For our February 26 meeting we'll discuss ULTRASOCIETY: : HOW 10,000 YEARS OF WAR MADE HUMANS THE GREATEST COOPERATORS ON EARTH, by Peter Turchin (Beresta Books, 2015). Homemade dessert will be served. You need not have attended a previous discussion to join us for this one. We hope to see you there!
If you'd like to read ahead, on March 26 we'll discuss The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr.
We organize ourselves into communities of hundreds of millions of individuals, inhabit every continent, and send people into space. Human beings are nature’s greatest team players. And the truly astounding thing is, we only started our steep climb to the top of the rankings—overtaking wasps, bees, termites and ants—in the last 10,000 years. Genetic evolution can’t explain this anomaly. Something else is going on. How did we become the ultrasocial animal?
In his latest book, the evolutionary scientist Peter Turchin (War and Peace and War) solves the puzzle using some astonishing results in the new science of Cultural Evolution. The story of humanity, from the first scattered bands of Homo sapiens right through to the greatest empires in history, turns out to be driven by a remorseless logic. Our apparently miraculous powers of cooperation were forged in the fires of war. Only conflict, escalating in scale and severity, can explain the extraordinary shifts in human society—and society is the greatest military technology of all.
Is endless war, then, our fate? Or might society one day evolve beyond it? There’s only one way to answer that question. Follow Turchin on an epic journey through time, and discover something that generations of historians thought impossible: the hidden laws of history itself.
“In Ultrasociety, we see a brilliantly original scientist at the top of his game. Turchin’s delightfully readable book defends a bold thesis–that the institutions that have made today’s extraordinary degree of human cooperation possible were forged by ten millennia of inter-societal military conflict. No future accounts of society’s origins will dare to ignore his carefully crafted arguments in support of this claim.”–Robert H. Frank, Cornell University, author of The Darwin Economy.
“Ultrasociety is a winner. It gives us an incisive look at Cultural Evolution and the implications for group selection. Turchin argues clearly and well for a deeper understanding of how culture trumps other social forces, and thus he can explain our era far better.” –Gregory Benford, author of Timescape.