Anti-Humanism in the Work of John Gray:The failure of rationality and the reality of human dissonance.

    Constructed Views.

  • John Gray argues that humans deny reality in order to preserve constructed views and beliefs about themselves and the world.
  • At the same time humans deny any belief in the mythologies in favour of science.
  • Gray argues that the mythologies are a part of a normal human condition he calls ‘’cognitive dissonance’’. (J. Gray: The Silence of Animals, 2014,p 74).
  • Leon Festinger’s (1957) Cognitive Dissonance Theory.
    • Cognitive dissonance refers to a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviours.
    • This produces a feeling of discomfort leading to an alteration in one of the attitudes, beliefs or behaviours to reduce the discomfort and restore balance etc.
    • For example, when people knowingly (cognitively) engage in harmful behavior.
    • According to Festinger, we hold many cognitions about the world and ourselves; when they clash, a discrepancy is evoked, resulting in a state of tension known as cognitive dissonance.
    • Messianic Movements.
      • Gray believes that cognitive dissonance is expressed in the notion of history and progress and especially in the messianic movements that advocate the arrival of a saviour who will rescue humanity from self-destruction and replace chaos with love and a perceived eternal life.
      • This has been played out in apocalyptic movements, revolutions and politics. It is also played out in the day-to-day planning said to organize humans into a “civilized world”.
      • Gray argues that humans are naturally civilized and naturally barbaric (p75) and there is no such thing as “fate”; ideas that stem from the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer.
      • Arthur Schopenhauer 1788-1860.
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        • Schopenhauer was a German philosopher. He is best known for his 1818 work The World as Will and Representation, in which he describes the world, and consequently all human action, as the product of a blind, insatiable, and malignant metaphysical will.
        • Life Beyond Reason.
          • According to Schopenhauer humans are governed by an unconscious will. Freud called this unconscious flow of energy the “id”. Schopenhauer believed in salvation (with the elimination of the ego).   Freud argued there was no salvation;  the ego and the id are natural human components. They could however, be understood through psychoanalysis (myth-making).
            • Or, the avoidance of making claims about things in themselves. (This view became a philosophy called Logical Positivism. In positivism the boundaries between illusion, fiction, myth and science are blurred or returned to nature (as in the case of evolution).
            • Meaning must be found in fictions because there are no absolutes. The unconscious =abstracts, thought=concepts, actions =unintended consequences.
            • Who’s Interests are Being Served?
            • However those who look to science to answer questions of a personal, social or political nature have instead mostly ended up reinforcing the mainstream ideologies of the era, and in an age when science has replaced religion as the ultimate intellectual authority, it has become a powerful ideological weapon of the ruling class.
            • Evolution and Unintended Consequences.
              • Darwin advocated a process of natural selection of random genetic material and was of the opinion that an individual would inherit the optimal characteristics that would ensure survival ( or a reproductive advantage). However:
              • Evolution has no end point. Gray calls it an “evolutionary drift”.
              • The natural world and the social world are not the same. For example,:
              • Herbert Spencer’s Social Evolution (Social Darwinism) has no scientific basis (p78). This view is also called biological determinism and has become a battleground between biology and ideology.
              • The biological sciences have an altogether more fundamental political nature, which is often grounded in the misleading term “human nature”.
              • Or, what is the natural world expected to tell us about ourselves and how we should behave.
              • The difference between Evolution and Natural Selection.
                  • Evolution is the process by which new species come into being. The term is also used for the history of species on the planet.
                  • Natural selection is the mechanism by which evolution occurs: variations in the population which spread or are eliminated based on how well they manage to survive in the environment.
                  • Nowhere in science can we say societies are “naturally” based on hereditary factors.
                  • Ernst Haeckel 1834-1919.
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                “I established the opposite view, that this history of the embryo (ontogeny) must be completed by a second, equally valuable, and closely connected branch of thought – the history of race (phylogeny).

                Both of these branches of evolutionary science, are, in my opinion, in the closest causal connection; this arises from the reciprocal action of the laws of heredity and adaptation… ‘ontogenesis is a brief and rapid recapitulation of phylogenesis, determined by the physiological functions of heredity (generation) and adaptation (maintenance).'”Haeckel, E. 1899. Riddle of the Universe at the Close of the Nineteenth Century.

                This view has been discredited except by the extreme far Right.

              • Precursor  to Sociobiology.
                • Although best known for the famous statement “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”, (recapitulation theory means a linear chain of being involving all animals).
                • Haeckel also stated that “politics is applied biology”, a quote used by Nazi propagandists. The Nazi party, rather unfortunately, used not only Haeckel’s quotes, but also Haeckel’s justifications for racism, nationalism and Social Darwinism.
                • A more covert adaptation of these views arose in 1975 with the publication of Edward O Wilson’s Sociobiology: The New Synthesis.
                • Please read the following article from Frontline Vol 2. Issue 8. December 2008.
                • Biology and Ideology
                  The case against biological determinism
                  From Darwin to Dawkins views on evolution tend towards controversy. In this article Neil Bennet takes a look at current debates in the field.
                  Biology is a political battleground – more so than the other natural sciences, where a political discourse only really exists around applications of technologies (such as hydrogen bombs, nuclear power, Agent Orange and DDT) and even then only usually because of the biological impacts of those technologies – that is their effects on human or animal health and the ecosystem.Of course the same holds true for biology, with the greatest public and media interest in scientific news understandably surrounding threats or perceived threats to public health – whether variant CJD, avian influenza, the MMR vaccine or genetically-modified foods.

                  However the biological sciences have an altogether more fundamental political nature. It is the branch of the natural sciences expected to tell us about ourselves – about the human being as a species and our place in the world.

                  It is in this context that various conceptions of what comprises “human nature” have been fiercely debated, and various apparent attempts to understand or explain human (and animal) behaviours have been have put forward, and ideological battles fought.

                  However those who look to science to answer questions of a personal, social or political nature have instead mostly ended up reinforcing the mainstream ideologies of the era, and in an age when science has replaced religion as the ultimate intellectual authority, it has become a powerful ideological weapon of the ruling class.

                  Since Darwin

                  Ever since Charles Darwin first published his Origin of Species in 1859, the relationship between the process of “natural selection” Darwin described in nature has been closely intertwined with human social and economic structures. The phrase “survival of the fittest”, often attributed to Darwin, was in fact first used by political theorist Herbert Spencer in his The Principles of Biology in 1864, before being adopted by Darwin for later editions of Origin. Spencer used the phrase to draw parallels between the struggle for survival in nature and competition between individuals in the capitalist economy of Victorian England, and Darwin appropriated the term in order to avoid possible anthropomorphic confusions from the word “selection”.

                  Both Darwin and Spencer were strongly influenced by the writings of the economist Thomas Malthus, whose Essay on the Principle of Population (originally published in 1798) first inspired Darwin’s theory. Malthus’ widely-read essay argued that growth of human populations far outstripped the available food supply, and that laissez-faire capitalism was necessary for distributing what food there was. The 6th and final edition (1826), which Darwin would have read, softened its message somewhat by proposing mass emigration to the colonies as an alternative to watching the poor die of starvation caused by economic recession.

                  Of course this is not to undermine the importance of Darwin’s work or of the theory of evolution by natural selection. Rather it is necessary to note the social and political contexts in which scientific theories arise, particularly in order to understand the way those theories can be abused or misinterpreted.

                  One of the main problems with early Social Darwinism (as Spencer and others came to be associated with) was the confusion over the word “fitness”. In the aspects of Darwin’s writing dealing with the evolution of plants and animals, the term almost exclusively refers to reproductive success – that is the number of reproductively viable offspring of an individual organism or group of organisms. In more modern terms reproductive success is defined as the passing of an organism’s genes onto the next generation, so that they too can continue to pass those genes on. However both Darwin himself and the social theorists who appropriated his theories used “fitness” in the human context to refer to economic and social success – despite this being greatly at odds with evidence concerning reproductive success, as often poorer families had a great many more children than wealthy families.

                  On the basis of this confusion a new and influential philosophy was born. The association of Darwin’s theory of evolution with Spencer’s Social Darwinist doctrine was heavily promoted in the popular press in the United States in particular, with the help of funding from John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie and Thomas Edison – contributing to the rejection of Darwin’s theory by many, and (with a tremendous irony) helping create the layer of right-wing fundamentalist Christians still so politically powerful today.


                  As well as linking so directly to systems of capitalist economics and class domination, from a very early stage Darwin’s theory of evolution was heavily racialised. Just as social stratification was caused by competition for resources between individuals, so competition between races would result in the dominance of the “fittest” race. Thus Darwin wrote in 1839 (cited by Desmond and Moore, Darwin, p267):

                  “When two races of men meet they act precisely like two species of animals – they fight, they eat each other, bring diseases to each other &c, but then comes the more deadly struggle, namely which have the best fitted organisation, or instincts (ie intellect in man) to gain the day.”

                  Darwin’s cousin, Sir Francis Galton founded the social philosophy of eugenics towards the end of the 19th century. He introduced the term in his 1883 book Inquiries into human faculty and its development, arguing for intervention to encourage selective breeding of those with “desirable” family traits.

                  It is well known that this idea of intervention to “improve” human hereditary traits put forward by advocates of eugenics, together with the racialised interpretation of Darwinism had a massive and terrible impact on the history of the 20th century. The appropriation of Darwin’s theory of evolution by the Nazis led to the holocaust, in an attempt to maintain a “pure” German race – the superiority of which was a central tenet of Nazism and a background justification for much of Germany’s role in the Second World War.

                  The end of the war and the worldwide horror at the atrocities committed in the name of racial purity led to a long period where biologically-determinist accounts of human nature were sidelined in the popular consciousness.

                  A new synthesis?

                  This period of mainstream quiet came to an end in the mid-1970s with the publication of E.O. Wilson’s Sociobiology – The New Synthesis (1975). The title makes reference to the so-called “modern synthesis” of the 1930s, in which Darwinian evolutionary theory was combined with Mendelian genetics to bring about in a large part our modern understanding of the genetic mechanisms of inheritance and evolutionary change. The model produced was further confirmed by the discovery in the 1950s of the structure of DNA in the famous experiments of Watson and Crick, illustrating the molecular basis of genes and inheritance.

                  Wilson’s new synthesis purported to apply evolutionary theory to social behaviour, both in animals and in human beings – and to explain a large range of behaviours in terms of Darwinian fitness and evolutionary advantage. The sociobiological idea reached a much larger audience the following year with the publication of Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene (1976).

                  The “big idea” of the sociobiologists was to attempt to explain supposedly “altruistic” behaviour in animals and humans with reference to evolutionary advantage. The first attempt was termed kin selection, an idea seemingly based on some off-hand remarks by British Marxist biologist JBS Haldane and formalised into a mathematical model by William Hamilton in 1964. Haldane’s now-famous comments were that based on the frequency of shared genes between related individuals, he ought to be willing to sacrifice his own life for those of two brothers, or of eight cousins.

                  Of course it is necessary to make some assumptions in order for this idea to be taken seriously as way to explain aspects of animal and human behaviour. Primarily it requires the gene-centred view of evolution, later popularised by Dawkins, to be accepted as absolute. That is, selection occurs only at the level of the gene, and that individual organisms (whether human beings, animals, plants or bacteria) are simply “lumbering robots” or “survival machines”, whose only purpose is to serve as transient vehicles for the “selfish replicators” that are our individual genes.

                  The conceptual leap necessary to accept this argument does a great disservice both to the study of evolutionary theory and the richness and diversity of the way the living world has evolved. Genes do not, and cannot, function in isolation. They are not, as some popular-science writers would describe them, controlling “Master Molecules”. Rather genes and their protein and RNA products only work in the context of the cellular environment – which includes the products of all the other genes of the organism, working in concert. Selective pressures can act a variety of different levels, including individual genes, groups of genes, the entire genome of an organism, the living organism itself (remember genes can only exert their influence via the organism, and the whole organism is the only thing in nature that can really be said to be capable of “self-replication”), as well as groups of organism, populations and entire species. While genes are the basic units of inheritance, they are not the basic units of evolution – as there is no such thing.

                  Moreover, an organism’s behavioural characteristics and other qualities are determined by more than just their genes. The process of development and the active interaction of the organism with its environment also have profound effects on how they are. Individuals are the product of unique, contingent and continuous interactions between genes and the broadly-defined environment. The supposed dichotomy of genes vs. environment, or “nature vs. nurture”, is a false one – the extent to which an individual’s genes have an impact on a given characteristic is absolutely dependent on the environment: the two cannot be separated, and it is silly to try and do so.

                  The second major assumption of the sociobiologists, necessary for their biologically-reductionist, ultra-Darwinist outlook, is what has been termed “adaptationism” or “pan-adaptationism”. In Darwinian evolutionary theory an adaptation is a characteristic or feature of an organism that has been specifically favoured by natural selection. A common example is the opposable thumb in human beings, allowing precise gripping and leading to the development and use of tools. The pan-adaptationists start from the assumption that all the characteristics they observe in nature are likely to be adaptations, and will have conferred some kind of survival advantage in that organism’s evolutionary history.

                  This viewpoint was roundly criticised in a famous paper by Harvard palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould and population geneticist R.C. Lewontin entitled The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme (1979). They drew an analogy with spandrels (or pendentives) in Renaissance architecture, which are curved structures above an arch, often decorated in beautiful detail. An adaptationist argument would seek to explain these panels as part of the architectural design, providing a surface for decoration or for conveyance of religious messages. But of course these structures are not optional, but are necessary components of a dome supported on arches. Gould and Lewontin argue that many presumed adaptations, rather than being selected for could instead be the necessary consequence of other features of the organism.

                  The title of the paper also referred to the Voltaire character Pangloss, alluding to his ridiculous optimism: “for as all things have been created for some end, they must necessarily be created for the best end”. Another common comparison is with Rudyard Kipling’s Just-So Stories about “How the elephant got its trunk” and “How the camel got his hump”.

                  Of course Darwin himself understood that adaptation by natural selection, while a very important mechanism of evolution was not the only mechanism. Genetic drift (genes in a population changing in the absence of selective pressure), chance and historical contingency (what if that meteorite hadn’t killed off the dinosaurs?), structural limitations and “laws of form” also have a hugely significant role to play in shaping evolutionary history. British neuroscientist and popular science writer Steven Rose also emphasises the importance of considering the active role that organisms play in determining their own destiny, through the seeking out and transforming of their environments.

                  To return briefly to the subject of altruistic behaviour, kin selection as a mathematical model – if we are generous and grant the underlying assumption that living forms exist primarily for the perpetuation of their “selfish” genes – is theoretically quite compelling. However, as Steven Rose writes in his book Lifelines (1997, 2001), the experimental support for kin selection was lacking, and the empirical evidence has been very-much open to alternative explanations. As such, another evolutionary explanation for altruistic behaviour was proposed, known as reciprocal altruism.

                  A common example used to illustrate this idea by popularisers of sociobiology (and later evolutionary psychology) is that of the drowning man. If you see a man drowning and risk your own life to rescue him, then if you were ever in the same situation he would be obliged to do the same for you. But as Lewontin points out in his book The Doctrine of DNA (1993), the last person you’d want to rely on to rescue you is someone who themselves had themselves almost drowned before!

                  Together with individual advantage, sexual selection and kin selection, reciprocal altruism could potentially account for just about every type of behaviour imaginable. But only if we accept the reductionist, genes-eye-view conception of evolution on which it is based as an accurate depiction of reality and one which sufficiently accounts for the huge variety and complexity of human and animal behaviours that we observe in the world around us. Instead we can avoid assuming that altruistic behaviour must itself be a Darwinian adaptation encoded in an animal’s genes, and rather regard it as a consequence of a more general social and empathetic instinct, which allows for all sorts co-operative and social behaviour. Of course for no species is co-operative behaviour more important than human beings.

                  Evolutionary psychology – new name, same difference?

                  Sociobiology almost immediately faced strong opposition, particularly from the left (including Gould and Lewontin). Critics traced the intellectual lineage from Social Darwinism, and argued against the sociobiologists’ theories from both scientific and political perspectives. The sociobiologist discourse also had an emphasis on differences in behaviour – particularly relevant to the debate over IQ testing and difference between races.

                  Progress both political and scientific undermined the claims of racist biology. Lewontin (1973) noted that 85% of genetic diversity occurs within populations of one race, rather than between races, and as such the concept of race does not have any real biological meaning.

                  The association with these debates however led to sociobiology falling out of mainstream fashion by the 1980s – however the intellectual trend was soon re-captured in the new discipline of evolutionary psychology in the early 1990s.

                  Some proponents came from a background in various fields of psychology (rather than the animal behaviourists like Wilson, primarily responsible for sociobiology), however many of the researchers and popularisers were the same as before – particularly in the UK, where evolutionary psychology was very much an import from the United States (see Hilary Rose in Alas, Poor Darwin (1999)). [Rose and Rose also note that evolutionary psychology “is a particularly Anglo-American phenomenon” and that “other European countries, notably France, have been less overwhelmed by Darwinian evolutionary theory.”]

                  Richard Dawkins himself (as a highly-visible public supporter of both) in an interview with The Evolutionist stated that evolutionary psychology was “rebranded sociobiology” (cited, Ibid). For the most part he was right; however the new field did steer something of a new course.

                  Firstly there was a new focus on what evolutionary psychology theorists considered to be human “universals”. This departure was understandable, as the new discipline wanted to distance itself from the controversies such as those over race associated with earlier forms of biological-reductionist reasoning which tended to focus more on differences.

                  However what this has invariably led to is a focus on one particular, supposedly “universal” difference – the difference between men and women – and so all the complex aspects of sex and gender relations. So we have evolutionary psychologists Thornhill and Palmer claiming in a popular book that rape is an evolutionary strategy designed to make sure the male’s genes survive to the next generation. Their case is based largely on examples of “forced sex” in other species – ignoring the fact that in a great proportion of rape cases in the human world, the victim is not a fertile female.

                  A second demarcation, related to the first, is that evolutionary psychologists don’t attempt to explain modern behaviour as necessarily of current evolutionary advantage – rather they postulate that most of the universal traits of human behaviour evolved in the Pleistocene (that is from ~1.8 million to ~12,000 years ago) and that they may persist despite having outlived their usefulness. While theoretically plausible, there is little evidence to support this theory. We simply do not know whether significant evolutionary change might have occurred in the human species since that time. What it does allow for however is for what is fundamentally biased guesswork taking on the mantle of science. So we have evolutionary psychologists telling us that women prefer pink or red shaded colours because they had to be good at foraging for berries while the men were out hunting, or that in general we all prefer art to be landscape paintings that include prominent bodies of water, as it was useful for us to live near water as our brains were evolving in the African savannah. Such “explanations” rely entirely on their own, internal, circular logic – and just simply ignore any contradictory evidence (such as our knowledge from history that red and pink have only recently become associated with women and femininity, and that this change in culture will influence the results of any survey) or more sensible cultural or social explanations for phenomena.

                  Another change is that unlike earlier genetic determinists, evolutionary psychologists tend not to argue that observed behaviours can be traced directly to specific gene products, but rather insist that a “mental architecture”, itself encoded by gene expression, gives rise to certain types of behaviour and mental function. It is this idea that is pushed most heavily by Steven Pinker, one of the most prominent exponents and popularisers of evolutionary psychology. He likens the “mind” (Note: distinct from the brain in Pinker’s description) to a Swiss-army knife, with various different modules for speech, face-recognition, “cheat-detection”, etc. – all having evolved semi-independently in order to endow us with these various functions. It is through this mechanism that evolutionary psychology continues the narrative of linking human behaviours and social phenomena directly to Darwinian impulses. However there isn’t any real evidence to support this idea of evolved modularity in our understanding of how the brain works. Rather neuroscientists’ understanding of localisation of different types of brain activity is dependent on its development, and stresses the complexity of the brain as an integrated organ.

                  Biology as Ideology

                  The general lack of empirical evidence and the obvious cultural and contemporary-historical biases of the Just So theories of evolutionary psychology have made it something of a comedic bête noir amongst philosophers of science, and their individual proclamations have little impact on the day-to-day practice of the biological sciences in general (though the reductionist ideology is very much in the mainstream of evolutionary theory, and the popular conception of genes as all-important Master Molecules has had profound effects on the direction of research and funding).

                  However in the realms of popular science writing and science reporting in the mainstream media, biological reductionism undoubtedly holds sway. The dramatic and simplistic claims of evolutionary psychology make for good news stories, and authors like Dawkins, Pinker and Matt Ridley are amongst the most widely-read pop-science writers after Stephen Hawking. Similarly the reductionist concept of the gene has taken on a powerful cultural role through film, television and the popular press – escaping the confines of popular science and news.

                  For the increasingly secular modern society, religion has lost its power as a force of social legitimation. Science in general has come to take the place of religion as a source of transcendent truth, something external to ourselves that we can believe in unquestioningly. But science is in fact very much a social institution, created by people living and working within the broader society and economy, and as such reflecting and reinforcing the dominant values and views of the society that creates it. The bastardised, reductionist, mainstream understanding of genetics and evolution has taken on part of the role once occupied by religion, that of an ideological weapon, legitimising the current social order and undermining those whose interests it is in to challenge and struggle against it.

                  Every time we read a story in the newspaper telling us an “evolutionary” explanation for some behaviour, or watch a TV documentary about how scientists have discovered a “gene for” homosexuality, or aggression, or criminality, or read a book about how “it’s all in the genes”, our conception of ourselves as passive recipients of our genetically-encoded fates is reinforced. The idea that genes cause behaviours, and that society is the collection of all our individual sets of behaviours, lead inextricably to the conclusion that the structures of society are just the indirect consequence (or extended phenotype, as Dawkins might term it) of the human genome – that we have the society we deserve, and there’s no point in trying to do anything to change it. It robs us of our agency, and inspires inaction.

                  Of course our genes do matter in determining how we are. Most importantly they allow us to develop large, complicated brains – capable of all sorts of different behaviours. It is this plasticity that has made human beings able to adapt to so many different circumstances, and has allowed us to come so far.

                  As Lewontin concludes in The Doctrine of DNA (1993):

                  “History far transcends any narrow limitations that are claimed for either the power of genes or the power of the environment to circumscribe us. Like the House of Lords that destroyed its own power in order to limit the political development of Britain in the successive Reform Acts to which it assented, so the genes, in making possible the development of human consciousness, have surrendered their power both to determine the individual and its environment. They have been replaced by an entirely new level of causation, that of social interaction with its own laws and its own nature that can be understood and explored only through that unique form of experience, social action.”


                  Darwin, Charles. Origin of Species (1859)

                  Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene (1976)

                  Gould, S.J.; Lewontin, R.C. The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian paradigm: a critique of the adaptationist programme. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci, 21;205 (1161), 581-98 (1979)

                  Kropotkin, Peter. Mutual Aid: A factor of evolution (1902)

                  Lewontin, R.C. The Apportionment of Human Diversity, Evolutionary Biology 6:381-397 (1973)

                  Lewontin, R.C. The Doctrine of DNA – Biology as Ideology (1993)

                  Lewontin, R.C.; Rose, Steven; Kamin, Leon J. Not in Our Genes (1985)

                  Nelkin, Dorothy; Lindee, M. Susan. The DNA Mystique – The Gene as a Cultural Icon (1995)

                  Pannekoek, Anton. Marxism & Darwinism (1912)

                  Rose, Hilary & Rose, Steven (Eds.). Alas, Poor Darwin – Arguments against Evolutionary Psychology (2000)

                  Rose, Steven. Lifelines – Life beyond the genes (1997, 2001)

                  Thornhill, Randy; Palmer, Craig T. A Natural History of Rape (2000)

                  Wilson, E.O. Sociobiology – The New Synthesis (1975)



Population. Is the World Over-Populated. Fact or Fiction?

Population Growth: Problem or Beat-up?

Population increases with scarcity: Low wages, fewer resources.

Population decreases with economic equality: Growth.

An exclusive focus on population not only obscures the complexity of the issues; it also plays on people’s prejudices.

Identifying the Problem.

1. Consumption levels.

2. Inequality of resources

3. Inequitable distribution of  populations.

4. Control of land/food production and distribution.

4. Internal logic of capitalism; The need for profits.

5.Humanism: The idea of history and progress.

6.Religion: Dogma and indoctrination.


8.The elimination of matralineal lines.

Antecedents: Empire.

Under imperial rule people are subjects, not citizens. The subject always has its ”other”; the object –the ”thing” to be used – for the purposes of advancing the Empire.

Empires need high population levels. The more people there are the  greater the need for industry and production, the larger the capital growth, the greater the defences needed for policing.


The Roman Empire had high infant mortality, a low marriage age, and high fertility within marriage.   Half of Roman subjects died by the age of 5. Of those still alive at age 10, half would die by the age of 50. Roman women could expect to bear on average 6 to 9 children.

At its peak in the 160s CE, Rome had a population of about 60 million and a population density of about 16 persons per square kilometre. In contrast to the European societies of the classical and medieval periods, Rome had unusually high urbanization rates. During the 2nd century CE, the city of  Rome had more than one million inhabitants. No Western city would have as many again until the 19th century.

Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Indus Valley.

Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Indus Valley civilizations are noted for their dense populations, urbanization processes, and cultural innovation. These elements are tied to the growth of commerce and broader cultural interaction. That is, as Empires these civilizations can be thought of as collections of peoples, goods, and ideas whose existence and dynamism were built on movement and exchange. This can be seen in the movement and exchange of people, the movement and exchange of goods, and the movement and exchange of ideas, otherwise the commodification of all life.

 Britain’s Global Power.

After the American War of Independence Britain (1783) thirteen colonies  British   colonies in North America were overpopulated,  this caused Britain to  turn its attention towards Asia, Africa, and the Pacific. After the defeat of France in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1792–1815), Britain emerged as the principal naval and imperial power of the 19th century (with London the largest city in the world from about 1830) and the ability to expand to India and South Eastern Asia.

Monarchy, Family, Community, Stability.

 Within the movement and exchange that epitomized the Indus, Mesopotamian, and Nile civilizations, rising Empires imposed a stability that occasionally resulted in greater interaction between states and peoples.   The most striking example of this greater interaction is trade, which in turn enforced the already existing system of a feudal class.


Between the late 16th and early 18th centuries. At its height, Britain was the biggest empire in history and, for over a century, was the foremost global power.   By 1922 the British Empire held sway over about 458 million people, one-fifth of the world’s population,  almost a quarter of the Earth’s total land area.

Development and growth in the colonies was predicated on migration and increased population. Migrants were encouraged to breed in order to grow the new nations.

(Importantly, nationalism is a necessary outgrowth of monarchy/Empire and colonization).

World War 1.

By the start of the 20th century, Germany and the United States of America  challenged Britain’s economic lead. Subsequent military and economic tensions between Britain and Germany were major causes of the First World War,  during which Britain relied heavily upon its Empire. The conflict placed enormous strain on the military, financial and manpower resources of Britain.

Britain gained more territory after the First World War, but it was no longer the pre-eminent industrial world power.

Changes in Social Structure.

The British nobility, in so far as it existed as a distinct social class, integrated itself with those with new wealth derived from commercial and industrial sources, but this expansion of the middle class did not preclude a similar rise of the labouring class who were subsequently influenced by the Bolsheviks.

In 2013 the British Class Survey found that only 25% of the nation’s population were classified as middle class.

The high end wealthy middle class elite constituted 6% of the population.

A new affluent working class (trades-people) represented 15%.

The service sector of the working class, chefs, nurses, carers etc. 19%.

The lowest, the precariat, 15%. These were van drivers, carpenters caretakers, shopkeepers.

 The British Class System.

Technically the changes to the class system happened at the top end, not the bottom end of the capital/class pyramid, whereby Prince William, a working military officer would be classified as middle class despite being heir to the British Throne.

A higher proportion of working class/cast/underclass will generally result in a higher population. The same system that applied to territories, protectorates and colonies applies to the labouring body of the workers.  The more one man/woman works and the lower the income, the more the necessity to breed additional workers and earners.








For those of you who watched the movie Odysseus you might like to know how the story ends.  Here is a summary:
The legendary Greek hero, Odysseus was the king of Ithaca, a small island in the Ionian sea, where he lived with his wife Penelope. He was known to Romans as Ulysses. After fighting the war against the city of Troy with the Greeks, he started his journey home. His sailing journey was obstructed by the sea god Poseidon.
During his journey he had many incredible adventures, but his renowned intelligence helped him to survive the numerous difficulties, although his crew wasn’t so lucky. After ten years of wandering, he finally reached his home.

During his long absence, many of his enemies tried to convince his wife Penelope to get married again. When Odysseus arrived, he disguised himself as a beggar. Only his old dog recognized him. Until that moment, Penelope remained faithful.

She had not seen her husband since the beginning of the war of Troy, twenty years before. After so many years, she was presumed to be a widow. Pressured by her suitors, she declared that she would marry only the man who could bend an extremely hard bow that belonged to Odysseus. All suitors attempted this, but only Odysseus succeeded.



Famed for his courage, intelligence, and leadership, Odysseus (Roman name: Ulysses) was one of the great pan-Hellenic heroes of Greek mythology. His resourcefulness and oratory skills were instrumental in the Greek victory in the Trojan War and following the conflict, he was the protagonist in many fantastic adventures on his long voyage back home to Ithaka (or Ithaca).

In Greek mythology, Odysseus was the son of Laertes and Antikleia (or Anticlea) and the King of Ithaca, leader of the Kephallenians. Married to Penelope, he also had a son, Telemachos (or Telemachus). The hero was also fortunate enough to regularly receive the special aid and protection of the goddess Athena. Hesiod describes Odysseus as “patient-minded”, and Homer most often describes him as “godlike”, also as “Zeus’ equal in his mind’s resource” and a truly great speaker, whose persuasive words “flocked down like snowflakes in winter”. However, the hero was not just a thinker but also a warrior, and his courage and fighting prowess are referenced in the Homeric epithet “sacker of cities”. Homer also states that the name Odysseus means “victim of enmity”, no doubt in reference to the ill-feeling which Poseidon directed against the hero.

The first rich source of information on Odysseus was Homer’s account of the Trojan War in the Iliad in which our hero is a protagonist. Odysseus was involved in several important episodes and his intelligence, wise counsel, and wits proved crucial to the eventual Greek success in the war. However, Odysseus very nearly avoided the conflict altogether for when he was called upon by Palamedes (an emissary of Menelaos), the King of Ithaca was loathe to leave his wife and family and so pretended to be insane. This he convincingly did by ploughing a field with an ox and an ass yoked together and scattering salt in the furrows. Palamedes was not to be tricked though and by laying the young Telemachos in the path of the plough, Odysseus was forced to swerve and so demonstrate he was not so mad after all.

It was Odysseus who persuaded the reluctant Achilles to join the Greek expedition to Troy. Hidden away by his mother Thetis (who knew his fate should he participate in the War), Achilles was brought up by the royal family of Lykomedes on the island of Skyros. However, Nestor, the wise king of Pylos, predicted that only with the help of the great warrior Achilles could the Greeks hope to conquer the great walled city of Troy. Accordingly, the wily Odysseus was sent to persuade the greatest fighter in Greece to leave his wife and son and fight alongside the forces led by King Agamemnon. Disguised as a rich salesman, the King of Ithaca tempted Achilles to drop his disguise as one of the daughters of Skyros and reveal his true identity by presenting an assortment of fine weapons for which the great warrior was unable to hide his interest. With Achilles also came his formidable private army, the Myrmidons of Thessaly.

In the trojan war Odysseus came up with the brilliant idea of the wooden horse.

Odysseus was once again chosen as envoy in order to persuade Agamemnon’s daughter Iphigeneia to join the Greek forces at Aulis. Whilst hunting, Agamemnon mistakenly killed a deer sacred to Artemis and according to the seer Kalchas, only the sacrifice of the king’s daughter would appease the goddess and allow the Greeks safe voyage to Troy. Odysseus then travelled to Mycenae and promised Iphigeneia’s mother Klytaimestra that the girl could marry Achilles. Pleased at the prospect of such a prestigious son-in-law, the queen readily agreed. When arriving at Aulis, however, preparations had already been made for the sacrifice and the poor girl was immediately set upon an altar. Fortunately though, just as Agamemnon let fall his sword, Artemis took pity on the girl, replaced her with a deer, and spirited off Iphigeneia to become a priestess at Tauris in one of the goddess’ sanctuaries.

The Greeks duly received fair winds and landed at Troy. Apart from a minor incident where Odysseus and Diomedes ambushed the youth Dolon in a forest, Odysseus had little to do until the final stages of the war. Following the death of Achilles, there was something of a squabble over who should inherit the hero’s magnificent armour. Odysseus and Telamonian Ajax both forwarded claims but the matter was finally decided in a vote and with Athena influencing proceedings, Odysseus was given the weapons and armour made by Hephaistos.

Odysseus and the Sirens (NAM, Athens, 1130)

Odysseus and the Sirens (NAM, Athens, 1130)

Notwithstanding the loss of their talismanic warrior, the war ran on, but at this point the Greeks began to employ a little more strategic thinking to the problem of overcoming the walls of Troy. The seer Kalchas predicted victory only if the Greeks could somehow ensure three things. These were: the involvement of Achilles’ son Neoptolemos in the war; Hercules’ fabled weapons, then in the hands of Philoktetes (or Philoctetes), had to be used; and finally, the Greeks had to capture the Palladion. The latter was a sacred wooden statue of Athena which was believed to have fallen from heaven and been found by Troas, the founder of Troy. The Trojans believed that this statue gave them protection and power so that by stealing it the Greeks would gain a great advantage in the war.

Odysseus was the man to accomplish all three of these difficult tasks. First, he went back to Syros and persuaded Neoptolemos to join him. Then he went to Lemnos to pick up Philoktetes and the weapons of Hercules. The latter was, though, more than a little peeved at having been abandoned on the island in the first place, but it turned out to be worth all the persuasive efforts of Odysseus, as Philoktetes managed to kill Paris with his deadly arrows pretty much as soon as he entered the battle at Troy.

This left task three to be accomplished – to take the sacred Palladion from the heart of the city. To find the exact location of the statue, Odysseus disguised himself as a beggar and entered the city undetected. One person did recognise the infiltrator though, and that was Helen, by now forcibly remarried to another of Priam’s sons and anxious to return to Greece. It was she who guided Odysseus to the location of the Palladion. Returning to the Greek camp with this knowledge, Odysseus enlisted the help of Diomedes and the next night, the pair once more stole into the city and made off with the statue.

Despite the theft of the Palladion, the war rumbled on and it became clear a more ambitious strategy was required if the Greeks were ever going to win the conflict. With divine inspiration from Athena, Odysseus came up with the brilliant idea of the wooden horse. He had carpenters build a huge horse in which could hide a number of Greek soldiers. The trick was how to persuade the Trojans to take the horse inside the city walls. Odysseus first had all of the Greeks abandon their camp and sail away out of view, anchoring off the island of Tenedos. This left only the horse standing alone on the plain with one man left behind, Sinon. He pretended to have been hunted by the Greeks as an enemy and potential sacrificial victim. Gaining their confidence, he then proceeded to tell the gullible Trojans a cock and bull story about Athena being outraged at the theft of her statue, her punishing the Greeks and telling them the only way back into her good books was to build a gigantic wooden horse in her honour and sail back home. Falling hook, line, and sinker for the story, the Trojans duly dragged the horse into the city to stand outside the temple of Athena. With the exception of Laokoon and Aeneas, the Trojans then set about partying the night away in celebration of finally winning the war.

When the party finally ended and the Trojans were sleeping in a drunken stupor, Sinon fired a signal to the waiting Greek ships and they promptly returned to the shores of Troy. Odysseus and his fellow warriors then descended from within the horse, opened the city gates, and the Greek army routed the Trojans, defiling temples and mercilessly slaughtering all and sundry.

One unfortunate consequence of the Greek’s ungallant behaviour at Troy was that the gods punished them by ensuring many of their ships met with disaster on the return voyage home. One of the few survivors was Odysseus but only after an incredibly protracted voyage of detours and misadventures which are recounted in Homer’s Odyssey.

Lasting ten years, on his odyssey home the hero stopped in many ports, few of which were friendly. The first stop was the island of Kikones where amongst other things, the god Apollo gave the hero twelve flasks of wine. Then, hit by a storm, Odysseus and his flotilla were washed up on the shores of the Lotus Eaters. Eating the plant made one forget one’s homeland so the hero turned down their offer of hospitality and quickly pushed on with his voyage.
Odysseus Blinding the Cyclops

Next stop was the island of the Cyclopes – the one-eyed giants – who lived peacefully tending their sheep. As luck would have it, though, Odysseus bumped into the man-eating Cyclops Polyphemos, the son of Poseidon, god of the sea. The giant took a fancy to the travelling Greeks and trapped them in his cave, swiftly eating two as an appetizer. Seeing the gravity of the situation, Odysseus immediately forged a cunning plan of escape. Tempting Polyphemos with wine until the Cyclops was drunk, the hero ordered his men to turn Polyphemos’ olive-wood staff into a spike, this they then hardened in a fire and used to blind the Cyclops while he slept. Unable to see and understandably livid at his treatment, Polyphemos tried to catch the travelling Greeks by feeling his sheep as they left the cave for their grazing. Odysseus then instructed his men to tie themselves to the bellies of the sheep whilst he chose a ram for the purpose, and thus they escaped to continue their voyage. However, the Cyclops cursed Odysseus, predicting the loss of his men, a wearisome voyage home, and disaster when he finally arrived there. Calling on the help of his father Poseidon, Polyphemos ensured that it would be many a storm and ten long years before Odysseus reached Ithaca.

Further adventures followed. Amongst them was a stop in Aiolia (or Aeolia) where the god of the winds, Aiolos (or Aeolus), gave Odysseus a flask which contained all the winds except the one which would take him home but, unfortunately, some members of Odysseus’ crew allowed curiosity to get the better of them and, within sight of Ithaca, they opened the bottle. As a result, the contrary winds escaped and Odysseus’ storm-tossed ships were swept all the way back to Aiolia.

Resuming the voyage once again, more unfortunate stopovers occurred in Laistrygonia where the gigantic locals, led by Antiphates, attacked and killed many of the party by pelting them with huge rocks. The few survivors then made it in a single ship to Aiaia (or Aeaea), an island belonging to the sorceress Circe (or Kirke), where more trouble awaited the beleaguered voyagers. The goddess turned a group of the travellers into swine and Odysseus was only able to resolve the situation with a gift from Hermes. The messenger god gave the hero moly, a plant which made him immune to Circe’s spells. However, the two got on rather well and became lovers, resulting in Odysseus extending his sojourn to a whole year. Eventually, resolving to continue his journey home, Odysseus was advised by Circe to visit the underworld and seek the advice of the Theban seer Teiresias who would give him travel directions. On his journey there, the hero met his mother, Antikleia, who had died from grief at her son’s continued absence. He also met many fallen heroes such as Hercules, Achilles, and Agamemnon. On returning to the world of the living, Circe gave Odysseus one final piece of advice. This was to beware of the Sirens – bird creatures with women’s heads – who ensnared passers-by with their beautiful and enchanting singing. Accordingly, when the hero’s ship passed the Siren’s island, he instructed his crew to block their ears with wax whilst he himself was strapped to the ship’s mast so that he might hear the divine singing yet not be entrapped by it.

Successfully getting past the Sirens, the hero and his few remaining crew then had to negotiate the terrible seas between two rocks inhabited by the monsters Skylla (who had twelve feet, six heads and ate mariners for fun) and Charybdis (who swallowed the seas three times and spat them out three times to create fearsome whirlpools). Six more of the crew were lost here but the ship survived to continue its voyage home.

A brief stop at Thrinikia (or Thrinacie) turned into a month-long stay due to bad weather and the Greeks ran out of food. Despite the earlier advice of Teiresias not to touch the herds of Helios, some of the starving crew, led by Eurylochus, slaughtered several of the animals for food. Outraged, Helios caused the ship to capsize when it left Thrinikia and the only survivor of the disaster was Odysseus, who, after nine days adrift, washed up on the shores of Ogygia. Here the hero spent five years imprisoned by, but also enjoying the charms of, the Nymph Calypso and with her having a son, Nausithous. However, credit to our hero, despite the offer of immortality and eternal youth, Odysseus decided he must try once more to return to his homeland. Calypso, prompted by divine intervention, helped the hero build a raft on which he set off for Ithaca once more. Poseidon, however, once more spitefully intervened and caused a fearful storm to smash the raft to pieces. Odysseus then washed up battered and naked on the island of Scheria, home of the Phaeacians, straight into the sympathetic care of Nausikaa, the daughter of King Alkinoos (or Alcinous). Restored to full health and vigour, the hero was given one of the magic Phaiacian ships which needed no captain to steer. With this vessel Odysseus finally made it back to Ithaca. However, just as Polyphemos had promised, all was not well in the king’s palace.

Head of Penelope

Head of Penelope

After ten years away, Odysseus had been all but forgotten, only his wife Penelope kept faith with the long-missed king. Athena gave the hero an update on all that had passed in his absence. Considered long-dead, many a suitor sought the hand of Penelope and the would-be kings (all 108 of them) had taken residence in the palace itself. Penelope constantly put off a decision of re-marriage though and hoped against hope that her husband was still alive somewhere. Consequently, to push the situation to a crisis, the suitors planned to kill her son Telemachos at the soonest opportunity. On the advice of Athena, and exercising his famously nimble wits, Odysseus dressed as a beggar and visited the palace in person to assess the situation. Only Odysseus’ old maid Eurykleia recognised the hero (from a distinctive scar on his leg) and so too his faithful old dog, Argos, knew his old master but rather tragically died as soon as the two were reunited. Revealing himself to his son Telemachos (just back from Pylos), Odysseus planned a strategy to free the palace of all the hangers-on and reclaim his rightful authority. The hero, still in his beggar disguise, was badly treated by the palace suitors and was the butt of many a cruel jest but revenge was soon to be had.

Penelope challenged the suitors that if one of them could string the huge bow that had belonged to the old king and then shoot an arrow through twelve axe-heads, she would marry him. Of course, none of the hapless suitors had the necessary strength to string the bow, never mind shoot with it. Then, up stepped the beggar and to a chorus of sceptical jeers, unbelievably, strung the bow with ease and fired an arrow dead-straight through the axe-heads. Flinging off his disguise, Odysseus revealed his true identity and spread panic amongst the suitors. There was to be no escape for the interlopers, though, because, as planned, Telemachos had closed all the doors and removed the weapons mounted on the walls. Odysseus then casually picked off the suitors one by one with his fearsome bow and so reclaimed his long abandoned kingdom.

The royal couple, together again after ten long years of separation, lived happily ever after, or not quite. For in a tragic final twist, an aged Odysseus was killed by Telegonos, his son by Circe, when he landed on Ithaca and in battle, unknowingly killed his own father.

Odysseus is a popular subject in ancient Greek art, appearing on vases, coins, sculpture, tripods, and shield bands from all over Greece and he is often identified by his pilos – a conical felt hat. Scenes on red- and black-figure pottery from the 7th to the 5th century BCE depicting Odysseus include the mission to Achilles, the quarrel with Ajax over the armour of Achilles, the theft of the Palladion, blinding the Cyclops, washing up on the shores of Scheria, and taking revenge on Penelope’s suitors. The subject of the wooden horse is surprisingly uncommon in Greek art but it is famously represented on a clay relief pithos from Mykonos c. 670 BCE. A celebrated representation of Odysseus and the Sirens is found on an Attic red-figure stamnos from Vulci c. 450 BCE.

by Mark Cartwright
published on 31 December 2012
Odysseus ()