Mother Nature, the Bloody Bitch

This is an excerpt from The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History by Howard Bloom (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1997). Reprinted by permission from the author.

Mother Nature, the Bloody Bitch

We do not see, or we forget, that the birds which are idly singing around us mostly live on insects or seeds, and are thus constantly destroying life.
—Charles Darwin, The Origin of the Species

Mankind has always been cutting one another’s throats…. Do you not believe … that hawks have always preyed upon pigeons? … Then … if hawks have always had the same nature, what reason can you give why mankind should change theirs?
—Voltaire, Candide

In 1580, Michel de Montaigne, inspired by the discovery of New World tribes untouched by Europe’s latest complexities, initiated the idea of the “noble savage.” Nearly two hundred years later, Jean-Jacques Rousseau popularized the concept when he published four works[16] proclaiming that man is born an innocent wonder, filled with love and generosity, but that a Luciferian force ensnares him: modern civilization. Rousseau claimed that without civilization, humans would never know hatred, prejudice, or cruelty.

Today, the Rousseauesque doctrine seems stronger than ever. Twentieth-century writers and scientists like Ashley Montagu, Claude Lévi-Strauss (who hailed Rousseau as the “father of anthropology”), Erich Jantsch, David Barash, Richard Leakey, and Susan Sontag have reworked the notion to condemn current industrial civilization. They have been joined by numerous feminist,[17] environmentalist, and minority rights extremists. Even such august scientific bodies as the American Anthropological Association, the American Psychological Association, and the Peace and War Section of the American Sociological Association have joined the cause, absolving “natural man” of malevolence by endorsing “The Seville Statement,” an international manifesto which declares that “violence is neither in our evolutionary legacy nor in our genes.”[18]

As a result, we are told almost daily that modern Western culture—with its consumerism, its capitalism, its violent television shows, its blood-soaked films, and its nature-mangling technologies—“programs” violence into the wide-eyed human mind. Our society is supposedly an incubator for everything that appalls us.

However, culture alone is not responsible for violence, cruelty, and war. Despite the Seville Statement’s contentions, our biological legacy weaves evil into the substrate of even the most “unspoiled” society. What’s more, organized battle is not restricted to humans. Ants make war and either massacre or enslave a rival swarm. Cichlid fish gang up and attack outsiders.[19] Myxobacteria form “wolf packs” that corner and dismember prey.[20] Groups of lizards pick on a formerly regal member of the clan who has become disfigured by the loss of his tail. Female bees chase an overage queen through the corridors of the hive and lunge, biting over and over until she is dead. And even rival “super coalitions” of a half-dozen male dolphins fight like street gangs, often inflicting serious injuries.[21] Ants do not watch television. Fish seldom go to the movies. Myxobacteria, lizards, dolphins, and bees have not been “programmed” by Western culture.

A host of writers gained attention in the late eighties and early nineties with books that celebrated a return to a mothering earth. They felt that if we scraped away large-scale agriculture, internal-combustion engines, televisions, and air conditioners, nature would return to bless us with her primordial paradise.

Unfortunately, these authors held a distorted view of pre-industrial reality. A pride of lions at their ease enjoys the kind of nature the radical environmentalists dreamed about. You can see the smiles on lions’ faces as they lick their paws and stretch out on the ground side by side, clearly pleased with the comfort of each other’s warmth. You can see the benevolence with which a mother keeps a cub from playfully tearing her tail apart. She lifts her huge paw and gently shoves the infant aside when his nipping becomes too painful. But nature has given these lion mothers only one way of feeding their children: the hunt. This afternoon, these peaceful creatures will tear a gazelle limb from limb. The panicked beast will try frantically to avoid the felines closing in on her, but they will break her neck and drag her across the plain still alive and kicking. Her eyes will be open and aware as her flesh is gashed and torn.

Suppose for a minute that lions were suddenly stricken with guilt about their feeding habits and swore off meat. What would they accomplish? They would starve themselves and their children. For they have been given only one option: to kill. Killing is an invention not of man but of nature.

Nature’s amusements are cruel. A female sea turtle crawls painfully up the beach of a tropical island, dragging her bulk across the sand. Slowly she digs a nest with her hind flippers and lays her eggs. From those eggs come a thousand tiny, irresistible babies, digging out of the sand, blinking at the light for the first time, rapidly gaining their orientation from a genetically preprogrammed internal compass, then taking their first walk, a race toward the sea. As the infants scoot awkwardly across the beach, propelling themselves with flippers built for an entirely different task, sea birds who have been waiting for this feast swoop down to enjoy meal after high-protein meal. Of a thousand hatchlings, perhaps three will make it to the safety of the ocean waves.[22] The birds are not sadistic creatures whose instincts have been twisted by an overdose of television. They’re merely engaged in the same effort as the baby turtles—the effort to survive.

Hegel, the nineteenth-century German philosopher, said that true tragedy occurs not when good battles evil, but when one good battles another. Nature has made that form of tragedy a basic law of her universe. She presents her children with a choice between death and death. She offers a carnivore the options of dying by starvation or killing for a meal.

Nature is like a sculptor continually improving upon her work, but to do it she chisels away at living flesh. What’s worse, she has built her morally reprehensible modus operandi into our physiology. If you occasionally feel that you are of several minds on one subject, you are probably right. In reality, you have several brains. And those brains don’t always agree. Dr. Paul D. MacLean was the researcher who first posited the concept of the “triune brain.” According to MacLean, near the base of a human skull is the stem of the brain, poking up from the spinal column like the unadorned end of a walking stick. Sitting atop that rudimentary stump is a mass of cerebral tissue bequeathed us by our earliest totally land-dwelling ancestors, the reptiles.[23] When these beasts turned their backs on the sea roughly three hundred million years ago and hobbled inland, their primary focus was simple survival. The new landlubbers needed to hunt, to find a mate, to carve out territory, and to fight in that territory’s defense. The neural machinery they evolved took care of these elementary functions. MacLean calls it the “reptile brain.” The reptile brain still sits inside our skull like the pit at the center of a peach. It is a vigorous participant in our mental affairs, pumping its primitive, instinctual orders to us at all hours of the day and night.

Eons after the first reptiles ambled away from the beach, their great-great-grandchildren many times removed evolved a few dramatic product improvements. These upgrades included fur, warm blood, the ability to nurture eggs inside their own bodies, and the portable supply of baby food we know as milk. The remodeled creatures were no longer reptiles. They had become mammals. Mammals’ innovative features gave them the ability to leave the lush tropics and make their way into the chilly north. Their warm blood allowed them, in fact, to survive the rigors of an occasional ice age, but it exacted its costs. Warm blood demanded that mammal parents not simply lay an egg and wander off. It forced mammal mothers to brood over their children for weeks, months, or even years. And it required a tighter social organization to take care of these suckling clusters of mammal mothers and children.

All this demanded that a few additions be built onto the old reptilian brain. Nature complied by constructing an envelope of new neural tissue that surrounded the reptile brain like a peach’s juicy fruit enveloping the pit. MacLean called the add-on the “mammalian brain.” The mammalian brain guided play, maternal behavior, and a host of other emotions. It kept our furry ancestors knitted together in nurturing gangs.

Far down the winding path of time, a few of our hirsute progenitors tried something new. They stood on their hind legs, looked around them, and applied their minds and hands to the exploitation of the world. These were the early hominids. But protohuman aspirations were impractical without the construction of another brain accessory. Nature complied, wrapping a thin layer of fresh neural substance around the two old cortical standbys—the reptilian and mammalian brains. The new structure, stretched around the old ones like a peach’s skin, was the neocortex—the primate brain. This primate brain, which includes the human brain, had awesome powers. It could envision the future. It could weigh a possible action and imagine the consequences. It could support the development of language, reason, and culture.[24] But the neocortex had a drawback: it was merely a thin veneer over the two ancient brains. And those were as active as ever, measuring every bit of input from the eyes and ears, and issuing fresh orders. The thinking human, no matter how exalted his sentiments, was still listening to the voices of a demanding reptile and a chattering ancient mammal. Both were speaking to him from the depths of his own skull.

Richard Leakey, the eminent paleoanthropologist, says war didn’t exist until men invented agriculture and began to acquire possessions. In the back of Leakey’s mind, one might find a wistful prayer that agriculture would go away so we could rediscover peace. But Leakey is wrong. Violence is not a product of the digging stick and hoe.[25]

In the Kalahari Desert of southern Africa live a people called the !Kung. The !Kung have no agriculture and very little technology. They live off the fruit and plants their women gather and the animals their men hunt. Their way of life is so simple that hordes of anthropologists have studied them, convinced that the !Kung live as our ancestors must have over ten thousand years ago, before the domestication of plants. In the early years of !Kung ethnography, anthropologists became wildly excited. These simple people had no violence, they said. Anthropology had discovered the key to human harmony—abolish the modern world, and return to hunting and gathering.

Richard Leakey used the !Kung as his model of paradisal pre-agriculturists. The !Kung way of life proved that without the plow, men would not have the sword. Yet later studies revealed a blunt and still-underpublicized fact. !Kung men solve the problem of adultery by murder. As a result, among the !Kung the homicide rate is higher than that in New York City.[26]

!Kung violence takes place primarily between individuals. In both humans and animals, however, the greatest violence occurs not between individuals but between groups. It is most appalling in war.

Dian Fossey, who devoted nineteen years to living among and observing the mountain gorillas of central Africa’s Virunga Mountains, felt these creatures were among the most peaceful on earth.[27] Yet mountain gorillas become killers when their social groups come face-to-face. Clashes between social units, said Fossey, account for 62 percent of the wounds on gorillas. Seventy-four percent of the males Fossey observed carried the scars of battle, and 80 percent had canine teeth they’d lost or broken while trying to bite the opposition. Fossey actually recovered skulls with canine cusps still embedded in their crests.[28]

One gorilla group will deliberately seek out another and provoke a conflict. The resulting battles between gorilla tribes are furious. One of the bands that Fossey followed was led by a powerful silverback, an enormous male who left a skirmish with his flesh so badly ripped that the head of an arm bone and numerous ligaments stuck out through the broken skin. The old ruling male, whom Fossey called Beethoven, had been supported in the fight by his son, Icarus. Icarus left the battle scene with eight massive wounds where the enemy had bitten him on the head and arms. The site where the conflict had raged was covered with blood, tufts of fur, broken saplings, and diarrhetic dung.[29] Such is the price of prehuman war in the Virunga Mountains.

Gorillas are not the only subhumans to cluster in groups that set off to search for blood. By the early seventies, Jane Goodall had lived fourteen years among the wild chimpanzees of Tanzania’s Gombe Reserve. She loved the chimps for their gentle ways, so different from the violence back home among humans. Yes, there were simian muggings, beatings, and rage, but the ultimate horror—war—was absent.

Goodall published a landmark book on chimpanzee behavior—In the Shadow of Man—a work that to some proved unequivocally that war was a human creation. After all, the creatures shown by genetic and immunological research to be our nearest cousins in the animal kingdom knew nothing of organized, wholesale violence.[30]

Then, three years after Goodall’s book was printed, a series of incidents occurred that horrified her. The tribe of chimps Goodall had been watching became quite large. Food was harder to find. Quarrels broke out. To relieve the pressure, the unit finally split into two separate tribes. One band stayed in the old home territory. The other left to carve out a new life in the forest to the south.

At first, the two groups lived in relative peace. Then the males from the larger band began to make trips south to the patch of land occupied by the splinter unit. The marauders’ purpose was simple: to harass and ultimately kill the separatists. They beat their former friends mercilessly, breaking bones, opening massive wounds, and leaving the resultant cripples to die a slow and lingering death. When the raids were over, five males and one elderly female had been murdered. The separatist group had been destroyed; and its sexually active females and part of its territory had been annexed by the males of the band from the home turf.[31] Goodall had discovered war among the chimpanzees, a discovery she had hoped she would never make.[32]

Years later, biological ecologist Michael Ghiglieri traveled to Uganda to see just how widespread chimpanzee warfare really is. He concluded that “the happy-go-lucky chimpanzee has turned out to be the most lethal ape—an organized, cooperative warrior.”[33]

So the tendency toward slaughter that manifested itself in the Chinese Cultural Revolution is not the product of agriculture, technology, television, or materialism. It is not an invention of either Western or Eastern civilization. It is not a uniquely human proclivity at all. It comes from something both sub- and superhuman, something we share with apes, fish, and ants—a brutality that speaks to us through the animals in our brain. If man has contributed anything of his own to the equation, it is this: He has learned to dream of peace. But to achieve that dream, he will have to overcome what nature has built into him.

Excerpted from The Lucifer Principle by Howard Bloom. Copyright © Howard Bloom, 1997. All rights reserved.


[16] Rousseau’s Letter to d’Alembert, his Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, his Social Contract, and, most important, his Emile.

[17] Karen Lehrman, literary editor of Wilson Quarterly, toured college campuses to survey women’s studies programs and concluded that “Most women’s studies professors seem to adhere to the following principles in formulating classes: women were and are oppressed; oppression is endemic to our patriarchal social system; men, capitalism and Western values are responsible for women’s problems.” “Which Way Feminism?” Wilson Quarterly, Winter 1994, 135.

[18] Proposal for Endorsement (if the Seville Statement on Violence), Washington, D.C.: American Sociological Society, 1991.

[19] Robert G. Wesson, Beyond Natural Selection (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1993), 121.

[20] John Tyler Bonner, The Evolution of Culture in Animals (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980), 98–99.

[21] Mark J. Davis (writer, director, and editor), The Private Lives of Dolphins, Nova, (Boston: WGBH, 1992).

[22] Wilson, Sociobiology, 29.

[23] Others had ventured onto the land before the reptiles, but none of them could quite bring themselves to leave the water totally behind. First came the crossoptery-gians, fish that could gulp air; then the crossopterygians’ descendants, the amphibians. Though amphibians spent a good deal of their time ashore, they apparently felt that land was a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to raise your kids there. They still laid their eggs in underwater nurseries, where the youngsters stayed until they were old enough to brave the hard, cold facts of life outside the pond. (For a fascinating account of this process, see Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan, Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution [New York: Summit Books, 1986], 197–202.)

[24] Paul D. MacLean, A Triune Concept of the Brain and Behavior (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1973). For more on the triune brain, see Richard Restak, The Brain (New York: Bantam Books, 1984), 136; Robert Ornstein and David Sobel, The Healing Brain (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987), 37–38; and Carl Sagan, The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence (New York: Ballantine Books, 1977), 53–83.

[25] Richard E. Leakey and Richard Lewin, People of the Lake: Mankind and Its Beginnings (New York: Avon Books, 1983). Though this entire book promotes the thesis that “war is a cultural invention,” a summation of the argument can be found on pages 233–36. By the way, Edward O. Wilson points out that “murder is far more common and hence ‘normal’ in many vertebrate species than in man” (Sociobiology, 121).

[26] Anthropologist Richard Lee analyzed the data on !Kung homicide and “determined that, within a population of fifteen hundred !Kung, there had in fact been twenty-two killings over five decades—about five more than the same number of New Yorkers would have been expected to commit over the same period.” Melvin Konner, “False Idylls,” The Sciences, September/October 1987, 10; see also Melvin Konner, The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1982), 9, 109, 204; and Allen W. Johnson and Timothy Earle, The Evolution of Human Societies: From Foraging Group to Agrarian State (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1987), 47.

[27] Virginia Morell, “Dian Fossey: Field Science and Death in Africa,” Science 86, April 1986, 17.

[28] Dian Fossey, Gorillas in the Mist (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1983), 69. For similar warfare between bands of rhesus macaques, see K. R. L. Hall, “Aggression in Monkey and Ape Societies,” in Jay, Primates, 155.

[29] Fossey, Gorillas in the Mist, 75.

[30] Jane Goodall, In the Shadow of Man (1971; Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1983).

[31] Jane Goodall, Among the Wild Chimpanzees, ed. and prod. Barbara Jampel, National Geographic Society and WQED/Pittsburgh, National Geographic Special (Stanford, Conn.: Vestron Video, 1987); Jane Goodall, “Life and Death at Gombe,” National Geographic Magazine, May 1979, 592–620; Michael Patrick Ghiglieri, The Chimpanzees of Kibale Forest: A Field Study of Ecology and Social Structure (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984), 3; and Michael Ghiglieri, “War among the Chimps,” Discover, November 1987, 76.

[32] Goodall, Among the Wild Chimpanzees.

[33] Ghiglieri, “War among the Chimps,” 68. When Ghiglieri visited Africa, he was convinced that war among the chimps may have been an indirect human creation. To lure the chimps of Gombe into viewing distance, Jane Goodall had laid out clusters of bananas, a food that soon became the backbone of the animals’ diet. Much, much later, Goodall decided to stop the handouts of simian welfare and left the primates to gather food for themselves. A few years after this change in policy, the chimps began to make war. Ghiglieri suspected that the provisioning of food by humans had set the stage for a violence that wouldn’t have occurred without it. His years studying unprovisioned chimps in Kibale, however, convinced him he was wrong. Chimpanzees, he concluded, were subject to periodic outbreaks of war, with or without a human lending hand (see Michael P. Ghiglieri, East of the Mountains of the Moon [New York: Free Press, 1988], 8–9, 258–59).

Howard Bloom has been called “next in a lineage of seminal thinkers that includes Newton, Darwin, Einstein, [and] Freud” by Britain’s Channel4 TV, “the next Stephen Hawking” by Gear Magazine, and “The Buckminster Fuller and Arthur C. Clarke of the new millennium” by Buckminster Fuller’s archivist. Bloom is the author of The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of History (“mesmerizing” – The Washington Post), Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century (“reassuring and sobering” – The New Yorker), The Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism (“Impressive, stimulating, and tremendously enjoyable.” James Fallows, National Correspondent, The Atlantic), The God Problem: How A Godless Cosmos Creates (“Bloom’s argument will rock your world.” Barbara Ehrenreich), How I Accidentally Started the Sixties (“a monumental, epic, glorious literary achievement.” Timothy Leary), and The Muhammad Code: How a Desert Prophet Gave You ISIS, al Qaeda, and Boko Haram – or How Muhammad Invented Jihad (“a terrifying book… the best book I’ve read on Islam,” David Swindle, PJ Media).

Bloom explains that his field is “mass behaviour, from the mass behaviour of quarks to the mass behaviour of human beings.” That specialisation gives him a wide scope. His scientific work has been published in: arxiv.org, the leading pre-print site in advanced theoretical physics and mathematics; PhysicaPlus, another physics journal; Across Species Comparisons and Psychopathology; New Ideas in Psychology; The Journal of Space Philosophy; and in the book series: Research in Biopolitics. In 2005, Bloom lectured an international conference of quantum physicists in Moscow – Quantum Informatics 2006 – on why everything they know about Schrodinger’s Equation is wrong, and the concepts Bloom introduced were later used in a book proposing a new approach to quantum physics, Constructive Physics, by Moscow University’s Yuri Ozhigov.

Bloom’s second book Global Brain was the subject of an Office of the Secretary of Defense symposium in 2010, with participants from the State Department, the Energy Department, DARPA, IBM, and MIT. Bloom is founder and head of the Space Development Steering Committee, a group that includes astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Edgar Mitchell (the sixth man on the moon), and members from the National Science Foundation and NASA. He has debated one-on-one with senior officials from Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Gaza’s Hamas on Iran’s global Arab-language Alalam TV News Network. He has also dissected headline issues on Saudi Arabia’s KSA2-TV and on Iran’s global English language Press-TV. And he has probed the untold story of the Syrian Civil War with Nancy Kissinger.

In addition, Bloom’s work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Wired, Knight-Ridder Financial News Service, the Village Voice, and Cosmopolitan Magazine. He has appeared 199 times for up to five hours on 500 radio stations on the highest-rated overnight talk radio station in North America, Clear Channel’s Coast to Coast AM, discussing everything from the biome in the gut and the evolution of the stars to the mechanism of the Great Recession of 2008 and North Korea’s rocket programme.

Bloom has his own YouTube series, Howard the Humongous, which gets up to 790,000 views per installment. His website, howardbloom.net, has had between four and five million hits. Follow him on Twitter at @HowardxBloom.

The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History
By Howard Bloom
Atlantic Monthly Press (March 13, 1997)
ISBN-10: 0871136643
ISBN-13: 978-0871136640
$11.34

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