Star Larvae Hypothesis
Fundamental to conspiracy theories is the notion that operating above the visible political class hovers an oligarchy of ultimate control. Conspiracy theorists identify the pinnacle of power typically with two interlocked groups: (1) the royal families of Europe (possibly tracing ancestry back to the pharaohs) and (2) international banking, which operates in the United States through Wall Street and the Federal Reserve and internationally through the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the Bank for International Settlements. Freemasons, Rosicrucians, the Knights Templar, Skull and Bones and other secret societies are cast in various supporting roles that weave through plots involving jesuits, zionists and the CIA and its international counterparts. Conspiracy theorists such as Alex Jones and Webster Tarpley present mainstream conspiracy theories that adhere roughly to this model. (They are mainstream in that they stop short of bringing in extraterrestrial reptiles, entities from the hollow Earth, and that sort of thing.)
As a first approximation, conspiracy theorists note that rich and influential people help each other out. Wealthy people find 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 and the chief executive officer. People naturally find ways to cooperate with others with whom they rub elbows day to day.
C. Wright Mills
The Power Elite
The next level of conspiratorial thinking asserts, more perniciously, that the upper circles of the control elite constitute a coterie of 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 according to the hardline conspiracy theorists. In this view of the 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. Even Scott Brown, the Republican elected in 2010 to fill to Ted Kennedy's U.S. Senate seat, is related to Barack Obama. Such coincidences typically are treated as light fare.
But isn’t a blueblood ruling elite the most naturalistic model of human social organization? Genes naturally will stratify in a large society, with those related to certain physical and mental aptitudes clustering at different levels in the social pyramid. In a technological society, genes that predispose individuals toward proficiency in managerial strategy and toward charisma, confidence and persuasiveness, and Machiavellian self promotion will tend to percolate to the top of the hierarchy, eventually 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 evolution theory seriously, then an implication for our own species is the emergence of a more or less genetically coherent ruling class.
Genes and socioeconomic rank are destined to stratify co-extensively, which is just to say that people tend to mate within their own socioeconomic class and within their own race, if not within their more specific ethnic group.
Racists and elitists can cast socioeconomic stratification in terms of a genetic merit system, in which elevated socioeconomic status derives from cognitive and/or behavioral predispositions that derive from "superior" genes. But at the end of the day, people’s strong tendency to mate with socioeconomic peers minimizes mixing across socioeconomic strata and ends up producing the same stratification that elites might rationalize in racist terms.
—- Edward O. Wilson
That is, sociogenetic classes are to a significant degree self-perpetuating—because people tend to mate within their own class.
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 extrapolated his principles to other social species. In his book Sociobiology, he argues that social behaviors evolve in those situations in which sociality confers a survival advantage. Simple Darwinism. Genes that predispose individuals toward sociality will tend to proliferate where they bestow an advantage.
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 social behavior that references genes invites racism. Social reforms cannot resolve social class inequities, the racist argues, because the inequities are grounded—presumably unalterably—in biology. Any sociological theory that leans heavily on biology potentially legitimizes this kind of racist thinking. (Pehaps in response to such concerns, the academic world has somewhat sidlined 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 environements in which poeple develop." -- quote from The Trouble with Scientism, by Philip Kitcher in The New Republic, 5/4/2012.)
Wilson faced the issue firsthand when he published his ideas about sociobiology. Colleagues on the Harvard campus in effect accused him of racism. Wilson describes the fallout of 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 co-author Charles Lumsden expand the sociobiological model to include cultural factors in natural selection.
Sociobiology has a notorious precursor that did emboldened racists: eugenics. During the early twentieth century, numerous 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 blossomed into an organized movement 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 reached its tragic culmination in the genocidal savagery of the Nazis. The Holocaust embarrassed the elite and discredited the eugenics movement. But eugenic thinking infects policies 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.
How a beehive or an ant hill stays organized is not completely understood. But these societies lack schools, parliaments, courts and other institutions that seem foundational to organized society. Maybe the institutions are more ornamental than functional, and hidden forces shape social structures. According to sociobiology, the secret cabal that pulls the strings from behind the scenes is composed of 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 machinations establish and manage human sociopolitical hierarchies. Heh-heh.
The Impact of Science on Society
A society that has an explicit inbreeding dynasty in place, acknowledged as such and visible to all, might be somewhat immune to conspiracy theories. But when the genetic elite goes underground, or otherwise becomes invisible, the mythic imagination fills the void with stories of hidden puppet masters. That is, post-monarchical societies might be more susceptible to, might provide more fertile ground for, conspiracy theories.
Edward O. Wilson
On Human Nature
The star larvae hypothesis accommodates a naturalistic account of 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 of its potential to embolden racists, is to turn from the most naturalistic to other kinds of accounts.
Human societies differ from those of the ant or bee or wolf in a critical way: They develop in a feedback loop with their own technologies. This dynamic produces various effects. For example, it helps protect the genetic elite from excessive inbreeding. Perpetuating an elite at the top of the control hierarchy requires maintenance. Excessive inbreeding has undermined more than one well-established dynasty. 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 vast majority of people who find mates choose partners from their own social class. 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.
Karl Marx observed astutely that technologies upset class relations. But he lived too early to formulate the idea in terms of genes. Technology dampens the threat of excessive inbreeding in the elite lines by creating profitable enterprises and thereby economically elevating the genes of successful entrepreneurs and their investors. Some genetic drift at the interface of the elite gene pool and that of high-ranking commoners is bound to occur spontaneously. But technologies facilitate this mixing by creating a class of nouveau riche from which the elite circles can draw recruits. This economic elevation creates an opportunity for lower class 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. For example, the Skull and Bones secret society at Yale University, one of the top business schools, apparently serves this vetting function. Wikipedia acknowledges a history of such recruitments:
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 new means of production into the hands of lower classes, technology facilitates marrying up.
Whether stratified genes associated with stratified social classes might ever spin off a terrestrial post-human species seems doubtful. But the possibility has not escaped the literary imagination. H. G. Wells described a prospective outcome of post-human speciation 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 apish brutes. The descendants of the managerial class, the Eloi, have evolved neotenously—becoming androgynous, small of stature, and sporting big eyes—and enjoy an idyllic 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.
Stratification of genes by geography will tend to coincide with stratification by class ("birds of a feather," rich neighborhoods and poor), a coincidence that can only enhance the prospects for speciation, particularly if the stratification includes an extreme geographical separation, such as that between Earth and space. Because geographical frontiers naturally encourage gene segregation, they encourage speciation.
Some thinkers have claimed that human biological evolution has ceased and been supercede by cultural evolution. Philosopher Richard Rorty favored this interpretation. In Philosophy and Social Hope he asserts,
"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
—- C. Wright Mills
The Power Elite
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 encourages evolution. Ergo, the torch of human advancement has been passed from biological forces to cultural innovators.
This is 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 paleoantropologist 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 his fertile insight.
But this evolution-is-over line of thinking forgets that evolution is supposed to involve adaptation to environment. So long as environments change, evolution will have to proceed. Otherwise, the theory makes no sense. Technology not only changes living conditions, but does so radically and at an accelerating pace. As a result, 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, no one seems to want to comment 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."
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, if you make enough predictions, you're 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 accepted parameters.
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 the space colony from Earth would seem to create the perfect opportunity for speciation to occur. And it 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 haunts conspiracy theorists might not be of this world at all. 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 "the natural order." 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 for abuses of power.
Genes will tend to cluster in segments of a society where they bestow a survival advantage, and there they can become discernable as conspicuous cliques. It's not that people who make up the cliques necessarily have arrived at their posts by merit of achievement, but just that certain genes will tend to aggregate at the top, and certain individuals will inherit their parents' privileges. Individuals, from the perspective of the genes, are automaton servants. From a humanistic point of view, this is a perverse perspective. And, similarly, conspiracy theories are dismissed as politically and sociologically perverse. But conspiracy theories might have value as a social safety valve, because they vent intrigues and frustrations that otherwise would fester. The taboo against conspiracy theories mitigates inspections of the status quo. In so doing it stabilizes society.
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 the body politic treated its citizenry to a socioeconomic Full Monty and leave nothing to the imagination. Then we might glimpse humankind's capacity to realize democratic ideals.
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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