Thursday, December 27, 2007

Benazir Bhutto's Ambition

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto brings to an end a remarkable example of female political ambition.

In Darwinian Natural Right and Darwinian Conservatism, I identified her as an illustration of how some high-testosterone women can display the same driving ambition for political dominance that is more commonly displayed in politically ambitious men. Because the propensity to dominance tends to be stronger in men than women, the highest positions of political rule tend to be filled mostly by men. Nevertheless, some women--like Benazir Bhutto--display a manly ambition for dominance. The need to channel and check that dominance drive justifies limited government, because even those who claim to be purely democratic leaders will be inclined to abuse their power to satisfy their ambition.


Anonymous said...

The best coverage of this is coming from NDTV, an English Language News Station out of India.

The best coverage of this is coming from NDTV, an English Language News Station out of India.

They are broadcasting live on the Internet

Anonymous said...

Dear Larry,
You are right about Bhutto. She was amazing and read Chis Hitchens today on realclearpolitics for an interesting take. It is so amazing that a Muslim country had a woman leader at one time and then killed her like a man.
I hope you had a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.


John Wilkins said...

Larry, do you have any evidence that Bhutto was testosterone-driven? Why can't it simply be a matter of ordinary dominance behaviour in a peculiar historical circumstance? Chimps and bonobos have female dominance hierarchies, and occasionally act as the dominant alpha individual of the troop, and while I am sure that testosterone differentials play a role in those, there's no need to imply that a woman that rises to the top of the group hierarchy has to be unduly driven by that hormone.

Larry Arnhart said...

It's a plausible conjecture that Bhutto was a high-testosterone female. Among humans and other primates, elevated levels of testosterone and serotonin are associated with dominance behavior. This neuroendocrinological profile is likely to result from the interaction of innate temperament and social experience. She was born with a temperament that inclined her to dominance behavior. And she was reared by a father who cultivated such behavior.

Some of the research supporting such conclusions is cited in DARWINIAN CONSERVATISM.

Although the study of hormones is a recent development in the history of science, Aristotle's biology shows a recognition of the effects of testosterone, because he studied the behavioral effects of castration on male animals.

John Wilkins said...

I was curious to know if you had direct evidence that she was high testosterone. If you are inferring from a general claim, then that makes sense, but it sounded like you had some evidence directly.

I think that there is a biological explanation of high dominance individuals, but I think (and I'm sure you do too) that it is much more complex than just endocrinal levels. For a start, dominance is attained by make alliances, so a certain degree of empathy and communication skills are required. I doubt that an Asperger's individual, no matter how high the testosterone levels, would never become an alpha. Moreover, physical appearance counts - individuals with asymmetric faces, scoliosis, or an ectomorph physique are very unlikely to become a dominant individual. Elite sportsmen tend to do better on that score even if they are not gifted in other ways (which I think is a kind of warrior replacement in modern society).

Even moreoverer, one's initial starting point in life (as Bhutto was the child of a wealthy and already high status family) affects how dominance plays out in later life. So I do not think that high testosterone or serotonin automatically implies high dominance, although it might imply higher dominance than otherwise the individual might have attained.

But I also doubt that all dominant people have high testosterone levels by the same argument. If they get a good enough start and have other traits that we tend to privilege, they may do so with ordinary levels. On average, I think you are right, but not in individual cases necessarily.

I will read DC as soon as I can find a copy.