Dr. Josh Paulson spent most of his academic career reading social anthropological books and journals, researching and analyzing ancient civilizations. In his master's thesis, he theorized that human cultures are products of thousands of years of social evolution in which social structures changed as human beings evolved physically and mentally. His interest in social evolution led him to dig deeper into the related fields of social and physical anthropology gleaning glimpses of the archives of prehistoric human societies four million years ago. He presented several hypotheses in his doctoral dissertation linking modern social structures to the rudimentary tribal social structures of our most ancient ancestors. His publications, classroom lectures, and seminars all reinforce the concept that our early hominid ancestors adapted and survived with the help of their emerging language. With language comes the ability to think and to communicate. Language also gave our ancestors the capacity to develop tribal customs and norms. A key element in his theory involved the concept that somewhere along the time line of human social evolution several social traditions emerged, evolved, and eventually became an intricate part of the social institutions of modern societies.
In ancient tribal groups, an individual—usually by means of brute force—assumed a position of power over the tribe. A younger, stronger hunter took over the leadership of the hunters and gatherers and was responsible for protecting the tribe from predators. Storytellers fabricated myths to explain natural phenomenon with the creation of deities. Over hundreds of thousands of years, tribal communities flourished in the lush tropical zone of Africa. Interactions between tribes ushered in the concept of commerce as trading food, shelter, and other tribal members became a common practice. Paulson asserts that greed and the pursuit of power tainted the evolution of those four early social structures, allowing the leaders of those structures to exploit and brutalize tribal members. He argues that those social structures continued to evolve into complex institutions that are responsible for the dystopian American society of his world, because the practice of exploiting and manipulating tribal members has always remained an intricate part of the fabric of each institution.
Paulson quickly rises in popularity on the guest lecture circuit of the scientific community. However, unknown to him, he has also attracted the attention of a far-right anti-evolution sect, corrupt legislators, and powerful corporate executives. Those people are afraid Paulson may eventually arouse the ire of the masses resulting in social unrest and upheaval. The anti-evolutionists, led by Abraham—an evangelical fanatic—carefully monitor Paulson's activities—especially his seminars—and begin planning a strategy to punish Paulson for blasphemy.
Even though Paulson is engaged to Leslie, a wealthy South Hamptons socialite, when Anna Metcalf, a second year graduate student at Cornell University, asks him to be her graduate advisor, a close bond immediately develops between them. Paulson's strict policy against dating students keeps his feelings in check. However, his overly possessive fiancée repeatedly accuses him of having an affair with the graduate student. Leslie' suspicions lead her to stalk Paulson while her obsessions erode her already fragile mental stability. Her parents, knowing that Leslie has the potential to harm herself and others, commit her to a mental health facility.
Paulson moves to Harvard to take a position as an Associate Professor of Sociology. His popularity as a guest lecturer prompts him to upgrade his lectures and he creates a production team to add sound and videos to his presentations. After Harvard accepts Anna as a doctoral candidate, she eagerly begins her coursework and joins Paulson's production team as a researcher and writer.
Anna is not without her problems. At Cornell, she briefly dated David, a local man. She quickly realized he was a possessive narcissist. David began stalking Anna after she told him she would not continue dating him.
Eighteen months of anger management and therapy did not mitigate Leslie's obsessive jealousies. Soon after her discharge from the mental health facility, she gives Paulson an ultimatum to quit teaching and work for her father or she would break their engagement. After another episode of stalking Paulson, Leslie's parents commit her to a mental health facility in the Gulf of Panama for the criminally insane.
With Paulson's engagement officially terminated, Anna and Paulson each plan to develop a closer relationship with each other. However, David has followed Anna to Cambridge and begins stalking and harassing her. Other, mysterious events put Paulson and his term on high alert as they prepare for a major conference. Early in his tenure at Harvard, Paulson joined with a group of academic colleagues to write a series publications and organize several rallies promoting stricter gun-control regulations. The upcoming rally in Albany, New York is the first of four planned events.
The rally was a huge success for Paulson and the gun control advocates. However, most of what he says during the rally enrages Abraham and his group. During the Q and A part of the rally, Gideon—Abraham's brother—goes into a raging tirade, accusing Paulson of heresy and blasphemy. When Gideon begins ranting and raving, threatening to send Paulson to hell, officers from the Albany police department intervene and arrest him. Because of the audiences' responses to Paulson's presentation and Gideon's explosive tirade, an official with the National Rifle Association, numerous legislators—state and national—and many corporate leaders consider Paulson a serious threat to the American aristocracy.