Book Review: Howard Bloom – The Lucifer Principle

Depressingly fatalist, morbidly truthful, irresistibly Nietzschean. That’s Howard Bloom’s “The Lucifer Principle” in a nutshell: a meandering trawl through disciplines such as genetics, psychology and culture that culminates in a theory of evil, purporting to explain its historical necessity, its creative potential and the possibility of it ever being vanquished. The odds do not appear to be good. For in the world painted by Bloom, peace is submission, social hierarchies are natural, ideas are polarizing, and liberal individualism is invidious to the collective “superorganism” that both oppresses, nourishes and saves us. Fascism really is the “natural state” in every sense of the term.

Bloom, Howard – The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History (1995)
Category: human society, psychology, history; Rating: 5/5
Summary: Amazon reviews, James Schultz

More S/O material on related topics:

Superorganism, or: The Whole is Greater than its Parts

Bloom starts off by providing reams of evidence on why it is completely logical for nature to be “red in tooth and claw”. Selfish genes need to replicate and it is no great loss if they doom billions of individuals to untimely deaths in the struggle for evolutionary survival. Hence, creatures battle for the “privilege of procreation”. High-ranking gorilla females kill their harem rivals’ offspring. Existence in primitive societies is so brutish and short that it is as if they were fighting World War Two every year and life eternal (the myth of the “noble savage” really is just that). The wellspring of Western civilization, the Romans, have the rape of the Sabines as one of their proudest foundational myths. In short, violence is reality.


[The Rape of the Sabine Women, Pietro da Cortona.]

One interesting theory he mentions is that of the triune brain, according to which the human mind is actually composed of three brains – the reptilian (stimuli, mating, territoriality), mammalian (loyalty to family and clan) and primate (reasoning faculty). The reptilian component makes creatures nasty and violent, while the mammalian reinforces the power of social groups. It is only the latter that allows man to dream about peace, even as they hack each other to pieces in the waking world.

In the next section, Blooms asks why people commit suicide. He cites a lot of research showing that isolation is the ultimate poison – without social approval, people not only tend to become depressed, but their physiology goes on self-destruct mode, encouraging illnesses, insanity and suicidal tendencies. This is a negative feedback loop because once you are depressed, other people no longer want to be around you or make friends with it (but that, too, works in the interests of the group). He ties this in to the larger idea that just as cells, sponges and ants can only survive as constituent particularly of a greater whole or not at all, so humans are part of a greater “superorganism” that is society.

Paradoxically, the logic of “group selection” encourages loyalty to the superorganism that cares little if at all for the individuals that owe it their fealty. For instance, upon seeing a pride of lions beginning to stalk a herd of gazelles on the African savanna, the beasts that notice the predators begin prancing about in warning. This actually diminishes their individual chances of survival, since lions are likeliest to go for animals that are acting unlike the rest of the herd. The best outcome for the individual gazelle upon noticing the lions would be simply to retreat slowly to the safe center of the herd. However, over the evolutionary eons, groups with many individuals exhibiting these self-preserving tendencies presumably got weeded out, for self-interest is the bane of group interests. Hence in real life we do get a lot of genuinely altruistic loyalty to the group – amongst ants, gazelles, humans.

Humans who are no longer needed by the group really are no longer needed and might as well wane and die (“the Moor has done his duty, he can now go home”). Durkheim suggested suicide was essentially individuals altruistically relieving society of their own burden to it, and I would suggest that this is especially evident in societies like Japan without the traditional Western Christian guilt. I would also suggest that this is the reason why ostracism and exile were so much more fearful punishments in the pre-industrial world than they would seem in today’s global rootless cosmopolitanism. In an age when bonds were strong and essential, but geographically tied to small regions, being shorn of human contact would have been psychologically crippling.

All this of course has a more than passing resemblance to Turchin’s and Ibn Khaldun’s work on social cohesion and Asabiyah. There’s a reason why through the ages soldiers have willingly charged cold steel pikes and machine gun fire for the glory of their nation. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and far more important too – and the superorganism knows this.


[The Battle of Gettysburg. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori!]

Though shalt not kill… but only as long as they’re members of your tribe. Otherwise it’s cool. Note that primitive societies believe “humans” to be only their own tribe or clan (in fact if you look at the etymology, many ethnicities call themselves “the people” in their own tongues). Civilization has expanded the definition of those considered to be human to their own nations: in the case of the Jews, to the Israelites; in the case of later “universal” religions, potentially to all humanity (except inveterate heathen, of course). Even many modern liberals are intolerant of those who don’t share their liberal ideals. Why these divisions? Having enemies is really good for social consolidation (see “castle identity”, “residential fortress”, “siege mentality”); human societies are defined not by what they are, but by what they oppose and hate. Or as Orwell would say, war is peace.

There is always a deep wellspring of frustration in any society. Bloom quotes interesting research showing that fro cells to ants to humans, each unit performs a preordained role. In any ant colony, there are industrious workers and lazy workers, soldiers and queens. Separate the industrious and lazy workers into separate group and new social roles are created as some former busybodies become idlers and former idlers become industrious. In observations of summer campers, it was noted that after a few hours, bunk-mates assumed four specific social roles: dominant “alpha male”, unpopular “bully”, “joker” sidekick and the over-eager “nerd” who is kicked around by everyone.

All human minds possess thousands of unrealized personalities which could have been but aren’t. This results in an undercurrent of frustration, which can be channeled into the hatred of the interloper that binds it together. Early cellular lifeforms discovered that they could dispose of calcium, poisonous in high quantities, by using it to build shells. In similar fashion, common hatreds glue societies together, such “that every tribe regards outsiders as fair game; that every society gives permission to hate; that each culture addresses the demon of its hatred in the garb of righteousness; and that the man who channels this hatred can rouse the superorganism and lead it around by the nose”.

From Genes to Memes, Yet Us vs. Them Always

In another chapter full of worthy insights, Bloom notes that the main vector of evolution shifted from genes swimming through “the protoplasmic soup of the early earth” to memes floating through a “sea of human brains”. Both genes and memes mercilessly exploit their hosts in their struggle for survival and bid to overspread the earth. Though rat broods are normally loving to each other, insert a rodent from a different clan that smells different, and they tear the unfortunate apart – even if he carries their genetic stock (rats tell who is who by smell). Humans are more advanced: they have language, culture and religions that bind closer than any uniform. The Hebrew genocide of the Canaanites was just and splendid, for their ethno-genetic stock was chosen by the LORD God.

Over the millennia of ancient history, memes gradually divorced themselves from the genetic level altogether, appearing in “universal” religions like Zoroastrianism and Christianity after St. Paul. Competing universal religions and ideologies now encompass nearly the whole world. The confer several advantages. First, the effective illusion of control, which is good guarantor of health and mental agility (note that most medical procedures even today are based on getting the patient to believe she will recover and hence doing so). Second, memes help consolidate huge communities, and hence ensure their own long-term survival.

A society is, in effect, a vast, problem-solving neural net – humans are to it like brain cells are to a mind. As a swarm of individuals interact in limited and simply ways (bees, humans), an extraordinarily complex structure emerges (a beehive, the modern economy). One feature of human society is male expendability – from cradle to old age, men have weaker immune systems, are more accident-prone and die quicker. This is especially marked in primitive societies where warfare is brutal and incessant.

polygamy-mapThe reasons are biologically obvious: whereas one man can inseminate dozens of women, one woman can only reproduce about once a year at most. So Mother Nature can afford to play with men as dice, ensuring that only the fittest survive. Interestingly, life is most brutal and profligate in the south, where resources are plentiful. In the tropics, male birds tend to have bright plumes to attract female attention (which also makes them highly visible to predators); but in the north, birds have grayer colors designed to blend into the surroundings, and their sex tends to be indistinguishable to the human eye. That is because the female needs male help to rear her chicks through the hard winter months of dearth. Likewise with humans, polygamy has been most prevalent in southern cultures – even if many guys die in battles for prestige, territory and slaves, the women can continue the race without most of them.

Most men failed, and died early or had little reproductive success (in primitive societies only 50% of men end up having offspring, compared to 80% of women). But those who made it, like Chinggis Khan, became the biological fathers of millions (King Saud was probably the last such very influential warlord). But as history progressed, memes steadily took center place. The generators of successful memes, like St. Paul, Marx or Sayyid Qutb, took the center place in the lives of millions and billions!

The Pecking Order: Hierarchy is Good

Stalin was right: the weak get beaten. That’s what happens to those at the bottom of the pecking order, the phenomenon observed in the 1920’s where chickens formed a fixed hierarchy that determined priority access to food and shelter. While the top hen was well fed, warm and respected, the one at the bottom was ostracized and pecked by everyone else. Likewise, those at the top are most sexually successful in primitive societies. In a series of experiments in which three male rats and three female rats were brought together in a cage, some 92% of offspring accrued to the dominant male!

Success breeds success, failure breeds failure. Low ranking baboons suffer increased levels of glucocorticoids, a stress hormone that acts as a slow poison, and walk around slouched and defeated. The same thing operates in human societies – being at the bottom of the pecking order is bad for you, as you suffer from increased rates of depression, blood pressure, heart attacks, etc – obviously this also makes you unattractive and entrenches your gutter status. In contrast, higher ranking monkeys people walk upright and their testicles hang down further. (So consequently no wonder that that is the reason why men are recommended Alexander posture and walking with one’s legs wide apart… it is to project the image of the physical aspects of the alpha male; on third thought that would explain society’s dislike for the “pick-up artist”, since their craft essentially cheats the naturally emergent hierarchy by getting men to mimic alpha traits instead of actually being one).

There’s a very good reason for the existence of these feedback loops that reinforce social hierarchy – the alternative to hierarchy, with its inherent, diffuse coercion, is anarchy. This entails a state of constant expenditure of previous, limited energy on banditry and defense. In this situation, the weak and friendless get trampled down even more quickly and ruthlessly than if they were (merely) oppressed within a hierarchic system. So it is actually in the interests of everyone, including even its lowliest members. (The exceptions are, of course, those who believe that their position in the hierarchy is unjustified on the basis of their abilities or beliefs, e.g. the Bolshevik insurrectionist, the Islamist cell member, etc, who would like to level the current hierarchic system in a cleansing purge before rebuilding it in their own image). Bloom notes that “superior chickens make friends”, not only within societies, but within the community of tribes and nations. Just as powerful Yanamamo tribes attracted allies and clobbered the weak and friendless tribes, and Rome maintained coalitions awed by its political and military prowess, so the modern US draws on the loyalty of many of its allies in the West and elsewhere through the visibility of its hegemonic power. (It even gets financial credit at low prices due to an effect called American alpha!)

In the last few chapters, Bloom ingeniously – or in an act of unintentional hypocrisy, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt 😉 – shows “us vs them”, memes and hierarchy at work in his own book! He states America’s refusal to support France and Britain in their neo-colonial 1956 endevour to seize back the Suez Canal was morally wrong, proclaims the superiority of the West over the cultures of the Third World and labels Islam a “killer culture” harboring the next barbarians. (Of course, the Islamist crazies promptly did their best to prove him right). No, you don’t need to be a PC-head to realize that in the last hundred pages Bloom strays from his fascinating insights into a morass of opinion(ated) projections of his social theories onto modern geopolitics and the “clash of civilizations”. They can be skipped. The only more or less useful additional point he makes is that giving gifts is insulting, like the World Bank does with Africa, because it created humiliating cultural dependency relationships (e.g. demands to Africans to do things the way armchair economists with no practical experience there want them to). China’s straightforward infrastructure or cash for resources approach is better for Africans, both spiritually and probably even economically.

The Lucifer Principle: Superorganism, Memes & Hierarchy

These elements combined form the Lucifer Principle. The superorganism – be it body, village, nation (“imagined community”) or civilization – curtails your individuality, and has no qualms about throwing your life and health away if doing so would serve the greater good. It can throw you against another superorganism so as to weed out the weak, identify the strong, and consolidate itself internally and ideologically (war is peace). It can – and does – trample your mental and physical health under the social stratification it requires to maintain its own complexity (peace is submission). But it also nurtures and protects you with a love harsh but true… for while you can surmount the burdens and realize yourself (slavery is freedom), without society, that would be impossible… survival itself is impossible (freedom is death). I would say that the essence of the Lucifer Principle is that fascism is the natural state.


[The essence of the book in one comic. Translation: “What’s the matter, you fat monkey?” “Fuck off, fucking fascist!” “You say ‘fascist’, as if it’s a bad thing. But dude, people love fascists. Have you ever met a woman who fantasizes about being tied up and raped by a *liberal*?”]

Though Rome “had been an oppressor, it was also “the source of nourishment and peace”. It’s end brought not freedom, but death, says Bloom, as roving bandits moved in to pick its carcass. (Though I would make the caveat that by its end the Western Empire armies were themselves no better than bandits). In conclusions: “Superorganism, ideas, and the pecking order – these are the primary forces behind much of human creativity and earthly good. They are the holy trinity of the Lucifer Principle”.

There were several problems with the book. It was tied in loosely with the book and while chock full of fascinating details, many of them did little or nothing to advance or support the argument. The poor organization made writing this review rather tedious. The two chapters at the end, in which Bloom tried to apply disjointed elements of the Lucifer Principle onto modern politics and geopolitics, were largely irrelevant and should have been split off into a separate volume.

Anatoly Karlin is a transhumanist interested in psychometrics, life extension, UBI, crypto/network states, X risks, and ushering in the Biosingularity.


Inventor of Idiot’s Limbo, the Katechon Hypothesis, and Elite Human Capital.


Apart from writing booksreviewstravel writing, and sundry blogging, I Tweet at @powerfultakes and run a Substack newsletter.


  1. If people really love fascists then the world has really gone mad. Remember that movie with Sean Connery, who’s character said that there is no such thing as freedom in the civilized world? I agree with that. The modern world takes away from the notion of freedom and twists it to fit capitalist ideas…

  2. Pretty accurate so far.

  3. This is Howard Bloom who created Billy Joel.

    Just sayin’.

    Doug M.

  4. Susan Sontag’s insights on the esthetics of Naziism come to mind.

  5. Londoncalls says

    I wonder about your map showing polygamy across the world.

    Wikipedia, for example, shows a very different map:

    The wikipedia map has the advantage of have being made considering the legal status of polygamy of each country. What is your source? What do you know about Brazil and Mexico to think that these countries are “slightly polygamous”? It happens that Brazil and Mexico are strongly catholic countries, and catholicism is strictly against polygamy. I´m afraid some personal prejudices of yours are prevailing against objective analysis here.

    On the other hand, north american mormons are polygamous. Arguably, they amount to a small share of total US population. But.

    • You are right, I know for sure that in Mexico polygamy is illegal. The first thing I thought when I saw the map was about the source where it was taken from, I would be great to publish the source and statistics about this polygamy map. No, neither the laws nor the population accept the polygamy. Adultery, of course, is practiced (as it’s in USA and in many other countires), don’t forget Lewinsky, but is punished by the law and even a causal for divorced, two years in prison and civil rights annulled by up to six years in some cases. Polygamy can’t exist legally if it’s specifically forbidden by the law (penal code) in the whole thirty one states and the Federal District.

    • I got the map from a Google image search who’s size was less than 500px.

    • “On the other hand, north american mormons are polygamous.”

      A tiny share of Mormons (1% or 2%, I think) are polygamous. It’s literally a few tens of thousands of people. They belong to splinter groups – the official Mormon Church has outlawed polygamy long ago.

      I remember reading an article (probably in the NY Times, though it could have been elsewhere) that stated that in parts of the Colombian countryside polygamy was normal, yet Colombia doesn’t get a star on that map. The stars for Mexico and Brazil may well refer to indigenous populations. Plus there are lots of Afro-Brazilians who follow African-based religions and practices.

      “It happens that Brazil and Mexico are strongly catholic countries…”

      I wouldn’t call Brazil a STRONGLY Catholic country. Mexico does conform to that label though.

      I’m sure that South Africa is more polygamous than that map implies.

  6. I am not so sure these statistics about how many men managed to reproduce versus women can be scientifically verified, much like some of the ‘evidence’ for man-made AGW once exposed to naked analysis outside the black box. I do know these ‘facts’ keep showing up over and over at forums on ‘game’, marriage strike websites, and essays like “The Misandry Bubble”.

    There’s also the question of class, and increasingly the classes connected to government, tied in with it. Over at the conservative website Belmont Club ( there was a commenter named ‘Whiskey’ who basically got himself banned for saying all single non-married secular women crave a little fascism (like the comic), dream of getting raped by Bin Laden (to quote the late Oriana Fallaci), and worship Big Government along with racial/gender preferences and social engineering.

    In any case, without going too far down those rabbit holes, I think even S/O could probably agree that 2008 was a disillusioning tipping point, in the sense that people realized whether Democrat or Republican the ruling class cared about bailing out its members at any cost, even if the trillions printed and recycled back into Treasuries and out of the private sector have led to record job killing.
    America’s Ruling Class

    • Problem with the Misandry Bubble – which I skimmed through when it was first published as I’m subscribed to The Futurist, not for his socio-political commentary but for the futurism) – is that any valid observation or insight made is drowned out by red herrings and outright falsehoods. It’s essentially a very long-winded rant from a dude who might well have some personal issues with the subject matter. Taking this seriously is like treating Mark Steyn as an Islam (or Russia) expert, but at least that guy’s rants are funny.

      Re-the ruling class, the impression that is the case certainly increased, beginning from around 2003-5, though it’s still far from a tipping point. I think two important observations about the US today are 1) the Tea Party’s popularity: roughly a third of Americans identify, and 2) most popular institutions (according to opinion polls) are the military, the police and the Presidency. Congress, the courts, banks, big business… all distrusted.

  7. The Whiskey-banning also reminded me of some lefty-leaning sites that shrank back after the New York Times broke a taboo on discussing the stimulus policies of Fascist Italy and the (early) Third Reich.

  8. Hah, this sounds like my kind of book, being that I seem to share the author’s dark and depressing view of humanity.

    Very nice review, Anatoly.

  9. That ‘tied up and raped by a liberal’ quote is from P.J. O’Rourke’s “Republican Party Reptile”.

  10. I have a problem with describing any of this stuff as evil. It’s only evil compared to fairy tales and harmful delusions. I try to think of the way the world normally works as neutral instead. The word evil should be reserved for things that are worse than normal.

    In all ages people have found joy in war and in other forms of conflict. I remember the War Nerd saying that men who’d been to war for 18 months in their early 20s still bore anyone who’d listen with breathless recitations of war stories when they’re 80. It’s their favorite topic. I think that’s absolutely true, in fact I’ve known some of those guys. There’s lots of positive emotion for lots of people in the sort of stuff that Mr. Bloom seems to have called evil there.

    As for universalism, on the one hand I’ve always rooted, in a nerdy, sci-fi type way, for progress, civilization, going to the stars, etc., on the other hand I regard all universalist political ideologies as cynical ruses or naive delusions. That includes liberal democracy, communism, libertarianism and the rest of it. When people deny the tribalist nature of mankind, it’s either because they’re dangerously naive or because they have an ulterior (almost always tribalist) motive for lying. And the tribalist nature of mankind cannot be suppressed without tons and tons of violence. Perhaps not at all. The honest, humane solution is to make peace with its existence and to explicitly take it into account in every political decision.

    “In observations of summer campers, it was noted that after a few hours, bunk-mates assumed four specific social roles: dominant “alpha male”, unpopular “bully”, “joker” sidekick and the over-eager “nerd” who is kicked around by everyone.

    All human minds possess thousands of unrealized personalities which could have been but aren’t.”

    I suspect that each person is born with a certain level of machismo, nerdiness, extroversion and other traits. I, for example, am nerdier than most people, however in the presence of even bigger nerds than myself I sometimes catch myself playing non-nerdy social roles. On the one hand it’s all relative, on the other hand we all have our inborn tendencies.

    “One feature of human society is male expendability…”
    “Nature can afford to play with men as dice…”

    This is why men are overrepresented both among the mentally retarded and among geniuses, while women cluster in the middle of the IQ distribution. It’s one of the reasons why female hard science Nobel winners are so rare. Male personalities, interests and idiosyncrasies also exhibit greater variety than female ones. “If you’ve known one, you’ve known them all” is an impolite generalization, but it’s much truer of women than of men. As you correctly stated, nature conducts most of its experiments on males. Ethnic differences in personality and behavior (though obviously not in looks) also seem to me to be greater among men than among women.

    “That is because the female needs male help to rear her chicks through the hard winter months of dearth.”

    This has obvious human parallels – in modern societies the “sun people” tend to have higher illegitimacy rates than “the ice people”. It also has some relevance to the r/K dichotomy observed in humans and in other species.

    Fish are r-selected – each female throws out millions of eggs, doesn’t expand any effort on caring for any of them afterwards and only a handful of embryos survive to adulthood. They just drown their predators with quantity. Humans are K-selected – we have few offspring, but we expand a lot of effort on rearing each one of them. A guy named J. P. Rushton has made the obvious step of applying this concept to racial differences. Tropical environments tend to produce relatively r-selected human populations. Harsh northern environments produce K-selected populations typified by high parental involvement by both parents. If providing for oneself is as easy as picking the nearest low-hanging fruit, kids can be left to their own devices pretty early.

    “In the last few chapters, Bloom ingeniously – or in an act of unintentional hypocrisy, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt 😉 – shows “us vs them”, memes and hierarchy at work in his own book!”

    Was he against such hierarchies in earlier chapters? That’s why he put “Lucifer” in the title? I really disapprove of people who make conscious efforts to deny reality. As I said before, these are simply the facts of life. All alternatives are like stories of infants being brought to expecting parents by storks, Santa Claus rewarding good children with gifts, etc. Except that sometimes it’s much worse than that. Some of these denialist, fairy-tale type ideologies are ruses that are invented by cynical men to dupe naive ones into serving them.

    “These elements combined form the Lucifer Principle. The superorganism – be it body, village, nation (“imagined community”) or civilization – curtails your individuality, and has no qualms about throwing your life and health away if doing so would serve the greater good.”

    Well, a more traditional term that describes the same phenomenon is “heroism”. The word hero was specifically invented for guys who sacrifice themselves for their communities.

    “Superorganism, ideas, and the pecking order – these are the primary forces behind much of human creativity and early good. ”

    I wouldn’t have used the word “early” here. Of any good.

    • Lots of intriguing points here. It would be interesting to compare warfare intensities in equatorial and temperate/sub-polar environments (should be much less of it in the former?).

      I wouldn’t have used the word “early” here. Of any good.

      That should have been “earthly”. Thanks, fixed.

      Was he against such hierarchies in earlier chapters? That’s why he put “Lucifer” in the title?

      I think Bloom has the voice of someone who doesn’t love what he describes but perceives is as the hard reality. BTW, excellent point about the title – another example of tLP at work in Bloom’s own book, yet unknowingly (and hence the best demonstration!). Because what was Lucifer most famous for? Challenging the LORD God’s hierarchy, a system that killed tens of millions of people (if we take the story of the Flood literally), for which he was cast down into Hell. But Satan is only responsible for killing ten

  11. The reference to rape fantasies has reminded me of this post on Roissy’s blog:

  12. Regardless, the Misandry Bubble combined with this Roissy guy have no doubt touched a nerve. I wonder if the ‘Mancession got you down, come to the warm embrace of the Motherland you unemployed but high-skilled Western men looking for love’ Russian propaganda ad on Craigslist will go viral too. At least someone in Moscow is starting to figure which buttons to push, and unlike with the USSR, they are not all on the Left (or perhaps the Soviets too knew how to bait the Right elements in the West?). At any rate Stas Mishin has demonstrated that it’s quite easy to mess with Glenn Beck’s mind.

    All the slobbering over Anya Chapman who was an average Moscow gal suggests a certain amount of desperation, as does the WaPost quote that the returned 10 will find Moscow more dull than suburban New Jersey(!) doddering.

  13. I have not read the book. Just a few quick comments in no particular order. Unfortunately I don’t have time to get into it more.

    The triune brain theory, (originated by Paul MacLean and popularized by Carl Sagan) has been largely discredited by neuroscientists. Few neuro scientists believe in it. Perhaps I should say that the idea has been superseded instead of discredited. Perhaps at one time it was a useful (but oversimplifying) metaphor, as Sagan once admitted. With our current understanding of the brain, though, it is not a useful metaphor anymore–it actually may be a misleading one. In any event, our current understanding is that the brain is much more plastic and modular than it was thought even fifteen years ago. And this modularity has little to do with the triune brain idea of a primitive structure, a semi-primitive structure over it and then a newer structure over that. Some top neuroscientists even question that there is such a thing as a limbic system.

    As to the meme idea, I assume you have read Richard Dawkins extremely influential (and very readable) The Selfish Gene (19 76) in which he rather playfully came up with the meme idea. Little did he know that this piece of interesting speculation was going to explode into what it is now. In a chapter or two of his Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (1995) the philosopher Daniel Dennett makes a fairly powerful exposition of the meme idea. It seems, though, that now both Dawkins and Dennett have tempered their enthusiasm for memes. They both admit that the meme idea has been overused and abused. It should also be noted that although Dawkins “selfish gene” idea is still very influential, the idea of

    On whether humans are naturally violent and hierarchical creatures, well, a lot depends on timing and context. We cooperate with each other far more than we kill each other. The vast majority of our time as Homo sapiens we lived in rather small groups (no more than 150 individuals, usually much fewer) that were rather unhierarchical and egalitarian. Nothing utopic in that. Different groups were often hostile to each other (competition for meager resources) and the egalitarianism within groups was “guarded egalitarianism”–group members always watched for someone taking more than his fair share. Also, it’s rather natural to be egalitarian when you as an individual need a healthy and cooperative group in order to survive, and when you cannot accumulate many goods, since the only goods you can have are those that you can carry. It all changed with the advent of agriculture which made possible the hoarding of large quantities of food. Because of this it also became possible to live in much larger groups. It is then that strong hierarchies took root. It is then that wars (instead of small raids) became possible. But this is a fairly recent development in our evolutionary history.

    One last thing, although we can claim that an ant colony or a bee hive is arguably one organism, we cannot make the same claim about a pack of wolves, a troop of baboons, or a human society.

  14. Christian says

    I did read the book and had the same criticisms as Kolya.

    He uses outdated and poorly presented theories (his waffling on group selection’s precise applications) to argue for a theory that is banal at best. The “superorganism” argument was completely unconvincing. No, humans are not like cells in a body. Memes cannot stand in for a mystical collective conscious. The application of group selection theory is poor and focuses on largely discredited parts. He admits to having read the Selfish Gene, but he must have read the Cliff’s Notes version because he ignores all the data and arguments that punch holes in his case.

  15. Extremely interesting conversation and analysis! It would seem that all arguments pointing to our mutual destruction as a species are correct! Either from a biblical perspective or a rationalist one we are certainly doomed if we cannot shake the primitive paradigms that have shaped society for the past 10,000 years and move towards the higher planes of consciousness that promote love of our brothers as the foundational base of our existence.

    Whether it be First Century Christianity, Buddhism or what have you, if we continue to order our existence as a society to the barbaric principles of Neolithic Man then nuclear arms assure our destruction!