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Guest Book Review: The Genius of the Beast

The Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism by Howard Bloom

Reviewed by J. Scott Shipman

Mr. Bloom may have a modern-day classic in his third book, The Genius of the Beast, A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism. Bloom delivers a tour-de-force with obvious and not-so-obvious evidence supporting the power of capitalism to deliver a better quality of life, a better world, and he does so with passion and vigor. 

The Beast is a very quotable book and Bloom’s voice has a messianic quality. From the beginning he admits that his book is “designed to give you pleasure.” In my estimation he succeeds on multiple levels, but I must admit as a newcomer to Bloom’s writing, I was scratching my head during the first portion when he used phrases like “transcendence engine,” “secular genesis machine,” and “evolutionary search engine” which to my way of thinking smacked of new-age hype but I pressed-on and am glad I did. Bloom’s successful use of these “metaphors” (which will probably find their way into our language) helped him to explain the crisis facing Western Culture and his common sense solutions. He writes:

“Our civilization is under attack. But many of us don’t want to defend it. Why? There’s a void in our sense of meaning. We’ve been told that the “the Western system” is one in which the rich stoke artificial needs to suck money, blood, and spirit from the rest of us. We’ve been told that the barons of industry work overtime to turn us from sensitive humans into consumers–mindless buyers listlessly watching TV while growing obese on the artificial flavors, chemical preservatives, and the cheap sugars of junk food. And some of that it is true.

But the problem does not lie in the turbines of the Western way of life–it does not lie in industrialism, capitalism, pluralism, free speech, and democracy. The problem lies in the lens through which we see.”

The Beast is delivered in 78 bite-sized chapters (with 82 pages of notes) in prose accessible to the average reader. However, the large number of small chapters doesn’t scrimp on content; Bloom sets the stage with a review the phenomena of economic booms and crashes through the lens of manic-depressive economies of the past and present. He offers evidence that even without a World Wide Web and the modern notion of globalization, our current situation is not unique and economies have suffered worse crashes than our recent 2007/08 meltdown. 

Bloom contends  “emotional flows” have powered our past and will power our future, but until now, we have not had the tools or the awareness to “bring them into view.” The Beast, in Bloom’s words, “attempts to show you how and why.”

Like the great John Boyd, Bloom, a scientist-turned-rock band promoter, is a consilient thinker—he weaves the theory of evolution, neurology, entomology, bacteriology, public policy, economics, and crowd-psychology (just to name a few) into an uplifting view of capitalism and how we interact within our culture, and the importance of staying on the edge of exploration. Importantly, he lays bare the truth about Marxism, demonstrating that Marx was what he complained of: a capitalist peddling a murderous utopian view of the world that led to at least 80M deaths in the twentieth century. Contrary to what many modern critics of capitalism would have us believe, Bloom asserts that where “Religions and ideologies promise to raise the poor and the oppressed. But only The Western system {capitalism} delivers on that promise century after century.” And he backs up his assertion with facts.

Bloom’s clear-eyed enthusiasm for Western culture does not spare the reader the excesses and tragedies of capitalism; he leaves no stone unturned in his critical assessments or in his heart-felt endorsements. He provides not only reasons for hope, but proven tools and methods to get things done and for the right reasons. Bloom used competitive and cooperative examples in nature (birds, bees, and fish) to explain our environment and culture and made for excellent examples of what works and does not work in nature. Bloom takes Plato to task for “what he didn’t tell us,” how capitalism created the alphabet, why “flash isn’t frivolous,” the importance of vanity, and how as a scientist in the business world he used two rules of science he learned as a kid that were invaluable to his success:

“(1) The truth at any price including the price of your life, and (2) look at things right under your nose as if you’ve never seen them before, then proceed from there.” 

For some, Bloom’s descriptions of his success may smack of immodesty, but given the passion flowing from each page, it is difficult to fault him for saying essentially, “Hey, this isn’t just theory! I’ve tried it and it works and you can do it, too!”

Blooms “transcendence engine” revs into high-gear as he walks the reader from Marco Polo, to Prince Henry The Navigator, to Christopher Columbus, and how “the world is fed using Mesoamerican agrotechnology;” and how none of this would have been possible without dreamers dreaming and then acting, and searching…exploring.

The insanity of reliance on pure reason is laid bare; he states plainly “reason without intuition is cripple.” Leaders and would-be leaders could take a lesson from Bloom’s guidance to use our “instrument of empathy” (which is something literally “right under our nose”) to find emotions within that are attuned to the people you want to serve. He encourages the deliberate act of “learning” more about our customers in order to “learn to care about them more deeply.” He used a lovely analogy in the form of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s masterpiece “Renascence” to illustrate the depth of truly knowing those we serve: “It said that to see the infinite in every grain of sand, you have to feel all the pains, the pleasures, the extremes, and the day-to-day emotions of every conceivable sort of person sharing this planet with you, of every living human being.” In our narcissistic age, this appeal may have an odd ring, but history and Bloom offer examples of how “learning” about customers works, and Bloom doesn’t mean the institutional research as much as the personal benefits of having first-hand knowledge and empathy for those we serve. (His observations on focus groups were spot-on as well.) 

Bloom wraps up with a genuinely passionate entreaty that may sound odd without more background, but inspiring and thought-provoking just the same:

“Help others grow selfish on behalf of others, too. Ask what your fixations and your private passions can contribute to the lives of others. Get fervent about it. Crusade! If it’s a better art-directed envelope for the mail room, one that will light up the people who find it in their mail box, if it’s a service that will give your customers the honest sense that you care for their security, no matter what it is, do it! Forget the horse-pucky about lean and mean. Meanness is punished in the long run by the capitalist system. It’s socked by a dive in long range profits and in long-range value, long-range capitalization. It’s rocked by the hatred of meanness makers generate. Profit, value, and longevity come from caring, not from ruthless savagery. You are here—at your job forty or sixty hours a week—not to plunder but to please. You are here to give eight hours of meaning to those you work for, to those who work for you, and most of all to your public, to your audience, to the tens of millions or hundreds of millions who you would like to reach and bring into your fold.”

Those are big numbers, but he’s right—even in our small world; we’re ambassadors for something bigger—-so the “crusade!” comment seems appropriate.

Get this book and read it. Bloom’s assessments are thoughtful and inspiring. Thank you, Howard Bloom, you have bridged generations and thoughts and tied together facts that otherwise would have gone unnoticed.

About the Reviewer:

Based in the suburbs of Washington, DC, Scott is the father of three, the husband of one, former submarine sailor and arms control inspector, and the founder of a boutique consulting firm specializing in strategic thought leadership.  As an admirer of the late Colonel John Boyd, Scott’s passion centers around a presentation titled  “To Be, or To DO: A Challenge To Action With Integrity.” Scott is pleased, but not surprised that Boyd has so many devotees and is glad to have found Zen and Co. 

13 Responses to “Guest Book Review: The Genius of the Beast”

  1. dom Says:

    Awesome review!  Can’t wait to get this book!

  2. historyguy99 Says:

    Scott, your review has given me an epiphany that helps me put my recent visit to China in prospective. The explosive growth of their economy has been fueled by pure Western style capitalism. A lot can be decried about only a part of the country seeing massive improvements in every basic need, but that is 400 million times better than under pure socialism where everyone was dirt poor, except the tiny elite leadership class. Thanks Mark, for providing a platform for Scott to spread the word about what appears to be a must read book.

  3. J. Scott Says:

    HG, Epiphanies are good things! I’ve never been to China, but believe the numbers alone prove your point. Many thanks and Happy Thanksgiving to your and yours. Scott

  4. david ronfeldt Says:

    an enjoyable review, in part because it shows another, brighter aspect of a theme — millenarianism — that this blog has featured in various recent and older posts about nidal malik hasan, jihadism, mahdism, etc.  bloom’s take on capitalism seems quite millenarian, in keeping with the original nature of the concept of progress.
    .
    but i’d like to ask whether bloom distinguishes between the market system on the one hand, and its expression through capitalism on the other hand.  my own view is that the market system rocks, but capitalism often sucks.  this is especially the case where capitalism is rigged to favor particular elites and practices in ways that depart from the ideals (or at least best practices) of the market system.
    .
    that bloom may not make such a distinction is indicated by his point that “Meanness is punished in the long run by the capitalist system.”  i’d say that isn’t right.  meanness gets punished not by the capitalist system per se, but by efforts to return it toward a market system.

  5. J. Scott Says:

    Mr. Ronfelt, Many  thanks for your comments. While the final quote from Bloom does not reveal a distinction between market systems and capitalism, he spends considerable time outlining the excesses of capitalism. I would not want to speak for Bloom, but I believe he is advancing the idea that capitalism is capable of evolving (and I believe it has and has because of awareness and the market). As for the "meanness" quote, Bloom is encouraging an alternative that he finds to be workable—but again, that is my take. Bloom is probably aware of your comment, and I hope he offers his insight. 

  6. Larry Dunbar Says:

    I like the idea of the Beast. I always thought Bloom’s description of the complex adaptive system in his book Global Brain as The Beast, a beast moving from one potential to another, world-wide.    Giving this system a capitalistic flavor sounds about right to me. However, if Bloom is suggesting this Beast as being a globalized creature, it is taking on the attributes of a totalitarian, or, as the conservatives are calling it now, authoritarian state. Does Bloom deal with this rather new aspect of capitalism? At least I believe it is a new aspect to capitalism, but obviously not new to the world.

  7. J. Scott Says:

    Mr. Dunbar, Thanks for your comments. I don’t believe Bloom is suggesting that the Beast is a globalized creature as much as a globalized attitude, in fact he defines the Beast as Western civilization: "What is the beast? It’s Western Civilization. And the beast’s metabolism is capitalism. Capitalism–a word that has become, to many, a curse. But beneath their surface, capitalism and the Western system hide astonishing abilities."Bloom continues with: "There is an implicit code by which we in the Western system live–a code that demands that we uplift each other, and that we do it globally. It’s a thoroughly secular call to be messianic. It’s an economic call, a call to save they neighbor." So, in this context Bloom is extolling an attitude and encouraging awareness to our potential.

  8. Fred Leland Says:

    Scott, not my normal reading but your review has me motivated to read it. Great review

  9. J. Scott Says:

    Many thanks, Fred. He has two previous books that are on my list: The Lucifer Principle and Global Brain.

  10. bloom Says:

    david–re differentiating capitalism from a market.  thanks for asking, but,  no, I don’t.  Howard Bloom____________Howard BloomOn Amazon.com and In a bookstore near you–The Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism ("an extraordinary book, exhilaratingly-written and masterfully-researched. I couldn’t put it down." James Burke)http://www.Howardbloom.net\geniusAuthor of: The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of History ("mesmerizing"-The Washington Post), Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind From The Big Bang to the 21st Century ("reassuring and sobering"-The New Yorker), and How I Accidentally Started The Sixties ("a monumental, epic, glorious literary achievement." Timothy Leary).http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-genius-the-beasthttp://www.scientificblogging.com/howard_bloomFormer Core Faculty Member, The Graduate Institute; Former Visiting Scholar-Graduate Psychology Department, New York University, Special Advisor to the Board of the Retirement Income Industry AssociationFounder: International Paleopsychology Project; Founder, Space Development Steering Committee; Founder: The Group Selection Squad; Founding Board Member: Epic of Evolution Society; Founding Board Member, The Darwin Project; Member Of Board Of Governors, National Space Society; 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, Scientific Advisory Board Member, Lifeboat Foundation; Advisory Board Member: The Buffalo Film Festival.

  11. Larry Dunbar Says:

    “I don’t believe Bloom is suggesting that the Beast is a globalized creature as much as a globalized attitude, in fact he defines the Beast as Western civilization: "What is the beast? It’s Western Civilization.”" * Unless bloom is ignoring his other book Global Brain, I would say that if the Beast is an attitude located inside Western Civilization, then it sounds to me like he is talking about a globalized complex adaptive system, which, in the way he talks about it in Global Brain, really sounds like the definition of a creature, multi-celled or not. I am just suggesting that, with the love affair capitalism has found in Eastern authoritarian societies, the Beast has crossed over. It maybe just a coincidence that the location of world growth is now located in the East, but I believe it is growth that the Beast is after, and any “…implicit code by which we in the Western system live–a code that demands that we uplift each other, and that we do it globally.” Is an attribute of strength, which may or may not transfer to the East.    * We have taken the logic of the Beast, “To he who hath it shall be given; from he who hath not even what he hath shall be taken away,” Jesus of Nazareth, and created an advantage to the environment (Western), which we observe. This advantage might be in the action of uplifting of even those who hath not, but if the Beast has moved to the East side of the gap, I am not sure this holds true. I suppose what you are saying; there are at least two Beasts, one in the East and one in the West, and the Western one is better.  * I tend to agree with this assessment of Western “attitude”, but wonder how this “attitude” will continue as the West continues with its force of consumerism and the East’s control of the velocity of resources to the West. Perhaps bloom is so isolate he doesn’t see a flow of “authoritarian” Capitalism moving south towards Australia and North from South America as I do, or sees authoritarian as strongly enforcing of rules and not a change in ideology. I can’t say I blame him, I am not sure anybody else does either.  * It sounds to me like his book is just, as you say, “It’s a thoroughly secular call to be messianic”, which should sell books, but I am not sure it is something we really need, but I will probably buy when it comes out in paperback.

  12. J. Scott Says:

    Mr. Dunbar, You make valid points in the "flow" of authoritarian capitalism. Bloom clearly finds the "Western Beast" to be superior.  I believe our culture would be enriched by taking pointers from Bloom’s enthusiastic call. I do hope the revelations surrounding the global warming data will slow down the authoritarian march, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Many thanks for your excellent comments. {This was my first Bloom book, Lucifer and Global Brain are on my list.}

  13. Rick B Says:

    I disagree on almost all points. I bought into That "I do my job for mankind" crap. Chaining up the beast to serve all mankind is what we should be doing as Roosevelt believed. Unchaining this thing and serving it is the reality of today. Capitalism has killed just as many people in it’s march to own the earth as any other philosophy. The difference is, capitalism has no real connection to any religion. It is merely a financial system that has reached religion status and your book admonishes people to pray to it…


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