I ran across an account of the experiment mentioned above in Doug Casey’s book, Crisis Investing, and subsequently spent a good deal of thought on it. (I later discovered that others were doing the same thing.)
In the experiment, scientists worked with rats to verify their behavioral models. The researchers thought they would prove the usual ‘alpha’ and ‘beta’ groupings:
• The beta rats being basically followers, taking the leftovers from the alpha rats.
• The alphas establishing territories, taking the choicest mates, and generally lording it over the betas.
This was, more or less, what their theories called for, and what they expected. As the experiments progressed, this is also what they found. But then they found a few rats of another type. Having no existing name for them, they simply continued the alphabetic scheme, and called them gammas:
• Gamma established territories and picked the best mates, but did not attempt to dominate the betas.
HUMAN ALPHAS, BETAS & GAMMAS
Not every experiment with rats is applicable to humans, but this one, at least in general, is. Humans do, more or less break down into the three types:
1. Alphas are dominators and/or controllers. They want to control other people and to rule, in one way or another.
2. Betas look for the easy way through life. They want to follow and to stay in a safe, “middle of the road” position at all times.
3. Gammas are not content to be followers and work to get the best out of life. But they have no desire to rule others.
ALPHAS & BETAS
I’m sorry to tell you that the bulk of mankind behaves as either Alpha or Beta. This is not to say that they are all-Alpha or all-Beta; usually they are not. (Again, humans, unlike rats, are wildly variable.) But they usually slide along the Alpha-Beta scale, and they usually spend most of their time on one side or the other. That is, they are either an Alpha with some Beta moments, or a Beta with a few Alpha moments.
The Alphas are fewer in number and gravitate to positions of control and of power. They very much enjoy positions of status. Alphas are seen in the top levels of hierarchies (that is, large organizations), as domineering bosses, as law enforcers who enjoy power, or as bullies, abusers of spouses and children, and so on. The more intelligent Alphas like having higher numbers of Betas under their power, so they end up in places where they get to make the rules that the Betas obey.
Interestingly, Alphas are quite dependent upon the Betas: They want to feel that their control is righteous and they get this by seeing the Betas obey their rules.
Betas, on the other hand, are many and they generally look to get along without conflict or exertion. They avoid risk and blame. Betas tend to remain in the middle of the pack and to find comfort as part of a greater entity. They want to know that a structure will support them, and they feel safer if that support is mandated by rules. Betas look for the easy way and want to feel that they are noble in their subservient positions.
Gammas are the odd ones; they do not seek good feelings by controlling others or by feeling safe in a larger entity. They are relatively happy in themselves (or are learning to be) and feel more or less able to obtain the things they need in life by their own efforts. They feel good about themselves by observing that they have behaved well.
Gammas do not really move along the Alpha-Beta scale; they are a separate thing. Whereas Alphas want to make morals and rules and Betas want to receive morals and rules, Gammas make their own and don’t ever intend them to be applied to anyone else. Both Alphas and Betas think a lot about judging others; Gammas judge themselves and are not overly concerned with what the others do.
TRANSITIONS Humans, as mentioned above, sometimes vary from one category to the next and are capable of changing from one type to another. In particular, the large group of Betas are capable of becoming Gammas; all they really need to do is to purposely alter their thinking. Being a Beta is primarily a learned behavior. Once Beta conditioning is undone, the individual will usually end up as a Gamma.
When groups of humans, especially the young, are forced together, they often separate into groups along the Alpha-Beta divide. Some groups will assert themselves as Alphas will treat the others as Betas or Beta groups. This is related to cliques and gang formation. Once the forced groupings are released, they are either replaced by another strong group or the participants return to their own level, typically as Betas.
A great deal of the modern world’s obsessive political fighting involves Betas trying to get their share of the thrill of dominance; they gain this by being part of a larger Alpha group. Many want to feel like Alphas, at least in part or for moments.
Alphas don’t often become Gammas. They may become Betas (and mourn the loss of the glories of their youth), but aside from sincere and conscious conversion experiences (such as religious conversions), it seems that few make the transition to Gamma.
Many people have made the Beta-to-Gamma transition. One great example of this was the American Revolution. Note I am not referring to the war, or even rebellions like the Boston Tea Party, I am discussing what John Adams called “the real revolution.” Here are his comments to his friend Thomas Jefferson years later:
What do we mean by the Revolution? The war? That was no part of the revolution; it was only an effect and consequence of it. The revolution was in the minds of the people, and this was effected from 1760-1775, in the course of fifteen years, before a drop of blood was shed at Lexington.
This revolution in the minds of the people was a mass Beta-Gamma transition.
In another place, Adams names a particular sermon that circulated widely in the 1750s called A Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers, by Jonathan Mayhew, and claims that this was “the spark that ignited the American Revolution.” Notice that the sermon brought “submission” into question. In other words, it gave people permission to withdraw from a Beta state of submission and encouraged them to make their own decisions… as Gammas.
Another great dividing point of that time was the choice of philosophies; in particular, moving from Hobbes to Locke.
Thomas Hobbes taught that men in their natural state would fight, murder and steal endlessly. (He is the source of the common quote of life being “nasty, brutish and short.”) Hobbes taught that a supremely powerful state was required to keep men from destroying themselves, and that the masses should submit to this “Leviathan” for their own good. In other words, Hobbes divided men into a few Alphas and a large mass of Betas. And he gave them reasons to praise themselves (as being enlightened) to find themselves in either role.
John Locke taught men that they had “natural rights,” and that these rights were inherently theirs: They could never be separated from them. That meant that when they functioned as part of a larger group, it should be only by their explicit agreement.
In his Second Treatise of Government, Locke writes this:
All men [are naturally in] a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of Nature, without asking leave or depending upon the will of any other man.
You can see from this that Locke’s philosophy created Gammas. You can also see why Locke’s philosophy was the great root of the American Revolution.
THE INTERNAL DIFFERENCE
The great internal difference between Betas and Gammas is self-reference. Gammas refer to themselves and tend to feel good because of their own opinions of themselves. Betas tend to feel good or bad based upon the opinions of other people.
From self-reference grows a solid self-esteem, improvement, self-originated goodness and compassion. It also promotes the direct knowing and judging ideas and events, as opposed to judging them based upon how they relate to the opinions of others; this makes for a clearer and better intellect.
A central Gamma statement is “live and let live,” and this is far more potent than often understood. By saying that you “live,” you are seeing yourself as an independent, self-functional creature; you presume ability, judgment and that you are basically a beneficial actor on earth. By saying “let live,” you are seeing others as equal to yourself and are laying a foundation for respect, compassion, appreciation and love.
Living as a Gamma tends to create genius and goodness in you.
GROUP VERSUS GROUP
It seems rather obvious that Alphas are the most dangerous class of humans. On lower levels they are pushy and domineering. A step higher, they are mid-level users of power, control and dominance. At the top level, they comprise all the tyrants of history, empowered and supported by mid-level Alphas, who are, in turn, obeyed by masses of Betas.
Alphas are indirectly dangerous to Betas in that they don’t care about them as individuals and will send them to danger or death as “the role to which they have fit themselves.” This is not entirely without justification (Betas do want Alphas to provide them with morals and rules), but that does not absolve the Alpha from treating the Beta as a sub-species. They are no such thing, regardless of their actions.
Betas are dangerous to Alphas only when they switch from one dominant Alpha to another. In this case, they are dangerous to the old Alpha.
Groups of Betas are sometimes dangerous to Gammas when the leading Alphas stir them up. This is generally done by convincing the Betas that the Gammas are ruining their positions of safety: That they will be forced to face uncertainty, much harder work, and that they will become – in a shocking moment – personally responsible for everything. This is a fear that Betas can be moved to fight.
On an individual level, Betas can feel strong discomfort by being placed in contrast with a Gamma. The effect can be profound, especially in older people who feel they must justify the choices of their lives – choices which have been made so many times that admitting them as errors cannot be borne.
The free agency of the Gammas can be threatening to the Alphas, but Gammas are generally disregarded by the Alphas, and tend to stay away from them anyway. So, conflicts are not overly common. Nonetheless, Gammas do tend to expose the Alphas as manipulators and dominators. Well-developed Gammas show that authentic compassion and goodness do exist and are not just sucker-bait.
What really gets the attention of Alphas, however, is when Gammas start leading Betas astray. If they begin teaching that submission is neither necessary nor fitting, and if Betas start listening, problems arise.
WHICH WILL YOU BE?
Becoming an Alpha or Beta occurs without effort or thought: You simply allow yourself to flow along the course that you inherit by accidents of birth and place. Follow the stream and fit yourself into whatever comes.
Becoming a Gamma requires your choice. It isn’t all that difficult (and produces far better results) but it cannot be done without a serious choice, followed by a series of confirming choices.