Alan, I’m 68, so we’re just about the same age and probably have gone through similar experiences, especially during the time of the Viet Nam War. To me, the late ‘60s were life changing, to say the least.

I believe the answer to the problem we’ve been discussing lies in understanding Richard Dawkins’ selfish gene theory. I’m convinced evolutionary biology is the key to relieving much of humanity’s misery and suffering.

In the animal world following genetic impulses, instinct, is the only way to go. For most species it works well most of the time. But there are many instances where the environment abruptly changes and genes direct the wrong behavior.

The point I wanted to make in the essay is that our genes are telling us to follow the strongest, most aggressive leaders. This behavior dates back well before the early hominids and deep into the animal kingdom—wolves and baboons, for instance.

But the main point I wanted to make in Mirror Reversal is that genes often lead the individual into an abyss, literally in the story. According to Dawkins genes are selfish and care not one whit about the host that sustains them. They are merely chemical information, how can they? Many genes are parasites and the natural world is replete with this type of symbiosis called phoresy where one member transports the second into the next generation. Nature is full of this type of behavior, so why not our own genome?

Consider mosquitoes circling a light bulb in the canopy when you fill up at a gas station at night. Their genes are telling them to continue the behavior ‘til they die of exhaustion or get burnt to death. Or the herrings whose genes tell each individual when threatened to swim to the center of the school, thereby making it easier for sharks to slaughter them.

To use Dawkins’ terms, humans have to break away from animal instincts and stop blindly following the most extreme hawks. Sure it worked in WWII when the English fired the dove Neville Chamberlin and took on Churchill, but the environment doesn’t require that now and we can control the environment.

My main point is that military alphas are perpetuating the environment that sustains the need for them—by pissing on dead Taliban soldiers and scornfully burning the Koran.

Gen. Henry Shelton described Petraeus as "a high-energy individual who likes to lead from the front.” That’s the problem. Isn’t Petraeus one of the alpha males that told President Obama not to fulfill his campaign promise of 2008 and stay in Afghanistan? He told the president we needed to deploy an immense army to protect our citizens from the Taliban, the Arabic word for “Madrassah students.” With all the money and power the U.S. has spent on defense, it’s justified because of the threat posed by goat herders and primitive farmers who can recite the Koran and know little else.

He wasn’t only worried about his job; he was worried about leading from the front— and maintaining power.

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Tags: Goscicki, Patraeus, endmeme, gene, selfish, theory

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Comment by Richard Goscicki on November 23, 2012 at 1:00pm

So few of us remember that the 60s were actually one of the Great Awakenings (my characterization) that happen from time to time: a profound yearning for liberation -- from war-mongering leaders, oppressive religious strictures, all-consuming consumerism, overweening government, racial and gender prejudice, and the mindless pursuit of status and control over others.

 

Bravo, great writing. 

 

Alan, I was just talking about Abbie Hoffman last night at Thanksgiving dinner.  I knew the guy and still correspond with Paul Krasner.  My main question is:  where did it go?  How the fuck can the modern generation come up with candidates like Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee after what we’re been through in Viet Nam?

 

Fair question.

 

Your friend in Sarasota Florida

 

Rich

Comment by Alan Perlman on November 23, 2012 at 11:06am

Rich,

So few of us remember that the 60s were actually one of the Great Awakenings (my characterization) that happen from time to time: a profound yearning for liberation -- from war-mongering leaders, oppressive religious strictures, all-consuming consumerism, overweening government, racial and gender prejudice, and the mindless pursuit of status and control over others. 

As such, those few years -- excesses and trivialization ("Age of Aquarius") notwithstanding -- represented a temporary shining through of higher brain functions, a triumph over the Inner Slug that follows, consumes, and does litle else. 

As for leadership, a glittering buzzword throughout my corporate years, it is, as Peter Drucker once noted, a lot of bunk. The most formidable accomplishments of leadership, he points out, came at the hands of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot. 

Over and over I read that the key quality of a leader is that he has a goal and is confident of achieving it.  There's plenty of evidence that humans are pack animals, eager to follow whoever's most assertive and assures them dominance if only they will follow him.

Free will?  Possible in principle, but as humans continue to murder each other just because some authority figure tells them it's OK (remember the Milgram experiments?), it seems, in practice, to be a rare and precious commodity.

Even if Dawkins is correct about genes, the mechanism and the message are not easily comprehendable: To suspect that "you" are not in control of your behavior -- that's asking for a lot of insight from people whose main goal at the moment is to burst into Wal-Mart at 6:00 am and sample the treasures therein.

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