Mankind is in all likelihood going to be an evolutionary dead-end. Hopefully understanding why this is the case, if done in time, can not only prevent this, but also allow us to reach undreamed-of prosperity. However, as things currently stand, not only are we most likely to be an evolutionary dead-end, it will probably happen within the next 5 years, and we are actually quite fortunate to have already lasted this long. For example, during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, had it not been for Russian submarine commander Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov’s sole dissenting vote in a decision to launch a nuclear strike against the USA, mankind might have already suffered a nuclear holocaust.
Understanding why we are likely to be an evolutionary dead-end is actually very easy if one has a slight grasp of evolution and a few simple economic concepts. Let us begin with a simple evolutionary insight, human beings are slightly smarter tribal apes whose nature and instincts were molded to survive in an often-times vicious tribal world. For most of our evolution, until about 20,000 years ago, we lived in small tribes where tribal warfare was the optimal evolutionary strategy and one of the main reasons we are social and have evolved big brains to begin with. As Steven Pinker tells us:
“… men go to war to get or keep women –not necessarily as a conscious goal of the warriors(though often it is exactly that), but as the ultimate payoff that allowed a willingness to fight to evolve. Access to women is the limiting factor on male’s reproductive success. Having two wives can double a man’s children, having three wives can triple it, and so on. The most common spoils of tribal warfare are women. Raiders kill the men, abduct the nubile women, gang-rape them, and allocate them as wives.” ( Steven Pinker’s “How the Mind Works” 1999, p. 510)
First you increase the economic pie available to your tribe/gene-pool by coordinating a raid and killing other men and children, and then you increase your reproductive success by raping the women and making them your wives. To be successful in war you need a strong sense of unity which translates itself into the strong nationalist/militaristic/patriotic tendencies we are so susceptible to and has the planet littered with nuclear weapons and “civilized” taxpayers believing we actually need them. The bond men make as co-warriors is likely stronger than male/female love. A female is easily replaceable (another raid, etc.) but the loss of that co-warrior that will help get the next female and/or defend you when you only get one chance at life is probably even more important. Just like natural selection has shaped us to enjoy sex due to the vital genetic payoff, it has also shaped us to enjoy war, killing, and torturing. As a recent Live Science article aptly titled “Humans Crave Violence Just Like Sex” discusses, mice have been found to love to fight and gain pleasure in a similar manner to how we love food and sex. Article mentions:
Scientists have known that mice and other animals are drawn to fights. Until now, they didn’t know how the brain was involved.
The new study, detailed online this week in the journal Psychopharmacology, reveals the same clusters of brain cells involved in other rewards are also behind the craving for violence.
“Aggression occurs among virtually all vertebrates and is necessary to get and keep important resources such as mates, territory and food,” said study team member Craig Kennedy, professor of special education and pediatrics at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. “We have found that the reward pathway in the brain becomes engaged in response to an aggressive event and that dopamine is involved.” ……. “We learned from these experiments that an individual will intentionally seek out an aggressive encounter solely because they experience a rewarding sensation from it,” Kennedy said.
Given its importance, war/patriotism easily fills us with a great sense of purpose. England’s prime minister during WWII and national hero Winston Churchill shows us how inspiring, exciting and purposeful WWI was to him when he mentioned:
“I think a curse should rest on me — because I love this war. I know it’s smashing and shattering the lives of thousands every moment — and yet — I can’t help it — I enjoy every second of it.”
And in another occasion:
“My God! This is living History. Everything we are doing and saying is thrilling… Why I would not be out of this glorious delicious war for anything the world could give me…”
Towards the end of WWII, Russia’s Red Army is estimated to have raped over 2 million German women. The Allies weren’t much better. We shouldn’t be shocked when men murder and rape, the real miracle that has taken thousands of years of cultural evolution to create, are the modern cultural values we absorb that program us into respecting the body/property/thoughts of all human beings regardless of age, sex, and race.
Being the social apes that we are, fellow humans are our biggest assets which helps explain the evolution of altruism/compassion due to the great benefits we get at the group-level, and horrendous selfishness/violence towards fellow men since we are our biggest competitors.
During the last twenty-or-so thousand years something amazing happened. What economists refer to as “The Market Process” emerged and transformed these biologically slightly-smarter-murdering-apes into the global economy or what the great 19th century British philosopher Herbert Spencer referred to as “The Social Organism”. The Market Process is composed of various parts/components/“social institutions” like trade, money, economic competition, finance/banking, interest rates, governmental/religious/legal structures which enforce the various rules/customs that allow its functioning. Let’s devote one paragraph to discussing ‘economic competition’ and the vital role that ‘private property’ and ‘economic freedom’ play in its functioning.
In the modern social order new/superior knowledge arises in the minds of people/entrepreneurs/companies/orders and spreads via economic competition. For example, power windows, and rear view cameras, were all good ideas/information/knowledge that originally emerged in the minds of a few individuals/companies/orders. THE FREEDOM of the public to choose among competing auto-manufacturers, motivated, and inevitably forced, other auto-manufacturers (competitors) to copy the new ideas/knowledge, and it is for this reason, thanks to economic competition, that all auto-manufacturers provide them and use the latest and greatest production techniques. As cost-cutting ideas emerge leading prices to continuously fall, new profitable ideas arise and once again spread via competition in an endless cycle of knowledge generation/innovation. For example, computers were once very expensive, but once the price of making them came down enough, people easily realized that every home could have them, which gave birth to our computerized world and the Internet and all the great things that flow from it. So we can see how ‘private property’ leads to the ‘freedom to choose’ that “turns on” ‘economic competition’, which is what motivates the creation and spread of superior knowledge/information and subsequent social order. The modern social order is composed of billions of brains/companies inadvertently competing/innovating/learning from each other as we produce our labor/products/services and peacefully trade. The more wealth is produced, the more wealth has to be offered in exchange for labor as entrepreneurs/companies compete against each other for the labor they need which helps explain why the economic pie grows for everyone. The tribal order that our brutal instincts are perfectly suited for had comparatively no innovation/trade/money/commerce and was coordinated mostly by primal instinct and thus warfare/etc.
Just like the human body is the result of the actions of some 30 trillion cells but obviously NOT the result of any conscious planning or designing by them (natural selection being the sort of inadvertent designer), the ‘Market Process’ too is the result of human action but NOT of conscious human planning or design. The Market Process shares this trait with language, it too is the result of human action, yet never designed or “invented” by some genius caveman. The great economist Carl Menger asks:
“How can it be that institutions that serve the common welfare and are extremely significant for its development[The Market Process]come into being without a common will directed towards establishing them?”
1974 Nobel laureate in Economics F.A. Hayek beautifully answered that monumentally important question more or less as follows. We already know that ‘private property’ leads to ‘freedom to choose/trade/commerce’, which leads to ‘economic competition’, which leads to rapid discovery and spread of superior knowledge/information and social order. We can envision mankind, say 40,000 years ago, being a sort of petri-dish of inadvertently competing tribes that are being “naturally selected” based on how large/powerful/advanced they become. Those tribes/orders whose customs/religions inadvertently became more peaceful and thus less violent, extended peace, friendship, trade to those outside the tribe, etc. would become more advanced/powerful, and as they grew, they would inadvertently spread the very customs and evolving economic system (market process) that allowed them to reach such relative heights. This is the essence of Hayekian cultural/group selection and for brevity’s sake such a short paragraph will have to do for now (better explained here).
This competitive-distributed-social-learning process has inadvertently led to explosive production/innovation which has allowed mankind to easily/rapidly sustain greater numbers and has given birth to two potential problems which keep arising and will in all likelihood lead to our extinction. One is Socialism/Communism, which is an attempt by the economically ignorant/tribal public and their leaders to replace the competitive/innovative ‘market order’ for monopolistic and thus competition-immune government bureaucracies which inadvertently cripple/paralyze the very competitive process that creates their social order to begin with, so you eventually get socioeconomic chaos which is what happens in all socialist/communist countries or when the public(government/monopolistic) sector gets too large. The now-classic image below shows a Socialist/Communist/Monopolistic order (North Korea) vs. a free/competitive/Capitalist order (South Korea). Try to envision the dynamism of the real world, ideas constantly emerging/spreading in minds in the South(even outside in other countries and moving to/from the country) and spreading. But the North?
The second is the inevitable technological advancement in increasingly destructive weapons which we discuss a bit more.
We have nuclear weapons but our general culture has yet to catch up to the sort of level of “civilization” needed to defuse this inevitably disastrous situation. By this I mean that people do not act civilized enough, they do not act in a way that leads to and can preserve/sustain/expand the social order, they act “uncivilized” via the economic ignorance that leads to Socialism (bigger public sector/governments) and they tend to see foreigners as potential lethal/economic threats, which naturally translates itself into military spending, tariffs, sanctions, etc., patriotic-flag-waving-tribalistic-ape-shit.
Take a look at a modern private-sector social order, a large multinational corporation like Microsoft. It is made up of thousands of human beings, men and women, from many nationalities, all producing their labor, combining it in various ways to produce the products and services Microsoft then exchanges for money with billions of human beings. Most of this money then goes to its employees which they then trade it with society for all the wealth (homes, energy, cars) they consume. The thought of a Russian employee attacking an American employee, or a Jewish employee attacking a Muslim one is just so utterly ridiculous. But governments to a large degree can be seen as sort of cultural/tribalistic relics. The Chinese/American/Russian governments are mostly run by members of their respective tribes, their militaries are populated by their own warrior-ants/apes unified by their respective tribal/patriotic myths/anthems/flags/etc. All ready and willing to kill millions of people they’ve never met. Every year, over one trillion dollars worth of civilian wealth in terms of homes, cars, energy, medicines, etc., (an amount similar to the entire productive output of Mexico which has the world’s 15th largest economy at $1.04 trillion GDP), is consumed by the millions of people employed by the United State’s national security bureaucracy and its associated contractors as they produce push-ups, military drills and weapons of destruction. In 2015, the world’s ten biggest corporations as measured by the amount of research and development spending they undertook, companies like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Volkswagen and six others, consumed about 109 billion dollars as they sustained some of the brightest and most productive people in the world. The American National Security bureaucracy consumes that much wealth in less than 1.5 months. For every dollar that sustains the wonderful research and innovations they create, nine dollars worth of wealth are consumed and used to sustain people whose jobs ultimately add very little value to society compare to how much they consume. Perhaps even more startling is the fact that for the year 2012 the entire planet’s top 2,000 R&D-spending companies spent about 700 billion in R&D which is still 300 billion less than what our National Security spending was at the time. This happens every year! It is actually much worse. As the recent history since 9/11 has shown, America’s vast National Security/Military bureaucracy has not only consumed vast quantities of wealth while producing little, it has brought untold suffering to millions of people in the Middle East by destroying their already poor countries and deposing stable secular dictatorships (Saddam’s Iraq and Qaddafi’s Libya). Dictatorships that while relatively bad by modern Westerns standards were far superior to the tribal-ethno-religious chaos that now rules them. It might very well be the case that the USA’s National Security related yearly consumption of wealth is similar to that which is consumed in research and development by the entire planet, which is not only a gigantic detriment to the taxpayers who have to forego the enjoyment of a trillion dollars worth of wealth which is then used to sustain all the people associated with the bureaucracy, it also greatly slows down mankind’s technological progress. Sadly, properly understanding these vital facts is just not in our nature.
The destructive power created is then controlled by tribalistic ideologues/apes who know nothing about evolution, human nature, history, or economics. Numerous socioeconomic fallacies in their world-views inevitably take mankind towards escalations, alliances, increasing polarization and rate at which sparks ignite, until the statistical certainty that another all-out disaster occurs. It is just a matter of time. The horrific mindset of top military leaders is perfectly captured in Daniel Ellsberg’s great book “The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner”. Ellsberg writes:
Bernie Shriver who pressed the development of our ICBMs[Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles] asked Lemay[Curtis Lemay, top US military leader, largely responsible for the bombing of Japan in WWII] .. “What is your requirement for a large warhead, that is, what is the largest yield you need, what would be large enough” , Lemay answered, “one bomb for Russia” *
In a wonderful discussion of Ellsberg’s book, famed intellectual Noam Chomsky summarizes:
“The things that I learned in the book were hair-raising. For example, I learned… that during the Eisenhower period and basically carried on, there was one war plan, and the war plan was that if there was a confrontation with the Russians in Berlin,whatever, maybe a small confrontation, then immediately we wipe out every city in China… There was no alternative plan, that was the plan… A war could be set off just by inadvertence. There is case after case…where we came extremely close to war just by inadvertence. Sometimes reckless actions on the part of leaders, but sometimes just accidents that happen…When the first early warning system was established to detect incoming misiles…It turns out this new sophisticated system…In the first day of operation it detected a Russian missile attack with 99.9% certainty…That kind of thing happens over and over and the war plans are setup so that if somebody acts on that 99% a billion people die…Page after page of the book contains graphic example of this kind of, you can only call it insanity” — Chomsky
Let that sink in. “One bomb for Russia”, one bomb that can destroy a sizable chunk of the planet, and whose environmental effect will surely affect all life on the planet. And over some minor scuffle in Berlin, the incineration of hundreds of millions of Chinese and a probable terrestrial life-ending environmental catastrophe.
The upper echelons of the US military is packed with people who see the world similarly. For example, during the Vietnam War, President Nixon mentioned to then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger that “I’d rather use the nuclear bomb” and “The only place where you and I disagree … is with regard to the bombing…You’re so goddamned concerned about the civilians and I don’t give a damn. I don’t care.” For 15 years during the Cold War the “secret” nuclear missile launch codes for American nukes was 00000000. In 2014, 34 nuclear missile launch officers have been implicated in a cheating scandal and have been stripped of their certification. It is already incredibly dangerous that a monopolistic and thus inevitably inefficient, tribal-minded bureaucracy like the US military has nuclear weapons. As technological progress continues to accelerate, it is just a matter of time before any disgruntled group can manufacture a device as damaging as a nuke, or cause enough havoc in a few major cities to cause devastating disruptions to global trade which can be just as damaging to the social order as if entire cities are wiped out.
In August 10, 1915, British physicist Henry Mosely, who would have probably won the Nobel Prize that year, died in perhaps the stupidest and most disastrous conflict mankind has been involved in, The First World War. Yet this horrific conflict and much that grew from it like the birth of the Soviet Union, The Second World War, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and its numerous ramifications, were mostly an outgrowth of economic ignorance and human nature/tribalism. Had world and entrepreneurial leaders understood the workings of “the market process”/“free-trade”, the vital role that economic freedom plays in it, and the fact that “empire” or overseas colonies and overall militarism are horrible for the economy, the conflict could have been easily avoided. Today we find ourselves in a similar situation. The world is littered with nuclear weapons, and major leaders are constantly vilifying each other. As of this writing the US has sanctions against Russia and Iran and risks conflicts with China over some insignificant little islands and has an increasingly disastrous trade-war based on, what else, economic ignorance. In just the week of 8/3/2018–8/10/2018 the USA has reinstated sanctions on Iran and Russia. On 8/10/2018 Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev mentioned that:
“If they introduce something like a ban on banking operations or the use of any currency, we will treat it as a declaration of economic war. And we’ll have to respond to it accordingly — economically, politically, or in any other way, if required,” — Russia Today
During the same week a NATO fighter jet “accidentally” fired an air-to-air missile near the Russian border. So many weapons and complete tribal morons handling them at the top of governments. Old, crappy software, potential hackers. At the rate at which these sparks are occurring it is a statistical certainty that a civilization-ending catastrophe will occur!
The Israeli/Palestinian conflict has ramifications which affect the entire world in countless ways and is the most likely source of the coming Final World War. We have managed to avoid a WWII-like calamity for about 80 years, but every day clueless/tribal politicians throw the dice both militarily and economically making it just a matter of time before another major disaster occurs. The world had plenty of so-called “experts” and scholars in 1914 and 1939 when the world wars got started. Nothing has changed! As long as the same intellectual errors persist, so will the high probability of another disaster and our continued path away from the tremendous amount of peace and socioeconomic prosperity we can and should be enjoying. Countless bright individuals are working on amazing breakthroughs like Henry was, especially in the software/IT sector, yet the proper understanding of peace, how the economy can and should work, in other words, how the ‘market process’/‘free-trade’ works to create a prosperous social order which is ultimately responsible for the freedom and socioeconomic prosperity which enables all life and scientific progress, remains as unknown to such bright individuals as it did to the numerous scientists and entrepreneurs who allowed themselves to be swayed into such a horrific conflict when they could have easily prevented it. The point to be stressed is that the proper understanding of economics and our tribalistic-war-prone nature is by far the most important things everyone should know, especially those very bright individuals who leaders in their respective fields. Take someone like Linus Torvalds, as mind-boggling as his contributions to the software industry via his creation and management of the Linux operating system which powers most of the computing world, and then git!, his contributions are incomparable in importance to those of perhaps the greatest economist of all time, Ludwig von Mises. By 1920, with the publication of his essay “Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth” Mises had provided a simple yet infallible destruction of Socialism, yet the numerous economic fallacies that underpinned it still managed to spread and destroy hundreds of millions of lives, not to mention the socioeconomic advancement that would have otherwise taken place. Mises was humble and well aware of the paramount importance of teaching economics. Mises writes:
“Economics must not be relegated to classrooms and statistical offices and must not be left to esoteric circles. It is the philosophy of human life and action and concerns everybody and everything. It is the pith of civilization and of man’s human existence…All present-day political issues concern problems commonly called economic. All arguments advanced in contemporary discussion of social and public affairs deal with fundamental matters of…economics. Everybody’s mind is preoccupied with economic doctrines…Everybody thinks of economics whether he is aware of it or not. In joining a political party and in casting his ballot, the citizen implicitly takes a stand upon essential economic theories…As conditions are today, nothing can be more important to every intelligent man than economics. His own fate and that of his progeny is at stake…all reasonable men are called upon to familiarize themselves with the teachings of economics. This is, in our age, the primary civic duty. Whether we like it or not, it is a fact that economics cannot remain an esoteric branch of knowledge accessible only to small groups of scholars and specialists. Economics deals with society’s fundamental problems; it concerns everyone and belongs to all. It is the main and proper study of every citizen.”
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In addition to the above I also want to bring attention to the fact that two of the 20th century’s greatest minds, 1974 Nobel laureate in economics F.A. Hayek, and Henry Hazlitt both felt like we were very likely to destroy ourselves. Their incredible wisdom should be another reason for concern. Hayek:
And Hazlitt in a 1984 interview:
“ The next generations are going to see war and social calamities. I am glad I don’t have to live on into them.” This is the way I feel now, just as Sumner felt then. I’m glad that I’m not going to live for many years now, because I see a very dreadful time. Now that we have discovered the atomic bomb, I can’t see how we’re going to keep somebody from using it, just out of sheer curiosity.”
* Taken from Audible version of book. Text between  added by present author