marshall (1967:38) says that headmanship is not much desired and that the leader has to be generous and careful not to stand out." (Boehm 1999:70)

By their behavior, savvy "leaders" pay homage to this attitude, thus clandestinely admitting its existence - - - and may even use it to their own advantage. Even very powerful leaders in huge groups - - - recall Chapter 6, Lessons from Leadership, and particularly that Attila was humble at home.

Perhaps Attila was savvy enough to use this humility to his advantage. On the other hand, perhaps he was innately humble and an egalitarian and that was the ultimate source of his power. Either way, the humble attitude -- and that "leaders" get advantages from paying homage to it -- is evidence that our "instincts for freedom" are alive and well. And more evidence of this remains hidden in plain sight today - - -

"Bryce Harlow remarked to me that one vital secret for presidents and other top officials is to avoid appearing too hungry to wield power. Both the press and the public, he said, mistrust politicians who lust too obviously for power, as, he pointed out, was the case with Johnson and Nixon. Jimmy Carter, too, created problems by being so eager to exercise power that he became enmeshed in too many fights on too many fronts. Certainly Secretary of State Alexander Haig and White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan suffered from power hunger, as well.
"[President Ronald] Reagan is not a power-hungry guy," suggested Lee Atwater, who helped run Reagan's 1984 campaign and later became campaign manager for Vice President Bush. "Nixon was power hungry Johnson was power hungry. Carter was power hungry. Look at the guys who were run out of town by the media--the guys who were obsessed with power. Reagan stays detached. He's got a Zen approach to power. He doesn't care about power for power's sake alone. Eisenhower is the only other person who had the same detached way of holding power." [5] -Hedrick Smith, The Power Game (New York: Ballantine Books 1988), p. 54 & 55

A Roper poll done at the behest of "1st Wave" and pesented on CNN by Ken Dychtwald, 24 Sep 1996 1:15:19 PM, also tends to butress this assumption: Of 1200 "baby boomers" (born 1946-1964) -- and disparagingly referred to as "The ME Generation" -- their top value was "To be true to yourself and don't sell-out," the second was community service, then came a few others. Next to the last of values amongst the "MEs" was wealth, while dead last was "power and influence."

There is also ample evidence of such "instincts for freedom" in literature and entertainment. This shouldn't be a surprise: "Entertainment" invariably involves stimulating our emotions -- a modern analog to cocaine and speed. "That movie made me cry" guarantees boxoffice profits. Essentially, this turns "entertainment" into an ^^wecono-memetic machine that's paid-off for discovering our emotions -- and more particularly, what stimulates them. But don't take my word, check it out for yourself!

In fact, if you start to view movies, novels, video games, etc. with an awareness of our instincts for freedom, you'll find a very large chunk depend on conflict between those who "cherish independence of thought and action as a natural prerogative," are "guided by a love of personal freedom," are "all but obsessively--concerned with being free from the authority of others" and consider behavior which "threatens the autonomy of others" as deviant -- versus those who are attempting to squash freedom and "establish an order of dominance and paramountcy."

Plots also regularly involve going after a main political actor who "threatens the autonomy of others" and "therby becomes deviant." And with truth being stranger than fiction -- and fiction mirroring "reality" -- or is it the other way around -- our politicians, currently (2005 A.D.) George W. "freedom is my favorite word" Bush, follow the plot if not the substance -- religiously.

Currently (Spring 2005 A.D.) Star Wars III, with "The Empire" as backdrop, is another excellent example. Lord of the Rings is another.

In the middle of a re-write, I just (2010 A.D.) ran into this example - - -

I raised you ...to enforce my will on the entire world VClip 2

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The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor

But you'll find these themes nearly everywhere you look. For example, nearly every episode of Stargate SG1 counts on this "freedom vs. hierarchy and domination" staple as integral to its plot. So-called "Professional Wrestling" counts on "heels" creating "heat" from the audience by doing outrageous things, regularly involving arrogance, dominance, and gross violations of someone's freedom, autonomy, not to mention fair play. The free-form team acrobatics, while often spectacular, are only the backdrop. Even the corollary to these "male soaps" -- true soaps -- invariably include domination attempts and someone trying to coerce or trick someone else into some intrigue or another against their will. Check it out for yourself! See if you can disagree and get back to me. Seriously - - -

Thus we have among us not only those with a tendency toward hierarchy but also those with an opposing tendency away from hierarchy and toward freedom and autonomy. We may even have both tendencies competing within the same individual, often at different times and under different circumstances. Once we become consciously aware of these tendencies, we can begin to not only see the evidence they exist, but also perhaps, feel the stirrings of both opposing drives within ourselves.

But why did these opposing tendencies evolve in the first place?

We know that some humans retain a genetic predisposition for hierarchy -- certainly within the family and undoubtedly in some folks, outside it as well. We know that the survival advantage for individual animals with hierarchical tendencies is that they are "agressive" and thus get things for themselves -- food and females, etc. -- from less agressive individuals. This works for other species because it causes the species to become more and more agressive as the genes from the dominant individuals become more concentrated -- since the individuals carrying them get more food and more breeding opportunities. [6]

So then, what survival advantage did our ancestors get from drives which actually run counter to the evolution of such increasing agressiveness? What caused them instead to be "guided by a love of personal freedom" and "universally--and all but obsessively--concerned with being free from the authority of others?" What was the evolutionary pay-off, in this case for suppressing expression of the hierarchical insistent leadership behavior almost certainly inherent in the genes of at least a small percentage of our fellows? In other words, what was the survival value to our ancestors of our instincts for freedom?

The fact our ancestors prospered during this period of suppression of hierarchy suggests that those things associated with alpha-hood --- such as physical strength, dominance, warfare, etc. --- weren't as important to human survival as we might commonly think, or at least that "other things" - - associated with our "instincts for freedom" apparently - - were as or more important. What could these "other things" be? What could possibly be more important to survival than the 'physical strength, dominance, and warfare' associated with hierarchy?" And, in contrast, why was alpha-dominance -- which is central to hierarchy -- apparently detrimental to human survival when compared to the 'other things' associated with our instincts for freedom?

Put a little differently, why did supressing this type of persistent alpha/dominance behavior apparently give our ancestors an edge over groups which allowed, rather than suppressed, this behavior? Why would having your group dominated by an alpha hurt your -- and his -- chances of survival compared to groups which didn't permit alpha domination?

Another set of questions added to our inventory. They will be largely answered in Chapter 13, Anti-Authority Explained and refined in subsequent chapters, particularly Chapter 15, How They Got Things Done, Chapter 17, Diversity vs. Ruin in Small Groups and Elsewhere, and Chapter 19, Spontaneous Order.


We quibbled with Boehm because he didn't explicitly suggest a genetic component to supression of hierarchy and supression of persistent hierarchical leaders -- what Boehm calls "reverse dominance hierarchies" -- and we proceeded to postulate just such a genetic connection ourselves. In support of this postulate, we drew from Boehm himself, including his observations that hunter-gatherers and tribesmen "are guided by a love of personal freedom" (Boehm 1999:65), that "nomadic foragers are universally--and all but obsessively--concerned with being free from the authority of others," and "That is the basic thrust of their political ethos" (Boehm 1999:68).

We also recalled from Chapter 3 that the Eskimos cherished "independence of thought and action as a natural prerogative," (Boehm 1999:53) and from Chapter 7 that within our ancestral groups, anytime the behavior of a main political actor "threatens the autonomy of others" it "therby becomes deviant." (Boehm 1999:67) Further from Chapter 4 we know that we can probably chalk-up our ancestor's predisposition to resist the temptation to "establish an order of dominance and paramountcy" (Fried 1967:33 in Boehm 1999:34) as another of our inherited tendencies toward freedom.

But the strongest evidence for genetically based suppression of both hierarchy and persistent leaders is that egalitarians exhibiting this sort of behavior and ethos "had been found on every continent", "in a bewildering array of ecological niches," among ancestors who "foraged, farmed, and herded animals," and "used many different residence and descent rules and a variety of kin terms" (Boehm 1999:30).

The alternative to a genetic explanation -- that all these groups somehow spontaneously, independently, and universally learned similar leader supression all around the world -- would have to be one heck of a world-record coincidence.

In line with a genetic basis for all these things, we noted via Chomsky, that 1. seminal anarchist Mikhail Bakunin postulated an "instinct for freedom", 2. the assumption of such an instinct inspired Rousseau's lament that "people are born free but are everywhere in chains", 3. such an instinct was necessary if Hume's paradox of government was to be, well, a paradox, and that 4., according to Chomsky at least, the existence of such an "instinct for freedom" hadn't yet been validated.

We suggested that Boehm's work above is sufficient to validate the notion of an instinct for freedom, but, given the number and variety discovered, perhaps "instinct(s)" or perhaps "drives" (plural) for freedom might prove to be more accurate labels, and like other instincts and drives, may manifest themselves unconsciously -- like the cat marking her territory.

We mentioned that there is supporting evidence from many sources, and particularly recalled Camu ("just walk beside me")-- and Tolkien ("the most improper job of any man ... is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit to it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.") We cited the literature on the !Kung of the Kalahari and Busama of New Guinea that leadership positions are not much sought after and that "egalitarians are innately suspicious of power- hungry individuals" (Boehm 1999:109). We recalled that Attila was apparently a simple and humble man at home. Like those Arapaho warriors were expected to be. And using the political fate of late 1900s U.S. Presidents as examples, noted that even today's "democracies" demonstrate evidence that we are still "innately suspicious of power-hungry individuals."

We asked why two such opposing genetic traits -- hierarchy vs. egalitarianism -- would evolve in the same species and suggested they may sometimes compete even within the same individual -- and that we may even feel the cat-rubbing-like stirrings of both within ourselves once we become consciously aware of them.

But what survival advantage did our ancestors derive from all this --- forsaking the advantages that accrue to hierarchical "alpha males" in favor of "something else?" What could that something else be? In other words, what was the survival value to our ancestors of our instincts for freedom? What could possibly be more important than "physical strength, dominance, and warfare?" And, in contrast, why was alpha-dominance apparently detrimental to survival when compared to these "other things"?


[1] Chomsky also suggests that, "Ultimately the governors, the rulers, can only rule if they control opinion --no matter how many guns they have. This is true of the most despotic societies and the most free, [Hume] wrote. If the general population won't accept things, the rulers are finished." SEE also Media's Role return

[2]       We might observe that, based on Boehm's research, the people "everywhere in chains" situation is an anthropologically recent development -- and it's probably related to how "the rich" since The Great Transition have learned to use government not only to "guarantee their plunder," but to do a lot of plundering for them. See Silent Partners and Standard Operating Procedure? return

[3] One of the most controversial characters of The Lord of the Rings, Saruman, was a wise wizard before surrendering to the flatteries of absolute power (which, in the words of Lord Acton, "corrupts absolutely"). return

[4] We are, naturally, seeing through the eyes of "urban literate" observers (rather than through the eyes of those who are all "headmen over themselves") and who thus expect one persistent leader only and so speak in terms appropriate to their cultural bias -- by speaking of "THE" leader for example. return

[5] Lee Atwater, interview with the author [Hedrick Smith], Feb. 6, 1986 return

[6] There is a limit to such aggressiveness remember. If same-species individuals get too aggressive and kill each other rather than using "dominance displays," that would threaten group survival by reducing it's size. However, as we know, there are also countervailing instincts to substitute "competitive displays" for actual attacks. return

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