Following cultural conventions is not submission

Following cultural conventions is not submission

The reptilian brain is human kind’s link to our primitive ancestors. Millions of years of evolution helped us develop reasoning, shame, and verbal communication. But in the reptilian brain, fight-or-flight survival instincts survive.

The reptilian brain, I think, is what powers the insane ramblings of talking heads whenever a U.S. president bows to a foreign leader. Immediately, the submissive vs. dominant trigger is pulled, and all anyone sees is one dog rolling over for another. 


This outrage is repeated about once every six months. President Obama bowed to The Saudi King earlier this year, and today the internet is buzzing about Obama’s bowing to the Japanese emperor on Saturday. The same thing happened when former President Bush nearly locked lips with Saudi royalty. When Richard Nixon was in China he gave a toast to Chairman Mao that included an excerpt of one of Mao’s poems.

ThinkProgress points out similar occurrences and links to some photos of President Eisenhower bowing to just about anyone he can find, and I doubt there would have been much speculation about Ike’s submissiveness.


In some cultures people kiss on the cheeks, in some they shake hands, in some they bow. All of which have some long anthropological explanation that isn’t worth going into. The point being that it isn’t a sign of weakness when a world leader understands that when in a different country, it is proper to use their customs. Though next time it might be nice if Obama could at least get the gesture right.

Photos by MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images