# 3 How the Ways of Power Spread Like a Contaminant to Pervade the Human World

The previous piece described how civilizing societies – especially as they emerged in clusters – were inevitably compelled to interact with each other outside of any order to regulate their interactions. In that anarchic situation, I argued, there inevitably arose a “war of all against all,” which then resulted in “an inevitable selection for the ways of power.”

Here’s another way of describing that inevitable selective process, from a passage in the book, The Parable of the Tribes (the passage most often quoted by the reviewers):

“Imagine a group of tribes living within reach of one another. If all choose the way of peace, then all may live in peace. But what if all but one choose peace, and that one is ambitious for expansion and conquest? What can happen to the others when confronted by an ambitious and potent neighbor?

  • Perhaps one tribe is attacked and defeated, its people destroyed and its lands seized for the use of the victors.
    • Another is defeated, but this one is not exterminated; rather, it is subjugated and transformed to serve the conqueror.
    • A third seeking to avoid such disaster flees from the area into some inaccessible (and undesirable) place, and its former homeland becomes part of the growing empire of the power-seeking tribe.

Let us suppose that others, observing these developments, decide to defend themselves in order to preserve themselves and their autonomy. But the irony is that successful defense against a power-maximizing aggressor requires a society to become more like the society that threatens it. Power can be stopped only by power, and if the threatening society has discovered ways to magnify its power through innovations in organization or technology (or whatever):

  • The defensive society will have to transform itself into something more like its foe in order to resist the external force.

“I have just outlined four possible outcomes for the threatened tribes: destruction, absorption and transformation, withdrawal, and imitation. In every one of those outcomes the ways of power are spread throughout the system. This is the parable of the tribes.”

[These four outcomes are discussed and illustrated in the published book in a section – pp. 34-42 — titled “Heads I Win, Tails You Lose: The Nonalternatives of the Parable of the Tribes.”]

The theory of social evolution I call “the parable of the tribes” shows that power is like a contaminant, a disease, which once introduced will gradually yet inexorably become universal in the system of competing societies.

More important than the inevitability of the struggle for power is the profound social evolutionary consequence of that struggle once it begins. A selection for power in the shaping of civilized societies is inevitable.

If anarchy assured that power among civilized societies could not be governed, the selection for power signified that increasingly the ways of power would govern the destiny of mankind. This new evolutionary principle came into the world along with civilization. This is a big piece of the answer to the question, “Why has the history of human civilization been as tormented and destructive as it has been?”

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