All three lie behind one of history's greatest horrors: the violence in Mao's Cultural Revolution. When China fell into chaos during the cultural upheaval of the 1960's, society did not fragment into 700 million individuals each fighting for his right to survive. The social fabric ripped, then reknit in a strange new way. Individuals clustered in collaborative clumps. Stitching each gang together was a force with no physical substance: the idea, the meme. In their battles, Red Guard wolfpacks obeyed a basic commandment of the animal brain -- the law of the pecking order. And they drew their energy from emotions that remain repressed in everyday life -- the hatreds, frustrations, and hidden cruelties of students who just a month or two before had seemed models of polite obedience.
Behind the writhing of evil is a competition between organizational devices, each trying to harness the universe to its own peculiar pattern, each device tending to hoist the cosmos one step higher on a ladder of increasing complexity. There is the physical replicator, the gene; there is its successor, the replicating idea. Each social beast works hand in hand with each.
Real tragedy is not the struggle of an easily recognized good against a clearly loathesome evil. Tragedy is a battle between two forces, both of which are good, a battle in which only one can win. Nature has woven that struggle into superorganisms.
Ancient Rome stamped out or swallowed whole rival civilizations. She reduced even that land she most revered -- Greece -- to a sleepy, sycophantic occupied territory. Rome was a vicious society whose habits abhor us. Yet, in its vicious way, Rome's rise was part of the world's inexorable march to higher levels of form. By force -- sometimes sadistic force -- she brought an unprecedented mass of squabbling city-states and tribes together. In the process, she allowed an exchange of ideas and goods that radically quickened the pace of progress. During the 300 years between Augustus and the imposition of Christianity under Constantine, she made an additional contribution. Rome introduced pluralism, an easygoing attitude that allowed wildly diverse cultures to live peacefully side by side.
When Rome fell, we saw just how much the empire had contributed to her imperfectly oppressed citizens. During the next 200 years, half of the Continent's population would die. Multitudes starved to death, denied the food that had once been transported on ships and roads. Plague ran rampant. The paved highways sank into disrepair. On land, bandits and warrior chiefs ended the lives of those carrying needed supplies. At sea, pirates destroyed the lanes of trade. Those who survived learned to live as prisoners in self-contained fortress communities, cut off from the ideas and delicacies that had once made life sweet.
Civilization happens through a sea of horrors, a sea frothing up a statistically slight foam of persistent victories accruing to each time's most advanced workable social forms. Our most horrific animal urges do channel themselves to promote explosions of prosperous peace. Our civilizing impulses bring true development. Kirez is right.
Who are today's barbarians? And what civilizing impulses are most worth promoting?