The Genius of the Beast | Howard Bloom

Summary of: The Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism
By: Howard Bloom


In ‘The Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism’, Howard Bloom challenges the widespread negative notions of capitalism by demonstrating how it is an innate part of human nature. In this summary, key themes include emphasizing the necessity of emotion in capitalism, exploring how human desires and passions drive its success, and analyzing the inherent cycles of growth and decline that apply to all living beings, including capitalism itself. By highlighting various inventions, historical achievements, and biological phenomena, this summary aims to demystify the complex notions surrounding capitalism and present it as a powerful force that can unlock humanity’s potential.

Rediscovering the Human Side of Capitalism

Capitalism is often regarded as a soulless machine that promotes crass materialism and commodification, but the truth is, it is an inherently human concept that is integral to our society. The lack of emotion and human connection in capitalism, however, is a cause for concern. Engaging human desires, feelings, and passions is necessary to advance society and bring contentment to individuals. With countless examples of capitalism’s transformative impact, we need to rediscover its intrinsic human side to fully realize its potential.

Our association of capitalism with heartless numbers and crass materialism is commonplace, and the 2008-2009 recession shook the very foundation of the capitalistic ethos. But capitalism is an integral part of human society, and it is not just about the generation of profits. Capitalism, in many ways, is a human concept, and its mechanisms and metabolism have been critical to Western civilization. The fact that it is based on vision and persuaded by wild ideas makes capitalism distinct from all other systems before it.

Moreover, it has accomplished incredible feats throughout history and has made great strides in meeting our needs and improving our quality of life. For instance, the invention of the power loom in 1769 exemplified capitalism, providing affordable cotton clothes to everyone, which positively impacted hygiene and life expectancy.

But capitalism has a crucial drawback – it lacks emotion, the very trait that distinguishes humans from other life forms. Capitalism must re-apply emotions and appeal to human desires, feelings, and passions to advance society and bring contentment to individuals. In doing so, it will rediscover its intrinsic humanity and unlock its full potential.

Despite the criticisms of “crass materialism” and “commodification,” capitalism is integral to humanity; and we need to rediscover this intrinsic human attribute of capitalism to comprehend its potential fully.

The Cycles of Life

All life forms experience cycles of growth and decline, and these cycles are genetically imprinted in humans, animals, and even microbes. The process of exploration, consolidation, and repurposing is necessary for personal and societal evolution. Adversity brings the opportunity for repurposing, which is part of the “secular genesis machine” that creates something radically new. Economic downturns are a natural part of these cycles, and individual and organizational survival depends on their ability to morph into new forms. To succeed in life and business, we need to connect with our emotions and tap into our potential.

The Escalator of Complexity

The book reflects on the evolution of societies, their economies, and standard of living. It presents an idea of the “escalator of complexity,” showcasing how societies have progressed through economic downturns and established a “scaffold of habit” built on unquestioned symbols and rituals of everyday life, such as money. The author stresses how everyone needs to understand the emotional core of their work to avoid plunging daggers into their eyes and sliding into “learned helplessness.” The book also explores how biology affects our mental health when we experience failure.

From Fantasy to Reality

The power of fiction to inspire real-world achievements is showcased in the fascinating journey of how Jules Verne’s book, From Earth to the Moon, led to the creation of modern rockets, space travel, and even Disneyland.

The trajectory of humanity’s progress often begins with an idea, a notion rooted in mundane reality. In 1865, Jules Verne’s book, From Earth to the Moon, told the story of characters who built a fantasy rocket based on a Civil War cannon. This novel inspired two boys, Hermann Oberth and Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovskii, in Germany and Russia respectively, to write books about space exploration and rockets. Wernher von Braun, a German boy, read those books and Verne’s story and, under the financial backing of Adolf Hitler, created the V-2 rocket, which was deadly enough to bomb London and reach the edge of space.

As the Third Reich crumbled, von Braun gave himself up to the American forces. In the U.S., he teamed up with an artist, Chesley Bonestell, to publish popular books featuring surreal visions of space travel. These books caught the attention of Walt Disney, who hired von Braun to host a TV show about outer space, while Bonestell’s renderings influenced the design of Disneyland. Eventually, President John F. Kennedy’s bold vision and investment of funds translated the dreams of Verne and others into reality.

Thus, each person in this chain, from Verne to the modern-day rocket scientists, contributed to the infrastructure of fantasy, transforming it into tangible achievements. This is a testament to how fiction can indeed inspire reality in a capitalist society.

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