Carson=our "old-mind"Trump=vanity

Know thyselfIn the course of my 45 year practice as a psychiatrist I became interested and have studied how human motivations have evolved since we arose from apes. This year, it has illuminated for me both Donald Trump’s enraged, egoistic bellowing and Ben Carson’s humble for-the-good-of-all homilies, but what they say is a distraction from their real message which is who they are. Occasionally a politician’s personality is a repository of his era (Bill Clinton), but at this moment we are lavished with two vivid examples of the fundamental paradox of who we are as a species! This is a unique and fleeting public theater about ourselves, and what is written below is your opportunity to grasp the meaning of it.

PeacockLike most tycoons, Trump adopts the central Darwinian premise: the survival of the fittest. However tooth-and-nail competition is not the trump-card for The Donald. Rather he is the reigning impresario of the most singular motivational quality that we Homo sapiens have brought to our six million year evolutionary table—sexual-display. Darwin described it in birds:

Puffed up BirdThey charm the female by vocal or instrumental music of the most varied kinds. They are ornamented by all sorts of combs, wattles, protuberances, horns, air-distended sacs, topknots, naked shafts, plumes and lengthened feathers gracefully springing from all parts of the body. The males sometimes pay their court by dancing, or by fantastic antics performed either on the ground or in the air.

What better animal model could there be for Donald Trump?

Indeed the natural selection of sexual-display is the hallmark of our own Homo sapiens species. What makes early human fossils recognizably modern is the attractiveness of males and females for each other.

Facial neotenyModern human adults are more gracile and childlike, with proportionately bigger heads than their forebear species. This is the result of a process known as neoteny, which is the natural selection for looking younger, which, as everyone knows is appealing to the opposite sex. Women are markedly more neotonic than males, with reduced noses and jaws. In addition they have exaggerated sexual characteristics, such as beautifully rounded breasts, which, in contrast to apes’, are present even when not lactating.

Gold earingsFurthermore the origins of body ornamentation in Homo sapiens are ancient and persistent. The earliest cultural artifacts associated with modern humans go back to around 100,000 years ago in Africa. They consist of pierced shells, clearly used as body decorations and rubbed their body with red powdered ocher, which continues as a practice.

It was natural for gold to replace shells as the most valuable commodity for humans. Because its shining luster does not tarnish, it’s ideal for jewelry—when things get really tough, you can always take our insatiable demand to enhance our appearance straight to the bank.

mirrorSo when our very own species arose 200,000 years ago, superimposed upon our six million year evolution since apes, we evolved the passionate desire to be admired and adored, traditionally known as vanity. This motivation is so widespread within us that it is quite simply the Homo sapiens component of our mind—our “new-mind”—and Mr. Trump is an archetypal exemplar of it.

CooperationUnderstanding what motivates Mr. Trump is easy, but Dr. Carson’s gentle spiritual archetype is much less familiar. It comes from the remote depths of the many species of our ancestors, a legacy I call our “old-mind.” World expert on the evolution of the human mind Michael Tomasello defines the essence of what distinguishes humans from apes: “It is an empirical fact that the social interaction and organization of great apes are hugely different with humans being much more cooperative in every way…”

Sigmund FreudThere is no direct science about how our marked cooperation evolved from apes because all of our ancestral species since apes have gone extinct, and minds and motivations do not fossilize. However, we can turn to the two greatest thinkers on the in-depth structure of our own mind, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.

Freud’s central insight was that our mind is made up of an id, full of ape-like motivations for sexual dominance, in a balance with a superego. The function of the superego is to suppress and channel these ape-id drives into productive, cooperative behavior. But how and why did this superego evolve in all the many species that have been discovered to have lived since we first arose from apes?

15wils_650Following Darwin’s own thinking, the famous evolutionist E. O. Wilson considers that the evolution of our cooperation was the result of a decisive shift in natural selection from the survival of individuals to the survival of groups of individuals. Unfortunately, according to both Wilson & Darwin, the trade-off is more cooperation among individuals within groups in return for ape-like competition between groups, better known as war.

Individuals over to relationships between individuals.Carson is certainly no warrior. The term “group-selection” is the problem here. Instead relationship-selection should be used: the natural selection not for the winner of any kind of group fitness contest but for the quiet final tally at the end of each and every generation of those relationships, whether between 2 individuals or 102, that produced the most offspring. And for those relationships to thrive in the harsh climates that continuously threatened extinction, our superego evolved to convert the barrenness of ape-competition into the fertility of human-cooperation.

Carl JungThe other great 20th Century thinker on the subject of the human mind was Carl Jung. Here he broadens the superego into divine justice:

As for Freud’s concept of the “superego,” it is a furtive attempt to smuggle the time-honored image of Jehovah in the dress of psychological theory. For my part, I prefer to call my things by the names under which they have always been called.

Ascension of dominanceNow we are in a position to comprehend Dr. Carson’s mindset. He exists within the vast reservoir of our collective unconscious: the singular authority of human justice was naturally selected to reign down from the ethereal virtual space betwixt and between cooperating individuals—and this authority acquired the biology of an evolving form of life.

Again, forget about what Carson is saying (*): that is a distraction from his real appeal and the authentic authority upon which he draws. The “medium” of Carson is the message – and it is very powerful. He can be understood as an archetype of Throwing out baby with bathwater.our old-mind in which dominance and submission in apes evolved into obedience to the sacred authority of justice that has sustained our bounty and fertility, the very basis of our miraculous, and wholly natural, ascension from the bestiality of apes. In this age of usurpation of the human Spirit, we turn our backs on the force of its presence-in-the-world  at our peril!

Now let’s think about these two gentlemen together. Would not the superimposition of the Trump-mind reverse the benefits of the Carson-mind, which had evolved for millions of years into the most productive social system conceivable?

Shakespear's Romeo & JulietNo. Our own species’ signature desire of romance is the clearest example of how the Trump-Carson ticket won an evolutionary landslide resulting in the ability to bind together ever larger groups of people, which is by far our species’ greatest advantage. Romantic love is an interaction between two new-minds entering into the sustained and heady brew of narcissism and sexuality, tempered by deeply spiritual sentiments stirred by two old-minds bonding for life. Mating outside one’s clan is an entrenched behavior (to avoid inbreeding) and has long been a cohesive force between family-kinship groups. And the reason for the evolution of this species-defining romance was, and still is, its ability to greatly magnify this binding effect from the beginning—and then charismatic traits were evolved on account of their ability to bind together even wider audiences.

Trump & GoldGod exists in the medium of our associations Although Trump will have to keep upping the ante to stay on the stage, he is a socially cohering figure around our admiration as a nation, however begrudging, for the sheer cheekiness of so publicly celebrating what a blast life can be when you have an unlimited supply of gold! But what Donald Trump stirs within us is but an island floating upon the vast unconscious ocean that Dr. Carson challenges us to consider.

We behold in flesh and blood the archetypal purity of the wellsprings of the two fundamental motivations that together constitute our human nature. And there’s the rub. There is no better single word for a healthy mind than balance.

I suspect when we finally do get serious about this election we will chose a less-extreme individual to wield the power of the living willfulness for justice that has sustained our distant ancestors in their long voyage through the eons.

Our journey thru the eons.Justice has sustained us

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

( * ) With reference to Dr. Carson’s attempt to make religion scientific, this quote by Karen Armstrong from her The Case for God (2009() is very pertinent:

Karen ArmstrongWe lost the art of interpreting the old tales of gods walking the earth, dead men striding out of tombs, or seas parting miraculously. We began to understand concepts such as faith, revelation, myth, mystery, and dogma in a way that would be very surprising to our [recent] ancestors.  In particular, the meaning of “belief” changed, so that a credulous acceptance of creedal doctrines became the prerequisite of faith, so much so today we often speak of religious people as “believers,” as though accepting orthodox dogma “on faith” were their most important activity.

This rationalized interpretation of religion has resulted in two distinctively modern phenomena: fundamentalism and atheism.  The defensive piety popularly known as fundamentalism erupted in almost every major faith during the twentieth century.  In their desire to produce a wholly rational, scientific faith that abolished mythos in favor of logos, Christian fundamentalists have interpreted scripture with a literalism unparalleled in the history of religion.

 

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15 Comments on “Trump and Carson: Archetypes in Human Evolution”

  1. This might be your best writing yet about your theory of the evolution of the mind and mental illness. You write about your theory not in the abstract, but with reference to an important contemporary phenomenon.

    Your comments about relational selection remind me of the time I worked on Guam. I was told that in ancient times there would be strong conflicts resulting in deaths among the natives (Chammoros) on Guam and other islands in the Mariana chain. But the leaders realized that if they warred against each other for injustices (e.g., a member of one clan killing a member of another clan), they would drive themselves to extinction. So they developed rituals that compensated the wronged parties without escalation into a full-out war.

    1. Thank you Mark for your most relevant comment. The key recognition between the Chammoros and the people in the other islands was the reality that the concept of justice, which all peoples had inherited, was not limited to a specific group, but all peoples, and was naturally selected on the basis that it is the most important adaptation for our entire 6 million-year hominin tribe not just to survive but to prevail.

      By the way, the Chammoros have played heavily in the history of ALS, which killed my sister. They ate bats, which, in turn ate plant seeds, which concentrated cyano-bacteria, which is a nerve toxin, which is thought to be the reason that they had a very high incidence of ALS – because now that they have stopped eating bats, and their ALS incidence has returned to normal. One theory of at least one avenue of ALS causation is that high fertilizer run-off into lakes cause blue-green algae blooms; spores containing cyano-bacteria are then inhaled. Dr Elijah Stommel at Dartmouth is studying this relationship particularly in Vermont where my dear sister Alex lived.

  2. John,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. I don’t see how anyone could argue with your point about Trump. Your point about Carson is subtler but also compelling. I am tempted to suggest that not thinking critically is a part of submission, and thus a part of his appeal. And that really does help make sense of how anyone could consider voting for him.

    1. Excellent point: Despite what he is now saying, Carson’s nature is all submission and obedience to the authority of the common good. That is what made him such a great doctor.

  3. Your description of the Donald made me think of TS Eliot’s description of “ape-necked Sweeney” in the opening stanza of his poem SEEENEY AMONG THE NIGHTINGALES…a great article…thanks

  4. The majority of Trump supporters seem to be middle-aged and older white men whose world has been upset by low wage competition from Asia, a sense that an undeserving group is getting what should be theirs and a sense of unease over what seems to be a more immoral culture. Trump is very vocal about this, and so more than sexual display, I think he is tapping into the “fairness” mind you bring up. Carson is hurt by his color: he is outside the tribe. If, as you suggest, atavism rules, we may be in trouble as leaders in the past who tapped into this primitive mind often brought great mischief.

    1. Thanks, Laird.
      My point is that the “medium” of Trump and Carson’s personalities as archetypes of the two major poles in human nature is their message, without which no one would be paying any attention to them.

  5. Yin and Yang
    the two extremes
    need to be balanced

    From Ancient Greeks:
    medan agan
    “nothing in excess”

    Two (extreme) narcissists
    in love with their own image(s)

    organ grinder monkeys
    performing for the amusement
    of wide-eyed children

    Look at me, look at me !
    Love me, love me
    I have the Holy Tablets
    with all the answers
    and I will lead you to
    the promised land

    I can get it for you
    quicker on Amazon

    Don’t follow leaders,
    watch the parkin’ meters
    Look out kid, they keep it all hid

    Caveat Emptor

    1. Super, Jerry! I’m with you on 1 & 2, and 3 & 4 certainly apply to Trump, but narcissism is too simplistic for Carson. As for 5, you don’t believe in God as I do, and that makes a lot of difference. We are all guilty of #6. And as for y#7: of course the astounding thing is that they have so caught on, that’s the part that needs the explanation I have tried to provide above. And you saved the very best for last.
      One more point about Ben Carson: he was a great doctor by all accounts, and that weighs heavily with me. Perhaps doctors should be permitted to do some off-beat stuff when they retire, look at this blog, for goodness sake!
      Thanks for the comments, Jerry

      1. I agree with all the comments on Trump, but am not so sure about Carson. The medium may be the message to a large extent, but the content of Carson’s ideas about the politics and the world generally seems less than sagacious. He has said some virulently homophobic things. He thinks the pyramids of Egypt were grain elevators built by the biblical character Joseph. Strange (to say the least) for a “man of science” to think that about the pyramids. Like Trump, Carson seems swayed by his own self-perceived greatness, even more so than most politicians. Hard to imagine either of them admitting to themselves or others that they flat-out “got something wrong.”

        1. Yea, Trump is a nobrainer; but wow, I hadn’t heard about the pyramids and Joseph! I would love to know how Carson connects the dots on that; I’m sure that, in his own “receiving” of these ideas from our collective unconscious – which is real – it makes some sort of subjective, human sense. My point is that he is operating totally, to the extreme, in the world of ancient images and meanings that swirls around us all and is the sifted repository of millions of years of purely human truth. Perhaps Dr. Carson casts himself in the mold of the ancient Hebrew prophets, and they still have a lot to tell us. But Hey; as I said in another reply, no one is denying that he was a great doctor, and we doctors should be cut a little slack if we drift into something a little off-beat in our retirement (like this blog).

  6. I think it relevant to insert this passage vis a vis Carson’s irrationality:

    We lost the art of interpreting the old tales of gods walking the earth, dead men striding out of tombs, or seas parting miraculously. We began to understand concepts such as faith, revelation, myth, mystery, and dogma in a way that would be very surprising to our [recent] ancestors. In particular, the meaning of “belief” changed, so that a credulous acceptance of creedal doctrines became the prerequisite of faith, so much so today we often speak of religious people as “believers,” as though accepting orthodox dogma “on faith” were their most important activity.

    This rationalized interpretation of religion has resulted in two distinctively modern phenomena: fundamentalism and atheism. The defensive piety popularly known as fundamentalism erupted in almost every major faith during the twentieth century. In their desire to produce a wholly rational, scientific faith that abolished mythos in favor of logos, Christian fundamentalists have interpreted scripture with a literalism unparalleled in the history of religion.

    Karen Armstrong, The Case for God (2009)

  7. Great post, Dr. Wylie. I think you really are onto something that these two extremes, Trump and Carson, represent. There’s irony, maybe even pathos in Carson’s misguided attempt to apply science to mythos. He should simply say that science does not apply to biblical mythos, which is, nonetheless real in its poetic and metaphoric truth and still relevant.

    1. Wonderful comment, Richard. In listening to the arrogant criticism in the media of Carson’s misguided efforts to make religion scientific I am reminded of Thomas Gradgrind:

      Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts; nothing else will ever be of any service to them.

      —Charles Dickens, Hard Times

  8. And by the way, your suggestion of how we might think about God as an evolved inner force in humans for justice really resonates with me. Recently I even caught a rerun of the old western Bonanza in which Little Joe explains to a grieving orphan this view of God existing as a potential within everyone. I am glad you are bringing science, learning, and evolutionary history to this grassroots spiritual sense.

    It grinds my gears when atheists attack the image of God as white-bearded man pulling strings from outer space. No religious people I know believe that! Whatever God is is a mystery, and our inquiry into that is growing and evolving. Personally I see that arc from the Old Testament to the New, with God moving from the sky to earth in the form of Christ. To me, this is proof of our slowly growing understanding of our nature and our legacy.

    I am glad you credit Carl Jung as an influence, because Jung’s similar notion of a collective unconscious has always appealed to me. Humans are a clever, successful, destructive species. But emphasis on our faults has become so pervasive that I fear it is blinding us to our virtues, which are unique and mysterious in origin. News flash: humans are basically and at their core inherently good. They hold, and through the centuries have acted upon, transcendent ideals, of which we are the beneficiaries.

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