Sex and War (And Population)—The Forces
Ultimately Behind The Gaza Crisis
With endorsements high profile people such as Jane Goodall, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and world’s leading expert on our nearest to human primate, the chimpanzee, one can fully expect to find Sex and War: How Biology Explains Warfare and Terrorism and Offers a Path to a Safer World by Malcolm Potts and Thomas Hayden scientifically credible. It is a highly readable must read.
Sex and War will no doubt excite attention from all among the human species who still can read and think. Since that is quite a small minority, my fear is that its urgent and insightful theme will enjoy even among that sliver only an Andy Warholian 15 minutes of fame. Better not!
You may not be surprised to be told that the authors show with solid empirical proof that it is primarily male humans who bring us war. But perhaps you are unaware or unmindful of the driving force of male war making tendencies since the dawn of human history, the sex drive.
British born and Cambridge educated, Dr. Potts, now Bixby Professor at UC Berkeley, an obstetrician and research biologist has pursued his humanitarian work worldwide, including helping women in Bangladesh after the War of Liberation in 1972, then in countless other climes torn by conflicts. I met Malcolm in the 1960s when he was the first Medical Director of International Planned Parenthood Federation in London and since have served on several boards and done many travels with him. His co-author, Hayden, a freelance journalist, who is no relation to the Vietnam War Berkeley firebrand, Tom Hayden, also co-authored a 2007 book On Call in Hell: A Doctor’s Iraq War Story with Cdr Rick Jadick, whose experience in ministering to wounded there brought high accolades from readers.
Rather ironically Hayden’s book truly may have helped spark his participation in Sex and War. Tales of heroism and selfless bravery in battle are the historical standards for all such stories, but Sex and War reminds us of our biological evolution. After all, for much of human history the most successful and dominant males went to war, took the spoils and raped women. You know, Genghis Khan, etc.
One can see why Goodall could be so enthusiastic about this book, since Sex and War shows how close to chimpanzee behavior humans are. Bands of young male chimpanzees raid rival territories, finding the fittest females in classic Darwinian behavior, and thus benefitting the next generations.
The step up description from chimps to humans allows the authors to cite similar behavior found in tribal wars, among inner city street gangs, and then in full warfare, whose aftermath Potts personally helped deal with in Bangladesh when helping war-raped women. Terrorists in our day obviously are imbued with ideals of heroic male behavior, which is more powerful than the reported financial inducements. A comparatively benign manifestation of aggressive male behavior can be observed at NFL football games both on the field and in the stands.
Potts’ understanding of the urgency of dealing with our now overpopulated planet leads to explanations of how that crowding leads to wars, again entered into often with enthusiasm by young males, motivated by patriotism, excitement over battle, or even escape from dull underemployment or unemployment. The authors then most logically point to one way of cutting terrorism and the risk of wars and “a path to a safer world” for states we now can see are “failed”: lowering birth rates through planned parenting, birth control, and, yes, abortion. The authors clearly show that rarely in history have women been combatants.
Understand that Potts’ wife, Martha Campbell, who co-authored significant chapters, like her husband brings extensive scholarship and worldwide travel to bear on illuminating a modern woman’s view. These views remain still far from full acceptance in many cultures, including our own. But the book’s strong recommendation of more women’s education as a major contributor to fewer unplanned pregnancies surely is obvious to anyone doing strategic thinking about solving our pressing global problems.
The deep biological nature of human evolution will not be altered easily. The world remains dominated by male leaders who all too often feel so bloody good about solutions than seem to require bloodletting. One could point to our Iraq invasion and countless prior sorties into battle which could have been avoided by less testosterone-dominated negotiations.
Perhaps as the number of nations armed with nuclear weapons grows, as it surely will, major powers may be more globally fixated on planetary survival by means proposed by the authors.
But then again, perhaps not. And of course people who purport to bring us absolute security have in history often led us to absolute tyranny.
Potts had co-authored with world renowned anthropologist, Roger Short, a ground-breaking earlier book, Ever since Adam and Eve: The Evolution of Human Sexuality in 1999. I reviewed for Amazon, writing “that the main evolutionary drive for humans and mammals generally has been and is SEX, for the key to our existence is the need to produce the BEST next generation. For many this book will prove an epiphany of understanding, a creation of more reverence for life, but one not based on the mythology of religion, but on the clear facts of science.”
Now in the nuclear age, where planetary destruction looms in multiple forms both nuclear and environmental. we best find a workable form of making love without war.