Stupendous Badass

Time is tight this week, so just a few quick quotes from Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon which struck me during a recent re-reading. The first is essentially a summary of evolution:
Let's set the existence-of-God issue aside for a later volume, and just stipulate that in some way, self-replicating organisms came into existence on this planet and immediately began trying to get rid of each other, either by spamming their environments with rough copies of themselves, or by more direct means which hardly need to be belabored. Most of them failed, and their genetic legacy was erased from the universe forever, but a few found some way to survive and to propagate. After about three billion years of this sometimes zany, frequently tedious fugue of carnality and carnage, Godfrey Waterhouse IV was born, in Murdo, South Dakota, to Blanche, the wife of a Congregational preacher named Bunyan Waterhouse. Like every other creature on the face of the earth, Godfrey was, by birthright, a stupendous badass, albeit in the somewhat narrow technical sense that he could trace his ancestry back up a long line of slightly less highly evolved stupendous badasses to that first self-replicating gizmo - which, given the number and variety of its descendants, might justifiably be described as the most stupendous badass of all time. Everyone and everything that wasn't a stupendous badass was dead. As nightmarishly lethal, memetically programmed death-machines went, these were the nicest you could ever hope to meet.
And the next quote comes from the perspective of Goto Dengo, a Japanese soldier during World War II:
The Americans have invented a totally new bombing tactic in the middle of a war and implemented it flawlessly. His mind staggers like a drunk in the aisle of a careening train. They saw that they were wrong, they admitted their mistake, they came up with a new idea. The new idea was accepted and embraced all the way up the chain of command. Now they are using it to kill their enemies.

No warrior with any concept of honor would have been so craven. So flexible. What a loss of face it must have been for the officers who had trained their men to bomb from high altitudes. What has become of those men? They must have all killed themselves, or perhaps been thrown into prison.
Most of you reading this know that the officers who displayed some adaptability (to borrow another phrase from Stephenson) didn't kill themselves, nor were they thrown into prison. They were most likely applauded for their efforts. But Goto Dengo, and the Japanese at the time, embraced a warrior culture where such actions were deeply dishonorable.

It's interesting to consider the second quote in light of the first. In a sense, a war is an implementation of what Stephenson describes as self-replicating organisms "trying to get rid of each other." So the question is what part do honor and flexibility play in the grand evolutionary scheme of things?