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The Lucifer Principle

Micah Killian

The Lucifer Principle is one of the most important and powerful books on world history, war, human nature, and progress. In it, author Howard Bloom details how nature creates complex lifeforms from the competition between less complex ones. To Mother Nature, it’s a numbers game. Each gene, each replicator, is expendable. If a gene must die to serve the purposes of creating a more complex lifeform, so be it. It’s That Bloody Bitch’s way. Like genes, humans want to reproduce. To gain reproduction rights, typically men have had to fight each other for them. Out of fights come winners and losers, creating a hierarchy. Hierarchies exist not only between small groups of individuals, but between nations. Why? Because memes–ideas–bind very large and often diverse groups of people together into superorganisms. Those superorganisms also fit into a hierarchy. Memes appear to have a will of their own. They, like genes, want to spread. They do so through the often brutal competition between nations. To justify our brutality, our memes tell us that what we’re doing is just, that we’re fighting the bad guys. The horrible reality is that battles are not fight between good and evil, but between good and good, two sides that believe that they are honestly the good guys. And tragically, it appears that the often detestable, bloody battles for dominance in hierarchies between superorganisms, bound together and egged on by our memes, seems to actually create good results for those that are alive to see them. Blood and acts of evil are the price of progress. That is the Lucifer Principle.

The Lucifer Principle and Sapiens

The Lucifer Principle, like Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens, is a history book with an agenda. Bloom believes that humanity is progressing. As proof, he says that there are far more humans living peacefully now than they could have ever lived under less complex societies, such as African tribes. Simple societies are brutal, savage, and small. We are much better off in our complex modern societies. Our comfort, however, came at the cost of someone else’s life and comfort. Harari, like Bloom, believes that humanity appears better off due to empire building. After all, citizens within large empires are free to travel and participate in larger societies (although those societies often put restrictions on the level of participation). Empires appear to unify diverse groups of people much larger than simple societies can. Harari believes, however, that people aren’t actually happier thanks to our supposed progress. We simply have a lot more dissatisfied and unhappy people. Bloom says no. We, the ones united behind the meme of pluristic Democracy, have something good, but we are in danger of losing it. Throughout history, empires have fallen because they underestimated the power and ambition of barbarians. Who are the barbarians preparing to knock us from the top of the international hierarchy? Bloom says it is the superorganisms that are united behind two memes: Communism and Islam. (Bloom published this book in 1995!)


While The Lucifer Principle is largely a book about superorganisms and memes, Bloom also has some things to say about individual behavior. He talks about how control over our circumstances, or even just the appearance of control, can improve our mental and physical well-being. He gives the example of two laboratory rats. Both are in cages with electrified floors. One rat has a switch to turn it off (in both cages), the other rat doesn’t. The rat with the switch stays mentally well, because it has the ability to turn off the electricity. On the other hand, the rat without the switch ends up shriveling up in the corner of his cage, accepting that he has not control over his life of torture. Even when the cage is opened, the rat doesn’t try to flee. It is numb to the pain, but also numb to the opportunity of escape. For humans, it’s important to have control, too. Spirituality is often a means to feeling like we have control over invisible forces. Ancient tribes would sacrifice humans to quiet the wrath of the gods. Catholics paid money to the Church to have their sins wiped clean. Often the gatekeepers between us and higher powers are the most well paid and respected groups in our societies because they give us a feeling of control. The illusion of control that they give is part of the reason why doctors have such high status. A lack of control can also contribute to feelings of frustration, which turn to anger and violence. That’s why it’s important that everyone feel like they have some non-violent control over their future.

The secret to eliminating stress? Ambition.

Unfortunately, the sources of “stress” have been misunderstood and taught in our schools. To avoid giving children stressful environments, schools don’t ask students to be ambitious. In fact, ambition is taught to be the source of stress. Overworked students, they say, are stressed out. In fact, the source of stress is not overwork, but lack of ambition and striving for excellence. Humans that aren’t useful to the superorganism of society, like all cells within a larger lifeform, will shrivel up and die if they don’t serve the superorganism. “Excessive relaxation”, writes Bloom, “is a slow form of suicide.” Furthermore, our perceived position in the hierarchy contributes to stress. Bloom writes:
Position in the pecking order makes an additional contribution to many of the symptoms we blame on stress. With our dream of eliminating competition, we try to wish the pecking order away. But the fact is that we will continue to live in pecking order structures whether we like it or not.   Bloom, Howard. The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History (p.311). Grove Atlantic. Kindle.
Perhaps you think you can avoid the rat race by simply opting out. Bloom says, however, that the brutal truth is that our position in the hierarchy of the superorganism will only weaken if we opt out. If we want to rid ourselves of stress, the answer isn’t to opt out, he says, but to be ambitious, take control of our lives, and strive to be useful to the superorganism.

War and Evil

Yet, isn’t ambition also a source of war? Ambitious people striving to be useful to the superorganism seek to conquer their superorganism’s competitors and move them up the hierarchy.
We have found no method for shaking the consequences of our biological curse, our animal brain’s addiction to violence. We cannot free ourselves from our nature as cells in a superorganismic beast constantly driven to pecking order tournaments with its neighbors. We have found no technique for evading the fact that those competitions are all too often deadly.   Bloom, Howard. The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History (p.318). Grove Atlantic. Kindle.
In other words, what we call “evil” appears to be a part of our biology. How do we avoid war while also, as individuals and parts of a superorganism, strive to rise in the hierarchy and be useful to each other? Is peace achievable or a pipe dream? It is possible, Bloom says, but in order to do that, we need to aspire to something big. He writes,
We need a new horizon, a new sense of purpose, a new set of goals, a new frontier to move once again with might and majesty, with a sense of zest that makes life worth living, through the world in which we live.   Bloom, Howard. The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History (p.320). Grove Atlantic. Kindle.
We need to find a way to cooperate and compete in non-violent ways. The scientific process is a political one, but is non-violent. The geopolitical equivalent of science is pluristic democracy. That’s why it’s worth protecting from the barbarians until we can figure out how to eliminate war. Bloom says that we have one great task ahead of us:
We’ve found ways to halt illnesses, we’ve invented means to leapfrog continents in hours, and someday we will find a way to stop war—but only if we survive long enough. Until then our task is to outlast our own impulses. Our task is to outwit the Lucifer Principle.   Bloom, Howard. The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History (p.320). Grove Atlantic. Kindle.

More from Howard Bloom


Rising to the Occasion

Micah Killian

It’s mid September. My plan is to quit working as an ALT at the end of March next year. Six months left.

However, there have been a couple of complications since I started preparing to quit. For one, the studio that my wife and I built got flooded during a recent storm. While most valuables in the house were left undamaged, the studio itself stinks badly of mold. There are a lot of places in the studio for mold to hide. The flood was a rather large setback for us. I wanted to have English lessons in there, but unless we can fix the smell, having lessons in there won’t be practical.

On top of that, I have personal compatibility issues with the mother-in-law, so my wife and I have decided to move out into an apartment. That means we’ll be saving less money than we are now.

Those challenges have prompted me to reevaluate my plans.

My feeling was that if I could replace about 25% of my current salary with part-time, personal work, then it would be feasible for me to quit. But given these new circumstances, I feel like I need to raise that to 50%.

That’s a substantial amount of money. How can I possibly make that much?

The original plan I had was to have at least 5 lessons a week. That sounded like an achievable goal.

10 lessons a month? Now that’s a real challenge. 

How will I do it?

I have no idea.

It’s times like these that I am reminded of a scene from my favorite manga, Attack on Titan. During a pivotal point in the series, a small group of soldiers are sent to do something that had never been done before: Win a battle against the Titans. The fate of humanity rested on them.

The only way they could win and thereby save humanity was to use an experimental power they discovered. Unfortunately, almost as soon as the battle started, it looked like the experimental power failed. When they realized that, they sent a signal that the mission had failed. The mission failed almost as quickly as it begun.

When the commander of the army got the signal, his advisers asked him to order the troops to abort the mission and retreat. His response?


“I won’t let them admit failure so easily. All that we can do while we are alive is struggle through this.”

The troops on the ground began to panic. Most of them wanted to retreat, but their commander ordered them to stay. They had to protect the people with the experimental power until they could escape.

In other words, they had to struggle against a seemingly invincible enemy, the weight of the future of humanity on their shoulders.

There are times in life when we don’t know what to do. In those times, all we can do is struggle through the fear and doubt. We can’t run away or accept failure. We have to fight.

That’s the burden we are given from the day we’re born until the day we die.

Time to rise to the occasion.

Playing with light

Micah Killian

At the end of this month, my wife and I will be taking family photos at an outdoor event at a nearby park. We did the same event a couple of years ago. While my wife took pictures, her friends ran a booth selling handmade goods. I took pictures of the event and my wife while she was working. I wanted to promote the event and my wife’s work.

This year, my wife wants me to help take pictures. We’re going to split the work. It’ll be the first time that I work for her taking photos. She originally envisioned me running a mini-studio experience. As a result, I’ve been thinking about I can run such an operation by myself.

The main obstacle to running the experience outdoors is going to be the weather. Cloudy weather and sunny weather require different lighting setups. Additionally, any heavy wind will also hinder efforts to use things like diffusers or paper backgrounds.

Well, since we have some time to prepare, I’ve been looking at potential setups online. I found a couple I liked, so I took my wife to the park to try them out.

As it turns out, the weather cooperated quite nicely. We had one cloudy day and one sunny day, perfect for testing out both situations.

The setups we tested used only two flashes, diffusion, and a reflector. For cloudy days, no diffusion is needed.

We found one setup that works really well: sitting down in the grass. It’ll work well in both sunny and cloudy conditions, and even if it’s windy, the diffusion is light and plenty of weight can be placed at the base of the stand. On sunny days, as the sun moves, the setup can be easily and quickly turned to adjust. If it’s cloudy, no change is necessary. It’s a stable, easy-to-manage build out for a photo shoot.

Later, we tested out using a tent for building a mini-studio setup, but our tent is too small to use for family photos, so we scrapped that idea.

So, the sitting, two-light setup is the one I am going to use.


Reflecting on Summer Vacation

Micah Killian

Well, summer vacation is over. That means it’s a good time to reflect on how I spent my time during these last few weeks.

The first three weeks, my wife and I spent in the US. We went last year, too, but we mainly focused on visiting places and taking pictures. This time around, we wanted to do something other than just photography.

Of course, we still took lots of pictures.



Some of the most fun we had was in the first few days. We sent to a place called the Nisqually Wildlife Reserve. At the reserve, we expected to just walk around a see a bit of nature. What we got to see was beyond out expectations. After walking for about 15 minutes, I spotted my first frog. Little did I know that, once we paid attention, there were frogs practically everywhere! That lead into a fun couple of hours of walking and photographing frogs, turtles, deer, and other wildlife. I’ve been to a few zoos in my time, but that reserve was better than most I’ve been to.

The only other place that we got to see interesting wildlife was at Mount Rainier.



There are several different trails starting from the Paradise visitor center. I’ve been up the more popular trails several times in my life, so I decided to take us on a less popular one. The trail lead past a small waterfall. Most people went to the fall and then return back to one of the main trails. Instead, we continued on the trail and enjoyed unusual and blissful peace and quiet. At the same time, we had a chance to see the two Marmots, someone large rodents that enjoy munching on the wildflowers in the fields.

Of course, as I said, it wasn’t all photo taking. Near where my parents live, there is a small, slow moving river that is a popular summer inner-tubing spot.



We don’t have very many photos from our fun times then. Unfortunately, we forgot our Olympus Tough, a waterproof camera, back in Japan. We had to make due with a smartphone sealed in a plastic bag.

Originally, we planned on going to a locally famous water park for a day, but when we found out how expensive it was, we decided to buy some inner tubes and enjoy unlimited rides and relaxation on the river for about half the price.

Another activity we enjoyed was taking a small class on night sky photography in Seattle. The class was conducted at an amazing camera store called Glazer’s. After the class, while everybody was downstairs looking at cameras behind glass counters, we spent a while just checking out all of the lighting, stand, printers, and other less popular photography items.



In Japan, I like to go to a store named Yodobashi Camera to look at camera stuff. While Yodobashi’s camera-testing experience is better than Glazer’s, nearly everything else about Glazer’s is better. I was surprised to find such an interesting camera store in the US.

The last activity we did before coming back to Japan was shooting guns at a shooting range. A family friend arranged for us to take some shooting instruction for a day. We expected to take a short lesson, shoot for an hour or two, and then go home. Instead, we spent about four or five hours shooting. It was a fun, American experience that my family enjoyed.


The main event for us, however, was the wedding reception my parents prepared. Friends and family traveled to meet and congratulate my wife and I on getting married. There was lots of food and good conversation for us.


My parents used to do a lot of large gatherings like those in the past, but they rarely get the opportunity these days. I was happy to see that they both haven’t lost their touch.

After all the fun was over, we packed up the souvenirs and said goodbye.


Enter the arena. 競技場に立つ。

Micah Killian

As your empire grows, the words you say and the behavior you model begin to have a strange power that they didn’t have before. Famous people find that when they observe and talk publicly about current events, people, business trends, and so on, they can often become part of the story. If I tweet, “This burger from McBurgerHut tastes great,” nobody will care. If the CEO of Burger Castle tweets the same thing, sales go up for a day and maybe a meme spreads around the internet for a week. If the President of the US tweets the same thing, sales shoot up 10%, stocks go up 5%, the tweet is on the front-page news for a day, and then McBurgerHut becomes the meeting place for the common man to show support for the President.

While my words echo across the internet like the waves of a small paddle boat on the sea, the CEO’s words echo like a freight ship, and the President’s words are like an earthquake.

Intuitively, we understand that the President’s words are more important because of the power they have to shape reality. That’s a strange thing when you think about it. Abstract thoughts can change physical reality. It’s even stranger when your words begin to echo louder than you remember them, without you knowing or trying to make that happen. That’s what happens when some famous people talk about things in public.

That’s what happens when you enter the arena of human events.

We all have power at some level. Our words can ripple through space and time through our children. One day you’re telling your son “good job” for remembering how to say 「クジラ」 in English, the next day he’s moving to America to work for Toyota’s US branch. Or, one day you ignore his English grades and focus on that funny variety TV show with all the celebrities on it, the next day he’s hungover at his job working at the factory after puking on a cute girl at the nomikai the previous night.

The wise man will recognize early in life that his actions and words have power, no matter how mysterious and unknowable. For people that want to do good for others, that’s why it’s important to live life the way you believe is good for other people to live.

Remember: Your words and actions have power. In Japan, Japanese words have more power than English, but around the world, English has more power. If you want your words to ripple across the world, they’ll need to be in English.