Exploring Sex, War, and World Affairs from a Biological Perspective. How to Build a “Better” Future.

October 4, 2016

by Judith Hand, Ph.D.

The goal of this essay, which explores sex, war, and world affairs from a biological perspective, is to gain insights that can advance efforts by the global community to leave to the future’s children a more peaceful, just, environmentally sustainable, “better” life.


Consider these enormous challenges….many of them legitimately considered to be evils. We’ll explore what might be the result if the global community made two changes with respect to leadership and governance that would have positive affects on all of these issues.

We begin with a broad historical perspective.


This graph plots estimated numbers of humans on Earth going back nine thousand years. At the far right, roughly 250 years ago, an explosive rise in our numbers begins, attributed mostly to preventing early deaths and increasing food productivity. Imagine what might be the social effects of that explosive rise. Because during hundreds of thousands of years of evolution that shaped our natures, we lived in a world where, when resources ran out or disagreements erupted that might lead to what we now call war, some people could pack up their meager belongings and move to an unoccupied place. This relieved the social pressure, and biologists call that very successful adaptation, dispersal.

As a result, now all places where essential resources of food and water and living space exist…they’re all human populated. We occupy all habitable landmasses. In a 2005 Scientific American article entitled “Economics in a Full World” the economist Herman Daly described this by saying that we’ve transitioned from an empty world to a full world. He describes how that transition is putting all kinds of pressures on our affairs.

We have created a new, changed environment to which we need to adapt. We’re going to have to deal with those above issues, and more, under the pressure of greater human numbers, and with no empty places to which unhappy or starving people can disperse without encountering people already present, and possibly themselves in dire conditions.

I agree with experts convinced that we’ve reached an existential tipping point. Here are some existential threats to the global social order. Or improbably, but not impossibly, to our extinction.

Existential Threats to the Global Social Order

  • A highly contagious, highly lethal natural pandemic.
  • Intended or unintended nuclear war.
  • Leakage of large amounts of stored nuclear waste into the atmosphere.
  • Out of control computer virus used in a cyberwar.
  • Intended or unintended release of biological or chemical WMD.
  • Collapse of the ocean ecosystem.
  • Multiple regional wars over critical resources such as water or rare earth elements.

With the single exception of a highly lethal natural pandemic, every one is a potential disaster of our own making.

To avoid the disasters posed by these threats, and to eliminate or fix the social evils listed above, we’ll need money. We’ll need legions of humans applying ingenuity and sweat. Given the astounding financial, physical, and human capital wasted on wars, avoiding wars would unquestionably be the wise and sane adaptation to make.


So consider that one of Albert Einstein’s most insightful quotes is that the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Given human nature, it’s impossible to create Utopia. But, could we shift global culture sufficiently to both avoid the disaster of some dystopian nightmare and also build a more peaceful, just, and environmentally sustainable future? Throughout this essay I’m going to simply refer to that kind of future as a “better” future.

Recall that the essay’s title says that we’ll be considering sex, war, and world affairs from a biological perspective. From that perspective, the primary assumption here is that to solve our problems and build a “better” future, not only at a global level but in local communities and homes, we need to understand ourselves, and that to do that, we must look through the lens of biology to answer the question, “What kind of animal are we?”

We named ourselves Homo sapiens—wise man—but much of our behavior is so harmful, to ourselves and increasingly to the planet, that the word “wise” may not fit us very well. A better choice might have been Homo acutus—clever man—because there can be no doubt that we are very very clever.


During hundreds of thousands of years, our ancestors lived as simple bands of nomadic foragers. But they came to possess behaviors that made us one of Earth’s most dominant species. And many of these behaviors weren’t based on carefully thought-out reason. They were whatever ensured the survival and reproductive success of the individuals who gave rise to us.

So, still based on biology, this talk’s second assumption is that rather than our behavior always being guided by reason or wisdom, we need to embrace the reality that much human behavior is, in fact, guided by built-in, genetically-based, evolved predispositions/preferences/tendencies/urges, whatever you want to call them, and these powerfully influence much of our behavior, sometimes in contradiction to what rational or wise thought suggests would be a better thing to do. And specifically, we’re going to consider why and how some of these urges are not the same for our two sexes.

My relevant background includes that I’m an evolutionary biologist, with a Ph.D. from UCLA. My areas of specialization are in animal behavior, including human behavior, communication, conflict resolution, and gender differences. Because I’ll be comparing men and women— the sex part of the essay—I need to stress that my approach is that of a biologist, not a feminist….nor for that matter, a psychologist, sociologist, historian, or political scientist.

For my PhD., I studied communication and conflict behavior of gulls—Laughing Gulls and Western Gulls—a mated pair of the latter pictured here.


I did so on the Farallon Islands off San Francisco, on Bird Rock off Catalina Island, CA, in the bird flight cage of the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and on islands in the Gulf of California, primarily Guardian Angel Island. These were some of the most delightful years of my life. I gained insight into conflict resolving behavior by studying how breeding pairs used communication to resolve conflicts.

The fancy name for the study of animal behavior is “ethology.” Since I’ve been studying war and peace, I’m now officially a Peace Ethologist, and as an undergraduate major in cultural anthropology, I studied non-patriarchal and nonviolent cultures.


Much of my work on war is in this book, Shift: The Beginning of War, The Ending of War. This essay, however, considers how our biology relates to a large number of world affairs….not just war. We begin with how evolution shaped some of those powerful instinctive urges by delving rather deeply into biology.

One reality that shapes much of life on Earth is called sexual dimorphism, from the Greek dimorphos, meaning having two forms. Most species of plants and animals have males which make sperm, which are tiny and motile, and females, which make eggs, which are comparably huge and non-motile, and have nutrients sufficient to develop into a new individual. Humans obviously fit this pattern.

There are other reproductive possibilities. Some species reproduce asexually, like the tiny water creature called a Hydra that can sprout a new hydra out of one side, and single-celled forms like the Amoeba which can divide by pinching itself in half, and even a lineage of female lizards that reproduce without any males. Some, like mushrooms, use spores.


But the vast majority of animals and plants—at least some time in their life cycle—reproduce sexually. Now, sperm have the equipment and energy for movement but are small. And eggs, which hold sufficient nutrients for development of a new individual, are relatively very large. This huge difference between sperm and eggs in size, composition, and function has profound biological ramifications, because eggs, having all that nutrient material, are much more expensive to make than sperm. Males can make thousands or even millions of sperm, but in every species, females produce far far fewer eggs.

This fundamental size and function asymmetry sets up a situation in which reproductive pressures on and strategies pursued by males and females are very different. Anyone who closely observes animals sees these differences played out in many forms of competitive male/female behavior. Observers often refer to some male/female interactions as a “battle of the sexes.”

Sexual dimorphism can occur in three domains: anatomy, physiology, and behavior.


It exists in external anatomy, as you see in these male/female pairs (things like color, size, fundamental body shape). It also exists in internal structures, like skeletons. If you watch TV shows like “Bones” or “CSI,” experts often look at skeletal or dental remains to tell whether a victim was male or female.

Sexual dimorphism in physiology isn’t easy to illustrate because it’s about chemical reactions. Most familiar to you are differences in blood levels of the sex hormones, testosterone and estrogen. Another fascinating example is that levels of the hormone oxytocin—often called the “love” or “cuddle” hormone because it’s important to forming social bonds—they’re consistently higher in women. There are sex related differences in circadian patterns: in humans a whole field is called “chronobiology” and looks at how sex may influence things like what time of day is best for taking certain drugs because the ideal time may be different for men and women.

But it’s sexual dimorphism in behavior that’s critical to discussing world affairs. It seems obvious that males and females of sexually reproducing species aren’t going to behave identically with regard to reproduction. But differences in proclivities that aren’t directly related to reproduction also occur.


For example, Redwing Blackbird males during breeding season  stake out a territory and defend it from other males. In contrast, females scout territories, settle onto one that seems to have good food and hiding places, build a nest, mate with the territory male, lay eggs, incubate them, and rear the young.

An elephant herd consists of females and their offspring, including young males. But when a male comes of age, the females expel him, allowing contact only during breeding season. Expelling males is a built-in proclivity, or preference, that regulates elephant social affairs.

Male and female lions do live together. But it’s the females that have the proclivity to unite to kill prey to feed the whole pride. The main urges of a pride male are to guard the pride from other males and mate with females as often as possible when the females are in heat.

For gorilla families, food consists of vegetation, and the females’ biological urges motivate them to spend their days eating and caring for their young. They also biologically prefer to let the male determine the direction of the group’s movements. When he moves, they follow. If danger threatens, he’s the one with the proclivity to protect the group.


So, now that we know what it is and what to look for, we can consider how behavioral sexual dimorphism plays out for us in ways that relate to this talk’s subjects: war and world affairs. This is an artist’s reconstruction of a male and female of one of our ancestors. You’ll note right away the significant size dimorphism, which also characterizes Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis.


Note that size dimorphism is much reduced for modern humans—and by the way, this is thought by some to be related to the emergence of monogamy. What we’ll explore for this essay on warfare and world affairs is that our sexes have significantly different behavioral proclivities when it comes to using physical aggression—for any reason—including resolving social conflicts.


This book describes the biological reason for why that’s so in detail. The goal of the essay at this point is to move rapidly through a succinct summary of why this difference exists by dipping deeply into biology. First, recall that we are mammals, because our females supply milk to our offspring from mammary glands, and we are primates, closely related to other Great Apes. A number of reproductive traits that are true for other mammals and primates are also true for us. So here are three basic biological realities that affect women’s proclivities with respect to social conflicts and especially physical aggression.

Reality number 1. The basic biological bottom line for all living things is to reproduce and have offspring that have offspring. If you don’t reproduce, your genes and the traits they govern are eliminated from the game of life. For example, I didn’t have children, so genes influencing my social preferences won’t be passed on. Successful reproduction is what life, from a biological perspective, is all about.

Reality number 2. For female mammals, especially female primates, reproducing is a very expensive investment, beginning with production of eggs (as opposed to sperm) and then additionally, investment in time, risks taken, and energy expenditure. What does that mean?


  • To begin with, female primates carry their offspring to term, nourishing them from within their body, often for months.
  • Then they risk the serious hazards of childbirth.
  • Then for a substantial period of time they provide milk from their body for nourishment.
  • Finally, they must protect this offspring, care for it, and in our case, support it for years before it is old enough to reproduce, the earliest for humans at ages between eight and thirteen. If you have children, you likely can relate to this monumental reproductive effort.
  • And then after their offspring reproduce, research shows that women in most cultures are still deeply involved in making sure that the offspring of their offspring also survive and thrive—they invest in their grandchildren.

This is unquestionably for female primates, including us, a very extended, risky, and expensive process that puts enormous reproductive pressures on females. Most especially so for us, since our offspring are born so very helpless.

As a consequence of all of this, reality number 3 is that the ideal social situation for female primates, including us, is social stability for long periods. Anything that threatens the life of these expensive offspring or their caregiver, for humans certainly something like war, has been and is hugely counterproductive. Many traits characteristic of how women respond to conflicts are a reflection of their evolved, strong preference for social stability.

For example, women in general are more naturally inclined towards negotiation, mediation, and compromise. Why? Because solutions arrived at by those non-violent means often result in win-win outcomes, which tend to be more socially stable and longer lasting.

For the overwhelming majority of women, fighting, even in defense of community, is a last resort. But as fierce defenders of children and community—and that includes their way of life—women will fight if necessary. In fact, military men who have fought with women tell me that if drawn into fighting, women can be courageous, and can even be vicious, fighters. Women are not by nature pacifists or saints. What they are by nature is determined preservationists of socially stable and nurturing communities.


In this book, Women, Power, and the Biology of Peace, a review going back several hundred years shows that strong women leaders have waged wars of defense or preservation. Think of Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher, or Elizabeth the First of England. But historically, women leaders in power have been overwhelmingly less inclined than male leaders to launch a war of conquest.

Elizabeth the First of England is an example of the former protective sort, as evidenced by her mounting a navy that defeated the Spanish Armada. And if the history of the period is to be believed, Cleopatra of Egypt is an example of the less common woman leader, having a lust for conquest.

We have just covered, in a very compressed summary, the essential relationship of women to using physical violence and to waging war. So we now turn to two further biological realities. These apply to men. Reality number 4: For male mammals, including male primates, the biological game is very different, because males never invest in offspring as heavily as females do. In some primates, fathers invest nothing but sperm. Human fathers often become involved in some support and protection of their young (think monogamy), but this isn’t even the case in all our cultures. With only rare exceptions would a man’s investment approach the mother’s investment.

Very importantly, if a man looses an offspring for any reason—from a fight within the community where he lives or in the course of a war—men have the potential to father replacement offspring relatively easily compared to a woman. They simply need to find a woman to impregnate, and they may or may not take responsibility for the years-long care required to bring that child to sexual maturity.

As a consequence of those realities, for many male primates, including men, maintaining social stability is not as high a priority as it is for females. Yes, it is important to men, who have no desire to live in chaos, but not nearly as important as it is to women.


Actually, the urge to rise in dominance status is, in many species, a primary male driver, because higher dominance has generally, historically, been correlated with greater male reproductive success. Much of men’s social lives is focused on rearranging the social order to achieve greater dominance. And sometimes this involves using physical violence.

Cultural anthropologist Christopher Boehm wrote Hierarchy in the Forest: the Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior. In it he describes life within egalitarian tribes in Africa. What’s relevant here is how hard these egalitarian, nonviolent people work to make sure that what they call “upstart males,” or females, but mostly males, cannot assert themselves in a way to increase their dominance.

At a minimum, they’re ridiculed. Say a hunter brags about what a big gazelle he brought down. A woman may immediately laugh and say how nice for him, since what he brings in is usually so puny. If ridicule doesn’t suffice to nip urges to dominate in the bud, “upstarts” can be sanctioned by group shunning for a while, or even the extreme of ostracism: if he won’t quit his efforts to rise in dominance over others, they toss him out.

We, men and women, have inherited from primate ancestors the urge to form dominance hierarchies. For a community to remain stable, tendencies for increasing one’s domination that might result in physical violence, especially killing—those tendencies have to be nipped in the bud one way or the other—using customs, education, laws.


Some other traits more characteristically male than female can be used to build an army. One is aggressive male bonding. Certainly this proclivity has always facilitated protecting a group from predation (bears, lions, wolves). It’s also key to many forms of hunting (mammoth, buffalo). We see the tendency expressed in the male love of aggressive team sports, in young boys that get together to do pranks like draping neighborhood yards with toilet paper, and when angry men form a mob—say after a stolen election or simply after a soccer match. These mobs are very unlikely to be composed mostly of women. A warmonger counts on this tendency when he wants to make war and needs to unite men into a force that can kill.

A third, and very admirable trait more typical of men, can also facilitate building an army. This is willingness to protect the group, even at the risk of death. A clever manipulator will assert that “our group,” especially women and children, must be protected from some evil other group. For reproductive reasons just described, women are much more reluctant to risk death. But when it’s convincingly asserted that the group must be protected, most men find it emotionally impossible to let other men go do the risk-taking, fighting, and dying while they stand by with the women. Arguably this can be explained in part by an emotional reluctance to loose social status in the eyes of other men or the women.

This summary of human sexual dimorphism with respect to social conflict, physical aggression, and war has been very compressed and very simplified. But hopefully it’s clear why, for reasons associated with reproductive success, the majority of women in all cultures have a much stronger preference for maintaining social stability than do men. With respect to many world affairs, this sexually dimorphic difference is a defining aspect of what kind of animal we are.

Now, to understand how these differences influence social interactions of many kinds, we need to dig still deeper into biology because humans have many hundreds of behavioral traits, and so far research indicates that many if not most traits of the sexes overlap. But some overlap more than others. And what’s relevant to social affairs is when differences between the sexes would make a group of men choose differently from a group of women, and a mixed-sex group choose differently from only men or only women.


These graphs roughly illustrate how overlap works. Imagine that we measure three different traits, A, B, and C. The range of possibilities for each is plotted on the horizontal axis: like, say, the degree of empathy for others, ranging from virtually none to acutely empathetic, or personality type ranging from extremely shy to outrageous extrovert. And the numbers of persons having a given trait is plotted on the vertical axis in a group having equal numbers of men and women. In each graph, one curve represents measurements of all women, and the other represents measurements of all men.

When trait A is measured, we see an almost perfect overlap between the numbers of men and women, with most people measuring somewhere in the middle range. This means that in a given context, with respect to trait A, the majority of both sexes would respond or behave similarly.

When trait B is measured, we see that although there is some behavioral overlap in the middle of the range, the majority of men and women behave or choose differently. Male and female peak numbers of individuals are not the same.

And when trait C is measured, we again see some overlap, but the range of variation isn’t the same for men and women, the men’s range being much broader; the women would, in general, be much more in agreement with each other than would the men, in general. And note that the vast majority of women would not agree with the majority of men. If we could measure all human traits and plot them like this, which in reality we can’t, but if we could, there would be many many different graphs for different traits, and different graphs in different cultures.

The point here, is that when considering how sexual dimorphism affects social behavior of groups, we’re not concerned with individuals. We’re asking whether statistically significant differences between the sexes will cause groups to behave differently. And research and common experience shows that men are more likely to use physical aggression that results in killing. Perhaps the starkest comparison in any culture would be between the kinds and rates of physical aggression in a male prison vs. kinds and rates in a female prison.

Now you are likely thinking, but what about learning? Isn’t learning what teaches us how to behave? How do nurture and nature influence the behavior we see? Imagine two extremely different socialization contexts, a society of Quakers and the Islamic caliphate of ISIS. What behavior is likely to be learned and expressed by boys and girls raised in a Quaker community compared to the likely behavior learned and expressed by boys and girls raised in the Islamic caliphate of ISIS?

At one time it was actually thought that nurture always trumps nature. That learning always trumps genetic influences. But much research has put that idea to rest, at leasts for biologists. The most powerful studies have been done using fraternal and identical twins. Here is just one recently published meta-analysis of fifty years of twin studies on over 17,000 traits.

Meta-analysis of the heritability of human traits based on fifty years of twin studies. Tinca J C Polderman, B. Benyamin, C A de Leeusw, P F Sullivan, A van Bochoven, P M Visscher & D Posthuma. Nature Genetics 47: 702-709 (2015).

An important take-away message from this work is that not even one trait was just genetic or just environmental. The tendencies to avoid physical violence, or improve one’s dominance status using physical violence, or an abiding concern for children and community, these traits are going to have both environmental AND genetic components—learned and inherited. But comparative studies make clear that whatever the learning environment, Quakers or ISIS, the genetic predisposition and observable adult behavior of the two sexes are NOT identical for traits involving using physical violence or concern for children and a socially stable community.


Consider a simple example showing how male/female differences play out when a mixed group is making a socially critical decision, using the example of war. Imagine a legislative body with parity governing: there are equal numbers of men and women. They’ve been debating whether to go to war now or let negotiations in Geneva play out a bit longer. The thumbs up and thumbs down illustrate symbolically the men’s vote. Note the hypothetical, but not uncharacteristic, percentages, with 70% of men in favor of declaring war now, but 30% favoring more negotiation. So it’s not that ALL the men would favor war now.

Compare that to a corresponding, hypothetical women’s vote: 20% for war now, but 80% favoring extending negotiations. It’s not that ALL women would vote against charging into war….just that a greater percentage would. So in this mixed group, we have 9 votes for war now and 11 for negotiating some more. This illustrates how giving women a voice in decision-making can add a restraining influence on male inclinations.

In many contexts, like how to spend a community’s money—let’s say on building a community library vs. refurbishing the already present ball park—having only one sex making all our public choices all the time might not always lead to the very best result for communities over the long term.

And recorded history indicates that in the world’s dominant cultures, major social decisions involving governance have overwhelmingly been shaped by men for at least 2-3 thousands years. We know exactly what the world would look like when men govern, pretty much without any meaningful female input. We’ve done great things. Created technological masterpieces, works of stunning beauty, mind-boggling advances in science, and much much more. We are indeed clever. But we also know that unrestrained male inclinations have given us repeated cycles of war and destruction. Needless to point out, this does not seem very wise. Nor do we have any reason to believe that if we continue to operate under the same reality of male-dominated leadership this endlessly repeated pattern of cycles of war would cease.

And finally with respect to sex and war, consider that most men abhor war, that is, actually killing other people. They can love play fighting and war games, even planning a war….but not actually killing other people. Men must be trained and conditioned to kill other people. Even what we call alpha males—men like the American president John Fitzgerald Kennedy, singer and activist Bono, the athlete Mohammad Ali, and South Africa’s Nelson Mandela—alpha males don’t love war.

Men I call hyper-alpha males, though, are different. They are out of control males, unconstrained by their culture or their women. Men such as Alexander of Macedonia, Rome’s Caesar, Attila the Hun, Genghas Khan, France’s Napoleon, and Germany’s Hitler. Hyper-alpha males seek to dominate all others, whether in a small tribal world or a world that spans continents, and they are distinguish by being willing to kill to do it – they are the generators of war, the initiators of war, the warmongers. They kill or have others kill for them. We have contemporary versions of these hyper-alpha men on all sides of our current conflicts.

War is fundamentally the result of unconstrained male biology running wild. But my best guess is that the percentage of hyper-alpha males in our populations, the warmongers, is maybe…maybe… 10%. Warmongers are a tail that has been wagging the dog of civilization for way too long! We need to learn to identify them and leash and muzzle them before they light the fires to ignite a war.


So what might we achieve if we shifted to male/female partnership in governing at all levels of our lives: homes, communities, nations, and the world? As it turns out, we actually have some real-world examples of what female influence might do and has done?

Let’s begin with poverty. The Heifer Foundation gives income-producing livestock, like a cow or a hive of honey bees, to people in poverty. When the animals produce offspring, the recipient must pass the gift to a neighbor. Heifer Foundation was among the first to confess openly that they got the best results when they gave to a woman. She was more likely to use the gift in a way that benefitted her family, and also her community.

Muhammad Yunus, winner of the Nobel Economics Prize for giving micro-loans to poor people, also discovered that women were more likely to spend the money successfully in creating a business. Too often men tended to spend on things that immediately increased their social status…like frequently paying for all the drinks at the local coffee house or buying a flashy car. Women, in general, were also better at repaying the loans.

NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff and his wife Sheryl WuDunn, in their wonderful book Half the Sky, tell stories from across the world that unequivocally make the case that if a woman is given education or financial means, it regularly leads not only to pulling her family out of poverty, her efforts spread to the benefit of her community.


Here’s another reality with wide social affairs applicability, the powerful effect of educating girls. Boys often leave their community, frequently to find work. And if there is war, they’re commonly pressed into military service and may die, never to return. Girls are much more likely to stay, and they go home from school and educate their mothers. The mothers grow reluctant for their sons to be dragooned into being soldiers. They begin to see other, positive prospects for both their girl and boy children. The educated women begin to lift the entire community. The education of girls has charmingly been called the “girl effect.” Google it and you’ll find numerous groups that have embraced this revolutionary idea.

Starting in the late-1900’s, books began highlighting the positive effects of women as leaders—in government, business, and communities. Listed here are just a few.

  • The First Sex. The Natural Talents of Women and How They Are Changing the World. 1999. H. Fisher.
  • Women as Global Leaders. 2015. S. R. Madsen & F. W. Ngunjiri (eds.).
  • Closing the Leadership Gap. Add Women, Change Everything. 2004, 2007.  M. C. Wilson.
  • Why Women Should Rule the World. 2009. Dee Dee Myers.
  • Half the Sky. Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. 2010. N. D. Kristof & S. WuDunn.
  • Sex and War. How Biology Explains Warfare and Terrorism and Offers a Path to a Safer World. 2010. M. Potts & T. Hayden.
  • Lean In. Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. 2013. S. Sandberg.
  • Women as Global Leaders. 2015. S. R. Madsen & F. W. Ngunjiri (eds.).

Academic and popular articles on women’s effects on a wide range of human affairs are too numerous to even begin citing.

The following are examples of cross-cultural research that compared different kinds of societies on things like giving public goods, governmental corruption, peace building, and internal and external rates of violence in a society.

  • Andersen, S., E. Bulte, U. Gneezy, & J. A. List. 2008. “Do women supply more public goods than men? Preliminary experimental evidence
    from matriarchal and patriarchal societies.” American Economical
  • Dollar, D., R. Fisman, & R. Gatti. 1999. “Are women really the ‘fairer’sex? Women and corruption in government.” World Bank Development Research Group.
  • Gizelis, T-I. 2009. “Gender empowerment and United Nations
    peacebuilding.” International Peace Research.
  • Caprioli, M. 2005. “Primed for violence: the role of gender inequality in predicting internal conflict.” International Studies Quarterly.
  • Melander, E. 2005. “Gender equality and intrastate armed conflict.” International Studies Quarterly.
  • Hudson, V., B. Ballif-Spanville, M. Caprioli, & C. F. Emmett. 2012. Sex and World Peace. NY: Columbia University Press.

Andersen and colleagues compared social giving in matriarchal vs. patriarchal cultures in India, and found that men contributed more to public goods in the matriarchal societies than in patriarchal ones. Perhaps because they can anticipate/trust that their contribution will be put to good use?

Dollar and his colleagues, looking at more than 100 countries, found a positive correlation between women’s empowerment and lower levels of corruption. The last four works examined the level of female empowerment (judged by things like levels of women’s education and numbers of women in leading positions in government and business). They all document positive effects when women’s voices are influential.

Countries with more gender equality have better economic growth. Companies with more women leaders perform better. Peace agreements that include women are more durable. Parliaments with more women enact more legislation on key social issues such as health, education, anti-discrimination and child support. The evidence is clear: equality for women means progress for all.
Ban Ki-moon
UN Secretary General

The last phrase from this 2014 quote from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon—addressing economic growth, business performance, peace agreements, and social issue legislation—sums it all up: “equality for women means progress for all.”



Now before leaving sexual dimorphism to look at war, we need to briefly address individual behavior because of the danger of sexual stereotyping. Sexual behavioral dimorphism that affects the behavior displayed by groups is a reality for some traits. It’s the reason why so many cultures recognize a yin and yang, a sun and moon, a vive la difference. But individual human beings need to be judged and treated individually. Because the reality for individuals is uniqueness.

Listed above are traits in the United States commonly thought of as female and male. Every human being is a unique, complex combination of what their society considers to be male and female traits. In every-day terms, in differing degrees we all have a female side and a male side. Some of us are way more in touch with our female side: say a person, boy or girl, who is very emotional, non-assertive, sensitive, a bit too self-critical, but also sweetly nurturing and empathetic. And some of us are way more in touch with our male side: someone, boy or girl, who is aggressive, competitive, very self confident/self-oriented, non-self-critical, in fact rebellious and risk-taking.

And some of us display a mixture of traits that can be described as being in touch more equally with both male and female sides. This could be a man who is not only aggressive, self-confident, competitive, and bold, but also self-reflective and empathetic. A woman who is not only nurturing, and empathetic, but also independent, competitive, and bold. Essentially, all societies have available to them, if they choose to take advantage of it, a rich variety of individuals, a massive diversity that can either be embraced or forced into rigid stereotypes.

Now if we want to start a powerful social revolution for that “better” future, who should we follow? Who should we elect? What traits should we look for in leaders? A leader cannot be shy. He or she must be in touch with aspects of their male side like being assertive, independent, and bold. But wisdom demands that they are also able to be self-critical and reflective, able to change their mind when needed. And to lead well, rather than be a bully or tyrant, they need to be in touch with traits from their female side like being accepting and empathetic with regard to the people they lead.

Our very worst choices would be individuals–man or woman–having traits guaranteed to foster continuation of the world’s dominator waring cultures. Someone aggressive, bold, competitive, non-self-critical, strongly self-oriented and woefully lacking in being accepting or empathetic. Our very worst choices!

Now we move on to consider how war relates to world affairs. First, to avoid confusion with other forms of killing, “war” as used here needs to be defined. Murder is not war. Revenge killings of specific individuals over personal grievances, things like lethal family feuding, is not war as used here. War is when people band together to indiscriminately kill people in another group and the majority of the community’s noncombatants and religious leaders sanction their actions. It’s the sanctioned killing of people in other groups who have not personally harmed the killers that distinguishes war as used here from other forms of killing. For example, two drug gangs killing each other is not what’s being considered, because they are NOT supported by the larger communities where they live, nor by their religious leaders. Gang killings are policing issues.

So now, is it logical to think that we will make significant and lasting headway on dealing with the enormous social challenges listed earlier if the world’s countries are expending massive but limited financial and human resources on the current war, planing for the next one, or digging themselves out of the last one?


In one year alone, 2009, military spending by the top ten countries was well over one trillion US dollars, and the world is presumably doing the same or more every year.


Note the percent of discretionary tax money—that is, excluding the mandated funding for social security and health care that takes up over 50% of taxes—that the United States devotes annually to the Defense/War Department, the top half in red. Compare it to what’s devoted to international relations and world hunger, the small green and white wedges on the bottom left. Those are efforts that are key to avoiding war. What does this suggest about our goals, vision, and efforts? Because the world’s resources are not limitless. They simply are not! And remember, the numbers of us requiring, at minimum, food, water, and shelter will continue to grow for decades.

Here are seven books, mine among them, that make the case that we could end war.

  • Irwin, R. A. 1988. Building a peace system: exploratory project on the conditions of peace. Expo Press.
  • Hind, R. & J. Rotblat. 2003. War no more. Eliminating conflict in the nuclear age. Pluto Press.
  • English, J. J. 2007. The collapse of the war system. Development in the philosophy of peace in the twentieth century. Saor-Ollscoil Press.
  • Myers, W. 2009. Living beyond war: a citizen’s guide. Orbit Books.
  • Hand, J. 2014. Shift: The beginning of war, the ending of war. Questpath Publishing.
  • Horgan, J. 2014. The end of war. McSweeneys.

Arguably, this is an idea whose time has come? Interestingly, there’s much agreement among them on what to do.

Joshua Goldstein, Professor of International Relations and an interdisciplinary scholar on war and society, poses a potential chicken and egg problem when thinking about how to end war. Must we first fix things like poverty, social injustice, human rights, and spread the rule of law then peace will follow? Many peace activists are operating under that assumption, as are a lot of lay people. Or, do we need to end war first, so we have the financial and human resources needed to actually achieve those other desired goals?

Which comes first: the chicken or the egg? In Winning the War on War Goldstein makes the case that accepting the legitimacy and values of and the assumptions supporting war is the prime cause of many social evils that we do NOT associate with a “better” future. So in Gender and War he writes, quoting another expert, “‘….if you want peace, work for peace.’ ….if you want justice … work for peace.’”

Why does he say that working for peace is what we need to do to secure justice? What are those values and assumptions that support war? Fundamentally, I’d say that the most pernicious assumption is that some groups will dominate other groups by force, and that this is unavoidable, or somehow normal, or worse yet, legitimate, or in some cases even desirable. Goldstein’s point is the values and assumptions supporting war directly contradict the values and assumptions that accompany the goals of equality and justice. So, he argues, for the global community to tolerate war or even the notion of a “just war,” leaves in place a value system that will always always, repeatedly and endlessly counter any efforts to establish and maintain a peaceful and just “better” future.

Rather sadly, my research convinced me that creating that “better” future isn’t a case of chicken or egg. It’s not a case of fix major problems and peace will follow—or—end war first, then you can fix things. I concluded that securing that “better” future” requires simultaneous action on many fronts, social and technological, and including ending war. And furthermore and rather obviously, that ending war will be an enormously complex challenge. War is so deeply embedded in our cultures and history that I liken an ending-war campaign to something as challenging as putting a permanent colony on the Moon or Mars. Very complex. Very difficult. But doable, given sufficient resolve by the global community.


Let me explain, as succinctly as I can, why I use that metaphor. An ending-war campaign involves so many elements that I needed a way to focus my thinking. As I worked, I began placing actions required to set up an enduring peace (i.e., the end of war) into these nine groups or “cornerstones,” from “Embrace the Goal” to “Spread Liberal Democracy.”


They’re summarized in this logo, which unfortunately has errors but is good enough for illustration. The cornerstones are arranged in a circle clockwise, alphabetically. In a circle, not a list, because they must be attacked simultaneously, not sequentially.…mostly because they’re complexly intertwined. One affects others.

The first and arguably most basic, in yellow at the top, is Embrace the Goal. You can’t end war if you don’t embrace the goal and begin working to make it a reality. An end to war isn’t going to materialize by happy accident. While there are at this time, 2016, many groups and organizations around the globe seeking to prevent a war or halt an ongoing war, there are only a rare few specifically focused on ending all war…and they don’t appear to be making much progress.

Belief that ending war is achievable is a necessary starting point for the profound social shift that’s being proposed. It’s the essential foundation. Because for people to have the necessary resolve to even set out on the path to meet the complexities of ending war, they have to believe deeply that the goal is achievable. Without that belief, they’ll quit when the going gets hard. Move on to something simpler, something more quickly realized. And most assuredly, the weight of history and the financial profit to be had by the war industry would ensure that the campaign would not only be complex, but strongly resisted, and would likely get harder the closer the effort was to success.

[A separate presentation with the title “Ending War is Achievable. Five Reasons Why,” addresses this challenge of belief. If you’re interested you can listen to a slide show on YouTube (Ending War is Achievable. Five Reasons Why.) or read the material in essay form (Ending War is Achievable. Five Reasons Why.]


A second essential is in blue to the right of Embrace the Goal, the necessity to Empower Women, which involves many efforts. Educating girls and women, engaging them in parity governing and peacemaking. It also includes ending sex trafficking, abuses of prostitution, the use of rape in war, and so on. Anyone working on Empowering Women, whether they know it or not, is also a part of something larger: a campaign to create and maintain an enduring peace. In fact, given women’s strong preference for social stability and non-violent forms of conflict resolution, Empowering Women should be one of the very highest-priority items on the “to do” list. Certainly not just an afterthought.

Next comes Enlist Young Men. Young men are the single most restless and aggressive members of any society. When they feel alienated, they’re dangerous. They’re the fodder warmongers use to build armies. We need to make young men part of an ending-war effort. That means meeting their social needs: to feel inclusion in their societies, to have the means to make a living, to have a sense that they are valued. We need to acknowledge them as warriors for and maintainers of the peace. Anyone working on any aspect of how to improve the lot of young men, through education or sports or work training, whether those citizens know it or not, they’re also contributing to the ending-war revolution.

Foster Connectedness speaks to efforts that fight xenophobia, a trait manipulated by warmongers to convince people that it’s okay to kill someone who is different. These are projects that create a sense of one human family, bound together in a common fate. Community organizers, who teach how to work together for the common good. Politicians who stress the power of unity and the importance of inclusion. Teachers and parents who teach values of sharing not only within their family, but with others.


At this point you should see a pattern emerging. We could continue around the circle and find that each cornerstone embraces dozens of projects dealing with some aspect of world affairs, which also happen to be critical to permanently ending war. Ensure Essential Resources (food, water, shelter, health care, education), Promote Non-violent Conflict Resolution (show people how to do it), Provide Security and Order (without that, nothing good can endure), Shift our Economies (to something equitable and environmentally sustainable), and Spread Liberal Democracy (and the respect for human rights it propagates).

To put a permanent colony on the Moon or Mars, thousands of companies and projects will work to master the required technological and social issues: getting funding out of the government, building the rocket, designing and constructing habitat elements, selecting and training astronauts, figuring out how to resupply, and so on and on. Each ending-war cornerstone is like one of those necessary Moon or Mars colonizing challenges. Thus my use of the metaphor. Essays on the role of all nine cornerstones and the legions of organizations and projects already involved around the world are on the website AFutureWithoutWar.org.


Arguably, the efforts embraced by all of the cornerstones, would achieve the greatest impact on the global zeitgeist if everyone could be led to see that their work, what they are doing daily, is part of a larger, profound, shared, historical, ending-war revolution. A shared sense of unity of purpose would fuel a synergistic multiplication of empowerment and effectiveness that would bolster every last one of the projects embraced by the cornerstones….provided they see themselves as working together and reinforcing each other, part of something bigger, and grander. This unification of vision and shared effort is something that remains to be achieved.

As it turns out, efforts to colonize Mars—a dangerous world of inadequate gravity, no oxygen, and cosmic radiation—are already under way.  So we’re going to consider now some steps we could take to achieve the much less difficult objective of ending the use of war on Earth. Here is the most important take-away at this point. The picture you should see of the current state of world affairs is the profoundly good news that we already have thousands of efforts and millions of people of good will striving mightily in activities that are key to creating and maintaining a global peace, a peace that is essential to making that “better” future a reality: the people working on these cornerstones.

What we don’t have is a global peace to maintain. The cornerstone activities are absolute essentials for maintaining a global peace, but by themselves they clearly do not bring about a global peace. In fact, despite these kinds of efforts for many years, it sometimes feels like we’re resolutely headed for perpetual war. Reality is that the full pacifying effects of all these efforts are continually thwarted! So, referring back to Einstein, what could we change to get a different result? First, we could set up an enforceable, global peace treaty.

Eightly-eight years ago, the world’s major nations adopted such a treaty. You may know about it, although not many people do. The Kellogg-Briand Pact, named after US Secretary of State Frank Kellogg and French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand, ultimately had 62 signatories, including the United States, China, and the Soviet Union. Too bad it didn’t work. Note that it remains in effect. Never rescinded. It failed to succeed primarily because it didn’t provide for enforcement.

Perhaps it was assumed that all nations would, of course, see the worth of avoiding war and so they would voluntarily abide by the treaty. Instead, the general, sad result has been for nations to continue to start and fight wars, but for a variety of reasons they don’t declare war. The United States, for example, hasn’t had a formal declaration of war since 1941, against Germany and Japan, but it has certainly fought a lot of undeclared wars since then.


The League of Nations and United Nations were later, similar efforts. It’s not that we haven’t tried. We still have the United Nations, and it does provide a key, important place for countries to hash out world affairs problems. It has a record of bringing peace to one region or another, and of working to enforce peace agreements between groups once they’re signed. But the UN also falls short of establishing an enduring world peace because, so far, the world’s nations haven’t provided it with teeth strong enough to enforce a global peace system. For many reasons, the major powers aren’t willing to relinquish their sovereignty to an enforcer, and that includes that they don’t want to give up their ability to start a war if it suits them. The 2003 invasion of Iraq and Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea are our latest examples.

We clearly know how to negotiate complex and enforceable agreements between competing nations when we want to, even if for political reasons we don’t call them treaties. The 2015 Iranian Nuclear Agreement was signed by 32 nations, including the US, UK, Iran, Russia, France, Germany and China. The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement was signed by 195 countries.

If we were to negotiate a global peace, what might a global community able to maintain the peace look like? Do we have no clue? Actually, in May 2012 in an article with the title “Life Without War” in the journal Science, the anthropologist Douglas Fry laid out some guidelines. Let me say that these do not include the idea of one world government, but rather of global cooperation. He presented shared characteristics of groups from very different cultures who consciously created “active peace systems.”


Looking for commonalities across very different cultures reveals the features key to success of any peace system. He focused on 10 tribes of the Upper Xingu River Basin in Brazil (running N/S and highlighted in pink), The Iroquois Confederacy in what is now the United States (different colors for the five original tribes), and the European Union (all in blue). He didn’t include it in his detailed analysis, but the United States could very well have been included because the shared traits also apply to the peace system that is the United States of America.

These are the six characteristics, which you can read about in his paper. The blog and YouTube presentation entitled “Ending War Is Achievable. Five Reasons Why.” also explain and illustrate them. People hammering out a global peace treaty would certainly want to stress the importance of these basics to the maintenance of any active peace system.

  • Overarching sense of identity – expanding the “us.”
  • Interdependence among subgroups.
  • Intergroup social ties.
  • Symbolism and ceremonies that reinforce peace.
  • Values for peace.
  • Superordinate institutions for conflict management.

Fry’s work is especially important by pointing out that peace systems are not theoretical. They are not a Utopian fantasy. They do end the use of war to resolve conflicts. They have existed, and do exist….when people have the will to set them up and maintain them.

So…..if we keep doing “business as usual,” is it sane to expect a future of anything other than perpetual war and widespread social injustice? Here are two things we could change.

First, implement parity governing, where women and men are partners in deciding world affairs at all social levels. A world where women are second-class citizens or worse is a world where unrestrained male biology is currently spinning completely out of sane control, and is armed with savagely lethal weapons.

Second, we should assemble a critical mass of citizens and visionary, powerful leaders who commit to securing a global, enforceable peace treaty and a global peace system with qualities needed to maintain it. For the global community to continue to accept war is to abandon us to a future of perpetual war, the not impossible consequences of which could be a new dark age or something worse.

With sufficient will, it can be done. After World War II a visionary group of European leaders said, “Enough!” and did the heavy lifting to create the European Union. That peace system has maintained the peace among its formerly warring members for 70 years and counting. A global peace would alter, for the better, the global community’s image of itself and what human life on Earth can be. It would provide the emotional and intellectual space and financial resources to pursue all of the projects embraced by the cornerstones.

The goal of this talk, including the exploration of sexual dimorphism and the role of women to peace, has been to explore “what-if” the global community made a couple of major changes with respect to leadership and governance. So rather than a tidy conclusion, we end this exploration with three big questions. Can we change? Meaning, do we have it within our biological capacity to make these two changes. Will we change? Meaning, can we muster the determination to do it.

One thing we do know for certain is that, although we don’t always behave wisely, we know we are supremely adaptable. Think of the human story so far! Starting from those tiny nomadic bands in Africa, we crossed towering mountains and vast oceans, and with relatively humble tools, we’ve occupied all the continents. Our intellect is a marvel of the universe, allowing us to split atoms and discover thousands of other worlds. Our capacity for cooperation enabled us to send men to the moon and back, many times.

Nearly every challenge we’ve faced in our journey to occupy Earth is a matter of vision and will. Someone had a vision of something better, something new, and was able to motivate enough of us to act. Think of John F. Kennedy who had the vision that within ten years we should send men to the moon and return them safely to the Earth, and was able to motivate the thousands of people needed to achieve what was to most people a preposterous-sounding goal.

As a human behaviorist, I know we absolutely have the capacity to create laws and customs and educational systems to ensure that women govern as equal partners with men. It’s a matter of vision and will.

We absolutely can write a peace treaty with sufficient teeth to enforce a global peace. It’s a matter of vision and will.

We can build an enduring global peace system that embraces the beliefs and values needed to maintain it. It’s a matter of vision and will.

So the final question is, What kind of adaptation will we make to the social world we’ve created?

It is, after all is said and done,  our destiny, our choice.



Ending War is Achievable. Five Reasons Why.

July 25, 2016

by Judith Hand, Ph.D.


A meme can be an idea or belief that spreads throughout a culture by non-genetic means. This essay is about an idea powerful enough to radically transform human history. If this meme spreads across the globe by word of mouth and social media and captures the minds of a critical mass of global citizens and powerful movers-and-shakers, it can usher in a social paradigm shift every bit as profound as the Agricultural, Industrial, and Digital Revolutions.

Have you ever wondered what the future will look like? For you? Or maybe for the future’s children or grandchildren? Specifically, do you fear it will be forever blighted by war?

Let’s start with a little survey, asking two questions. First, do you think it’s possible humans can build a permanent base on the Moon? Here’s question two: Based on your life experience, do you think it’s possible that we could end war? This isn’t “would you like us to end war?” Rather it’s “Do you believe it is, in fact possible?” Not a lot of rational thought, please…just, what is your first, gut response?

Most people believe that putting a base on the moon is a possibility. In contrast, the vast majority of people asked these questions say they don’t believe ending war is possible. So, if you’re a skeptic about ending war, you absolutely aren’t alone.


This skepticism, that we can’t end war, is the single biggest barrier to doing it. We can’t accomplish any great feat, including putting a permanent colony on the Moon, if we start out “knowing” that it’s not possible. Great feats are accomplishd when at least one person has the vision of something and the belief that it can be done, one way or the other.

Keep an open mind, and  hopefully what follows will convince you that the answer to whether or not we can abolish war is “yes. It IS possible.”


I’ll mention later how I was drawn into the study of war, but my background prepared me for it in several ways. I’m an evolutionary biologist, with a Ph.D. from UCLA. What’s relevant to the study of war is that my areas of specialization are in communication, conflict resolution, gender differences, and primate behavior (including human behavior). The fancy name for the study of animal behavior is “ethology.” Since I’ve been studying war and peace from this perspective for the last 15 or so years, I’m am now also officially a Peace Ethologist. Additionally, as an undergraduate major in cultural anthropology, I studied non-patriarchal and nonviolent cultures.

Hand_Shift The Beginning

I put the results of my work on war and peace into this book. Also relevant is that I’m a published novelist, which I mention briefly later.

Lest we wander astray into other aspects of human lethal behavior, WAR needs to be defined as I use it. Murder is not war. Revenge killings of specific individuals, if you will, feuding over particular grievances, is not war.  War is when people (overwhelmingly men) band together to indiscriminately kill people in another group and the community’s noncombatants and religious leaders sanction their actions. It’s the sanctioned banding together to kill indiscriminately that distinguishes war from other forms of killing. We’re NOT going to erase murder and revenge anytime soon…these go way way back into human experience, maybe even before we became humans. We’re only considering the potential to abolish war.


Now imagine a Star Trek Future. In the TV show’s first year or so we were never on Earth. But what we knew about the Starship Enterprise’s crew was that on their home world there was no money, no poverty, and no war. They were clearly using their resources to invent and do fabulous things, like mounting starships to explore the galaxy. What we’re considering is whether that kind of Gene Roddenberry vision of an amazing and positive Homo sapiens future is completely out of the question?

Although we’ll be exploring the potential for a positive future, what is presented here is presented against the backdrop of the belief of many that it’s entirely possible onrushing violent movements like ISIS, or a mistaken triggering of a nuclear war, or some totally unpredictable event like a global pandemic could plunge us into a new “dark age” or “Mad Max” future of perpetual war. We are arguably in a race against time and possible misfortune. To stop what we don’t want and build what we do, realism, not wishful thinking, is required. So we’ll be seeking enlightenment and examining positive potential, with the understanding that nothing is guaranteed.

Six kinds of evidence are presented to support the view that we can end war:

  • First we tackle immediately the idea that war is “part of human nature,” a genetically determined, inescapable trait. Something we could only eliminate, for example, if we performed generations of selective breeding for less violent males. To put that idea to rest we look first at cultures that tell us about our deep evolutionary past, namely those of nomadic foragers…often referred to as hunter-gatherers.
  • Then we look at internally peaceful, more complex state-level cultures, ancient and modern.
  • We then review six key historical shifts that set us up to end war.
  • We consider the existence of and facilitating conditions for peace systems.
  • Some examples of rapid cultural change serve to counteract the notion that ending war would take hundreds of years.
  • Finally, we’ll look at a few of an impressive number of recent historical changes that are already moving us in the direction of a global peace system.

So we begin with the nomadic foragers to tackle the issue of genetic inevitability. This is because these people are our best window into our deep human past; they reflect how Homo sapiens likely lived for hundreds of thousands of years of behavioral evolution, before we started living in settlements or villages. These were the eons during which we evolved to be what we are today.

Doug Fry.001

The anthropologist Douglas Fry did an analysis of the anthropological literature on many aspects of hunter-gatherer cultures, 35 of them. If you lump them all together, no particular pattern emerges when it comes to war. BUT Fry separated them into two groups, what he called simple hunter-gatherers and complex hunter-gatherers.HG Table.001 If you separate them, some interesting patterns do emerge. This table lists 8 social variables down the left column: things like food storage and population density and slavery. We can compare these traits between the simple hunter-gatherers in the central column and complex hunter-gatherers to the right. There’s a fundamental, critical resource difference between them having to do with food supply and mobility that I believe relates to the emergence of war. Compare primary foods, top left column. Simple hunter-gatherers rely on highly mobile game. Complex hunter-gatherers on marine resources or plants, with the result that food storage is rare for simple-hunter gatherers, but it’s typical for complex hunter-gatherers.

Note the effect on mobility: The complex hunter-gatherers are settled or mostly settled. They have a food source sufficiently rich and stable that they can settle down. The classic example of settled hunter-gatherers were tribes along the north-west coast of the United States that depended on massive salmon runs. This settling down changed our way of life in ways that produced many consequences. For example, effects on population size, low vs. higher population densities; the non-acceptance of competition as a desired trait vs. the encouragement of competition. Note especially that for simple hunter-gatherers the political/social system is egalitarian, not hierarchical, meaning that men and women have equal social status. Later in the essay we’ll return to the importance of male/female egalitarianism.

What’s relevant at this point is to look at WARFARE on the bottom left and note that nomadic, simple hunter-gatherers, who arguably most resemble our ancient ancestors, rarely make war. In fact, and most significantly, some of those cultures have never been recorded as making war. This is consistent with the emerging theory that our success as a species is due to our impressive capacity for cooperation — the “humans as cooperators” hypothesis — rather than competitively killing each other — the “man the warrior” hypothesis. Also, this is our first evidence, and strong evidence, that making war is NOT a genetic predisposition. Otherwise all of these people, including the simple hunter-gatherers would commonly make war.

Now you might be thinking, “Well, sure they don’t make war, because their life-styles are so simple there’s nothing, not even stored food, to fight over. All civilizations have made war, right?” Actually, there’s evidence to suggest that that assumption isn’t true. Which brings us to the Minoan culture.

CreteInTheMed.001The Minoans lived in the Bronze Age on the Mediterranean island of Crete, approximately one thousand six hundred years, BCE. Perhaps you’ve been to Crete. If so, you may well have visited what tour guides call the Palace of King Minos.

Knossos.001This is an artist’s reconstruction of that impressive architectural work. Perhaps it was a palace. Perhaps it was a temple complex. Many experts believe these were the people of the mythical, wonderful Atlantis.

I mentioned earlier that I’m also a novelist, and it was my story about the Minoans (Voice of the Goddess ) that drew me into work on war and peace. We haven’t deciphered much of their written language, but numerous lovely pieces of art and artifacts indicate that they were a sophisticated, state-level culture of the kind that some anthropologists call women-centered: that is, women were prominent and powerful. Their chief divinity was a goddess.

MinoanArt.001Their art shows they were lovers of nature. And most significantly for this essay, we have no compelling evidence that they engaged in war. This is what intrigued me. In two books (Women, Power, and the Biology of Peace and Shift) I present evidence for their lack of war, and reasons why and how they could have achieved a state-level without war. A key reason, I believe, is that women, for reproductive reasons, have a strong preference for social stability. A much stronger preference than men’s. I explore the reasons for this female preference in essays, books (see Women, Power, and the Biology of Peace and Shift), and talks. Surely a desire to avoid social turmoil and in particular, physical conflicts, would have had a powerful impact in this culture where women were influential. It was most probably expressed and reinforced through their religion.

It’s notable that over a thousand years BCE, while people on the mainland were living in crude villages, this palace or temple complex had flush toilets. The Minoans had at least one paved road which ran 5 miles to their main port. They built a water aqueduct. A strong case can be made that manufacture and trade, not war, were basic to building this sophisticated culture.


Crete is strategically placed on Mediterranean trade routes, and products of Minoan origin are found all around the Mediterranean. Frankly, debates rage over whether they made war or not, because all historical records—that is, written records—do indicate that all state-level cultures practiced war. This is one reason why some people argue that war is inevitable.

But for the Minoans, there are no artifacts depicting war, or a king, or humiliation of enemies, or slavery or human sacrifice. There are, in fact, no depictions of domination. If they reached a sophisticated, state-level without war, Minoans would be, so far, historically unique. But the written record may not tell the whole truth of our ancient past.

That’s why ongoing research is so intriguing at sites of two other ancient cultures with no deciphered written language, and so far no evidence of war, but much evidence of trading:


the Harappa in the Indus Valley between India and Pakistan, and the Caral on the west coast of Peru. If these and others, like the Minoans, built sophisticated cultures on manufacture and trade, not war, that also tells us that war is not a genetically encoded inevitability. It’s worth noting that it would also support the theory that what has made our species so successful is our astounding capacity for cooperation, not killing each other. Now at this time, the hypothesis that the rise of civilizations was first based on trade, as opposed to war, is very speculative. So to advance beyond speculation, let’s look to the world we live in.


The red dots on the map indicate the centers of distribution of over 80 cultures that anthropologists classify as nonviolent/and or/non-warring. They’re NOT utopias. They have arguments and conflicts. But using physical aggression…even things like pushing and shoving…is rare to never.

AmishToNorwegians.001You may know some of their names: Amish, Hopi, Sami/Laplanders, and Norwegians. Note especiallly the very twenty-first-century Norwegians.  Other societies that live without war are faith communities: Jehovah’s Witnesses, Quakers, Baha’i, Mennonites, and Hutterites. Non-warring religious groups live within a state-level, warring culture, but they create a way of life that avoids war. There are others less familiar all around the world. Again, these are not utopias, or perfect humans. The point here is that their existence is another example showing that making war is a very very bad—arguably evil—cultural phenomenon, but not a genetic inevitability.

So bottom line, war is overwhelmingly a result of nurture, not nature. There is some genetic component: virtually every human trait has some genetic component. Just standing upright and being able to hold anything, including a weapon, has a genetic component. Part of my work is to find out what genetic traits and environmental conditions make us vulnerable to calls for war. But this presentation isn’t about why we make war, but reasons to believe that we can end it. So, we now move forward to consider why the time we live in uniquely presents the opportunity to do so.


Remarkable events, beginning roughly 700 years ago, have given us an open time-window of opportunity. These changes created conditions that offer the hope that we can succeed in bringing off what would be a monumental, historical, paradigm shift away from dominator cultures and war, a shift that people of good will who had tried before us could never achieve.

The first two changes brought the enlightenment in the Western World, the Renaissance and Reformation. The reformation in particular encouraged persons to think for themselves…beginning with their approach to the divine. They could talk to God directly, without an intermediary. With the Renaissance, the individual came to be viewed as something of worth, not just an obedient tool or possession of a king or of a state. The effect of both of these massive shifts in thinking about individual behavior and worth allow now for the possibility that people can think for themselves, and if they choose, reject a ruler’s call to war.

The next big change was introduction of the modern Scientific Method. Beginning roughly 350 years ago, this way to search out truth unleashed -ologists: primatologists, sociologists, anthropologists, and so on. The work of thousands during these intervening 300 some odd years has allowed us at last to figure out why we make war and very recently, how to set up peace systems, something we’ll examine shortly.

A third big change was a return to the ideal of democratic/republican government. Democratic government provides the possibility that free people can refuse to elect or follow a leader inclined to go to war. Especially important, in a liberal democracy the votes of women equal men’s.

The 4th big change was women getting the vote. This trend started only slightly over 100 years ago, first in New Zealand. We now have powerful women heading up NGOs, businesses, and even governments. This is part of a “feminization” trend that arguably began with the Romantic Period in Europe. You may have read the book by Harvard neuropsychologist Steven PinkerThe Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Pinker also points to feminization as one of 5 key factors facilitating declines in violence in the last several hundred years. Certainly giving women the vote puts real political power in their hands. This is very very different from centuries that preceded ours.

This was followed by the introduction of reliable family planning in the 1960s, which further empowers women to participate in governance. It also facilitates reduction in family sizes which is key to getting a hand on totally out of control population growth that can otherwise lead to conflicts over scarce resources.

And finally we have the birth of the Internet – this tool facilitates global connectedness in ways we couldn’t have imagined, not even ten years ago. It’s used by criminals and terrorists to facilitate their agenda. But everyone wishing to abolish war can also use it for advancing their agenda. It is a powerful global force multiplier.

To sum up, literally hundreds of thousands of good people before us have worked, and many have died, to bring us to this unique window of opportunity. Our time—this moment right now—is absolutely different, in key ways that provide an opportunity for global abolition of war. What we need to do is seize this day before it is too late, and key to doing that is spreading the idea that ending war is possible. The current, virtually global meme is that war is inevitable. We need to replace that defeatist meme with a powerfully positive new one.

Now something else that has changed very recently is that scholars have developed an understanding of what have been called “peace systems.” In a May 2012 issue of Science, Doug Fry, in a paper entitled, “Life Without War,” (scroll down to find the article) presented research looking for shared characteristics of groups who consciously created an alliance designed to prevent wars between them. They created “active peace systems.” He wanted to know if these have features in common that maintain peace. It’s important to note that some of these groups make war with communities that aren’t part of their alliance, but that within the peace system, peace holds. Also, from a number of peace systems, he picked three with very different cultures for detailed comparison.

Looking for commonalities among very different cultures allows us to ferret out features that are key to success of any peace system. The three alliances he focused on were4Maps.001

  • 10 tribes of the Upper Xingu River Basin in Brazil,
  • the Iroquois Confederacy in what is now the United States, and
  • the European Union.

Although he didn’t include it, he could have added the United States, because as you’ll see when we go through the shared traits, they also apply to the US.

Six general kinds of factors are associated with all of these peace alliances. These factors are not so much responsible for MAKING the peace, but for ensuring that it endures.

Longhouse.001First, they develop ways to tackle xenophobia by creating an overarching sense of shared identity: it is essential to tackle the “us-versus-them” mentality, because us-versus-them inevitably fosters conflicts. They devised means to “expand the us.” For example, the Iroquois tribes pictured their union as a shared longhouse…the symbolism of being one family.

EUSymbols.001Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, and other influential European men believed there could be a kind of United States of Europe that could end vicious and destructive cycles of war, and they acted on that belief. The European Union fosters shared identity with EU passports, automobile license plates, currency, an EU parliament and EU flag, etc. This peace system has worked for 70 years. The stresses they are now suffering, from things like the finances of Greece or influx of Syrian and other refugees, is a serious test of their union…will it disintegrate or strengthen? Only time will tell. The British recently held a referendum in which they voted to leave a union that has worked to keep peace between these nations.

A second key to keeping the peace is the existence of interdependence among subgroups. People from the different groups need to depend on each other. Doug Fry reported a fascinating case in which two tribes lived in very similar environments and had similar resources. Their lives were sufficiently simple that each tribe was perfectly able to make anything they needed. Both, however, made a distinctive, and highly prized, type of pottery. They recognized that a practice that tied them together and prevented fighting was exchanging goods at big meetings, including exchanges especially of the pottery. So they purposely refrained from making the distinctive pottery of the other group because they realized the importance of interdependence. Note that conscious choices and decisions are being made by all these people as they forge their alliance.

The European Union founders decided to build economic and political interdependence by incrementally integrating the national economies. The first step, in the 1950’s, was placing coal and steel—critical resources—under supranational control. That initiated an agenda of cooperation and unification they’re still working on. The British exit, if it does occcur, will have potentially alarming implications for splintering of the entire union.

A third feature essential to maintaining peace is establishment of intergroup social ties. One of the most prevalent is intermarriage. Among non-warring nomadic foragers, both men and women frequently marry outside their small band, so that everybody has kin and trade partners and friends in other groups. Bonds of kinship and friendship discourage violence between groups. The practice of intermarriage was true for the Iroquois and the 10 river tribes. In some peace systems, ceremonial marriage unions or ceremonial adoptions between groups are performed to decrease chances that conflicts will result in war.

Fourth, they create shared symbols and ceremonies. These reinforce unity, and serve as a reminder of their commitment to peace. All the 10 tribes of the Xingu peace system, for example, participate in mourning deaths of chiefs and inaugurating new ones. Fry provides a quote: “We don’t make war; we have festivals for the chiefs to which all of the villages come. We sing, dance, trade and wrestle.”

LongHouseTreeofPeace.001The “long-house” drawing symbolically represented the Iroquois Confederacy as one family. They also created a “Tree of Peace” symbol, first as a reminder of unity. The roots also symbolized their vision and hope that the peace should spread beyond the confederacy. The eagle on the tree top symbolized that they must remain vigilant to any threats to the peace; their wise and foresightful founders believed, probably rightly, that if a society takes peace for granted they will eventually lose it.

A fifth characteristic of these systems is that they foster values for peace. Fry points out that some value orientations are more conducive to peace, and that what people express and think is important if peace is to endure stresses over time. And given bitter prior hostilities between groups, they may have to make a conscious effort to foster peace-enhancing values. For example, in the 10 tribes of the Xingu peace system the role of warrior is shunned—they have a shared expression, ‘peace is moral, war is not.’ Furthermore, Fry points out that over time, shared spoken and practiced peace-promoting values become internalized and eventually, self-sustaining: it’s no longer imaginable, for example, that the United States would invade and begin killing people in Canada, or the British in France.

The Iroquois also made the peace value explicit. This is an Iroquois quote: “Thus we bury all the weapons of war out of sight, and establish the ‘Great Peace.’ Hostilities shall not be seen nor heard of any among you, but ‘Peace’ shall be preserved among the Confederated Nations.” Their alliance endured over several hundred years, until ended by the American Revolution.

The EU was founded after the disaster of WWII with the explicit goal of ending the barbarity and destruction of war, and peace related values serve as the EU’s uniting moral compass (democracy, social equality, human rights, respect for the law). This is a EU quote: “Promoting these values, as well as peace and the well-being of the Union’s people are now the main objectives of the Union.” Many aspects of EU behavior reflect this peace commitment to “all of the people’s well-being” (e.g., free health care systems, free university education, accessible child-care, and so on). When there is general well-being in a society there is less social turmoil and a vastly reduced desire to be led into a war. When any part of the population does NOT feel their well-being is fostered—as is increasingly true, for example, for some groups of Muslims in France and Belgium—anger can lead to violence within the country.

Recall that a trait of non-warring hunter-gatherers was an egalitarian social system. All members of the tribe had equal status. They lived with a sense of fairness, that we are all equal. Well, in our current vast, hierarchical, complex societies like the EU we certainly cannot go back to that condition. But the principles of equality and fairness and the need for the people’s well-being to be met are still operational for us emotionally. Developing and maintaining conditions that foster a sense of equality and fairness within countries and between them will be a necessary condition to keep a global peace system from eventually unraveling.

Finally, humans will always have conflicts, including serious ones within and between groups, over religion and economics and their vision of what the future “ought to be” and so on. If a peace system is to hold, it must create some kind of superordinate institutions to resolve conflicts through nonviolent means: negotiation, mediation, and adjudication.

For example, in the United States, conflicts are not resolved by taking up arms against each other. Frequently by going to court. And the final word comes from the Supreme Court. In essence, in complex societies, higher levels of government than just the local ones can be created to decide what is best for the whole. Regulations and laws are created to which everyone agrees to follow. This is what’s called the “social contract.” People voluntarily give up the right to total freedom to do whatever they want whenever they want it in order to live in peace, as opposed to living in some kind of Wild West where the fastest gun or biggest army imposes the will of some on others. The Iroquois Confederacy established a Council of Chiefs of all their nations. Many chiefs could attend, but only one from each nation, could vote. This was their version of a Supreme Court.


Recall that while tribes of the confederation didn’t make war with each other, they might get into wars with tribes that weren’t members of the alliance. Here it’s important and relevant to point out the role of women among the Iroquois. They were equals and had powerful voices. For example, although women couldn’t serve on the council, they could nominate, elect, and impeach their male representatives. The women could also decide between life or death for prisoners of war, they could forbid the men of their houses to go to war, and they could intervene to bring about peace. My work on male and female biology indicates that it is critical to recognize and never underplay the important influence of women within working peace systems.

Consider that in 2014, 37% of members of the EU Parliament were women. As of 2016, virtually all countries of the EU had a higher percentage of women in their national governments (e.g., Sweden 43.6%; UK 29.4%) than did, for example, the United States (19.4%) or Russia (13.6%). There is increasing interest in and ongoing research on just how tight the relationship is between empowerment of women in a society and that societies’ rates of all kinds of violence, including war. Recall that in non-warring hunter-gatherer societies women had social status equal to men’s, whereas in warring societies they did not.

So, the comparative study of peace systems in widely different cultures is a 4th reason for encouragement that we can end war because we now clearly understand that 1) peace systems exist – and have worked for long periods, and 2) we know what is required to create one and make it sustainable. Given that knowledge, we have a good idea how we need to proceed.

Now a complaint often heard is that ending war, could we do it, would take forever. Hundreds of years. Even thinking about doing it is impractical because of so many other pressing issues. Simply put, this protest isn’t true. Humans are capable of profound, rapid social changes.

For ten centuries in China the definition of feminine beauty depended upon a woman’s feet being extremely small. Ideally, no longer than 3 inches. In 1911, the new Republic of China government banned foot binding, and though it was done in secret for years, it’s now defunct. A practice of a thousand years changed in less than 100.

Australia had a mass shooting in 1996 that killed 35 and wounded 23, and 12 days later their conservative government adopted strict laws banning many weapons and highly regulating others and the context in which weapons can be owned. They then experienced a massive and rapid decline in gun deaths.

Consider the Christianization of much of South America, often in less than one generation. Sadly, not always without the use of violence. Still, though many Christian ideas were simply graphed onto the indigenous religions, many long used behaviors changed or values shifted. More modest clothing, sex before marriage became a sin, no head-hunting, religious worship inside a church, etc.

During a question session after a talk about Mongolia someone asked the speaker if it was true that Mongolians switched from a Communist political system to a secular democracy within only 1 year, and the speaker confirmed that that was in fact the case.

You yourself, with a little thought, could likely come up with many other examples of swift social change. We CAN change, and change quickly. It’s a matter of human will. Of believing it can be done, deciding to do it, and then taking the necessary action.

Now, it’s one thing for groups here or there to create a peace system, but the big question is whether we could establish a GLOBAL PEACE SYSTEM. That would be the end of war. Not the end of human violence. And we would still need to vigilantly contain anyone threatening the peace. But we can now consider some recent historical changes moving us in the direction of a global peace. And there are two very positive things to keep in mind as we do:


1. First, allow yourself to be impressed by how much has already been accomplished. If we hadn’t already created or done these things, we’d have to invent or do them now.
2. Second, feel good about what these accomplishments say about our longings, about what the majority of us really want. The media constantly deluge us with talk of terrorists, and war-mongering dictators, and threats of a middle east atomic war, and on and on. Patriarchy, and the wars associated with it, is still strong in so many places. But this is NOT what the vast majority of human citizens of earth want. It’s not who we are at our best. We do have “better angels of our nature,” and we need to embrace that.

Also note that the changes to be described are mostly TRENDS! None is perfected and they never will be because they’re human endeavors, which are never perfect. And some are detectable now for the most part only in developed nations. So as you consider them, be thinking of them as potent TRENDS for us to build on.

Kent.001The ardent peace advocate and historian, Kent Shifferd wrote From War to Peace and put its basics into a superb YouTube video called “The Evolution of a Global Peace System.” The video lists, and explains with examples, 26 shifts in global collaboration that move us toward a global peace.

Recent Changes.jpegWe’ll not consider all 26. You can easily check them out by viewing the roughly 18 minute video. But to provide a feeling for what’s changing, I’ll highlight 9 of these global happenings. You’ll probably immediately sense how each is a step moving toward creating conditions having the potential to end war, permanently:

First, the emergence of supranational parliamentary systems tasked to keep the peace:
The United Nations, being chief among them. Other examples:
The European Union (EU),
The Organization of American States (OAS),
The African Union (AU)
And others.
These all monitor regional disputes and engage in peace-building.

The creation of International Law and Treaties that deal with instruments of war such as land mines and nuclear weapons, and set rules of engagement: Geneva Convention, Kellogg-Briand Treaty, Outer Space Treaty, Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, International Treaty to Ban Landmines. Most recently the Iranian Agreement on Development of Nuclear Weapons

The rise in International Justice in such bodies as
The International Court of Justice in The Hague, the International Criminal Court, Regional courts in Europe and Latin America.

Yearly there are hundreds of global conferences aimed at creating a peaceful and just world. Here are some notable examples: Earth Summit Rio (1992), International Indigenous Commission, UN Conferences on Sustainable Living, UN Conference on Women Beijing (1995), Rotary World Peace Conferences, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom The Hague (2015), World Council of Religious Leaders. Etc., etc. etc.

We have experienced the rise of Thousands of Non-governmental Organizations Having a Global Outlook. They have environmental, humanitarian, peacemaking and peacekeeping objectives – they reflect an emerging global citizenship – one people, one planet, one peace. Examples: Habitat for Humanity, Heifer Foundation, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Global Zero, Doctors Without Borders, World Vision, Clinton Global Initiative, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Project Concern International.  These organizations act without regard to race, religion, nationality, and so on. They are the kinds of organizations anyone can join or support financially if they want to be actively involved in working toward a global future without war

Globally, thousands of institutions provide courses, majors, minors, higher degrees and practical training in non-violent conflict resolution. Examples in San Diego, California, alone: Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice, San Diego City College Peace Studies Certificate and Associate Degree, Alliant University Institute for Violence, Abuse, and Trauma, San Diego State University program in International Security and Conflict Resolution, Tariq Khamisa Foundation, San Diego Peace Resource Center.  Such organizations and projects are found in cities and communities on virtually every continent. The hunger to end war, and willingness to do what’s necessary for success, is strong and rapidly growing. It’s waiting to be harnessed in a shared effort to end war.

The growing trend toward decline in the prestige of war. War used to be considered a noble and glorious enterprise. Unfortunately, a great many movies arrange to still make it out to be. But in the real world there is a growing sense that war is a destructive and barbaric trap to be avoided…if for no other reason that, except for the war industry, it’s now seen as bad for business. And highly important, there is more knowledge among soldiers and citizens about networks of war profiteering – just who benefits from wars? We can look forward to a time when men, and women, who are trained as defenders and peacekeepers — the police of our global peace system — will be as honored as warriors who in earlier times were trained to invade and kill.

Sustainability movements work toward reducing consumptive excesses that create shortages, poverty, pollution and all kinds of environmental injustice. All of these lead to social unrest, a common fuel for war; making the environment sustainable is key to maintaining any global peace. Now, many groups are working on this, and, if all goes well, the shared threats created by global climate change could cause the entire global population to begin to pull together. Across the globe we may decide that resources devoted to war and cleaning up after war can be put to much more urgent, civilization-saving uses.

The trend toward peace oriented religion is particularly hopeful – some religious leaders have turned away from using their religion to justify war and instead use religion to foster peace and a sense of human oneness. Listed here are some notable examples: World Council of Religious Leaders, Christiantiy of Thomas Merton, Jim Wallace of Sojourners, Pax Christi, Buddhism of Dalai Lama, Judaism of Jewish Peace Fellowship, Jewish Voice for Peace, Islamism of Muslim Peace Fellowship, Muslim Voice for Peace. And most recently, that the Catholic Church has begun to consider whether the “just war” concept has become obsolete. Warmongers use religion to foment the will to kill other people. A trend toward rejection of war by religious leaders is potentially an enormously powerful, positive shift.WorldGlobe.001Finally, our ability now to look down at earth from outer space, with no borders visible, enhances our sense of oneness, that we are all citizens sharing this extraordinary blue and white living globe, our only home in the vastness of the universe. That God-like perspective serves to decrease xenophobia, a trait that unfortunately fosters tendencies toward war.

In short, the entire list of 26 trends puts our current status into realistic perspective – we’re not starting from ground zero. We need to see clearly how much we have already done that is part of creating an enduring global peace.

So here are four closing thoughts. First, I hope you’ve been persuaded to see:

1) that war is not “in our genes” – it is a cultural phenomenon and culture can change.

2) that we’re poised in a unique time in history that makes ending war possible, if we set up a global peace system that can endure.

3) that the global community, if sufficiently motivated, could set up a global system remarkably quickly in historical terms, and

4) that as much as we have growing forces working to create a future of perpetual war—a few of us can make a lot of money with perpetual war—there are also forces at work that reflect a striving to free ourselves from war so we leave to the children of the future a world of great positive potential. A critical mass of global citizens willing to be mobilized to focus on actually ending war already exists.

So we come back to the beginning of the essay. Unless we believe achieving a goal is possible, we can never achieve it. And a very real potential for ending war does now exist. Our species has the ability to create something like a Star Trek Future….if we want it badly enough and act in time.

So now, what of all of this relates to each of us? What if anything, for example, can you do?  organizatons.001There is so much! First, if you aren’t doing so already, you can lend your efforts to work on some essential component of creating a war-free future. It’s easy to get involved. Ask friends who are involved what they are doing. Or check out “Peace Organizations” on the Internet at Wikipedia: it lists hundreds. You can take your pick of whatever aspect of the campaign engages your passion, and dig in.

womengirls.001You can encourage the entry of more women, especially the younger women, into leadership roles at all levels in our communities, from the grassroots up. In our own country. In world government. In science, education, law. In all aspects of human endeavor. Tell them they have power, and they should use it. Having more women involved will make a huge difference in the direction the global community will move.

Support and spread appreciation for global efforts and institutions, like the United Nations and the International Criminal Court. The UN for example has problems, it does need reforming, but by caring reformers who understand its profound importance.

Support efforts that will enhance, not destroy, the middle class in a country…creating and maintaining a middle class is one of the most powerful equalizing tools available to us.

What about elections? Never vote for a warmonger – learn how to recognize one: he is a would-be leader who thinks too quickly of using military force. Someone who says that on day one they will “go over there and kick ass,” or suggests that the solution is to “carpet bomb them,” or suggests that “I am the one who will save our women and children or our way of life by destroying those evil others.” Such individuals are dangerous to peace.

conversations.001And maybe most important, don’t let people in conversations get away with saying that ending war is impossible. In fact, insert into conversations that it’s possible and hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people, whether they know it or not, are already working on it. Make clear that the media aren’t telling us the whole story about what’s happening in the world, and that there is a positive side. You can be a participant in spreading this powerful, history-transforming meme. If you get involved, you can have the satisfaction of being part of what is one of the greatest causes in human history.


If you have children or grandchildren, you can tell them that you’re working on fixing the future for the better for them and their children. A version of a saying from the French writer and poet Victor Hugo is perhaps overused. But it’s also a spot-on relevant closing for this essay:

Nothing is stronger, even than armies, than an idea whose time has come.

This is one such idea: Ending war is achievable.


My Journey to the WILPF 100 Yr. Anniversary in The Hague

October 16, 2014

Judith Hand

The story of why I’m coming to The Hague with enormous enthusiasm and hope is a long one, in a way the fulfillment of my life journey. When I was a young girl, my hero was Wonder Woman. I was a feminist before the phrase “Women’s Liberation” was invented. When I picked a profession, I chose to be something still uncommon for a woman at the time…a scientist…specifically a biologist. My area of specialization was animal behavior, including human behavior, and I had a sub-specialization in gender differences.


Sewell-Belmont House–Washington, D.C.

Fast-forward decades and many life changes later to 1999 when my first novel, Voice of the Goddess, was published. That book led me to study war, and why women treat war differently than do men. This led to publication in 2003 of my nonfiction book, Women, Power, and the Biology of Peace. Not long thereafter I flew to Washington D.C., hoping to visit my senators and congressman to give them a copy, and as I approached the Hart Senate Office Building, I stumbled upon the absolutely delightful Sewell-Belmont Museum, a quaint, brick, multi-story building right next door to the senators’ offices.

I was thrilled to have found the home and offices where Alice Paul, another hero of mine, and her confederates planned and lobbied for a Constitutional Amendment to give all women in the U.S. the vote. And for the first time, on a banner on the wall of an upstairs room, I learned about a group of women who, in 1915 in the Hague, had founded something they called WILPF—the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

US Delegation to The Hague - WILPF

US Delegation to The Hague – WILPF

How fabulous! I thought. My studies of archaeology, anthropology, and biology—pursued from the perspective of an evolutionary biologist—had led me to conclude that unless women become full partners with men as leaders in human affairs, it will never be possible to end war. Women, Power, and the Biology of Peace explained why. My most recent book, Shift: The Beginning of War, The Ending of War, explores why in even more detail. Nearly 100 years ago this group of women in the Hague had apparently been quite serious about doing so.

I Googled WILPF and was further delighted to discover that WILPF lived! That it has hung on through the years, setting up projects internationally, a key to whether or not women would eventually be positioned to lead a successful campaign to end war.

Disappointingly, in 2002, when I explored womens’ activities globally, they were still mostly asking for help. Help in dealing with rape, human trafficking, post-war reconciliation, urging men to make treaties to end various wars, and so on. I despaired, thinking it would probably take 20-30 more years for women instead to realize they must do it themselves…they must step into leadership roles. To my profound joy and some amazement, only 8 years later womens’ approaches to problems had changed a hundred percent. Educated and practical women clearly had gotten the message, having decided that power is not given, it must be grasped. And a growing number of women were moving into power positions that, if they would unite, would enable them to move a campaign to end war forward.

But still, my sense was that the numbers of empowered women globally, although growing at a rapid pace, was still too small, too quiet compared to the voices advocating for war. How long would this movement take to reach critical mass, I wondered. Another ten years? Maybe 15? Or if the world fell into fatal disarray, perhaps never?

Judith Hand - IHEU - Oslo, Norway

Judith Hand – IHEU – Oslo, Norway

But by 2011, I concluded, with excitement, that contrary to my anxieties that negatives forces also at work would win the race for the future, the numbers of highly empowered women reached critical mass. Women, I believe, have reached sufficient numbers to bring the world to a tipping point. Now it is only necessary that these women find a way to unite, to have a single voice with sufficient clout to insist and win the changes needed to create a global peace system.

Women are poised to give the dream of the women who founded WILPF, and that visionary Eleanor Roosevelt, and Bertha von Suttner, that woman who had encourage Alfred Nobel to have a Prize for Peace, women can make the dreams of these sisters come true.

I’m coming to the Hague hoping that this will the moment when the world’s women do find that united voice. The awarding of the latest Peace Prize to a young woman, Malala Yousafzai, could not be more symbolic. Because it is the young women who must see this ending-war campaign to its conclusion, I believe in two generations or less, and who will be responsible for maintenance of a war-free future for all the children to come.

WILPF’s campaign to end war and give us an enduring peace has been 100 years of hard, foundation-laying work. Now it’s taking off big time. What an exciting moment in human history this is! And what a profoundly exciting meeting of minds and hearts this conference in the Hague in 2015 will be!

Judith Hand, Ph.D., is the Founder of  A Future Without War.org, and author of Shift: The Beginning of War, The Ending of War.


Sad Thoughts on the New War on Terrorism

September 25, 2014


When I allow myself even a moment to think about it, I’m incredibly saddened, depressed with the thought that the trillions of funds that will be spent on this brand new and bottomless war on terror against ISIS and others won’t be available to spend on slowing climate change and preparing for the worst that it will do to us. Really? Is this to be our fate? A few violent men run amok in the thrall of a violent belief and we’re all going to suffer for it? So I quickly suppress the thought (I do this several time a day). It’s just too painful.

Yes, they must be stopped. Ignoring them is not a viable option. But the ideal way to stop them would not be by killing in return but for the people of the faith they claim to belong to to, the Sunni imams and Sunni believers, to mount the most powerful nonviolent protest against them they can muster…forbid any cooperation with them in any form. What if the entire world community would refuse to buy their oil, or transfer their funds? What if all the Germans had simply refused to cooperate in any form with Nazis.

Nonviolent takes great courage, sometimes even the willingness to die if necessary, but it can work. But no. What we decide to do instead is feed the war machine, make it bloated with wealth taken from the mouths of children. Maybe, I think, it is too late for us to save ourselves. We will be lost to our dark side after all. Then I quickly suppress that thought as well and go back to writing about how we have the power to end war if we choose (I do this several times a day).

Judith Hand
Founder: A Future Without War.org


Peace Systems and Enduring Peace

May 8, 2014

Judith Hand, Ph.D.

ShiftCover72dpi-2There are myriad reasons—psychological, proximate, and ultimate (biological)—for why we make war. We’ve indulged in this deeply embedded, very bad cultural habit for a very long time, so skeptics are on solid ground to believe that ending it may not be, most likely isn’t, possible. But in Shift: The Beginning of War, The Ending of War I explore how we CAN end war, if we choose to. No biological barrier prevents us from breaking this habit; as with all bad habits, including one as deeply engrained as war, breaking free is a matter of will.

Once we resolve to act, two kinds of efforts will be required for success, admittedly more simply said than done. We must:

  • stop doing or tolerating things that engender wars (like picking warmongers as our leaders or tolerating poverty). And,
  • do things that would prevent wars (like empowering women so we have parity governing, or establishing and fostering liberal democracies that include such characteristics as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, separation of church and state, and most especially, promotion of human rights and dignity).
The War Machine

The War Machine

We’d be engaged in a titanic struggle with an ancient monster having many tentacles: in our history, our mythologies, our economics, and our daily lives. To prevail we need a blueprint for how to subdue the beast. How can we consistently resolve serious disputes between nations or between ethnic groups and so on without killing each other? How do we move hearts and minds into a future culture where the idea of slaughtering people in another group for any reason has become absolutely unthinkable?

As it turns out, we don’t have to invent that blueprint from scratch. There are known basics that can guide our planning. Throughout history some people—led by visionary individuals in close touch with their innate moral compass, and arguably, also in touch with good sense—some people have found ways to achieve the goal of peace. People who created “peace systems.”

What do such systems look like? In an 18 May issue of a 2012 paper in the prestigious journal Science, anthropologist Douglas Fry wrote an article with the title “Life Without War.” He defines “peace systems” as neighboring societies that do not make war on each other, and points out that they exist on several continents.

First he lists peace systems found in Australia, Canada, India, Malaysia, Greenland, and The United States, the latter itself an example of a peace system; people living in the 50 states of this confederation do not make war to resolve their serious disputes: they take them to courts of law and ultimately to the Supreme Court.

Then he compared three very different systems, looking for shared characteristics: the Iroquois Confederacy of Upper New York State, the Upper Xingu River basin tribes of Brazil, and the European Union. From this comparison he hypothesizes that six features are critical to the creation and maintenance of any peace system:

  1. An overarching social identify,
  2. Interconnections among subgroups,
  3. Interdependence,
  4. Nonwarring values,
  5. Symbolism and ceremonies that reinforce peace, and
  6. Superordinate institutions for conflict management.

These societies are not Utopias, not close to it. They may even make war with outsiders to their union. But they found ways to avoid warring among themselves. Our quest would be to build a global peace system, guided by these critical necessary conditions.

Fry’s important paper should be read and thoroughly digested by anyone who wants to build and maintain an enduring peace. It can be found online for free by registering with the journal Science.

Nine AFWW Cornerstones

Nine AFWW Cornerstones

In Appendix III of Shift, I compared nine cornerstones I identify as being key to ending war and maintaining peace with the six factors Fry hypothesized as being critical.

The objective of making this kind of comparison is to indicate commonalities derived independently by different investigators. The process spotlights the most obvious key elements of success. Appendix II of Shift added to this search for commonalities by presenting a similar comparison with the recent book by Harvard psychologist Stephen Pinker, The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence is Declining.

What follows is from Shift’s Appendix III, the comparison with Fry’s Science paper.

Five of Fry’s six characteristics of peace systems overlap with or are embraced by one or more Shift cornerstones. For example, in his discussion of “overarching social identity” he takes on the question of “us-versus-them” mentality that can foster conflicts and willingness to use violence against the “other.” He describes methods used by his three peace systems to “expand the us” to encompass a sense of common identity. The methods, not surprisingly given the great diversity of societies involved, are unique to each setting. Logically, a campaign to end war will have to devise methods suitable for creating a global sense of social identity.

Unity - clasped wristsThis corresponds to the work done and institutions embraced by the Shift cornerstone “Foster Connectedness.” Links to just a tiny few of already existing groups working on this issue are listed on an AFWW “Foster Connectedness” web page. The spirit this encompasses is perhaps most familiarly expressed in the Coke jingle

“I’d like to teach, the world to sing,in perfect harmony.”

That same spirit was part of the intention of the reestablishment of the Olympics in 1896, which have become, sadly, politicized but could be refurbished to truly unite the global community in the shared celebration of human achievement. There are many creative ways, already known and to be invented, to foster a global sense of oneness.

World Peace Prayer Ceremony

World Peace Prayer Ceremony

Addressing “intergroup ties,” he points out that intergroup bonds of friendship and kinship discourage violence. He describes how peace systems use ceremonial unions, fictive and genuine inter-marriage that establishes a sense of kinship, economic partnerships, and personal friendships to create such ties. The World Peace Prayer and Flag Ceremony, first begun in Japan and pictured here in Los Angeles, is an example of how shared ceremonies could bind the world in a permanent peace commitment. These practices are, again, ones being advanced by Shift’s Foster Connectedness cornerstone organizations.

Unknown“Interdependence” in Fry’s paper refers primarily to economic interdependence and its power to promote cooperation. People who trade with each other, especially if they depend on this trade, are less likely to make war with each other. Is the WTO, for example, perfect? No. No human organization is perfect. It can, of course, be improved upon. But it provides a forum for resolving serious resource disputes without killing each other. Many regional trade organizations serve a similar function. For us to have global peace, success will require that a balance be struck between local sustainability and developing and maintaining crucial trading interdependence between people and nations at the regional and global level.

red_cross-crescent256The idea of Interdependence, moreover, includes engaging in cooperation for any kinds of beneficial reasons. For example, in the dry desert of Australia’s west, local hunter-gatherer groups reciprocally allow other groups access to water and food on their “territory” in lean times, because a time will come when they may be the needy ones. Although the International Red Cross and International Red Crescent still reflect the separateness religion has often brought upon us, groups like them work to alleviate suffering and respond to disasters irrespective of natural borders.

Something quite fascinating is that some peace systems tend to specialize in production of particular trade goods that they exchange in order to create interdependence. Sometimes they even specifically refrain from producing their own version of “luxury” items that they could make for the specific reason that they understand that trading with the other group, that makes that item which they desire but do not themselves make, is essential to keeping the peace. Organizations like some listed under the Shift cornerstone “Shift Our Economies” are stressing the importance and potential power of creating many kinds of strategic interdependence.

Fry begins his discussion of “nonwarring values” by pointing out the obvious fact that some value orientations are more conducive to peace than others, and that peace systems live by “nonwarring values.” In the Upper Xingu tribes, for example, the warrior role is shunned: peace is considered moral, war is not. Fry describes the means by which peace-promoting values were enshrined by the Iroquois Confederation. In the case of the European Union, he describes how actualization of the values of democracy, social equality, human rights and the rule of law serve as the EU’s moral (value) compass. Many of the organizations focused on the Shift cornerstone “Spread Liberal Democracy” also place emphasis on the pacifying effect for large, modern societies of these facets of liberal democracies. And organizations of the Shift cornerstone “Promote Nonviolent Conflict Resolution” teach the values and skills of living in peace. So again we have commonality between Fry’s assessment of what it will take to move us beyond war and two more Shift cornerstones.

State Funeral

State Funeral

Fry illustrates a need for “symbolism and ceremonies that reinforce peace” citing participation of all the Upper Xingu tribes in ceremonies to mourn the deaths of deceased chiefs and inaugurate new ones. Pictured here was a ceremony in Serbia to honor deceased members of the royal family, attended by dignitaries from other countries. Joint ceremonies help unify the Xingu tribes, again fostering connectedness and creating a sense of common identity. For the global human community today, we should also promote a sense of shared destiny.

The Iroquois League was symbolized by a powerful symbol of unity and peace, the Tree of Life. The tree’s white roots represented the desire for peace to spread beyond the confederacy. Clearly the Iroquois understood that peace requires work to maintain it; an eagle perched on top of the tree reminded the tribes to remain vigilant to the threats to peace. As describe in Shift, a campaign, built around the shared goal of creating safe, secure, and healthy places for all children, would likewise need to create an appropriate, unifying symbol to represent the intention to build and maintain such a peace for the children of all generations to follow us. The campaign should also invent ceremonies to celebrate its creation.

European Court of Justice

European Court of Justice

If a life without war is to be won and maintained, there must be “superordinate institutions for conflict management.” Fry points out that there are many different ways to manage conflicts between groups, and that one key is to create higher levels of governance. He describes the Council of Chiefs of the Iroquois Confederacy. He describes higher levels of governance created by the EU, such as the European Court of Justice, its exterior pictured here. The commonality is that many of the organizations working on the Shift cornerstones “Provide Security and Order” and organizations working to “Promote Nonviolent Conflict Resolution” are also concerned with these issues. The United Nations and International Court of Justice are steps we have already taken in the right direction.

Fry concludes that creating a planetary peace system would involve many synergistic elements “including the transformative vision that a new peace-based global system is in fact possible….” Here the commonality is with the Shift cornerstone “Embrace the Goal.” Although at this time only a relatively few organizations are focused on ending all war, the time is ripe for many more to emerge.

Two Shift cornerstones that Fry’s analysis does not directly, or even very indirectly, touch upon are Empower Women” and Enlist Young Men.”

Islam's Great Peace Warrior

Islam’s Great Peace Warrior

First, the challenge of making restless young males part of the solution—making them supporters of building this peace system—is arguably the least appreciated element of creating a future without war. It’s hard to find organizations dedicated to that cause. The importance of recruiting young men into an effort to end war is seldom mentioned, I believe, since the general assumption is that we will never end war so thinking about the specific problem of how to include young men as part of the process of ending war and/or what to do with them when war is absent has no relevance. The concept of peaceful warriors, like the thousands of men recruited by Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the Muslim Gandhi, is something to be considered as a campaign to end war contemplates how to engage young men in positive ways.

Fry also doesn’t acknowledge the importance of empowering women, although women were powerful in the Iroquois Federation and women certainly have influence and the vote within the European Union. Biological facets of our problem are not generally stressed by most scholars, the emphasis being placed on culture rather than biology. Furthermore, it is virtually universally recognized that war is a male behavior, and so how women figure in is not thought to require consideration.

Screen-Shot-2012-10-26-at-2.56.47-PMThis biologically-based issue is, however, now coming into the discussion. Many organizations are focused on empowering women in a variety of ways. The recent book Sex and World Peace, edited by Valerie Hudson, documents compellingly a strong relationship between the empowerment of women and reduced levels of wars and violence. But is the relationship merely a correlation, or is it causative? Many scholars are cautious, like Yale University professor Nicholas Sambanis. Mara Hvistendahl quotes him in her 2012 Science article “Gender and Violence” as thinking that perhaps what has been called a “woman effect” on peace and stability is perhaps “a proxy for other, more fundamental things, like cultural differences, rule of law, [and] institutional development.” In other words, Sambanis is expressing the view that perhaps the fact that empowerment of women in a society is strongly related positively to its level of peace is simply a correlation. One goal of Shift is to make explicit the importance of very different biological traits of men and women (in general) as these relate to war, and to stress that women’s influence on peace is, in fact, a critical, causative factor. Parity governing needs to be understood as a necessary condition to ending war and even more critically perhaps, to ensuring that peace once achieved endures.

Summing up, if we decide to pursue a warless future with sufficient will, we have actual examples and models to learn from. They encourage us to know that we can succeed. The following are the commonalities between Shift cornerstones and common elements that Fry discovered:

  • We must foster personal and cultural connectedness.
  • We must foster economic interconnectedness (as part of fostering connectedness in general and related to shifting our economies appropriately)
  • We must foster human rights (by whatever means, but most readily by spreading mature liberal democracy)
  • We must foster behaviors and institutions that promote nonviolent conflict resolution.
  • We must foster the rule of law (part of providing security and order and promoting nonviolent conflict resolution)
  • We must embrace the goal.

The challenge now for the global community is to put these essentials in place on a global basis ASAP, and never let them slip into disuse.

If you’d like to be inspired and encouraged, treat yourself to a video documentary entitled “The Evolution of a Global Peace System.” Based on historian Kent Shifferd’s book From War to Peace, it should be widely publicized and appreciated. This 24 minute video is inspiring, not because of razzle-dazzle, but because it compellingly documents over 20 remarkable, hopeful trends of the last 100 years, many of them key elements of any peace system. They reflect evolution toward a planetary loyalty and sense of human oneness that will be critical to seizing a prize for humanity that no generation before us ever came close to.












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.


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!


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).

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).”
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).