Note: see the blog post for Monday, October 3, 2016, for an explanation of how and why this manuscript came about. You are welcome to copy this material, use it for any non-commercial purpose, and distribute it as widely as you want, so long as you give me author’s credit and indicate the copyright date. The chapters will be posted periodically, I hope once every week or two, but a couple of them might take a little bit longer. Thanks for reading this material; it’s my personal response to the political craziness that seems to have swept our great nation. JJJr
IF I WERE A TERRORIST
John Janovy, Jr. © 2016
1. Why I Wrote This Book
2. Evolution: The Most Effective Weapon
3. Women: The Most Feared of All Natural Disasters
4. Energy: The Achilles Heel
5. The Human Factor: The Individual vs. The Mob
6. Hero Worship: Stupidity in High Places
7. Fear: The Mother of Fundamentalism
9. American Vulnerability
10. The Ultimate Fate of the United States of America
11. Solutions and Options
I. Evolutionary Principles Summarized
II. How to study evolution
III. Sources and Resources
Foreword – See blog post for October 10, 2016
Chapter 1. Why I Wrote This Book – See blog post for October 10, 2016
Chapter 2. Evolution: The Most Effective Weapon
. . . frisbee, volleyball, and yo-yo’s [sic] are examples of “innovations” that have spread rapidly through whole countries or continents.
—Luigi Cavalli-Sforza and Marcus Feldman (Cultural Transmission and Evolution: A Quantitative Approach, 1981)
Why is evolution the most effective weapon for canceling the Great American Experiment in freedom and democracy? The answer to this question is, strangely enough, both simple and complex. The simplicity is to be found in one definition of the word “evolution”: irreversible change from a set of boundary conditions. According to this definition, whatever evolutionary changes occur cannot be reversed. In addition, these changes always occur from conditions that exist at a particular time in history (the boundary from which change must begin), not from some beginning or ideal conditions that were present decades before.
Social Security is an excellent example of an evolving entity. If Social Security is to be “reformed,” as politicians are wont to say, then such reformation must proceed from current structure, practices, and situation, not from whatever Social Security was in the 1930s. Everyone should also accept the fact that Third Millennium changes in Social Security will be permanent. These same statements could be made about all institutions, corporations, and religious organizations, American and otherwise. This fact alone should make us want to deal with evolution as a serious scientific and citizenship matter, not a battlefield in the culture wars.
The complexity of our answer is to be found in the ubiquity and diversity of evolutionary events. In other words, the Theory of Evolution applies not only to dinosaurs, their modern descendents the birds, and disease-causing organisms that infect your children, but also—at least in part—to your local fast food or convenience store chain, your church, your state legislature, and the company that supplies your cable TV and Internet service. This list could go on for pages, and indeed if you’ll pick up your telephone book, the yellow pages come pretty close to being a list of all those agencies, organizations, and businesses that evolve. If your phone book is anything like mine, then it also has blue pages of government agencies at all levels, from city to national; all the listings in those pages, too, obey the laws of evolution. In summary, in all matters of life on Earth, the only constant is constant change. In general, people hate change even as the world is changing, irreversibly, around them, usually because of events over which the people who hate such change have little control. That is why evolution is a terrorist’s most powerful weapon and also, according to writers such as Karen Armstrong (The Battle for God), the rise of fundamentalism as a futile defense against change..
For strictly pedagogical reasons, I am repeating, almost verbatim, two paragraphs from the first chapter, paragraphs that addresses the matter of variability (options) and selectivity, especially the source of each. These paragraphs can be considered a brief theory of social evolution. Here they are (in part, and reworded slightly):
Although changes that occur in human societies are not strictly analogous to the type of natural selection envisioned by Darwin and his intellectual descendents, the term “evolution” is nevertheless an appropriate one because it invokes the interactions between some entity—in our case a nation—and the environment that . . . enables . . . its existence. In much the same way as a population of plants or animals “experiments” with various options—in their case genetic variants—nations also “experiment” with options—but in this case I’m referring to political actions, policies, and group behaviors, selected by people from a diverse array of such possible actions and behaviors.
For example, whereas the thousands of individual flowers in a field might display a dozen or more different varieties for the environment to act upon, i.e., to “select” individuals from this pool for ultimate survival and disproportionate reproductive success, a nation made up of people typically does the selection before presenting itself to the environment. So in the case of social or cultural evolution, humans try, sometimes successfully, to pre-empt the environment’s role in the evolutionary process. The result is that societies find themselves locked into a trajectory of change from which it is exceedingly difficult to escape. The United States of America is not immune to this principle. We are locked into a relationship between our selected behaviors and the environment that we look to for sustenance. This relatively binding relationship, a sort of socio-ecological contract that establishes the direction of a nation’s evolutionary change, is the basis for Beth Hain’s fear expressed in the Chapter 1 epigraph.
Evolutionary change is also maddeningly neutral regardless of the fact that some modern philosophers try to see God’s plan in the sequence of species occupying this planet. In other words, the fact that there are now people on Earth, instead of dinosaurs and woolly mammoths, means to these folks that God intended for us to happen now (“now” = the past million years, if you read the scientific literature, or 6000 years if you listen to some preachers). The fact that we have the intellectual power to contemplate a God might well be the basis for such a “plan” but we have no way of knowing even whether there is a God outside of our minds, regardless of how fervently we might believe in one. In general, we like plans because they provide a certain structure for our lives and, consequently, a feeling of security. Thus we tend to see anything that alters or contradicts the “plan” as being an intrusion, i.e., “bad,” or at least unwelcome. This tendency to view change or difference as bad is, I believe, one of the reasons why “evolution,” as defined by the creationists, is evil and God-less.
But evolutionary change is, by itself, neither good nor evil. Only the people involved in such change can define it as good or evil by their behavior and their reaction to it. “People defining conditions as good or bad” is also one of the definitions of the word “politics.” Back in the post-war late 1940s, if I had been a child prodigy able to see into the future, for example, and had said something like “Spanish will soon become the second most spoken language in this country, music will become rap and hip-hop (remembering that in the 1940s there were no words to describe rap and hip-hop and no definitions of the terms as we now understand them), and despite its unparalleled military might the United States will lose every war for the next half century” people would have thought I was crazy. Of course history abounds with examples of social evolution that are, by all standards, bad: Nazi Germany is one, although prior to the outbreak of WWII in Europe a lot of people in Germany defined whatever Hitler was doing as good, even necessary. We also have plenty of examples of change (from a set of boundary conditions) that are good—constitutional amendments prohibiting legislative bodies from establishing a state religion being one—although again not everyone agrees that this particular phenomena is “good.” Remember that the very word “amendment” implies permanent change, although technically constitutional amendments can be removed.
United States culture is rapidly evolving into something that will be quite unrecognizable in a couple of generations, and, indeed, is likely to be little more than a caricature of its former self, as it presently is if “former self” is considered pre-WWII. The more pessimistic among us believe that the balance has already been tipped, and as a nation we are falling into dissolution. The more optimistic Americans believe there is a light at the end of the terrorism tunnel, and that our present efforts to bring democracy, civil rights, liberties, and economic stability to the rest of the world—i.e., establish a Pax Americana—will, in the foreseeable future, be successful. Somewhere between the optimists and the pessimists are the evolutionary biologists who know their stuff and believe strongly that we will, before long—in cultural evolutionary time—take our place on that list of former great powers—e.g. the Roman and British Empires—that now populate the pages of world history textbooks.
Then there are those folks we call “terrorists.” They know how to blow up a train and the people in it, but really don’t understand how they, too, are swept up in a human species’ experience that, in a manner similar to the experience of beetles, butterflies, and starfish, is shaped more by evolution than by explosives. Because they are the most influential of our minorities, indeed co-opting massive attention, resources, and time that really ought to be spent on more important things like population control and energy conservation, I personally believe they need to be taught a lesson. Of course that’s a professorly reaction to whatever is perceived as wrong: teach somebody a lesson, not in the spank-‘em-with-a-belt sense so often favored by elected officials, but in the sit-‘em-down-with-a-lecture-and-a-textbook sense so derided by conservative self-proclaimed patriots. And what would be this lesson? It would be a relatively simple one, appropriate for many settings ranging from an Al-Qaeda cave to the Oval Office, expressed in plain language by a good friend of mine one time at a social gathering where we were discussing world events.
“You don’t solve any problems by killing people,” he said. He was a deeply respected and scholarly minister of a local large and successful mainline denomination church and I agreed with him. He’s the same minister that told me one time that “man made God, not the other way around.” This particular statement was based on a lifetime’s study of theology, comparative religion, and his congregations.
Personally I’m sick of all the killing. Every day I read about people getting blown to smithereens or shot or maimed, and these people are not only the “good guys” (~American military personnel and American citizens, especially white Christian ones) but also plenty of “bad guys” (~anyone who is not either American military personnel or not closely allied in a recognizable way with the Pax Americana idea.) So when I write a book that could easily be considered a lab manual for terrorists, exalting them to quit killing people and start studying evolution, that’s a rather self-serving, professorly, bit of advice. If these terrorists felt like they had more time, they might listen to someone like me telling them just to get out of the way and let their long-term goals achieve themselves, as long-term changes tend to do according to evolutionary principles. In other words, the factors that sustain classical American-style democracy—not the fact of it, but the approximation and dream of it, which is about as close as we have ever come—are rapidly working against all of humanity, but especially against the United States.
So I say to the terrorists: go home to your families and enjoy the time together and companionship while you can. Go play soccer with your kids or your friends. The Great Satan, i.e., the United States of America, is destroying itself from within and all you have to do is stand back and watch. Or, you can read this book and speed up the process, but in a manner that still leaves plenty of time for you to spend with your wife and kids or, if you’re not married, with your buddies just hanging out and drinking strong tea or doing whatever terrorist buddies do when they’re not actually plotting disaster. You don’t need dirty bombs; all you need are some dirty words. Among the dirtiest words in the current American lexicon are “evolution,” “abortion,” “illegal immigration,” and “gay” or “lesbian,” although if the 2012 national elections, associated rhetoric, and subsequent state-level political actions are any indication of our cultural changes, you can probably add “female” to the list (also, see Chapter 3). “Liberal” is not quite as blatantly dirty, but it’s close, implying as it does support for abortion and gay rights, and “taxes” runs a close fifth. These filthy and disgustingly soiled words can also be used in combination to multiply their effects. And if they are not enough firepower for you in early 21st Century America, then link them somehow to “Hillary Rodham Clinton,” “Barack Obama,” or “Nancy Pelosi.” Now stand back and watch.
What are the important evolutionary changes occurring today in the United States? A second and related question is: how will these changes play out if allowed to run their course? The answer to the first of these questions is relatively easy to obtain; all you have to do is get your hands on statistical summaries of public health, education, income, energy usage, and a long list of other social and economic indicators. That task will take some time, but government and business people do it routinely and a massive supply of such information is freely available on the Internet. The Sources and Resources appendix at the end of this book provides a chapter-by-chapter list of the Web pages and other sources I consulted while writing If I Were a Terrorist. Furthermore, every decade the United States government conducts a census and those results are also readily available. Although it’s now nearly 20 years old, I strongly suggest Sam Roberts’ (1993) Who We Are: A Portrait of America Based on the Last US Census. What you’ll discover from Who We Are is that even the 1990 census showed us all we needed to predict every socio-economic issue that is ripping at the American fabric today. By 2020, those rips will be significantly large, if not outright destructive.
There also are a number of more recent and equally well-documented books on this subject, books that are probably available at any reasonably-sized library. I suggest starting with Robert Merry’s The Sands of Empire: Missionary Zeal, American Foreign Policy, and the Hazards of Global Ambition (2005). For years Merry was editor of The Congressional Quarterly, probably the most reliable source of information about your government’s activities that is readily available to, and understandable by, the American public. In fact if there is a better lab manual than If I Were a Terrorist for the dismantling of our United States it would be Sands of Empire, with its careful and historical analysis of the trap we have fallen into, namely, a combination of idealism, ideology and ignorance—the quasi-utopian idealism of Woodrow Wilson, ideology based on a provincial born-again Christian vision of humanity, and ignorance of almost everything else, especially nature, science, and Islam.
The first question—What are the important evolutionary changes occurring today in the United States?—can be answered thusly: massive demographic changes are occurring, manifested in the ethnic makeup of our nation, the dropping educational levels of the workforce, the growing fraction of our citizens in direct contact with the legal system, deteriorating infrastructure at all levels, a shifting theological landscape, extreme indebtedness, spiraling entitlement obligations, a combination of exponentially increasing medical costs and rapidly deteriorating quality of the health care delivery system, an increasingly restrictive regulatory climate that squelches innovation, military engagement in wars that have no obvious end point, an increasingly uncivil civil discourse, and a rapidly expanding gap between the haves and have-nots, just to pick a few high points. These changes are all occurring, in a manner analogous to a termite infestation, beneath a thick veneer of honest, hard-working people who, in order to maintain their life styles, consume—among other things—large quantities of automobiles, electronic gadgetry, recreational equipment and opportunities, houses, energy, television, the Internet, pornography, alcohol, and food. We are not an Ozzie and Harriet nation; we are a United States of the Third Millennium, awash in an angry sea of global change.
The second question—How will these evolutionary changes play out if allowed to run their course?—is the difficult one to answer. Various pundits seem to try their hands at this task regularly if not daily, but any half-way educated evolutionary biologist is probably at least as qualified as your average cable news commentator to supply such an answer. What would our evolutionary biologist answer in response to this second question? Like all evolutionary biologists everywhere, this one would look first to resources, next to reproduction rates, and finally to the manner in which we, as a cultural “species” tend to use our resources to sustain our fecundity. Of course in this context, reproduction means the spread of American dream type “democracy” or representative government in which opposition parties flourish, criticism of leaders is routine, and everyone above a certain age has the legal right to vote whether they do so or not, all freedoms flourishing in a [theoretically] free-market system, not only within our borders but elsewhere.
Those are the fundamental properties of American “democracy.” All who are citizens of this nation possess the right, by virtue of citizenship, to oppose elected officials verbally and politically, to criticize those same officials, often unmercifully and publicly, to try and influence politicians at all levels with letters, e-mails, and hired lobbyists, to run for office against incumbents if we desire, and to vote. We may not accomplish much by doing any of these activities, but at least we don’t routinely get arrested and/or shot. As of this writing, this type of “democracy” is not reproducing itself very successfully anywhere in the world. The Pax Americana is proving itself to be a weak competitor for the hearts and minds of humans, especially those in what we call the “developing world.” In fact it is struggling to sustain itself in its own heartland. In an ideal America, none of these fundamental properties could be subverted by people participating in the system. The brutal truth is that anywhere the Republican Party is in power, it is likely to be working overtime to subvert the system through gerrymandering, intimidation of appointed officials, ignoring scientific evidence when it contradicts ideology, promoting scientific illiteracy, working overtime to establish requirements for difficult-to-get voter IDs, and spying on its own citizens illegally.
In other words, we are evolving noticeably, if not relatively quickly, toward a totalitarian state, and that evolution is slowed mainly by some institutions that are constantly under attack from a variety of directions, but mostly from the political right. Public schools, libraries, universities, museums, various arts organizations, and the entertainment industry are all routine targets for conservative elected officials. In some cases these officials use budgetary power; in others their words are sufficient to marginalize, if not demonize, a segment of our society. An excellent example of our cultural evolution is provided a few years ago by a Republican candidate for United States Senate from Nebraska, Pete Ricketts, now governor of Nebraska, and heir to the Ameritrade fortune, much of which he spent on his own campaign. Mr. Ricketts is not particularly important on global scale; I’m using him as an example because he’s handy, illustrative, and of a rather common type. Furthermore, information about him is public and readily available.
In the spring of 2006, Mr. Ricketts won the Republican primary election for a candidate to oppose Sen. Ben Nelson (D); Ricketts’ campaign rhetoric consisted primarily of variations on the theme of “faith, family, and hard work . . . values taught and shared in my home.” He swept us in by continuing “Those are my values, our values, Nebraska values that I will take to Washington.” Of the five videos you could access through his web site at the time (www.petericketts.com), one was entitled “Believe” and another was “Mom.” You were also invited to contribute to the Nebraska Families for Pete Ricketts pool. That was the extent of the civics discourse contributed by Mr. Ricketts. The family values candidate also contributed $4.5 million of his own money to this pool before May 8, 2006.
No journalist ever asked Mr. Ricketts how he would have handled the low level radioactive waste storage site issue that has plagued the state like a cancer, how, exactly, he would get us out of Iraq or Afghanistan, what, exactly, he understood about global climate change, whether he could even define the terms “demography” or “ethnic diversity,” whether he ever took a course in a foreign language, what he understood about basic science and technology, to what extent he understood the arts’ contribution to our national economy and image, what he knew about the cost of producing ethanol from corn (as opposed to sugar cane), to what extent drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would or could actually reduce gasoline prices and guarantee our energy future, and just exactly how he would propose to handle the health care delivery system problems faced by our nation. Needless to say, Mr. Ricketts did not offer any answers to any of these questions on his own.
“Nebraska values” it turns out are stereotypical neoconservative: anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-evolution, suspicious, if not outright disdainful, of science in general (but not applied science producing value-added discoveries involving agricultural products), and deeply religious, mostly Catholic. Are these “Nebraska values” wrong or dangerous? No, certainly not as held by free individuals in a truly democratic society. Whether they are wrong or dangerous, or perhaps more properly inadequate as a basis for making international decisions in the Third Millennium, that is an open, and debatable, question.
But the most troubling question of all is: Are these values, combined with a candidate’s careful failure to reveal the extent to which he or she understands science and demographics, unique to Nebraska? If they are, then nobody should worry, or even care, about someone like Pete Ricketts assuming an elective position with power to influence global events. If they are not, then we have plenty to worry about because science and demography will be our challenges in the future, the former because it is completely re-defining what is meant by the term “human being,” the latter because demographic changes determine the boundary conditions under which this new form of human evolves.
The evolutionary changes occurring within the United States should be obvious to anyone who reads a daily newspaper, watches cable television, and pays even minimal attention to our increasingly strident and confrontational dialog on all public matters. As mentioned above, these changes include: the ethnic and linguistic makeup of our nation, dropping educational levels of our workforce, growing fraction of our citizens in direct contact with the legal system, deteriorating infrastructure, a shifting theological landscape, extreme indebtedness, spiraling entitlement obligations, exponentially increasing medical costs, declining quality of the health care delivery system, an increasingly restrictive regulatory climate in which we attempt to foster innovation, and military engagement in wars that have no obvious end point. Combined, along with environmental phenomena such as global-level deforestation and climate change, these factors establish the boundary conditions, i.e., the constraints on our system, for a rapidly evolving species of human that is instantly connected—electronically—not only to billions of other humans, but also an almost infinite supply of information, little of which can be immediately judged as to its veracity.
Evolutionary trajectories are not always easy to project, but any population of living organisms needs, as a minimum, food, water, shelter, protection from predators and disease. In the case of very intelligent animals—e.g. elephants, porpoises, gorillas, chimpanzees, humans—there is also a need for the young to learn social skills essential necessary for group coherence. Such skills include how to be parents themselves, how to gather food, and in the case of chimps, how to build simple tools such as twigs to extract termites. These species evolved, however, in relatively stable conditions; there was time, up to the late Stone Age, for genetic adjustments to environmental change through selection and innovation developed out of necessity. One of the leading questions of our present time is: Are young humans, as a group, learning the skills necessary for survival, especially in a rapidly changing demographic, linguistic, and cultural environment? In other words, is global environmental change, considering all factors, cultural as well as natural, occurring too fast for us Americans to adjust? All the evidence suggests that the answer is “yes.”
A “yes” answer to this immediate question of the relationship between the constraints on American culture (see above) and the environment in which that culture, or the ideal version of it, attempts to survive means that as a terrorist, evolution is my most effective weapon. If I really wanted to end the American dream, then I’d work overtime to increase the burden of those boundary conditions outlined above. But if all I wanted to do is kill people then I’d build a bomb. If I wanted to destroy America, I’d study the literature of sociology, politics, and history, literature that is readily available to virtually all people who can read English then use that education to increase the boundary condition burden. But if I lived in the Middle East and wanted a job, and a healthy economy, money for schools, an elevated standard of living, then I’d shut down all the violence, get over my fear of art, music, and women, crank up the tourist trade, and suck those coins out of Western pockets. But if all I wanted to do was kill someone, I’d make a bomb.