Lead by a Brain Amputee

No cigar for guessing who we are talking about. How could we be the only ones not talking about Him ?

Humans are Social Animals

We humans are an advanced kind of social animal. After millennia of evolution we are not so much driven by natural instincts anymore to keep up the social structures on which we depend for our survival. We have developed social and cultural norms to form societies. These differ as much as they have the basic principle in common. They make it possible for us to live together peacefully by creating cohesion and conformity.

I, sometimes regarded as eccentric, would never have thought that I would praise conformity as the essential glue of human society. However without it society could not function. Our survival depends on it. Just think of the simple rule we all have to conform to, which is to all drive on the same side of the road. If someone does not conform and drives the wrong way down a busy motorway the consequences are often deadly.

Rules, conventions and the trust we all have to have that they are followed are essential to the social and economic system. If we could not be confident that a hotel room we have booked is there for us when we arrive and the credit card company would keep its promise of payment on our behalf travel and tourism would all but grind to a halt. If we all decided to default on our debt the economy as we know it would collapse.

Our political system also has a complex set of rules all players have to adhere to and which often have to be enforced to protect the system. And the most basic is that all participants in the democratic process have to accept the result.

One Asocial Animal

Here is where the 45th president of the USA Donald J. Trump comes in.

HEMPSTEAD, NY - SEPTEMBER 26: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks to the media in the spin room as wife, Melania Trump (R) looks on during the Presidential Debate at Hofstra University on September 26, 2016 in Hempstead, New York. The first of four debates for the 2016 Election, three Presidential and one Vice Presidential, is moderated by NBC's Lester Holt. (Photo by Michael Bocchieri/Getty Images)

This man – not talking about mental age here – has as far as the records show almost made a virtue out of breaking all the rules. One could call him socially dysfunctional.

This self declared “very very smart person” was born into privilege and wealth. Business commentators have calculated that he would be much richer now than he claims to be if he had put his inheritance into a modest bank savings account. His business career is littered with bankruptcies. He is known for not or underpaying his contractors and suppliers. He tricked gullible people into enrolling into Trump “University” and recently had to pay $ 25 million US to the cheated students to settle the lawsuit. He is the only candidate in many decades to not publish his tax return. He refused as president to divest himself from his conflicting business interests or put them at least into a blind trust. Through his businesses he personally receives benefits from foreign powers in breach of the US constitution.

Self made billionaire and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg summed Trump up as a con artist: “I am a New Yorker and I know a con when I see one.”

In regard to his personal “private” life he is bragging about breaking all the social norms of basic human decency. He is a self-confessed womanizer who’s greatest thrill was to sleep with the wives of his “friends” and to humiliate them with secretly recorded phone calls. He claims to sexually harass and assault women as of right as a celebrity. “Grab them by the pussy” dismissingĀ  it as locker room talk.

In the political sphere breaking all the rules is his trademark, which helped him win the presidency against all odds. In the first national televised primary debate with candidates on the stage he was the only one to refused to say that he would accept the result and support the winning candidate if it wasn’t him. Everyone watching and commentating was aghast. But with this he grabbed all the headlines and the media were lapping it up.The rest is history. And we could go on and on and on.

Amazingly none of this was in any way hidden. The American people knew the facts and did vote for him not despite but because of them. He was called a bomb thrower (Bloomberg). And they wanted to lob a bomb into government and the Washington establishment – “the swamp” – by electing a rogue maverick. Normal society would put socially dysfunctional people in the Big House (prison) not the White House.

Other Social Animals

Humans are not the only social animals. We find very sophisticated social structure among insects like Bees and Ants. Others have more basic survival strategies like swarming birds and school fish who stick tightly together seeking safety in numbers.

We in New Zealand are familiar with the herd instinct in sheep, which makes farming them in great numbers possible. If you are old enough to remember the dog show on prime time television you know that one rogue sheep not following the heard makes the task impossible even for the best dog.

This reminds us of an interesting experiment with school fish, which move in tight swarms randomly without obvious reason for directions other than sticking tightly together.
Scientists located the part of the fish’s brain where the herd instinct is located and disabled – sic amputated – its social funti0n to see what would happen to that individual back in the swarm. Not surprisingly the brain amputated individual was totally unfazed by the moving swarm. It swam confidently in one direction independently from the others.
The surprise was that the individual did not end up all on its own and vulnerable but the swarm, which before moved in random directions, started to follow the individual confidently giving the direction. The brain amputated individual became the leader of the swarm.


The parallel to the fish experiment is striking. Trump appears to be the human equivalent of the brain amputated swarm fish.

An unpredictable maverick can also make the right move. At the moment it looks like – against all political wisdom – he is going rogue on the all powerful gun lobby to introduce at least some measure of gun control .

The question remains. We are not swarm fish. Why on earth would we choose to be
lead by a brain amputee.

By Dr. Hans B. Grueber
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