Re: virus: Richard Brodie & Howard Bloom on "Laura Lee Show"

Ken Kittlitz (
Tue, 01 Oct 1996 20:19:49 -0600

Richard's mention of Howard Bloom gave me incentive to finally write a
review of The Lucifer Principle. Also available at

The Lucifer Principle
by Howard Bloom

reviewed by Ken Kittlitz

In this book, Bloom sets out to explain human conflict, both individual and
societal, as the result of genetic and memetic evolution. Each person, he
argues, is not so much an autonomous actor as a small cell in one or more
super-organisms, the societies of which that person is a part.

The Lucifer Principle draws from areas such as evolutionary theory, memetics,
and the study of neural networks, so much so that a casual browser might
dismiss it as being a hodge podge of trendy concepts. Happily this is not the
case, and the picture Bloom paints of the forces that drive us is both
compelling and frightening. Though we in the Western world like to view
ourselves as the masters of our own destinies, he argues that most of the time
we are pawns, disposable components of our societies. This dubious stature
arose from our making a living as social animals: even though our genes are
concerned with their own welfare, it was often in their ultimate best interest
to sacrifice individuals so that the larger group, possessing much of the
"right" DNA, could survive.

The rise of memes only worsened this situation. Originally working mostly for
the benefit of their hosts' DNAs, memes soon began their own evolutionary
journey, driving us to their own ends, regardless of the benefit or cost to
ourselves. Bloom gives chilling examples of in-groups forming into memetic
super-organisms and continuing the struggle for dominance began by our far
ancestors. People are the synapses in these virtual neural nets, and like
synapses, are expendable, be it on the point of an enemy's sword or in a
compound in Waco, Texas.

Many of Bloom's arguments rest on the assumption that groups, be they
composed of organisms or ideas, will form into hierarchies in which there is
competition for the upper slots. The inevitability of such "pecking orders"
may not be entirely true, however, John Livingston's Rogue Primate offers
another interpretation of some of the relevant data. Likewise, it's difficult
to know offhand if Bloom's intriguing historical examples are truly
representative of how societies behave, or if they were chosen carefully to
buttress his arguments. These points aside, The Lucifer Principle is an
important book, one that helps us better understand the forces that control
us and how we might challenge them.

The Lucifer Principle
Howard Bloom
The Atlantic Monthly Press
New York, NY
ISBN 0-87113-532-9