We certainly are an intelligent species, but what we use this intelligence for reaches impressive levels of stupidity and cruelty. The key idea here, is that we must concentrate on the very roots of human bestiality, instead of being pushed around as to what side we should be on.

(Ladislau Dowbor)

Has humanity progressed? We certainly are technological wizards, and have proven an impressive scientific and artistic capacity, but are we, to put it simply, better humans? Not very different, certainly, from a few thousand years ago. Calculate 25 years for a generation, this makes us, from father and grandfather to the times of Jesus Christ, only 40 persons. The same human being who had fun looking at crucifixions, but now with hugely more powerful technologies. Any change?

Torture has certainly progressed, with the impaling practice, burning people alive, (“thy shalt not allow witches to live” is in the Bible), the techniques described during the inquisition (Malleus Maleficarum), up to the very modern torture systems used by the French in Indochina and Algeria, then by the Green Berets in Viet-Nam, or the Abu Ghraib mass torture in Iraq, the Brazilian Pau de Arara, burying people alive, the hand-cutting system in Saudi Arabia, Guantánamo so comfortably next-door, the Mossad high-tech in Palestine – no, nothing changed, except for the technology. Pain-generating capacity has progressed, but not the values. Don’t we need to take a few steps back, and think about what we are, as humans?

I have studied world history for years, and human bestiality is fairly constant, even if we did have some temporary windows of civilized social organization. Reading books about Alexander the Great, the Romans, the Crusades, Genghis Khan and followers, colonialism, the slave trade, the mass-killings in the Congo (millions, and also the hand-cutting statistical killing measures used by the Belgians), all these wars in Europe – how glorious Napoleon, how romantic War and Peace – the barbarian Berlin Conference cutting-up colonies, the World Wars. Over half the medical doctors in Germany joined the Nazi party. This is not about abnormality, it is about who we are.

Presently, we have huge high-tech communication campaigns to justify about anything. In Central and South America we had so many deaths, so much torture, in the name of democracy, in Asia the Indonesian drama is just an example. In my youth, I remember a paper in the Readers’ Digest congratulating itself with a victory over communism, omitting the dead millions. Reading Christopher Hitchens’ The Trial of Henry Kissinger is an exercise in learning how bestiality, communication and hypocrisy have blended to keep us quiet. “Make it quick” was the advice Kissinger gave the different dictators, on torture and killings. Dr. Kissinger!

This is not about what side is guilty, but an argument about homo sapiens. Bestiality, shining lies, hypocrisy, self-righteous claims have been all present, in the most diverse civilizations, cultures, institutions, legal frameworks. There’s no way we can avoid bringing the problem down to human nature. Barbara Tuchman, in her The March of Folly brought us excellent examples, even if basically on the more recent times, like the Vietnam War. She showed that none of the four American presidents contributing to the war ever believed it was winnable. Did they believe in the Domino Theory so propagated — if Vietnam fell to the communists, all of Asia would fall — to justify the massacre, the bombing? Well, Vietnam won, and no domino happened.

Did any decision-taker believe in the weapons of mass-destruction in Iraq? At the time of writing, we have Ukraine, Gaza, Sudan, Yemen, Myanmar, just to mention the most obvious. The U.S. has 4% of the world's population, but 25% of the world prison population, mostly young black and Latinos, but point the finger at China. Human rights?

I have no pleasure in mentioning these few examples of our human bestiality, but I do have enough reading and age to suggest that humans are a dangerous species, and particularly dangerous for itself. Yuval Harari has repeatedly suggested that the other human species that existed before us disappeared in a time and manner that suggests the present homo sapiens had a hand in it. We did wipe out so many indigenous populations, with guns, laws and bibles combined. It is not that humans are just bad, but that we have a basic DNA structure that pushes us to violence, in its most diverse forms. Bestiality is a characteristic not of deformed human monsters, but of the common homo sapiens. Hannah Arendt’s analysis of the normality of Adolf Eichmann is characteristic, as well as the title: A Report on the Banality of Evil.

We are both authors and spectators of this global drama, our slow-motion catastrophe, as it has been called. We are causing and suffering the absurdities. The economic dimension is central, because it defines what we produce, for whom, and with what environmental impacts. An obvious reminder is that there is enough for everyone. The US$105 trillion of goods and services we produce is equivalent to over US$4.200 per month per four-member family. Yes, it is that simple. Our problem belongs to the sphere of social and political organization, the so-called decision process, not scarcity. We do not need so much suffering. UBS brings us these absurd figures on access to wealth: ”Taken together, the bottom half of the global population own less than 1% of total wealth. In sharp contrast, the richest decile holds 81% of the world’s wealth, and the top percentile alone account for 44.5% of global assets.” 1

Oxfam shows the trend, where we are going to: ”Since 2020, the richest five men in the world have doubled their fortunes. During the same period, almost five billion people globally have become poorer. Hardship and hunger are a daily reality for many people worldwide. At current rates, it will take 230 years to end poverty, but we could have our first trillionaire in 10 years.” 2 The economy has to be brought around to serve our needs, because it doesn’t: it is compounding the economic, social, political and violence dramas. Don’t the billionaires, the economists, the analysts, the media and so many institutions know about this, even academic research institutions?

Are these high-tech assholes, as I call the present billionaires, unaware of the suffering in the world? Couldn’t they do something about it, instead of fighting over who is on top in the Forbes or Fortune numbers? Yes, they publish their charity contributions and ESG principles and pay pennies for different types of fraud, but they keep the system strong, fund the lying thinktanks, feeding the destructive process. They chant Greed is Good, while millions of children die of hunger every year. Can you see this and not go back to basics, to what is this homo sapiens? We certainly have this creepy nature and generous flares, but as a social system, we are destroying ourselves.

We are presently facing the intelligent use of our darkest sides. We are all aware of the dramas, but feel helpless. The same Oxfam report suggests “a more equal world is possible if governments effectively rein in and reimagine the corporate sector, and embrace the public one.” Robert Reich wrote The System: who rigged it, how we fix it. Joseph Stiglitz brought us Rewriting the rules on the American economy: an agenda for shared prosperity. Thomas Piketty suggests participatory socialism, Mariana Mazzucato Mission Economics, we have the ODS, and so many clear information-based solid programs. But we are in a stale-mate. MAGA, anyone?

A global, high-tech, prosperous, informed society going down the drain. And it’s ok, so long as we find a culprit to blame — “the other side”. And okay at the top of the social ladder, so long as the race is exciting. Stiglitz rightly stresses the erosion of personal responsibility: “The collective action that is central to corporations undermines individual responsibility. It has been repeatedly noted how none of those in charge of the big banks that brought the world’s economy to the brink of ruin have been held accountable for their misdeeds. How can it be that no one is responsible? Especially when there have been misdeeds of the magnitude of those that have occurred in recent years?” 3

The web we got stuck in has many gluey threads. A key issue is the deformation of the legal system. Since 2010 in the U.S., the corporations have been allowed to finance political candidates, which led to their power over the approval or extinction of laws. The absurd cost-fixing of pharmaceutical products purchased by the public sphere is just an example, in an economy supposedly ruled by free market mechanisms. In Brazil, it has led, for example, to tax exemption of distributed profits and dividends. Instead of the public regulation of private interests, the overall control has been inverted.

The supposedly free flow of information has been substituted by the giant digital media corporations, leading to the present explosion of the attention industry, and the overall power of the GAFAM over public opinion. This is much more than marketing, it is a global manipulation system based on individual attention-grabbing by individualized behavioral analysis, run by algorithms. Max Fisher presents a powerful analysis in his The Chaos Machine.

Education, instead of bringing the new generation to a critical understanding of the challenges we are facing as humanity, is centered on competition and individual success, on how to climb the ladder for a good job. You must fit the system, not analyze it, and least of all consider what this idea of success means. Stimulating technical capacity is good, but understanding what this capacity will be used for, for whose benefit, with what social and environmental impact, is paramount. Technical capacity and the corresponding values are equally necessary, but the values part has been eroded, as “too political”.

Culture has become an attention-grabbing industry, maximizing momentary interest to allow the flow of commercial and political messages. Profits for Meta are based on the commercials they sell, 98% of its profits come from marketing. It is our attention time they are selling. We pay the costs, it is in the prices of the products we buy. Jumping from one TV channel to another, we are invaded by basically the same attention-maximizing contents as violence, sex, drugs. We are glued to screens, in a cultural industry where art, creativity and values have drifted to commercial assets.

Coming back to our key idea in this paper, the fact is that these deformations work because they capitalize our strongest social engagement forces: sexuality, hate, belonging to a clan against others, the feeling of superiority, the mob excitement. If these are the strongest mobilizing forces we feel as humans, and if the different systems of social organization have learned to navigate them and to maximize them, we are back to the homo sapiens issue.

Do not underestimate the dark forces within us. A little-known book by Charles Darwin, The expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, reminds us of our deeper roots. Comparing our expressions according to the emotions we feel, particularly hate, fury, fear, contempt and other, Darwin found similar uncontrolled physical and emotional reactions in primates. It is about deep mechanisms ingrained in our DNA (MAOA, DAT1, DRD2), and that of different primates, and hereditary. Nothing very new about this, but there is no avoiding the fact that bonobos have little aggression in their DNA, chimpanzees have a lot, and humans, at least in the last homo sapiens sapiens present version, a huge lot.

Some dogs are very aggressive, others aren’t. You can raise them to be less aggressive, but a pitbull will need a lot of care. We are a very aggressive species, and presently armed with high technology. This is not about bad apples. And it is not a coincidence that most of the films I find while scrolling down on my TV alert me about “violence, sex, drugs” content. It works — meaning it sells. We potentialize the worst in us.

Yes, we are very intelligent. But what we use intelligence for belongs to much more than intelligence, another universe. How intelligent the Trojan horse idea, how smart they were, but what was all this war about? How smart these billionaires, gathering all these fortunes, while the planet is going down the drain. We have to work on the roots of our disasters, and it is not lack of intelligence, but lack of guidance on what we use it for. Whether for Sparta or for Kiev, don’t ask me on which side I am. It is bestiality, even if we have such intelligent drones nowadays. We must mobilize our intelligence to overcome violence, not to make it more efficient. Helpless people are dying all the same. Getting civilized is not about more technology. It is about us. And yes, Gaza made me sick!


1 UBS Global Wealth Report, page 121, 2023.
2 Oxfam, Inequality Inc., How corporate power divides our world and the need for a new era of public action, 2024.
3 Joseph Stiglitz, UN Forum on Business and Human Rights, 2013.