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The Myth of Savage Savages Needs Debunking

January 25, 2014

Judith Hand, Ph.D.

deep_roots-front-bigA recent article entitled “Are we violent by nature?” appeared in the January 19 Los Angeles Times opinion section. Written by Luke Glowacki, a doctoral candidate at Harvard University, it trumpeted a view of several scholars, primarily at Harvard. Glowacki asserts that “scientists have converged on something of a consensus: The human propensity for lethal violence against ‘out-group members’ has deep evolutionary roots.”

romans_vs_barbarians_battleWhat he uses the phrase “lethal violence against out-group members” he is actually addressing the idea of war. He is implying that war has deep evolutionary roots, a fact of enormous significance if true. But is that true? Is there scientific consensus that the biological roots of war go deep?

ShiftCover72dpi-2Actually, there is no such consensus. For example, two recent books directly tackle the myth of savage savages (an apt phrase coined by journalist John Horgan who calls the main propagators of this myth the “Harvard Hawks”): my own book, Shift: The Beginning of War, The Ending of War,

and an edited book by the anthropologist Douglas Fry, published by Oxford University Press, War, Peace, and Human Nature. Both books examine the roots of war and conclude that the practice is a cultural one, of recent origin and that we could abolish it.

War, Peace, and Human Nature - D. Fry (Ed.)

War, Peace, and Human Nature – D. Fry (Ed.)

Two Men Fighting - Francisco GoyaIt’s true that the notion of the peaceful savage is a myth. Even in nonwarring and generally nonviolent cultures, homicide occurs. But it’s overwhelmingly a rare behavior, quite often the result of sexual jealousy, directed at specific individuals, and more characteristic of men than women. It isn’t war.

And remarkably, people from these generally peaceful cultures reporting cases of homicide to early anthropologists who did field studies also reported that men in these societies who committed a killing were punished by execution, sometimes by their own family members, or they were expelled from the group. Acts of lethal violence in even otherwise nonviolent cultures do prove that there is a genetic component to homicide, a point that needs to be conceded and to which the word consensus would apply. But apparently homicide was not tolerated and killers were prevented from (further) reproduction. One can make a good argument that actual killing was, in the phrase of evolutionary biology, “selected against.” Consistently practiced over the millennia of our evolution, execution or banishment could explain the existence of the well-known human aversion to killing another human being.

Bonobo Hugging

Bonobo Hugging

What, then, is the evidence for “out-group killing” as a regular practice among early humans upon which such a theory is based? Or among the few contemporary nomadic foragers still living today? Maybe killing within the group was suppressed, but killing outsiders now and then was embraced as a policy.

Given the written record of war after war, it’s no wonder the generally held worldview is that we have always made war. The but theory that out-group killing (war) has deep genetic roots has no sound basis. It is an extrapolation based primarily

  • on research on chimpanzees (not the other more pacific and equally closely related to us species pictured here, bonobos),

  • on studies of out-group killings in societies using hunter-forager technology but where mobility—the ability to move away from unfriendly neighbors and find fresh resources elsewhere—is severely restricted, and

  • on mathematical models that don’t take into consideration the effects on behavior when mobility is restricted and fresh resources could be had by moving, even with some difficulty, to a new location.

War of Everyone Against Everyone - Hobbs

War of Everyone Against Everyone – Hobbs

Glowacki does a good job of putting this debate about the nature vs. nurture component of human killing and war into a historical context that goes back to the 1600s. The philosopher Thomas Hobbes, for example, argued that our natural state is one of “war of everyone against everyone.”

But recent studies of actual nomadic forager life-ways—the way we lived during hundreds of thousands of years of our evolution by natural selection—are revealing a very different picture.

Migration - Plan A

Migration – Plan A

When serious conflicts occur, including ones involving insufficient availability of essential resources, the preferred option appear to be that some group members to pack up their few belongings and move on.  Dispersal was Plan A, not the  risky behaviors of war and retaliation. What seems to have moved us out of Africa to occupy virtually every habitable niche on the globe is our ability to cooperate, and a preference to avoid killing each other.

Moreover, the typical responses of nomadic foraging people who do maintain a sense of territory—that certain land belongs to their group—is to demand that strangers announce themselves and ask permission to cross the land or to forage on it for a time. Strangers who comply are not killed on sight, they are likely to be given permission because at some time in the future the favor may need to be reciprocated.

So what happens when nomadic foragers, for whatever reason, can’t move away from each other, when they are forced by geography or other circumstances to live beside each other permanently? 

Yawahlapiti Men

Yawahlapiti Men

Their  response, Plan B, is to invent  customs, traditions,  rituals, and shared laws that enable them to resolve conflicts without resort to actual killing. Tribal councils negotiate between aggrieved parties, setting penalties and providing for restitution. Sometimes these customs involve a display of relative force…contests of daring by members of both sides. These force displays may look like “war” to outsiders if they involve two sides brandishing weapons, or throwing spears. But examined closely, the usual outcome is that no one engaging in these displays of relative power is actually killed.  Ritual displaying of power is a common pattern among males of many mammal species, so it’s not a surprise to any biologist to find it present in us as well.

As I propose in Shift, The Beginning of War, The Ending of War, the first human option when faced with severe conflicts (over anything, but especially over life-sustaining resources), Plan A if you will, is to disperse. 

Haudenosaunee Gathering

Haudenosaunee Gathering

The second option, Plan B, is to devise customs and rituals that maintain peace and resolve differences without bloodshed when moving is precluded for whatever reason, depicted here with a tribal council.

Only when our groups take up settled living around a reliable food supply or have access to a reliable food supply (most especially, agriculture and the domestication of animals), and our population numbers begin to grow, and dispersal is no longer a viable option, and negotiations fail, only then do we start to see, among many cultural changes, that we take up war.  War is a last choice—Plan C. It is NOT an evolved adaptation. Contrary to the view that the Harvard Hawks are propagating, humans are not by nature warlike.

In the human deep past, when we lived at low population densities in a planet that was basically empty of human competitors, war was NOT a first choice. And in fact, examination of the fossil record so far indicates no evidence of war before roughly 12,000 YA.  Given that our lineage goes back approximately 200,000 years of a nomadic foraging existence, this makes war a newcomer to the human repertoire….and a cultural invention at that, not a trait built into our genes by natural selection.

Aggression in many forms, from angry words to hitting, kicking, and beating, even by women, are clearly a genetically based aspect of our nature. This sort of fighting is has been seen in all cultures that don’t have strong cultural controls to suppress it. But while war is made possible because we do have a capacity for violence that can be stoked by warmongers, war itself—the indiscriminate killing of people belonging to an “out-group”—is a cultural invention.

Rather than think of ourselves with the old phrase “Man-the-Warrior,” a more apt characterization is arguably “Humans-the-Cooperators.”

What we believe is of profound consequence. If we believe we have always made war, and that war has deep, biologically based roots, it becomes more difficult to believe that we could ever end the practice. Academics do harm to the hope of ending war when they conflate homicide and war, and assert without clearly distinguishing between these two behaviors that there is a scientific consensus that “The human propensity for lethal violence against ‘out-group’ members has deep evolutionary roots.” There is no support for their view, and much evidence against it.

If we make a commitment to eliminate the cultural conditions that are the breeding grounds for war, replacing them with conditions that foster all forms of nonviolent conflict resolution, we can cast war into history’s trashcan. How that amazing feat could be accomplished is the subject of Shift. Arguably, humans-the-cooperators have arrived at a time in history when they resolve to break free from the cultural chains of war.

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How to Test a Women-are-Key-to-Lasting-Peace Theory

October 4, 2013

Judith Hand, Ph. D.

 

Why are women universally responsible for fewer homicides than men (1)? Universally!

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In 1999 the psychologist Anne Campbell reported on her examination of the use of aggression across many societies. Women, it turns out, much more than men, prefer to avoid physical aggression and killing. Campbell pointed out that evolutionarily this serves to protect the women, their families, their close associates, and especially their children from harm, which would be a serious reproductive hazard, a blow to reproductive success. When we’re talking about traits that evolved as adaptations that foster reproductive success were talking biology, not culture (2).

The-First-Sex-Fisher-Helen-E-9780679449096 In that same year the anthropologist Helen Fisher published The First Sex: The Natural Talents of Women and How They Are Changing the World. Here was another exploration of how men and women, considered as groups, might have strong, statistically significant different approaches to a variety of social skills based, not just on culture, but motivated by innate, biologically evolved differences. Fisher made a strong case for why societies need to harness female “natural” inclinations for the public sphere (3).

Exploration of the relationship between women and violence continues and is expanding. In an important new book with the provocative title Sex and World Peace, four authors have assembled data on the relationship of women to community and national security (4). I read it with great pleasure because it’s about time that decision- and change-makers who want to end war and establish lasting peace realize that neither can be done unless and until women become equal partners with men in making decisions about war and peace and how to build and sustain safe and life-affirming communities. 1333465865-sex-and-world-peace

The book’s authors compile a great deal of data—not opinions or anecdotes but researched data—showing that where women are empowered societies fare better in many ways and that violence, including war, is reduced. The authors document strongly this CORRELATION.

But correlation is not causation. The case for women’s empowerment is and can be made MUCH stronger than just showing correlation.

Judith Hand

Judith Hand

My work, much of which can be found in my book Women, Power, and the Biology of Peace (free download) and the essays on my extensive website, AFutureWithoutWar.org, examines from an evolutionary perspective why raising the status of women and their concerns and the empowerment of women at all levels of society does not simply correlate with better social outcomes. I offer a theory for why it is CAUSATIVE!

To find the strongest possible argument for women’s empowerment, we must look to biology as well as culture. I called my theory a “social stability” hypothesis because it says that women bring many predispositions to social living that are evolved (not learned) adaptations which function to foster social stability. This notably includes a greater preference by women to avoid using physical violence. The theory says that as a consequence of our biology, empowering women as equal partners with men in governing is a necessary condition to create positive and lasting change to build socially stable communities and countries. Why? Because a number of women’s evolved proclivities are the antidote, so to speak, for evolved male proclivities for domination that can, if left unchecked, include, among a number of negative things, using physical violence.

wife-frying-pan-husbandAnyone familiar with humans (virtually all of us) immediately will think of facts of life that seem to contradict the idea that women, in general, have an innate, built-in—if you will, hard-wired—preference for avoiding physical violence which is more consistently expressed by them. For example, why do we see that when sufficiently riled, a woman may attack her husband with a frying pan? Or why do women sometimes urge men to make war? I spent a lot of time puzzling over many seeming contradictions such as these.

woman_thinking The key to the puzzle came one day in the shower, where I do a lot of creative thinking. I serendipitously attacked the issue from a fresh angle. I asked two obvious biological questions that, oddly, I’d never asked myself before. Not counting the obvious urge to find a good man, I asked myself, “Biologically speaking, what do women want, and why do they want it?”

WheelerMissionMinistries07-44 To my surprise, a two-part answer immediately rose to my conscious mind: women want safe and stable communities and they want sufficient resources, both being necessary to raise their children. Mind on fire, I hurried out, dried off, and wrote down the questions and the answer. I even made some quick initial mental tests as to how those two biological needs—those female reproductive imperatives—would translate into behavior when it comes to using physical aggression…and maybe even other social behavior as well.

In very general terms what the answer means is that women are geared by natural selection to do whatever is necessary to foster social stability…short term and long term. Anything that would threaten the life of her children or a mother’s own life, certainly war, would be an unacceptable risk to successful reproduction. Thus women would have to continually accommodate the need for social stability (the security of her family and community) with the need for sufficient resources for her offspring.

8082087031_560caf48a6_zFeeling certain I was on the right track, I started applying these two imperatives to a variety of contexts. To my pleased amazement, women’s behavior, even those strange contradictions I mentioned above and many others, made sense. Keep in mind that humans have been living in cooperatively breeding groups for at least 200,000 years. And in such social groups, if a disagreement develops over how to divide up a resource that two women both claim as theirs, a physical fight between the two of them—much more than a verbal screaming match—would more likely rile up and draw close kin and allies into physical fighting. The possible result of a fight could well be that one or both of the women, or perhaps one or more of their children, might be wounded in the ensuing melee.

Wounds can often become infected and, especially lacking modern medical care, result in death or be outright fatal. It would be far more adaptive over the long (evolutionary) haul for the two women to find a way to compromise, perhaps with the aid of an outside third party. Indeed, the outside third party might have a stake in keeping the women from physical fighting because of her (or his) own interest in maintaining the peace. But if the resource in contention was food and starvation or the threat of starvation were at hand, the survival need for food could very well lead the women to physically fight over the resource. So women would not avoid physical fighting in all contexts.

An immediate question arises. Wouldn’t the rule against physical fighting apply equally to men? Yes, provided there is no incentive for men to engage in physical fights. But Homo sapiens is a primate, descended from a primate lineage in which males compete aggressively, including fighting physically, for dominance. That our men still inherit that predisposition is evident; it is something all cultures work to suppress or control.

That our females more strongly than males prefer to compromise rather than fight physically is a trait that likely goes as far back into our lineage as male urges for dominance because early recourse to fighting physically did NOT generally serve the reproductive or survival interests of human females while male/male fighting sometimes, or often, did.

StrikingFirst copy

This same sort of analysis can be applied to conflicts in other contexts. For example, it can explain the phenomenon of soccer moms who vote for preemptive war. “Go to war,” they will say to the men if they can be convinced that their community, where they are raising their children, is in imminent danger (e.g., of starvation or attack). It can explain choices of conservative thinking women who oppose politically progressive causes that would give them more individual power, such as the right to vote or a right to reproductive choice, because they prefer to avoid disruptive social changes in the familiar social order even more than they desire personal power (5).
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This preference-for-social-stability-theory can be tested. The eight hypotheses (H) to be tested listed below state that the traits in question are (or are likely to be) more characteristic of women, keeping in mind individual differences and the moderating influence of culture. Although seemingly unrelated by any common function, they all have the potential to produce or foster social stability. The theory predicts that when traits are found that universally show statistically significant differences between men and women, analysis should reveal that some that are more characteristic of women undergird social stability, either immediately or over time.

The first three (H1-H3) are already well documented cross-culturally. They were the facts that stimulated this social stability theory. The remaining five have some support but need further study.

Although learning can reinforce their use, these traits are not learned behavior. Think of the situation being similar to language: the aptitude/inclination for the behavior is innate but learning reinforces and brings it out in full form in a particular culture. What is critical is that all of these inclinations/proclivities would produce the observed behavior because doing them is positively reinforcing to the person acting under their influence (doing so produces feelings of satisfaction), or not doing them is negatively reinforcing (failing to do so produces feelings of disquiet or dissatisfaction).”
hypothesis
H1 – Forms of conflict resolution: More frequent or quicker use of win-win conflict choices of behavior (negotiation, mediation) or compromise that diffuses conflict.
• H2 – Dominance hierarchies: More stable than those of men and formed without using physical aggression.
H3 – Physical violence: Less use of physical violence in interpersonal or community conflicts.
• H4 – Reconciliation: Willingness to more quickly forgive/reconcile over small crimes but harshly or seriously punish violent crime or crimes against women; greater concern to bring about reconciliation between individual fighters or groups.
• H5 – Sympathetic concern: After a fight, more likely to console losers (e.g., with words or friendly embrace), reducing the recipients stress level and facilitating continued group cohesion (6).
• H6 – Budgeting choices: for example, more money spent on things to reduce violent neighborhood crime rather than spending on something that would enhance prestige, like acquiring a sports team for the community or a new city hall building.
• H7 – Foresight: Less emphasis on winning a conflict now in contrast to more emphasis on making sure the solution chosen now will also mean less conflict later (foresight regarding potential conflicts) (this kind of foresight coupled with women’s concerns about having sufficient resources may explain the bias women have for supporting “green” or conservation issues) (7).
• H8 – Justice: less focused on the punitive and more focused on understanding an offender’s problems, which places less emphasis on the letter of the law and more on individual justice based on circumstances (empathy for defendants)

No CompromiseConsider an amusing example that reflects women’s preference for conflict resolutions that can foster return to social stability as quickly as possible. A colleague told this story of an incident she experienced when working at the United Nations. She was observing negotiations between two parties. Both sides wanted to reach some resolution, but it was clear they were not making progress. Noting that no women were at the negotiating table, she suggested to the men that they include some women. The immediate response from the men on both sides was, “Oh no. We can’t do that. The women would compromise.”

Consider also that great male leaders tend to display a number of these traits. All of us as individuals are a complex mixture of traits different societies call male and female. So to speak, we all have male and female aspects to our personalities. To the extent that the above traits are more characteristic of women, it is as if great male leaders can be said to be well in touch with their female side.

cross_cult_signInvestigating these hypotheses won’t be easy. It requires study of very complex behaviors of the two sexes cross-culturally, and setting up appropriate controls. For example, someone might ask concerning reconciliation (H4), “Don’t some male elders exhibit this trait as well? Even more than a young women might?” But it would be inappropriate to compare young women with older males; the preferences or inclinations of young women should be compared with those of young men, and older males with same age females having similar life experiences. If detecting whether such differences exist and whether they are statistically and behaviorally significance were easy, they would already be well known and understood.

empowered-women-031If this social stability theory proves to be robust we can say firmly that women do not bring just “talents” to governing, in all cultures they bring evolved predispositions that shape HOW they (would) govern and to what ends. My research, which is yet another step following Campbell and Fisher in this exploration of the biology of women’s approach to using physical aggression and seeking community stability leads to the conclusion that women’s empowerment will not only be essential to free humanity from the grip of our worst instincts and the behavior they produce, including war. Because of fundamental biological drives of both sexes—particularly with males more preoccupied with dominance/status/control which results in the turmoil of changing the social order and a relative inattention to community—the perpetual empowerment of women will be a necessary condition for maintaining stable, safe communities in a future of enduring peace. Herein lies the strongest possible argument for the empowerment of women.

(1 )Daly, Martin, and Margo Wilson. 1988. Homicide. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine de Gruyter.

(2) Campbell, Anne. 1999. Staying Alive: Evolution, culture and women’s intra-sexual aggression. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 22:203-252.

(3) Fisher, Helen. 1999.  The first sex. The natural talents of women and how they are changing the world.  NY: Random House.

(4) Hudson, Valorie, Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, Mary Caprioli and Chad F. Emmitt. 2012. Sex and World Peace. NY: Columbia University Press.

(5) Hand, Judith. 2010. Sarah Palin and why all women are not progressive. http://tinyurl.com/2c2o2tl

(accessed 5 April 2012).

(6) In chimpanzees and children, females provide comfort more often than males – Waal, Frans B. M. de. 2012. The antiquity of empathy. Science 336: 874-875.

(7 Polaskovic, Gary. 2012. Are women greener than men? Los Angeles Times. June 13. http://tinyurl.com/6p3k7c5  (accessed 13 June 2012).

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A press release about Syria from Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire

August 25, 2013

Mairead_Corrigan_Gaza_crop

Press release 26th August 2013
Mairead Maguire, Nobel peace laureate, today appealed to the Rt. Hon. William Hague, British Foreign Minister, and M. Laurent Fabius, French Foreign Minister, to stop calling for military action against Syria which, she said, will only lead the Middle East into even more violence and bloodshed for its people.

Maguire said:

Arming rebels and authorizing military action by USA/NATO forces will not solve the problem facing Syria, but indeed could lead to the death of thousands of Syrians, the breaking-up of Syria, and it falling under the control of violent fundamentalist jihadist forces. It will mean the further fleeing of Syrians into surrounding countries which will themselves become destabilised. The entire Middle East will become unstable and violence will spiral out of control.

Contrary to some foreign governments current policies of arming the rebels and pushing for military intervention, the people of Syria are calling out for peace and reconciliation and a political solution to the crisis, which continues to be enflamed by outside forces with thousands of foreign fighters funded and supported by outside countries for their own political ends. Having visited Syria in May, 2013, after leading a 16 person delegation I returned convinced that the civil community, with groups such as Mussalaha, who are working on the ground building peace and reconciliation, can solve their own problems if their plea for outsiders to remain out of the conflict is honoured by the international community.

During our visit we met with all sections of the community, most of whom are sick of violence and death and want peace and reconciliation and a political solution. We met with the Syrian Prime Minister and 7 other government ministers, and we were assured that the Government did not use sarin gas on its own people, and they invited the UN to send in inspectors to see what was happening. Currently there is an International Commission of Inquiry on Chemical Weapons in Damascus staying at Four Seasons Hotel, which is less than ten minutes from the areas where the chemical weapons were allegedly used. The western media, particularly vocal being the British and French Foreign Ministers, are accusing President Assad of using chemical weapons on his own people but have no proof of this accusation, rather some things point to rebels as the ones who used such weapons.

The question must be asked, what would it benefit Assad to use sarin gas in the vicinity of visiting international UN inspectors and in his own environment and neighbourhood where it would affect his soldiers, etc., personally, I do not believe the latest accusations against the Assad government using sarin gas, and in order that the world can hear the truth, I would appeal to the International Commission of Inquiry to go into the areas in question immediately and report as quickly as possible. In the meantime I appeal to the Foreign Ministers of Britain and France to encourage, as the Syrian people wish, dialogue and negotiation as a way forward.

We all remember the fear, panic and lies spun by the British and American governments, and others that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and it was not true. Let us learn the lesson of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya where so many millions have been killed in invasions and war, and many continue to die in violence. Violence is not the answer, let’s end this ‘war on terror’ and give nonviolence and peace a chance.

Mairead Maguire
Nobel peace laureate
http://www.peacepeople.com
info@peacepeople.com
peace people, 224 Lisburn road, Belfast. Bt307NW. N. Ireland

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How Do We End War? An Action Plan

June 23, 2013

Judith Hand, Ph.D.

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For over ten years I’ve studied war. And I’ve concluded from my perspective as an evolutionary biologist that if we want it bad enough and make the choice to act, we can end war.

Pollaiuolo - Men in Battle

Pollaiuolo – Men in Battle

I’m not referring to ending conflict, which is clearly not possible. Nor am I talking about other ills that grow from the use of violence, such as murder, rape, and domestic abuse. These behaviors can be found even in cultures that do not make war, or societies that are nonviolent or relatively so (think of the Amish, Quakers, and even Norwegians). I’m talking about ending war, where groups of men take up weapons and bond together to go kill, indiscriminately, men who belong to another group.

Red HOW word around questions.

And a fascinating pattern emerges when I speak with long-time, dedicated peace activists, people who have spent years struggling to end war. In one way or another they ask me the same question. Not, can we end war? They believe we can and have been trying mightily to do it. The question they ask is, how?

They are stymied. How do we do it? How can we do something to defeat this behemoth that no activists from generations before us were able to defeat? A monster that they themselves have been striving to defeat. How do we dismantle an entity having tentacles that reach into virtually every aspect of our lives? That provides employment for many millions of global citizens. That reaches even into our homes, to take from us our sons to serve, and if necessary to die, in its wars.

Why-do-we-walk-the-camino-de-santiago

A second question is a partner of the first: why, they ask me, do I think we can achieve something men and women of good will from previous generations could not? What has convinced me that we might actually do such an amazing thing?

My conclusions are based on my research:

  • into war,
  • into our biology as it relates to using physical aggression,
  • into the power of nonviolent direct action to bring about social transformation,
  • and on my expertise as a behaviorist.

I have written extensively about my results and conclusions at the website http://www.AFutureWithoutWar.org.

PaulMasson - NoWineBeforeItsTimePerhaps my most succinct essay on why we can do this now is a blog. It explains why our time differs from preceding epochs in ways that give us, if we grasp the chance, a window of opportunity to make this hugely historic shift from war. It is entitled “To date nonviolence movements were ‘before their time.’ Now they are poised to change history.

The blog provides an introduction to the nature of using nonviolence for social transformation, beginning with a review of the work of three powerful users of nonviolence: Alice Paul, Mohandas Gandhi, and Abdul Ghaffar Khan.

And then it explains the two reasons why the people of our time are finally ready to seriously explore the possibility that we need a transformation. This is firstly because a critical mass of global citizens know “in their bones” that what we are doing is not working. They grasp with deep unease that we desperately need a new way to live with each other.

Earth “Global Village”Our time is hugely different because our global home is now “full.” From our isolated beginnings in Africa we now occupy all niches on the planet that are readily habitable by humans. It is no longer possible to escape from each other by emigrating to a frontier, moving to a place with fresh resources and unoccupied land. Our backs are to the wall, and we are floundering as we spend huge resources on war that are desperately needed for along list of critical needs.

YinYangAnd a second reason our time is radically different is that we have finally figured out that excluding women as leaders and decision-makers has upset a balance between approaches to conflict resolution. We have significantly eliminated the part of us that favors compromise over fighting in ways that have plunged us into roughly 10,000 years of war after war after war. The rise of powerful women around the globe has begun to restore balance in our approaches to resolving conflicts. The addition to the public space of women as decision-makers and trendsetters is establishing real and consistent power behind forces that seek compromise, negotiation, and peace with justice rather than expending resources on war. The forces of ying and yang are being balanced so that they equally share in decision-making. This change in the status of women is in its infancy, but it is accelerating at an astonishingly rapid rate.

These two enormous changes in our reality make us willing to open minds to the idea of change. We are more willing to consider the way of nonviolence.

plan

But the question of “how” still remains. How do we move the global community from the cultures of violence in which we now live to a future in which physical violence, particularly in the form of war, is no longer standard practice? Two essays on my website explore “how to end war” in detail (“To Abolish War” and “Shaping the Future.”)

Moreover, I’ve distilled the essence of all of this research into an Action Plan for initiating a focused campaign to end war. The Action Plan provides 1) specifics for how to assemble the necessary leadership, 2) a shared unifying vision, and 3) a strategy and tactics to shape a paradigm shift that would rival in magnitude the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions. I’ve called it The Nonviolence Revolution.

The Action Plan is built around “Constructive Programs” (such as peace education, work to shift our economies, reaching young men so that they become part of the solution) that are grouped into nine cornerstones, and “Obstructive Programs” using nonviolent direct action to directly tackle the war machine, the goal being to dismantle it piece-by-piece.

An companion essay, “Dismantling the War Machine,” offers more detail of how to take on the war machine using the lever of people power.

ACT Business Services Logo

The mechanism for the “how” is based on a successful approach pioneered by the International Committee to Ban Landmines (ICBL) (see the book “Banning Landmines”). This approach works to unite individuals and organizations with a great many diverse interests into common cause and has been called “massively distributed collaboration.” It is a way to coordinate and direct people power so that we end war and in the process create safe, secure communities for our children and the children of humanity’s future.

There is a “how.” There is hope. The choice is ours. It’s time to accept the challenge to act and begin the work. Check out the Action Plan and make your own decision as to whether you think it might actually work, and if you’d like to get on board.

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! WAR IS OBSOLETE !

February 6, 2013

It’s Time To Change

Is it not time for our species—inheritors and caretakers of this wondrous planet—to renounce the waste of resources and lives taken from us by war?

Increasing evidence indicates that humans in the deep past, our ancient forbearers, excelled at cooperation. [for insights on the origins of human cooperation, see book review of Mothers and Others: on the Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding by anthropologist Sarah Hrdy.] This capability allowed us to invade and conquer every habitable landscape on the planet. We shared in caring for each other: for our group, for our young, and for others in times of illness or need.

Growing evidence also suggests that with regard to using deadly violence, we preferred to get along. That whenever our numbers seriously outpaced our resources, we split up and sought out new territory rather than fight to the death.

Migration/Dispersal

Migration/Dispersal

Homo sapiens’ Option Number 1 for dealing with major conflicts over resources—dispersal, fueled by an aversion to war—can be thought of as a key pressure responsible for driving us to occupy the entire globe.

Anatomically modern humans have been around for roughly 200,000 years. It was at the Agricultural Revolution, only about 10,000 years ago, that we settled down big time. In the filmed lecture, “No More War: the Human Potential for Peace,” evolutionary biologist Judith Hand uses the work of  anthropologist Douglas Fry to make the case that war was invented late in our evolutionary story. That war is a sad, unintended consequence—along with social hierarchies, subordination of women, and slavery—of settling down. By ceasing our nomadic way of life we created a profoundly new environment for ourselves, and our responses to living in that new, settled environment were not all good ones.

Space Shuttle Launch

Space Shuttle Launch

Other responses we made led to other results. Among these, we now control staggering and dangerous powers. We are sculpting the planet itself—changing the land physically, altering the numbers and kinds of other life forms, even shifting the weather.

Most awesomely, beyond the wildest imaginations of all generations before us, we have taken our first steps off-planet. We begin to reach for the stars. Destiny calls. What kind of destiny shall we create?

War is not a genetically built-in trait, inescapable and inevitable. It is a recent cultural invention/habit/meme. We can tolerate it, or dump it, along with other things that have become obsolete, into the dustbin of history. For suggestions how to accomplish that goal see To Abolish War” and “Shaping the Future.

Dismantling the War Machine

dismantling

To accomplish the eradication of war, a critical mass of global citizens must come to share the following beliefs.

  • Believe that war is a cultural invention, not part of our inescapable biology.
  • Believe that when humans set their collective mind to it, we have the power to achieve pretty much whatever we choose: we can climb the highest mountains on the planet. explore the deepest reaches of the Earth’s seas, fly in the sky, put colonies on the Moon and Mars, end human sacrifice and slavery. We can maintain cultures of war—or create new cultures of peace.
  • Believe that great achievements, certainly one as massive as ending war, require that our efforts be organized, focused, and well led.

Unless these beliefs become the guiding reality for a sufficient number of global citizens, we cannot end war. When, however, these beliefs do become real for enough of us, success is only a matter of will and time.

So the next question becomes, how do we dismantle the war machine?

Something history and logic make evident is that we cannot use violence. We cannot kill our way to liberation from war. Consider World War I. If this war taught us nothing else, World War I—the “War to End All Wars”—brought that truth home with brutal clarity.

What options, then, do we have for undoing the mentality and operational machinery of the beast?

Here we are indebted to nonviolent social transformers of our recent past who used the strategy and tactics of nonviolence to mobilize critical masses of people to dismantle specific evils. Inspiring visionaries like:

  • Mohandas Gandhi, who catalyzed the dismantlement of British rule of India,
  • Suffragist women, who dismantled systems of political enfranchisement for men alone,
  • Martin Luther King, Jr., who was the face and voice of a great movement to dismantled one country’s system that segregated humans based on skin color alone.

Their efforts teach us many things, among them that we will need to use both Constructive and Obstructive approaches. Also, that the strategy used to do the actual dismantling relies on the principle of Lever and Fulcrum.

Constructive and Obstructive Programs

Two synergistic approaches are required. Neither alone will achieve this grand vision.

Mohandas Gandhi

Mohandas Gandhi

The first approach Gandhi called“Constructive Program.” Through good works of peace education, peace making, peace keeping, and peace building we lay the ground for living in a warless future. We shift our cultures from a war mentality to a peace mentality and give people the tools to live in peace.

The second, equally important and synergistic approach is called “Obstructive Program.” Here is how, using the strategy and tactics of nonviolent direct action, we take the war industry apart piece-by-piece.

The essay, “To Abolish War,” compares Constructive and Obstructive approaches, explaining the necessary contributions of each. The essay also:

  • Considers critical gender differences in using physical aggression and concludes that partnership of men and women will be a necessary condition to end war, and
  • Introduces the concepts of levers and fulcrums: the idea that by selecting weak spots of the war machine as places to apply sufficient people pressure, we can remove war’s supporting infrastructure and ultimately war itself.
Legions of organizations and institutions around the globe are dedicated to a variety of Constructive Programs.

But so far, the world does not have many Obstructive Programs, let alone a united, mobilized campaign aimed at the war industry.

We’ve taken only initial steps to end war (e.g., founding the United Nations, establishment of the International Court of Justice, actions directed at eliminating nuclear weapons, and treaties against the use of landmines and cluster munitions). But AFWW believes the time is right for the global community to unite in a way that will create an unstoppable movement to overcome all forces—financial and political—supporting the continuation of war. See “Shaping the Future.”

Levers and Fulcrums

Archimedes - Lever on a Fulcrum

Archimedes – Lever on a Fulcrum

The great pioneers of nonviolent social transformation succeeded by skillful—even masterful—use of the principle of lever and fulcrum. Each analyzed the nature of the beast to be defeated, they found its weak points (the fulcrums), and they mobilized people power (their lever) to apply pressure to the weak point.

The war machine, which functions primarily as a massive money-maker for the few and a job creator for multitudes, is not simply going to fall apart because a great many people want it to. Too much money and power is invested in it. Prayers alone will not do it. Peacebuilding, peace-education, and peacemaking alone or in combination will not do it.

We can tackle this enormous dismantling task by using directed action against fulcrums. Such action not only weakens the war machine, it recruits ever more champions to the cause of ending war. The essay “Shaping the Future” provides examples of possible fulcrums and how to unite a critical mass of people power to apply sufficient leverage.

A Real-World Example

When a critical mass of citizens decide that a war must end and they are determined to make it happen no matter what the cost to themselves, then that war will end.

Liberian Women on the Move

Liberian Women on the Move

For example, after a brutal eight-year war that included mayhem and rape, the women of Liberia had had enough. Christian and Muslim women, who previously had not had much to do with each other, united in common cause—to force the warring factions to make peace. The article “Liberian Women Demand and Get Peace!” describes how these women used nonviolence and persistence to achieve their goal. An award-winning film, “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” documents details of their efforts.

Leymah Gbowee

Leymah Gbowee

In 2011, one of the most prominent women energizing the effort, Leymah Gebowee, won the Nobel Peace Prize, along with the woman who subsequently became Liberia’s president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, andTawakul Karman, an activist from Yemen.

Ending a war can be done. Ending war itself can also be done…when a critical mass of global citizens decide that enough is enough.

AFWW sees the nucleus for a global ending-war movement in the activities of the Nobel Women’s Initiative. In late October 2010 they led a delegation to Palestine and Israel, seeking to support women in both communities who want to end the seemingly endless conflict there.

In January of 2013 they sent a delegation to Liberia to meet with grassroots women leaders who are playing an important role in the challenging work of maintaining and maturing their hard-won peace. You can read about the Nobel Women’s delegation to Liberia here, and check out their activities on Facebook.

While their current major focus is on ending violence against women in conflict situations, I foresee a time when the Nobel Women’s Initiative partners with a great many organizations around the globe in beginning the campaign to free us from all war, freeing women, children and all of us from behavior that has absolutely become obsolete.

Enough is enough! It’s time to change.

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Dismantling the War Machine

January 15, 2013

by Judith Hand

The war machine—a massive money-maker for the few and a job creator for the masses—is not just going to fall apart because a great many people decide they would like it to. We must take it apart, piece-by- piece.

How do we do that? Simply put, we will need a way to unite great numbers of us so that we can focus enormous persuasive power on vulnerable aspects of war’s infrastructure. We tackle this enormous dismantling project by directing focused action against “fulcrums” – vulnerable components of the vast death machine.

Archimedes and Lever

Archimedes and Lever

“Give me a long enough lever and a fulcrum to place it on,” Archimedes of ancient Syracuse—the mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, and astronomer—is quoted as having said, “and I can move the world.” In a campaign to end war,

  • the lever is people power, which is exerted using the strategy and tactics of nonviolent struggle (a.k.a. nonviolent civil-disobedience, nonviolent protest, satyagraha),
  • the fulcrums are many, and are weak points of the war machine, and
  • the heavy weight we propose to lift is the ethos and practice of war. We intend to shift the ethos of our time from one that tolerates war to one that rejects war and by doing so, put an end to a behavior that has become dangerously obsolete and lay the foundation for a world that lives in peace.

The following is excerpted and modified from the essay “To Abolish War” (Journal of Aggression, Conflict, and Peace Research, October, 2010).

What are Fulcrums?

In the context of a campaign to end war, the best fulcrums are particularly weak points within the war-making machinery. They are weak because the murderous behavior or activity is patently immoral and deeply repugnant to basic human sensibility. As a consequence in the case of war, when a global movement directs the attention of the world to efforts to eliminate that particular cog in the machine, millions of people are immediately sympathetic to the movement’s overarching cause. And every time the cause achieves a victory, the movement gains energy, stature, credibility, and more people join the campaign. Many millions begin to see that this cause CAN be won. The idea is to pick fulcrums that enable the ending-war cause to most effectively confront the war system while gaining converts.

Some Examples of Contemporary Fulcrums

One rule about picking targets for civil disobedience is that they should be chosen to be perceived as immoral or unjust by the greatest number of people possible, and the more people who are adversely afflicted by the unjust or immoral practice the better.

Jody Williams

Jody Williams

I’ll mention three examples of contemporary well-chosen fulcrums in a campaign to end war, works already under way. First, Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams and the groups she worked with secured, in 1999, the Treaty Against Landmines. Many people are aware of this great effort because England’s Diana, Princess of Wales, was a notable supporter. As of December 2012, there were 161 signatory nations, including all of the European Union. Regrettably the United States was not yet one of them. There are few people, if informed of the nature of landmines, who believe land mines are not immoral, especially because they kill or permanently maim so many noncombatants and make the landscape uninhabitable and fields untillable long after a war is over.

Cluster Bomblets

Cluster Bomblets

Williams moved on to a second weak point, another well-chosen fulcrum. She partners with the Cluster Munition Coalition  working to eliminate cluster bomblets. These devices are killers that are rained down onto the ground where they are picked up by innocents, especially children who think they are toys—and who then lose arms, legs, or their lives. Again, there are few humans who do not know in their hearts that the use of cluster bombs is cruel and immoral.

Nuclear Mushroom

Nuclear Mushroom

A  movement to eliminate nuclear weapons is a recently reenergized campaign. Even the United States President Barack Obama embraced this cause. Nuclear bombs are blatantly immoral. Their use in Japan was a tragic mistake, caused in no small part because of ignorance at the time of their devastating nature. And like land mines and cluster bombs, atomic devastation renders the land uninhabitable and for even longer periods of time.

Many groups are laboring on this nuclear weapons weak point, for example Ploughshares Fund, WAND (Women’s Action for New Directions), Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and a group of more than 100 world notables who have set up an alliance called Global Zero (Queen Noor of Jordan is a founder, and other members include Mikhail Gorbachev, Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Mary Robinson, Sandy Berger, General Anthony Zinni, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.)

Killer Drone

Killer Drone

For AFWW, a fulcrum we have decided to place in the center of our focus is the use of killer drones. The reason is quite simple. It’s not because they kill or maim more people—they clearly do not. It’s not even that by their very unrisky nature to wielders, even very moral individuals can be seduced to use them and use them often. It is because they are a new weapon of killing. If we propose to move from a culture of war to a culture of peace, we should not be developing and deploying yet new ways to kill each other. We don’t need them. We should with one global voice say we will not tolerate their use. The cry of the global community must become, at the very minimum, NO NEW WEAPONS OF WAR!

All of these fulcrums—land mines, cluster bombs, nuclear weapons and killer drones—are ripe for the picking and progress is being made. When an ending-war campaign grows stronger, other fulcrums can be chosen as targets, keeping in mind that in all cases the challengers must occupy the moral high ground, and that tackling that particular fulcrum will recruit more people to the campaign.

Criteria for Selecting Fulcrums

Mohandas Gandhi

Mohandas Gandhi

The weak points Gandhi focused on in his campaign to bring independence to India were sometimes devised by him with a brilliant understanding of the use of symbolism. A notable example is the Salt March (read more details here Manas; Webchron). Gandhi thought long and hard to find a British practice that was clearly immoral, that afflicted huge numbers of Indians, and would gain the media coverage he knew was essential to the cause.

He eventually concluded that the British Salt Tax was such an evil. Essentially, the tax made it illegal to make or sell salt, thus giving the British a monopoly. Since salt was a necessary component of everyone’s diet, virtually everyone in India was affected, and the prices set by the British were sufficiently high that the poor could not afford to pay them. Gandhi began to organize his followers, training those who would come with him on the march in the techniques of nonviolent civil disobedience. He made strategic decisions, like just how long the march should be to attract the most followers and media attention. He decided the 240-mile distance from his Ashram to the coast at Dandi was about right. It took 23 days and he stopped to speak at the villages through which he passed. Once at Dandi, he stooped to the shore and picked up a tiny lump of salt, hence breaking the law. Moreover, in advance of the March he made the British aware of his intentions, which included the hope that the British would arrest him.

Here is what he wrote to the British Viceroy:

If my letter makes no appeal to your heart, on the eleventh day of this month I shall proceed with such co-workers of the Ashram as I can take, to disregard the provisions of the Salt Laws. I regard this tax to be the most iniquitous of all from the poor man’s standpoint. As the Independence movement is essentially for the poorest in the land, the beginning will be made with this evil.

Salt March to Dandi

Salt March to Dandi

The Salt March began a series of protests over the years that awakened Indians to this movement for independence and recruited not only Indian followers but forces of world opinion. Gandhi was not arrested at Dandi, but within a month he and a number of his followers were. During his struggle in India he was jailed several times. At some demonstrations the British over-reacted and people were not only beaten, they were killed. Because their cause was considered just, the effect of British over-reaction was to recruit more followers.

A Force More Powerful

A Force More Powerful

A remarkable DVD called “A Force More Powerful” provides some of the best explorations of how successful nonviolent civil disobedience is planned and executed. It uses B & W historical footage to show how Gandhi set up and brought off this famous Salt March protest. It also explores in detail five other successful nonviolent actions, including the lunch counter segregation protest in the American south, and protests of apartheid in South Africa.

Most of the fulcrums Gandhi pursued, however, were chosen opportunistically. Someone would come to him with a tale of British injustice. Gandhi would explore the situation, then decide if it was the kind of fulcrum that would best apply pressure to the British, and also gain more followers for the movement. Then, and only then, would he call for an action.

An ending-war campaign will also have to be opportunistic, looking for appropriate causes. Some targets would be immoral practices, for example, an actual war somewhere that needs to come to an end. An especially impressive fulcrum for the global abolition movement would be ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It’s impossible to predict which opportunistic subjects might present themselves in the near future as fulcrums but here are some suggestions:

  • Use global grass roots and high-profile resources to pressure the United Nations to set up an ending-war think tank along the lines envisioned in the essays “To Abolish War” and “Shaping the Future” …a place within the UN where all elements of Constructive Program and Obstructive Program are coordinated for maximum effect.
  • Demand until it is achieved, the dismantling of all nuclear arsenals.
  • Block any attempt to put offensive weapons in space.
  • Encourage the spread of unilateral demilitarization (a la Costa Rica, Panama, and as of 2013, 19 other nations) and support countries wanting to demilitarize by giving them UN guarantees of peacekeeping protection.
  • Push for a treaty that forbids the selling of weapons of war across borders.
  • Pressure the UN to declare that war for any reason is illegal, and that leaders and heads of governments or factions responsible for launching a war will be punished by the international community. It may take years from the time a serious use of Obstructive program is begun in an ending-war campaign to give the movement the strength to accomplish this goal, but the time MUST come. Law is our guidepost and social regulator. We make illegal what we want to prevent. So long as war is legal under any circumstances, we signal that we are not resolved to end it.
  • Put an end to use of robots as offensive, killing weapons as they frequently kill innocents while presenting no risk whatsoever to those using them, thus tempting authorities to use them often and to sell them as “humane.”

At this time, any of these efforts already being pursued—eliminating nuclear weapons for example—tend to be stymied because there isn’t sufficient people-power mobilized behind them. When this movement is fully global and composed of hundreds of millions of people and they are given focus, not even the war machine can stand for long against that power.

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks

Another example of how fulcrums are selected by strategic planners comes from the anti-segregation campaign movement in the United States. Public transportation and public eating places in the south were the chosen starting place for good reason. In the south the behavior of excluding Negroes was extraordinarily obvious and an egregious disrespect of their humanity. The organizers that began the movement used an approach that was carefully thought out: where is this problem extremely evident, and where do we have the resources we need to proceed, etc.? Rosa Parks was a strategic choice as the woman who would be the focus of the cause, not some other women who had also been arrested but were not particularly well-regarded in the community. You can read an informative accounting of why they chose Rosa online.

The struggle to end war has already begun. The challenge, as seen by AFWW, is

  • bringing diverse groups into synchrony by showing them that all of their diverse efforts are part of a larger goal to end war itself, and
  • enabling them to support each other with that larger goal in mind through a mechanism successfully used by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, a mechanism Nobel Laureate Jody Williams calls “massively distributed collaboration.” For an introduction to how this would work, see the sections on FACE (For All Children Everywhere) in the essay “Shaping the Future”.
It's Time To Change

It’s Time To Change

Beginning with even just a small group united behind a shared vision of how to end war by dismantling the war machine it will be possible to rally the global community to the vision of a future in which war is no longer something we accept. I believe the world is actually yearning for such a movement to begin. I also believe that when it does, we will move amazingly swiftly to achieve a worldview shift of epic, stunning, historical magnitude.

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Balancing Oxytocin and Testosterone – the Key to Ending War

October 22, 2012

                                     By Judith Hand

Why?

Humans want “to know.” Curiosity starts with us at a young age, when as children we start pestering our parents asking, “Why?” “Why?” “Why?” As adults, we especially want to know why other adults do what they do and feel the way they feel?

For my project, A Future Without War.org, I want to know why we make war and how, or if, we could end it.

Neuroeconomist Paul Zak’s delightful new book The Moral Molecule answers many of our most vexing, intriguing, and important questions.

The Moral Molecule – Dr. Paul Zak

How do we, for example, account for:

• The powerful attachment of mothers (and fathers) to their children.
• The warm emotional glow we feel from a big hug of genuine friendship.
• Some husbands being more faithful than others.
• Women, in general, being more generous than men.
• Men being much bigger risk takers about everything, from finance to sports.
• Women, in general, having higher scores on tests of empathy.
• The feeling of joy or pleasure we have when we arrive “back home.”
• Our willingness to help strangers in need.
• Our propensity to repay the trust people have in us by extending trust to them in return.
• The fact that, in some form, the Golden Rule—do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you—exists in virtually all cultures.
The Moral Molecule also has fascinating relevance to war.

Human Nervous System

Decades of research, behavioral and neurobiological, has exploded our understanding of how nervous systems and brains produce behavior, from the jellyfish to the octopus, from dogs to humans. We now have a good grasp on the neuroarchitecture of brains, including our own. We continue to advance our understanding of emotions and how they interact to produce behavior.

Human Brain

We’re to the point of actually looking into the brain chemistry of behavior, the molecular basis of what motivates us. Paul Zak’s work, engagingly presented in The Moral Molecule, is cutting edge, and he has discovered that a remarkable chemical—the hormone oxytocin—profoundly shapes human behavior.

Oxytocin

It does so by reinforcing actions that in our evolutionary past provided survival and reproductive advantages.

Yes, a molecule accounts for all of the phenomena listed above and many many more such phenomena as well.

Oxytocin’s first appearance in the study of behavior was in association with reproduction. When a woman is in labor she releases a large amount of oxytocin, which facilitates birth.

It is released upon stimulation of nipples, which facilitates the release of milk during breastfeeding. It importantly accounts for a mother’s pleasure in nursing her babe. All of these results of oxytocin release clearly facilitate successful reproduction.

But Zak’s research is revealing how this nifty, multi-purpose chemical reinforcer also facilitates other physical and behavioral responses, such as pair bonding and empathy. It turns out that this built-in drug of pleasure has been a prime tool of natural selection in steering us into actions that enable us to lead successful lives as extremely social beings.

Drawing Blood

To figure out just how oxytocin performs its magic, Zak has spent a number of years blood-extracting. He opens the story of his pursuit of oxytocin’s secrets by recounting his participation in a wedding at an English country manor.

The bride was aware of his research on oxytocin as being a mediator of moral behavior because she was a writer for the magazine “New Scientist.” She invited Zak to take samples of her oxytocin blood levels before her wedding and immediately after, to see if the emotional uplift of the wedding would alter her oxytocin level.

A Wedding Party

In fact, she wanted him to take samples from the groom and all the other guests who were willing as well. The logistics of blood-drawing and analysis at the wedding and in many other of his research venues makes fascinating and often amusing reading.

The results at the wedding were pretty much as expected: the bride’s levels shot up 28 percent and for each of the other people tested, the increase in oxytocin was in direct proportion to the likely intensity of their emotional engagement in the ceremony. He notes a significant seeming anomaly, that the uptick for the groom’s father was 19% but for the groom, only 13%. Why? Because testosterone interferes with the release of oxytocin, and immediately after the ceremony there had been a 100% spike in the groom’s testosterone level!

Zak also stipulates early in the book that the vast majority of people are essentially primed to follow the Golden Rule (i.e., put another way, that we are essentially “good”), and that “to elicit that naturally occurring, benign behavior all we have to do is to create the circumstances in which oxytocin can exercise its influence, which means, in part, keeping other hormonal influences out of the way.” Later he will mention testosterone in particular as a key hormone that can interfere with oxytocin’s positive effects.

Here is how he summarizes the essence of this work:
“Am I actually saying that a single molecule—and, by the way, a chemical substance that scientists like me can manipulate in the lab—accounts for why some people give freely of themselves and others are coldhearted bastards, why some people cheat and steal and others you can trust with your life, why some husbands are more faithful than others, and, by the way, why women tend to be more generous—and nicer—than men? In a word, yes.”

Fallujah – The Immorality of War

Arguably one of humanity’s most immoral behaviors is war. While The Moral Molecule does not address war directly, Zak’s work on the effects of oxytocin, and its opposite testosterone, clearly are relevant in four notable ways:

• levels of oxytocin and testosterone are not the same in men and women; women have higher levels of oxytocin and, as a sex, show greater levels of empathy;
• there is a relationship between testosterone levels and dominance preoccupation;
• essential human goodness, as facilitated by oxytocin, is the basis for the successful use of nonviolent social transformation;
• human evolutionary success has depended on balance between male and female tendencies, on expression of both male and female dispositions.

How do each of these relate to ending war? First, a key hypothesis of my work is that war is far more disadvantageous for women than it is for men. Consequently, women, much more than men, are more predisposed to avoid going to war or allowing their men to begin wars. Women instead prefer social stability. This sexual asymmetry exists because men can produce great quantities of sperm while women are limited in the numbers of ova and even more restricted in the number of offspring they can bear and raise to be old enough to reproduce the next generation.

To test my proposed “female preference for social stability hypothesis” I suggest, in a just-completed book, that cross-cultural studies on behavioral responses of men and women in a variety of conflict and other situations should not be the same. If I’m right, the results should bear me out. We should find statistically significant differences. And the differences should be such that women’s preferred behavioral choice is something that, in the short- or long-term, will facilitate social stability…the exact opposite of war.

Female Empathy

One such difference should be that women, in general, are more empathetic, more sensitive to the feelings of others, more eager to soothe their feelings. With respect to oxytocin and empathy Zak writes, “…mother ‘love,’ if you will—created the more granular, sensory perceptions that eventually linked oxytocin with empathy. (It also helps explain why females have freer access to both than males. In every experiment I’ve designed for humans, women release more oxytocin than men.”

If someone proposes to launch a war, having empathy for people in the group that might be attacked would be expected to put a brake on the decision to strike a first blow, and presumably woman (as a group) would be expected to feel greater empathy, perhaps especially for the women and children in that other group.

Another difference predicted by the women-prefer-social-stability hypothesis is that in conflict situations women, compared to men, should more often opt for win-win methods of resolution (compromise, negotiation, mediation) as opposed to win-lose methods (fighting to determine a winner and looser).

Win-Win Outcomes Produce More Stable Resolutions

Research and practical experience makes evident that win-win resolutions result in more socially stable outcomes. It would be interesting to see if this sexual difference—which studies have found does exist in western culture—exists cross-culturally, which would indicate that it is an evolved trait that distinguishes women, as a group, from men. And if it does, how is voting in favor of further negotiation instead of a preemptive strike related to an individual’s levels of oxytocin and testosterone at the time of the vote?

The second key point Zak’s work relates to, and that is key to my work, is that war is not an innate, hard-wired “instinct,” but that we do have several hard-wired behaviors that make us vulnerable to it. These built-in traits, in some environmental and cultural contexts, allow a warmonger to build an army. They enable him to convince his people of the need to attack some other group. One of these hard-wired proclivities concerns dominance behavior and the tendency to form dominance hierarchies and to defer to authorities.

Male Preoccupation With Dominance

In a chapter entitled “Bad Boys,” Zak explores bad (and good) behavior associated with testosterone. With testosterone, it is men who exhibit the behaviors he discusses more strongly, as a sex, than do women. For example, men are found cross-culturally to be greater risk takers, and Zak cites research that ties greater risk-taking (in men or women) to higher levels of testosterone.

With respect to making war, a male predisposition to engage in dominance behavior, including construction of dominance hierarchies, allows individuals to build an army. While women also construct dominance hierarchies, theirs are less rigid, and women are much less likely than are men to use physical aggression to build such hierarchies or dominate others.

In warrior cultures, dominance-seeking is encouraged. In egalitarian and nonwarring cultures, building dominance hierarchies and use of aggression in general is suppressed by a variety of means. By revealing chemical differences between men and women in their levels of oxytocin and testosterone, The Moral Molecule gives us a physiological explanation for male/female differences in dominance seeking behavior. War—arguably the ultimate dominance-seeking behavior—is overwhelmingly a male endeavor.

Mohandas Gandhi

A third point I stress, which Zak’s work also addresses indirectly, is that to end the violence that is war, we can’t use violent means. To fight wars thinking that defeating the opposition using force is the means to end war is a proven historical failure. Instead, a movement to end war would require that we use the strategy and tactics of nonviolent social transformation.

This approach to social change has variously been called nonviolent civil disobedience, nonviolent struggle, and nonviolent protest. One of its most skillful modern users, Mohandas Gandhi, gave it the name satyagraha. The method is based on several fundamentals. First, that the objective is not to defeat the opponent, but to win them over, to convince them that what they are doing is harmful (i.e., wrong/immoral).

Standing on the Moral High Ground

This in turn is based on another fundamental to the strategy, which is making sure that the cause being championed is a “just” cause; in the case of war, that the ending-war activists are standing on the higher moral ground.

And a third fundamental upon which the entire method of nonviolent social transformation depends is the belief that all humans are basically good. That if your cause is just, your refusal to use violence will allow you to appeal to your opponents essential human nature, to that “goodness within,” and thereby ultimately to win your opponent to your side. This works because your opponent will “know in their hearts” that they are on the wrong moral side of the issue.

So what is human nature? Is it in fact essentially good? Does it understand, seek, and reward fairness? Or is it, as some religions, philosophies, and economists argue, essentially bad or overwhelmingly selfish?

Zak’s work leads him to the position that we are primed by nature to be pro-social: to be cooperative, to be trusting, to be moral. Deviation from that state, which is the state that results from the flow of the moral molecule oxytocin, is just that….deviation. Our most basic propensity, according to Zak’s work and based on the action of oxytocin, is to follow the Golden Rule. This surely would include the idea that one ought not kill another person who has done you no wrong.

Nonviolent Protest

Nonviolent social struggle, based on working to win over your opponent to your just cause, has been shown to be a powerful transformative agent. The nonviolent  meets its most determined foe only in a dictator or tyrant willing to kill men, women, and children if necessary to retain power, only in individuals who are no longer in touch with their internal moral compass.

Male/Female Balance – the Key to Success

Finally, ending war and making sure we don’t backslide into future rounds of violence will only be possible when men and women are full partners in our governing bodies, and there are many points where Zak points out the need for male/female balance. Not only that it exists in nature, but that it is when our societies are fully expressing this balance of oxytocin and testosterone that we get our best (most adaptive) result.

Testosterone

In the “Bad Boys” chapter he points out how testosterone suits men for their roles in our survival. For example, that testosterone specifically interferes with the uptake of oxytocin, which produces a damping effect on being caring and feeling, seems like a negative. But, says Zak, “it makes young males—hunters and warriors—not only faster and stronger but … less squeamish about crushing skulls in order to feed and protect the family.”

With respect to war, history makes very clear that men alone are unable to free us from this profoundly bad habit/invention/meme. The strong effects of testosterone on male behavior suggest why. It isn’t that men wouldn’t prefer to end this behavior. They are also geared to the Golden Rule.

UN Logo

League of Nations Logo

Throughout history there have been attempts by men to rid us of war. For example, the  League of Nations and the United Nations. The hitch is that over time, male biology works against them. Good efforts and intentions get usurped or morph back into acceptance of the domination of others using violence. If women were sharing in decision-making, as they do in most nonwarring cultures, their oxytocin-fueled proclivities for social stability could help restore our social world to an adaptive balance.

I also point out in an essay entitled “To Abolish War” that it will take men and women in full partnership to end this barbaric behavior. While men alone can’t end war (abundantly evident from the historical record), women alone also can’t end war. The male willingness to embrace revolution, doubtless a willingness fueled by testosterone, will be an essential ingredient in any such campaign.

From the beginning of the book, Zak does make very clear that men and women secrete both oxytocin and testosterone, and that these behavioral traits are found in both sexes. A reader may need to remind himself or herself of this caveat, since individual men and women they personally know may not fit a particular generalization. But significant sexual differences are real, they have enormous influence on our social lives, and they need to be stated clearly, as Zak has done.

For any person interested in the human condition, including what it will take to deliver us from the scourge of war, Paul Zak’s work, entertainingly presented in The Moral Molecule, is a significant, must-read leap forward in answering some of our most fundamental questions about why we do what we do and why we feel the way we feel. And insight into why full partnership of men and women, so that we utilize the best characteristics of both sexes, is a key to creating a better, less violent path for humanity as we move into the future.

[This blog is excerpted from a full book review of The Moral Molecule, which can be found at http://www.afww.org/TheMoralMolecule.html.

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