THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 773, June 1, 2014
Throughout America's history, its government has managed
to supply at least one war for each generation
The Lucifer Principle: Fire is the Devil's Only Friend
Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise
Sometime in the late 1990s I bought a copy of Howard Bloom's The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific expedition into the Forces of History. I was sort of fascinated by cover which depicted mice, microbes, Nazis raising their arms en mass and Muslims kneeling to Mecca. So I opened it to discover some very interesting stories about the same and other things pertaining to the competition of Life and the clashing of individual beings and cultures- referred to as 'Social Organisms'- which can represent, clans, tribes, empires and nation states or followings of ideas—also known as memes—typically embodied in religion and political ideology and even scientific thought.
Bloom begins with the question: Who is Lucifer?
Most people—even the non-religious are familiar with the story of the archangel Lucifer who was second in command to God—but despite having a very sweet life he was not content because he wanted to be God because he thought he could run the Cosmos better. And so he started a rebellion that took a third of the angels in Heaven with him and has been causing misery, mayhem and murder ever since. Bloom presents Lucifer as Nature's destructive alter-ego and evil as a byproduct of the creative forces that shape the evolution of life. He also introduces five concepts underlying The Lucifer Principle:
Number one is the Self Organizing System—which in the biological sense involves genes that are designed to crank out "appallingly expendable" products—ie individual creatures.
Second is the concept of the Superorganisim of which individuals are more or less disposable parts of a greater whole.
Third is the Meme—which is a cluster of ideas which working in tandem with basic human nature function as the glue that holds societies together and gives each culture its distinct shape.
Fourth is the Neural Network which is a constellation of individual minds that forms a group mind capable of manipulating the thoughts and feelings of its individual components and also functioning as a massive learning machine.
Fifth is the Pecking Order which seems to be one of the main themes of the book—involving more than just chickens—men, monkeys, insects and even nations. It seems that everyone including those who would become crazed mass killers aspire to rise to the top of the pecking order because it confers a lot of fringe benefits in the way better nutrition and living conditions and better health. Also as one of the chapters is titled: "Superior Chickens Make Friends"—explains the phenomenon in which successful individuals—be they animal or human or tribes or nations tend to attract more allies and are also abandoned when they fall from power and grace.
This book, aside from a few articles read previously was my first real introduction to the field of Evolutionary Psychology. Later I would read Darwinian Politics: the Evolutionary Origin of Freedom by Paul Rubin and then during a time of midlife when I got a little girl crazy and re-entered the dating world—I bought a series of tapes—Interviews With Dating Gurus hosted by David DeAngelo. The later had a lot of good speakers from that field who demystified the phenomenon of why young women are so fickle. It boils down to instinctive preferences of females for confident and successful males—referred to as Alpha Males—because they are more likely to be better protectors and providers. Which explains a lot of why women do what they do to men and each other. And why Bill Clinton gets a free pass from feminists which is substance of much other commentary.
In The Lucifer Principle, Bloom gives a lot of treatment to the competition of individual beings for power and wealth and ultimately the privilege of reproductive success within societies which turns out to be the driving forces of the societies themselves as they compete for the position of Top Dog or Superior Chicken in the pack or pecking order of nations and the opportunity to make their mark in the pages of History. As he goes on on successive chapters chronicling the rise and fall of empires and religions and ideologies the author continues to reiterate the value of high status and how it is generally unhealthy for individuals and nations to loose their position at the top.
Bringing to mind an old saying from the business world—be nice to those you meet on the way up. Because you will meet them again on the way down.
Another phenomena mentioned is the way that social organisms can often survive after they slip downward—existing as second or third rate cultures or nations slumbering for centuries in self-imposed isolation until they are aroused and revived by changing circumstances or newfound fortunes—much like medieval Europe during the Renaissance, or China and the Islamic World in modern times. Bloom's honest appraisal and comparison of the recent rise of Islamic fundamentalism to the barbarism that usurped and overturned many a powerful and prosperous civilization in History—earned him a lot of contempt from Muslims and even calls for his arrest and punishment for blasphemy in several Islamic countries worthy of The Satanic Verses' author Salman Rushdie. Ironically the Muslims maybe should take Bloom's work as a compliment in light that he was only highlighting the fact that the western world like most great civilizations before it has brought its problems upon itself through its own inconsistent meddling in the affairs of Third World countries in combination with its own internal stupidity and decadence that literally invites the wrath of a people who live, breath, sleep and dream the life depicted in the Old Testament—or tempts them with the prospect of conquest and easy pickings. Described by Bloom as the phenomenon of waking a sleeping giant. The Islamic world was but one of many cases of where no one expected a handful of backward, nomadic people to pick up on a set of ideas that would launch them on a successful path to building a world empire. Only to go onto decline with the resurgence of Western Europe fueled by the development of deep water navigation and trade with colonies established in the New World. But became resurgent again from the flow of new wealth from the discovery of the Middle Eastern oil fields in the early 20th Century. All of this highlighted well before the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
Bloom predicted the revival of the Islamic Superorganism which has been well underway ever since the days of Jimmy Carter and the Iranian Hostage Crisis. The way in which the US responded to 9/11 was also predictable—as was the way that the effort has stalled out in the wake of a change in administrative leadership with even more disastrous results. America's sleeping giant had also awakened—but was shackled again by the enemy within. Much like case of the internal power struggle in the Byzantine Empire led to its fall to the Muslims. Perhaps that was why our founders thought we should avoid foreign entanglements?
There are other good lessons in this. As one of the chapters is themed as : prosperity does not always bring peace—which is definitely the case of the Islamic World—like Saudi Arabia awash in oil money with a benevolent welfare state that provides free education and many other material benefits to its citizens. Yet was not Osama Bin Laden from a wealthy family of that nation and very well educated? In the light of that revelation—The Lucifer Principle turned out to be quite prophetic. And it was one of the literary works that convinced me of the futility of trying to buy friendship and peace around the world with foreign aid or social peace at home with a welfare state.
If you are a deeply religious person or a Libertarian you might take offense to the title or the way in which the author seems to endorse collectivism and the idea that human beings are chemically driven machines that operate on basic primal instinct and forever doomed to environmental determinism. I was a little put off myself in 2012 when Dr Bloom talked about his then latest article as a guest of George Noory on Coast to Coast AM. "Instant Evolution: The Influence of the City on Human Genes"—in which he promotes the concept that humanity is evolving into an urban adapted species and that the country class—ie people of Flyover Country are for the most part obsolete and hopelessly outnumbered—as reflected in his assessment of the Tea Party and the upcoming election.
Yes that was a prophetic insight to a rude awakening the day after for those who loved freedom and tremored in fear at the prospect that the USA would choose instead to stay the course for the creation of an administrative dictatorship. Much like many a German Jew tremored the day of the election that brought Hitler and the Nazi Party to power. You can opt in favor of killing the messenger if you don't like what Dr Bloom has to say; but do so at your own peril. The author of The Lucifer Principle has a chapter for you; dealing with perceptual shutdown—also known as denial which explains how many people and many nations down through history have chosen to ignore clear signs—the proverbial handwriting on the wall and failed to change course away from certain doom.
Nations and empires inevitably rise and fall.
That was among one of the best insights I got from the latter chapters, along with the idea that evil—(defined as mortal danger in the secular context of the book) really does exist. And so do "Superorganisims" contrary to philosophical objections of Ayn Rand. At least that was my take from something she had written. I do believe in the existence of Superorganisims—also referred to as social organisms. Another term would be "Complex Adaptive System" which I was introduced to by the SF writer Ian Douglas in his series of Galactic Marine trilogies http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6352517-semper-human to describe the primary antagonist—the Xul—AKA "We Who Are"— an ancient network of artificial intelligences that superseded their original creators to dominate the galaxy and periodically took action to snuff out any emerging technologically advanced societies on the paranoid assumption that any other intelligence was either an unwelcome interloper or mortal threat. The Predatory Survival Hypothesis, which in addition to making a good plot for science fiction novels is often cited as an explanation why there is no one out there in space able—or willing to talk to us or do anything that might advertise their existence.
A more benign form of Superorganisim is described by Marshall T. Savage in The Millennial Project where he talks about "God-Beings" which are abstract entities composed of networks of humans and artificial intelligences that will operate within the economy of a future solar system wide civilization called Solaria. It sounds pretty far fetched—but we have such entities in existence today. One prime example is what we call the "Invisible Hand" of the marketplace which was first described in Adam Smith's 18th Century classic: The Wealth of Nations [Project Gutenberg]. Other examples would be government bureaucracies and various other institutions and special interests in our society competing for power and resources. These entities are also driven by Memes—which according to Bloom and others in the EP field "embrace men" and to paraphrase: often catch fire and take off with a life of their own driving the system forward. Often with catastrophic results for anyone who might stand in the way and those who have embraced and been embraced in turn. These as the title on the cover of The Lucifer Principle states: truly are the forces of history. Both destructive and benign. And it was their knowledge of such forces and their effects on previous attempts at achieving a functional civilization that America's founders argued the case for limited government with checks and balances to prevent either ambitious elites or runaway social organisms (which they understood in a rudimentary way a century before the advent of modern psychology)— from usurping and perverting government toward tyrannical and destructive ends.
Sadly it appears that in the long run of about 200 years—(the average historic lifetime of democratically elected governments)— that the founders may have failed. The Social Organisms have proven too resourceful and managed to figure out ways to circumvent the checks and balances and have again taken on a life of their own. There may be no hope of stopping them in the short run***. The only hope in the long run may be that when these entities finally self-destruct that there might still be free people left standing to start over again. But that is such a dark and pessimistic view. There are alternatives to such a course. The Soviet Union folded gracefully without the nuclear Armageddon I expected from a sore looser going down in defeat.
In the end it is incumbent upon ourselves to find purpose and happiness in life—in a way that is non-aggressive and non-destructive to others. Even Howard Bloom eludes to the idea that changing course and channeling human energy away from preoccupations with war and hegemonic dominance—especially now that mankind has achieved such utterly destructive technological power—and toward constructive things. He mentioned space colonization as a positive challenge that could drive technological progress and economic growth in a way that can satisfy the urge to expand and enhance the survival prospects of civilization. Also competitive sports represents an outlet for dissipating energy as an alternative to war. And there are many ways in a modern technological society that people can become alphas besides being a war hero or gold medal athlete or politician. Or a highly prolific bloodline.
Too bad someone couldn't have convinced the guy who rampaged through Santa Barbara that reproductive success or even getting laid on a casual basis is not all he had it cracked up to be. Ask any man dealing with marital problems or trying to ditch a crazy clingy girlfriend.
I don't know if there are any living descendants of William Shakespeare in the world today and if there are any—their impact pales in comparison to his contribution to civilization as a social benefactor. And he is surely loved by many!
As Howard Bloom contends—that in many ways Memes are just as good a legacy—if not better than genes.
*Much like those who go on killing sprees because they have failed in life—lost their job or love and have decided to self-destruct and take as many with them as they can in a blaze of glory. Mainly because they wrapped their whole identity up in their profession or human relationships and when those things came to an end—they failed to reset and change course and find new purpose in life. They became the narcissistic young man that Ayn Rand described as those who craved unearned greatness. Or those who ended up hating the good for being good. To further compliment the theme of The Lucifer Principle is a church sermon I heard years ago about how its namesake—the Devil knows he is doomed to defeat in the end so he decided long ago to just go about leading people astray and causing as much destruction and mayhem as he can in the world and dragging as many souls along with him into the pit of Hell.
That was pretty much the state of the guy who went on a rampage in Santa Barbara this past week.
** Unlike the happy exception that was the American Revolution ; most revolutions turn out badly because they are not driven by the pursuit of individual Liberty but by an egalitarian impulse for imposing social and economic equality—conformity and collectivism which ultimately gets hijacked by the very same kind of people that the true believers in the revolution are revolting against. Many of those are just wannabe tyrants who have been waiting in the winds for years to take advantage of an opportunity to replace the original oppressors because they feel they are more enlightened and deserving the right to rule. Which is essentially the Biblical metaphor of The Lucifer Principle in a nutshell.
The classic examples being the French and Russian Revolution which were not about the rights of the Individual but the rights of the Collective and ultimately the ones believed to have the birthright to rule it. Instead of Equality and Utopia the result is Tyranny and Devastation. There is much looting, killing and burning because in the words of a well known song of the 1960s The Day The Music Died: Fire is the Devil's Only Friend.
***Then again no one imagined the Soviet Union would have gone down without letting loose its nukes upon the West which it would surely have blamed for its collapse. That will probably go down in History as one of the great missed opportunities as we obviously won the Cold War by default only to loose the Peace as Vladimir Putin now attempts to rouse Russia's Sleeping Giant—or in that case; Bear!
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