Popeye is my philosopher of record. His two most profound observations were:
“I don’t know how youz duz it, but youz duz it.”
“That’s all I can stand, I can’t stands no more.”
These summarize our general condition. Some people who, for want of a better word, we call leaders, directly and indirectly control our lives without us fully understanding how or why.
Their actions eventually reach a point at which we don’t know or care how or why we just won’t tolerate it anymore.
When and why do we reach that point? My research interest in climatology was focussed on the impact of climate and climate change on humans and their history. It stems from the idea that we are products of our environment and, according to Darwin, adapt and adjust to changes in the environment. The great myth used today to exploit people’s lack of understanding and fears is that climate change is new, and we must learn to adapt.
But we have always adapted. Indeed, what anthropologists identify as our greatest achievements were adaptations to changing environments. For example, we adapted to the cooling of the Pleistocene Ice Age by controlling fire, making clothing, and building shelters.
The problem is academics do not consider these social or cultural adaptations as evolutionary advances. As far as they are concerned, we are past our peak and our now doing things wrong. Consider the following comment from David Suzuki:
“Economics is a very species – chauvinistic idea. No other species on earth – and there are may be 30 million of them – has had the nerve to put forth a concept called economics, in which one species, us, declares the right to put value on everything else on earth, in the living and non-living world.”
What nonsense! The number of species is closer to 100 million and all of them put a value on everything, such as: “Is it edible or not?”
No, humans are unique because they can create complex and abstract ideas, or any other intellectual endeavour.
A major difference between humans and animals concerns leaders and followers. With animals, the followers have no say in who leads. However, with humans and democracy (another species-chauvinistic idea) the followers are the majority who determine who will lead and how far they will follow.
The basic assumption about leaders was summarized 2000 years ago in graffiti in Pompeii; It says if we get rid of this bunch of scoundrels we just get another bunch of scoundrels. In other words, elections don’t change anything. But there are two conditions under which people generally choose to get rid of the scoundrels.
The first is a failure of the food supply. A classic example occurred in France in the 19th century. The animosity between French peasants, the monarchy and aristocracy was always present, but it took two consecutive years of catastrophic harvest failure to trigger the Revolution.
This situation resulted from a cooler world during the Little Ice Age (1450 – 2000) and, in particular, a volcanic eruption in Iceland in 1783. Benjamin Franklin observed the eruption plume while transiting to his post as US Ambassador to France, and predicted the impact on agriculture in Europe. Sure enough, crop conditions deteriorated over a few years, culminating in that almost total failure in France in 1787 and ’88. No wonder they stormed the Bastille in 1789.
A 21st century example occurred in Egypt in 2011. People rioted against the government of Hosni Mubarak; President Obama claimed it was an “Arab Spring,” a popular democratic uprising. In fact, they were food riots. Obama wanted to get rid of Mubarak and replace him with the Muslim Brotherhood. The people wanted to get rid of Mubarak because the food supply failed.
The second reason people get rid of leaders is that they have forgotten who put them in power. Charles I of England believed implicitly in the Divine Right of Kings. He marched into the House of Commons and ordered them to approve financing for his campaigns. They cut Charles’ head off to show who was really in charge, and ever since, the monarch has been forbidden entry to the Commons.
More recently, the people metaphorically removed the heads of leaders in England by voting to leave the European Union during the so-called Brexit vote.
As James Delingpole explained:
For a lot of us Brexiteers, leaving the EU was just the beginning of a people’s revolution against that remote, entrenched, largely unaccountable elite. Not a war on ‘capitalism’, as the left so wilfully misrepresents it, but definitely an assault on cronyism, on ‘too big to fail’, on central-bank manipulation, on the misuse of immigration to create growth at the expense of GDP per capita and quality of life, on the screwing over of the many by the few.
The Trump “movement” is the same thing, a people’s revolution. He doesn’t care about the elite politicians of the extreme left or right.
The people send their message by getting rid of the leaders and for a brief period the scoundrels are chastened. However, the people know that other scoundrels will seek power because there is always a percentage who think they know what is best for us.
Hopefully, social and cultural evolution will eliminate them, and leaders who never forget their place will eventually evolve and arise.