[Paleopsych] Re: on islam

HowlBloom at aol.com HowlBloom at aol.com
Sat Jul 30 06:14:49 UTC 2005

In a message dated 7/29/2005 11:40:19 AM Eastern Standard Time,  
psaartist at hotmail.com writes:

Sorry  about that. I just put it into the text of this email-

Hello  Howard,
I’m afraid this week I have failed outright as a research  assistant, but I 
have been ruminating and writing down a few impressions  about Islam with 
your project in mind. The following ideas were written  down over the course 
of several days  and are in varying degrees of  wholeness. I hope some of 
them might help you to see the shapes of your  own ideas, either in the light 
of my good ones or against the shadows of  my bad ones.
I did find some dissidents in Islam through my  brief search on  Google:
I  think someone in the online conference asked for a Muslim Ghandi. The  
second of these links answers to that, the Muslim “Frontier  Ghandi”.
Reading their stories tends to make Islam look worse rather than  better, 
though. Basically because of the lies, threats, violence and  hypocrisy they 
had to try to endure. In some cases with Western  collaboration. 
Fundamentally, every power system instinctively hates a  dissident.
I think Islam has a different ‘flavor’, a different  character when it 
comes to ideas of authority, law, censure, belonging and  transgression. Its 
basic spirit, to which it so often returns, seems to be  legalistic (subject 
to interpretation and manipulation) and authoritarian  rather than humane. It 
is  closed and fearful of challenge rather  than open. It is not merciless, 
but even the power of mercy is used as a  demonstration of authority.
Part of this comes from the tribal  and ethnic environments where Islam 
took hold.
hb: these are extremely good observations.  Punishment and robotic  devotion 
to the duties of the religion are prized.  Creativity and  individuality are 
minimized.  In Bloomian terms, it's a religion whose  conformity enforcers 
outweigh its diversity generators.  That may well be  why it has fared so poorly 
against the West ever since the Industrial Revolution  and the Scientific 
Spirit blossomed in Europe around 1750.

The West has trouble dealing with Islam because  the West has trouble 
dealing with religion. Philosophically or ethically,  Christian or Jewish 
fundamentalists  can face fundamentalist Islam  only on the most impoverished 
terms- “You are devils, we are angels”. The  contest is therefore left to be 
decided in terms of pure violence. Liberal  Westerners, secularists, avoid 
making any definitive criticism of a  religion or a religious person because 
that would violate ideas of  understanding, tolerance, inclusivenes, and 
humility. In a sense they are  determined not to seek a decision to the 
contest. Each half of the West,  the religious and the secular, is hamstrung 
because it knows it can not  count on the support of the other. I’m sure the 
Jihadists are delighted to  observe this.
hb: extremely good observations, Peter.

The attractions of the Enlightenment, the positive  example, are being 
dimmed and perverted by the excesses (or the essence)  of the war on Terror, 
which is a radical, lawless, barbarizing Western  Jihad created by 
One might wish for a  tough, clear-minded secularist player on the scene. 
hb: I'm trying to be one voice for this approach.  But my voice is a  mere 
squeak at this point, limited primarily to books and to a fairly steady run  of 
national talk radio appearances.

The  EU? The French, who ban all forms of religious expression from their  
schools? I don’t know how sucessful any of their efforts  are.
A side question- given economic prosperity, education,  and a fairly 
stable long term social situation, will people from Muslim  cultures behave 
like a mirror image of secularist westerners? 
hb: which Western model do you mean--
1) the revolutionary Marxists who clubbed the brains out of the Russians  and 
the Chinese until 1989 and killed 80 million people in the process, but who  
fed the need of humans in their teens and twenties to rebel against their  
2) or the folks who have gone to their jobs and been part of "the system",  a 
system whose rich, rich rewards they fail to see?  Opening the eyes of  
Westerners to the benefits and future uplift of "the system" is what Reinventing  
Capitalism: Putting Soul In the Machine--A Radical Reperception of Western  
Civlization is all about. That's my half-completed next book.

One  might be considered a 
racist for asking the question, of for necessarily  expecting either a yes or 
a no answer to it. 
hb: but this social ritual we call "condemning racism" is another of the  
perceptual throttles you refer to above.  To paraphrase you, we forbid  certain 
forms of thought in order to maintain what we cherish, pluralism,  tolerance, 
and free speech.  And we are easily led to think that thoughts  vital to our 
survival fall into the forbidden zones...even when they don't.  Islam is not a 

To put  it another way, is the Western secularist ‘flavor’ 
a sort of inevitable  world-historical ideal? 
hb: nothing is inevitable.  Winston Churchill proved that with a  sufficient 
exertion of will and perseverance, we humans can change  history.  Lenin 
before him proved the same thing.  And the rise of the  ideas of a relatively 
anonymous thinker, Carl Marx, proves that  multi-generational projects kept aloft 
by generations of stubborn  persistence can make massive differences in the 
path that social evolution  takes.  Even if those paths lead to dead ends 150 
years down the line (from  1848, when Marx and Engels issued the Communist 
Manifesto to 1989, when the  Berlin Wall fell).

Is it an  idea of the same 
species as the inevitable Marxist worldwide revolution?  That is, an 
assumption taken for granted by its adherents (the way fish  don’t notice the 
water they swim in), but about to encounter a big world  that has other 
plans… Me, I don’t have an answer to these  questions.
hb: in the terms of my second book, Global Brain, the battle between  groups, 
the battle between civilizations, represents a test of alternative  
hypotheses in the group mind.  Unfortunately, the groups that fare best in  battle are 
sometimes the worst at running a society at peace.  But that  easy 
generalization may not be true.  The society that wins is the one with  the greatest 
will, the highest morale, and the most unending supply of  resources.  Germany and 
Japan ran out of resources.  The Allies had  America, a resource bonanza way 
back then.  So the Allies won WWII.
Same thing happens in contests between lizards, lobsters, or stags for  
dominance.  The animal with the highest degree of confidence and the  largest 
reserve of resources wins.  Which leads to a question.  What  is confidence? 
Based on the work of Neil Greenberg with anolis lizards, I'd  say confidence 
is an emotional and perceptual setting that allows a  creature:
1) to see opportunities in slices of reality others would regard as  
2) to maintain a sense of perceived control
3) to hang on to the serotonin and dopamine settings these perceptions  
4) to avoid the non-stop flood of stress hormones that poison an  animal's 
ability to outdo others at shows of majesty, decisiveness, calm under  pressure, 
and implied menace
5) to use the stress hormones only in actual combat, when those hormones  are 
arousers, not poisons
In other words, perception, physiology, group organization,  and resources 
work hand in hand to produce winners and losers, winners  of intergroup 
tournaments or winners of personal struggles.

In  humans, it helps to have a worldview that allows you percieve  the riches 
in what you've got and that help you see how what you do  contributes to 
something larger than yourself, something that uplifts your  people as a group and 
that uplifts the individual people around  you.  If you've got that, you can 
tap the hormonal cocktail of  idealism.
What's more, your perceptions influence your resources.  The  Tasmanians died 
when they'd hunted down all the land animals on their  island.  They died of 
starvation.  Why?  Their worldview, their  collective perceptual system, told 
them that the animals of the sea, fish and  other seafood, were inedible trash.
The Japanese lived on island more impoverished than those of the  Tasmanians. 
  But they saw everything around them as a useable  resource.  So the 
Tasmanian perceptual system killed its people off.   The Japanese perceptual system 
has been a winner for roughly 1,300 years  (roughly the same amount of time 
that Islam has been a worldview using the  people it manipulates, empowers, and 
motivates as a test vehicle).
Islam is poor at seeing resources in rubble. But it's very good at  organized 
violence and unconventional warfare.  Can a worldview that  impoverishes its 
people to stoke their sense of victimization and their need for  revenge, for 
justice, and for the purity of god's own laws beat a worldview that  has 
created relative wealth even for its poorest citizens?  (One of  our local homeless 
men gets his food and coffee at Starbucks and gourmet delis,  owns a bicycle, 
supports the luxury of  god-knows-what-self-destructive-habit, and has access 
to trash that's the  equivalent of treasure even to me.)
Only if this civilization fails to perceive the riches it creates--the  
spiritual riches that come from "consumerism" and "materialism".  And only  if this 
civlization fails to perceive the riches in what it now discards as  
trash--passion, emotion, and empathy--the things that we need most to  upgrade the 
jobs we go to every day and to upgrade the companies that give  us those jobs.
That, too, is the goal of Reinventing Capitalism. To get us Tasmanians to  
see the riches in the seas around us.

Is Islam at all compatible with democracy? 
hb: yes.  The Iranians are proving that, despite the headlock the  
conservative mullahs have on the current government...and may have for  another ten 
years or so, but may eventually lose as the old guard of the  1979 Revolution dies 
out.  The Lebanese are now trying to prove that Islam  and democracy can work 
together, too.

That  remains to be seen. Where 
democracy and Islam mix, will one of them have  to become essentially 
hb: bureaucracy, whether it's at the DMV here in Brooklyn or in the  
government of Hosni Mubarak in Cairo, needs the perceptual upgrade of  reinventing 
capitalism.  Bureaucracies have to be restructured so that  bureaucrats know that 
their task is to use their hearts--their empathic  passions--to defend and 
advance other humans.

What are today the various layers in Islam of what  is, what is desired, 
and what cannot be expressed?

hb: Islam is out to achieve its "just place" in the hierarchy of  
cultures--the number one slot.  That's what God has promised.  That's  what God says 
Islam must be--number one, top dog.  And God has said that if  that requires 
"making wide slaughter in the land" (a key phrase and a key  message in the Koran 
and the Hadith, the additional Islamic holy books), then so  be it.  Social 
standing often means more than food and water to individual  humans and to human 

Howard, in one of the Sunday night online conferences  you described Islam 
as having an anti-art stance, and you seemed to see  Persian representational 
(that is, pictorial) art as a minor exception  that only serves to prove the 
rule. It is indeed true that many Islamic  cultures prohibit any earthly 
thing from being depicted, and some prohibit  music to varying degrees.  
However, a moment’s reflection should  bring to mind the many centuries of 
Islamic development  in many  arts, in some areas to the highest point. For 
example, weaving,  architecture, design, ceramics, poetry, music, 
calligraphy.  The  Quran itself in its recital  is a consummate work of 
literary, poetic  and performative art.
hb: I've been counting Islam's contributions today, and compared to those  of 
the West they are scant.  Islam has given us fabulous architecture,  
architecture based on Western models, fabulous calligraphy, and one fabulous  
book--The Thousand and One Arabian Nights.  The Koran is considered the  epitome of 
literature, God's own verses, in the world of Islam.  But read  it in English 
and it comes across as a primitive hash.
Many of the things attributed to Arabs and Islam are borrowings--Arab  
numerals, for instance, which are Indian, not Arabic.  However Islamic  culture 
provided a vital transit point that quickened the commerce, the  interchange, of 
styles and ideas, giving westerners the silks of China, the  ceramics of China, 
the mathematics of India, and the literature and philosophy  of classical 
Greece (a literature the West lost track of until the tenth  century, when it 
trickled from Moslem Spain into Christian Europe).  Arabs  invented a new form of 
sea-faring, using the triangular sail (the lateen sail)  to tack into the 
wind and inventing a way to harvest the catastrophe of the  Monsoon winds to make 
annual trips by sea from Oman and Yemen to India and to  the Spice Islands, 
the islands of Java, Malacca, the  Maldives, Sumatra, Aceh, the Philippines, 
and Zanzibar, not to mention the  ports of Mombassa.
They invented a commerce in black African slaves that defies belief.   We 
Westerners uprooted ten million black Africans and used them in our slave  
business.  That is appalling and is justly labeled a "Black  Holocaust".  Moslem 
traders from Arabia and India uprooted 140 million  black Africans.  That's 
fourteen African Holocausts!
The Western slave trade imposed such monstrous conditions on its captives  
that one out of every ten seized from their homes died somewhere in  transit.  
The Moslem slave trade imposed such monstrous conditions that  only nine out of 
ten Africans attacked and/or captured DIED.  That  brings the death toll of 
of the Black Islamic Holocaust up to the level of  120 Black Western 
Holocausts.  126 million deaths--the number inflicted by  Moslem slave traders and slave 
raiders--is the equivalent of 21 of the  Holocausts inflicted on the Jews by 
the Nazis.  It's twice the combined  death tolls of World War I and of World 
War II--the two most industrialized uses  of killing machines known to man, 
wars in which two atomic bombs were loosed on  civilian populations.
And we are supposed to believe that decrying this turning of more than half  
a continent into a killing field, this mass merchandising of black humans in  
which all males were killed or castrated, this mass deportation of a race in  
dhows packed so solidly with human cargo that many of those crammed into the  
seafaring vessels of Arab merchants died of suffocation, this trade whose ship 
 captains combed their cargo before entering a port to search out the weak 
and  the ill, then to throw this faulty merchandise overboard to avoid  paying 
import taxes on humans too feeble to sell, this trade in females and  young 
boys as sex slaves, we are supposed to believe that denouncing this or  even 
researching its details is a racist crime?
And we are told this by apartheid states like Saudi Arabia which I,  as a 
Jew, can not enter?  Why?  Because of my tribal identity, my  race, my Jewish 
genes, my Jewish blood, and my Jewish geneology.  And we  Jews are supposed to 
believe that we, who often live peacefully among Arabs and  Moslems as I did 
when living outside the Arab town of Afullah and as I do in a  Brooklyn 
neighborhood riddled with mosques, mosques in which bomb plots to  destroy the World 
Trade Center and to destroy the New York Subway and  rail system have been 
hatched, we are supposed to believe that I am  some sort of Nazi who lobbies for 
This is a violently perverse perception, one which we voluntarily  enforce.  
It is a system of censorship which we gladly encourage, often for  the reasons 
you have pinpointed, because it fits our sense of fairness and  tolerance.  
But is it really fair to decry our murders and to close our  eyes to piles of 
bodies far higher than any we have ever erected?  If we  are ethical and prize 
human life, isn't it incumbent on us to open our eyes and  to decry both 
Islams's crimes and ours?
Or are we here to inflict so much guilt on ourselves that we kill the  
civilization that has given even Moslems in the slums of Cairo  TVs and radios.  
Should we really condemn the mix of capitalism and  open criticism that has given 
spoiled Moslem middle class and rich kids  like Osama bin Laden and his foot 
soldiers computers and cell phones?   Should we despise the civilization that 
has brought ordinary Japanese, Koreans,  Taiwanese, Thais, Philippinos, 
Indians, and, now, Chinese from starvation  to wealth beyond the power of 19th 
Century kings?  Should we overthrow a  Western system that has produced the 
anti-slavery movement, the anti-imperialism  movement, the human rights movement, the 
environmental movement, Greenpeace,  Amnesty International, the ACLU, NASA, 
solar energy, hybrid vehicles,  and the first steps toward a possible hydrogen 
This Islamic material is what I'm working on for the Tenth Anniversary  
Edition of The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of  
History.  And the reperception of the Western System is the raison d'etre  of 
Reinventing Capitalism: Putting Soul In the Machine--A Radical Reperception  of 
Western Civilization.
All thanks for some stunningly good insights, Peter.  
I've read the rest and have made one more comment. You are a good,  good 
thinker. But this is where my energy ebbed.  Onward

The reason I raise this issue is that I see a danger  of a sort of 
“momentum” of negative criticism  when one looks at  Islam and its many 
problems. To find oneself convinced that Islamic  expression is against art 
is to have lost one’s bearings in the argument.  That would be equvalent to 
thinking that Chartres cathedral is against  art. Perhaps the issue in 
Islamic art that offends a child of the  enlightenment, (I will presume to 
put us in that category) is that Islamic  expression seems consistently to be 
against independence. This issue, so  important to us, may make us look at 
the work as deficient and backward. I  think what we are really seeing is 
that the work totally refuses to  participate in the Western modern project. 
I’m thinking of that project as  secular, humanist, trying to explore without 
a predetermined destination.  As much of the world has taken on this 
modernist (and post-modern, etc.)  quality, and as things in general are made 
industrually rather than by  hand, Islamic art has been uprooted and stifled 
and as far as I know  hasn’t produced anything of fulfilling greatness in our 
era. One exception  could be Islamic (Sufi) music, which seems to be in quite 
a healthy state,  as the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and others have recently 
and abundantly  demonstrated.

On learning and writing about Islam-
I  have gone through a couple of amateurish phases of trying to learn 
about  Islam, and have always ended up feeling that my conclusions have 
missed  the essential point of what I was trying to grasp. To say that Islam 
is  multi-dimensional is an understatement: I’ll say that it is beyond  
multidimensional. In a way it is even misleading to say that Islam is “a  
religion”, much less to say that it is “a religion politicised” or  anything 
along those lines. I think it is a phenomenon that transcends  “religion” at 
all times and under all circumstances. This is because the  essence of its 
project is the necessary capture and integration of the  social, ethical, 
ritual, religious, spoken, gender, philosophical, legal,  familial, and other 
spheres, on and on. (I am not here making any claims  about the justness or 
even the real feasibility of this  project.)
hb: as Osama says, Islam is about unity, it is about one-ness.  One  God.  
One code of laws.  Encorporating all aspects of human life in  that holy One.

This is a phenomenon not properly equivalent to, say,  Christian 
fundamentalism. (I don’t know anything about Jewish  fundamentalism so I 
won’t try to compare.) I say it is not equivalent  because its foundation, 
the Islamic tradition, is a much more intensely  sophisticated cultural 
machine. This is not to say Islam will always win  in a battle of 
conversions, or that its exegetes were smarter or more  perceptive than the 
Christians’. I am just suggesting that Islam’s nature  is to recognize, 
emphasize and penetrate more profoundly into more spheres  of experience than 
does Christianity.
In writing  on Islam is that one might want to restrict oneself to a 
specific slice,  say, the jihadis, without casting an endlessly wide net for  
contributing factors to the phenomenon. A problem arises because it’s like  
being asked to describe just one cell in a highly developed brain, along  
with, oh, only the cells directly connected to it. (By cells I’m not  
representing terrorist units, but historical factors.) Well, to understand  
how that cell arose and is functioning, you have to understand the  function 
of every cell it’s connected to, and generally the reader has  minimal grasp 
of any of those functions, so you have to explain those, and  so on. It’s a 
problem because, upon examination, each cell turns out not  to be doing quite 
what you would have assumed.  It’s not a matter of  exoticism and mystery, 
it’s just a huge amount of information we never  knew existed. So you 
categorize and abstract and interpolate, as any  writer must, but with every 
abstraction you risk a distortion. One feels  like the blind man asked to 
describe an elephant. He can only report on  the limited part he has been 
able to reach.

Howard Bloom
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 
21st Century
Recent Visiting  Scholar-Graduate Psychology Department, New York University; 
Core 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: Institute for 
Accelerating Change ; 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,  
see www.howardbloom.net/lucifer
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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