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Rev: Oct, Dec 2005 Feb 2007

We live in a confounding world. The curiosity of humankind is never satisfied. Ancient philosophers, observing the skeletons of fish imbedded in rocks, explained such observations as being the work of a flood. They were basically right about the water part, wrong about how and when it occurred.

Millennia of rational thought and experiment were required to elucidate some of the wonders of nature and to realize that the earth is not the center of the universe. Each of the major civilizations and many individuals contributed to that march toward rational awareness. In the process, humankind found comfort in myth. Mythology gave way to formal religion. On a more flexible and thoughtful level and as awareness of nature increased, philosophy gave up one after another of its purviews to the march of science. Belief and knowledge systems evolve just as the species do. Science and its implementor, technology, forged the Enlightenment and Scientific Age of Reason. But for the monotheists, it was a time to dig in and protect their own versions of god.

And when there were societal collisions, those societies most fit to preserve their members survived. This seems to be a law of nature. It is also a law that species and systems survive by cooperating. For individuals in conflict, it is the strongest and most agile in body and mind that prevail. Societies are similar; yet those that most appreciate and cooperate with each other propagate themselves. Fierceness and herding together for preservation seem to be nature's way.

Awareness of our genetic origins and written human history is vital if we are to provide rational bases for our individual philosophies and allow for our characters and personalities to develop with a world view. A new time in history is upon us with options never before presented humankind.

Some Pre-history - We propose that the human personality has deep evolutionary roots that are reflected in today's world. Two roots that impact human history down to our times are the fierceness and herding instincts. We argue that these two traits give rise today to the authoritarian approach to governance counterbalanced only by security in numbers. Of course that is a simplification but it happens to fit what we see and know. As such it is a viable hypothesis to go by while searching for better ideas. But if you think about it, our genetic heritage set us up for some good along with the bad. For example, what system of governance better balances our competing instincts than a true democracy?

As for the details, we now have scientific evidence too strong to ignore that personality is a product of evolution, it is not just another anthropomorphic idea. For example, selective animal breeding experiments have shown that aggressive and shy behaviors, two human-like traits, can be isolated in as little as four generations in birds. That this separation can be achieved in just four generations means that there is only a small number of genes involved, perhaps ten or so. One has likely been identified, DRD4. In scientific terms, about half of the variation in avian personality is genetic in origin. Dogs, hyenas, baboons, chimpanzees, elephants, birds and squid have all been studied. Both elephants and rhesus monkeys have even been shown to exhibit personality disorders related to childhood trauma, just as people do.

Behavior consistencies among the many species are now such that it simply cannot be accidental. Neuroticism and agreeableness are additional traits being recognized in other species. And those traits seem to remain stable for years in animals, just as they do in people.

Just as fierceness has an obvious evolutionary edge in people, so also extroversion seems to have. Dr Daniel Nettle at the University of Newcastle found that extroverts (in a cohort of 545 people) tend to have more sex partners than their more reserved counterparts--with an obvious evolutionary edge.

One question comes up in this regard, if personality traits really are heritable, then why are we not all fierce or otherwise uniform in personality? The answer of course is that other traits, such as the herding instinct also favor survival. It is an easy conceptual leap from there to the thought that evolution itself led to the survival of the various traits we exhibit. Not enough research has been done on human personality evolution to be sure, but initial results are consistent with that idea.

Anthropomorphism is not talking here. The data speaks for itself. Personality is not just a human characteristic, it is genetic and therefore natural. Personality has been around for a long, long time. Humans and birds share a common ancestor, but that split came about two hundred millions of years ago. For the squid, the split came long before that, perhaps a half billion years ago.

For more on this see: NY Times 1 Mar 2005 and also Nature, pg 607, 24 Feb. 2005.

The Lessons Of History - Will and Ariel Durant

Will and Ariel Durant wrote a succinct brief on what history seems to be. The following excerpts are organized according to, and inspired by, their delightful little book: The Lessons of History. We recommend this book highly. They take no sides. It is insightful history 101 on the quick. A brief review, quotes indented, follows:


    Life is competition. Competition is not just the life of trade, it is the trade of life, peaceful when food abounds, violent when mouths outrun food. Animals eat one another without qualm; civilized men consume one another by due process of law.

The problems arise in the definitions. For one example: In most of the world, governments leave hands off adulterers. In Taliban-style governance it is the same but only if you are a man. A woman is stoned to death in public, or raped by her brother's jury for his crime.

    Life is selection. Inequality is not only natural and inborn, it grows with the complexity of society. Freedom and equality are sworn and everlasting enemies, and when one prevails, the other dies.

This is nature. And nature does not heed the American Declaration of Independence, the French Revolutionary Declaration of the Rights of Man, or the Four Freedoms. Natural differences among individuals lead ultimately to biological evolution. So it may be between nation states.

    Leave men free and their differences, over time, will multiply almost geometrically. Utopias of true equality are biologically doomed. The best one can hope for is an approximate equality of legal justice and educational opportunity.

    Parentage should be a privilege of health, not of sexual agitation. Is there any evidence that birth control is dysgenic, that it lowers the intellectual level of the nation practicing it? [The converse may be true; population control leads to more wealth per individual and with that enhanced education and opportunity.] Family limitations played some part in the histories of Greece and Rome. In AD 59, Julius Caesar offered rewards to Romans with many children, and Augustus followed his lead. Yet birth control continued to spread in the upper classes while immigrant stocks from elsewhere replenished and altered the population of Italy.

Just as the defeat of the Muslims at Tours (732) kept France and Spain from having to replace the Bible with the Koran, the fertility of Catholics may yet cancel the Protestant Reformation and the French enlightenment, or so the Durant's thought. Catholics themselves may have something to do with that as many, perhaps most, are defying the Church with regard to birth control.

There is no humorist like History.


    Civilization develops under any skin. It is a cooperative product; nearly all peoples have contributed to it; it is our common heritage and debt. Traces of the Chinese, Greeks, Romans, and Arabs are found in the daily lives of us all.

    Many nations of different ethnicity can point to their contributions to world culture and periods of greatness. Racial theories fall in the face of facts. The Chinese civilization is the most enduring on earth, spanning four millennia. Geographical opportunity and economic and political development are the primary architects of civilization. It is not so much a race that makes a civilization; it is the civilization that makes the people and civilization is the master of their souls.

    From the condition of slavery in America until 150 years ago, Blacks have risen to high places in government, the professions, arts, athletics, and letters despite thousands of social obstacles. American civilization is still in the stage of racial mixture and blending. Bigotry, though much reduced, is hardly dead.

    Only with the freeing of slaves, could America begin moving closer to true democracy and equality. America has grown strong on the backs of immigrants from the world over with individual freedom and economic opportunity virtually the only attractions. In many parts of the world, women live in bondage even today.

There is no cure for racial antipathies except broadened education and making personal friends across racial boundaries.

The United States is the most successful nation on earth in terms of peace among members of its multiethnic, multi-faith society. When we Americans hear Arabs accuse us of Zionism, it seems antithetical to the pluralism we hold dear. We tend to dismiss the very idea. We do this through an unhealthy mix of pride and ignorance.

Nevertheless, there are roots to this Arab attitude. With full justification, Arabs equate the existence of Israel to Zionism. Since we support Israel to the tune of billions of dollars each year for arms and economic development, what is the average Arab to think? See Zionism for more.


    Human nature is defined as the fundamental tendencies and feelings of mankind. Character [in the outward behavioral sense] is the sum of instincts, habits, and feelings on our behavior. Each element is composed of both negatives and positives. The constitution of man rewrites the constitutions of states. But what is the constitution of man? By and large, the poor have the same impulses as the rich, but with less opportunity and skill to pursue them. Society is not founded on ideals but on the nature of man.

    Successful rebels become as despotic as the forces they deposed. And history shows little difference in the conduct of man across ethnic or geographic boundaries.

    Terrorism, whether driven by religious or secular causes has infected all peoples at times, just as has crime. Human nature has not changed much throughout recorded history.

    Intellect has been both a vital force and a destructive power in history.

    Wisdom only comes after centuries of experimentation in the laboratory of history. Wisdom has been far more successful at unlocking the secrets of nature than at unlocking the secrets of man's character. The conservative who resists change is as valuable as the radical who proposes it. It is good that new ideas should be heard, for the sake of the few that can be used.


    Morals are the behavioral rules by which societies secure order, security and growth. Moral codes adjust to historical and environmental conditions. The growth of metropolitan areas allow a rebellious youth to hide his sins in the protective anonymity of the crowd. War adds to the forces of moral laxity.

    In every age, men have been dishonest and governments have been corrupt. This does not apply to all individuals of course, but it is common enough in all societies.

    Events as lived are quite different from events reported; only exceptional events are newsworthy events.

This myopia is self-defeating to the extent it clouds vision. It is compounded when two adversaries are involved; two versions of the same events become the order of the day. Motivations vary, but too often observations reported amount to narrow self interest by those involved, bias if you will. Bias usually is unconscious.

So reconstructing history with any clarity is always a difficult task. Even today, we can select any of several versions of events, just by resetting the TV dial or web browser. As for the present, one can visit history in the making and even that is not often possible to do since one side or the other can and does prevent access.


    By its presence, religion seems indispensable in every land and in every age. Since the natural inequality of men dooms many of us to poverty or defeat, some supernatural hope may be the only alternative to despair. Destroy that hope and class warfare is intensified.

Misunderstanding this point can lead to tragedy of worldwide dimension. Terrorism is a primary expression that the Durants foresaw.

    Historically, when priests used fears of the hidden forces in nature to support morality and law, religion became a force and rival to the state. Though the Church served the state, it claimed to stand above all states, as morality should stand above power. It taught men that patriotism unchecked by a higher loyalty can be a tool of greed and crime.

The converse is also true. Historically, theocracies fared worse than democracies. Yet we see politicians today co-opt religion in their zest for power. The Durants go on:

    The Church was manned with men who often proved biased, venal, or extortionate. More and more the [Catholic] hierarchy spent its energies in promoting orthodoxy rather than morality, and the Inquisition almost fatally disgraced the Church. While preaching peace, the Church fomented religious wars in France and Germany. Immorality has always flourished, even in the ages of religious domination.

All this is as true today as it was a millennium ago. Men of faith can no more be trusted than politicians. Our founding fathers realized this simple truth and created a Constitution providing for the separation of church and state with sufficient checks and balances to counter human frailty, something many organized religions do not recognize or address to this day.

At the same time, our founding fathers recognized the role of faith in daily living and wrote a Constitution that certifies the right of Americans to observe the faith of their choice. Humankind has not yet been around long enough to know whether or not society will naturally evolve beyond any need for formal religion. From the science side of that coin, it seems there will always be questions remaining unanswered. We are not quite sure what exact role time plays in the observable universe, but it does seem to limit what we can ever know. A need for faith may be everlasting. (The word "faith" is used for there are peaceful societies that are not monotheistic.)

Humankind is now on the threshold of being able to bring about change in the human genome, and the decision to do so will not wait. A nominal re-creation of the smallpox virus is already here. Further it may not be our decision to make; cloning is also here. Can we look three layers deep under the anthrax-terror veneer for insight and then have the openness of mind and courage of heart to move forward? If we in America do not, surely someone will. Technological evolution will bring this about. On this point science fiction today really is tomorrow's reality, and tomorrow is already here.

If mankind is on the threshold of being able to create life, where does that leave the concept of God? Alive and well we think. There is an ultimate power [God] we cannot imagine, even as we execute nature's expression and create life. Whatever the true nature of the source of it all [God], that source [God] built into nature just this result.

    The Church does not alter doctrines that reason smiles at. [This is just as true today as it was in the day of Galileo.] Any change would offend and disillusion millions [and threaten the Church]. History does not support the existence of an intelligent, benevolent supreme being. The universe has no prejudice in favor of Christ as against Genghis Khan.

    Christendom began a slow decline from Copernicus (1543). Laws which were once presented as the decrees of a God-given king (pope) are now frankly the confused commands of fallible men. The future looking back at today will have similar opinions about how we conduct ourselves.

    Like the proverbial feline, religion has many lives and a habit of resurrection.

    There is no significant example in history, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion. The provisional success of a few communist states to exclude religion may owe their success to their populace accepting communism as their religion (or as skeptics would have it, their opium).

    Like theologies and other systems of government, communist systems are rife with corruption and venality. In a sense, morality is what a society says it is.

    As long as there is poverty, there will be gods. Poverty disenfranchises the poverty-stricken from education, from equal opportunity, and from the right to find and express themselves to the fullest. It should be no surprise that terrorists have co-opted religion and find ready support among the disenfranchised.


    The Greeks knew well how to cover naked economic truth with a fig leaf. The Crusades were attempts to capture trade routes to the East. The French Revolution came because the middle classes had risen to economic leadership, and itched for social acceptance and political power.

    Simply put, money is power and power is money, and each is sought after by all classes. States by and large behave the same way.

    Motives for war could be economic. When they were, the results were determined by the masses. The Moorish conquest of Spain and the Mongol conquests of Western Asia and India were cases where the poor proved stronger than the rich.

    History is inflationary; money is the last thing a wise man will hoard. In market economies, free people are usually judged by their ability to produce, except in war, when they are judged by their ability to destroy. But inflation marches on.

One dynamic seems to be the never-ending conflict between labor and management in market economies. When workers see their employer making huge profits, it is only natural to want a larger share. A strike wins a greater share; to recoup, management can raise prices or push for improved efficiency which labor often resists. So prices rise and inflation happens. Inflation is just one result of the battle between the haves and have-nots.

    Since practical ability varies from person to person, special abilities concentrate in a minority of men. The rate of this [talent] concentration varies with the freedom permitted by morals and the laws.

    Plutocratic democracy (democracy governed by the wealthy) accelerates the concentrations of special abilities of whatever kind, and of knowledge and wealth in particular.

    Historically when the strength of number of poor rivaled the strength of ability of the rich, an unstable equilibrium created critical situations. The choice for the rich was to voluntarily legislate a redistribution, or face the prospect that it would be done by force.

The present economic gap between the wealthiest and poorest is now greater than at any time since Imperial plutocratic Rome.

    Solon, the chief archon (leader) of Athens of 594 BC, effected a redistribution of wealth, and after a generation facing extreme economic disparity, was credited with saving Athens from revolution. In the process, the rich accused him of confiscation while the poor complained that he had not re-divided the land.

    The Roman Senate took the opposite tack [not redistributing wealth] and the result was 100 years of class and civil warfare. Solon and Gracchus were both of aristocratic stock. The French Revolution was a similar attempt to redistribute wealth from the aristocracy to the poor, but the bourgeoisie wound up the winners. The United States, in 1933-52 and 1960-65, followed Solons peaceful methods, and accomplished a moderate and pacifying redistribution. The upper class cursed, complied, and resumed their concentration of wealth.

In view of the Enron, Worldcom and many other business scandals, America may be poised for another such peaceful revolution. Certainly, executives become obscenely rich at the expense of their employees and stockholders.

    Concentration of wealth is natural and inevitable, and it is periodically alleviated by violent or peaceful partial redistribution. Viewed in this manner, economic history is the slow heartbeat of society.

Wealth concentration is a valid and common complaint of the poor, a complaint the terrorist emphasizes when recruiting. Having created a world of instant messages and easy travel, the wealthy societies are immune no longer from complaints of the poor and terrorism. It is no wonder the Trade Center was twice targeted. Terrorists have further such targets in sight.

    Every advance in the complexity of the economy puts added premium upon superior ability, and intensifies the concentration of wealth, responsibility and political power.

    Samaria (2100 BC), Babylon (1750 BC), and Egypt under the Ptolemies (323 BC) were attempts at socialism. Egypt became the richest state of its time. But Egypt declined when the pharaohs took to wars, drink, and venery while allowing the economy to fall into the hands of rascals who widened the economic gap. Disorder and poverty spread until Octavius brought Egypt under Roman rule (30 BC).

Rome had its socialist interlude, with a twist, under Diocletian. His twist was to instill fear of Barbarians at the gate, but the task of controlling the economic detail proved too much for his expanding and corrupt bureaucracy. The Soviet Union was a replay.

China has made several attempts at state socialism. Acts of God, human deviltry, rival groups disenfranchised by reforms, high taxes, corruption in bureaucracy, and visiting comets revoked their temporary successes.

    The Inca experiment [beginning in the 13th Century] was the longest lasting socialist state in history, some 300 years. The glue seems to have been security and food. Every person was an employee of the state until Pizarro in 1553.


Most governments have been oligarchies ruled by the minority, chosen by birth, as in aristocracies, or by a religious organization, as in theocracies, or by wealth, as in democracies.

    Monarchies. Historically, monarchies have been more prevalent and enduring than have democracies--hectic interludes one might say. But all in all, monarchies have a middling record. The American Revolution was not only a revolt of colonials against a distant monarchy; it was also an uprising of a native middle class against an imported aristocracy.

    Democracy. Democracy as we know it has existed for the most part only after the French Revolution. The ancient democracies, corroded by slavery, venality and war, do not deserve the name. They offer no test of popular government. Democracy is the most difficult of all forms of governance, since it requires the widest spread in intelligence, and we forgot to make ourselves intelligent when we made ourselves sovereign.

    American democracy is attractive because of the equality and freedom this form of government attempts to bring. It had a firmer foundation than any democracy in history: Abundant free land and personal independence rooted in the land; minimal legislation; geographic isolation; Anglo-Saxon law which defended the citizens from the state. Protestantism opened the way to religious and mental liberty.

    The first condition of freedom is its limitation. Power naturally converges to a center, for it is ineffective when divided, diluted, and spread.

    If equality of educational opportunity can be established, democracy will be real and justified.


    War is the ultimate form of competition and natural selection in the human species. War is one of the constants of history; it has not diminished with civilization or democracy. In recorded history, 3464 years, only 268 have seen no war.

    The causes of war are the same as the causes of competition among individuals: acquisitiveness, pugnacity, and pride; the desire for food, land, materials, fuels, mastery. The state has our individual instincts without our restraints. It obeys no substantial restraints, either because it is strong enough to defy interference or there is no super-state to offer it protection, and no international law or moral code wielding effective force.

    As Europe freed itself from papal overlordship in the 16th century, each state encouraged nationalism as a supplement to its army and navy. In the 17th and 18th centuries, wars were contests between aristocracies rather than between peoples.

    In the 20th century, technology became so effective, that wars ultimately involved civilians as well as combatants, and won victory through wholesale destruction of property and life. At the same time, international phobia reached new heights as technology secured means for massive, even total, destruction. The nature of warfare escalated from gentleman's agreements to massive slaughter of civilians.

    If a European state anticipated war with a neighbor, it fomented, in its people, hatred of that country, and formulated catchwords to bring that hatred to the lethal point; meanwhile it stressed its love of piece. This conscription of the soul to international phobia occurred only in the most elemental conflicts, and was seldom resorted to in Europe between the religious wars of the 16th century and the wars of the French Revolution. During that interval, peoples of conflicting states were allowed to respect one another's achievements and civilization; Englishmen safely traveled to France while France was at war with England; and the French and Frederick The Great continued to admire each other as they fought the Seven Years War.

    Science and technology may later enlarge the material achievements of peace, an apologetic consolation.

    In the military interpretation of history, war is the final arbiter, and is accepted as natural and necessary by all but cowards and simpletons. In the present inadequacy of international law and sentiment, a nation must be ready at any moment to defend itself. The Ten Commandments must be silent when self-preservation is at stake.

    Magnanimity in politics is the truest wisdom; great empire and little minds go ill together. States will unite in basic cooperation only when they are in common attacked from without.


History repeats itself, but only in outline and in the large.

    State Formation Most states took form through conquest of one group by another, and the establishment of a continuing force over the conquered by the conqueror; his decrees were the first laws; and these, added to the customs of the people, created a new social order.

The state of Israel is a prominent example from the 20th century. As such it is another page in history. But times have changed. Modern governments profess to recognize individual rights to a larger degree than in earlier times. Two groups, each with sympathy on its side, are at once the beneficiaries and victims of this new governance view. Are we on a growth curve or has decay set in already? It may be decades before we know.

    Challenges Challenge successfully met (as by the United States in 1919, 1933, and 1941, Britain's finest hour), raises the temper and the level of a nation, and makes it abler to meet further challenges.

    Elements of Permanence Greek civilization is not really dead, only its frame is gone. Homer and Plato have more readers in our time than they did in theirs. This selective survival of creative minds is the most real and beneficent of immortality.Rome imported Greek civilization and transmitted it to Western Europe; America profited from European and Eastern civilizations and is passing them on with techniques of transmission never matched before. As life overrides death with reproduction, so an aging culture hands its patrimony down to heirs across the years and the seas. Resilient man picks up his tools and his arts and moves on, taking his memories with him.

    As education spreads, theologies lose credence. Ideas become increasingly secular. Moral codes lose force as their human origins are revealed, and as sanctions are removed.

    Decline When a group or civilization begins to decline, it is through no mystic limitation of the corporate life, but through the failure of its political or intellectual leaders to meet the challenge of change. Drought, incompetent husbandry, improvident usage, mounting taxes, trade imbalance, concentration of wealth or population, and poverty can all contribute to decline. Civilizations in decay show various symptoms: luxury, family disorder, and corruption are prominent aspects. Decisive defeat in war with another state or with barbarians from within [revolution] brings civilizations to a close.


    Against the panorama of nations, morals, and religions rising and falling, the idea of progress finds itself in dubious shape.

    Progress is the increasing control of environment by life. (Control of the environment is so ill-used by America that it can hardly be called progress. And, of course, life is part of the environment.) Environment control is the test that holds for the lowliest organism as well as man. Our problem is whether the average person has increased control over the conditions of life. If education is the transmission of civilization, we are progressing. The heritage we pass on includes the heritage of Pericles and of all those who followed him: Leonardo, Voltaire, and many others. As heritage rises, man rises in proportion as he receives it.

    Progress in science and technology has involved both good and evil. Immense progress in locomotion is of great benefit, but some of us use this to facilitate crime and to kill our fellow humans or ourselves.

    Through technology we have bettered the conditions for the skilled and the middle class, as we have allowed our cities to fester with dark ghettos and slimy slums.

    Have we really outgrown intolerance, or merely transferred it to national, ideological, or racial hostilities?

    Human history, unlike natural history, presents itself as much by appearance as by fact: Arabic and Zionist propaganda are polar opposites on the same question, and this is just one extreme example; marketing and packaging are often more important than actual substance in the product of a market economy; a corporate high flyer one day finds bankruptcy the next; cosmetic surgery abounds; medical procedures are still subject to fads; scams of all types prey on those harboring illusions; advertisers create visions that never came about; and then we have the stock market where the odds against instant riches are higher than they are in Las Vegas.

Is this progress? Certainly most people on earth now can expect to live longer than their parents did. And life has has become more bearable for many. Science, engineering and their combination, technology, have certainly advanced. Our knowledge continues to expand exponentially. So do industry, communication, and transportation. These are the material advances and they are certainly real.

Have we progressed a like amount socially? On this question the Durants had as much difficulty as we do. There has been no change in morality evident in all of history; political fads have come and gone; Jeffersonian democracy has overcome many obstacles, but on the calendar of history is still a child whose mature self is not yet in view; options in religions have multiplied even as there is no change in the four major options that were there a millennium ago; war and terrorism are still rampant.

Given the above, what wisdom can we find for dealing with Terrorism?


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