Sunday, March 08, 2009

It's Getting Ugly

The struggle for dominance among the non-dominant is something to behold.
In his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week, hate radio talker Rush Limbaugh repeated his assertion that he hopes President Obama “fails.” In the same speech, Limbaugh took a veiled shot at former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is one of his rivals for the leadership of the conservative movement, saying that people who say the GOP needs to move on from Ronald Reagan must be stamped out.

On NBC’S Meet The Press today, Gingrich fired back, saying that “you’ve got to want the president to succeed.” “You’re irrational if you don’t want the president to succeed because if he doesn’t succeed, the country doesn’t succeed,” said Gingrich.

From an online textbook for an introductory course in psychology:
Group-living animals commonly joust for dominance. Different animals test each other to see who is "really boss." The outcome has important implications for each animal's genetic success. Dominant animals usually reproduce more than non-dominant animals. Aggression in primates is related to the male hormone testosterone . The more testosterone a male primate has, the more aggressive it tends to be. Defeated males lose testosterone. . . .


When a larger or more dominant animal makes a threat display, a younger or more submissive animal usually backs down, and violence is averted. A low growl accompanied by a stare is an unmistakable threat display used by many large mammals. A common threat display for the dog is a low growl, with ears laid back and teeth bared. Cats have a threat display also: they stare, make a low growling sound, and adopt a posture that indicates they may attack. If seriously threatened, they hiss, arch their backs, and fluff their fur in the classic "cat fight" posture. Such a display might be considered a fear display as much as a threat display. Fear and threat displays are often similar.

The primate grimace known as the threat face tells an aggressor to "back off." Dr. Dian Fossey, whose life was portrayed in the movie Gorillas in the Mist, used her knowledge of social displays among gorillas.

In response to a silverback that would not stop bluff-charging her, she made a fright face, [a] kind of horrible grimace... The startled silverback sat down at once and began to eat, nervously, with one eye on her. Then he got up and walked away. (Hayes, 1990)


As a rule, only group-living animals are "programmed" to submit to dominant animals. In group-living species, submission is adaptive; it gives the subordinate animal better odds of survival and reproduction.


Submission postures are body positions that a submissive animal uses to acknowledge a dominant animal and ward off aggression. The submission conveys the message, "OK, you're bigger. I am no threat to you." . . .
Submission postures often involve exposing a vulnerable part of the body such as the neck. A supplicant bowing before a king illustrates a submission posture. In the kneeling position, a person is vulnerable to being struck on the neck or back of the head. . . .
Submission postures are called appeasement displays if used to appease (lessen the anger of) an aggressive animal. One striking characteristic of animal and human appeasement strategies is infantilization. Cowering, whining, crying, begging, and nervous laughter-all are responses that partially mimic the behavior of children. All can make an aggressive animal decide not to attack

As we watch the conservative civil war unfold over ensuing weeks and perhaps months, remember that the entire dominance-and-submission role playing among primates is geared toward mating.

That should make you drink heavily.

Seriously, though, it is interesting to consider these two middle-aged, semi-corpulent, non-alpha males battling for control of a political/ideological movement in decline. Gingrich's notion that Obama needs to adopt "different policies" is, in reality, a desire for failure, considering our current circumstances; a distinction without a difference in all practical terms. Adding in pseudo-public intellectual David Brooks criticisms, which include digs at the heart of the conservative myth of Ronald Reagan, and you have the makings for a whole lot of fun. The conservative revolution, which really started with Richard Nixon, gained prominence under Reagan, and reached some kind of peak under Gingrich, and is now in eclipse, has become Saturn, devouring the last of its children in an attempt to stave off its demise.

Virtual Tin Cup

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