Saturday, September 5, 2009

The First Politicians

Politicians often sound more like prophets and messiahs than mere mortals.

This religious mimicry is no accident. The earliest politicians may have been the tribal shamans who promised their less gifted fellows some control over the mysterious and sometimes malevolent spirits that animated their world.

In The Evolution of God, Robert Wright says, "There is evidence that in shamanism lie the origins of formal politics. The Buryat of Asia told ethnographers that their first political leaders were shamans. And the Inuit words for 'shaman' and 'leader' are almost identical -- angakok and angajkok. Further, though there have been societies with shamans but no acknowledged political leader, there have been few if any societies with a political leader but no religious experts. And in some societies, the shaman and the political leader have been one and the same."

What does a good shaman do when his methods don't work? Sometimes his fellows murder him in their disappointment. Sometimes he is simply demoted. Sometimes he runs. Sometimes he hides. But most often, he blames his failure on another shaman, "like a modern politician who diverts attention from domestic failures by rattling the saber."

Thus, the Klamath shaman blamed the Modoc shaman,the Jivaro shaman in one village blamed the Jivaro shaman in a neighboring village, and the Democrats blamed the Republicans.