The Evolution of Leadership and Government

How do schools of fish know which way to go?

Fish maintain orderly schools and swim in the same direction by paying attention to what their neighbors are doing and by following those fish that are most determined to go in a particular direction. If a fish is determined to go in a particular direction, there’s probably a good reason for it: a predator has been sighted and they are determined to get away from it. Not every fish in a school can see a predator, so it’s a good idea to follow those fish most determined to go in a particular direction.

That’s pretty much a perfect definition of leadership. People follow those who are most determined to go in a particular direction. It doesn’t matter what that direction is, so long as the person is most determined to go in that direction. This is why people follow all leaders, whether they be in government, in business, or in cults. The problem is that when you end up with a high level of cognition such that you become fully self-aware, you are then able to make the mistake of thinking that just because a large number of people is following you, that you’re going in the right direction. Which only makes you more determined to go in that direction. Which draws in more followers.

This is the case throughout the animal world. We see it again in flocks of birds, but we also see it in herds of antelope, and we even see it in humans during riots. Further, we see it in the complex social structures of certain mammals, particularly in primates such as chimpanzees. We used to think that the alpha in any group of social mammals became the alpha to get the best breeding opportunities. However, genetic testing showed there was literally no reproductive benefit to being the alpha, to being the leader. The benefit of the alpha is simply that everyone does what he/she wants everyone to do. They get the right to be the one who will get to be the one most determined, rather than some random individual. In an emergency, it can still be some random individual, but during the rest of the time, the alpha is always the one everyone looks to as the one who will determine in which direction everyone goes.

This is literally the bottom line when it comes to leadership. In business, you usually get followers by hiring them, so it doesn’t quite work in the same way, but in cults, religions, and government, that’s literally what happens each and every time. There is someone who is determined to go in a particular direction, and people follow. There may be “reasons” we have for following that particular person in that particular direction, but all too often it’s a matter of popularity and tribal loyalty. It has nothing to do with truth, nothing to do with justice, nothing to do with reason. We justify our desire to follow, we rationalize our desire to follow, meaning we give reasons after we’ve decided to follow, but only rarely do we follow for rational reasons. We are at root fish following those most determined to simply go in some particular direction.

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