January 28, 2014
Reprise: "A leader cannot force a personally chosen strategy on the entire group, yet the rank and file can be quite responsive to leadership in certain contexts." -(Boehm 1999:40)
"This stereotype [the "fallacy of the chief"] may have derived from ...our awareness of the fact that war and hunting parties-those which we most frequently encountered-were usually led by individuals who seemed to have a great deal of authority over their companions ..." James E. Officer, Journal of American Indian Education, Volume 3 Number 1, October 1963
"Speaking of leadership among American Indians, the late famous anthropologist Robert Lowie remarked: "(They) rarely concentrated executive power, but at the time of a communal buffalo hunt the police were in supreme control ... the Lowie comment emphasizes that under certain circumstances, individuals in times of crisis might rise to positions of considerable power. However, their power was individual and the degree of their authority dependent upon the situation." ibid. James E. Officer
Reprise: "He [Crazy Horse] was much sought after by his youthful associates, but was noticeably reserved and modest; yet in the moment of danger he at once rose above them all -- a natural leader!" - ibid. Glenn Welker


O.K. So for good reason, our ancestors allowed no persistent leaders or hierarchy, remember. But - - -

Imagine you see a baseball about to hit your friend in the back of his head and you're too far from him to catch it or push him out of the way. Clearly you have critical information he lacks, and it's imperative you get it to him. What do you do?

You've just entered the realm of "emergency" and its standard definition will be a good place to go next.

e|mer·gen|cy n., pl. -cies a sudden, generally unexpected occurrence or set of circumstances demanding immediate action --WEBSTER'S NEW WORLD DICTIONARY, Third Edition, Copyright 1988

An "emergency" by definition, then, means you're short on time -- and you've got to DO something. NOW!! This means that, just as in the case of your friend and the baseball -- or Crazy Horse "in the moment of danger" -- it's not possible to exchange detailed information or explanations.

There's another important aspect of "emergencies" when more than a couple of people are around: Usually, particularly at first, only one or a few people know what's going on -- you knew about the baseball, your friend didn't. In groups, this situation strongly suggests that temporary control by those few people who know what's going on might be a good idea. From our small-group viewpoint then, we might define "emergencies" as "situations where one or only a few people know what's going on, immediate coordinated action is necessary and there's no time for discussion and/or information sharing, and thus temporary '(centralized) control' by those 'in the know' may be implied."

Clearly if folks don't pay attention to the one or the few people who know what's going on during an emergency -- and what to do about it -- ironically, just as in a general hierarchy, essential information would be ignored. As a result, the outcome would likely be less than optimum. What happens to your friend if he doesn't pay attention to you about the impending baseball?

Problems with Distributed Unique Information

We know from Chapter 12, Where Altruism Came From, that to a degree completely unprecedented in the rest of the animal kingdom, each of us possesses information which exists uniquely and only in our own memory. But the fact this information is both unique -- and distributed amongst us -- causes problems, particularly acute amongst our small-group ancestors because writing hadn't been invented. There are at least three problems caused by this situation.

First, remember, especially without writing, if someone with unique key information dies -- the guy who knows how to find the waterholes, for example -- it could endanger the whole group's survival. Apparently to overcome this particular problem, the process of evolution produced "altruistic" instincts and drives which encourage us, cat-rubbing-like, to keep each other alive -- but also, likely, tendencies to pass on what we know to others as well. These days, that's been collapsed into the word "teach" which tends to neglect or devalue the other half of the process, that is "learn."

Second and similarly in Chapter 13, Anti-authority Explained, we suggested that our "instincts for freedom" likely evolved to prevent generalized hierarchy (persistent leaders, pecking order, etc.) from interfering with the use of our hard-won unique and distributed information and knowledge -- {perhaps }by drowning out essential information with constant alpha dominance signalling for example. Or bullying people into going along with the bully's plans instead of following their own.

But, as demonstrated by the baseball example above, there's a third problem caused by unique, distributed information: How do you transfer it to someone else who needs it? Especially when they need it fast!

What would happen to your friend if 1. You didn't warn him about the baseball or 2. He didn't pay attention? Particularly in such an emergency situation, information must be delivered in a fashion that will cause it to stand out from the background "noise" and get immediate attention. Have any suggestions?

A Use For Alpha Dominance?

So, what about your friend and that baseball? Right now visualize yourself in that situation -- that baseball is about to hit your friend in the back of the head. -- Now, do exactly what you'd do . . . . Seriously, I mean it. Go ahead, do it.

You probably, cat-rubbing-like, yelled out instinctively, and in very bossy and commanding tones, something like, "LOOK OUT JOE!", "JOE, DUCK LEFT!" or perhaps just, "DUCK!"

Because of your commanding manner, your friend pays attention, and if he's lucky, he ducks the right way. You saved his life -- or at least saved him from a serious knot and a nasty headache.

Under emergency conditions paradoxically, a key part of hierarchical behavior becomes important: The alpha dominance complex of signals first mentioned in Chapter 7, What's Wrong With Hierarchy?, is taylor-made to handle the problem. Think of the tone of voice you would use to warn your friend about the baseball. It's a sub-part of a dominance display, and thus part of very old genetic programs, in part designed by the process of evolution to quickly, automatically and unconsciously get attention and compliance.

Our small-group ancestors would undoubtedly react similarly. But when you issue orders in this manner, in direct opposition to our instincts for freedom, are you "bossing another man?"

So, are you bossing your friend when you tell him to "DUCK"? The answer is, "Yes, but only very temporarily." And he's very responsive to being "bossed" under those conditions, and probably appreciative afterwards. But only if the "bossing" is very temporary. And appropriate to the situation. How do you suppose he'd react if you kept bossing him around in those same tones for the rest of the day? Or there was no baseball?

How do you think he -- and your other small-group mates -- would react to you if you began randomly barking out non-emergency orders using alpha dominance tones and manners? Perhaps like a Marine drill seargeant.

Emergencies often involve more than just one person. Thus emergencies are almost certainly a large portion of those "certain contexts" where, while no one can "force a personally chosen strategy on the entire group, yet the rank and file can be quite responsive to leadership." (Boehm 1999:40)

The Overrated Hazards of Emergencies

There are even some emergency -- or emergency-like circumstances -- where our small group ancestors actually wanted someone to be in control more than just fleetingly - - -

"Because of its commitment to egalitarianism and consensus-seeking, any tribe that engages in intensive warfare has a predictable problem on the battlefield. There decisive leadership by the most sagacious warrior would be useful, for in the thick of combat it is difficult for the entire group to talk over its next move. When two or more tribal segments temporarily merge to fight a common enemy, the need for centralized authority becomes greater still." (Boehm 1999:97)

Shouldn't this start alarm bells ringing -- after all, our ancestors were worried about potential upstart bullies aggrandizing their prerogatives and becoming persistent hierarchical leaders. Isn't creating such "centralized authority" an opening for one of "the adverse political forces they face--forces that make for an increase in hierarchy and a decrease in personal autonomy?" Wouldn't that be an irresistable opening for one of those potential free-riding bullies that "always seems to be waiting in the wings," remember?

The hazard for our egalitarian ancestors in longer-term control was clear: The line might become blurred between using alpha complex signals to temporarily signal transient information-based "dominance" during emergencies versus using such signals to establish lasting dominance. This might be a problem with a group member who has overt hierarchical tendencies and a penchant for persistant leadership, aggrandizing his prerogatives -- and possibly heading the group for a "dominance episode."

But remember Crazy Horse: It was only "in the moment of danger" that "he at once rose above them all -- a natural leader!" The rest of the time, he was "noticeably reserved and modest." When his special skills weren't called for, he was just one of the guys. After the "moment of danger" passed, he went back to being just one of the guys. In fact, this was pretty much the "standard" pattern among native Americans and other small groups - - -

"Speaking of leadership among American Indians, the late famous anthropologist Robert Lowie remarked: . . . "The North American Indians had 'chiefs' but often these were mere advisors and virtually never dictators. Except in emergencies, they had no power over the lives and property of their fellows." ...
(2) The head of the kin-based group usually had only limited authority, although in emergencies-such as during a period of warfare or drought-the extent of his authority might be considerably increased. (3) In the case of political units larger than the extended family, such as an entire tribe, leaders with special skills or courage were often acknowledged and given considerable power in specific situations such as war or during hunting activities, but this power was [temporary], rather than constant, and was not transmissible"... ibid. James E. Officer [italics emphasis added -lrw]

Despite the apparent alpha complex hazard then, it seems our ancestors were quite adept at avoiding the problems inherent in increased control by persistent leaders during "emergencies." Boehm mentions that "ugly domination episodes ... are infrequent."

Further, since our ancestors fully expected that "power was temporary rather than constant," any group member attempting a dominance transition would stick out like a crop circle at harvest time -- and our ancestors knew how to handle 'em. In fact we'll have to await the discussion on The Great Transitions to find out what tipped the balance in our societies from egalitarianism to hierarchy. Clearly it wasn't simply run-away hierarchical alpha dominance as a result of emergencies.

States of Emergency

On the other hand in the modern post-Great Transitions hierarchical world, controlling cliques have made extensive use of "emergencies" to further their hierarchical aims and greatly facilitate ever increasing totalitarian control. Strangely, this practice is especially egregious in the United States of America in the form of so-called "executive orders" issued by U.S. Presidents. So-called "executive orders" owe their quasi-legal existence to declared "states of emergency."

As you may guess, the hierarchists among us, especially those in power, "like" such "states of emergency" -- and the things like war, terrorism, etc. which justify them -- because we, like our ancestors, may be genetically predisposed to grant them more power under such conditions. While cat-rubbing-like, we expect such granted power to be temporary, the hierarchists have other ideas.

Normally emergencies are over quickly, but the use of "executive orders" has caused them to be ingenuously stretched into legally defined perpetual existence. The original extra-legal use of this ploy, infamous Executive Order #6102 issued by Franklin Delano Roosevelt on April 5, 1933 -- which, despite the U.S. Constitution [1] took the country off the gold standard -- was based on a declared "state of emergency" which has been renewed so it still exists today (2003 A.D.), 70 years later. That 70 year old state of emergency is only the tip of the iceberg. [2] We'll take a closer look at "states of emergency" and "executive orders" in Chapter cm, Control Modes.


In this chapter we explored so-called "emergencies" and defined them as "situations where one or only a few people know what's going on, immediate coordinated action is necessary and there's no time for discussion, and thus temporary '(centralized) control' by those 'in the know' may be implied." We noted that handling such emergencies is just one of several problems we humans have with unique information when it's distributed among the members of our group. The first problem -- loss of key information thru death -- powered the evolution of "altruism." The second problem -- general hierarchy blocking the use of key information -- powered the evolution of our instincts for freedom.

The problem we focused on was how to quickly transmit key information to someone during an emergency in a way it won't be ignored. Paradoxically, the solution is to use part of the alpha dominance complex of signals, central to hierarchical dominance displays, in order to get attention and compliance.

While this is "bossing another man," seemingly in direct opposition to our instincts for freedom, it is effective and appreciated -- if it's temporary. We noted that under certain such emergency conditions -- warfare or drought for example -- our small-group ancestors sometimes permitted someone to be in charge, and in such a temporary context, group members "can be quite responsive to leadership."

We noted that this looks dangerous if there are indeed would-be free-riding bullies waiting in the wings to aggrandize their prerogatives by becoming persistent full-time hierarchical "leaders." Perhaps this is the cause of the Great Transition. By taking a glance at Native Americans however, we discovered that this hazard is somewhat overrated.

Our small-group ancestors knew how to recognize the hazard and to deal with it. As a result, we noted that runaway alpha dominance won't explain the Great Transition, but that today, on the other hand, U.S. Presidents use so-called emergencies as an excuse for "executive orders" which greatly facilitate increasing totalitarian hierarchical control.


[1] Clause 1: No State shall ... make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; - United States Constitution from U.S. House of Representatives, Article I, Section 10, Clause 1 return

[2] You can trace the evolution of the use of such unconstitutional Executive Orders -- at least if applied to other than employees of the Executive branch of the United States Government -- in Appendix aw, WAR AND EMERGENCY POWERS. return

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