Interview with Howard Bloom, Part 2
by Grégoire Canlorbe
May 18, 2017 at 4:00 am
Yet there is another set of facts that progressives ignore. Every civilization that has appealed to our idealism has claimed it will lift the poor and the oppressed. But Western civilization has done this the best.
Islam’s second advantage is the eagerness of its militants to solve political disputes with violence. Violence is a potent force multiplier, especially in a world peppered with democratic societies.
Allah has given Islam’s warriors what the Qur’an calls “the fire whose fuel is men and stones” — the fire of nuclear weaponry.
There is only a handful of authors alive today whose ideas about geopolitics have won respect in both the world of Islam and in the West. Howard Bloom is one of them. The following is the second part of an interview with Bloom, published here last November.
Grégoire Canlorbe: In your 1995 book, The Lucifer Principle, you introduced a new concept in geopolitical science — “the pecking order of nations.” What new light does this shed on Islamic civilization and its relations with the rest of the world?
Howard Bloom: Research on pecking orders — known technically as “dominance hierarchies” — has gone on now for roughly 100 years. Thorleif Schjelderup-Ebbe, the naturalist who observed it in a Norwegian farmyard, called it the key to despotism. Schjelderup-Ebbe had discovered that in the world of chickens there is a social hierarchy, a division into aristocrats and commoners — lower, middle and upper class. Pecking orders also exist among men, monkeys, lobsters and lizards. And the struggle for position in a pecking order is not restricted to individuals. It also hits social groups.
The pecking order of superorganisms helps explain why the danger of barbarians is real, and why “humanitarian” assumptions in foreign policy are sometimes suicidal. With our dream of eliminating competition, we try to wish the pecking order away. But the fact is that we will continue to live in pecking orders whether we like it or not. The brutal fact is that the more we opt out of competition, the lower our position is likely to be. That holds true in our lives as individuals. And it holds even truer in our life as a nation.
We all know that Rome was picked apart by peoples any respectable Roman could see were beneath his contempt. The barbarians did not shave. They wore dirty clothes. They were almost always drunk. Their living standard was one step above that of a mule. Their technology was laughable. They usually couldn’t read and write. And they certainly had no “culture.” What could these smelly primitives do? They could fight. The moral is simple: Never forget the pecking order’s surprises. Today’s superpower is tomorrow’s conquered state. Yesterday’s overlooked mob is often the ruler of tomorrow. Never underestimate the third world. Never be complacent about barbarians.
Some readers will be outraged by my presumption. How dare I regard any group as barbaric? What appalling ethnocentrism! There are no barbarians; there are simply cultures we have not taken the time to understand. But there are barbarians — people whose cultures glorify the act of murder, and elevate violence to a holy deed. These cultures portray the extinction of other human beings as a validation of manliness, a heroic gesture in the name of truth, or simply a good way to get ahead in the world. And traditional Islamic societies tend to be high on this list.
Progressive critics are right when they point out the West’s bloody track record. Our two world wars in the 20th century killed a combined total of roughly 70 million human beings. Our two great social experiments — the Marxist-Leninist transformation of Russia and the Marxist Revolution of Mao Zedong in China, a revolution based on the philosophy of a German Westerner, Karl Marx, killed another 80 million. With our atomic bombs, we Westerners wiped out two Japanese cities in less time than it takes to read this page. We warred to control the lives of others in Korea, Vietnam and Algeria, where the French fought from 1954 to 1962 to quash a local war of independence that cost between 350,000 and 1.5 million lives. Even our conventional weapons in World War II produced fire storms that sucked the oxygen out of the lungs of innocent civilians, miles from the center of impact and roasted them alive as they suffocated and died.
Yet there is another set of facts that progressives ignore. Every civilization that has appealed to our idealism has claimed it will lift the poor and the oppressed. But Western civilization has done this the best.
If you had been born in 1850, your expected lifespan would have been 37.5 years. If you had been born in the West in 2000, your expected lifespan would have been 78.5 years. Chinese emperors were willing to spend almost all of their wealth to achieve an extra four years of life. But Western civilization has added another 40. Western civilization has more than doubled the human lifespan. No other civilization in the history of the world — not the Chinese, Egyptian, Muslim, Russian Marxist or Roman — has ever pulled this off.
If you had been the poorest-paid worker in London in 2012, a personal assistant, you would have earned what an entire tenement full of the poorest-paid workers in London were paid in 1850. You would have earned what seven Irish dockworkers made.
If you gave a bunch of average Western kids today a Stanford Binet IQ test from 1905, today’s kids would register as near geniuses. They’d register an average IQ of roughly 135. That’s an IQ jump of 35 points.
If you were in an indigenous culture, one of those tribes that “lives in peace and harmony with nature,” your odds of dying a violent death at the hands of a fellow human being would be 10 times what they are in the West today. Since 1650, Western Civilization has upped the level of peace by a factor of 10.
If you were born in 2000, your height would have been four inches higher than if you had been born in 1850.
If our great, great grandparents could give us an extra 40 years of life, we owe an extra 40 more to our great, great grandchildren. If our great, great grandparents could septuple the incomes of the poorest workers among us, surely we owe another septupling to our great, great grandkids. If our great, great grandparents could up the average IQ by 35 points, surely we owe another 35 to our great, great grandkids. And if our great, great grandparents could increase the peace in the world by a factor of 10, surely we owe our great, great grandkids 10 times more. The only way to achieve this is to defend Western civilization with all your heart and might.
Yes, like nearly every human tribe that has ever existed, we have been violent, destructive and greedy for land, wealth, prestige and power. What is the difference, then, between Americans and Muslims? Why do I claim that they, not we, are the barbarians?
First off, let me repeat, we have upped the peace in the world by a factor of 10. Then there’s the way we resolve political disputes. When Syria’s president from 1971 to 2000, Hafez al-Assad, seized power, he ran into violent resistance from Islamic fundamentalists — members of the Muslim Brotherhood. To overcome this opposition, Assad embarked on a mass extermination of over 20,000 fundamentalists in town of Hama. No American president since the end of the Civil War in 1865 has exterminated his political opponents to secure his position in office.
When Jordan’s moderate King Hussein was hosting a mass of Palestinian refugees in his country, he ran into trouble. In 1968 and 1969 the Palestinians kicked off over 500 violent “incidents,” attacking Jordanians, holding them up at gunpoint, kidnapping them, and reportedly killing Jordanian soldiers by hammering nine-inch nails into their heads. Then the Palestinians went a step further and tried to assassinate their host, King Hussein, and seize control of Jordan’s government. Hussein solved this problem in 1970 with a military attack on the Palestinians that drove them out of the country and that killed over 10,000 in the process.
This murderous chain of events, known as “Black September,” was started by a highly regarded Muslim politician, Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader who would go on to win a Nobel Peace Prize. Nineteenth century American leaders like Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Harrison handled similar problems by doing what Assad and Hussein did — exterminating Native American tribes or mounting internal wars against dissidents like the Mormons and the Southern Confederates. But it’s been over 110 years since a Yankee head of state has followed Hussein’s example and killed thousands to solve an internal conflict.
Muslim citizens of the Middle East are frequently encouraged by their leaders to take to the streets and to chant for the death of Americans, Israelis and Jews. American students at military academies like West Point are also encouraged to shout, “Kill! Kill! Kill!” It’s a chilling thought, but average civilians like you and me do not take to the streets screaming for the murder of others. Nor would we tolerate it if an organization arose that made such chants fashionable. There is a little bit of the barbarian in all of us. But some are far more barbarous than others. All cultures put moral and legal limits on violence. But some indulge in carnage more than others.
The cultures that curb violence feel that debate is superior to violence, and that discourse is often preferable to the sword. They outlaw violence as a means of conflict resolution, and preach conciliation, commerce and discussion. They measure political manhood by the ability to produce voluntary consent, and they look down on those who enforce order through strong-armed methods. Their memes generate democracy, pluralism and capitalism. But in a world where some cultures elevate violence to a supreme virtue, the concern for peace can, alas, be fatal. It can degenerate into a blissful pacifism and make us forget that our enemies are real. It can blind us to the dark imperatives of the superorganismic pecking order, that of nations and civilizations.
Grégoire Canlorbe: Many people in the West reject the idea of a “clash of civilizations” with Islam, on the grounds that this idea overlooks the complexity of human individuality. Muslims, they say, are free and independent beings, able to make their own decisions and to emancipate themselves from the yoke of their culture. What is your view?
Howard Bloom: We think of ourselves as rugged individuals, cocky Clint Eastwood-like characters capable of making up our own minds, no matter what kind of group pressures might torpedo the less independent thoughts of people around us. But we are not Clint Eastwoods, nor were we meant to be. We are incidental microbits of a far larger beast, cells in the superorganism. And the social pack is a necessary nurturer. It gives us love and sustenance. Without its presence, our mind and body literally switch on an arsenal of interior devices for self-demolition, biological self-destruct mechanisms like depression, immune system nosedives and cognitive fog. The Islamic superorganism provides the comfort of companionship and of an all-explaining worldview. And that’ is one way the memes of Islam seduce humans into their power.
The fact is that there are many Muslims who long for pluralism, tolerance and democracy. But they are torn between their membership in the ummah — the global community of Muslims — and the appeals of the Western way of life. They are torn between the cultural codes of the West and those they share with their fellow believers. And when it comes to standing up publicly, their loyalty is all too often to the Koran and Sharia Law. On October 17, 2004 in London, three highly articulate, intelligent, British-born Muslims were part of a London street mob that shouted, “Make way for Islam, we want Islam.”
A CNN cameraman asked these gentlemen what their beef was. The middle class, western-dressed British Muslims answered that their version of Islam “is not just a hatred for America. It is a hatred for the whole of Western philosophy and Western civilization, freedom, democracy, human rights, international law, all of these fake concepts that have been passed to us and behind that we have been oppressed.”
There is more. Reformists and apostates are kept silent, in Muslim territories, by the threat of punishment from those who control the public spaces of Islam. They are silenced by Holy War enthusiasts and by clerics. What’s more, in the battle between memes within the Islamic community, liberalism has always lost. The Islamic “liberals” have been muzzled for nearly 1,300 years. In 1592, the Muslim emperor Akbar tried to start a free speech movement in India. He promoted what he called Din-i Ilahi, a religion of tolerance toward Hindus, Jains, Parsis, Buddhists and Christians. He also promoted sulh-i kull, “universal peace.” Despite his wealth and power, Akbar attracted only 19 supporters to his movement. And when Akbar died, Orthodox Muslims called his movement heretical and crushed it utterly.
The West has developed something that Islam never achieved, an internal self-correction mechanism, a protest industry. In the mid-1780s, the West began a mass movement to stop one of its own nightmarish crimes against humanity — slavery. A mere 20 years later, the anti-slavery movement began to achieve its purpose. The British Parliament passed the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act on March 25, 1807. Then, in the 1890s, the West developed a highly organized anti-Imperialist movement, which eventually forced the nations of Europe to abandon almost all of the foreign lands they had taken. The West did all of this, in part, because of the “Founder Effect.”
Ruth Benedict, one of the founding mothers of anthropology, says that every culture has a personality. Every culture suppresses some emotions and favors others. In her classic book, Patterns of Culture, she also hints that a culture can be a reflection of its founder’s personality. If the founder is a frowning, angry man, the culture he establishes may impose frowns and fury for centuries to come. If the founder is a man of smiles and delight, the culture he molds is more likely to encourage youngsters and adults to smile and enjoy life. Plato is even more explicit than Benedict. He doesn’t just hint that the character of a society is determined by the personality of the man who leads it. Plato is outright convinced that the personality of the leader stamps itself on the society he leads. An ignorant leader can make a good people evil, he says. And a wise, intelligent leader can make an ordinary group of followers good.
Islam uses the Founder Effect to imprison itself. It dictates that there is just one prophet, and his name is Mohammed. There is just one pattern of personality that all must follow, Mohammed’s pattern. In the West, we allow ourselves many founders, many role models. The most vividly remembered prophet in our pantheon of founding figures was not a warrior and a political leader like Mohammed. He was a man who believed profoundly in ministering to the poor, in turning the other cheek, and in rendering to Caesar what was Caesar’s — in separation of church, faith and state. Above all else, he believed in compassion. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy,” he said. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” The most savage things he ever did were to send a herd of pigs over a cliff and to curse a fig tree.
That founder was Jesus. His example stood behind the activists who kicked off the anti-slavery movement in the 18th century, the anti-war movement in the mid-19th century, the anti-Imperialist movement in the late 19th century, and the human rights movement that began with these shocking words in 1776: “All men are created equal.” Paul Kengor, a political scientist and historian of the role of religion in the White House, claims that Jesus was a vivid figure in the imaginations of all 43 American presidents from George Washington to George W. Bush. Jesus was also alive in the mind of Barack Obama. He was alive in these presidents’ guiding ideas and he was alive in their worldviews, in their weave of memes. No matter what crimes these men may have committed against humanity, Jesus was somewhere in their minds saying, “No.”
The truth is that only one civilization has made its protesters a permanent fixture, a full-fledged industry. Just one civilization has made the protest industry a multigenerational institution. That civilization is the civilization of the West. Islam has never developed an equivalent to the West’s protest, free-speech, peace and human rights movements. And the supreme irony is that, once the West got a conscience, it used its troops to protect Arabs and Islam. In World War I, Lawrence of Arabia helped create the modern sense of Arab identity and solidarity. He united the bickering Arab tribes of the Hijaz, the stretch of sand, stone, and mountains in which Mohammed lived, so they could fight another group of Muslims who held them in an iron grip—the inheritors of the Ottoman Empire, the folks we call “the Turks.”
In 1992, the West mobilized its armies to defend European Muslims who were attacking and were under attack from genocidal neighbors. Bosnia’s future Muslim president, Alija Izetbegović, had published a manifesto in 1970, declaring, “There can be neither peace nor coexistence between the Islamic faith and non-Islamic social and political institutions…the Islamic movement must and can take over political power as soon as it is morally and numerically so strong that it cannot only destroy the existing non-Islamic power, but also to build up a new Islamic one.” The Serbians living in Bosnia accurately sensed that this was a declaration of war, of jihad. We ignored Izetbegović’s writings and supported him. Yes, we supported a Muslim community led by a man with extremist tendencies.
Grégoire Canlorbe: You’ve mentioned that most Muslims, in their publicly stated positions, prove loyal to Mohammed and his legacy. It also seems that a vast number of Muslims publicly condemn the barbaric acts perpetrated on behalf of Islam, while blaming the world’s problems on an American-Zionist conspiracy. How do you explain this phenomenon?
Howard Bloom: When World War II was at its peak, the American Jewish Committee commissioned a psychological research project to determine the causes of the fascist horrors. Under this program, a team of behavioral scientists at the University of California at Berkeley developed a test to probe for the kind of tendencies that may have helped a Hitler or Mussolini gain power. That test, called the F (for fascism) scale, became one of the most widely used research tools in the history of modern psychology. Literally thousands of studies revealed a profile of what the researchers called the “authoritarian personality.” Generally, this was an individual raised in a strict home where the father was the clear holder of power. The parents had shown a stern disapproval of hostile outbursts on the part of their children. They had also rigidly prohibited the acknowledgement of any form of sexuality.
Yet hostility and sexuality are both unavoidable aspects of human life. Through a technique that Freudians call projection, the authoritarian personalities excluded their own aggression and sexuality from their consciousness. Aggression and sexuality, they were convinced, boiled up only in the minds of some enemy. And here is the real trick: The authoritarians thought frequently of that enemy and his loathsome preoccupation with lechery and hate. They could actually feel the smarmy sexual sensations and livid hostility that coursed through their enemies’ veins. They could sense this so vividly because they had projected their own set of forbidden emotions onto a faceless opponent like a ventriloquist projecting his voice into the mouth of a dummy. By seeing their unacceptable impulses in some unsuspecting outsider, they managed to dwell on those impulses and deny them at the same time. Does this explain why the terrorists who killed 130 in Paris in November 2015 called the city they were assaulting the “capital of prostitution and obscenity?”
Projection is a social glue. It helps unite superorganisms, including the Islamic superorganism. In the minds of many Muslims, only believers in Islam are true champions of peace and justice. They view westerners — Americans in particular — as the ultimate destructive force, the civilization that indulged in two world wars and capped that carnage with the creation of the atomic bomb. To most Muslims, we are the people whose hands are perpetually stained with blood. The same projection mechanism helps to explain the special role Jews have played in Islamic history. Islam’s anti-Semitism did not begin with the founding of modern Israel in 1948. It started with Mohammed. And since Mohammed Muslims have projected on Jews their own lust for blood and their own intolerant and cruel manners. There is more. Every gang has its leader, its bully, its joker and its nerd.
The same is true in the pecking order of societies. Every pecking order needs its scapegoats, its victims, its easy targets. It needs its nerds because they are vital to social solidarity, to keeping the gang from tearing itself apart when it runs into tough sledding. And they’re vital to something equally important, to the group’s confidence. Jews have been Islam’s nerds, its easy targets and one of its key sources of bonding, cohesion and social glue for 1,400 years. They’ve been the cornerstone of one of Islam’s most potent military strategies: using atrocities against Jews to attract allies and, more important, to terrify bigger, non-Jewish targets into surrendering without a fight.
In 629 AD, Mohammed and his warriors attacked and defeated the Jews of three tribes: the Banu Qaynuqa, the Banu Nadir and the Banu Quraiza. Then Mohammed inflicted war crimes on these three Jewish tribes. For two tribes, he commanded ethnic expulsion. In addition, he stole these tribes’ wealth and property. In the case of the Banu Quraiza, he committed genocide. He had every male of the tribe old enough to have pubic hair beheaded in front of him in the market place of his headquarters in Medina. Then he distributed the women of the Banu Quraiza as sex slaves, being careful to take the most beautiful and highest ranking as a bride for himself.
Thanks to their lucrative victories over these Jews, the Muslims were wealthy enough to grow ambitious and to make their superorganism and the memes that drove it voracious. As one of Mohammed’s Islamic biographers puts it, after the “destruction of the [Jewish] Banu Qurayzah… All Arab tribes admired Muslim power, dominion, and the new prestige of Muhammad as sovereign of Madinah.” Haykal explains that after the beheading of the men of the Banu Quraiza, Mohammed was at a turning point. Islam’s next challenge was to fight its way up the pecking order of nations. “The Islamic message,” Haykal says, “was not meant for Madinah alone, but for the whole of mankind. The Prophet and his companions still faced the task of preparing for the greater task ahead, namely bringing the word of God to the wide world….”
Thanks to his easy wins over the Jews, Mohammed had more than treasures and sex slaves; he also had the confidence to make his first move toward establishing a continent-swallowing mega-empire. Mohammed sent letters to half a dozen of the major world leaders of his day. The list of these you-have-won-the-lottery recipients included six superpower sovereigns — the Persian Emperor Chosroes II, the Eastern Roman emperor Hercules (Heracles), the Negus of Abyssinia, the governor of Egypt, the governor of Syria and the ruler of Bahrain. By sending his letter to a head of state like the Byzantine Emperor Hercules, Mohammed demonstrated an audacity that Haykal calls “amazing.” When Hercules was puzzled and asked where Mohammed’s letter had come from, he was told that it was from a people too backward for Hercules to bother his head about: “from the Arabs, people of sheep and camels.” It had come from insignificant barbarians. But never underrate barbarians.
In 634 AD, a mere two years after the Prophet died, the armies of Islam conquered Iraq. In 637 AD, five years after Mohammed’s death, the Muslim forces toppled the emperor of Persia, sacked the Persian capital, Ctesiphon (the home base of Nestorian Christianity), and took over the massive Persian Empire. That same year, the desert Arabs of Islam snatched the city most holy to Jews and Christians, Jerusalem. In 640 AD, the Muslims conquered Syria outright and began their penetration of the Sudan in Africa. In 642 AD, a mere 10 years after Mohammed’s death, the Muslim armies conquered Egypt, began to take Afghanistan, and started sending delegations to China, winning Chinese converts, and building China’s first mosque. In 674 AD, Islam established a colony in a place so far away that no previous Middle Eastern or European conqueror had even tried to add it to his package of real-estate — the Pacific Rim island of Sumatra — 5,000 miles east of Mecca.
This totally-against-the-odds conquest of an immense territory was just the beginning.
From 642 to 705 AD, Islam grabbed the entire Mediterranean coast of Africa — Libya, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. In Africa, the wives of indigenous kings killed themselves so that they wouldn’t become sex toys –slave girls — in the hands of the Muslim invaders. One of these queens, the Western African Sudanese ruler Dahia-Al Kahina, a Jew, either committed suicide or died in battle, depending on which account you read, in 705 AD after leading her troops against the Arabs and driving the growing hordes of Allah north to Tripolitania.
From 711 to 714 AD, the Islamic governor of Iraq, al-Hajjaj bin Yousef, a man who called himself “The Bone Crusher,” went on a campaign to expand the empire of Islam even further. He ordered his generals to conquer a breathtaking swath of territory — Central Asia’s Turkestan (including today’s Chinese province of Xinjiang), swatches of India, all of Spain, and to tighten control of North Africa. The armies sent by “The Bone Crusher” into Europe were led by an ally newly won over to Islam, a newly converted Berber slave, Tarik ibn Ziyad. Ziyad’s troops crossed the Straits of Gibraltar, toppled the Christian king of Spain — the Visigoth Roderick — seized his entire kingdom, then advanced into Southern France.
In the long run, the forces of Islam conquered or seduced the biggest empire in world history, an empire 11 times the size of the conquests of Alexander the Great, five times the size of the Roman Empire, and seven times the size of the United States. Islam continues to hold most of these lands in its grip today. That’s a ravenous superorganism climbing the hierarchy of nations and going for the top. That’s the Founder Effect. That’s the legacy of a leader who commanded 65 military campaigns, led 27 of them, idealized killing unbelievers, and preached the violent takeover of the entire earth.
In the face of this kind of juggernaut, it is vital that societies which cherish tolerance, pluralism and human rights not mistakenly imagine all other societies to be equal. It is imperative that we not allow our position in the pecking order of nations to slip — that we not cave in to the onrush of barbarians.
That is why a “monster” like Donald Trump sometimes understands the Islamic threat far better than a good-hearted, brilliant man like Bernie Sanders. It is not easy for me to admit this. I am a left-wing Jew and a long-time Democrat. Trump is, to me, a delusional and narcissistic president not worthy of leadership. Yet we have to pray that he proves able to make the positive change that he promised in foreign policy — to destroy ISIS and to rein in the Muslim Brotherhood. And we have to hope that he’s capable of something he did not promise: to defeat militant Islam and to champion a reformed and secularized Islam.
In speaking about the dangers I believe that Islam poses to Western Civilization I am taking a chance on doing the very thing I warn against — using an enemy in order to bring together those of us who believe in the Western civilization. I am in danger of demonizing Islam’s warriors and using their menace to rally those who believe in freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of trade, entrepreneurship, capitalism, gender equality and the rule of law. I’m calling forth the very superorganismic instincts whose workings I have labored so hard to reveal. But I believe with my very cells and marrow that if we do not rally on behalf of the survival of our civilization, our Western rights and freedoms could easily disappear.
Grégoire Canlorbe: You famously dissected the universal principles of collective intelligence, or “group IQ,” as expressed in your 2001 book, Global Brain. In this theoretical framework, how do you sum up the strengths and weaknesses of Islam’s group IQ?
Howard Bloom: Society is not only a superorganism that uses people shamelessly; it’s a supercomputer that wires you and me together as information processors. It’s a learning machine that turns us into nodes, modules, neurons in a group brain. A complex adaptive system, a collective intelligence, a social learning machine, operates on five principles that Dr. Don Beck, the author of Spiral Dynamics, calls the “Bloom Pentad”: conformity enforcers, diversity generators, inner-judges, resource shifters and intergroup tournaments.
Conformity enforcers stamp enough cookie-cutter similarities into the members of a group to give it an identity, to unify it when it is pelted by adversity, to make sure its members speak a common language, and to pull the crowd together in efforts sometimes so vast that no single contributor can see the larger scheme in its entirety. On the other hand, diversity generators spawn variety. They give the superorganism options, alternative ways of dealing with its problems. They also give the superorganism its butchers, bakers, candlestick makers and kings — the differentiated components of a superorganism: the feet, legs, hands, shoulders and head a superorganism needs if it is to succeed.
Inner-judges are biological built-ins that continually take our measure, rewarding us when our contribution seems to be of value and punishing us when our guesswork proves unwelcome or way off the mark.
Resource shifters range from social systems to mass emotions, but all have one thing in common — they shunt riches, admiration and influence to learning-machine members who cruise through challenges and give folks what they want. Resource shifters cast individuals who can’t get a handle on what is going on into some equivalent of pennilessness and unpopularity. Jesus captured the resource shifters’ algorithm — its working rule — when he said, “To he who hath it shall be given; from he who hath not, even what he hath shall be taken away.”
The superorganism’s collective intelligence is not always brilliant. But nature has a way to make sure the group IQ is as smart as can be. That method is testing through competitions between superorganisms and between the groups inside a society, between movements and sub-cultures.
This is where intergroup tournaments come in. Intergroup tournaments are gang wars ranging from the Lilliputian to the gargantuan, from friendly baseball games and corporate competition to terrorist raids, world wars and nuclear confrontation. Those face-offs force each collective intelligence, each group brain, to churn out innovations for the fun of winning or for sheer survival’s sake. The standoff between superorganisms, whether the peaceful rivalry of commerce or the violent confrontation of war, has as its end product pecking orders.
Although diversity generators are essential, taking them too far can destroy a civil culture. For example, the form of diversity generation we call multiculturalism may be demonizing our very civilization. That’s healthy in moderation. But any good thing in excess is a poison. Life, as Claude Lévi-Strauss knew so well, is a matter of avoiding the extremes. “In each civilization there are optimums of openness and closure, between isolation and communication, which correspond to the most fertile periods in their history,” he said in 1988.
Similarly, conformity enforcers are necessities, but they can become mass-mind throttlers when they grab hold totally. As history shows, an overdose of conformity enforcement can paralyze a mass mind and put the superorganism it controls out of business. Thanks to the pecking order and to intergroup tournaments, other groups will eat the socks of the conformity-bound social beast, driving it to the bottom of the pecking order, beating it in peaceful competition, whomping it in war, and swallowing the remains of the defeated superorganism whole. Not only does this make sense, but it’s supported by the work of authoritative complex adaptive systems researchers like the Santa Fe Institute’s Stuart Kauffman, who calls conformity-enforced paralysis the “Stalinist regime.”
We all know what happened to the Leninist-Stalinist system Russia adopted in 1917 and refined under Stalin in 1934. In 1989, after 62 years of the Leninist-Stalinist experiment, the USSR and its symbol, the Berlin Wall, fell. Russia and its former satellites decided to try a different approach — a free-market system with a semblance of democracy. The system with an overdose of conformity-enforcement collapsed.
Islamic civilization, therefore, poses a puzzle, as Islam has proven that a Stalinist regime is not always a failure. It has demonstrated that an overdose of conformity enforcement is not always poisonous.
In fact, it seems that ruthless conformity is a winning strategy when a new meme produces a military culture, an imperialistic culture, what anthropologist Raymond Kelly calls “an expansionist” culture, a culture that specializes in conquest. Military victory requires heavy-duty conformity enforcement. It requires discipline, obedience and daily practice at working in sync with your fellow fighters. When men make choreographed muscular movements together over and over again, it gives them an enduring bond. It pulls them together tightly as components in a cohesive social group, cells in a superorganism. The historian William McNeill calls this social glue “muscular bonding.”
Islam’s five group prayers a day are one of the Five Pillars of Islam. They are also among Mohammed’s cleverest meme-hooks, his most innovative conformity enforcers. Five times a day, thirty-five times a week, 1,825 times a year, men are required to gather in ranks, like those of warriors, to show their absolute submission to Mohammed’s revelations. “Submission,” is one of the key meanings of the word “Islam.” Muslims in prayer are not just a disciplined unit isolated in a single mosque. They are following a central timetable whose orders circle the planet. Today that central timetable is available on your smartphone as an app.
Grégoire Canlorbe: When it comes to the contemporary pecking order, that of the globalized era, which group will come out on top? Who will win the competition between the Islamic world, the United States, Russia and China? Which superorganism will be most blessed by the rules of the learning machine?
Howard Bloom: A radically new human environment has appeared in the 21st century, radically transformed by computers, networking, upgrades in freight transportation and by mega-markets. Six pecking-order players are trying to grab the top spot in this digitally-and-demographically upscale land of risk and opportunity: Europe, the United States, Islam, Russia, India and China.
The West coheres around a set of values that it sees as necessary imperatives for all of the humans on this globe. These include democracy, freedom of speech, gender equality, multicultural tolerance and what we call “human rights.” We Westerners have attempted to spread these values through the International Court of Justice, through UN Peacekeepers and through NGOs out to heal the wounds of an injured world.
These organizations use smartphones, iPads, wireless connectivity and laptops to weave formerly isolated peoples into a seven-continent struggle for social justice and eco-consciousness. Even our conservatives are trying to spread their free-market philosophy globally via organizations like the Economic Freedom Network and the Ayn Rand Institute. Then there is Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, Pentecostalism, Anglicanism and Evangelical Christianity, five other carriers of Western values. All are spreading explosively in lands as far apart as South America, Africa and Asia, including Russia and China.
Meanwhile, we are witnessing the emergence of a new struggle between superorganisms more massive than any social structures the human species has ever seen. The populations of Islam, China and India are each bigger than the entire human population on this planet in 1850, the peak year of the Industrial Revolution.
When there are shakeups in a barnyard pecking order, that’s when upstarts can step in and take over. When every chicken knows her place in the pecking order and puts up with her rank, no matter how lowly, there is farm-yard peace. But when a new chicken is tossed into the barnyard and pecking-order positions are up for grabs, all hell breaks loose. The same thing happens when the geopolitical environment changes. Power vacuums open. Pecking order positions are up for grabs. Islam’s response to the shift from superpowers to megapowers has been what we call “terrorism.” That word radically underrates Islamic militants’ true aim — a thrust for a revival of the pecking order supremacy that Islam held from roughly 637 AD to 1827.
Then there is what China has been up to in the Western Hemisphere, quietly moving to spread its influence in a way that defies its old rules of empire. Those ancient ways of doing things involved expanding by conquering the nations conveniently located on the Chinese borders. When it came to distant foreigners, the Chinese emperors didn’t leave their palaces. They required the pitiful barbarians to send emissaries who arrived in the Chinese court bowing, scraping and bearing gifts. But in 2001, Chinese President Jiang Zemin did something utterly unprecedented and utterly un-Chinese: He left Beijing and went on an international tour, visiting six Latin American nations, signing cooperation agreements and calling on China and Latin America to work toward building what he called a “new international order,” designed “as a counterbalance to what it [China] views as overwhelming American hegemony.”
Three years later, in November 2004, Chinese President Hu Jintao followed up Jian Zemin’s performance by flying to Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Cuba, where he signed a total of 39 strategic partnership and bilateral cooperation agreements — in the Western Hemisphere, the hemisphere that America had declared strictly its own in the Monroe Doctrine.
Then China got even more cheeky. It convinced the European Union to enter a strategic partnership that would include “cooperation in banking and international finance, energy and raw materials, anti-terror and nuclear nonproliferation, [and] technology transfer.” By 2016, the EU website on the Strategic Partnership explained that “the 1985 EU-China trade and cooperation agreement, has grown to include foreign affairs, security matters and international challenges such as climate change and global economy governance.” The website explained that “The EU is… China’s biggest trading partner.” And the Strategic Partnership issued an EU-China 2020 Strategic Agenda for Cooperation.
China thus appeared to be quietly positioning itself for the day when Islam and the United States would bleed each other into exhaustion, allowing the growing Chinese mega-power to step in and become the new hegemon, the new alpha superorganism in the global pecking order, the master of the “New International Order” that Jiang Zemin spoke of, the keeper of a new planetary peace.
China’s economy is growing faster than any in the history of mankind, and the rules of the learning machine often favor economic leaders. “He who gets, gets more,” say social learning machine rules. This promises to put China at the head of the flock. Meanwhile, the economies of most of the world’s 57 Islamic nations are doing very poorly, especially those in the Middle East.
However, Islam has two advantages in the global shoving-match for top position. Advantage number one: Islam’s emphasis on the word “one”: one God, one prophet, and, most important, one government, one law code and one unified military system. Yes, one government, one global government. That global government is the longed-for caliphate. And it comes along at a time when even some Westerners long for a one-world government. The caliphate is not just a Muslim fantasy. It existed for 1,292 years, moving from Damascus to Baghdad to Egypt to Spain, and, finally, to Istanbul, the captured Christian city of Constantinople.
The caliphs lived in opulence. They had enormous harems and the last word on the life or death of every citizen – or “slave” — of their empire. But their empire was so immense that they were seldom able to govern all of it. They also could not stop the Muslim world’s internal battles between leaders, tribes, sects, dynasties and clans for pecking-order supremacy. Today, however, with modern technology, Islam’s dream of ruling the world from one central city may finally be achievable.
Islam is the only superorganism with a meme team — a worldview and a “total system of life” — built for global rule by its founder. Islam’s second advantage is the eagerness of its militants to solve political disputes with violence. Violence is a potent force multiplier, especially in a world peppered with democratic societies. The chant among young Muslim jihadists is, “We love death more than you love life.” Why? Because those who die killing unbelievers have an express ticket to fame, sex and paradise. The result: suicide bombers.
What’s more, a hungry Muslim superorganism may well use nuclear tools to expand and achieve “victory” over what Osama bin Laden called “the worst civilization witnessed by the history of mankind” — our civilization. Nor would jihadis be deterred by the fact that any nuclear attack on America could bring a retaliatory attack that could erase cities like Tehran or Karachi from the map. Death-by-nuke would do the citizens of Tehran and Karachi a favor. It would give every believing Muslim in those places an express trip to paradise.
A 21st century jihadist, Seif Al-Din Al-Ansari, writing in al-Qaeda’s now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t online magazine, Al-Ansar, declared in 2002:
“The elements of the collapse of Western civilization are proliferating… In spite of all the characteristics of power at their command, these infidel states are no more than a handful of creatures on the speck of dust called Planet Earth… Allah told us of the certainty of the annihilation of the infidels… by means of the Muslim group, which would, in accordance with the Islamic commandment… torture them… The question now on the agenda is, how is the torture Allah wants done at our hands to be carried out?”
The answer to that question may be easy now that Allah has given Islam’s warriors what the Qur’an calls “the fire whose fuel is men and stones” — the fire of nuclear weaponry.
Remember, thanks to globalization, we are undergoing an unprecedented evolutionary quantum leap. The gluttony of superorganisms is shifting to meme-driven ambitions aimed at domination of the planet. If the battle of the global mega-organisms turns to the sort of no-holds-barred mass murder of early Islam’s conquests or to the bloodshed of the Western world’s massively industrialized killing in WWI and WWII, the consequences will be catastrophic.
In an age when nuclear weapons have gone retail, Islam’s global jihad and America’s counter-jihad could destroy humanity.
Grégoire Canlorbe, a journalist, currently lives in Paris. He has conducted interviews for journals such as Man and the Economy, founded by Nobel Prize-winning economist Ronald Coase, and think tanks such as Mises Institute and Gatestone Institute. Contact: email@example.com