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Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets by Lila Rajiva, Will Bonner

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Monkey Business

The explanation for all these absurdities of behavior comes to us from people who speculate about the evolution of mating strategies and genetic selection. It is very simple, they say. Our modest, clear‐headed monkey ancestors got less sex than their overconfident rivals. The blusterer can find his way to the top spot of a major corporation or even the nation itself. The bigger a fool he is, the more he seems to be able to get other fools to fall in behind him—so long as he is confident enough … and has convinced himself enough.

And the reason for this is that while all public spectacles may found themselves on a humbug, yet it is a humbug with no malice aforethought. The perpetrators of the humbug are often the most humbugged of all. They actually believe what they are doing is for the betterment of the world—no matter how disagreeable it may be to the people being bettered. Their thoughts contain such a tangle of deception and misconception that there is never the slightest hope they will extricate themselves from their assumption of unadulterated virtue. The words wrap around their feet, the ideas clutch their throats, and their own selfish emotions wriggle around their chests and squeeze their hearts, but the humbuggers are convinced that their humbuggery is as natural and as beautiful as ivy; it is for the public good.

How comes this to be? What primal instinct is so well served by humbug that the thing flourishes like bindweed in an orchard? Again, we look ...

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