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 book ‘The Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism’, Howard Bloom explores the human side of capitalism, arguing that it is an innate part of our nature, responsible for much of society’s progress. He posits that the Western values of individualism, capitalism, free speech, and democracy go hand-in-hand in driving a society’s growth and well-being. Using examples from various historical events, Bloom illustrates the power of human emotions and desires that fuel capitalism’s engine and delves into how repurposing and cycles of boom and bust shape our lives at the micro and macro levels.

Capitalism – Beyond Materialism

Capitalism, often synonymous with crass materialism, is a much-misunderstood concept. However, it is a “human” concept ingrained in all living beings and intrinsic to their humanity. It is the “mechanism” for Western civilization, offering more things to believe in than any system that has ever come before. Capitalism currently lacks emotion, the very trait that distinguishes humans from other life forms. However, the desires, feelings, and passions that drive people fuel the engine of capitalism. Industrialism, pluralism, free speech, and democracy are at the core of what makes humans progress and happy. Capitalism has accomplished more than any other creed in history by improving the quality and length of people’s lives through inventions such as the power loom, which made cotton affordable and led to the availability of cheap, comfortable, and cleanable clothes, reducing illnesses and dramatically increasing average life spans. Emotion must be re-applied to capitalism to help move society ahead and bring individual contentment. Capitalism is based on holding onto wild-eyed notions despite self-doubts and mockery, infecting others with your vision, and persisting for as many years or decades as it takes to turn what seems like insanity into a new reality.

Nature’s Blueprint

Nature has imprinted the concept of growth and decline into every living being. It is vital for the continuation of life and is the backbone of evolution. The terms “exploration, consolidation, and repurposing” are used to describe how organisms progress through these cycles and adapt to sudden adverse conditions. Economic downturns are not solely caused by external factors like markets or policy. Instead, they are driven by the mass emotional engine of human nature. Similar to how slime molds and bees react to food scarcity, companies and individuals transform or repurpose themselves to survive the business bust. The challenges and value of adapting are comparable to how nature repurposes mold and energizes the industrious and analytic potential of our minds by engaging our feelings.

The Escalator of Complexity

The book describes how societies have been climbing the “escalator of complexity” since the late 18th century, attaining a higher standard of living. Even during downturns, people are nominally better off than before, though generally they don’t feel any better. Our nervous system is responsible for resetting our brain’s serotonin receptors, which can either make us feel good or depressed. The escalator of complexity reveals that society builds a “scaffold of habit,” which transforms symbols and rituals of everyday life into unquestioned norms. Every step up this ladder enables individuals to conduct bigger, grander, and more complex transactions, which can have both positive and negative effects. Credit default swaps almost collapsed the entire stack in 2008. The occasional crash enables society to investigate the perils of these symbols and establish conventions to limit their adverse impact. Hence, the book suggests that it’s time to see with clarity, not blindness, to avoid plunging daggers into our eyes.

The Power of Imagination

The story of space exploration is one rooted in fantasy turned to reality, marked by a series of individuals whose contributions led to the achievements of modern rocket science. From French novelist Jules Verne to German engineer Wernher von Braun, and a host of others in between, these men were captivated by the idea of space travel and inspired to make it a reality. Von Braun’s work on the V-2 rocket caught the attention of the United States, and he would later partner with artist and architect Chesley Bonestell to create works of art depicting space in vivid detail. These images would inspire Walt Disney to explore space through his various media, and eventually the United States government took notice as well. President John F. Kennedy acknowledged the power of imagination and made space exploration a priority for his administration. The story of space travel is a testament to how fantastical ideas can inspire practical actions, as each individual in the chain from Jules Verne to the present day has contributed to the infrastructure of fantasy and enabled real-world progress.

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