The Lucifer Principle

(Conversation between Lucifer, Howard Bloom and a certain GJ – statements in italics are quotes from Bloom)

LUC: Howard, you are a merciless exposer of human weaknesses and criticize intellectuals like Erich Fromm who, you say, assign false greatness to man. Eric Fromm, the psychoanalytic guru of the sixties, turned the idea that the individual can control his own universe into a rabidly popular notion. Fromm told us that needing other people is a character flaw, a mark of immaturity. Possessiveness in a romantic relationship is an illness. Jealousy is a character defect of the highest magnitude. A mature individual is one who can drift through this world in the self-contained manner of an interstellar transport manufacturing its own oxygen and food. As a consequence, he had no need for the admiration and reassurance that only the weak long for.

GJ: Your criticism of Fromm does, of course, raise the question of why Fromm’s writings have been translated into most of the world’s languages and are admired by millions of people, while your book, The Lucifer Principle, is either completely unknown to most of them or only touched with tweezers by those who know it?

LUC: As my name implies, I am a light-bringer who blinds the eyes of the simple-minded. Seeing me many blink in sheer horror. Even the old good Lord loves illusions. That is why HE could not tolerate Eve tasting from a certain apple. Your professors are outraged for yet another reason. They loathe any outsider who intrudes into their enclosure. Howard is a genius of the PR industry spoiled by runaway success. He represented rock stars such as Michael Jackson, John Cougar Mellencamp and many other luminaries of the music world. When such an outsider claims to know more about man and nature than they, the state-certified specialists, they turn up their noses in indignation.

GJ: But that wouldn’t stop the large audience from eagerly picking up Mr. Bloom’s theses. Apparently, people don’t want to know anything about enlighteners who mercilessly dismantle their most cherished ideals. In contrast, they love men like Erich Fromm because they arouse their enthusiasm. What is the use of someone showing us our helplessness and our weakness? Mr. Bloom is in the tradition of Thomas Hobbes who was admired for his sharp mind, but no one loved him for that excellence.

HB: My point is not to diminish the human being. Or are neurologists belittling man when they prove that our genes determine our behavior as much as that of any other biological species? My point is to strengthen what is most precious in man: his self-knowledge. If, in the process, I succeed in shattering some of your cherished illusions, then accept that please as an intended side effect, for those who have illusions distort reality. Ideas can trigger the loftiest idealism and the basest cruelty. My book shows how the competition between groups can explain the mystery of our self-destructive emotions depression, anxiety, and hopelessness – as well as our ferocious addiction to mythology, scientific theory, ideology, and religion, and our one even more disturbing addiction – to hatred. The greatest human evils are not those that individuals perform in private, the tiny transgressions against some arbitrary social standard we call sins. The ultimate evils are the mass murders that occur in revolution and war, the large-scale savageries that arise when one agglomeration of humans tries to dominate another: the deeds of the social group.

LUC: Howard makes you appreciate how much you depend on me. In the creation of the world, I carefully consulted with the Ancient One when I planted evil in your souls.

HB: Evil is a by-product, a component, of creation. We have failed to see that our finest qualities often lead us to the actions we most abhor – murder, torture, genocide, and war. We need to stare directly into Nature’s bloody face and realize that she has saddled us with evil for a reason. And we must understand that reason to outwit her. By the way, evil is by no means just a male thing. Peru’s Shining Path guerrilla assassination squads were headed almost entirely by women.

GJ: Mr. Bloom, what is so new about exposing evil? The church has spoken of “original sin”, all religions deal with evil and how man should overcome it. And what is more, modern science has found a value-free way of looking at things long before you did. Science shows that animals grow paws and claws and the human grows intelligence – and they do so for the same purpose. All individuals are faced with the imperative of survival, which is won by those who prove superior to their competitors.

HB: Religions have projected evil to a place far from man, mostly to hell; the sciences have done a great service to knowledge by illuminating the mechanisms of natural selection. They show that evolution invented larger claws and higher intelligence not just for play but as weapons that give advantages to the individuals equipped with them. Evil, too, is in the service of natural selection.

GJ: Erich Fromm called for a competition-free society in which everyone develops his inborn capacities, but does so without realizing his personal growth at the expense of others. What is wrong with this ideal? The great psychoanalyst described a society which every well-meaning person must see as a desirable ideal.

LUC: But a foolish ideal, because it blinds you to what reality is really like.

HB: In fact, even in the animal kingdom equality without competition cannot be found. Strict pecking orders exist with chickens as well as with chimpanzees and gorillas. Nature intended it that way. She wanted the strongest, most assertive and most intelligent individuals to pass their genetic makeup to their offspring. All others should and must be subordinate. These facts have been known to science at least since Darwin. But today’s science has made a serious mistake by relating natural selection exclusively to individuals. I agree with Thomas Hobbes when showing that the pecking order opposes groups, nations, and superpowers to an even greater degree. As long as there have been human groups, they behaved just like all other primate hordes: They fight each other. This too is natural selection, of which Darwin was well aware, by the way. /He/ saw competition taking place at several levels, including that which occurs between individuals and that which occurs between groups. When discussing ants, he acknowledged that evolution could easily induce individuals to sacrifice their self-interest to that of the larger social unit. In his later writings, he proposed that a similar process occurs among human beings. 

GJ: Please, how can it be a purpose of evolution that states merciless fight each other, torture their opponents to death, or exterminate entire peoples? Such a terrible picture of nature was up to now only envisaged by Arthur Schopenhauer, for whom the will – today we would say: evolution – was the principle of pure and meaningless evil.

LUC: Schopenhauer was a realist. He never doubted my existence. On the other hand, he erred as only a German philosopher can err. Pure evil is by no means without meaning – by God, no one should be allowed to disparage me in this manner. Nature does pursue a definite purpose. She not only wants the strongest, most assertive and most intelligent individuals to emerge victorious but also the strongest groups and nations. And within the latter, it increases the will of individual members to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of the group.

GJ: Don’t you see the stark contradiction to the instinct of self-preservation as postulated by modern science? Individuals whose highest purpose is their own self-preservation will not voluntarily sacrifice themselves for others.

HB: It is just not true that self-preservation is the only instinct, also its opposite, the death instinct, is an inborn drive. Back in 1897, the seminal French sociologist Emile Durkheim compiled a set of statistics that demonstrated the rise of self-inflicted deaths after the market crashes of 1873 and 1882, and coined the term “altruistic suicide.” Durkheim seemed to sense that beneath the surface, the suicide was destroying himself to rid the wider social group of a burden. Sociologist and ethnologist Marcel Mauss, a relative and follower of Durkheim, was even more specific. He noted an occasional “violent negation of the instinct for self-preservation by the social instinct.” The fact is, if individual selection’s survival instinct is our ruling force, then self-destruct mechanisms should not exist… But animals of all kinds are born with a virtual arsenal of built-in poison pills. 

For nature single individuals just do not constitute values as such but are mere figures in the big chess game of collectives that assert themselves against each other. The individual figure gets sacrificed if this is a benefit for the group. E. O. Wilson, in his keystone book “Sociobiology”, cites numerous examples of behavior in which individuals sacrifice themselves for the good of the larger whole. But current theory continues to explain these away.

GJ: We have not forgiven Konrad Lorenz for consistently comparing us to ducks, geese and other creatures. Supposedly realistic realists like the Austrian ethologist simply overlooked the fact that it is the privilege of man to overcome himself and nature. Our human greatness is based on the fact that each of us is more than his past.

HB: Quite nice, but did we succeed in overcoming ourselves and our past? Not at all. Human groups, nations and superpowers still fight for precedence with strength and intelligence just like our animal ancestors, e.g. the rats. /Their cordial contact/ only extends to family. Rats will mercilessly hunt down members of a rival clan. And if a nonrelative accidentally stumbles into their nest, the homey little creatures who a moment before were hugging one another will turn on the guest with the foreign genes and tear him limb from limb. /The great American ethnologist/ Margaret Mead says every human group makes a simple rule: thou shalt not kill members of our gang, but everyone else is fair game. According to Mead, each group says that all humans are brothers and declares that murdering humans is out of the question. Most groups, however, have very strange means of defining who is human /rather than barbarian, outsider, heathen, capitalist, communist, etc./.

Luc: But undoubtedly you have risen far above your animal ancestors in two remarkable ways. First, because we have turned the claws, paws and fangs of our distant ancestors into tenfold supersonic intercontinental missiles with nuclear heads. And these apocalyptic paws have fallen into the hands even of mid-sized states like Iran or dwarf states like North Korea and Israel.

HB: Four of the seven nations that lead in building the bomb — Iran, Libya, North Korea, and Algeria — see America as their major enemy. And, second, that is by no means all. In addition to physical weapons, we are also making use of mental weapons that are at least as effective.

GJ: An appalling doctrine. What about these spiritual weapons?

HB: They are our ideas, which I call “memes” borrowing this term from Richard Dawkins. Every religion is a web of ideas that binds people together, often so tightly and instantaneously, that it chains them together into a single superorganism that – driven by a common will – may hence completely change and reshape reality. Humans grab at ideas because ideas knit them together in groups of people who agree with them. They provide the comfort of companionship and mutual aid. That’s one way memes seduce humans into their power. Behind this seduction, however, we glimpse another reality. An ideology is usually a high-minded mask for a group’s itch to take power and resources from other social groups.

LUC: No religion has accomplished this effect as visibly as Islam. It has preached mercy towards one’s own group and persecution towards all others. /Islam/ imposes a host of admirable responsibilities on its adherents: for example, zakat, the presentation of regular, substantial contributions to the poor. Allah also demands that his followers “give glad tidings to those who believe and work righteousness,” “cover not Truth with falsehood nor conceal the Truth when ye know [what it is],” and “treat with kindness your parents and kindred and orphans and those in need.”

The approach to non-believers is quite different. In A.D. 624, the Prophet announced the concept of the jihad – the holy war. He said in the blessed book, the Koran, “I will instill terror into the hearts of the unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their fingertips off them… And slay them wherever ye catch them.” Elias Canetti, in his Nobel Prize – winning book Crowds and Power, calls Islam a killer religion, literally “a Religion of War.”

The founder of the Iranian Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini shares this opinion. “Islam does not allow peace between… a Moslem and an infidel.” And: “Any nonreligious [i.e., non- Islamic] power, whatever form or shape, is necessarily an atheistic power, the tool of Satan.” Khomeini’s works advocate vigorously converting or murdering all those who do not embrace Allah’s holy meme. /They/ urge a holy war on the nations of the West.

HB: Ideas are our special human invention. In their effectiveness they are as powerful, often even more powerful than physical weapons – and much more terrible, too. In the schoolyard, in a company, or on a soccer team, when individuals vie for a higher place in the pecking order, they settle for headlocks and scuffles, or the alpha male’s chairs are sawed off. Such fights are comparatively harmless, although there are always losers and winners. But when in the competition between groups, nations and superpowers memes are used – that is ideas and ideologies, religions, doctrines and dogmas – whole battlefields full of corpses are usually left behind. The Nazis invented the terrible idea of Untermenschen (subhumans) in order to exterminate their fellow human beings. The Marxists invented the evil to be destroyed in the shape of the bourgeois – any human being with property such as a simple peasant or a small factory owner. Mohammed invented the infidels and handed them over to the believers for slaughter. As for medieval Christians, the Crusaders waded with utmost fervor in the blood of Muslim pagans. But they were all just continuing what humans have always done since the dawn of civilization: dividing the world into two opposing spheres with “us” on one side and “them” on the other.

LUC: My friend Howard was the first to realize that the good Lord and my humble self paved your way to perfection by means of ideas. The survival of the fittest drives evolution – not only by tooth and claw but also by the very craziest memes. Stripped of their moral disguises, the slogans of freedom, peace, and justice are often weapons that those attempting to achieve hierarchical superiority use to stuff the rest of us into the lower ranks of the pecking order. Even the idea of Christian charity has served you as a weapon to carry out the destruction of all those who did not profess Christianity.

GJ: How primitive this Social Darwinism! We enlightened people of the 21st century have overcome such a sick way of thinking long ago! And let me add that the idea of memes being powerful weapons is not new after all. Max Weber saw “The Protestant Ethic” as a weapon that helped capitalism to victory. And in his famous work “Les formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse,” Émile Durkheim advocated an even more fundamental position. For him, ideas serve the same purpose as, for example, the war dances of early tribal societies before the start of a battle. They were meant to mentally streamline all individuals into one collective whole bound on wiping out the enemy.

HB: That’s right. The measure of the success of a web of memes – a myth, a hypothesis, or a dogma – is not its truth but how well it serves as social glue. If a belief system performs that function well enough, it can trigger the growth of a superorganism of massive size, even if its most basic tenets prove dead wrong.

GJ: But again, what you say is dead matter – long-forgotten history! In modern secular societies like for instance the states of Europe, religious dogmas and myths play at most a secondary role. Every individual is allowed to put together his or her own personal worldview. We rightly reject as absurd the idea that ideologies- religious or secular – weld us together or even serve as weapons to suppress others – let alone to fight them.

LUC: Absurd because you are masters of forgetfulness. It is just over half a century since the diabolical idea of Nazism was eradicated from your minds. Just three decades have passed since no less bloodthirsty communism of the Stalinist type suffered an equal fate. You do not want to see that what ruled a large part of the world with iron grip only a couple of years ago may at any time arise anew.

HB: Militant ideas are currently experiencing a frightening renaissance. Just look at the Internet. Unfortunately, there are good reasons for such a rebirth.

GJ: What do you mean by good reasons?

HB: People cannot exist in isolation. The pronounced individualism that Erich Fromm conjured up as an ideal was never more than a fairy tale. We are not the independent individuals we would like to be, but the dispensable parts of an organism that is much larger than ourselves. Each of us is sewn by invisible threads into the superorganism. We are cells in the beast of family, company, and country. If those social ties are severed we begin to shrivel and die.

GJ: But there again you get caught in an obvious contradiction. On the one hand, the members of every group – from chickens to primates up to humans – are in competition, that is, in constant struggle, with and against each other. On the other hand, they are supposed to stick together so tightly that even the lower ranks cannot live without the group. How does that fit together?

HB: For sure, it even fits devilishly well, because the frustration of the badly off is a welcome force to be directed at external enemies. As soon as the public scorn is directed against outsiders, non-believers, non-humans or subhumans, everyone suddenly feels quite close to his group mates. Propaganda is set in motion that sends shivers of patriotism down the spines of the lower classes. Suddenly the downtrodden feel how much they are needed. This sudden awareness of their value to the group tends to excite them so much that they gladly let their masters lead them to the slaughter. The more frustration the lower classes endure in peacetime, the greater their willingness to be trained against any common enemy. The diversion of frustration and anger against those outside the group always proved to be the means of choice to keep a horde together.

GJ: That is a Machiavellian theory. If true there would have to be many societies with a tremendously large potential for violence.

HB: Certainly, especially in the Middle East, where a majority of the population cannot find work. There, frustration was unleashed a few years ago during the so-called Arab Spring. But it is not only poverty and unemployment that drive young people to the barricades. Often, it’s less about daily bread than about the sense of self: the idea one has of oneself. We assume that humans /merely/desire, food, clothing, and shelter, but we forget that people crave something far more vital: status and prestige.

LUC: Pre-revolution Iran provides a poignant example.

HB: Right. Iran did very well under American tutelage. Poverty plunged, education and health care spread through the land, women gained new freedoms, and the standard of living skyrocketed. American policymakers were proud of their accomplishments. By the measure of food, clothing, and shelter, the U.S. had helped Iran accomplish miracles. But both our State Department and the shah had forgotten that pride, dignity, and dominance – the needs of the pecking order impulse – can be far more pressing than the demands of the body. Though the country owed much of its progress to the Americans, a rabble-rousing clergyman said the Yankees had placed the Iranians in chains and robbed them of their self-respect. The cleric understood the needs of the pecking order far better than the shah. The fathers of our foreign policy feel that by alleviating hunger, poverty, and disease, we can pull the pins out from under the urge to shed blood and make the third world love us. The philosophy hasn’t worked.

LUC: The gift of prosperity was worth nothing in their eyes. They chased the shah to the devil and called for a slobbering Ayatollah, who plunged them into poverty and terror, but gave them the enthusiastic feeling that they were the only ones in possession of a wonderful doctrine of salvation. The ayatollah had turned the pecking order upside down. The Americans, the children of the devil, were /now/ at the bottom. And the Iranians – the blessed of Allah – were on the top.

HB: /So it was and/ the lesson is simple: Helping those less fortunate than ourselves is a moral necessity, but don’t expect it to bring stability. And certainly don’t look for gratitude, or peace.

GJ: Attention! There we just heard the usual Islam-baiting, the same as the ill-fated Thilo Sarrazin inflicted on Germans a few years ago.

LUC: Your starry-eyed intellectuals did not want to hear the truth then or now.

GJ: If truth is a poison for the peaceful coexistence of people, we better keep it under lock and key. After all, an overwhelming majority of Muslims wants to live in peace with their neighbors. Sarrazin may have told the truth when he cited a whole range of scientific evidence that a religion that preaches fighting infidels does not provide a good basis for integration into German society. But this truth was not “helpful,” as Chancellor Merkel rightly noted. And many Germans took it as an insult to their self-esteem that someone understood the relationship with migrants differently than they themselves wanted to understand it. You might call that wishful thinking. But that was worth more to them than the deeply sobering analysis of the Berlin senator.

LUC: Like so many incorrigible idealists you believed that the best way to march into the future was with your eyes closed. In that sense, you should have forgotten Nazi crimes long ago.

GJ: Here in peace-loving Europe, we don’t want to hear messages preaching eternal struggle and never-ending competition.

HB: You imagine yourselves to be a protected island, while the superpowers point their missiles against each other, wage cyber wars and march their troops on your borders. Like the ostrich, you think you are out of danger if only you hide your head in the sand. /But/ to both body and brain, taking it easy is death; vigorous activity, on the other hand, is life itself. Humans need to vigorously pursue goals, to wrestle with problems, and to master them. The nation moving up embraces adventure. The country moving down abandons the strange and buries its head in the familiar. It tries to march backward in time.

LUC: True, all vigorous nations pursue the goal of catching up with or being ahead of the others. Hegel already saw through this game two hundred years ago. 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.

HB: From the first to the last page, the message of my book boils down to the demand: open your eyes to reality as it is, then you are most capable of creating the reality as you want it to be! Illusions blind you to the requirements of action.

GJ: Mr. Bloom, you demonstrate this demand with the example of the United States, which, as you say, is blindly staggering into descent, although knowledge of the history of the fallen British world power should prevent it from making the same mistakes.

HB: Until 1870, Britain had been without question the strongest nation on the earth, yet she had spent the least on military hardware. From 1815 to 1865, a minuscule 3 percent of her GNP had gone into military budgets. Her strength had come from the spinning jenny, the steam-driven loom, the Cunard steamship, and the railroad. But Britain forgot that industrial innovation was the key to her power. It lost its economic superiority to Germany from the seventies of the 19th century. The British world power rested on its laurels, from then on it was far less innovative than Germany.

/British/ big business was defending itself through counterproductive mergers and takeovers, and the gap between rich and poor was growing ever greater as England was slipping downward in the pecking order of nations. /In this situation/ floundering British industrial titans dreamed of holding on to their old position by force. From 1880 to 1900, Britain raised her warship tonnage by 64 percent, and she nearly doubled the number of men she kept in arms. 

Today America seems to be following the path that led the British to their downfall. In 1945, the United States produced 40 percent of the world’s goods. By the mid-eighties, our share was half of that. Until the early seventies, we were the biggest exporter in the world. Today, we are the biggest importer. Our federal deficits are soaring, and the amount of money we’ve borrowed from the citizens of foreign countries is so large that we are now the biggest debtors since the prehistoric invention of the loan. Meanwhile, throughout the eighties our military budgets climbed dramatically. Like the English under Victoria, we were trying to fool ourselves with the notion that weapons are the real source of strength.

LUC: And meanwhile, two very ambitious upstarts are pushing up: Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. But that my friend Howard could not possibly know, because he published his great book back in 1997. At that time, Japan’s star was still high up in the sky, but Japan was too small to seriously challenge the United States. Now, however, we are witnessing an entirely different confrontation. This time, things are just the same as with chimpanzees, when the existing pecking order is shaken. The two pretenders in China and Russia are taking every opportunity to grab the legs of the American alpha dog. China is abrogating the Hong Kong Treaty, it brazenly claims the entire South China Sea for itself, and scouts for an opportunity to incorporate Taiwan into its territory. Russia, too, is pursuing an increasingly aggressive policy – albeit in response to a previous NATO enlargement. Putin has annexed Crimea in violation of international law and is propping up eastern Ukraine so that it can keep the West on its toes with military pinpricks.

GJ: Wait a minute! Why should Russia continue to keep the West on tenterhooks? After all, it has already achieved its goal. No one is seriously willing to dispute Russia’s possession of Crimea.

HB: The winner is never satisfied, because victories tend to make him still more aggressive. Testosterone levels go up in the winners and down in the losers. Testosterone makes winners restless, confident, and aggressive. The nation moving up embraces adventure. The country moving down abandons the strange and buries its head in the familiar. It tries to march backward in time.

LUC: As our friend Howard demonstrates with many examples, aggressive adventure is called for primarily through memes, by which a nation invokes its own uniqueness. Usually you call that chauvinism.

GJ: I agree. Putin welds Russians together by pushing them into the role of victims. “We liberated Europe from fascism, but the West does not recognize our achievement but falsifies history to diminish our merits.” Putin conceals the fact that the Soviet Union, insidiously invaded by Hitler, did indeed liberate itself – but only itself. In Eastern Europe it soon supplanted Nazi totalitarianism with its Stalinist counterpart. From Poland to Hungary, Russian occupation was by no means experienced as liberation. East Germans, Czechs, Hungarians and Poles protested in uprisings against the Soviet yoke. Putin turns this evident truth into a malicious falsification of history.

LUC: My friend Putin is a gifted master of propaganda. It is not by chance that he was a man from the secret service. The day of victory over fascism, May 9, is now celebrated with utmost pomp, fanfare, solemn avowals to the fatherland, glorification of Russian might and overwhelming public emotion. As breathtakingly pompous as under the Nazis, or in today’s China or North Korea, the Russian government is celebrating the oceanic feeling of collective destiny, something you in the West hardly know, because each individual leads an isolated private existence. Propaganda extolls the feeling of belonging to the great Slavic brotherhood, it evokes a glorious past and sends goose bumps down people’s spines at endless professions to homeland, veterans and all Russian compatriots. That is the positive side of collective emotional exuberance. If the system of belief pulls together a large enough superorganism, the faithful will, indeed, taste a bit of heaven.

HB: But few see the other side of the coin. They do not suspect that the purpose of the collective ecstasy so cleverly orchestrated by the government is the same as that of chimpanzees and our ancestors when they performed their dances of war: it is meant to arouse willingness to sacrifice one’s own life for the community when called to the flags.

Beware, I tell you. The Russian war machinery not only consists of supersonic missiles (against which US defense bases are powerless for the time being), it consists furthermore of people who are united in the awareness that the rest of the world is against them and that it is therefore their mission to prove to a decadent and malicious West that the Russian people will never give in.

GJ: That may well be true. Even those who see through Russian lies feel strangely touched by the intensity conjuring up a new collective sense of brotherhood. The agonizing self-doubt that afflicted the Russian people under Gorbachev and Yeltsin after the collapse of the Soviet Union has given way to a combative self-confidence since Putin is at the helm. I would like to note, that patriotism, when expressed in love for one’s people, one’s homeland and for the positive aspects of a shared history, gives expression to a respectable feeling. I think that those people are more deplorable who do not like their own countrymen, their own homeland and their own history – as is the case for many Germans.

LUC: My friend Vladimir Putin has accomplished an even greater feat. He feeds and fuels resentment. “Us against the rest of the world” – that’s the new attitude welding Russians together. With the state pouring much of its resources into the military machine, many Russians are objectively worse off under Putin. But skillful propaganda has nevertheless achieved its goal. The frustrated many do not blame the government for their miserable situation, they blame the hostile West. Putin is using an instrument that the Chinese under Xi Jinping have mastered just as well. Patriotism is perverted into a sharp weapon by turning it into resentful chauvinism. By now the Chinese are fully convinced that they have the better economy, the more efficient government, and that they are the better people, who naturally deserve to be at the head of the world community.

HB: But watch out! They are not so stupid as to openly reveal their true intentions. On the contrary, Russians as well as Chinese, when talking about the future as they conceive it, invariably proclaim that there should be no alpha-nation, no pecking order, no top and bottom but a multipolar world of equals. For as far as they are concerned, they would, of course, never seek world domination. Unfortunately, history tells a very different lesson. Rebellion against the hegemon always proceeds in this manner. In order to bring the bystanders to their side, the beta and gamma males make themselves small; they whitewash their drive to the top by portraying it as a blessing for all concerned.

GJ: Then the eternal game would just repeat itself for all eternity? At some point, the alpha male at the top – in this case the United States – is so weak that it has to abdicate to make way for China or Russia – just as Rome, Habsburg and Great Britain had to abdicate in the past?

LUC: Within a group, the alpha male is forced to retire when pushed aside by an upstart. That is of no concern to the rest of the world. But between nations, rise and fall are decided not by bites but by swords, guns and now missiles and nuclear bombs. That’s how the Creator, in his wisdom, set it all up. Howard calls this “natural selection” between superorganisms held together by ideas (memes). Evolution is not just a competition between individuals. It is a competition between networks, between webs, between group souls.

HB: True. But missiles and bombs require a strong economy. That’s why the United States must do everything in its power to accelerate technological innovation and return strength to the economy. We have to stay ahead in the technological race because that race will continue – as well as the merciless competition at its base. No individual and no nation can escape this destiny. 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 order structures whether we like it or not /and/ 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 more true in our life as a nation. If you’re not on top, you’re going to sink.

GJ: Wrong! At one point you say yourself that this ghoulish spectacle must come to an end. To our species, evolution has given something new – the imagination. With that gift, we have dreamed of peace. Our task – perhaps the only one that will save us – is to turn what we have dreamed into reality. To fashion a world where violence ceases to be.

Here, you admit the truth. Nevertheless, you fail to acknowledge that we have to create this new world right now, that is, in the coming decades of the present century, because thanks to our intelligence we have increased potential violence to such an extent that for the first time in human history we are able to extinguish ourselves and, what is more, all life on the planet. Even if the gruesome game will never end among individuals, among nations that can destroy each other at the push of a button, it must end once and for all: We must stop the race of nations.

In this pressing necessity lies a break with all previous history. Until yesterday, it was still possible for the ruling nation to be knocked off its throne by another younger and stronger one. For hundreds of thousands of years, this iron law has held true among humans as in the animal kingdom, promoting “natural selection.” But in the 21st century, this law can and must no longer apply. For victory with today’s weapons no longer selects the strongest but kills all of us indiscriminately: the victor as well as the vanquished.

HB: Certainly, all are aware of this radically changed situation – all, including, of course, Biden, Xi, and Putin -, but this awareness has not in the least attenuated the need to sit at the head of the table and preside over the others. That’s why I implore my compatriots to push competition and technological progress with all their might. /Some/ self-proclaimed champions of the public interest are attempting to stop critical areas of scientific advancement: In many intellectual circles, even the concept of progress has been turned into a dirty word. This is a pernicious development. If we want the U.S. to remain at the forefront of the global community, we can only achieve this through competition and technological progress.

LUC: Dear Howard, with my gift for seeing into the future, I’ll allow myself a little warning. The progress you hail so much could cost you dearly. There is not even a guarantee that the inferno will not be unleashed by mere chance – I mean, technological chance. With ever-shorter warning times against a nuclear first strike by the enemy, you have programmed computers to automatically retaliate (as there is not enough time for humans to check). For the sake of survival, you should tame that kind of “progress” that instead of taking you to the top may finally catapult all of you out of existence.

GJ: If I understand Mr. Bloom correctly, nothing significant has changed in our psychological disposition from the Stone Age up to the present. In every group, someone wants to be on top – that’s what we call competition. In the world community, one nation wants to set the tone – that’s what we call the race of nations for greater economic and military power. But now, due to incredible technological progress, something radically new has entered the stage. Since the second half of the 20th century, each superpower has fabricated enough bombs to make the globe uninhabitable for humans. The victory of one over the other, does no longer lead to a mere replacement as in the past but carries the risk of collective demise.

I conclude from this fundamentally new situation that for human reason there remains but one way out this impasse: agreement on a world regiment. But such unification becomes more and more difficult when Americans, Russians and Chinese stir up hatred against each other. We must fight this hatred. /Because/ our task – perhaps the only one that will save us – is to turn what we have dreamed into reality.

GJ and Lucifer: Mr. Bloom, Howard thanks for this debate.

Nation state or Homo technicus universalis?

Abstract:

The “Clash of Cultures” due to irreconcilable religions and ideologies belongs to the past. In contrast, the “Clash of Civilizations”, i.e. the worldwide struggle for an equally high and, if possible, ever higher material standard of living, is darkening our common future, since the last resources are being plundered and nature increasingly poisoned in the name of progress. Mankind will only escape this struggle against itself and against nature by submitting to a global authority that demands the same restrictions from all of us.

We are used to lamenting entries on the red list of extinct or endangered species; these include dinosaurs, Bengal tigers, black grouse or river pearl mussels. But do not think that nature is unimaginative. She continuously replaces the worn out with lots of new creations: instead of the dinosaurs she now gives us Corona and even adds many new mutants.

As in the animal kingdom, so in human cultures. To the Germans, as they once existed, we must undoubtedly say goodbye, but this is no less true of the French, the English, the Indians, the Chinese, and so on. In this case too, however, the decline of entire cultures is accompanied by a new and surprising phenomenon. It has been noticed for some time that there are more and more global professions, e.g. the mathematician, the programmer, the engineer, the chemist, the truck driver, the mechanic, the internist, the ENT doctor and thousands of similar functions, but these new professions are free from all national roots. Something has died – while at the same time something surprisingly new has taken its place. As it were, nature has triumphed over culture. Since nature is the same everywhere, the laws found by the natural sciences must be the same in Berlin, Tokyo, Dubai or in Timbuktu, i.e. independent of respective national cultures. Obviously, most of the life and functioning of modern civilization is based on these laws. All over the world, a chemical factory, a car company, a corporate office are like undistinguishable peas in a pod all over the world. Identical function determines identical structure. The differences are only technical, namely due to more or less technical progress.

The time when everything was still different,

because people in France, India, China thought differently, ate differently, loved differently and lived differently – this time dates back just a century and a half, and it still looms with its stone witnesses – cathedrals, temples and palaces – here and there into our present, but it already belongs to a distant history (mercilessly parodied by Disneyland). Our omnipotent present not only produced a new international species, homo technicus, who – whether in Cape Town, Berlin, Houston or Madras – spends more and more of his time in front of the computer and with the cell phone, but at the same time it has made the urban landscapes of all countries more and more similar to each other. Meanwhile, Austrian, Chinese, South African or Indian architecture merely exists in remnants: megacities employ the same architects and engineers from all over the world. A worldwide uniformity due to uniform functions is inevitable. Banks, millennium and television towers, museums, train stations, airports and dormitory towns all over the world are stitched according to the same pattern. Everything national is in unmistakable retreat.

But is it right to call the new man,

this prototype of the 21st century, who is about to create a global unified civilization, “Homo technicus”? Do not games, music, painting and leisure time form an opposite pole that seems at least as important to many people?

That may certainly be so. The love of mathematics and the natural sciences was nowhere so widespread that it alone was able to bring forth the new prototype. In fact, Homo technicus owes his triumph to a much more elementary drive: the addiction, spread over the entire globe, to all the achievements of civilization to which only technology provides access. Much-maligned capitalism did not have to cajole them into it. No one in our present world wants to do without a flush toilet, a washing machine, a personal bank account, a computer or a cell phone, and very few people want to do without a car or the prospect of someday hovering above the clouds in a modern airplane. However, each of the aforementioned achievements presupposes a modern infrastructure, i.e., a radical transformation and reorganization of nature such as no single country on the globe knew two hundred years ago.

Meanwhile, many of these modern achievements

have come to be traded as human rights, without which life is considered incomplete and miserable. Nowadays, no Chinese person is looked at askance if he or she has not read Confucius; hardly any German still takes a look at Goethe’s Faust (“Fuck you Goethe” has even become a slogan meant to discourage such action). Seen by the millennial generation, i.e. those under forty, this is mere history, completely written off by most of them. As cultural knowledge is of no use with regard to the preservation of our all-devouring techno-economic civilization, it is considered superfluous. This liberation of the new generation from all historical burdens undoubtedly holds its own opportunities. Young people – Chinese, Japanese, U.S. Americans, Germans, French, etc. – can look each other in the eye without feeling any different. What counts is the knowledge and handling of the gadgets of modern civilization – and they are all equally good at that. What could divide them – their national culture and national history – they have already shaken off. Seen in this light, the fact that modern Homo technicus has shed all the trappings of his tribal affiliation – regardless of religion, race or ideology – can also be seen as a progress.

Global fraternization

seems to be within reach for the first time in human history. The unifying basis of techno-scientific thinking as well as of common external living conditions could become the springboard to a future in which irreconcilable antagonisms and the resulting struggles are replaced by mutual understanding and thus by harmony and peace. Nor should greater global uniformity worry us, because it is uniformity in constant change. Diversity and development do not disappear, they only manifest themselves in fundamentally different ways. Until two hundred years ago, history consisted in the formation of human beings – that is why the natives of Papua New Guinea so much differed in appearance, religion, and customs from native New Yorkers or Hindu Brahmins that all three could be considered different species within the same genus. In contrast, history today no longer consists in the shaping of man – an Indian, a U.S. American, or a New Guinea physicist can be distinguished at most by the hue of their skin. It consists in the shaping and formation of nature. Homo technicus recognizes and shapes nature according to his own purposes. In this case too variety is created, even potentially infinite variety. But it comes about in a different way, namely by the fact that our knowledge of nature constantly grows and with it the products it creates.

As homo technicus leaves history behind him

like a bad memory, he does not want to know anything about privileges – for him these too belong to the burden of history. It is, therefore, not surprising that the overwhelming majority of Millennials are committed to a fair distribution of material goods – regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation (as the ritual mantra would have it). Whether Europeans, Africans or Chinese, all people have the same inherent right to a decent life, i.e. to those material blessings that the people of the West have long enjoyed. At the same time, the new generation also wants to grant nature its rights, which is why a green mindset is widespread among Millennials. They take to the streets not only to protest against white supremacy but also to demand action against climate change. The new generation doesn’t want to know anything about past history, but they take history very seriously when seen as their own future: they want to make it themselves. That’s why their demonstrations are causing so much headache for governments around the world.

Millennials are cosmopolitans

For the first time, an entire generation of humanity represents what was previously the privilege of only a handful of great minds. In Germany, Lessing, Herder, Goethe, Schiller and Kant were cosmopolitans in the best sense of the word.  All national narrow-mindedness was not only alien to them but considered repugnant. How could these early pioneers have guessed that, since the end of the 20th century at the latest, Millennials would turn their intellectual cosmopolitanism into a technical one that would encompass the entire globe? More and more young people enthusiastically experience the Internet as a tool for making as many friends on other continents as in their own country. Millennials are aware that kindred spirits in Chengdu, Vancouver or Bangalore may be far closer to them than reactionary morons in their own homeland. And this is much more than a mere abstract insight. More and more marriages are taking place internationally, and ever greater sums are being donated to people in need somewhere in the world. Not a few idealists would even like to build a bridge over the Mediterranean so that in the future no refugee will have to perish on the way to the north.*1*

The problem

In the face of this general tendency toward global fraternization, there is a danger that we will all too credulously and naively overlook the forces working against it. The technical generation has grown up believing that all conflicts can be solved by technical means. The breathtaking successes of scientific civilization even turned this belief into a kind of quasi-religious salvation promise. Digitization, automation and artificial intelligence are celebrating triumphs the likes of which humanity has never experienced. No wonder that the optimism nurtured by all these triumphs makes people blind to all dangers. These are, however, omnipresent. Even a sudden and unforeseen event such as a global pandemic may dissolve the beautiful belief in the interconnectedness of all people. How unpleasant was and is even within the European Union the scramble for vaccination doses! The current Austrian chancellor, who at the beginning urged frugality (maximum 200,000 euros), unabashedly put out the fairy tale that the Commission had treated his own and other European countries unfairly.

This occasion demonstrated that we may well find friends everywhere in the world, but in times of need it is only our own neighbors and our own government that can help us. Only they are able to provide their citizens with the desired level of security and standard of living. Cosmopolitanism that so gloriously flourishes in the realm of the mind proves impotent when it comes to providing those very services that local people are looking for in emergency situations. As, in such cases, spatial proximity counts more than anything else, everyone is next to himself in need. Even the United Europe must constantly fight against national egoisms.

This problem becomes truly massive and frightening,

once we take a closer look at modern technical civilization itself. For technology has a double face that optimists do not want to acknowledge. On the one hand it is responsible for our greatest triumphs, on the other hand for an apocalypse that nobody can rule out any longer. The pan-happiness philosophy of the millennials, who would like to grant and allocate the same material blessing to all people of the globe, is contradicted by the laws of physics. From a scientific point of view, the realization of this program is simply impossible. To exist sustainably on our globe with renewable energy requires either that three quarters of humanity mysteriously disappear, or that humanity at its current population level of about eight billion reduce its energy consumption to one quarter (and that’s just talking about energy, not yet about all other non-renewable resources).*2*

It is absolutely correct when Steven Pinker and Hans Rosling insist in their books that mankind is materially better off than ever before in terms of almost all relevant indicators, but this amazing feat could only be achieved because we consume far more renewable energy than a single globe can provide. We do so by using dwindling reserves of fossil fuels, whose residues furthermore contribute to the poisoning of nature on an ever increasing scale.

This is the existential problem of our time,

and it is not a technical task that can be solved in a technical way, but a challenge for political and ethical man. In the extreme, only two solutions come into question. Either a scramble for the last remaining resources leading to wars, which the strongest powers of the globe incite against the weaker ones and of course against nature. Or a global agreement that all are committed to the preservation of the globe and thus to a way of life that requires a total departure from that which still prevails today.

How do Millennials respond

to this shattering of the technocratic ideology with which they themselves have grown up and been indoctrinated? They use to respond in three different ways. Either they simply deny the facts (thus siding with Donald Trump); or, second, they are optimists on principle and believe in future technological miracles; or, third, they call for demonstrations, usually blaming some evil forces.

Denial is the prevailing attitude – against all evidence from scientific expertise. Homo technicus is prone to let himself be guided by wishful thinking when evidence threatens to shake his optimism. Optimists have always found it particularly difficult to admit that the world is perhaps not quite as well set up as they would like.

If, however, the evidence of an irresponsible consumption of resources and an increasing poisoning of the globe can no longer be denied, there still remains a messianic belief in miracles. Then nuclear power is supposed to achieve what renewable energies alone will never be able to do, namely to maintain the current standard of living and at the same time to reduce CO2 emissions to a tolerable level. Apart from the fact that this is impossible in purely quantitative terms due to dwindling uranium deposits, the dangers associated with this technology tend to be blissfully ignored. However, they are just as great, if not greater, than those of global warming. And it tends to be completely overlooked that energy is used for the conversion of non-energy resources – and these are dwindling as well. The belief in future miracles, which homo technicus has nurtured over two centuries and which today is just as much at home in China and India as in Europe and the US, arguably constitutes mankind’s greatest delusion. It makes us run blindly to our doom because until shortly before the catastrophe we hope for a deus ex machina who will avert all disaster .*3*

Seen, from this perspective, political activism,

expressed worldwide in demonstrations, seems to be hardly more than a diversionary maneuver. The “Fridays for Future” movement fully recognized the urgency of the environmental situation, but it was mistaken in its assessment of the true causes. It is not “them up there” who are responsible for the destruction of the globe, but “us down here,” that is, all of us together, because “them up there” usually only enforce a majority will – at least when it comes to an accepted standard of living. This applies to democratic states of the West as well as to autocratic regimes in China and Russia. A majority of the world’s population – especially, of course, the developing countries – would not accept radical sacrifice, certainly not when a truly sustainable economy requires a reduction of the global ecological footprint to the fourth part of today’s level.

Not renunciation but a global scramble

over dwindling resources and mutual accusations of excessive nature poisoning are therefore in store for us in the near future. Just as in a pandemic, where every nation first thinks of itself, it first enhances and protects the standard of living for its own citizens. That is, why in times of need and struggle all those national provisos that the Millennials fought against and wanted to abolish forever creep up again. The U.S. is home to about twenty million Asian-born citizens, most of them of Chinese origin. Now that China has become a serious rival for the U.S. and threatens to become number one in terms of power and standard of living, tensions between the two superpowers are rising sharply. Prejudices against the Chinese are reviving in America just as they are reviving in China against the West. Nationalistically motivated “hate crimes” have become the order of the day.

On a smaller and, fortunately, far more benign scale, we find this tussle also within the EU, where Hungary and Poland, but also the Czech Republic and Slovakia, insist on their national autonomy and elect autocracy-prone governments that endanger European unity. If it is true that the struggle for dwindling resources in a world that abhors sacrifice will become the portent of the 21st century, then we are heading for a time that will bring about the opposite of cosmopolitanism, namely increasing national egoism. Even if the EU succeeds in welding Europe together into a stable entity, it will be faced as a whole with the prospect of having to fight with the rest of the world over its interests.

It is therefore too early for a requiem of the nation states

Germany (but also Austria, France, etc.) will continue to exist, even if they eventually merge with other states in the EU. Homo technicus universalis therefore remains an illusion, albeit one that arouses some sympathy because it conjures up the common ground connecting modern people. It remains an illusion not only because cosmopolitanism does not provide help in emergencies – only the political community in which we are rooted can do this. But homo technicus is incomplete for still another reason. We may indeed completely dispose of all narratives related to the past and in this way create ahistorical man, but this procedure does not eliminate the basic need of man for a narrative that gives meaning and purpose to his life. Neither technology nor science can provide such meaning (even if both can at times completely satisfy individual life, because common tasks and shared work represent precisely this overriding meaning beyond technology itself).

In perverted form, history has

never lost its dominance. A Chinese technician may be confusingly similar to his counterpart in the US as regards thinking and habits of life; this will not prevent the one from using his skills and knowledge for the power and wealth of China, while the other does so for the power and wealth of the United States of America. Thus, one of them may be developing the weapons with which to wipe out the US in the case of a nuclear war, while his counterpart fulfills exactly the same task for his own country. Which means that our demand for the equality of all people proves to be impotent in the face of history dominating us in the shape of elementary material interests.

And this modern day history, which we see re-entering through the back door, is much more primitive than that which the Millennials disposed of through the front door. It expresses itself in the form of such populist prejudices as promulgated by Donald Trump on a daily basis, when, to mention just one example, he spoke of the “Chinese virus.” Homo technicus is easily seduced by the fake news of modern history when it comes to defending his interests.

This brings to light the fundamental conflict

that will accompany us through the 21st century. On the one hand, the uniform technical civilization that prevails worldwide has given rise to homo technicus, thereby creating an awareness, especially in young people, of the equality of all human beings. But, on the other hand, this civilization has nurtured the claim to a standard of living that can no longer be met in a world of eight billion people faced with dwindling resources and a rampant poisoning of nature.*4* The scramble for this claim inevitably leads to a struggle against all rivals who threaten a nation’s position. 

History falsely declared to be dead

thus returns. The fratricidal struggle, fed by hostile narratives, which once divided the peoples of Europe in centuries-long battles, has only been shifted to a higher plane. Tribal claims and identities remain, but not in the harmless form of patriotism, i.e. love for one’s homeland and a shared history, but as ideological delusions of uniqueness of Europeans, Yankees, Chinese etc. These delusions tend to be much cruder and primitive, because they consist less in the loving reminiscence of one’s own past (so far as it deserves such treatment) than in the denunciation of rivals. The race of nations currently taking place between the great powers of the US, China, Russia and Europe is laden with populist denunciation – in view of the unending progress of weapons this constitutes an imminent danger.

The problem is further aggravated by the fact

that it is of no use if only one part of the world, say Germany, pulls the emergency brake. Germany is only responsible for a minimal two percent of total CO2 emissions. Of course, it could boast of being a role model if it also reduced the remaining two to a mere zero percent. But what is the point if others don’t follow suit, but end up just being happy that the Germans are no longer a rival because they are abandoning their previous industrial power and sinking into a state of poverty? Therein lies the real challenge of the 21st century, which can only be overcome if humanity submits to a common authority that imposes the same sacrifice on everyone at the same time – in the most favorable but rather unlikely case, this would be the UN. Then – but only then – the consciousness of the equality of mankind could bring about that eternal peace, which Immanuel Kant had conjured up more than two hundred years ago.

*1* An impressive testimony to this idealism is provided by the Indian-born author Parag Khanna with his book: “The Age of Migration”. On almost five hundred pages, the author deals with God and the world from A to Z. Khanna seems to take climate crisis for granted – even in its most catastrophic form with an increase in average temperatures of up to four degrees. This serves him well because he preaches the gospel of unrestricted migration which, according to him, will provide for mankind’s ultimate salvation. Here, fraternization is not a politically thought-out program, but is administered to the reader like a drug.

*2* In its latest issue, “Der Spiegel” calls for optimism in the title essay (Spg 14.21: “Hope dies last”). But like any other citizen, the Spiegel author too must rely on what leading experts say. And these – starting from Herman Daly, the intellectual guide of the ecological movement, up to William Rees, the inventor of the ecological footprint – say something completely different.

*3* In the article mentioned above, Der Spiegel shows how wishful thinking works. On the one hand, we find the following passage: “It is certainly an imperative of responsibility to make decisions on the basis of currently available knowledge.” But shortly thereafter, this sober statement is invalidated: “An English saying is: Expect the unexpected. Men, especially Germans, are not very good at this.” So: Dear Germans, please believe in the Deus ex Machina!

*4* Here, too, Der Spiegel preaches wishful thinking. It is correct that the world population “will /grow/ by about two billion to then almost ten billion people by 2050, yes, and that will lead to severe crises in some regions. However, in terms of world population as a whole, growth will slow down after that and will only be problematic in a few areas.” Really? Is it no longer problematic if all these ten billion people together then consume four and more globes? And what to make of the following statement: “The goal of a maximum warming of two degrees by the year 2100 is within reach. If countries stick to their pledges… global average temperatures will rise 2.1 degrees by 2100.” Yes, but what if they don’t stick to their pledges? So far, there is no indication that Western countries, let alone developing countries, will be able to meet these pledges and impose the above mentioned sacrifices on their populations.

Future – God’s eighth Day of Creation?

When studying and trying to understand the past, we always do so in order to cope with the present and be better equipped for the future – that’s a truism. But our endeavors become difficult when the past provides us with contradictory signals so that the future turns into mystery. Then it can happen that our certainties waver and we look for completely new orientations and even concepts. Continue reading Future – God’s eighth Day of Creation?

Max Weber – Jared Diamond – Joseph Henrich

There are fundamental questions that every human being and probably every people and epoch ask themselves. Who or what am I? Why and how am I different from others? What is it that makes me singular? Max Weber, Jared Diamond, and Joseph Henrich have each asked this question in their own yet very similar ways. Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904), Diamond in Guns, Germs and Steel (1997), and Henrich in The WEIRDest People in the World(2019).

Max Weber wanted to explore why capitalism, that economic system so astonishingly successful in his time, had arisen in Europe, and especially in its Protestant parts. Jared Diamond asks his readers why Cortez and Pizarro, with a mere handful of soldiers, so easily defeated the two most powerful empires of the New world, namely Aztecs and Incas at the beginning of the 16th century. Why did these two peoples of the New World not invade and subjugate Europe? Joseph Henrich formulates the question in a similar vein. How did Europe come to follow a path different from all previous history, namely a weird one (“WEIRD = Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic”)? The three questions resemble each other, but the answers of the three scholars differ in significant ways.

Max Weber is rooted in the German tradition

of a conception of history and sociology deeply influenced by Romanticism that makes him locate the peculiarities of human development primarily in cultural causes. For Weber, it was the Protestant ethic that had created the spirit of capitalism – albeit in a tortuous, indirect way. And conversely, it was its opposite, the religiously conditioned magical variety of traditional constraints, which had prevented its emergence in pre-capitalist times. Culturally conditioned human attitudes can thus become the causes of profound social transformations – a view with which Weber distinguished himself from Karl Marx.

In contrast, Jared Diamond rather follows a tradition,

one of whose most outstanding 18th-century representatives was Montesquieu, who held that the decisive factor for the divergent developmental paths of different peoples was not their subjective attitudes, but rather externally given conditions such as climate. This theory is now passé, but Diamond, in a work of immense erudition, has convincingly demonstrated that “Eurasia got the wild ancestors of wheat, barley, millet, oats, and rice, along with cows, horses, pigs, goats, sheep, water buffaloes, and camels. Meanwhile, the Americas ended up with few wild plants or animals that were both easy to domesticate and productive. Corn, the major staple in the New World, required numerous genetic changes from its wild version to yield a productive crop – so it was a long road. For domesticated animals, the Americas ended up with llamas, guinea pigs, and turkeys – which gave them no general-purpose work animals like oxen, horses, water buffaloes, or donkeys to pull plows, carry heavy burdens, and crank mills. In Australia, the candidate crops and domesticated animals were even fewer than in the Americas. Accentuating these inequalities in fauna and flora, Eurasia’s complex societies also developed more rapidly due to an east-west geographic orientation. This fostered the rapid development and diffusion of new crops, agricultural knowledge, domesticated animals, and technological know-how” (this is how Henrich summarizes Diamond’s theses). To which a further insight of Diamond should be added. The inhabitants of Eurasia had acquired immunity against a broad range of diseases due to their close coexistence with domestic animals – in contrast to the inhabitants of Australia and the New World, who died en masse from the germs introduced by Europeans.

Jared Diamond thus harkens back to the initial scientific tradition of deriving cultural attitudes and behaviors from externally imposed conditions. Since this approach is far more in line with the strict standards established by the natural sciences since the 17th century, modern historical science and sociology have in recent decades followed Diamond far more than Max Weber. It is surely no exaggeration to state that this orientation has brought about nothing less than an explosion of research activity. All the methods and findings of the natural sciences are now being used to retrace man’s past over the millennia in unimagined material detail.

It is all the more surprising, then,

that Harvard professor Joseph Henrich, a man who began his studies in aerospace engineering, i.e. in the natural sciences, is directing his own research back to cultural causes. After what has just been said, this may well be considered a scientific sensation. He answers the question of the causes of Europe’s special path, which led to a capitalist economy, democratic constitutions and a historically unique development of individualism, in an astonishing way. “The much-heralded ideals of Western civilization, like human rights, liberty, representative democracy, and science, aren’t monuments to pure reason or logic, as so many assume. People didn’t suddenly become rational during the Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries, and then invent the modern world. Instead, these institutions represent cumulative cultural products – born from a particular cultural psychology – that trace their origins back over centuries, through a cascade of causal chains involving wars, markets, and monks, to a peculiar package of incest taboos, marriage prohibitions, and family prescriptions (the MFP) that developed in a radical religious sect – Western Christianity.”

And Henrich goes significantly further. From the very beginning, the Catholic Church had pursued a marriage and family policy in Europe that as early as 1000 AD had almost completely dissolved the close kinship relationships that prevailed everywhere else (except among hunter-gatherers). This policy was particularly evident in the strict prohibition of marriage between cousins and other close relatives, which had formed the basic pattern of biologically defined units. Thus, the individual was torn away from all kinship-defined ties of clans and tribes. The place previously occupied by obligations and constraints to the extended family and clans was now taken by common interests and motives that extended to and united biological strangers. In other words, it was the work of the Church that the individual defined himself less and less by his origin and more and more by his very personal aspirations and skills. The free association of biological strangers in markets, guilds, etc. – so characteristic of Western development – was triggered by the cultural policy of the Church.*1*

Max Weber always asked (though not with the exclusivity of Karl Marx) about the material interests behind political actions. So does Henrich, if only in one place of his book. “The Church had potent incentives to promote individual ownership and testamentary inheritance. Working with secular rulers, the Church pushed for laws supporting individual ownership, default inheritance rules favoring strictly lineal inheritance (cutting out brothers, uncles, and cousins), and greater autonomy in making bequests by testament. This drive for individual ownership and personal testaments would have weakened kin-based organizations, because these corporate groups would have continually lost their land and wealth to the Church. Lying on their deathbeds, Christians gave what they could to the Church to improve their prospects for the afterlife… By 900 CE, the Church owned about a third of the cultivated land in western Europe, including in Germany (35 percent) and France (44 percent). By the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, the Church owned half of Germany, and between one-quarter and one-third of England.”

On the one hand, Henrich continues Max Weber’s arguments,

on the other hand, he goes much beyond it. Protestantism, he argues, only furthered a trend that the Church had already set in motion for one and a half thousand years with its marriage and family policies. Protestantism can therefore only be seen as the culminating conclusion of a development that had begun with the very takeover of power by the Church. This is a definite step beyond the thesis of Max Weber.

The widening of arguments and evidence also applies to the analysis of the causes which so greatly hindered the emergence of free markets, representative rule and individualism in other parts of the world. In the predominance of castes in India and clans in China, Weber had seen an insurmountable obstacle to the emergence of capitalism. Likewise, he explained the resistance of traditional societies to the emergence of capitalist forms of economy by the opposition of internal and external morality (which in turn is based on the distinction between biological kin and biological strangers). And Weber had intuitively summarized this resistance in the concept of magic – magic as a cultural force inimical to all forms of innovation. Henrich, however, provides much more concrete evidence. He tries to demonstrate that an elementary fact of social organization, namely the close biological ties of people in traditional kinship relationships – primarily marriage between cousins – was the most effective obstacle to that special development which Europe was only able to embark on because the Church had systematically removed this obstacle through its marriage and family policy.

Here Henrich therefore also differs from Jared Diamond

The latter makes us understand why the conquest of the New World and Australia took place from Eurasia and not in the opposite direction. Diamond enumerates the many external advantages that this continent had over the other two. One might ask, however, why within the Eurasian continent it happened to be tiny Europe and not mighty China – still far more prosperous until the 17th century – that subjugated large parts of the world since the beginning of the 16th century – and this despite the fact that at the very beginning of the 15th century China had managed to send the then most powerful fleet as far as the borders of Africa? And why was this enterprise not planned as an instrument of conquest in the first place? Jared Diamond’s insights do not explain this curious fact and probably cannot explain it, because the external causes listed by him would rather suggest that rich China and not Europe would have conquered the world. Diamond notes: “competition between different political entities spurred innovation in geographically fragmented Europe, and.. the lack of such competition held innovation back in unified China.” But this takes us back to the question why competition played such a significant role in Europe and not in China?

Henrich himself does not pose the question of why Europe and not China conquered the new world, but it seems to me that his theory may very well provide an answer. On the one hand, classical China, dominated throughout by clans, never knew competition between equals. Moreover, it always closed itself to the barbarians of the outside world, that is, against biological foreigners and their constant invasions (the Great Wall representing up to the present day mankind’s most monumental testimony to this aversion). The Roman Church, on the other hand, not only challenged biological otherness with its policies, but largely abolished it. All people were equal before God and could therefore be equal under one religion and political rule. For this reason, it was considered a legitimate goal to subjugate the rest of the world. In this way, Europe – not China – had prepared itself psychologically for a globalized world and subsequently initiated those very conquests that eventually brought about globalization. 

Psychology – it too plays a prominent role in Joseph Henrich’s work

The politics of the Church not only intervened in the social organization of people preparing them for democratic constitutions, where the personal value of each individual would count infinitely more than his biological origin. These politics also had profound psychological effects because they fostered characteristics that would have been difficult to develop under traditional conditions, namely individualism, analytical thinking, rejection of authority, intellectual independence, willingness to innovate.

“Concretely, think of the UN diplomats, corporate managers, or high-level executives… All are materially comfortable, yet their propensity for (1) impersonal honesty (parking illegally… ), (2) universal morality (lying in court to protect their reckless buddies… ), and (3) nepotism (hiring relatives into executive positions) varies immensely and can be explained by our measures of kinship intensity and Church exposure… /But/ national populations that collectively experienced longer durations under the Western Church tend to be (A) less tightly bound by norms, (B) less conformist, (C) less enamored with tradition, (D) more individualistic, (E) less distrustful of strangers, (F) stronger on universalistic morality, (G) more cooperative in new groups with strangers, (H) more responsive to third-party punishment… , (I) more inclined to voluntarily donate blood, (J) more impersonally honest (toward faceless institutions), (K) less inclined to accumulate parking tickets under diplomatic immunity, and (L) more analytically minded.”

Thus, the Church’s policies continue to have a massive impact right into the present time. “Our analyses show that if a region was inside the Carolingian Empire during the Early Middle Ages, its rate of first cousin marriage in the 20th century was minuscule, and probably zero. If the region was outside the Carolingian Empire, as were southern Italy, southern Spain, and Brittany (France’s northwestern peninsula), the rate was higher. In Sicily, there were so many requests for dispensations to marry cousins in the 20th century that the pope delegated special power to the bishop of Sicily to allow marriages between second cousins without the Vatican’s permission.”

And those numbers reveal an even more amazing correlation: “The greater the rate of cousin marriage in a province, the higher the rates of corruption and Mafia activity.”

Individualism, rejection of authority, intellectual independence, willingness to innovate

are, in our time, qualities with positive connotations that almost no one seriously questions. This gives rise to another contrast between Henrich and his two great predecessors, Max Weber and Jared Diamond. Insignificant reservations aside, Joseph Henrich sees a great progress in the social and psychological evolution that has made possible this weird and unique Western path (remember weird = Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic”). His book reads like a paean to this extraordinary historic achievement in which, by the way, the US occupies the top position with regard to most criteria.

In contrast, Max Weber had spoken of the “steel casing of capitalism,” of the impersonality and “loneliness of man” in modern society, and he did not try to conceal the negative aspects of an overwhelming bureaucracy to which it has to submit. To be sure, Henrich mentions the higher suicide rates in Protestant as opposed to Catholic regions, a fact that already attracted Emile Durkheim’s attention, but in his book these limitations only figure as minor blemishes in what on the whole represents a magnificent development of humankind.

As for Jared Diamond, he is far too much of a historian with a deep love of everything concrete that catches his eye to embark on such generalizations. The question is, are they justified? With this question I would like to turn to Henrich’s method.

Henrich treats culture

with the instruments of the natural sciences. He does this in so systematical a way that, in my estimation, more than half of his book of no less than 680 pages is – directly or indirectly – devoted to methodological considerations. Readability suffers from such preoccupation – these considerations together with the accompanying statistics would probably be better off in an appendix – but as a rigorous researcher, Henrich seems to fear nothing so much as to be convicted of lack of seriousness in dealing with causal explanations and statistical evidence. This caution has brought him success. Renowned peers like Francis Fukuyama, Ian Morris, Daron Acemoglu have praised the book: it has definitely earned its place in the wake of Weber and Diamond.

Nevertheless, some reservations intrude on my mind with regard to method. The impression that must arise in the unbiased reader is just too deceptively optimistic. With the methods of rigorous analysis originating from the natural sciences, the proof now seems conclusive that mankind, having overcome disruptive obstacles (such as the marriage of cousins and the traditional clan mentality that accompanies it), had to follow a path of infinite ascent – all numbers collected by Henrich (and they are many) seem to confirm this conclusion. We get the impression that cultural developments are just as predictable as those of inanimate nature (where, for example, we can predict for coming millennia the positions of the celestial bodies surrounding us).

At this point I would like to express some reservations

Henrich has overlooked an important historical fact. Presumably, the Church succeeded in destroying close kinship ties to a certain extent, but it did not remove them in order to create new human beings freed from all ties but in order to create believing Christians ready to offer donations. It has simply put wider ideological ties in the place of more restrictive biological ones. As we know, one’s brethren were now fellow Christians while one’s enemies were the heretics at home and the unconverted pagans (Muslims, etc.) abroad. For a long time, these followers of the devil could be murdered with tacit consent and or even open approval by the Church. The latter certainly substantially extended existing ties when defining these ideologically, but it has by no means abolished them.

We know that this opposition between us and them continues unabated in today’s secularized society. Those who oppose political correctness at home are muzzled in Western countries, while they may be persecuted or even murdered in states like Russia or China. Nations that cling to their own ideology (nowadays, Western, Russian or Chinese capitalism) point thousands of nuclear warheads on their respective enemies. Seen in this light, nothing essential has changed.

A second criticism concerns the great ruptures of history

These just cannot be grasped by means of the methods used in Henrich’s book. This observation applies to the great revolutions which we call Neolithic,  Industrial and Digital. As is well known today, the sedentary way of life initially only brought disadvantages to people: a shorter, less healthy life deprived of many freedoms. Only later did it become apparent that agriculture and animal husbandry could feed many times more people; this superiority then led to hunter-gatherers being more and more displaced by sedentary societies. But of course, no one could have foreseen this at the time when this transition was just beginning.

In the same way, no one at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution could have had the slightest idea that the exploitation of fossil deposits, on which the new economic model relied from its very beginning, would less than two hundred years later exhaust fossil resources and poison nature through its toxic residues (CO2) – an unforeseen turn of events that could very well herald the end of the industrial age with its soon to be ten billion people. Henrich rightly sees the Industrial Revolution as a logical continuation of the increasing liberation of markets and individuals from all the fetters that had hitherto constrained them, but he all but ignores that this development may result in the total exploitation and poisoning of nature. Since many and quite serious thinkers meanwhile warn of these dangers, any analysis of cultural evolution must be deemed one-sided, that overlooks these obvious facts.

Max Weber was thoroughly aware of future dangers (not of course of the environmental crisis). This is also true of Jared Diamond, who in his book Collapse explicitly evokes the possibility of the total collapse of societies. In this context, our reservations become are even more relevant when we consider the importance that Henrich justly ascribes to competition.

The competition of individuals and populations

has become an accepted idea since Charles Darwin at the latest. Starting from biology, it conquered the social sciences. In its coarse form, it turned into Social Darwinism, which infamously wreaked immense havoc during the twentieth century. But in the refined form, as accepted by research and by Henrich, competition between clans, tribes and nations means that the most successful models of different human lifestyles are imitated and adopted by other clans, tribes and nations. Of course, this often includes the very opposite of competition, namely cooperation. The big companies in Silicon Valley developed their amazing ideas in constant competition with each other, but within each company cooperation must be the rule – the great companies owe their global success to this coincidentia oppositorum. Like Max Weber before him, Henrich explains the spread of democracy, open markets and innovation throughout today’s world with the fascination of a model that convinces through its greater performance.

However, Henrich is blind to a crucial flaw

of his development model. We already noted that the marriage and family policy of the Church was not at all aimed at freeing man from all ties. The Church wanted to produce Christians. Until the beginning of modern secularized Europe, Christian were instructed to see in pagans and heretics their enemies that had to be fought relentlessly. Instead of ties to a specific clan, ties to a specific religion became the hallmark of one’s identity.

At the beginning of our modern era (roughly from the 17the century onwards), secularization broke the power of the Church and with it the image of its ideological enemies that is pagans and heretics, but this process did not liberate man from ideological foes. Instead, it merely replaced the old enemies with new ones. Anyone who follows the talk shows in China or Russia and the broadcasts of CNN or Fox News in the United States or the sanctions policy of the EU is well aware of the deep socio-political front lines separating mankind today. Inside the major ideological blocs, heresy has been replaced by political incorrectness while between nations pagan beliefs have been replaced by rival ideologies.

This state of affairs confronts us with the paramount problem

of our time. So successful have the great nations become by the process described by Henrich that each of them, with its economy grown to incredible strength by the industrial civilization, consumes for itself several globes, in this way not only destroying their own sustainable livelihood but at the same time that of the rest of mankind. And the three largest of them – the U.S., Russia and China – can each make the entire globe uninhabitable for millennia to come through nuclear destruction. This is the catastrophic effect of that social, psychological, and scientific-innovative increase in efficiency that Henrich so convincingly describes.

Silicon Valley became the symbol of a recipe for success that spread to the entire world: competition towards the outside, cooperation within – therein lies the magic formula of this recipe. But while the miniature happening in the state of  California signals a high point in economic development, its expansion to the entire globe is leading us down the fastest path to disaster. The ceaseless increase in economic and military efficiency of competing nations both cannibalizes the globe and brings humanity ever closer to nuclear self-destruction.

The dilemma, insurmountable at first sight, is that each nation, in the race with all others, weakens itself as soon as it refrains from increasing its own economic or military power for the sake of mankind. That is why we look in vain for even one single rich state pursuing a policy of negative growth and a single poor state voluntarily foregoing positive growth. The situation becomes even more dramatic when we turn to military competition. More and more small states of the kind of North Korea consider it their right (a basic human right?) to acquire the ultimate bomb.

Conclusion

Henrich convincingly demonstrates how the elimination of archaic clan ties has decisively broadened people’s horizons. Nor is it perhaps mere coincidence that he completely overlooks the emergence of new ideologically determined friend-foe stereotypes that replace the old biological ones. If I suggest that this oversight may correspond to an unacknowledged intention on his part, it is because the future of mankind in the 21st century depends on our ability to abolish ideological separation as well. The race of nations for greater economic and military power can only be ended if they mutually recognize each other as representing equal human beings with equal rights, where ideological as well as earlier biological barriers must lose all importance. Only when mankind finally submits to a common authority that replaces the nuclear missiles constantly directed at all of us by a world police, and only when the exploitation and destruction of the earth’s habitat gives way to a sustainable management of the common spaceship earth, can there can be an escape from this race towards the abyss. I know, this idea still seems like utopia to most people today, because, fortunately, the globe is not yet completely poisoned and exploited and because, by mere chance, the ever more complex, ever more destructive arsenals of annihilation constantly enlarged by the great powers have turned our globe into a nuclear waste.In Prof. Henrich’s paean to human development, this rather gloomy perspective is not mentioned. But it arises as an immediate, I would almost say logical consequence. For the sake of intellectual honesty, therefore, it should not be omitted.

*1* It may, of course, be objected that ninety percent of the population, namely the peasantry, were still tied to the land until the 18th century and had to marry locally. The nobility largely resisted the church’s regulations anyway. By and large, only the inhabitants of the cities will have followed them. The British ancient historian Charles Freeman is correspondingly skeptical of Henrich’s thesis. But the historical criticism does not invalidate the astonishing findings that result from Henrich’s statistical material.

Commentary by Prof. Michael Mitterauer,

Dear Mr. Jenner,

with great interest I follow your mailings, which I have been receiving for quite some time. I was particularly interested in your latest contribution “Max Weber – Jared Diamond – Joseph Henrich”. You treat the three authors with regard to how they explain the fact “that Europe followed a path different from all previous history”. This question has also occupied me for many years. In 2003, I published in the Munich Beck-Verlag “Why Europe? Medieval Foundations of a Special Path”. The book received the German Historian’s Prize in 2004 and is now available in Spanish and English translation. As a social historian I started from Max Weber, as an agricultural historian I worked intensively with my classmate Jared Diamond, from whom I received very important suggestions for my Sonderweg research. Since this research is now available in English in several translations, Joseph Henrich and his colleague Jonathan Schulz have repeatedly contacted me. You will find my publications often in their literature citations, unfortunately not my critical remarks. On this background of experience, I would like to allow myself some comments on your article.

Max Weber has put his specific approach to the explanation of the European Sonderweg in the preface to his “Collected Essays on the Sociology of Religion” under the keyword “concatenation of circumstances”. And at such circumstances “concatenated with each other” he cites a long series of factors. If he is quoted again and again only with his “Protestant ethics”, this is an abridgement of his argumentation. One need only look at his work on Italian trading societies or on urbanism in Upper Italy in the High Middle Ages to realize the breadth of his approach. He by no means explains in a one-line, monocausal fashion. Personally, I have tried to take up his approach of the “concatenation of circumstances” and carry it further. And I am convinced, it needs such multifactorial explanations to understand the European special path. I would be happy to send you summary texts on this, if you are interested.

Jared Diamond has chosen the rapid victories of the Spanish in the Americas as vivid examples of how their military superiority was caused by deep-seated cultural differences. But his approach is also much broader and anything but unilinear or monocausal. Inspired by Jared Diamond, I have placed the first chapter on the European Sonderweg in my book under the title “Rye and Oats.” This was done deliberately as a provocation to cultural and intellectual historians who unilaterally seek the origins of the European Sonderweg in the lofty heights of idealistic developments.

Max Weber and Jared Diamond are undoubtedly researchers whose reading should not be specifically recommended to those interested in the conditions of the European Sonderweg. With Joseph Henrich the situation is quite different. His “WEIRD people” are in the truest sense of the word “peculiar people”, whose designation at first arouses interest. However, the explanatory model behind it is very simple and above all scientifically totally outdated. With decades of delay, it once again takes up the thesis of anthropologist Jack Goody, namely that the popes’ early medieval prohibitions on marrying close relatives were the decisive cause for the development of marriage and family in Europe. As recently as 2009, a leading German family historian today, Bernhard Jussen, full professor of medieval studies in Frankfurt a. M., wrote a summary article entitled “Perspectives on Kinship Research Twenty-Five Years after Jack Goody’s ‘Development of Marriage and Family in Europe'” (The Family in Medieval Society, Lectures and Research 71, pp.275-324). After the extensive discussions in medieval studies during this period, Goody’s thesis about the impact of early medieval ecclesiastical endogamy prohibitions on the development of marriage and the family simply cannot be sustained. And now Joseph Henrich and his team try to derive not only the European family development, but the whole European special development, from it with great propaganda effort! The new labeling with “WEIRDpeople” or WEIRDest people” should help this attempt terminologically. In your text you clearly refer to what cannot be explained with the world formula of Henrich&Co. We must indeed speak of Henrich & Co, since Henrich has a large number of collaborators in his scientific production. In your paragraph “At this point I would like to express reservations”, you speak of new bonds which “the church” has brought about that cannot be explaned by the endogamy prohibition. And you are absolutely right when saying “A second criticism concerns the great breaking points of history. Definitely, these cannot be grasped with the methods used in Henrich’s book”.

As an example, you mention the Industrial Revolution. One could add many such “great breaking points of history”. This is also due to the methodology used. The correlations established by Henrich and his team with such mighty effort can ultimately only help to formulate hypotheses. They do not prove anything. For example, they quote: “The higher the marriage rate of cousins in a province, the higher the corruption rate and mafia activity. Henrich &Co fail to provide proof of this supposed regularity. The fact that Francis Fukuyama and other “authorities” recommend the book in no way guarantees methodological reliability.  It only shows that powerful citation and praise cartels are behind it. One could also point to prominent critics. Their number among American anthropologists is currently increasing.

I am firmly convinced that it is worthwhile to analyze historical conditions of the European Sonderweg – especially if one wants to draw conclusions for political action in the present. Reading Max Weber and Jared Diamond with such intentions can still be recommended with a clear conscience. Joseph Henrich does not fit into this line.

Please understand the severity of my criticism. It is not primarily directed at you, but at the busybody Harvard professor.

Yours sincerelyMichael Mitterauer

My response.
This comment is so interesting that I will answer it in my following essay.

Freedom perished in Rome. What about freedom in the United States?

Rome, the greatest ancient world power, owed its rise to a frugal, self-sacrificing peasantry that sent its sons into military service – except the eldest one, who remained on the farm. Indeed, at the beginning of its surprising ascendency, Rome could boast of a great abundance of children – the demographic sine-qua-non for its expansion. But the imperial successes, especially the victory over Carthage, which opened up northern Africa to the Romans as an almost limitless granary, undermined the strength of the Italic peasantry. Imported grain was so cheap that the Roman peasantry was soon no longer able to hold its own against foreign competition. In contrast, the two hundred or so superrich Roman families owed their staggering wealth precisely to the fact that they had outsourced the supply base at the expense of their compatriots. At the same time, they had built a military-industrial complex to permanently fortify their rule not only in the conquered territories but also against the increasingly disenfranchised masses at home, whom they had  deprived of their economic subsistence. The outward sign of this historic betrayal by the ruling elite became manifest in a most conspicuous way. “Proles” or children – the most cherished wealth of peasants and the nation, who had provided the demographic basis for Rome’s rise to a world power – had degenerated into dispossessed “proletarians” – in other words, into superfluous human material.

In the face of ist painful social division

Rome had to suffer much more than just a popular movement like Occupy Wallstreet. Civil wars now pitted the elite against the disenfranchised masses. The problem was the immense concentration of wealth and power in a few hands together with the powerlessness and impoverishment of the broad population. During the civil wars ravaging Rome before the final abdication of the Republic, wealth was temporarily suppressed in an extremely drastic manner. In the course of so-called “proscriptions” not only material wealth was confiscated, but the heads of its owners were cut off as well. However, even this drastic action was not able to save the Republic from capitalist economics and the destruction of civil liberties. In hindsight the reasons seem evident: The outsourcing of production and the slave economy were objectively cheaper, and the military-industrial complex proved to be the most effective means of holding the giant empire together.

We know how the Civil War ended,

it led from the Republic to the Roman Empire. The masses helped a dictatorship to power, which acquired divine attributes in order to be able to destroy civil liberties in the name of God. But a price had to be paid for the loss of liberty and the further duration of the capitalist system. It consisted in an (almost) unconditional basic income and tittytainment for the masses – both carried out at state expense. Citizens  had no longer a say in public matters, but they were now fed by the government and bloodily entertained and intimidated in the infamous Roman way.

In the second century, this arrangement worked so well that Edward Gibbon could even call this period one of the happier times in human history. It was, however, a happiness that proved fragile from the very start. In their relentless pursuit of individual wealth and personal power, the elite first abandoned solidarity with their countrymen, then abolished most remaining values and morals. In particular, the mores of Rome’s greatest families appeared so scandalous that religious communities such as those of the Christians saw in them the prime cause of all corruption. This departure from all previously held values affected procreation as well. Especially in the richest families, the absence of children became the rule, as inheritance seemed better secured in the hands of slaves, to be replaced at any moment, than in the hands of one’s own, usually rather rebellious offspring. But that was by no means all. When values get sacrificed to mammon, even truth loses its value. Towards the end of the Republic, fake news emerged – a great statesman and thinker like Cicero, who still stubbornly defended truth, was murdered by the henchmen of Marc Antonius.

The parallel with the events in the United States of America

seems evident. As the present-day electorate can only decide between candidates sponsored by capital for the extraordinarily costly election campaigns, it is in fact the one-percent money and power elite that operates the preliminary choice of presidential candidates. In this way, democracy, has largely turned into a facade even in the United States. I use the word “largely” on purpose, because democracy has, of course, always been a rather fluid concept. Apart from very small communities or religious sects, it has never been realized in a pure form anywhere on our globe, but this should not prevent us from recognizing great differences between the states that call themselves “democratic. There is no doubt that today’s United States of America still allow its citizens a far greater say in public matters and much more freedom of expression than either the People’s Republic of China or Putin`s Russia.

Nevertheless, I see the present-day U.S.

as having reached a point that is oppressively analogous to Rome’s departure from the Republic. Donald Trump has made as little secret of his contempt for democracy and for truth as he has of his admiration for dictators of the kind of Kim Jong Un or for autocrats like Vladimir Putin. This unfortunate president certainly had the will to stage a coup d’état – he merely lacked the intellectual means and the stamina to do so. If after inciting his followers to break the law, he had brought into play the necessary organizational talent and perseverance (which he lacks both), January 6 could have well turned out a success for him. Anyway, once forty percent of a nation’s voters no longer believes in the prevailing system, then its collapse is possible at any time.

For we should have no illusions:

The masses of the United States are revolting against current conditions for the same reason as the masses of Rome at the end of the Republic. Their labor and livelihood was outsourced because it can be produced more cheaply abroad – in this way more and more Americans see their living standard reduced to Third World level. For the prosperity of its own population – that is for education, health and jobs – the “elite” of the top one percent is no longer willing to undergo any sacrifices nor does it make any investments in the rotting infrastructure. The rich no longer invest money in their own country when they can get higher returns in China. The American elite betrays its own country just as did its Roman counterpart 2000 years ago. It is the glaring contrast between public poverty and concentrated private wealth that destabilizes modern America and brought Donald Trump to power (notwithstanding the fact that he himself figures as an embodiment of that evil).

Would it be theoretically conceivable that Joe Biden

or his subsequent successors turn the tide by taking decisive action against rising social inequality and mass discontent? The prescriptions for doing so abound on the left as well as on the right and, of course, in academia. The fact that a man like Trump was able to become president is, after all, primarily due to the rising discontent of the masses. Both camps even agree on some of the measures that should be taken. First of all, outsourced production (to China and other countries) would have to be brought back home; second, the rich would have to invest in the U.S. instead of China; third, the many wars the U.S. is waging abroad would have to be ended and money-guzzling military bases reduced. Not only Donald Trump voiced this intention, but that is what Bernie Sanders wants and all those who would prefer to lock the country up to the outside world in order to put an end to America’s costly global involvement. No wonder the impoverished masses and the stumbling middle class were perfectly happy with Trump’s slogan “America First.” Those who see their previous standard of living dwindling look for a savior, regardless of whether or not he achieves that goal democratically.

We know that in ancient Rome

none of these projects was realized, although the alternatives were as clear to the intellectuals of that time as they are to their successors today. The empire eventually perished from irreconcilable social antagonisms. Demographically bled dry, it was overrun and conquered in the fifth century by the child-rich hordes of the so-called barbarians.

Can a similar development be expected for the United States,

when their world empire begins to dissolve? This is a question that preoccupies the world. I think, however, that no example, not even the Roman one, can force the answer on us. History rhymes, but it need not repeat itself.

On the other hand, the course of history does not depend solely on the good intentions of the people shaping it. There are external conditions that restrict the human freedom of action. It is these barriers that make it highly likely that Joe Biden will not really stop the dismantling of American democracy. Even if a Bernie Sanders came to power, I don’t think he would be capable of doing so.

These external limits to good intentions

are due to the existence of competing nations – especially their military presence – combined with an accelerating depletion of those raw materials that no state can do without if it wants to guarantee its population the accustomed material standard of living. The development of modern technology in the military as well as in the civilian sphere cannot do without raw materials from other regions of the world – that is true even for Vladimir Putin’s giant empire, which is so richly blessed with natural resources. Competition for the exploitation of the remaining resources therefore enjoys the same high priority among the superpowers as it does among all economically emerging nations. The race for dwindling raw materials is decided by economic means (those paying more will get more) and by military power – often by both ways at the same time. Since the beginning of the 21st century, the struggle for resources has become increasingly intense, as entire continents (Africa and large parts of Asia), which previously enjoyed a largely self-sufficient, albeit poor, style of life, now demand for themselves the same civilizational prosperity as the states of the West. In this global race, isolation is no longer an option, since it is only possible at the price of freezing one’s own development while being technologically overtaken. This is precisely why the U.S. is so much afraid of China.

But if seclusion is out of the question for the U.S.,

and if, furthermore, the military-industrial complex is indispensable to maintain its status as superpower; if, moreover, large-scale capitalist enterprises continue to prove as economically efficient as they were in ancient Rome, and the technical devices of daily use can be produced much more cheaply in other regions (such as China), so that a large-scale revival of the U.S.’s own industries is out of the question, then it becomes most likely that the United States will follow Rome in sacrificing more and more freedom and democracy to economic efficiency. The material prerequisites and ideological justifications for this procedure are already in place. Instead of providing the masses now rendered economically superfluous with work and self-esteem, they will be satisfied – as they were two thousand years ago – with a (more or less) unconditional basic survival income and a hefty dose of tittytainment. Autocrats of the kind of Donald Trump will then establish a kind of modern emperorship, as it already exists under Xi Jinping in China and under Putin in Russia.

So, TINA remains our last word –

there is no alternative? Yes and no. As long as the world is consumed in the race for riches and power, where the great superstates impose the laws of action on each other and the rest of the world, things cannot be expected to change. A farewell to capitalism, the prevention of climate change and a better society are out of the question, because anyone trying to realize these goals will pay for his courage with dependence and, finally with vassalage or even destruction. Europe only needs to look back into its long history of colonization. None of the many militarily inferior states could hope that its Christian foes would reward them for having presented to them their left cheek after being beaten on the right. They were simply subdued, exploited and even annihilated. Therefore, the Race of Nations itself must come to an end before we can hope for a better world.

Meritocracy – should Technology rule?

In 1958, a young British author achieved overnight fame with his satirical writing “The Rise of the Meritocracy”. He had correctly identified a trend of the times. Basically, this trend was not particularly new; it had begun in the 18th century, when using their knowledge and skills commoners conquered more and more of those prestigious places that had until then fallen to the nobility due to the privileges of birth. But after 1945, at the end of the fratricidal Thirty Years’ War, the world lay in ruins and knowledge and skill were in particularly high demand. Overnight, as it were, outstanding talent was able to achieve the greatest impact and wealth – most visibly in the United States, where world-dominating companies such as Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, etc. were launched by individual pioneers and quickly attained the status of global corporations. Elon Musk, a technical all-round genius who has been just as imaginative and successful in the field of communications technology as he has been in car manufacturing, the space industry and brain research, became a symbol of such superior personal ability. People like him are universally admired, because no one can deny that they owe their fame, rank and wealth primarily to their own above-average skills.

Why did Michael Young write his book “The Rise of the Meritocracy”

as a satire rather than a paean to the most capable men of his time? Will anyone seriously take offense at the fact that the privileges of birth have finally been replaced by individual ability?

Perhaps they will, the argument referring to justice being indeed much more complex. For, are we not, after all, again dealing with a privilege of birth when a Mozart, Beethoven or Bach is born with extraordinary talent for music or an Elon Musk with a special talent for technology? Admittedly, this privilege was not bestowed upon them by society, as is the case with princely or royal titles. In this case, it is nature itself that is responsible – depending on one’s inclination, one may imagine nature to be represented by evolution or God.

Is it acceptable from a point of justice – we may well ask ourselves – that people are born with different talents? Even those who do not want to ask this question are still confronted with the problem whether to give society the right to grant additional awards and rewards to those who are already at an advantage over their fellow human beings due to innate talent? Society thereby only exacerbates existing natural differences.

Obviously, such questions are difficult to answer,

especially since social differences additionally contribute to offering natural talents very different development opportunities. As Pisa studies have shown, even in Germany children from the middle class have a much better chance of finding well-paid jobs than those from lower social strata. The financial situation of ones parents – once again the fortuitous result of birth – thus plays a decisive role in the prospects and happiness of a person’s life. Michael Young had his reasons for being skeptical about the rise of the most capable.

In a departure from Young, I would, however, like to examine meritocracy

from a different perspective. I assume that an overwhelming majority of contemporaries think it is perfectly good and right that people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk have global influence and power because they made a name for themselves through spectacular inventions. In contrast, they have for about three centuries fundamentally rejected being ruled by princes, barons, rajahs, sultans, kings and dictators whose only merit is their descent from high-born parents. If we take this acceptance of meritocracy for granted, we are, nevertheless, left with an extremely interesting and, as we shall see, very troubling question: what will be the future social order emerging on such a basis?

A look at the billions all over the world,

who devote a substantial share of their life time to the cell phones in their hands, makes it easier to get to grips with our problem. Ninety-nine percent know how to use the device. Less than one percent know why and how it works, and an infinitesimally small fraction of the latter would be able to redevelop the device if it suddenly disappeared due to some catastrophe.

This contrast between an overwhelming majority of ignorant users and a vanishing minority of experts deepens with each passing day – and it does so in an inescapable way, because technological progress means nothing else but growing complexity – knowledge and skill being increasingly and infinitely widened and deepened. The consequences for society will be radical and can easily be foreseen.

In the future, a decreasing number of people

will still be capable of understanding complex technologies. This is unavoidable as the demands on the technical intelligence of researchers and engineers are increasing as knowledge deepens. It is true that subjects are becoming more and more divided, but each subject is getting a broader base and at the same time the knowledge pyramid is reaching higher. This process of increasing complexity of knowledge is in the nature of things and therefore inevitable. Accordingly, the demands on human intelligence become higher and higher, while the Gaussian normal distribution of intelligence within the population is a constant, changing at most slightly in the course of centuries.

The inevitable consequence is worldwide headhunting,

where those countries are at an advantage that either have the greatest potential of a well-trained population (e.g. Japan, South Korea, China) or the greatest financial means to lure talent from all over the world with high salaries (e.g. USA and other Western countries). At the present day, there is a general competition for the funds of investors and for the technologically trained intelligentsia all over the world. The pool of talent that can be drawn from is now expanding to include all of Asia and soon Africa as well.

But globalization only temporarily alleviates the pressure to tap ever greater intelligence potential. The Gaussian normal distribution of intelligence and the demands due to rising technological complexity contradict each other. And this will have a consequence that will change the structure of future society in a profound way. What we already observe at present will deepen dramatically in the future: the gap between a majority that passively enjoys the fruits of technological complexity on the one hand, and on the other, technical geniuses like Elon Musk and his ilk, who invent, plan and understand what they are dealing with. Headhunting for above-average intelligence will inevitably be accompanied by growing inequality of social recognition and reward.

The loss of a common language

The masters and geniuses of technology and science have less and less in common with their fellow human beings. An astrophysicist, a neurological expert or a drosophila researcher each live in their own bubbles of highly specialized knowledge. The astrophysicist can really communicate only with other astrophysicists, be it in China or in the USA, it is merely the coincidence of birth that still connects him with his compatriots. The natural sciences have created a type of human being for whom national and cultural affiliation plays no more than a subordinate role, because the laws of nature, to whose knowledge he devotes his life, exist independently of national and cultural borders.

This is tantamount to a loss of meaning

The modern natural sciences that emerged in the 17th century created, for the first time in history, a social class that is allowed to act in a socially meaningless way. Until then, this freedom had nowhere existed in any human society. Among hunter-gatherers, the meaning of daily actions was as directly prescribed to the few members of the horde as is the role of each animal in a pack of lions while they are hunting. In later agrarian societies after the Neolithic Revolution, the actions of each social class were visibly related to the good of the whole. The farmer had to feed everyone, the nobility had to provide defense, the clergy had to explain the world, and the artisans were responsible for keeping the material framework of society in repair.

Today there are countless professions,

whose designation alone is exotic so that their purpose has to be circumstantially explained to the average citizen in order for him to grasp their meaning, e.g. drosophila researcher, ocularist, industrial climber, to name but a few from a steadily growing plethora of examples. But the most exotic professions come about as a result of the broader and broader research foci within the natural sciences. Only in the case of medical research, is their meaning immediately comprehensible to the layman. A doctor may be a specialist in researching a particular drug for the cure of an equally particular organ of the human body, but the meaning of what he does remains evident: he cures people.

On the other hand, the meaning of our knowledge

about the structure of atoms or galaxies is not obvious at all. Until recently, mankind knew nothing about black holes, red giants, protons and electrons, and yet it has existed on this planet for more than a million years. Whether we can count on a further period of this length, indeed, whether we can count on even the next hundred years, is by no means settled. The reason for this uncertainty lies exactly in the fact that we have abandoned the question of meaning. For quite some time meaning did not seem to matter at all, because the industrial revolution and ist main agent, technological meritocracy, produced an unbelievable upswing in living conditions and for many people they still do so today. That is why the research that made this process possible in the first place was generally credited as being “good” and highly “meaningful”.

The industrial revolution, recently also called Anthropocene,

has undoubtedly brought about the most profound of all upheavals in human history. As recently as the last century, a question about its meaning seemed simply superfluous. A growing number of people worldwide gained access to greater material well-being. In the states of the West, this goal was realized to such a high degree in the second half of the twentieth century that some could afford the luxury of rejecting the goal itself as “materialistic” and asking for higher goals. But wherever people still live in terrible poverty, that is, in large parts of Asia, in Africa or South America there is no room for such doubts. There, people follow the example of China. First, they want to achieve the Western standard of living, and later they may afford themselves the luxury of striving for something higher – for the time being, the striving for material prosperity exhausts the range of meaning.

But what, if meaning turns into nonsense?

The Industrial Revolution has made the Anthropocene possible, in other words, the unrestricted domination of the planet by human beings. The exploitation of all available resources, especially fossil energy, has so increased the food supply that Homo sapiens has increased its numbers more than sevenfold in a mere blink of history. The consequences are mega-metropolises that turn entire landscapes into deserts of concrete, with more and more space beyond those cities needed for the production of food so that it too must be used as a kind of agrarian desert where other species are reduced to a minimum. The best-known example is the Amazon rainforests transformed into fields for growing soy. However, the same process started much earlier in a prosperous country like Germany. Here, natural forests have predominantly given way to spruce plantations, where trees are planted in military order lined up like tin soldiers.

Obviously, acquiring wealth becomes meaningless when a manifold increase in population thwarts the increase in global per capita wealth and when, at the same time, the resources needed for local wealth increase are largely consumed by the generation currently living, so that future generations will have to be content with a devastated and exhausted globe.

Unfortunately, a word like “devastated” is anything but an exaggeration. We are poisoning the air with the climate poison CO2, we are poisoning the oceans with plastic and thousands of other industrial products, we are reducing the yield and usable area of the soil with garbage and the addition of artificial nutrients that destroy the humus. Recently, we are even littering the ionosphere as ubiquitous space debris becomes a threat to future space travel.

Technical knowledge and research are not “value-neutral”,

as often claimed, they are forces which, on the contrary, exert a direct influence on our values. It is our immensely increased knowledge, it is technological meritocracy that, in the past three hundred years, have transformed the world so comprehensively that the question of meaning has become the most urgent of all.

Meaning not only threatens to turn into nonsense but into madness,

once our knowledge not only deepens the social divide between technical laymen and experts, but its misuse finally becomes a threat to all mankind. Regardless of whether a researcher develops a drug that helps millions to survive, or whether he explores the physical prerequisites for a new, even more efficient bomb, or the chemical basis for an even more effective nerve poison – in all cases he is sure to win the Nobel Prize if his research represents a breakthrough in his respective field. Knowing nature and its laws better and better has generally been judged and appreciated as meaningful for three centuries, although it is precisely this knowledge that enables mankind to extinguish itself for the first time.

The question of meaning was put aside,

as if knowledge and research were always and essentially good, even if they equip us with more and more effective instruments of self-destruction.  Man has, so to speak, divided himself into two halves: to the knowing and researching spirit he ascribes innocence, the acting man alone is supposed to bear responsibility. Thus, it comes that all larger states employ thousands of researchers with the production of weapons of mass destruction, the researchers themselves, however, decline all responsibility. What others do with their knowledge is none of their business.

Not everyone thought that way. In a few cases, it is a great researcher himself who sees through the fatal irresponsibility. 

Albert Einstein contributed substantially to the development of the final bomb. At the end of his life, however, he wondered about the meaning of what he had been doing. He saw no other way out to cope with the new threat than putting a definite end to the global race for greater economic and military power. But this would require the final step toward a united world. Only a world government would have the possibility to really prevent this race towards the abyss. It may be added that only such a world-uniting power would be able to put a stop to the progressive desolation and destruction of the planet.

Any not well-disposed reader is likely to protest

at this point at the latest. Why, Mr. Jenner, do you end a not entirely uninteresting essay with such unrealistic proposals? Your readers have to fight against Corona and unemployment, the economy as a whole against decline and enormous debts, but you talk about the necessity of a world government, which is of no interest to any of us if only because nobody has the possibility to bring it about by his own actions!

That’s right! All I can say is that this is precisely the tragedy and danger of our current situation. A meritocracy of the technologically most powerful has been wreaking havoc on nature for three hundred years – and with increasing speed and efficiency. It works on behalf of superpowers whose end-time weapons it increases in scale and lethal perfection with every passing year. Actually, it should be obvious to everyone that the dangers involved are infinitely greater than Corona, unemployment and swelling debt. Nevertheless, the abyss towards which we are heading by the destruction of nature and the perfection of end-time weapons hardly seems to be of general interest – as if it were no more than the invention of malicious imagination. Should we really leave our fate to a meritocracy that to this day does not ask itself the question about the meaning, nonsense and madness of its actions?

Thymos and Logic – Why we know, yet do not act

Francis Fukuyama, arguably America’s most profound political scientist, enriched our understanding of man and history by an important notion of Greek origin – “thymos”. This term, used extensively by Plato in “The State”, is well suited to illuminate our present situation. The Greek philosopher speaks of thymos to describe a decisive dimension of human action. In his opinion, man does not obey reason alone; in truth, something else is added, namely will, desire, passion, anger, self-assertion – in short, “thymos”. Whoever ignores this driving force hardly understands human behavior. Continue reading Thymos and Logic – Why we know, yet do not act

Strong Men, Weak Peoples – the Uncertain Future of Democracy

A critical reviewer would probably have to accompany this essay in the manner of Wikipedia: “additional evidence required”. Nevertheless, I dare to publish it, because I fear that there will never be enough evidence on this topic – but instead lots of different opinions. What I may offer the reader are mere impressions, everyone may supplement them in his own way and with his – hopefully better – knowledge. Continue reading Strong Men, Weak Peoples – the Uncertain Future of Democracy

Fake Reality – two Reasons why even the Greens are only telling half the Truth about Climate Change

Dedicated to William E. Rees Continue reading Fake Reality – two Reasons why even the Greens are only telling half the Truth about Climate Change

The Freedom without which we won’t be able to live

The harsh contradiction that will dominate the politics of the 21st century manifests itself in the opposition of two equally necessary, equally indispensable tendencies. The globalization of opportunities and fateful risks will force all states to renounce part of their sovereignty. Continue reading The Freedom without which we won’t be able to live

From Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Pankaj Mishra – all those one-eyed judgments of history

Again and again the interpretation of history has been seduced by naive humanism, because the latter represents the voice of conscience without any ifs or buts. The castles in the air thus created are full of charm as they embody the noble ideal in the face of a reality which lacks such perfection. Continue reading From Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Pankaj Mishra – all those one-eyed judgments of history

Apocalypse – When?

Military competition is certainly no invention of our time, nor is war. We saw that comparatively simple but revolutionary technical innovations such as the use of horses, stirrups and combat bows were able to wreak havoc in the hands of nomads. Continue reading Apocalypse – When?