The Lucifer Principle

Howard Bloom probes recent developments in evolutionary biology to produce an often interesting but sometimes misleading review of sociobiology, shored up with 782 footnotes and a 40-page bibliography.

Bloom’s main contention is that “evil” is genetically programmed into human biological makeup, and that human genes, in turn, make themselves evident in social systems through what Richard Dawkins, in THE SELFISH GENE, called memes—what, in another day and age, were simply called ideas. Unfortunately, Bloom often torques the work of his scientific sources to suit his own views. For example, while borrowing heavily from Dawkins, he at the same time dismisses one of Dawkins’—as well as a vast majority of biologists’—core principles, that of evolutionary selection occurring at the level of the individual. In exchange, Bloom offers the outdated “group-selectionism” of Konrad Lorenz and V. C. Wynne-Edwards and, worse, makes it sound as if these notions are widely accepted by evolutionary biologists, when actually the opposite is true.

Bloom’s principle concern is to jump start Westerners out of their complacent decadence. To this end, he spends a number of chapters decrying Islamic fundamentalism as the next evil tide—or meme, if you will—while glossing over many of the contradictions inherent in the movement.

Some readers might find it difficult to get past Bloom’s locker-room, sound-byte style. He obviously delights in saying things like “Women encourage killers . . . by falling in love with warriors and heroes” for he says them again and again. Although Bloom offers a spirited wake-up call to his compatriots, his breeziness and errors of fact leave little hope of his book being taken seriously.