Monday, March 20, 2017

Sincere blue eyes – wink, wink…

What do Donald Trump, Kelyanne Conway, Steve Bannon, Sean Spicer, Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell have in common? Blue eyes. Blue eyes are, of course, very common among people of German and Irish descent. But the extent to which steely eyes have always been overrepresented in the upper echelon of American politics is quite striking. Thirty-one out of 44 presidents (including the 5 squeezed between Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama) have had blue eyes. And the second most common color has been gray, with 6 distinguished representatives.

How can this be? According to some psychological studies, blue-eyed people tolerate pain and distress better. They are less prone to trauma, anxiety, and depression. They are also more competitive and calculating, and less “agreeable” – a quality associated with empathy, friendliness, generosity, compassion… All this is probably related to weaker emotional and visceral reactivity (a.k.a. “gut feelings”).

The first person with blue eyes was apparently born in Eastern Europe 8-10,000 years ago. And then the mutation spread – mostly to Northeastern Europe and the British Isles, as it must have helped carriers survived under bleaker skies. Beyond some point, however, dampened emotional/visceral reactivity may lead to some forms of dissociation – where the line between truth and fantasy becomes blurred. Or to a constellation of “psychopathic” traits (quite common among American presidents) that coalesce into a (sub)clinical syndrome – or trigger a more or less successful quest for power, spirals of ruthless scheming and manipulation, etc. Such tendencies (if a friend’s recollections are to be trusted) were highlighted by the classic Swedish miniseries “Sincere Blue Eyes” which first aired 40 years ago.

On the other hand, it could all just be a historical accident – a weaker version of those hapless monkeys hitting random keys, and eventually producing War and Peace.