Star Larvae Hypothesis
Fundamental to conspiracy theories is the notion that operating behind the visible political class an oligarchy exercises ultimate control. Conspiracy theorists note that wealthy people find private opportunities to work toward common goals, that is, to conspire. But such conspiring applies to the sheet metal worker and the school teacher as much as it does to the secretary of commerce or the chair of the Federal Reserve. People of all stripes naturally find ways to cooperate with peers in pursuing common goals.
The next level of conspiratorial thinking asserts, more perniciously, that the upper circles of the control elite constitute not only a collection of peer groups, but also a coterie of inter-related bloodlines. The power elite constitutes not only an invisible ruling class, but an inbreeding one. An Anglo-American genetic elite, a de facto dynasty, maintains control over the United States and Europe and possibly beyond, according to hardline conspiracy theorists. In one model of this control structure, the American political class extends the system of British peerage.
The idea is not entirely unfounded. A quick search on the Internet reveals family ties among the Bush and Kerry and the Cheney and Obama families, with links to Winston Churchill and European royalty and see THIS. (You got it. Wikipedia just decided to delete these pages. The pages were on the site for years, but, you know, the family trees of U.S. presidents just aren't interesting enough to warrant precious server space over at Wikipedia.) Even Scott Brown, the Republican elected in 2010 to fill Ted Kennedy's former U.S. Senate seat, is related to Barack Obama. Such coincidences typically are treated as light fare. But the proportions of royal genes that the candidates carry tends eerily to predict the outcomes of presidential races.
C. Wright Mills
The Power Elite
But isn’t a blueblood ruling elite the most naturalistic model of human social organization? Genes naturally will stratify, with those correlated with certain physical and mental aptitudes clustering at various levels in a hierarchy. In a technological society, genes that predispose individuals toward proficiency in managerial strategy and toward charisma, confidence and persuasiveness, and a certain Machiavellian callousness will tend to percolate to the top of the hierarchy, supplanting genes that predispose individuals toward proficiency in, say, hunting or swordsmanship. Such genetic stratification is to be expected if natural selection shapes the evolution of social species. If one takes normal evolution theory seriously, then an implication for Homo sapiens is the emergence of a more or less genetically coherent ruling class.
Racists and elitists can rationalize socioeconomic stratification in terms of a merit system, in which elevated socioeconomic status is claimed to derive from meritorious cognitive and/or behavioral predispositions (genetically derived). But the strong tendency to mate with socioeconomic peers minimizes mixing across socioeconomic strata and so itself ends up producing a genetic stratification. Genes and socioeconomic rank are destined to stratify coextensively, one way or another. And the stratification to a significant degree will be self perpetuating. And this is just to say that people tend to mate within their own socioeconomic class, which, in an overwhelming majority of cases, is the class into which they were born.
—- Edward O. Wilson
A controversial form of sociological naturalism is called sociobiology, a science of social behavior built on evolutionary biology and genetics. Harvard entomologist Edward O. Wilson coined the term while developing an evolutionary model of animal societies. Wilson focused initially on social insects, then applied the principles he developed to other social species. In his book Sociobiology, he argues that social behaviors evolve in those situations in which sociality confers a survival advantage. Genes that predispose individuals toward sociality will tend to spread where the advantage is of adequate significance. (Or, Darwin doubters will smirk, such genes just spread to wherever it is that they spread.)
Sociobiology is not particularly controversial when applied to social insects or wolf packs, but applied to human beings the science aggravates sensitive nerves. Any model of human society that references genes will attract racists. Social reforms cannot resolve social class inequities, racists will argue, because the inequities are grounded—presumably unalterably—in biology. Any sociological theory that leans heavily on biology potentially legitimizes racism.
Wilson faced the issue squarely when he published his ideas about sociobiology, which attracted widespread scrutiny. Colleagues on the Harvard campus in effect accused him of being a racist. Wilson describes the fallout from this episode in his book Promethean Fire, which is a summary of an earlier work, Genes, Mind, And Culture: The Coevolutionary Process. In these books, Wilson and coauthor Charles Lumsden expand the sociobiological model to include culture among evolutionary selection pressures.
(Maybe in response to concerns about racism, the academic world has sidelined the term sociobiology, in favor of evolutionary psychology. The justification apparently being that "social behavior arises, in a complex social context, from the psychological dispositions of individuals. Those psychological dispositions are themselves shaped not only by underlying genotypes, but also by the social and cultural environments in which people develop." -- quote from The Trouble with Scientism, by Philip Kitcher in The New Republic, 5/4/2012.)
Sociobiology admittedly followed a notorious predecessor—eugenics— that emboldened racists. During the early twentieth century, foundations and think tanks became preoccupied with applying Darwinian logic to improving the genetic profile of human beings. The Rockefeller Foundation, Carnegie Institution and other moneyed interests funded programs to promote selective breeding and the sterilization of carriers of "inferior" genes. Eugenic thinking took root and grew into organized movements in the United States and Britain, becoming a respectable part of civic life. Offshoots of the Rockefeller- and Carnegie-funded programs encouraged eugenics projects in Hitler’s Germany. Eugenics as official policy reached its tragic culmination in the genocidal savagery of the Nazis. But eugenic thinking infects policy still today, as when World Bank loans to third-world countries come with population-control strings attached. Wikipedia provides a basic introduction to the history of, and fallout from, the twentieth century's eugenics movement.
Left: "Eugenics is the self-direction of human evolution": Logo from the Second International Eugenics Conference, 1921, depicting eugenics as a tree that unites a variety of disciplines.
The Impact of Science on Society
How beehives and ant hills stay organized is not entirely understood. These insect societies lack universities, courts and public works departments. Maybe such institutions are more ornamental than foundational, and occult forces shape human societies as readily as they do those of social insects. According to sociobiology, the secret cabal that pulls the strings comprises genes.
Hard to identify, communicating in code, selfish genes act with some disregard toward the disposable, unwitting bodies that they manipulate. Clannish, genes mingle with their own kind and screen outsiders who petition for admission to the inner circles. Their silent machinations establish and manage human sociopolitical hierarchies. Heh-heh.
The star larvae hypothesis accommodates a naturalistic, but non-sinister, account of human social organization, because the hypothesis regards evolution as a developmental unfolding, programmed in whatever genetically managed way life cycles of organisms are programmed. By extension, the developmental narrative of human history should fall under the same rubric as that of ontogenetic development. To exile sociobiology from accounts of human social history, because it potentially emboldens racists, is to turn from the most naturalistic to other kinds of accounts.
Nonetheless, human societies differ from those of other social animals in a critical way: Human societies develop in a feedback loop with their technologies in a way that protects the genetic elite from excessive inbreeding. Perpetuating an elite at the top of the control hierarchy requires genetic maintenance. Excessive inbreeding will tend to undermine a clan. Western society does not acknowledge overtly its caste system, yet genetic mixing between, say, the top 20 percent and the bottom 20 percent of the socioeconomic spread would seem to be minimal. The majority of people who find mates choose partners from their own social circles. Human social organization in the context of evolution and sociobiology must include a tension between patriciate inbreeding to refine the elite pool and the admission of new genes to avoid excessive inbreeding.
Edward O. Wilson
On Human Nature
Although Karl Marx observed that technologies upset class relations, he did not formulate the observation in genetic terms. Technology does dampen the threat of excessive inbreeding in elite lines by creating profitable enterprises. It thereby economically elevates the genes of successful entrepreneurs and their investors. Some genetic drift at the interface of the elite gene pool and that of these high-ranking commoners is bound to occur. Technologies facilitate this mixing by creating a class of nouveau riche from which the elite circles can draw recruits.
Elevating lower-class genes economically creates an opportunity for those genes to climb socially, because it buys access to the Ivy League schools and other institutions where old bloodlines review applicants to the upper ranks. The country clubs, philanthropic societies, and private schools serve as conduits up through which genes of the newly rich can percolate. Wikipedia acknowledges a history of such mobility.
Active recruitment of rich new blood was also a character of some more flexible patriciates, which drew in members of the mercantile elite, through ad hoc partnerships in ventures, which became more permanently cemented by marriage alliances. "In such cases an upper group, part feudal-aristocratic, part mercantile would arise, a group of mixed nature like the 'magnates' of Bologna, formed of nobles made bourgeois by business, and bourgeois ennobled by city decree, both fused together in law."
By placing the means of production into new hands, technology facilitates marrying up.
Whether stratified genes associated with stratified social rank might ever spin off a terrestrial post-human species seems doubtful. But the prospect has not escaped the literary imagination. H. G. Wells described such an outcome in his novel, The Time Machine. In the story, an inventor, designated only as The Time Traveler, journeys to the year 802,701; where he finds a world in which humanity has split into two species. The Morlocks, descendants of the working class, inhabit a subterranean world and have degenerated into brutes. The descendants of the managerial class, the Eloi, have evolved neotenously—becoming androgynous, small of stature, and sporting big eyes—and enjoy a life of playful innocence. Having failed to move off-planet, they become easy prey and constitute the Morlock diet, in a Marxist fantasy of poetic justice.
—- C. Wright Mills
The Power Elite
Stratification of genes by class will tend also to coincide with stratification by location, a coincidence that lays the groundwork for speciation—if segments of a population are separated by extreme barriers, as between Earth and space. If extreme geographical separation is involved, such as that between Earth and space, with the latter environment imposing its own selection pressures, then speciation would seem to be assured.
Some thinkers propose that strictly biological evolution among humans already has ceased and has been superseded by cultural evolution. Philosopher Richard Rorty comments in Philosophy and Social Hope,
"The story of how we got from Neanderthal grunts and nudges to German philosophical treatises is no more discontinuous that the story of how we got from the amoebae to the anthropoids. The two stories are parts of one larger story. Cultural evolution takes over from biological evolution without a break."
Philosophy and Social Hope
With ease of travel stirring the gene pool geographically and modern medicine keeping genes in circulation that otherwise would be filtered out, the case can be made that modernity undermines the genetic stratification that drives evolution. Ergo, the case can be made that the torch of human advancement has been passed from biological adapters to cultural innovators.
This was the point of view underscored in a New York Times article, "Evolution of Humans May at Last Be Faltering," (Mar. 14, 1995, p. B10):
"A number of experts say that Homo sapiens is becoming increasingly disengaged from the forces of natural selection and speciation, the key processes that brought humankind into existence. [. . . .] Humans, some evolutionists say, have wrapped themselves in such a snug cocoon, from clothing to central heating to hurricane warning systems, that populations are largely insulated from the environmental stresses that drive evolution. Technology and medicine also tend to cancel out inherited genetic defects. [. . . .] Humans are intermixing more than ever before, marrying people born in locations farther away and generally eliminating the isolation of populations that leads to speciation."
The article quotes Ian Tattersall, a paleoanthropologist at New York’s American Museum of Natural History, from his book, The Fossil Trail: "Homo sapiens today is in a mode of intermixing rather than of differentiation, and the conditions for significant evolutionary change simply don’t exist—and won’t, short of some all-too-imaginable calamity."
Harvard Paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould apparently shared the view that evolutionary pressures no longer apply to the human species. Commenting on genetic mixing among geographically separated populations, he says in the same article, "We are not likely to speciate unless we send up some space colonies." Gould never cultivated this fertile insight.
But evolution-is-over conclusions sidestep the issue of adaptation. Evolution is supposed to involve adaptation to environments. So long as environments change, evolution will have to proceed. Otherwise, normal evolution theory is incoherent, because4 technology not only modifies environments, but does so radically and at an accelerating rate. Humans should be evolving faster, which is what more recent research reveals.
An AP article from January 2008 summarizes the new thinking: "Science fiction writers have suggested a future Earth populated by a blend of all races into a common human form. In real life, the reverse seems to be happening. People are evolving more rapidly than in the distant past, with residents of various continents becoming increasingly different from one another, researchers say." An audio interview with one of the researchers is available HERE. (Curiously, commentators avoid commenting on the lack of mixing among socioeconomic strata.)
NEWSWEEK (Jan 28, 2008, p.49) summarized the findings this way, "A study published in the December Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences found that not only are humans still evolving, but we are doing so at a faster rate than ever before, with genes that affect our diets and brains leading the race. [. . . .] The findings have turned some traditional assumptions on their heads." (Curiously, commentators avoid commenting on the lack of mixing among socioeconomic strata.)
This is an odd turn of events. How many sciences, in making predictions and establishing their street cred, enjoy so much leeway to get things so wrong? How can evolution theory get away with predictions that oscillate so wildly—from the cessation of human evolution to its acceleration—within the span of a single generation of researchers? Can a theory so erratic in its conclusions rest on a solid theoretical ground? (Then again, a profligate prognosticator is bound to get something right.)
illustration of SPATIAL ASPECTS OF SPECIATION:
1. allopatric speciation - physical barrier divides population
2. peripatric speciation - small founding population enters isolated niche
3. parapatric speciation - new niche found adjacent to original one
4. sympatric speciation - speciation occurs without physical separation
But let's give the wobbly theory a break and work within its limitations.
Speciation in normal evolutionary theory is thought to occur by various modes, which have in common a small inbreeding population that develops within or geographically separated from its parent population. The geographical separation of space colonies from Earth would seem to create fertile ground for speciation. And speciation must be more likely to occur if an isolated group, such as in a space colony, represents a genetically thin slice of the parent population, rather than a broad cross section (see also, "the founder effect.") The diagram above illustrates various modes of genetic separation that can lead to speciation.
The prospective New World Order that conspiracy theorists warn about might not be of this world. The prospect of elite genes conspiring to escape Earth to form extraterrestrial societies has occurred to at least one conspiracy theorist (and probably countless science fiction fans). In this video, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones concludes his assessment of the power elite's eugenics campaigns by raising the specter of an elite flight from Earth, involving immortal transhumanists. (For all his ingenuity in connecting the dots, Jones fails to note that transhuman [or post-human] immortality in Heaven is also the central theme and promise of the Christian faith to which he says he subscribes.)
The naturalness of human societies does not mean that cruelty from the ruling elite should be tolerated or rationalized in terms of a "natural order." Rather, an ethic of noblesse oblige seems a reasonable expectation to impose on privileged classes. Munificence needs to stand in opposition to social Darwinism and eugenics. Why shouldn’t the natural order's natural ethic be one of largesse, to keep the peace if nothing else? Popular revolutions might be the natural corrective to abuses of power. In this case, conspiracy theories could have value as a social safety valve, because they vent intrigues and frustrations that otherwise would fester. At the same time, the taboo against conspiracy theories mitigates against inspections of the status quo that might reveal systemic injustices. In so doing, the taboo stabilizes society. This is a knot.
Then again, maybe it's time the naughty bits at the top of the pyramid were exposed, in their full anatomical correctness. Maybe it's time for the body politic to treat the citizenry to a sociopolitical Full Monty and leave nothing to the imagination. Nascent democratic ideals could seize the opportunity to re-assert themselves..
The Star Larvae Hypothesis:
Stars constitute a genus of organism. The stellar life cycle includes a larval phase. Biological life constitutes the larval phase of the stellar life cycle.Elaboration: The hypothesis presents a teleological model of nature, in which
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