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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” future. It will explain the “why” and “how” of two major changes required to accomplish that goal.

First, we’ll need to establish a maintainable global peace system. We will also need to embrace the principle of koinoniarchy, or gender parity governing, from the Greek word koinonia, meaning to share. We’ll need full partnership between men and women in governing our lives. Not continuation of patriarchy. Not establishment of matriarchy. Rather, a koinoniarchy, where governing is a shared responsibility of both men and women.

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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.

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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.

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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, with all of these evils raging in full force, and also build an extraordinarily positive future. One 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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  • 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.

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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.

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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. This urge for domination—the desire to control others rather than share or compromise as partners—when that desire becomes the overarching passion in human hearts it becomes a poisoned wellspring of the evil humans do to each other. It’s the killer of lives and societies.

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, and punishment.

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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.

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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.

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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.

It’s absolutely critical to note that you would not get this restraining effect on male inclinations if only a token number of women were in this deciding body—say twenty or thirty percent of the total votes. The effect depends on something approaching parity governing. Half measures will not succeed.

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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, in this example only the men, 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. And I believe, a species worth saving and for which we should build the very best, most nurturing future we can.

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. Arguably, it may prove to be existentially fatal.

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 tiny 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.

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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.

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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
    Review.
  • 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.

The last phrase from a 2014 quote from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon—a man who knows the world’s societies–addressed economic growth, business performance, peace agreements, and social issue legislation. He sums it all up: “equality for women means progress for all.”

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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.

Now, 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.

In fact, the biology of embryonic development is so complex that some people find themselves with sexual organs and physiology characteristic of one sex but possessed with an overwhelming majority of behavioral preferences and inclinations characteristic of the other sex. 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!

So in summary, after writing a book that focused on the gender differences we’ve just covered, I concluded that parity governing (men and women sharing power) would be a necessary condition of an enduring peace in vibrant, thriving societies. My worry then and now was whether we’ll make the transition to “sufficient female empowerment” fast enough to counter those ominous trends listed earlier. Or will the unrelenting social force of urges for domination, a primary driver of male behavior, win the struggle to shape human destiny.

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?

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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.

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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, 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 those values and assumptions directly contradict 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 this 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.

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It would be foolish to try to underplay the difficulty. But let me explain why I use that building-a-colony-on-Mars metaphor. Like establishing a Mars colony, an ending-war campaign involves many elements. So many 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.”

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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.]

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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, embrace the principle of koinoniarchy – of 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.

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