Re: virus: Why swim upstream? (was: Re: Not Homophobic)

Sun, 13 Jun 1999 12:05:44 -0700

Eric Boyd wrote:

> "I am a social ape: I must enter into symbolic fighting for peergroup
> status"
> Or even more concise:
> "I am a social ape; I fight for peergroup status"
> Or perhaps:
> "As a social ape, I jocky for a high position on the social hierarchy"
> The permutations are endless...

I get the impression that you (Tim, Dave, and Eric) have resigned yourselves to the fact that you must act out your genetic programming. Why do you think that is the case? Instead of saying "I am a social ape hardwired to struggle for status within my social hierarchy," why not say, "I recognize that my evolutionary psychology has equipped me with certain drives and needs that demand satisfaction. I also realize that unconscious pursuit of my genetic programming is frequently contrary to my happiness and not likely to promote the goals I value consciously. When interacting with others, on the Virus list and in other contexts, I resolve to monitor my communication and ask myself questions like, "What effect will this message have on the recipient's state of mind?" "How do I expect my communication to affect the way in which the other members of this community perceive and regard me?" "How do I want them to see me?" "Am I forgoing a deeper, more useful understanding of someone's post in order to hit them with a clever retort?" "If so, how will that serve the ends that I value consciously?" "

The permutations are endless.



Eric, in answer to your question about Bloom's formulation of the Lucifer Principle, it runs for 3 pages (323-326). Here it is:

Over 200 billion red blood cells a day die in the interest of keeping you alive. Do you anguish over their demise? Like those red corpuscles, you and I are cells in a social superorganism whose maintenance and growth sometimes requires our pain or elimination, suppresses our individuality, and restricts our freedom. Why, then, is it of any value to us?

Because the superorganism nourishes every cell within it, allowing a robustness none of its individual components could achieve on its own. Take, for example, the Mediterranean superbeast known as the Roman Empire. Rome was an evil creature with a despicable lust for cruelty. Julius Caesar, according to Plutarch, "took by storm more than 800 cities, subdued 300 nations and fought pitched battles at various times with three million men, of whom he destroyed one million in the actual fighting and took another million prisoners." Caesar did not carry out these deeds with kindliness. When he leveled enemy cities, he occasionally killed off every man, woman and child just to teach would-be resisters a lesson.

The governors sent to rule the Roman provinces periodically lost their tolerance for nonconformists and punished them brutally. They crucified a backcountry preacher of peace and humility named Jesus, because his views differed from the standard-issue dogmas approved by imperial authority. But the former carpenter was only one of thousands who twisted for hours, hanging by nails from a crude wooden beam.

Even the affluent folks back in the home city of Rome were hungry for the sight of blood. Their favorite recreation was an afternoon at the Coliseum watching desperate captives disembowel each other in the arena. Roman sports fans took bets on which contestant would manage to live until nightfall.

Rome stamped out or swallowed entire rival civilizations. She even reduced the land she most revered--Greece--to a sleepy, sycophantic occupied territory. Rome, in short, was a vicious society, one whose habits could make anyone with the slightest scrap of moral sensitivity physically ill.

Yet Rome's rise was part of the world's inexorable march to higher levels of form. By force--sometimes sadistic force--she brought an unprecedented mass of squabbling city-states and tribes together. In the process, she allowed an exchange of ideas and good that radically quickened the pace of progress.

What's more, during the three hundred years between Augustus and the imposition of Christianity under Constantine, she made an additional contribution. She introduced pluralism, an easygoing attitude that allowed wildly diverse cultures to live peacefully side by side.

Just how much the empire had contributed to her sometimes-opressed citizens could be seen when Rome fell. A set of heroes impelled by ideals of ethnic conquest led their rebel bands against the colonialist power. The mavericks toppled the hegemonic tyrants forever and turned the city of Rome into a ruin.

In the process, they brought despair to Europe. During the next two hundred years, half of the Continent's population would die. Plague ran rampant. Multitudes starved to death, denied the food that had once been transported on Roman ships and roads. Without a stable organizing force, the paved highways on which provisions had traveled sank into disrepair. On land, bandits and warrior chiefs ended the lives of any who might contemplate a trip along the old paths to carry desperately needed supplies. At sea, pirates destroyed the former Mediterranean lanes of trade. The grain that had once sailed from Egypt in fleets of bulging transport hulls no longer came across with the tides. In the Gallic town of Barbagel, the complex of Roman-run mills that had turned the imported wheat into flour for eighty thousand consumers fell into disrepair. And the Gallic citizens who had been freed of the Roman yoke perished by the millions.

Those who survived learned to live as prisoners in self-contained fortress communities, cut off from the ideas and the delicacies that had once made life sweet. The barbarian "freedom fighters" had loosed the chains, not of life, but of death. For Rome had been an oppressor, but Rome had also been the source of nourishment and peace. In her absence came pestilence and war.

The superorganism is often a vile and loathsome beast. But like the body nourishing her constituent cells, the social beast grants us life. Without her, each of us would perish. That knowledge is woven into our biology. it is the reason that the rigidly individualistic Clint Eastwood does not exist. The internal self-destruct devices with which we come equipped at birth ensure that we will live as components of a larger organism, or we simply will not live at all.

Behind these superorganismic imperatives is nature's latest wrinkle in the research and development racket. Despite the claims of individual selectionists, human evolution is propelled not only by competition between single souls but by the forms of their cooperation. It is driven by the games that superorganisms play.

All this lies behind the mystery with which we began--the pattern of violence in Mao's Cultural Revolution. When China lapsed into chaos during the cultural upheaval of the sixties, society did not fragment into 700 million individuals, each fighting for his right to survive. The social fabric ripped, then reknit in a strange new way. Individuals clustered in collaborative clumps. Stitching each gang together was a force with no physical substance--the idea, the meme. In their battles, the Red Guard wolfpacks obeyed a basic commandment of the animal brain--the law of the pecking order. And they drew their energy from emotions that remain repressed in everyday life--the hatreds, frustrations, and hidden cruelty of students who just a month or two before had seemed models of polite obedience.

Behind the writhing of evil is a competition between organizational devices, each trying to harness the universe to its own peculiar pattern, each attempting to hoist the cosmos one step higher on a ladder of increasing complexity. First, there is the molecular replicator, the gene; then, there is its successor, the meme; and working hand in hand with each is the social beast.

Hegel said the ultimate tragedy is not the struggle of an easily recognized good against a clearly loathsome evil. Tragedy, he said, is the battle between two forces, both of which are good, a battle in which only one can win. Nature has woven that struggle into the superorganism.

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.