Savannah Morality and Conservative Values

  • Thinking about the morality of primitive humans living on the Savannah, tens of thousands of years ago — apparently the basis for conservative morality unto this day;
  • How DeSantis, authoritarian, is worse than Trump;
  • How MAGA women reject modern options in preference to Savannah morality, which makes them happier.

I’m growing more and more fascinated by the idea of “Savannah morality,” the protocols of survival in the ancestral environment of tens of thousands of years ago, when humans lived in small tribes on the Savannah, resources were scarce, rival tribes were demonized, infant mortality was high, sexual expression or behavior that was not about having more babies and expanding the tribe was condemned to the point of death, and powerful leaders were venerated over principles.

So much of modern conservative morality seems simply explained as appealing to those primitive notions; human nature hasn’t had time to evolve to adjust to the modern environment. Yet, ever since humans settled down and pursued agriculture, 12,000 years or so ago, those notions have gradually become obsolete, or inoperative as scales have expanded, or have been superseded by other, democratic and humanistic principles more suitable to a global culture. As humans have expanded across the planet, we’ve all become obliged to get along with one another, and individuals have increasingly been able to express themselves in many ways, especially sexually, without being suppressed by tribal values, since obsessive population growth is no longer necessary, is even counterproductive.

And science in just the past few centuries has revealed that the various outlandish myths of tribes around the globe are mostly false.

Conservatives don’t want to hear it. The protocols of base human nature, evolved in the ancestral environment, still largely prevail among many people; other people recognize that these intuitive values are inappropriate in the modern world. The former are those we call conservatives.

I’ll think more about this. (No doubt someone has a better term for this core idea that “Savannah morality.”) (And as an aside, that human nature evolved in a different environment from our own explains most, if not all, of the psychological biases — motivated thinking, and so on — that people are prone to.) For now some examples.


Salon, Kirk Swearingen, 25 Jun 2023: Why the right is so terrified of “woke”: There are truths it just can’t face, subtitled “Conservatives didn’t want to hear about white privilege. So they abandoned reality and joined the orange man’s cult”


Long ago and far away in a country where we all seemed to believe in roughly the same reality, many people in a political party that traditionally talked up law and order and guffawed that liberals needed to put on their “big-boy pants” to face the harsh facts of the world lost their minds. How did this happen? Well, they were reminded that there was such a thing as white privilege. They had forgotten about it, possibly on purpose.

They were told that, yes, white privilege is a thing, and it’s pretty obvious. They fumed and feigned outrage at this accurate report on the state of the real world until they convinced themselves that it was a huge lie and an outrage. Coached by their favorite enablers in the media, they worked themselves up into an emotional lather until they could act their parts somewhat convincingly, even with all the unrealistic lines. Think of the Stanislavsky Method in acting, except this was the Limbaugh Method of acting out.

Of course it wasn’t just about white privilege; that’s just the most obvious aspect of the advantages that individuals or groups enjoy (or do not enjoy) in our society, without having to show any particular merit. When the renewed discussion of privilege was extended to male privilege, white men — incongruously led by an obese man-boy in orange makeup sporting a spun-sugar combover — embarked on their White Men’s Campaign of Endless Grievances.


Salon, Heather Digby Parton, 23 Jun 2023: Worse than Trumpism: Ron DeSantis flips conservative ideology to make it more dangerous, subtitled “Florida’s Republican governor weaponizes ‘freedom’ to crack down on his perceived enemies”

[I]t’s probably a good idea to continue to keep an eye on DeSantis regardless of his presidential ambitions. Of all the candidates, he best represents the next generation of GOP leaders and his political philosophy is something quite new for the Republican Party. It’s not the conservatism that dominated the GOP since the 1950s but neither is it Trumpism, to the extent that such a thing even exists without Trump. It’s a whole new ballgame.

Trump is essentially all about Trump. He still says it all the time: “I alone can fix it” or, more recently, “I am your retribution.” Since he apparently considers himself the natural heir to the Sun King, Louis XIV, his view of government is essentially “L’État, c’est moi” and therefore anything that hurts him can be seen as an attack on the country. Despite all the hand-wringing about “what it all means” with reporters venturing out to the heartland every few weeks to figure out what it is that Real America really wants from the moment he won the nomination in 2016, all of politics and government has been about what is good for Donald Trump. MAGA isn’t an ideology it’s a cult of personality.


That element of populism is really all there is to an ideology like Trumpism. The rest is all about attitude, image and personality. DeSantis, on the other hand, has a fully developed political and governing philosophy and it’s something that is similarly unfolding all over the world. It’s not complicated. It’s authoritarianism.

As he has done in Florida, DeSantis plans to use the massive power of the government to inflict his own ideology on the country by force. There’s no need to go into all the ways in which DeSantis has demonstrated his willingness to do this. There have been endless articles laying out the atrocities from his assault on teaching history and recognizing LGBTQ rights to restricting voting, cruelty to immigrants and even bizarre attacks on Disney, the biggest employer in his state, all in the name of battling the “woke” left and consolidating power in himself and the Republican party. He’s leaving no stone unturned.

And so on. A key point:

Republicans have been trying to instill “traditional family values” in American society forever. There’s nothing new about that. But at the same time, they always pounded away at the idea of small government and individual freedom. There has often been tension between how they chose to use the law to enforce their values but DeSantis doesn’t even try to hide what he is doing. A master propagandist, he couches his power grab in paeans to freedom but the intent is clear as day.


More retrogressive thinking: Savannah morality values.

Washington Post, Kara Voght, 15 Jun 2023: Inside a conservative confab for young women, where feminism is a lie, subtitled “For the modern MAGA woman, happiness might mean being a ‘trad wife,’ fearing trans women and buying anti-woke tampons”

Because to them “feminism” means allowing women to make their own decisions about their lives, rather than being obliged to raising as many children as possible as quickly as they can.

“In the ’70s, women were given all sorts of lies,” she continued. “They just told us, ‘Well, you can be a man.’ And I guess we’ve kind of accomplished that. But are we happier?”

The attendees couldn’t speak from experience, having been born in the ’90s and 2000s. But Clark, who just turned 30, was very sure the answer was no. “What I’m here to tell you is, if you were to just go back to biblical roots in what God had designed for women to do, we will be happier,” she told them.

I’ll agree, actually, that she has a point. If progress is the expansion of options, the liberation from the limitation of traditional roles, the result makes many people uncomfortable because they suddenly have too many choices, not enough guidance to tell them what to with their lives; they need a husband, church, or authoritarian leader. Which means that some of them are, in fact, unhappier than they would have been.

And there is a sense in which women (and men) were “designed” to do something, but it wasn’t God, it was evolution. The race has survived because both men and women are inclined to certain behaviors that promote reproduction. Given that, the evident variation of both men and women, who are not all equally obsessed with such matters (any more than all men are equally attracted to all women, or vice versa), suggests that there is a huge range of individual tastes and preferences, and that given more options, many people will take them.

I have no problem with people living their lives to Savannah morality. The problem is that conservatives seem so intent on imposing their views on everyone else. It’s an extension of their authoritarian thinking.

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