Politics and the Human Herd

Posted by on Sep 15, 2008 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments


Regular readers won't be surprised if I start to suggest that politics – like most other aspects of human life – provide good material for the Herd thinker.

Mike Tyldesley points (in a comment on a recent post here) to this great piece by David Brooks on the Social Ape aspect of the current presidential campaign over the water . Here as there, the generals on the Centre Right are realising that their recent obsession with individualism is ultimately misguided: the "ties that bind" and "social capital" are two political jargon terms that underline this. And as Brooks points out, the We-politics of the Right go back to their patron saints. Certainly, the Bush-Cheney 04 team had this bit right. Rearrange the following words to form the basis of political debate/phone-in language: "Ordinary", "decent" "hardworking" "taxpayers" "people (like me)" "rank and file" etc – it's about US, not I.

Over there again, Paul Krugman expresses some surprise that testable facts about a supposed external reality play such a small role in contemporary American politics (things were ever thus…).And Bob Garfield bemoans the willful disconnect in GOP attack ads between claim and oh, er…facts

Yet as both Presidential candidates' advisors know, Politics is a We-think game and not an I-think one: individual voting behaviour (like so many other behaviours) is not independently driven but shaped by that of others; much of what passes for our political debates are 'tribal' turf wars (see the story around the republican VP candidate) rather than debates on "issues"; most political communication is designed to 'activate the base' and whatever Uncle Tony (and our better selves) would have us believe, it's the people stuff that we care about, not the policies.Yes, that means, The Palin Thing is for real. And as Obama himself pointed out, the election is not really about him and what he stands for but about "us" (or them, depending on the colour of your passport) and what "we" think about ourselves.

Because we are a social ape – first, foremost and finally.

If there was tv quiz show in which different species had to choose a specialist subject, homo sapiens would be answering questions on…other people

It's a HERD thing


  1. Jonathan
    September 15, 2008

    There are quite a few ideas that support and add to your post in this essay by Jonathan Haidt: morality is not just about doing the right thing, but about binding social groups together.
    What makes people vote Republican?

  2. Charles Frith
    September 16, 2008

    Glad you mention this Mark because one of the most depressing things about seeing a party I’d like to see in power (The Democrats) in action is that a lot of the response is so herdlike that I feel a lot of quality is lost.
    Saying that there are some days when I hope the GOP get in because another four years might just bury them for a while. That’s not very herdlike I know 😉