How Science Crushes the Left

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The Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism
By Howard K. Bloom
Prometheus Books (November 24, 2009)

Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind
By Howard K. Bloom
Wiley (September 2001)

The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of History
By Howard K. Bloom
Atlantic Monthly Press (March 13, 1997)

On June 22 the great scholar and classicist Victor Davis Hanson spoke at the Wednesday Morning Club in Los Angeles to promote his new book The Father of Us All.

Among the numerous points he made that day at the Four Seasons two in particular leapt out, as they cut to the core of our political and cultural conflicts today:

  • First, war is the natural order of mankind. The majority of human history is conflict between peoples. Peace is a parentheses. This stands in stark contrast to those (like President Barack Obama) who think that peace is the way civilization functions.
  • Second, human nature is flawed. We are broken creatures, separated from God, incapable of making a utopia, and unable to reason with every enemy. Hanson described this understanding as the “tragic view” and juxtaposed it with the “therapeutic view” which saw men as blank slates that could be molded.

The operative word in both of these critical formulations – philosophical pivots that divide us so deeply and illicit such ferocious debate – is nature.  We disagree about the nature of humanity. And it’s from this question that all of our political disagreements emerge. Those who acknowledge that war is the natural order and that humans are flawed will fall on the Right. And those with the opposite understandings will find themselves on the Left.

But how can this be? Why is there seemingly so much debate on these questions of nature yet none over the fact that a dropped pen will fall to earth, that a sperm and egg create a zygote, and that liquid water lowered to 32 degrees Fahrenheit will freeze?

Why do we not consider our own human nature and behavior as just one more scientific question?

Enter Howard K. Bloom, author of the new mindblower The Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism and the previous addictive, paradigm-smashers Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind (2001) and The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History (1997.)

The central thesis that runs across Bloom’s work is this: we humans are to be understood as just one more component – the most advanced so far – in the evolutionary process. And just as dissecting a fetal pig in biology class can teach us about our own anatomy, considering the behaviors of organisms going back to the origin of life (and even back further to when we were originally just space dust) can provide critical insights into who we are as people, why we do what we do, and what’s in store for us as our evolution continues.

In his first book Bloom lays out the first of his key arguments:

“The Lucifer Principle contends that ‘evil’ is a by-product of nature’s strategies for creation and is woven into our most basic biological fabric. This argument echoes a very old one. St. Paul proposed it when he put forth the doctrine of original sin. Thomas Hobbes resurrected it when he called the lot of man brutish and nasty. Anthropologist Raymond Dart brought it to the fore again when he interpreted fossil remains in Africa as evidence that man is a killer ape. Old as it is, the concept has often had revolutionary implications.”

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  • George

    "Why are we built for violence and conflict instead of peace and coexistence?"

    We are also built for art and music…generosity and kindness…reason, wonder and bliss. Because unlike ants, fish and lizards, we have big incredible brains and we are capable of an interior life, imagination, and morality.

    While "competition" is natural…money, the economy, and capitalism like all ideas are our creations. Money may represent life energy, but in our modern, abstract economy…people can "make" money without creating anything, or doing in actual work…simply by shuffling the shells with money or assets that aren't even theirs. This is an abomination to competition. There are "bad guys"…there are people who are being good little animals and getting what's theirs regardless of what it does to others. If we all act like this then we can go back to clubbing each other over the head. Animals can't be evil, but men can….when they know what the right thing to do is…but they do the wrong thing anyway.

    Along with all the good things, our big brains also brought us ego and religion. I don't see how our booms and busts can really be equated to quantum leaps in evolution.

    "The path to a greater world lies not in the delusions of “progressive” utopianism but in the mandates of messianic capitalism."

    Are these our only two choices?

    • DavidSwindle

      Read the books.

  • Rose Fell

    Bloom's book sounds really interesting, but lets not blame the current economic crisis on human nature, when we see in two other countries – Canada and Israel, there was no housing/banking collapse, because they pursued different policies, and the incentives in their systems were different. For instance, in Canada, when a bank makes a loan, it takes the risk of the loan.
    Also, I have a site that talks about the evolution of evil, do a search in 'bing' (not google) for:
    the evolution of evil psychology of evil

    • DavidSwindle

      Read the book.

  • CharlesWhite

    Question! Have our advanced scientific minds taught "Monkeys" right from wrong (Biblical good and evil) and then observed them to see if they will do evil when in a (their) normal situation were they would have done what was "naturally" right but now knowing an evil alternative and does evil instead? What would it mean if the Monkey(s) does evil now instead of the "Natural" right or Biblical good? Does the monkey even realize the differences or is just a reaction thru learned behavior coupled with the natural self all animals have in them?

  • PAthena

    Thomas Hobbes, in the Leviathan, explained why human beings in the state of nature – without government – are in a state of war, of every man against every man. His remedy was the social contract, where everyone gives up his natural right to do whatever he pleases in return for everyone else's doing so, and forming the state to enforce this.

  • The_Inquisitor

    I hesitate to make any negative comments about your newfound enlightenment. After all it is pro capitalist, and we need as many allies as we can get. But sometimes allies can be more dangerous than enemies.

    On purely economic grounds recessions and depressions are caused by credit expansion. To say otherwise is to deny and undercut established science — an extremely dangerous path. But that leaves unanswered the question of why do humans periodically expand credit? The answer to that question is to be found in psychology or sociology or something else. It is beyond the scope of economics.

    Bloom's thesis seems to be predestination wrapped up in scientific garb instead of the traditional religious garb. It is a contradictory notion embraced by Islam.

    Man is inherently evil? I am tempted to say speak for yourself. Man is what he is. He is no more evil than a lion or a tree. The mere fact that man is able to construct the concept of evil is testimony to man's goodness.

    • Herve Seligmann

      A well thought, subtle and intelligent comment, at all levels. I am a biologist specialized in molecular genetics, but am more than suspicious towards reducing any cultural human traits to 'biology'. Even if this may have occasionally some basis, it is not the point.
      You should know that we do not understand how traits as 'simple' as size are biologically determined (i.e. we have no control of obesity rates, at any level, genetic nor environmental). Nevertheless, people allready talk/write since decennies about genetics of sexual orientation, criminality, or even economic behavior and structures of societies… Ridiculous.

    • DavidSwindle

      You can't reject the thesis until you've read the book. Booms and busts aren't only tied to credit expansion.

      • Jeff Perren

        "You can't reject the thesis until you've read the book."

        With respect, yes one can. If an author overlooks or denies very basic truths it isn't necessary to examine all his higher level arguments in detail. If someone starts a mathematical or physics thesis with the assertion that 2=3, or ignores (say) the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, we don't need to look too hard at the rest of his writing to treat it with high skepticism.

        There may be some valuable insights in the books, but that is the case here.

        Whatever ants may do, humans are a distinctive species. Their fundamental distinctive characteristic is to possess the capacity to reason, a function that operates always and only by choice.

        That last fact (volition) exposes the author's second major error. Whatever humans have done historically – which is certainly valuable data – there is no such thing as predestination. Humans still possess free will.

        Human civilization and history is moved basically by the ideas individuals accept. That acceptance is never 'forced' on them by biology.

        That sort of determinism leads to Marxism, or worse, not capitalism and freedom.

        • DavidSwindle

          He hasn't overlooked basic truths. If your mind is closed and you don't want to read the books you don't have to.

          • Jeff Perren

            I just pointed out two.

            How is my mind closed because I don't wish to put three more books of dubious value on my reading list already dozens long?

            I've read many of your posts and I know you can better support your case without the use of an argument from intimidation.

            How about observing, based on my post, that I'm a reasonable person and addressing me accordingly by offering a logical argument without ad hominem?

          • DavidSwindle

            And perhaps he addresses your objections in the books?

            I'm not ad homineming or intimidating you.

            My logical argument is this: I've written a 2000 word review of 3 books that total several thousand pages of argument and footnotes. You can either trust me that the books have value and there's more to it than you're extrapolating or you can choose not to trust me. It's your choice.

            But it's a waste of my time to argue with someone about books they haven't read when they haven't read so much as a chapter.

  • sandra usher

    Fred Glass – Excellent! If something is worth doing it is worth doing well. First ask, "Is it worth doing?" Bloom is not worth doing no matter how well he does it!

    see In the Beginning was Information Dr. Werner Gitt

  • trickyblain

    "Those who acknowledge that war is the natural order and that humans are flawed will fall on the Right."

    Contrary to the historical revisionism of the "right," the founding fathers were quite liberal. Tories were the conservatives/rightists. The entire premise behind our current system of governance (i.e., division of power) is based on the Hobbesian/Lockean view of human self-interest. Revolution comes from the left – always. Jefferson's "tree of liberty" comes from the left. Did Jefferson think that utopia was on its way? No.

    The labeling of "Left = utopianists/Right = Individualist" is, frankly, an intellectually lazy method. Conservatives often set up their own definition of the terms "left" and "right" to ensure that "right" is all about liberty while "left" is all about state servitude. A premise that guarantees that the "right" will come out on top of any discussion. All historical figures seen as heroes are on the “right” while all villains fall on the “left.”

    • DavidSwindle

      You shouldn't get hung up on terminology and miss the forest for the trees.

      • trickyblain

        I don't understand. Terminology is the basis of nearly every argument given by writers on this site. It is the foundation of argument by definition, which is the problem with many of your conclusions in this article.

        Is it really a forest if all the trees are mere illusions?

        • DavidSwindle

          Of course you don't understand.

          The words have evolved. "Liberal" does not mean the same thing it did in 1776. The founding fathers had nothing to do with "the Left" as we define it here. You're operating from a different set of definitions.

          • trickyblain

            "… "the Left" as we define it here."

            Exactly. Argument by definition. You set it up as you see fit, then attack.

            The words have evolved much less than you claim. The "liberal" founders established a Constitution that gave the federal gov't power that the "conservative" opposition (anti-federalists) felt would trample natural rights. States' rights were a major concern for them as well. Any of this sound familar?

            Today's conservatives now hold the Constitution up as something that severely limits federal power, but at the time it was seen as a massive expansion of federal power (as it was). It is a "big gov't" document. All subsequent expansions (OSHA, Civil Rights Act of 1964, minimum wages, 2010 HCR) are initially attacked by conservatives and pushed by liberals. Over time, when these are ingrained and accepted by the public, conservatives back off and oppose the latest liberal program.

          • trickyblain

            On the other hand, the terms "Republican" and "Democrat" have changed dramatically over time. For instance. the southern Democrats that fought the US in the Civil War and later opposed the Civil Rights Act were staunch, small gov't conservatives. Lincoln, a Republican, expanded the size and scope of the gov't more than any president in our history. Lincoln was a liberal.

          • DavidSwindle

            "Exactly. Argument by definition. You set it up as you see fit, then attack"

            You do exactly what you attack me for allegedly doing. You set up your own definition of "liberal" and then berate me for not sharing it.

          • trickyblain

            Well, I do use historical facts to back up my argument. In response, you offer, "(I)t's the Left that's hijacked the word "liberal" to conceal its totalitarian ends. The only things liberals are liberal about are sex, drugs, and spending other people's money."

            Really, David Swindle?

          • DavidSwindle

            Yes, really. The DHFC has pretty clearly defined what we mean when we use the term "the Left." You should know what we mean. Have you read ANY of David Horowitz's books on the subject?

            Don't lecture me about not defining terms. We define "the Left" quite clearly at Discover The Networks. Grow up and stop whining. It's pathetic.

          • George

            I don't know if I would pick at that scab tricky.

            It's "liberal"…OK…not "liberal". FPM hasn't waged war on the American political lexicon for over a decade to have you getting "left" mixed up with what "left" "means".

            I know, I know…you're "liberal" so you might argue that we need to agree what words mean before any coherent discussion is possible…but maybe that's the point…incoherence, confusion and boogeymen.

          • DavidSwindle

            It's the Left that's hijacked the word "liberal" to conceal its totalitarian ends. The only things liberals are liberal about are sex, drugs, and spending other people's money.

  • Reason_For_Life

    “Why did economics prove so useless? Why was monetary policy so helpless to stop the downslide?

    This is comparable to treating cancer with leeches and then asking "Why has medicine proven so useless?"

    "Medicine" didn't fail because cancer is part of nature's evolutionary plan. It failed because medical treatment with leeches is ineffective and has no scientific basis.

    Boom and busts are normal. Prolonged depressions aren't. They are the result of the economic equivalent of treating cancer with leeches, in other words, Keynesian "stimulus" programs.

    Bloom seems to have secularized the doctrines of Original Sin and Divine Providence, ideas that crippled scientific advancement in the fields of psychopathology and meteorology in centuries past.

    To adopt his ideas in economics would have a similar effect, crippling the understanding of supply and demand by focusing on ephemeral "group minds" and "evolutionary forces".

    True, I haven't read his books (aside from browsing through "The Lucifer Principle" some years ago) but the arguments presented in this article are insufficient to motivate me to reconsider reading them now.

    • DavidSwindle

      Your loss.

  • Jimmie

    I don't have a major problem with anything Bloom said, at least what he said quoted here, except for this:

    “Every religion promises to raise the poor and the oppressed. Every religion-including Marxism-promises to feed the hungry and to uplift the downtrodden. No religion that I know of has ever paid off on its promise. But a nonreligion, a pluralist system-the Western system-has.”

    The Christian religions which based their doctrines solely on the Bible do not make such a promise because the Bible does not make it. Unless Bloom is counting the promise that the poor and oppressed may find elevation in the hereafter, he's incorrect. If he's including that, then he's stretching things quite a bit.

  • Jimmie

    "Contrary to the historical revisionism of the "right," the founding fathers were quite liberal. Tories were the conservatives/rightists. The entire premise behind our current system of governance (i.e., division of power) is based on the Hobbesian/Lockean view of human self-interest. Revolution comes from the left – always. Jefferson's "tree of liberty" comes from the left. Did Jefferson think that utopia was on its way? No."

    This is true, to a point.

    The distinctions of right and left float over time because the center moves. The concept of natural law and rights inherent in man (which is the basis for our system of government, not division of power) was a revolutionary, even progressive, thought. However, it is hardly the guiding principle of the left now. I'll agree that the left is still revolutionary, but what it seeks to bring about is not progress but regression to a state where individuals do not have rights but those granted by an earthly power (in America, the Federal government, in Europe, the EU or UN).

    • trickyblain

      True natural rights are the basis – I used division of power to illustrate the founders, at least Hamilton and Madison's, somewhat negative outlook on human nature. American style leftism/liberalism (and rightism) is fundimentally different from the rest of the world. It is more moderate. The American Revolution brought us and illustrated liberalism in practice — beyond theories.. The French Revolution brought us leftism > Marxism >Leninism > Stalinism. Despite screaming accusations based on made up emails and wild conspiracy theories, Obama has not made changes amounting to anything close to the later.

      Again, a conservative's natural reaction to a fundimental change is caution At the time of the founding this was true. A modern conservative, in hindsight, can look back and claim that he would have been on the side of the patriots. Likewise, he can look back and say he would have supported creation of the FDA or the CRA of 1964. But this is probably not so.

  • USMCSniper

    Western civilization is the child and product of reason — via ancient Greece. In all other civilizations, reason has always been the menial servant — the handmaiden — of mysticism. You may observe the results. It is only Western culture that has ever been dominated — imperfectly, incompletely, precariously and at rare intervals — but still, dominated by reason. You may observe the results of that. The conflict of reason versus mysticism is the issue of life or death — of freedom or slavery — of progress or stagnant brutality. Or, to put it another way, it is the conflict of consciousness versus unconsciousness. Let us define our terms. What is reason? Reason is the faculty which perceives, identifies and integrates the material provided by man's senses. Reason integrates man's perceptions by means of forming abstractions or conceptions, thus raising man's knowledge from the perceptual level, which he shares with animals, to the conceptual level, which he alone can reach. The method which reason employs in this process is logic — and logic is the art of non-contradictory identification. Reason is the perception of reality, and rests on a single axiom: the Law of Identity. Ayn Rand

  • Dada

    It is relatively simple you either value life or you value death. The current system of military industrial congressional complex vales profit and power over the value of life. Psychopathic tendencies of power hungry individuals without fully functioning frontal lobes with retarded empathic feelings will create such systems. I read Genius of the Beast. It is a great boook.

  • sodizzy

    I still like the Bible's simple premise. Man is inherently evil and only God can lift him/us and fill the void in our hearts.

    I am glad to learn about Mr. Bloom. What an amazing mind (that God has created and Mr. Bloom and all of us enjoy!)

  • gary demos

    It seems you have cherry picked information from Bloom’s books to reinforce what you already believe to be true. Bloom doesn’t seem to be politically oriented. He says things that are sometimes similar to what both conservatives and liberals deem to be true. He is trying to figure out what is going on ….. departing from politically centered diatribe. To have a dialogue ….. to actually attempt to understand each other is what David Bohm talked about in his idea of a dialogue. I suggest people read Bloom’s books while trying to keep their internal dialogue silent ….. if you actually decide that you want to learn rather than look for ideas that simply reaffirm what you already believe to be true. There are things we can learn from each other if we apply our supposed “free will.”