Infantocracy: "rule by adults with the emotional/moral development normal for babies and young children, found in government, corporations, clubs, protest groups, almost anywhere there is hierarchy. It also applies within the mind of individuals, when we follow the impulses of our "inner child" rather than making thoughtful "grown up" decisions".
According to modern psychology, positions of power, wealth and fame tend to be dominated by persons with varying degrees of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, usually with sprinklings of other disorders such as sociopath or histrionic for good measure (1,2). Narcissism is characterized by self-absorption, a sense of superiority and entitlement, extreme focus on ones own needs at the expense of others and an eagerness to use others to to meet these needs. It is also often observed that this psychological disposition is normal and healthy in babies and the very young (1,2) for various reasons these people have never grown up. So we are in effect ruled by big babies.
So how do they do it? It can't just be that they only think of their own needs and are driven to use others, such people would surely be quickly detected and rejected... unless they also have the power to charm and hypnotise us like babies do. Again it is recognised narcissists and persons with other personality disorders can indeed hypnotise us (and themselves). Similarly Scientific American recently advised " your baby controls your brain"( they also say this can also be true of caregivers) (3). Riding the bus during the day most days it's obvious to me babies hypnotise many more people than just parents and caregivers. I have little doubt the very young can indeed hypnotise in a similar or identical way to narcissists, the only difference is a baby becoming the centre of attention on a bus is an extremely good thing, Hitler at the centre of Nazi Germany is extremely bad.
I'm not sure of the exact cues that trigger this slavish love, my personal experience of charismatic narcissists is that enthusiasm is infectious, a person's enthusiasm for themself can be just as infectious as a crowd's enthusiasm for a performer, we unconsciously assume there must be some rational basis for such intense feelings and confidence. But there may be other factors, basically whatever the very young happen to be like, evolution is going to make sure we love everything about them, or at least show endless patience and attendance when they are horrible.
My guess is it is simply an unfortunate accident that adult egotists' emotional, behavioral and sometimes physical immaturity triggers these same instincts, this probably has no proven evolutionary benefit, quite the contrary. Narcissism and the grandiose hierarchical societies it creates have probably only been around for ten thousand years. Although their societies are dramatic attention-grabbers these grandiose slave-camps actually represent a minority of the human population and experience. Such societies invariably dissolve into decadence after a relatively short time, probably when immaturity spreads to the general population so that the society becomes impractical, as is arguably happening now in the centres of globalism.
Another likely factor explaining the dominance of egotists in society comes from biosociology. It has been found that in primate groups (including human) individuals best able to inflict and handle stress rise to the top of hierarchies, those unable or disinclined to inflict or deal with stress move down(12). It stands to reason that if you see yourself as infinitely superior to others their attempts to stress you will seem insignificant and ridiculous, you will also have less regard for the impact your behavior has on "unimportant" people. You'd be more likely to manipulate using negative (as well as positive) emotional reinforcement.
As organisations get bigger and bigger, egos get bigger and bigger, resulting in ever more egotistical and childish decisions. Narcissism is a key factor in the environmental, not just social & economic crises that threaten our very survival.
SO WHAT, IF ANYTHING, CAN WE DO ABOUT INFANTOCRACY?
1) Reduce or get rid of immaturity
It is likely societies with little or no hierarchy, such as various "anarchic" societies in Southeast Asia (4), have little or no narcissism. I'm not aware of any anthropological fieldwork specifically looking for personality disorders but egotism is (or was until recently) frowned on by the Semai of rainforest Malaysia (5), who have (or had) little inequality and no grandiose projects or systematic one-way use of fellow humans. The non-violence of their relatively egalitarian rainforest neighbours the Temiar has been explained partly by their emphasis on the sameness of others, including even plants and animals (6). This kind of empathy is alien to narcissism which emphasises difference, division, conquest, dominance.
An interesting thing recently reported with the Semai in particular is that their children, especially babies, are the "glue" or centre of their society (7), not political institutions, media, commerce or even elders or meetings as one might expect. If this study is anything to go on, and I expect it is, it looks like it may be impossible for a society to even exist without some immaturity or bond between baby(ishness) and maturity. In a very egalitarian society it looks like this "ineffable bond"(8) is confined to actual babies, not their adult mimics the narcissists who prevail in our society. It also seems a reasonable hypothesis that the institutional power we find in modern society evolved out of this power of the very young in earlier societies, not out of the institution of elders giving advice and settling disputes (without actually exercising power) as is often assumed.
Another thing I find interesting is that, in contrast with egalitarian societies, modern society quite strictly segregates children from adult life via school and custom, this may have the effect of removing the narcissist's main competition.
So it looks possible to limit the power of immaturity to the very young but that a society without any immaturity at all would fall apart, not to mention die out. Allowing children into almost all areas of adult life might be necessary to keep our nurturing instincts busy on those who really need it not the big babies who want it! (or perhaps to simply stop us from trying to substitute for children, to fill the arguably boring void left by their absence).
2) Harness Immaturity Responsibly
While the freedom and equality of a narcissist-free society probably appeals to most people in the abstract, many might not be so happy with these societies if they visited one. While they tend to have a very complex relationship with their local ecosystem they always seem to be technologically "primitive" although it may still be an open question if they have to be. Most of us still probably want the grandiose achievements such as education systems, computers and jet planes only egomaniacs, bullies and manipulators seem to be able to deliver. We don't really need any of these things but most of us really want them just the same!
So can narcissism be kept alive but at a safe, beneficial level in adults? Can narcissism be reduced and controlled intelligently in a megalomaniac or nurtured responsibly in a modest person if this serves the ends of a mature society? There certainly are plenty of books giving recommendations on dealing with your own and others' personality disorders, if the person wants to change to seems to be considered difficult but quite possible. I haven't found much psychology about making yourself more immature (say more creative, fun or ambitious) when it might be useful, but if it can work one way surely it can work the other. It is likely scientific knowledge on this will only increase in the years to come.
A society with somewhat less overall egotism, more equitably distributed and responsibly controlled both by mature individual users and society might not be so bad. We learned to use potentially devastating fire responsibly to huge advantage, perhaps it can be done with egotism too.
3) Do nothing about immaturity
The most likely strategy. If we do nothing deliberate about the spread of narcissism in powerful nations it is likely these societies will descend into chaotic decadence, it is even possible this will happen before these societies destroy the planet. This may save humanity from complete extinction, sparing the more humble, mature, self-reliant "periphery" in the third world in particular. It is unlikely, but possible, powerful countries will be able to compose themselves enough for a smooth transition to a low energy future which will also happen to be to be lower in egotism as there will be less surplus for it to "milk".
CONCLUSION. SO WHAT IS MATURITY ANYWAY?
To conclude, after all that talk about immaturity, I should probably try to define maturity since it is the cure to immaturity as well as being forever vulnerable to manipulation by it. By all means help out if you wish:
1) Maturity sees itself as a part, preferably a small but important part, of a whole greater than itself (2), part of an organism as Wendell Berry put it (9). I think ideally this should go beyond personal friends, family, clubs, workplaces and the like, it should include the whole local community and all the things living in it (again Wendell Berry (10)), beyond that a sense of being part of the bio-region and the planet, finally perhaps the cosmos (felt less often perhaps) and spiritual and divine spheres. Regardless of what you may think of belief in sacred forces invisible to us, such beliefs can make the world seem a greater, more connected and meaningful place, potentially making maturity even stronger. As far as I know such beliefs are universal amongst egalitarian peoples living in (comparative) harmony with nature and each other.
Nothing could be more remote from narcissism, which sees itself as the only thing that matters in the universe, everything and everyone else is insignificant and only of worth insofar as they serve its insatiable needs. This is also the source of their painful loneliness and disconnection (1,2) which makes them even more of a burden on others, not to mention themselves.
2) Maturity is largely self-reliant, can largely satisfy its own needs and has a sense of control as a result, does not feel any pathologically strong need to use others. The physical self-reliance of individuals (including comparatively young children) in fairly egalitarian societies closely connected to nature is an excellent example.
3) Maturity is patient, deliberate and thoughtful not impulsive, reflexive and fast.
4) Maturity is humble, it may know it has special gifts ( like everyone presumably) but does not think this makes them better or worse than anyone else, overall.
Although humble maturity is not the opposite of egotistical: self-loathing or insecure (11) which are probably just other forms of self-absorption. The cure to self-loathing and egotism is probably the same, directing one's focus outwards to the needs of other beings (I am not a doctor, I recommend you consult one before trying to help someone with these problems which may accompany depression).
5) Maturity nurtures, it gets fulfilment from nurturing and it doesn't have to be nurturing of babies, as someone pointed out to me recently AA advise its members to buy a pot plant and see if it survives before attempting a relationship with a human.
1. Disarming the Narcissist. Surviving & Thriving with the Self-Absorbed. W.T. Behary 2008
2. Emotional Vampires. Dealing With People Who Drain You Dry. A.J. Bernstein. 2001
3. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=baby-power 2011
4. Anarchic Solidarity. Autonomy, Equality and Fellowship in Southeast Asia. T. Gibson, K .Sillander,Ed. 2011
5. The Semai. A Nonviolent People of Malaya. RK Dentan 1968.
7. Childhood, Familiarity and Social Life among East Semai. R Dentan. Anarchic Solidarity (Ref 4)
8.Maternal Mentality. Pregnancy and childbirth shape a woman's mental makeover. CH Kinsley, E Meyer. Scientific American Mind Jul/Aug 2011
9. Solving for Pattern. W Berry. The Art of the Commonplace. The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry 2002.
10. Wendell Berry discusses life http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMlvvZvXcPY
11.The pursuit of Self-Esteem. Implications for Good and Evil. J. Crocker, S.J. Lee, L.E. Park. The Social Psychology of Good and Evil 2004
12. Biosociology of Dominance and Deference. A Mazur 2005
Thanks Robert Dentan, Lorraine and Matthew for helpful comments during development of this argument.