Those of you familiar with my An Almighty Alpha project are aware of my opinion that human beings are a primate species that shares innate, social instincts with the great apes. These instincts include a number that relate to social ordering, such as hierarchy and status. I’ve encountered two recent studies that, I believe, fail to take that insight into consideration. In doing so they overlook the chest of muscles beneath a more sophisticated yet superficial shirt. So to speak.
1. Why We Kick a Loser When He’s Down.
FromWinning Makes People More Aggressive Toward the Defeated we learn,
A new study found that winners — those who outperformed others on a competitive task — acted more aggressively against the people they beat than the losers did against the victors.
“It seems that people have a tendency to stomp down on those they have defeated, to really rub it in,” said Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University.
Hmm. To “really rub it in”? To me, the above reasoning runs hollow, if not off-track. In the animal world, after a heated battle, the dominant doesn’t merely require the defeated to “cry uncle” and then the two walk away arm-in-arm as buddies who have just played a game of darts. In the animal kingdom, the dominant never lets up nor lets its guard down just after a heated battle. To do so would be . . . stupid. Status is serious business.
And for a loser to act aggressively toward to the victor . . . no, no, no, that is plain stupid. Unless of course you hold some sort of Freudian perspective in which emotional retaliation makes sense above all else. The stupidity holds true particularly if the loser and the victor are from the same social group, and wish to remain so. Instead, the loser needs to behave as if he or she has indeed lost and recognizes it. Otherwise, the loser risks continued aggression if not banishment from the group. Sure, at some other other time the loser my attempt to rise again. But to risk not only status but even group membership itself after a loss is a huge risk . . . to a social species.
The research authors note that,
. . . other research suggests that people are more aggressive when they feel powerful, as they may when they win a competition.
And that that I reply, “of course!” It would be insane for a ‘loser’ to act more aggressively after evidence that they are a weaker. In a sense, to aggress is to attempt to move up (or protect one’s one position). To do this post-loss is not so smart. After a victory, well, maybe you are that strong!
2. Why the Spiritual Realm is “Up.”
In my Almighty Alpha book-in-project I wrote a post, “Why Godliness is Up.” In it I explored this question:
Could a hominid feel reverent about a deity beneath its feet? Or is something underfoot too easy to dominate, too easy to put under one’s heel and perhaps snuff out?
Why is the spiritual realm generally considered to be above our heads? Because we love the blue sky and twinkling stars? I don’t think so. We tend to project the abode of “something greater” in the same direction as the verified geometrical relationship between the average lower-level manager and the corporate CEO. As much research into human behavior has shown, if you are tall, people instinctively view you as somehow greater.
In the clichéd version of a plebe meeting a spiritual guru, the guru sits tranquilly atop a mountain while the plebe struggles to ascend to that level. Whether or not the guru is a material entity or an imagined force. And so I found it curious that the science article,Why revelations have occurred on mountains? Linking mystical experiences and cognitive neuroscience, made no mention of that relationship — the “moving up means encountering the more powerful” element. Instead I read,
Prolonged stay at high altitudes, especially in social deprivation, may also lead to prefrontal lobe dysfunctions such as low resistance to stress and loss of inhibition. Based on these phenomenological, functional, and neural findings we suggest that exposure to altitudes might contribute to the induction of revelation experiences and might further our understanding of the mountain metaphor in religion.
Sure, slight oxygen deprivation might do funny things to the brain. But why climb the mountain in the first place? My answer: to move up. To brush elbows with the greats. To “hear them,” and to elevate one’s opinions in the eyes of those who have never ascended that high.
Perhaps I’ve just been reading too much about chimpanzee behavior. And thinking that were I covered with fur, I might look at a gorilla and think, “Oh look, there goes my distant cousin!”