Archive for the ‘Human Nature and War’ Category

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Ending War, Sexual Dimorphism, and Human Destiny: A Biological Perspective

September 4, 2017

Judith L. Hand, Ph.D.

This essay explores the possibility of ending war and a facet of biology called sexual dimorphism. It describes how these relate to creating a more just, secure, and peaceful human destiny. A “better” future.

Two radical changes in the way we organize our lives, guided by both political and biological reality, would substantially advance the creation of such a future. First, we need to craft a maintainable, global peace system. A critical mass of citizens and visionary leaders must commit to securing a global, enforceable peace treaty and a global peace alliance with qualities needed to maintain it. We’ll look at three such peace systems to learn how they work. Second, we need to embrace gender parity governing (koinoniarchy, from the Greek word koinonia, meaning to share). We’ll explore why biological reality dictates that partnership between men and women in governing our lives is central to success.

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Consider the enormous problematic issues listed above. Arguably all are legitimate evils that don’t fit into anyone’s vision of a “better” future. Consider also these threats: a highly contagious, highly lethal natural pandemic; a nuclear war; leakage of large amount of stored nuclear waste into the atmosphere; an out of control computer virus used in a global cyberwar; release of a biological or chemical weapon of mass destruction; collapse of the ocean ecosystem. With the single exception of a highly lethal natural pandemic, every one of these is a potential disaster of our own making.

The essay has two main sections, the first on the potential to end war and the second on human sexual dimorphism, followed by a brief conclusion. But we begin with a broad historical perspective.

OUR CURRENT EXISTENTIAL DILEMMA

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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 (Daly 2005). Imagine the disruptive social effects of that explosive rise. 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 call war, rather than make war, some group members could have packed up their meager belongings and moved to an unoccupied place. Moving would have relieved the social pressure, and biologists call that very successful adaptation, dispersal.

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As a result, as the graphic at the bottom right indicates, we occupy ALL habitable landmasses, and in this Scientific American article, the economist Herman Daly described this by saying that we’ve transitioned from an empty world to a full world (Daly 2005). This transition is putting enormous pressures on our affairs. Large cohorts of young men, East and West, fall into crime or a drug culture or are seduced into radicalism. Sweeping tides of refugees and immigrants impact nations across the globe. There are no empty places to which unhappy or starving people can disperse without bumping up against people already present, who are possibly themselves in dire conditions. We’ve created a new, changed environment to which we need to adapt.  I agree with experts convinced that we’ve reached an existential tipping point with respect to the global social order, or improbably but not impossibly to our extinction.

To avoid or survive such catastrophic events, we’ll need money and legions of humans applying ingenuity and sweat. Given the financial, physical, and human capital wasted on wars, avoiding wars would unquestionably be a wise and sane adaptation now. So consider Albert Einstein’s insight that the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

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The essay’s subtitle is “A Biological Perspective.” From that perspective, the essay’s primary assumption is that to solve these problems, to get some different results, and shape a “better” future, we need to understand ourselves; we need to look through the lens of biology to answer the question, “What kind of animal are we?”

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Why Can’t a Woman be More Like a Man?

April 17, 2017

Judith L. Hand, Ph.D.

[A video also presents much of the material in this essay]

Why do our two sexes, in many ways, behave so differently? As Pygmalion’s professor Henry Higgins puts it, “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?”

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(Rex Harrison, Audry Hepburn – “My Fair Lady”)

Here’s another, related, question. Is it possible that understanding how and why some sexual differences lead men and women, generally speaking, to make some very different social choice–is it possible that understanding why that happens could help us find solutions to a host of social nightmares? Consider these problems facing us right now….many of them genuine evils.

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To avoid a dystopian future—a hell with all of these raging in full force—we’ll have to deal with these, and many more, under the pressure of ever greater numbers of people trying to make a living and raise healthy, successful, fulfilled children. In too many cases, just trying to survive. How do we do that? Can we do it?

In this essay we’re going to look through the lens of biology at a reality called sexual dimorphism. If we understand and take to heart the implications of sexual dimorphism as it relates to our social behavior, we can take giant steps in the direction of a “better” future. A future that, at minimum, reduces the effects of these social evils, and may actually avoid or eliminate many of them. A future more peaceful, more just, and even environmentally sustainable.

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One of Albert Einstein’s most thoughtful insights is that the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Given our biology—if you will, our human nature—it’s not possible to create Utopia. But, could we shift global culture enough to not just avoid ending up living in a dystopia, but actually build an extraordinarily positive future? What behavior might we change to get less violent, more nurturing results than what we’ve produced so far? As we’ll see, understanding some key things about our biology suggests that we need to utilize some natural inclinations of women that differ significantly, in general, from some natural inclinations of men.

A primary assumption of the presentation, which offers a biological perspective, is that to create a more positive future, we need to understand ourselves better. And that means we have 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.

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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 presentation’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 that they 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 how and why—in general—some of these urges are not the same for our two sexes.

The explanation does begin with sexual dimorphism. This reality shapes much of life on Earth, and as we’ll see, that includes us. The term comes 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.

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There are other reproductive possibilities. Some species reproduce asexually, like this tiny water creature called a Hydra that’s sprouting 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.

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Ending War is Achievable. Five Reasons Why.

July 25, 2016

by Judith Hand, Ph.D.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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