Saturday, October 12, 2019

Proposal Accepted by the 2020 Conference on the Value of Play: Clemson University, March 29-April 1,2020

Religion and the Biological and Cultural and Evolution Child’s Play

Ronald F. White, Ph.D.
Professor of Philosophy
Mount St. Joseph University


All human behavior can be explained in terms the interaction between biological and cultural evolution.   Biological evolution is marked by timeless-universality; or patterns of behavior that have “evolved” very little since the Pleistocene Era (3.4 million years ago). Cultural evolution explains patterns of behavior that are relative to specific times and places. Thus, child’s play can be explained in terms of both biology and culture. Religious behavior is similarly shaped by both biology and culture. The formation of what we call “organized religions” begin in the years following the Agricultural Revolution. Since then, a host of religions have exerted profound influences upon human behavior, especially the behavior of young children. Although the empirical study of child’s play reveals a broad under-current of timeless universality, it also indicates many contextual elements that are culturally relative to both time and place. Thus, worldwide, a variety of religions continue to determine how children can play, with whom they can play, and where they can play.  This presentation will explore the ever-widening mismatch between childhood behaviors shaped by biology and behaviors that are re-shaped by religious cultures. This talk will emphasize, the role that adult religious leaders and followers play in perpetuating that bio-cultural mismatch.  

Saturday, October 5, 2019

The Evolutionary Foundations of Charismatic Leadership

The Evolutionary Foundations of Charismatic Leadership
Ronald F. White (Mount St. Joseph University, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA)

(Forthcoming in Routledge Handbook of Charisma ed. Jose Pedro Zuquete (2020))


Beginning in the 1960s, Charismatic Leadership Theory (CLT) argued that human followers are naturally attracted to leaders who possess a mysterious collection of traits and/or skills called charisma. Subsequently, there was serious scholarly debate over which charismatic traits and/or skills are necessary and/or sufficient for leaders to attract and maintain followers in various organizational contexts. Those traits and skills tended to be associated with “tall, healthy male leaders.” Evolutionary Leadership Theory (ELT) employs both biological and cultural evolution to explain how and why both biology and culture are essential to understanding charismatic leadership. This chapter will address four main issues. First, it will argue that leadership involves both traits and skills. Second, it will explore the degree to which charismatic male political leaders, today, can maintain leadership without effectively fulfilling follower expectations. Third, it will explain why female political leaders lack charisma, and how that might affect the future of female leadership and followership. Fourth, this chapter will raise the question of how the cultural changes wrought the emergence of global information technologies have influenced charismatic leadership and the perception of “distress” among vulnerable followers.        


Charismatic Leadership Theory (CLT), Evolutionary Leadership Theory (ELT), biological evolution, cultural evolution

Beginning in the 1960s, leadership theorists steeped in the social sciences proposed and defended a series of opposing “leadership theories,” including: trait theories, behavioral theories, cognitive theories, emotive theories, transactional theories, transformational theories, authenticity theories, and contextual theories. (Sontag, Jenkins, &White 2011) Those early leadership theories sought to empirically describe how good leaders (in fact) lead followers. At that time, there was little (if any) analysis of the behavior of followers, bad leaders, and/or bad followers. Subsequent theories began to explore the various organizational contexts where leader-follower relationships take place, and, those scholars prescribed “values” that allow us to differentiate between good/bad organizations, good/bad leaders, good/bad followers, and good/bad leader-follower relationships. Most recently, leadership scholars have sought to develop a “general theory of leadership” that might unify the aforementioned theories, facts, and values associated with both good and bad leadership and/or followership. (Goethals & Sorenson 2006) Evolutionary Leadership Theory (ELT) proposes that biological and cultural evolution, together, explain human leadership, including charismatic leadership. (van Vugt 2006, 2008, 2011, 2012)
This chapter will explain how and why charismatic leaders and their followers are both “born” and “made;” and how and why both biological and cultural evolution are necessary components of any complete explanation of charismatic leader-follower relationships. Although charismatic leadership is embedded in human nature, throughout most of human history, charisma alone, has never been sufficient for maintaining leadership. Leaders have always had to effectively lead followers toward the fulfillment of organizational goals, ends, or purposes that followers value. Critics of contemporary leadership observe that, today, we are suffering from a dearth of effective/efficient leadership. If this observation is true, then how might ELT explain this phenomenon and perhaps contribute to the re-emergence of more effective and efficient political leaders?
Before we get underway, this chapter builds upon three bodies theoretical knowledge that elucidate the nature of charisma: Organizational Theory, Democratic Political Theory, and Evolutionary Theory.
First of all, the guiding principle that underlies Organizational Theory is that we humans, naturally, organize ourselves into groups based on leadership and followership. The myriad organizations that we spawn serve a wide variety of human ends or purposes in many different contexts. Our participation in organizational activities is highly variable, as we all tend to cooperate with many organizations to variable degrees. We participate and/or withdraw from organizations in order to advance our personal and/or collective interests and avoid or remove harms. Some organizations are more effective at bringing about intended organizational ends or purposes, and among those effective organizations, some are more efficient than others.
Today, most scholars agree that any theory of organizational leadership must explain both good and bad organizations, leaders, and followers. Some organizations pursue morally praiseworthy goals, with greater or lesser degrees of effectiveness and efficiency, while other organizations pursue blameworthy goals with greater or lesser effectiveness and efficiency. Unfortunately, some of the most effective and efficient political leaders in human history, such as Adolph Hitler (Toland, 1976), and Jim Jones (Guinn, 2017) were very effective and efficient at maintaining followers and bringing about morally repugnant goals via malevolent organizations.
Secondly, Democratic Political Theory attempts to explain, predict, and control the outcome of democratic elections. Much of it devoted to identifying contextual variables such as: who can legally vote, how voting is conducted, where are the polling places, when is voting conducted, who shows up at the polling place, who transports ballots, and who counts the ballots. Within diverse democratic regimes, identity-based voting patterns have also become increasingly relevant, especially patterns based on: age, gender, race, ethnicity, and nationality.     
 Thirdly, this chapter will focus primarily on the Biological and Cultural Evolution of charisma in the context of “political organizations” and the role that effectiveness and efficiency historically played in limiting the power of charisma. It will, however, occasionally refer to other contexts, such as: military, religious, and business organizations. By way of conclusion, this chapter will suggest that revolutionary changes in Information Technology have had a profound influence on the political survival of ineffective and/or inefficient male political leaders within democratic political regimes.

Charismatic Leadership Theory
Historically, the term “charisma” was used to describe a variety of human relationships whereby one person (or group of persons) is attracted to another. The origin of the term “charisma” can be traced back to the Ancient Greek term “charis,” which means “charm, beauty, or allurement.” (Grabo 2017) Even today, that aura of mysticism associated with Charismatic Leadership Theory (CLT) remains intact. However, today the nature of charismatic relationships has been largely demystified by behavioral psychology, and therefore, today, the concept is rarely encountered outside of the historiography of leadership studies. Recent scholars, now explore “charisma” under the rubric of the concept of “influence.” (Sunstein 2014, 2016, 2017)   
In its initial form, CLT was one of ten competing theories of leadership. (van Vugt 2011) It argued that the most positively influential leaders, such as John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Mahatma Gandhi, attracted followers via a set of emotive factors called charisma. Those ten early leadership theories, therefore, tended to focus on the extraordinary traits of male leaders who effectively elicited a positive, trusting emotive response among followers. Although the early charismatic scholars sought to identify timelessly universal traits and or skills, later scholars observed that charisma is also contextual and relative to specific cultures, times, and/or specific places. Thus, what might be interpreted as charismatic at any given place or time, was often relative to group identity via by culturally-specific variables, especially:  tribe, race, ethnicity, religion, or political party. This complexity, no doubt, contributed to the longstanding undercurrent of inexplicable mystery associated with charisma, which tended to discourage serious empirical analysis. (Marturano & Arsenault 2008) Although, the nature of charismatic influence has been largely decoded, it is important to acknowledge that charisma is still associated with the traits and skills most-often possessed by male leaders. How and why has charismatic leadership among humans, changed over time? In the modern age of information technology, how and why do charismatic male political leaders, today, attract, maintain, and/or lose followers.

Biological and Cultural Evolution
Contemporary biology is dominated by Darwinian evolutionary theory. Back in the late nineteenth century, Darwin theorized that all living species survive by systematically adapting to ever-changing environmental conditions. Darwin identified three interacting mechanisms: replication, chance variation and natural selection.
All living things replicate themselves via reproduction. Reproduction takes place within and between closely related species, and therefore, organisms within the same species (and/or closely related species), share common traits. However, by sheer chance (as Darwin put it), the process of replication also generates variation among those traits, individuals, and species. As biological environments change over time, some “chance variations” become advantageous to the individual lifeforms that inherit those traits. Hence, those advantaged lifeforms (genes, individuals, species, and ecosystems) are more likely to survive long enough to pass those genes onto the next generation; and consequently, those descendants, also tend to survive. Conversely, other variations turn out to be a liability, and ultimately contribute to the extinction of the life forms that inherit them. Darwin discovered the mechanism responsible for selecting winners and losers within various environments. He called it Natural Selection. 
Some living systems and the environments in which they survive. remain stable for long periods of time, only to be interrupted by revolutionary change wrought by variation and selection. Microcosmic organisms (especially bacteria and viruses) tend to evolve at a fast-pace, while macrocosmic organisms (especially animals and humans) evolve at a slow pace. Some changes are deemed “progressive” because they increase the ultimate survivability of those life forms (genes, individual organisms, species, and ecosystems). But other variations are seen as “regressive” or “devolutionary,” because those changes contribute to the long-term extinction of those life forms.  
Post-Darwinian scholars later observed that the history of human culture, including beliefs, skills, and technologies can also be theoretically explained in terms of replication, variation and selection; and, therefore, the history of human cultures and subcultures can be similarly explained in terms of “survival of the fittest.” Fast-paced cultural revolutions can beget systemic changes that effect the survivability of entire cultures and subcultures, including their collective beliefs, skills, and technologies. During the twentieth-century, evolutionary epistemologists debated whether various human cultures and/or subcultures objectively exhibit stability, progress, or regression; and questioned the degree to which biology shapes culture and/or culture shapes biology.  
Given that the traits that comprise the human species tend to evolve very slowly, and our cultural systems evolve much faster, bio-cultural mismatches are inevitable. Some mismatches are evolutionary, progressive, and life-enhancing; some are devolutionary, regressive, and life-threatening, and some mismatches are inconsequential. Some mismatches are progressive or regressive over the short-run and some are progressive or regressive over the long-run. The impact of bio-cultural mismatches is usually easier to predict over the short-run than over the long-run.

Evolutionary Leadership Theory
So how might ELT go about explaining charismatic political leadership?  Well, the first step is to distinguish between proximate and ultimate explanations. (White 2017) Proximate Explanations explain who, how, where, and when leaders lead. Ultimate Explanations explain why those leaders lead. For many centuries, the ultimate explanation for all human behavior was based on the Doctrine of Special Creation, whereby God created the world, plants and animals. The human species was regarded “special” in that God created us in his own image selected certain men to lead organizations. Since the late 19th century, ultimate explanations based on Biblical authority have been supplanted and by Darwinian Evolutionary Theory. Of course, defenders of Biblical authority objected to the fact that Darwin attributed variation to chance, rather than God’s will, and his insistence that the border lines between various species are malleable.   
            Like all biological traits, patterns of leadership and followership among various species are the products of biological evolution. Scientists who embrace ELT observe that that there is both continuity and variation within and between the various species of social animals; especially between humans and our closest primate relatives: chimpanzees and bonobos. (De Waal 2005) Among political scientists, this observation spawned a debate between defenders of the “good natured hypothesis” (Corning 2011, 2018) and the “bad natured hypothesis” (Somit and Peterson 1997; and Wrangham and Peterson 1996). The good-natured hypothesis views human nature as mostly non-violent and peaceful. The bad-natured hypothesis sees human nature violent and warlike.    
In terms of political psychology, chimpanzee societies are male-dominant, hierarchical, and authoritarian. Leadership is often sustained via violence and/or threats of violence. (Wrangham & Peterson 1996) In contrast, bonobo societies tend to be female-dominant, non-hierarchical, democratic, and peaceful. Although, human beings exhibit both chimpanzee and bonobo political behaviors, scholars disagree over whether our genes naturally predispose us more toward authoritarianism or egalitarianism. State-of-the-art genetic testing indicates that present-day humans are slightly more closely related to bonobos than chimpanzees and that authoritarian leadership orchestrated by physically dominant, alpha males is primarily the product of cultural evolution. So how and why did cultural evolution bring about and sustain male-dominated authoritarianism?
Again, proponents of ELT rarely use the term “charisma” but rather seek to identify the specific traits and/or skills that successful political leaders possess and/or acquire. ELT acknowledges the fact that at all times and all places the vast majority of political leaders have been “tall, fit, male leaders.” (van Vugt 2011) That simple observation raises a host of age-old questions. Is charisma primarily comprised of traits and/or skills? Why are those traits and/or skills seemingly possessed mostly by males? If charisma is overwhelmingly a biological trait, then someday, might future charismatic leaders be identified at birth via a DNA test or a brain scan. Or, perhaps the physical components of charisma might someday be manufactured via surgical techniques. If charisma is purely a matter of acquiring a skill set, then then can any aspiring leader those skills and thereby attract and maintain followers? If so, what precisely are those skills, how are those skills best taught and/or acquired? Have those essential leadership skills changed over time?
ELT observes that the human brain evolved very slowly; and that it is still, nearly identical to that of our Stone Age progenitors. Hunters and Gatherers survived (if not thrived) for 3.5 million years wandering the savannas of Africa years in groups of 100-150 individuals. (Giphart and van Vugt 2018) Throughout the Pleistocene Era, there was no single leader perched on the top of an authoritarian hierarchy. Leaders were contextually chosen on the basis of merit; that is, those who obviously possessed the specific traits and skills necessary for group survival. In short, the most effective/efficient hunter(s) led hunting expeditions, the most effective/efficient gatherer(s) led the gathering process, the most effective/efficient warrior(s) led the group in warfare, and the most effective/efficient navigators led migration. Those traits and skills were rarely (if ever) possessed by the same person. There were no elections.
The most effective and efficient hunters, warriors, navigators tended to be “tall, fit, males” (van Vugt & Ahuja 2011). But among hunter and gatherers that initial charisma, alone, was never enough to sustain leadership. Based on observational consensus, ineffective and/or inefficient leaders were readily detected by followers and replaced by leaders that were more effective/efficient. Thus, for over 3.5 million years, effectiveness and efficiency trumped initial charisma. Why? Because, over the long run, communities that protected charismatic, but ineffective and/or inefficient leaders, suffered extinction; via either starvation, or by being conquered by other groups with more effective and efficient leaders.
The question of the relative frequency that Pleistocene hunter-gatherers changed leaders is still open to scholarly debate. (Buckner 2017) Unfortunately, the vast majority of hunter-gatherer societies are now extinct and the accuracy of anthropological studies of those few remaining hunter-gather societies has been called into question. Nevertheless, over the course of 3.5 million years, it is probably safe to assume that while the human population remained rather sparse, and when food was plentiful, most hunter-gathers groups rarely encountered out-groups. When they did… those groups looked a lot like themselves and were mostly friendly. If either group felt threatened, group leaders probably chose to move to another location rather than risk a lethal confrontation.
At least some groups of early homo sapiens emerged out of Africa, and therefore, for millions of years, those humans looked and acted alike. However, over millions of years, human population groups began to migrate into different environments and physically adapt to those environments, and developed different physical attributes such as skin color. Henceforth, charismatic political leadership became linked to “group identity,” which is comprised of a host of contextual physical attributes, which were later associated with gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, and socioeconomic class. Worldwide there is still strong propensity for various immigrant groups to live together based on group identity. In democracies, there is still a strong propensity for voters to elect leaders based on gender, race, ethnicity, and/or nationality.
After the Agricultural Revolution those essential leadership contexts (migration, hunting, warfare, and gathering) were replaced by the emergence of a host of new opportunities for leadership. Those emerging contexts were spawned by fast-paced, cultural evolution initially associated with animal husbandry and agriculture. As the size of human communities grew, and food production was collectivized, communities became increasingly reliant upon technical knowledge and skills. As the size and population of stationary communities increased, food was stockpiled, which created opportunities for invasion by outside groups. This motivation contributed to the cultural evolution of both offensive and defensive military leadership and rapidly evolving military technologies. Thus, over the last 12,000 years or so human politics evolved (or devolved) from informal democratic meritocracies to into formal authoritarian regimes. At first these Post-AR communities were led by military authorities, later by religious authorities, eventually business authorities. Modern humans are still charismatically attracted to those tall, fit, male leaders. However today, given the rapid pace of cultural evolution as compared to the slow pace of biological evolution. There is a rapidly growing “mismatch” between our natural propensity for democratic, contextual, merit-based leadership and our more recently acquired cultural attraction to leaders who promise to save us from an endless stream of emergencies, both real and imagined.
While human biology evolved slowly over millions of years; human culture has been shaped by fast-paced, revolutionary change. Information technology has expanded and accelerated the growing mismatch between charismatic political leaders and the sustainability of political organizations. Aspiring charismatic leaders who were able to adapt to this rapidly changing cultural environment survived, while those who could not evolve, suffered extinction.
For at least 3.5 million years, charisma was a reliable indicator of effective/efficient political leadership. Throughout the Pleistocene Era the primary leadership opportunities were associated with hunting and gathering. For those small groups of hunter-gatherer societies, charismatic leaders tended to be tall, strong, healthy males; who tended to be the most effective and efficient hunters, warriors, and migratory leaders. Thus, for millions of years, charismatic leadership; as signified by tall, strong, healthy males contributed to the survival of the human species.
However, subsequent to the Agricultural Revolution, tall, fit, males no longer signaled effective/efficient leadership. As the size and population of Post-AR communities increased, other skills, including oratory prowess, became an increasingly important components of charismatic leadership. Henceforth, political leadership became monopolized by tall, fit, articulate males.  Revolutions in information technology, transportation technology, and weapon technology accelerated that process. Ironically, although large-scale leaders, today, have become increasingly ineffective and inefficient, marketing technology has become increasingly effective and efficient. Thus, it has become increasingly difficult to determine exactly what large-scale, charismatic leaders do; and whether their stated goals have been effectively and efficiently achieved.
Since the dawning of the Agricultural Revolution, 12,000 years ago, political organizations have been increasingly vulnerable to male-dominant, charismatic attraction. Even today, military organizations, religious organizations, and business organizations remain male dominant. All three leadership contexts required specific traits and skills that allowed them to remain in power.

Even today, large-scale military, religious, business, and political organizations are still led by those “tall, fit, articulate males. Charismatic leaders not only look the part, but also claim to possess technical knowledge of value to followers and the community at large. Military leaders claim to know how to effectively/efficiently win wars. Religious leaders know how to effectively/efficiently please God? Business leaders know how to effectively/efficiently earn a profit. And political leaders claim to know how to effectively/efficiently run government.  

Charisma and Distress
Max Weber observed that followers are most vulnerable to the lure of charismatic leaders when they find themselves in “moments of distress.” (Weber 1978).  Fear, often increases followers’ willingness to follow charismatic leaders who promise to alleviate those fears. However, given the fact that it is often much easier to “promise” to alleviate distress than it is to fulfill that promise, we should not be surprised to learn that many (if not most) charismatic leaders fail to alleviate the various forms of distress that followers experience. Therefore, throughout most of human history, ineffective/inefficient political leaders have lost followers via political revolutions.
 In democratic political regimes, charisma still serves as a necessary initial condition for acquiring political leadership. The hallmark of modern leadership has been the cultural evolution of a set of skills that now enable charismatic leaders to create and/or manufacture “moments of distress,” and the belief among followers that they, alone, can alleviate those real or imagined sources of distress.
Even back in the Middle Ages, Nicolo Machiavelli observed that, charismatic leaders must possess human management skills; which include skills that enable them to manipulate the feelings and emotions of followers, and skills that enable them to manipulate information. Thus, historically, the most enduring autocratic leaders have always been highly-skilled at flaunting their effectiveness and/or disguising their ineffectiveness. Machiavelli also noted that charismatic leaders, survive by effectively manipulating the fear of followers. “It’s better to be feared than loved.” (Machiavelli 1532).
In today’s large-scale modern democracies, charismatic leaders also manipulate information by arguing that their policies serve “the greater good,” and that self-sacrifice by distressed followers is necessary, over the short term, in order to bring about thee “greater good” over the long-term. This strategy can often placate those who remain in distress, at least temporarily. Indeed, that’s how ineffective/inefficient charismatic leaders can maintain political power for a long time, even though, objectively speaking, they accomplish very little of substance.
It is also worth noting that advancements in organizational psychology and behavioral economics, have made political leaders and business leaders more effective and efficient at marketing themselves and their ideas. Cass R. Sunstein and others have decoded much of the brain science that underlies charismatic influence. They base their findings on two cognitive operations of the human brain. System 1 operations are “fast, automatic, and intuitive.” System 2 is slow, calculative, controlled, and deliberative.”  (Sunstein 2017) Unfortunately, as behavioral economics continues to advance, both “good leaders” and “bad leaders” will be able to more effectively and efficiently “nudge” followers. (White 2018)

Gender, Age and Charismatic Politics
Since the 1960s, there has been growing debate over the role that women “in fact” play in democratic politics, and the role they “ought” to play. As noted above, since the Pleistocene Era, political behavior has been male dominated. However, women gradually acquired a variety of skills related to gathering food. These skills were passed on to subsequent generations via teaching and learning. The degree to which hunter-gatherer societies relied on hunting v. gathering for their long-term survival has been a lively area of discussion among scholars.
Today, aspiring female political leaders, are rarely (if ever) described in charismatic terms. Even in modern democracies, it’s been only in very recent times that women have been legally empowered to vote, let along run for political office. Today, when women do run for office, they often compete with those charismatic men. This raises the obvious question of whether charisma is merely a remnant of post AR sexism, and whether male political dominance has been sustained by biology, culture, or both.
Human survival has been shaped and reshaped by both natural selection and sexual selection. Both involve both competition and cooperation. Natural Selection most often emphasizes competition/cooperation in the quest for food and protection. Sexual Selection focuses on competition/cooperation in the area of reproduction. Early research reduced human reproduction to the “battle of the sexes” metaphor, which focused on dating, mating, and child-rearing. For many years, scholars embraced the “standard narrative,” which argued that “men are cads and women are whores.” (Ryan and Jethá 2010). That is to say: males promise to share their resources with the most beautiful females with “hourglass figures” in exchange for resources; and that those females promised to exchange exclusive sex for those resources. In short, human reproduction was reduced to competition between horny males, competition between willing whores, and cooperation between two in producing and raising children that survive long enough to reproduce. Of course, “whores” were attracted to the most effective and efficient “breadwinners” and the cads were attracted to whores that were the most effective and efficient “child bearers” and “child nurturers.” Those early scientists also believed that monogamy is the natural strategy for bearing and caring for children.     
However, more recent ethologists now agree that there are no monogamous primates and that hunter-gatherer societies were polygamous. Given the reality of multiple sexual partners, no one really knew who was their daddy, children, they argued survived thanks to groups of cooperative mommies and daddies. And, of course, women were sexually attracted to those tall, fit male leaders, who tended to be the most effective/efficient hunters, warriors, and navigators.   
In sum, for 3.5 million years, leadership was contextual. Although charismatic males that exhibited strength and health were often initially selected as contextual leaders, in the end sustained political leadership was contingent upon demonstrable contextualized effectiveness and efficiency.  Hence, throughout most of human history, leadership was contextual based on demonstrated competence in hunting, warfare, and migration. And, females were sexually attracted to these strong healthy males. This contextualized, merit-based democratic political system worked for about 3.5 million years. 
However, a mere 12,000 years ago the Agricultural Revolution changed all that, as those small, itinerate, communities began to live in stationary settlements, which grew larger in terms of population and occupied territory. As these settlements grew, the need for more food led to the cultural evolution of ever-increasingly effective and efficient food production. Thus the cultural emergence of agriculture and husbandry, and the technical knowledge and skills required for the large scale production of food, facilitated the creation of increasingly larger stationary settlements. This led directly to a meteoric increase in human occupational diversity and new opportunities for leadership. As food production in some communities became increasingly effective and efficient, so did the knowledge and skills associated with theft and lethal raiding by both insiders and outsiders. Thus, political leadership changed as our natural democratic instincts were undermined by the cultural emergence of self-defense mechanisms, especially police, military, religious, and business institutions. As men gravitated toward this growing number of employment and leadership opportunities, women were culturally restricted to home life and child care via both morality and legality.
The question of whether age plays a role in charismatic male leadership remains a puzzle, especially in light of recent advancements in human health and healthcare. To what degree are organizations predisposed to select “older, tall, fit, articulate males?” During the Pleistocene Era, age was certainly a reliable indicator of experiential knowledge in both hunting and warfare, but also an indicator diminished physical fitness. Of course, today much depends on what we mean by “older,” especially in Western cultures where both males and females can expect to live into their eighties? Some older leaders possess knowledge from past generations, but lack detailed knowledge of the most recently culturally evolved technologies, skills, and knowledge.  

Information Conveyance Technology
ELT acknowledges that throughout human history, charisma played at least an initial role in the empowerment of male political leaders. Throughout the Pleistocene Era, charismatic leadership was contextual and merit-based. “Tall, fit, male leaders” tended to be successful in the contexts of hunting, warfare, and migration. But ultimately, merit, in the form of effectiveness and efficiency, trumped that initial charisma.
If it is true that we in the United States are now suffering from a contagion of bad political leadership, how and why did that come about? One likely explanation is that leadership and followership have been profoundly reshaped by the cultural evolution of information conveyance technology. The history of information conveyance includes both travel and communication technologies. Early travel technologies included the wheel, cart, saddles etc. More recent transportation technologies include trains, automobiles, and airplanes; and recent communication technologies include telegraph, telephone, radio, television. Throughout the Pleistocene era, information was communicated face-to-face via gestural language and later the spoken word. The earliest information technologies included writing on clay tablets and papyri. The most recent communication technologies are digital and computer related, including Internet, e-mail, and social media. So how has the rise of digital technology effected charismatic leadership? Gregg Murray put it, most succinctly. We now live “in a digital world with a stone age brain.” (Murray 2019)
The most profound consequence of the rise of digital technology has been the increased opportunity for charismatic leaders to instantaneously display their charisma (real or manufactured) on a manifestly larger scale. Correspondingly, those “tall, fit, males” also rapidly adapted to the digital environment by developing a new set of skills designed to initially attract and retain targeted classes of followers. However, as noted above, at least historically, charismatic political leaders must (eventually) fulfill their campaign promises to followers with an acceptable level of effectiveness and efficiency, and communicate information to followers. But the transmission of information has always been variably effective and efficient. And (of course) communication technologies can be deployed in order to transmit both Truth and Falsehood. Thus followers, increasingly relied upon their “trust,” of leaders, which, over time, has also become more easily manipulated by those techno-savvy leaders.
The most puzzling question for today’s democracies is whether followers can still effectively and efficiently resist the initial lure of charismatic leaders, at least long enough to determine whether those leaders are (in fact) trustworthy, and whether they are effectively/efficiently fulfilling their promises. Given the recent explosion of information, misinformation, and disinformation which is now spread via digital technology, it has become increasingly more difficult for Americans to decide who to vote for. Recent research on voting behavior is a bit disappointing, as most members of the U.S. congress are still tall, white males, who get reelected year-after-year, regardless of whether they have (in fact) effectively and efficiently done anything that followers value. Thus, today’s political leadership scholars must now explain how and why political leaders manipulate followers via information technologies. 
Another area of recent concern explores the role that information technology plays in the promulgation of follower distress; especially via warfare. Since the Agricultural Revolution, human communities have been constantly engaged in various forms of warfare promulgated by those “tall, healthy male leaders.” Although Post AR charismatic political leaders have always employed warfare as a means of assuring perpetual distress among upon followers, the hallmark of recent political leadership has been their ability to manufacture imaginary forms of “distress” and disguise their effectiveness and efficiency at relieving those forms of distress. In the United States we now have an endless stream of declared and undeclared wars, including “war on poverty,” the “war on drugs,” and the “war on terrorism.” The most important factor in this most-recent militarization by large-scale political leadership has been the emergence of fast-paced, effective/efficient information technologies; and the resulting re-emergence of charisma as both a necessary and sufficient condition for political leadership, and the skills necessary of organizational leaders to manipulate charisma to their own political advantage. Thus large scale charismatic political leaders today have become increasingly effective/efficient at manipulating follower distress via information technology.  

This essay has suggested that charismatic leaders have always been both “born and made.” During the Pleistocene Era charismatic leadership was irrevocably contextual; based on the observable possession of the traits and skills that were necessary group survival. Tall, fit, males signaled effective/efficient leadership in the essential contexts of hunting, military activity, and migration.  We are still naturally attracted to those “tall, healthy, older, males” even though those natural attributes no longer signal competent leadership. Since the dawning of the Information Revolution, those “tall, healthy, older males” discovered that the ability to effectively communicate with followers has become an increasingly important skill that large scale leaders must acquire.
We all hope that that with ever-increasingly effective/efficient modes of communication technology we might someday acknowledge the fact that our natural leadership preferences and our present-day leadership needs are mismatched. Perhaps we will, someday, be able to transcend our natural preference for those “tall, healthy, articulate male leaders” and elect political leaders that are more likely to be effective and efficient, including more female leaders. But despite increasingly effective and efficient modes of information technology, today’s political leaders, military leaders, religious leaders, and business leaders are still overwhelmingly “tall, fit, articulate males.”
Admittedly, charismatic, male-dominant, organizational leadership contributed to the survival of the human species for 3.5 million years. However, since the dawning of the Agricultural Revolution other contexts and leadership opportunities have become essential to human survival, beginning with the knowledge and skills associated with horticulture and animal husbandry. Today, it is not clear to what degree cultural education can override our natural instinct for following those “tall, fit, articulate male leaders” at the exclusion of less-attractive, less-articulate males and females. As females continue to prove themselves to be effective, efficient, articulate leaders in military, religious, business, and political contexts, there is hope.
  Finally, we must not underestimate the role that rapidly evolving mass media now plays in democratic politics. Some of the most important, unresolved, political issues of today arise from the fact that charisma can be readily manipulated via information conveyance technologies, especially via social media. Ineffective and inefficient political leaders can now hide their lack of effectiveness and efficiency behind a wall of misinformation and disinformation. Consequently, political leaders today expend an inordinate amount of time, energy, and resources manipulating information in pursuit of would-be voters, campaign contributors, and campaign workers. Political skills now include the ability to look good, and sound good in a thirty-second media presentation; or in a televised debate with 10-20 other candidates. Global media outlets, dutifully encourage perpetual political campaigning, while even newly elected officials continue to pad their “war chests” and run for re-election. So how might we go about restoring the democratic ideals of organizational effectiveness and efficiency? Unfortunately, we can’t simply return to our hunter-gatherer roots. That genie is out of the bottle. As noted earlier, many leadership scholars now observe, that there is a worldwide epidemic of ineffective, inefficient leadership.  The apparent inability and/or unwillingness of our corporate media to expose ineffective, inefficient political leadership has serious implications for the future of global democracy. Until we as followers demand more out of our political leaders and the mass media, we can expect little change.   


Buckner, William (2017) “Romanticizing the Hunter-Gatherer” 12/16/17

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