Slime molds are simple, single-celled creatures nevertheless capable of impressive feats of reasoning. They have a novel behavior that has been much studied. When food gets scarce and their survival is threatened, slime mold cells will bind together to form what’s called a ‘slug’. This slug then functions as a multicellular organism until it can seek out somewhere to release spores. When it does so, some cells in the slug get to reproduce. The rest do not.
I suspect that human beings are very similar. We move around, mostly doing our own thing, until we feel threatened. Then we bind together to form a slug to oppose the threat. That slug will obtain advantage via whatever is the easiest and most expeditious means at its disposal.
What makes humans feel threatened enough to bind? I’d propose that the signaling system is actually quite simple, despite our individual complexity. There are two parts to it. First, we need to feel like we’re experiencing a loss of personal wealth or freedom. Secondly, we need to have evidence from our social context that other people we consider to be like us have also experienced a loss of agency.
When those two signals are matched, we start looking around for something to bind to. But human slugs are not like slime mold slugs. Humans engage in heavy social organization. So we need a central social node. What kind of node do we look for? Once again, I suspect the system is simple.
We look for social defectors. In other words, we look for someone we know can fight and cheat. Someone who is not bound by social constraints. We look for someone who seems less socially constrained than ourselves because when death threatens, we need someone who can and will do anything.
But social defectors are dangerous. How do we know that we’ve found a good one, and not someone who’s just going to screw us over? By looking for one who is already popular. A human who is able to broadcast their defector status and yet isn’t becoming unpopular has shown that they’re a high-functioning defector. The more popular they are, the more likely we are to bind to them.
We call these defectors sociopaths. They show up in about one percent of the population. Which is also, interestingly about 1 / Dunbar’s number. Dunbar’s number tells you the notional size of a human tribe. There’s evidence that sociopaths are not mentally ill, and that rather, they’re the result of a naturally selected pattern. I’d propose that this is why.
So why do we have people like Donald Trump? Because we always have. Why does he get more popular when the media tell us he’s an outrageous lying cheat? Because that’s what people are programmed to look for. That looks strong. Why does he tell everyone that people love him? Because that increases the likelihood of our binding. So, no mystery, I’d propose. Why does he remind us of Hitler? Because Hitler was a slug-head. Human slugs don’t look to right wrongs. They seek out advantage by preying on whatever source of social gain appears weak and accessible.
But Trump is ridiculous. He is not strong. He is weak and he will fail. However, while the middle class keeps being robbed, and the media keep scaring us to keep us predictable, people will keep looking around for slugs to bind to. So after Trump fails, which slug-head will the US choose? And in Britain, after the stage-managed idiocy of the Brexit referendum, where will all that social anger go? Who is going to be the English slug-head? I don’t know. Let’s find out!