By Robert A. Vella
The despondent tribe members huddled around a smoldering campfire. It was late winter. Their food supplies had dwindled, usable wood for hunting and cooking was in short supply, and predatory animals lurked around the periphery of their village. Worst of all, the tribe’s chief and two high-ranking elders had died weeks earlier from an infectious disease unknown to them.
This hypothetical scene is set circa 8,000 BCE, and similar dilemmas undoubtedly confronted hunter-gatherers on countless occasions over the 200 or so millennia of Homo sapiens’ existence on Earth. Life back then was often brutal, unforgiving, and incredibly short. People had little time to explore philosophical pursuits such as the merits of democracy or the value of egalitarianism.
Faced with impending doom, the village women organized to rebuild the tribal hierarchy. Their task would not be easy, for the remaining men were physically weak and emotionally reluctant to assume the arduous duties of leadership. What could be done? How do you erect a strong, capable leader from such meager stock?
As is the case for most social mammals, it is up to the females to decide. Although each species is unique and their rituals for establishing dominance and social hierarchy vary greatly, the end result is pretty much the same. Whether the arrangement is patriarchal (e.g. humans) or matriarchal (e.g. elephants), individuals’ roles are defined and privileges determined accordingly. Those at the top receive the highest rewards because they bear the greatest responsibility.
A young warrior stood above the rest. He was stronger than most, wise beyond his years, and possessed the ability to lead. The village women rallied around him. He was praised, encouraged, and soon elevated to prominent status. His trial towards chiefdom still remained ahead, but a successful conclusion would guarantee acceptance by rival men while giving the tribe renewed hope and direction for a more prosperous future.
Fast-forward 10,000 years, through the advent of agriculture, the rise of populous societies, the development of culture, several technological revolutions, and on to today’s complex modern civilization. We have seen an endless parade of kings, queens, and dictators having countless names and titles. As the population rose, so did their power. As their power rose, so did their penchant for abusing that power. We humans got fed-up with the corruption. We developed democracy and the rule of law to rein-in abuses of power. But, those new political systems were inefficient and flawed because it depended upon an evolution in the way human beings organize themselves socially. Such an evolution did begin, but it could not be sustained. By the early 20th century, the birth of totalitarianism began to replace it. In the 21st century, the expanse of totalitarianism continues under euphemistic forms such as corporatism, globalism, technocracy, and theocracy.
This is where all our leaders have gone. The problem never was with them, it was always with us.