[Paleopsych] Jihad and the petri dish--Osama's reproductive strategy
HowlBloom at aol.com
HowlBloom at aol.com
Sun Jul 18 22:15:23 UTC 2004
Bear with me if I posted this before, but it's something I wrote up for
paleopsych that I think was sent while our listserv was down. Howard
Has anyone noticed that the current World War between militant Islam and the
Western Way of Life is actually something so basic even a bacterium could
understand it? It's a battle of reproductive strategies. Specifically it's a
battle of what population biologists call r and k strategies.
One definition of the r strategy is this. You're up against the threat of a
swift and hungry predator. You mate with as many females as you can, keep
them pregnant constantly, use them as serial baby incubators, and put very few
resources into each child. Why? So you can have as many kids as possible. The
gamble goes like this. The more kids I shove out there, the more are likely
The opposite strategy is k. One version of the k strategy (the
let's-konserve strategy) is this. Have very few kids but put a huge investment into each
one. This only works when you can be pretty sure each kid will survive.
Predators--like wild dogs and large cats--lions, tigers, cheetahs--top of the
food-chain dominators--tend to use the k strategy. They don't have to face
death at the hands of bigger enemies, but do have to teach their young an awful
lot to turn them into good hunters. If an adolescent cheetah hasn't learned
her hunting skills well enough to bring down one big kill out of every four
she tries, she is dead.
Prey--like the mice, voles, and other rodents that even big cats and wild
dogs hunt down as quick snacks--go for the r strategy. Breed like rabbits and
hope that 4 out of every 12 pups survive. Cheetahs often have just two cubs at
Right now we Westerners dominate the worldwide food chain. We've opted for k.
But Osama bin Laden has declared openly that he's going for the r strategy.
He's said that his form of Islam honors women. It keeps them off the street,
out of public sight, out of careers that might distract their attention, and
keeps them pregnant so they can have between seven and seventeen children
each. Men in Osama's privileged position can also have four wives at a time. And
they can add to that advantage by wife-trading. They can divorce one wife
and bring in another, running through as many wives as Osama's dad did. Bin
Laden senior, with his 54 children, had eleven wives.
We in the Western World, on the other hand, are having fewer kids than would
be needed to replace our current population. What are we doing with those
kids? We're investing in them hugely. These days we're doing far more than
educating the hell out of them. We're also accessorizing them with
ability-extenders--the equivalent of mega-arms, macro-legs, super-eyes, and tele-ears. We
are giving them appendages it would have taken evolution 200 million years to
develop...cell phones, digital cameras and videocams built into those phones,
laptops, Google, instant access to the fastest-growing library in world
history--the World Wide Web-- cars, cheap airline tickets, ubiquitous video
displays, and the imagination-extenders of X-Boxes, Sony Play Stations, and Nintendo
sets. We're turning our kids into digipedes--creatures with newly-invented
cyber-senses and digi-limbs.
That's precisely why Osama says we will fall as victim's of our own
blindness, obesity, and decay. "We love death more than you love life," he says. To
paraphrase his communiquÃ©s to the Ummah of Islam, "We can afford to sacrifice
as many as 250 million of our believers even if you strike us with your
nuclear weapons. The blood of our martyrs will only strengthen the 1.75 million of
us who remain."
You and I are very different, says Osama. You, he says, are cowards. You
quiver when one of your soldiers is killed and his body is dragged through the
streets of Somalia. You cringe when the warriors of holiness cut off a single
head. You speak of exit strategies, Osama sneers, when a mere thousand of
your soldiers have died in Iraq. Osama says he can whip us right left and cente
r. Again, to paraphrase his speeches, "Our religion tells us to put ourselves
into the battle and to kill and take the chance of being killed. We know
that your corruption will do away with the brief wisp of putrescence you call a
civilization. But our God has ordered that your destruction shall not be left
to your rot. It shall not be left to your lack of manners and of decency.
Our God has ordered that your sinews and bones be severed by the swords of our
sons, by the fire and flame of our students-turned-to knights, and by the
hellstorms delivered to you by our teenage heroes."
Osama inspires with the poetry of the r strategy, the poetry of a rodent
reproductive passion. In his own words: "By Allah, it is either victory or
martyrdom and only those whose life span has come to an end will be killed, so his
family will miss him, only for his soul to be, as our Messenger (peace and
mercy be upon him) said, to be in the bellies of green birds that roam freely in
heaven as they please, then head towards lanterns suspended with the throne of
the Most Compassionate. There is no comparison between the two vicinities,
the vicinity of his family and the vicinity of his lord. So dear youth of Islam
everywhere, especially those of the neighborhood, where the duty upon you is
conclusive, dear Muslim youths in the Arabic peninsula, and in Egypt and
greater Syria, dear youths of Rabiaâ€™a [an Iraqi poetess born in 717 ad] and
Mudhr, dear grandsons of Salahuddine, dear knights of Mohammed the Conqueror, dear
Fedayeen of Umm Al-Fida and Aleppo, and the lions of Muan and Al-Zarqa, and
the brave of Azad, the heroes of Assir, Hashed, Madhaj and Bakil, let your
supplies be continuous so that you may rescue the land of the two rivers."
Osama's betting on lots of kids. We're betting on few. Osama's betting on
small investments in each body he sends into battle. Osama's betting that as
one Egyptian contemporary of bin Laden's said way back in the early 1980s when
al Qaeda was just beginning: "Islam is a tree that feeds on blood and grows on
Osama is betting on the strategy of homicidal plague bacteria-- Yersinia
pestis --bacteria that bet on flagrant, fast reproduction--bacteria that put their
chips on the r strategy. We are betting on the strategy of elephants--the k
strategy. This is far more than what Osama says it is when he uses Samuel
Huntington's words and declares that: "this struggle is a religious and a
doctrinal one and that the clash is in fact a clash of civilizations." It is more
than what Osama calls, "a rare opportunityâ€¦and a priceless oneâ€¦to sharpen
the faculties of the Ummah and to break its shackles, in order to storm forward
towards the battlefields of Jihad." And it is more than Osama's "decisive
war", the war he says has opened "a crossroads" in history.
It is a war between two ancient reproductive strategies in a new environment,
a global, cyber-niche.. But primitive as it is, it is also a war between two
different views of darkness and of light. I choose to believe that the light
is that of the Western religion of human rights, women's rights, gay rights,
democracy, free speech, secularism, and science. Osama believes the light
lies in the purity of a seventh century vision that muzzles minds and tears the
tongues from the mouths of blasphemers.
In the end this is a fight to see:
v whether humanity can continue its technological, philosophical, and
artistic-mindleaps and soul-expansions
v or whether our race cowers beneath clouds of nuclear soot and the veils
of burqas and trudges back to what it experienced from 550 ad to 1100 AD--a
Mad-Max dark ages.
It is a war to see which reproductive strategy can grab the new cyber-global
niche--this new wireless planet. It is a war to see which strategy can mobili
ze speed, conviction, whacko-cleverness, extremely long-term thinking, and
implacable, adamantine persistence.
Does either of our presidential candidates, Bush or Kerry, have a clear
vision of just how desperate and critical this war of two colonies of organisms in
the petri dish of our planet is? Does either have the persuasive and poetic
capacity to turn a nation of couch potatoes and self-hating critics into a
nation of secular humanist saviors...saviors of the fast-track experiment in the
reinvention of mass mind, of personal passion, and of human powers that we call
Author of The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of
History and Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind From The Big Bang to the
Visiting Scholar-Graduate Psychology Department, New York University; Faculty
Member, The Graduate Institute
Founder: International Paleopsychology Project; founding board member: Epic
of Evolution Society; founding board member, The Darwin Project; founder: The
Big Bang Tango Media Lab; member: New York Academy of Sciences, American
Association for the Advancement of Science, American Psychological Society, Academy
of Political Science, Human Behavior and Evolution Society, International
Society for Human Ethology; advisory board member: Youthactivism.org; executive
editor -- New Paradigm book series.
For information on The International Paleopsychology Project, see:
for two chapters from
The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of History,
For information on Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang
to the 21st Century, see www.howardbloom.net
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