When it comes to party leaders, people tend to see them as figures who represent party ideology that may agree or disagree with them and will treat the party figure accordingly. We judge politicians very harshly according to what they stand for, for the agendas we think they carry, and the assumption that we make of them all being crooks, and non-human ones at that.
This week, I’d like to offer an alternate view, a social and neuro-biological point of view, an angle that sees Stephen Harper, Jack Layton, Michael Ignatieff, and Gilles Duceppe not only as humans, but as men, men enslaved to tightly-bound atoms that carry messages from one part of their bodies to another in the form of hormones, and also by the profound social structure that is born of seeing the world through googily testosterone goggles.
Politics as science
The Oxford English Language Dictionary (Oxford) defines politics as the art and science of government. Last week, I discussed politics as art and imagined the complexity of a political image and how important it is to a leader and the party “brand”. This week, if science is “a branch of knowledge involving the systematized observation of and experiment with phenomena”(Oxford), allow me to explain my objective observations about this beast.
Through science, we have insight into the conduct of people, in this case, male politicians, via brain structure which is influenced by testosterone. Six weeks after their conception, males are already under the heavy influence of this hormone that goes so far as to affect the formation of their brains. All humans have lots of testosterone in their bodies, but for those of you with the XY chromosome combination, testosterone has given you more brain space than females for aggression, sex, and power. But testosterone giveth and testosterone taketh away – your brain space for communication, emotional processing, and observation has been compromised and is smaller than in females. With a brain like this making decisions for the last six thousand years, it explains a whole lot about who we are as a species and what kind of world we live in.
You may not have thought of this before, but any structure, system, or institution in our world has been born of the male mind. Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge, categorizes the male brain as “predominantly hard-wired for systemizing… Systemizing is the drive to analyze, explore, and construct a system.” Systems that make things work like engines or paddle boats, or systems that influence ways of thinking and behaving like academia, law, or government are all very much products of the male mind.
Dr. James M. Dabbs, who spent his professional life researching the relationship between testosterone and human social behaviour says that ”boys play war games and sort themselves into hierarchies. They compete to see who will be the leader, the quarterback, the top dog.” In the political system, it’s the Prime Minister at the top of the heap (but in a different system could be the king or the admiral or the manager), in control and lapping up the power of the position of authority.
To me, the hierarchical system, generated by the male brain and under the spell of a very powerful hormone, pits people against each other where one figure dominates and controls power, giving us one “winner” and one “loser” in male language. Translated through the filters of my empathetic female brain, this means “someone who reached their goal” and “someone who felt bad”. Indeed, in The Male Brain, Dr. Louann Brizendine explains that “pecking order and hierarchy matter more deeply in men than most women realize.” You said it, sister.
Within a hierarchical system, one person, or one group of people with the same understanding, dominate and control others – and guess why? Yes, it’s testosterone again, driving men to fight for power in some way (arguing or arm wrestling, for example) to win dominance over other people.
If the male brain wants to dominate and have more power, it will drive a man to attempt to out-do other figures that threaten him, so there is a need to prove oneself, to be correct, and to impress oneself on other people. Dabbs says that dominant people need “panache”: “the male animal equivalent of puffing themselves up, bristling, strutting, preening, spreading their tail feathers, and controlling space to intimidate their [perceived] opponents.” Our politicians compete with loud election promises, and they argue and finger point and call each other names in the name of dominance, it seems to me.
In the case of politics, competition, aggression, and the drive to dominate turns the goings-on in the House of Commons to the equivalent of an intellectual street brawl; the boxing ring for policy geeks. Stephen, Michael, Jack, and Gilles may not physically dominate each other by being big and burly, but they are out to dominate with their minds and their points, just like the Classical Greek men did, sans toga this time.
Testosterone likes to see in extremes and this is very evident in our society. Thinking in extremes forces wedges between people, suggesting or imposing a view that allows only one way or another to see an issue, instead of the sea of grey in between both points of view. Think about it, our culture forces a very black and white view (oh! there’s another one), specifically because the dominant culture sees through testosterone goggles and takes this way of thinking very seriously. Examples of extreme thinking:
- right – wrong
- whig – tory
- guilty – innocent
- win – lose
- to be or not to be
In politics, the ”if you’re not with us, you’re against us” way of thinking breaks into very strict ideologies that forces wedges between people with only slight differences of opinion. Though I’m applying this idea to political parties, I could just as well apply it to any other testosterone-born organization: religion, sports teams, or court rooms, where you’re a believer or a heathen, a Rider fan or a Stampeders fan, guilty or not guilty.
Somehow, seeing things this way asks for a judgement as in, one thing is good or bad (another!), and I suppose this harkens back to the hierarchy and the dominance of the testosterone-laden mind, one that yearns for the position of being “better” than someone else. This, as far as I can make out, can only breed bad behaviour.
Politics breeds bad behaviour
You have all the characteristics of a popular politician: a horrible voice, bad breeding, and a vulgar manner. -Aristophanes, Greek comic dramatist, 424 B.C.E
Testosterone pushes for competition and the one-upmanship of competition creates unnecessary adversity as far as I’m concerned. In a political realm, bad behaviour in the form of insults, shouting, or smear tactics are used to compete with the intent to dominate. Ipolitics.ca recently reported on the recent electoral-related vandalism, from “slashed tires and harassing phone calls to sign vandalism and flyer-swapping skullduggery, citizen tacticians have taken the race into their own hands — often at the expense of their preferred party’s reputation.” It is amazing to me that within our society, people have been so profoundly influenced by testosterone that they will turn against each other merely for differences of opinion.
As per the ipolitics article, bad behaviour equates to people being “left with a bad taste in their mouths (a new Angus Reid survey shows 80 per cent of Canadians are politically “scattered between mistrust, cynicism and alienation”), despite the best efforts of most candidates to run clean campaigns.” Bad behaviour has a huge bearing on the candidate and the parties they represent, casting both in a less than palatable light. I can only speak for myself, but I don’t think Canadians are into adversity like this, and I certainly do not feel properly represented by people who use intimidation to do their job, and act in a less-than-gentlemanly manner.
I see politics, in structure and operation, as the product of testosterone. However, despite the enormous links between the two, I also see irony. Testosterone is all about movement, exploration, and action, but for some reason, our politicos are not taking any. It seems that instead, they’re busy trying to out-do each other and dominate for power, just like their hormones dictate (I know it’s not the salary or the sex, drugs, or rock and roll on Parliament Hill).
Our four leaders in question, like all other males in the world, are under the chemical influence of testosterone which drives them to dominate, intimidate, and think in extremes in their support of a hierarchical structure that to my mind, breeds automatic hostility and a constant state of tension. Though I too have been conditioned to operate under such a structure, I wouldn’t want to be a male under what I observe to be a life of testosterone-laden strife (it must be exhausting!).
If we don’t like what politicians are doing or saying, remember this: men are not necessarily conscious of their behaviours and what drives them; they may simply be operating under the influence of the molecules that make up testosterone in a society that testosterone created. In other words, cut them some slack, they’re not as fully in control of themselves as we might think.
During the debates this month, the candidates stated that they wanted to work together to come to some agreement to get some things done. I think we’d all like that. And so I would like to challenge all candidates to really embrace their words and try to put differences aside to be able to come to the agreements imperative to making a country work, and look for common ground, not battle ground.
So on May 2, even if you’re a long-time party supporter, even if you can’t decide, even if you’re apathetic, just remember that, with all due respect to Ms May, who I greatly admire for having sensible estrogen and not swimming in the pool of political rhetoric, one of these men will be running our country and you have a say in which one does.