Animals seek and respect dominance, but humans put more value on prestige – good opinion rather than fear – which tends to confer the greater reproductive advantage. Heinrich describes the behaviour of prestigious leaders as “prosocial, generous, and cooperative … using self-deprecating humour”. Christakis has a fascinating chapter on leadership during shipwrecks. The effective leaders, such as Shackleton, depended on the authority won through good opinion conferred by their sacrifice of self-interest.
But this process can sometimes go wrong – as it has done in our own societies. Economic and technological shocks, combined with a culture of “you deserve what you get”, have created big winners whose behaviour is disproportionately influential. As these winners turn into Economic Man, bad behaviour becomes prominent: they buy yachts; they dump their families; they brag. In consequence of being disproportionately influential, these people spread immodesty and selfishness: their repellent norms become more prevalent.
Paul Collier on.
By “Economic Man” here Collier means the sort of “self-interested rational actor” used by things like economics and game theory… and which has not only no basis in things like human evolution and sociology, but in most cases actively works against them. Collier probably puts a bit too much emphasis on the biological determinism of human “genes” as pro-social but it’s not exactly wrong, either; humans evolved in groups, and we do terribly when completely alone. It’s literally not in our natures to exist like that—or, more accurately, when it does occur, it’s a terrible pathology—no matter what economists might try and say…