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The Origin and Nature of Warfare is Not Explained but Obscured by Cultural-Anthropological and Feminist Perspectives, that Generate Implausible Notions of How Warfare can be Subdued

[This paper was in journal peer review in reply to another paper, but was apparently politically ‘spiked’ by a cultural anthropologist who shares the non-scientific, political position of his protégé, the author of that paper, which this paper challenges.]


The cultural-anthropological understanding of the origin and nature of warfare and extended into a feminist perspective rests on several key assumptions that can be shown to be insupportable. That warfare is a product of culture (and not biology), settled living, and hierarchy and ‘gender inequality’: all are here challenged as non-evidenced (or counter to evidence), unfalsifiable, and therefore non-scientific. Ditto notions about the sexes foundational to feminist analysis of how warfare could be subdued: that all sociality can be made essentially asexual (‘androgynous’); that women don’t escalate conflict; and that women in influential positions possess female sex-typical qualities. A biologically-based framework by contrast amply explains why warfare is a recurrent feature of human sociality. The scientific approach to comprehending warfare is the only way to minimise its incidence; the usurpation of science by ideology being not merely non-efficacious but (at least in the contemporary context) counter-productive in likely itself precipitating warfare.


A text that exemplifies the cultural-anthropological cum feminist approach is Judith Hand’s essay ‘To Abolish War’, which is explicitly grounded in the cultural-anthropological work of Douglas Fry. It is, therefore, a model text for my purposes, and should be read in conjunction with this analysis.

The assertion most oft-repeated in ‘To Abolish War’ and in all Hand’s writings is that women are more supportive of social stability than are men. Yet this entirely ignores the very subject: male coalitional behaviour in defence of the whole social group. Moreover, this is a quality only of men: when there is inter-group competition, men (but not women) become much more cooperative (Van Vugt, De Cremer & Jansson 2007). This is underpinned by human male in-group psychology, which unlike its human female counterpart is in terms of the whole group (Maddox & Brewer 2005). Women relate to a group in respect only of dyadic inter-personal connections with (some of) the individuals within it, whereas men have an additional collective identification (Seeley EA, Gardner WL, Pennington G & Gabriel S 2003; Gabriel S & Gardner WL 1999).

In the light of this it would be easier to make the opposite case that men are more pro-social and less selfish than are women, who are concerned with their individual personal network of family/friends and not the group as a whole. It is another question as to the possible contribution to warfare and its avoidance of the respective different socialities of the sexes, but Hand’s claim that the problem is peculiarly a lack of male contribution to group stability is not supported by the evidence.

Hand’s other oft-repeated generalisation, that women are less violent than are men, is contradicted by the evidence in respect of the pertinent inter-sexual context. Women are two or three times as violent towards men as are men towards women (Morse 1995), and girls are more inter-sexually directly aggressive than are boys (Hilton, Harris & Rice 2000), being much more prepared to cross the inter-sex boundary in this respect (Artz, Nicholson & Magnuson 2008). Women are also more violent in the more restricted intimate context (domestic violence) inter-sexually (see reviews, eg Moxon 2011), and studies show that intra-sexual (lesbian) relationships exhibit similar or considerably greater intimate-partner violence than either male same-sex or (the female perpetration within) inter-sexual samples (McCarry, Hester & Donovan 2007; Waldner-Haugrud, Vaden Gratch & Magruder 1997). Considering all forms of aggression – not merely the physical – women are no less aggressive than are men (eg, Campbell 1999). This is when consideration is extended to what is alternatively termed indirect or relational aggression, which is female sex-typical in that as a proportion of all aggression that each sex perpetrates it is clearly the predominant female mode (eg, Vaillancourt, Miller & Sharmer 2010). This is a problem given that it is suspicion of the other side’s non-conspicuous behaviour or motivation that precipitates many a war. An actor joining the fray disproportionately bringing the very aggression modes that fuel suspicion is just what is not needed to forestall war.

From the outset, then, unwarranted major underlying assumptions call into question the supposed essential female qualities it is purported women would impart to men if only they were in positions of sufficient ‘power’. And that presupposes that influence and ‘power’ manifest similarly for men and women. It is ironic that anyone should try to make a case that male behaviour, having been sexually selected and maintained through female mate-choice, somehow could be significantly changed by females.

I will look in some detail at human social structure and dynamics with respect to the sexes, to show why it is that this precludes assertions that women can somehow end warfare. I will do this under three separate headings that each point up an explicit assertion or implicit assumption about men/women that is without substance. Before that, however, I first address the major assertions specifically about warfare; which I will also place under three separate headings.

Assertion/assumption #1:

Warfare is a product of culture, not biology, and therefore is a recent phenomenon; and vice-versa

Hand states: “war itself emerges as a consequence of culture”. This is in direct contradiction to an extensive bibliography regarding a biological root (eg; Livingston-Smith 2007; Ghiglieri 1999; Wrangham & Peterson 1996), and in a review (Palmer 2006) of the book, The Human Potential for Peace, by Fry (2006), that Hand herself heavily relies upon as the foundation of her position; Palmer writes:

“(A) cultural determinist explanation for the causes of current warfare (supposes) that because war per se is too recent to be an adaptation, it must be a product of cultural beliefs. This position makes the mistake of thinking that identifying the ultimate cause of a trait … implies a specific proximate cause of a trait.”

Noting that Fry himself emphasizes violent and otherwise aggressive human adaptations, Palmer points out that these surely interact with the facility to form coalitions to produce warfare.

“This alternative explanation would also help solve an even more fundamental problem with Fry’s argument: If the existence of a cultural belief in the naturalness of warfare is what leads to warfare, how did such a cultural belief come about in the first place?”

This question Palmer poses gets to the fundamental problem with standard models of culture addressed in my lead paper for the recent symposium ‘How is Culture Biological?’ (Moxon 2010). Culture, being the manifestation of evolved human psychology (its extended phenotype, as Dawkins would term it), itself presumably evolved to function to feed back to the underlying biology to fine-tune and thereby to more effectively complete motivation-behaviour loops. Consequently, culture never goes off on a trajectory of its own. Edward O Wilson, in stating that biology holds culture “on a leash” (Wilson 1978), understated the reality. Culture reinforces biology, being just another facet of an understanding of the organism in the contemporary terms of systems-biology (Noble 2008). It is unlikely that a cultural phenomenon such as warfare can emerge as a peculiar product of culture distinct from biology. In any case, in the absence of anything in higher animals resembling ‘group mind’ (Kitchen & Packer 1999), then there appears to be no supra-individual level of explanation to support Durkheim’s notion of the irreducible ‘social fact’ so central to a view that culture trumps biology.

There has been a problem not of ‘reductionism’ in social science – all science is necessarily ‘reductive’ – but of the restriction of attempts to understand human nature to a unidimensional ideological view. A barrier between social science and biology enables top-down thinly-veiled ideological explanation to be passed off as an objective view of human nature rather than one that is highly partial; this being the point of ideology, and why invariably an ideological view is at best incomplete if not starkly false.

Palmer’s point about biology/culture critically undermines a conceptualised non-biological basis of war, even assuming war to be a recently emerging phenomenon. But this itself is an assumption: a narrowing of definition to a scale of organised aggression that by declining to regard raiding by small groups as of sufficient scale to qualify, cannot but exclude warfare as being non-recent. That until relatively recent times there was a very low human population, necessarily would have meant widely dispersed population clusters; and these of a small size. This likely would have precluded the availability of men in sufficient numbers to make up anything much larger than a raiding party. Therefore, to not consider raiding as warfare is a tautological mere definitional exclusion through assuming no contiguity of raiding and warfare as the same phenomenon. Yet self-evidently raiding is simply a smaller-scale manifestation of the highly organised armies we see in historical warfare, and in turn would appear to be very closely related to cooperative hunting.

Equating raiding and warfare, the biological roots are indicated by its apparent phylogenetic antiquity: raiding behaviour of many extant hunter-gatherer societies may be homologous with what appears to be similar behaviour by chimpanzees first observed by Nishida (1979). It was at an entirely separate site that Goodall later achieved chimpanzee habituation to researchers through artificial provisioning, which critics of Goodall’s findings suggested caused the raiding behaviour she then observed; but this was subsequently shown not to be the case. In a major review, Wilson & Wrangham (2003) concluded:

“Recent studies provide strong evidence against these criticisms. Data from the five long-term sites with neighboring groups show that inter-group aggression is a pervasive feature of chimpanzee societies … Studies of non-provisioned communities demonstrate that these patterns of inter-group aggression are not the result of provisioning. Indeed, the Ngogo community, which Power (1991) considered a prime example of peaceful inter-group relations, turns out to have an exceptionally high rate of inter-group violence.”

Power had got it backwards. It was not that habituation (through, for example, competition over human-provided bananas, as at Gombe) rendered chimpanzees war-like, but rather that non-habituated chimpanzees in being more concerned with strange humans than with each other, ceased to be warlike (Wrangham 1999).

It has been frequently countered that the bonobo should be considered alternative to the chimpanzee as resembling our common ancestor, and that given the peaceful behaviour of male bonobos, then there is no phylogeny of warfare; but this is not plausible. Bonobo sociality differs radically from the human. The main mode of male intra-sexual competition in the bonobo is not just completely unlike any behaviour in humans; it seems hardly to be behavioural at all. An extreme promiscuous multi-male mating system as is that of the bonobo entails heavy sperm competition. This would explain why male bonobos engage so little in intra-sexual contest and lack extra-familial sociality generally.

In any case, not only the bonobo but also the chimpanzee may have little relevance to the phylogeny of warfare given that the orangutan and not the chimpanzee is now thought by some key researchers actually to be our closest living relative (Grehan & Schwartz 2009; Schwartz 2005), owing to the now very well researched far greater morphological and behavioural human-orangutan similarities over those of humans and chimpanzees. These appear to be not homoplasies but homologies in the light of new doubt that this evidence is trumped by the overall genetic evidence. Grehan and Schwartz hold that a supposed slightly greater overall similarity of humans to the chimpanzee rather than to the orangutan seems to be a tautology on the prior assumption that the chimpanzee was the only plausible candidate for our closest relative, with no consideration given to the orangutan alternative. Furthermore, a crude overall percentage genetic similarity is a blunt measure, because genes are organised hierarchically, so that a single regulating gene (which may be within the ‘non-coding’ mis-named ‘junk DNA’ not under consideration) or a very few such that are responsible for neoteny, could bring about a suite of morphological and behavioural changes dwarfing the impact of a great multiplicity of changes in other, less important but (directly) coding genes. It has long been and continues to be thought both that humans are markedly neotenised (eg, Bromhall 2003) and that there is a close resemblance in particular to juvenile orangutans.

It is now known that the common ancestor of all apes resembles the orangutan, because recent genetic evidence shows that the orangutan has hardly evolved since the split that separated other apes from what then evolved into the orangutan (Locke et al 2011). This reveals a deep ancestry in apes of male intra-sexual belligerence in defence of a community/territory, in that male orangs are extremely belligerent to other males: they defend the communities they head (a harem with juveniles) as mobile territories (Utami et al 1997).

The ancestry of warfare appears to extend back yet further, to non-ape primates, given that the extant primate with a sociality closest to that of humans is the hamadryas baboon. Males form large troops that fight each other (Stammbach 1987; Kummer 1968); a troop being the result of a multi-level form of male coalition: harems form clans, which group together as bands, which may further integrate as a troop. The mating system is (uniquely for a non-human primate) actually the same as the human in being both male and female exogamous (Swedell 2002).

To return to the denial by some cultural-anthropologists that warfare is somehow not scaled-up raiding: this is to argue for a qualitative distinction according to the degree of organisation of coalitional behaviour. Yet a coalition is a coalition; and coalitional behaviour is so obviously a hallmark of human male behaviour that it has never been suggested that it is not a feature of all human social grouping, not excluding the most ‘primitive’ (the so-called ‘immediate-return’) hunter-gatherer societies. Therefore, not even the most elementary form of ‘social stratification’ is required to produce raiding/warfare. Warfare self-evidently is coalitional aggression against any other coalition or individuals outside of the social group; the targets being not perceived as individuals deserving in their own right of attack, but simply by virtue of their out-group membership. It is, simply, collective out-group aggression.

The cultural-anthropological denial that raiding is warfare is rendered unfalsifiable (and therefore unscientific) in that it is often held that a hunter-gatherer culture exhibiting male coalitional behaviour in raiding can be deemed to be engaging in warfare if the society supposedly has been contaminated by ‘contact’ with individuals from a socially-stratified society (that is, Western culture) (eg, Ferguson 1992). Social stratification is envisaged somehow to be contracted instantly and invariably as if it were a school playground ‘lurgi’. A possible factor re a phenomenon is just that: possible and therefore in need of empirical study to assess if it is indeed a factor that has significantly come into play in any particular case. But ‘contamination’ is being taken to be a decisive factor as soon as it is noticed as a possibility.

This ‘contamination’ ruse can be taken not to exclude even the minimum contact necessary to record an ethnography in the first place. This would be a convenient way to dismiss an ethnography that does not conform to the ideological line, and is the very ploy that explains why Chagnon (the author of the famous ethnography of the Yanomamo, 1968) was subjected to a decades-long baseless ad hominem attack aided and abetted by the American Anthropological Association (Dreger 2011). As to the question of whether the characterisation of the Yanomamo as ‘the fierce people’ could be an artefact of ‘contamination’, even research expressly designed to try to discredit Chagnon’s findings – study of other not previously contacted Yanomamo groups, and carefully excluding any external factors — instead confirmed the occurrence of warfare (Good & Chanoff 1991). War was less frequent than was observed by Chagnon, but a low frequency of war is usual even in the most socially stratified societies, despite these being the ones that according to a standard rationale should be the very societies most prone to war. The presence of war in ‘primitive’ societies, notwithstanding a low incidence, is evidence not for the notion of the warless ‘noble savage’ but against it. Likewise, the most recent reviewers of “the never-ending battle over prehistoric war”, Ryan and Jetha (2010) conclude that: “The evidence, both physical and circumstantial, points to a human prehistory in which our ancestors made far more love than war”. Yet the standard cultural-anthropological line is not that ‘pristine’ societies (and therefore, it is presumed, prehistorically humanity in general) exhibit only some war, but that they are incapable of exhibiting any. That they exhibit some or any at all is compelling evidence against the standard line.

The unfalsifiability that cultural-anthropology theorists have constructed is inexplicable other than as serving a ‘noble savage’ ideology. ‘Pristine’ culture is envisaged as being through its egalitarian (non-hierarchical) nature incapable of out-group aggression; this being possible only (it is supposed) if there is a transition to social stratification within the group to produce a subordinated class that can be coerced (by the dominant sub-group) to perpetrate out-group aggression by proxy. Awkward evidence to the contrary is explained away through the ruse of redefining societies as non-‘pristine’ by providing spurious reasons of suddenly discovered ‘contamination’ or transition to storing resources.

Assertion/assumption #2:

Warfare is a product of settled living, and therefore is a recent phenomenon; and vice-versa

The second key assertion by Hand is that: “the most critical of these war-fostering factors was probably the onset of settled living”. The basis of this assertion is that warfare is the consequence of contest over resources: that is, stored resources. Another tautological ruse enters the fray here in the concept of ‘immediate-return’. This is the imagined hunter-gatherer community where no resource of any kind is or can be stored, and that therefore, supposedly, there is no basis of conflict. When a society is in a position to store resources, supposedly this necessarily entails social stratification or ‘segmentation’ (eg Kelly 2000,  Mendonsa 2008). As with ‘contact’, ‘storage’ can be deemed a possible factor that no sooner raised can be considered an actual factor of defining significance: a concept of spontaneous self-contamination, as it were. Why there should be a binary distinction does not make any sense when you consider that a nomadic male hunter-gatherer would carry a collection of precious equipment of various kinds, that having taken considerable skill and time to fashion has a value at least commensurate with that of a store of perishable food belonging to his settled counterpart.

Stored or otherwise, it should no more be assumed that war results from resource-competition than does dominance hierarchy – which inconsistent data (Lanctot & Best 2000) suggests does not concern resource-competition, and that by default surely functions to differentially allocate reproduction (sexual access) (Moxon 2009). Rank is thereby a measure of mate-value that is the passport to sex and also to resources instrumental to reproduction. Consequently, rank is the universal currency that is the object of competition. Gat echoes this in concluding that: “The interconnected competition over resources and reproduction is the root cause of conflict and fighting in humans, as in all other animal species” (Gat 2010).

That out-group aggression can often appear gratuitous is thereby explained as having a meta function through serving as an arena for an extreme of male intra-sexual competition indirectly to gain sexual access. Out-group aggression not only decides male ranking and thereby facilitates female mate-choice within the male warrior’s community, but it also provides the opportunity for extra-group sex. This can be consensual sex (given that warriors are perceived to be high mate-value males by out-group females as well as by in-group females), rape, and even ‘marriage by capture’. There is no need, then, for a group-level explanation of why individuals participate in war, as in terms of an ‘imbalance-of-power’ – the leading anthropological hypothesis. It is amply sufficient that there are dominance (status) gains by individuals. Indeed, all three rival anthropological hypotheses of the root of warfare (resource-competition, female-capture/ extra-group sex, and ‘imbalance-of-power’) are subsumed within the common framework of rank-competition as here explained.

That war is a means to gain individual prestige is revealed in ethnographies of nomadic hunter-gatherers from places as diverse as Papua New Guinea and North America. An historical overview and ethnography from the latter area — of the North-eastern Woodland Indians, long ago by Hadlock (1947) — is perhaps the most rounded, nuanced understanding of the basis of raiding/warfare in the literature:

“It appears from available historical material that all Indians in the area under discussion were warlike in that they did carry on raids against each other in which individuals were killed. Aggressive warfare as well as defensive warfare was resorted to by all tribes … There was no desire to gain new territory, and such wars as they did enter into … seem to have no other purposes than to uphold their dignity and avenge a wrong committed against them. … Their economy was such that one hunting tribe did not possess wealth in material things which could be seized by the others; thus the hunting tribes seem to have been lacking in motives for warfare. … The warfare of the hunting tribes seems to have been without economic reason, but to the various tribes and groups involved it was a means of gaining prestige and an outlet for their emotions.”

This is very revealing of motivations a long way from the models to which ideological considerations usually confine cultural-anthropological examination.

Assertion/assumption #3:

Warfare is a product of hierarchy (and ‘gender inequality’) replacing egalitarianism, and therefore is a recent phenomenon; and vice-versa

Key assertion number three by Hand, explicitly following Fry (2006), is that there are: “major cultural shifts that accompanied taking up a settled lifestyle. Among them were the development of hierarchical social structures, disempowerment of women that accompanied a loss of gender equality characteristic of nomadic forager societies, and the emergence of war”.

This is ‘noble savage’ ideology at its most extreme. Any (supposed) absence of formal social stratification in no way indicates the absence of male hierarchy. That dominance interaction is the principal property of informal male intra-sexual sociality is easily shown as non-conscious behaviour in various ways experimentally (eg, Kalma 1991; Gregory & Webster 1996). Hierarchical behaviour does not presuppose cultural codification. Stable linear dominance hierarchy in very young boys (aged five and under; even as young as two) has been found whenever it has been looked for, starting long ago (eg, Hanfmann 1935). Male sociality appears to be ubiquitously hierarchical in all (non-solitary) higher-animal species unless there is the alternative, related sociality of territoriality or lekking (or, alternatively, intense sperm-competition). It is so crucial a biological system that its phylogeny extends back even to pre-insect phyla. The various dimensions of complexity of non-formal human male hierarchy and its often non-agonistic form certainly pose serious problems for study – which is why dominance in humans had been nearly always studied in children and adolescents — but does not detract from the centrality of the phenomenon.

Some cultural anthropologists have tried to pass off seemingly more benign hierarchies — such as those they themselves climb in academia – as being not a matter of dominance but of just deserts in recognition of ability. Yet ‘prestige’ is a form of dominance, not something distinct from it. To claim otherwise appears to be a self-serving attempt to square the irreconcilables of actively seeking and gaining status with an equality-of-outcome ethos. In other species as well as our own, all sorts of attributes confer status on male individuals in dominance hierarchies without the need to engage in agonistic encounters or threat displays.

Dominance hierarchy is a self-organising social phenomenon (Hemelrijk 2000) requiring no supra-individual coordination, and (to reiterate) apparently is for the purpose not of determining differential access to resources but to sex, and therefore is not confined to social systems that through acquiring the facility to store resources have moved beyond ‘immediate-return’. Hand’s characterisation ‘dominator’ to apply to cultures featuring hierarchy as being supposedly distinct from a culture of utopian imaginings, is a failure to understand the nature of social system; which appears to be the biological mechanism to maximise the reproductive efficiency of the reproductive group. [And note that the group-level outcome does not imply a ‘group-selection’ mechanism, but an explanation here would be a digression beyond the scope of this paper.] Dominance hierarchy appears to be the ranking of same-sex individuals within the reproductive group in order of mate-value for the purpose of corresponding preferential mating; this mechanism being required to deal with the essential problem in biology of how to purge the accumulation of gene replication error (Atmar 1991). To this end, the male half of the lineage functions as the ‘genetic-filter’, as it were, for the whole reproductive group. That females are thus absolved from having to deal with the problem is imperative given that they are necessarily the ‘limiting factor’ in reproduction given that they are burdened with gestating, birthing, lactating and rearing offspring.

However, although dominance hierarchy is a key part of the male ‘genetic filter’ mechanism, and it is always the case that profound male reproductive skew is instrumental to reproductive efficiency; differential female reproductive outcome can also serve reproductive efficiency, albeit usually to nothing like the same degree. Consequently, dominance hierarchy is not a male-only phenomenon, though it is invariably same-sex (Moxon 2009).

Although it is generally agreed that human female sociality is essentially individual personal network, this features ‘cliques’; and the dynamics of the clique of high mate-value females appear to be akin to male dominance contest, though restricted to one-up-womanship over attractiveness of appearance, social connection and sexual propriety (eg,Judson 2010). [For an overview of clique dynamics see the book, Peer Power (Adler & Adler 1998).] A long list of books and films of the antics of young female ‘queen bees and wanabes’ and the very knowing reaction of the female readership/audience well attest to this, and that it’s actually more ruthless than any male equivalent. There are studies of human female hierarchy; albeit mostly some time ago before political obstacles to research came into play. Aries (1976) found that female ranking is far more unstable than the male counterpart; and Savin-Williams (1979) similarly concluded that unlike in male hierarchies where rank changes were more apparent further down the hierarchy, for human females it was the opposite. This is in line with female hierarchy being a feature only for those possessing high mate-value, and that female sociality allows the scramble competition that dominance hierarchy would preclude. In a rare piece of recent research on this topic, Mast (2002) sums up (p 35): “results suggested that women organized themselves in same-sex groups in a hierarchical way but that they needed more time to do so than men, and that even if the linear organization was maximal, their rank orders still suffered from being unstable over time.”

So ‘dominator’ [sic] culture is a feature of not just male but also of female sociality at its apex. And, what is more, it is of a form far less efficient and more fractious than in male sociality; appearing to lack the pro-social aspects that male hierarchy confers. Yet it is the female ‘high-flyers’ who would be the very individuals in a position to act as the conduit of what Hand envisages as some essence-of-femaleness to somehow ‘change the world’ and end war. Being themselves ‘dominators’ [sic] – and more ruthlessly so than are men — then why would they not actually contribute to (and, indeed, exacerbate) war-mongering, rather than steering men away from such a course? Therefore, the very nature of women alone would appear to cause Hand’s thesis to fall.

Just as unfounded as the assertion of a primordial non-hierarchy is belief in a primordial ‘gender equality’ [sic], when there cannot have been either some ‘non-gendered’ ‘garden of Eden’ nor a subsequent sea-change, because the notion of ‘gender inequality’ is a nonsensical, entirely ideological and not a scientific concept. Untenably, the assumption is that the sexes are indistinguishable other than according to the type of sex organs possessed, elided with the inverse notion that the sexes are essentially different. The nature of this essential-difference is either not elucidated or is varied — along with the flipping to and fro of the two notions of no-difference or essential-difference — according to what suits any particular argument to uphold the ideological position that females are disadvantaged; with males the supposed oppressive cause of that disadvantage. ‘Male oppression’ of females is another circular, tautological construct in the wake of an ideological attempt to explain why Marxism failed as an analysis of social change (Moxon 2011, 2008). It is not only that it has no empirical validity, but the data on all sorts of measures of ‘disadvantage’ would suggest the very opposite of ‘male oppression’ if data correspondingly were to be used as simple-mindedly to infer cross-sex prejudice and discrimination.

How the sexes actually interact is revealed in well-studied human social structure and dynamics from toddler age through early adolescence. It is clear that the sexes have separate sociality, with self-segregation by sex so overriding a feature of social development that individuals from an early age have a roughly order-of-magnitude same-sex preference for association (Maccoby & Jacklin 1987; Etaugh & Liss 1992). The sexes then come together in groupings that obviously evolved to facilitate pairing-off ahead of mating, but other sociality appears to remain essentially same-sex. (For a brief review, see Moxon 2008.) In particular, competition is intra– and not inter-sexual – as we would expect from the most basic biological principles. The male ‘genetic filter’ function underlying male hierarchy, with the fierce male-male competition produced and the heavy resulting skew in sexual access (and associated access /control over resources), means that it is invariably (lower-status) males who constitute the principle disadvantaged sub-group in any society. By contrast, as the ‘limiting factor’ in reproduction, women invariably are privileged; women in traditional societies not excepted.

Here it would seem that female intra-sexual competition for long-term mates (presumably either to denude sexual arousal in potential usurpers and/or to head off male paternity uncertainty) has produced such practices as female genital mutilation and foot-binding. These appear to be phenomena entirely within female sociality: for example, FGM in Sierra Leone is well-known to occur exclusively within female secret societies; and there is well-documented history that foot-binding originated in the most privileged Chinese female circles and then cascaded down to all but the very lowest class. It would seem, then, that far from originating these practices (and surely we should include here the regulation face/body covering in Islamic societies) males merely take account of individual female adherence as a factor in their mate-choice. Male involvement regarding the practice itself corresponds to no more than the assisted ‘policing’ role women may have regarding male dominance hierarchy. Given the locus of male intra-sexual competition in the civic sphere, males are obliged on behalf of females to codify and assist in ‘policing’ female intra-sexual competition.

The evolved perennial expectation of female privilege drives heightened female sense of entitlement during periods of social change. Facets of culture that serve to privilege women but become outmoded (such as marriage and child custody laws in the 18th century, and the ancient exemption of women along with nobility and clergy from onerous attendance at local courts to vote) are then perceived as somehow oppressively disadvantageous when they were anything but (Moxon 2008). Replacement by another arrangement that restores female privilege is taken as evidence of the supposed ‘oppressive’ nature of the arrangement that preceded it; with the speed or the tardiness of the replacement either way being taken to be congruent with this view. The notion that one sex somehow ‘oppresses’ the other is yet another unfalsifiable stance, and makes no sense in that it would be fundamentally against the most basic biological principles.

In ‘immediate-return’ hunter-gatherer societies no less than in others, men and women polarise to perform sex-typical tasks that are in line with their evolved strengths: men hunt (and defend the community, build shelters and fashion weapons), whereas women gather (and perform childcare and tend the hearth). This continues in various guises in all forms of human social organisation, including in Western culture – as we can readily see in the tenacity of sex-typical work sector, niche and pattern; especially in the near sex-dichotomy of work-centred versus work/life balance chosen or aspirant lifestyles (Hakim 2004). Famously, this endures despite even the most extreme and sustained efforts of elimination (Tiger & Sherpher 1975). There is no great change in the position of one sex in relation to the other. Not only is there nothing more than limited mere bending of evolved sex-dichotomous mindset to new conditions, but new conditions themselves, being manifestation of evolved psychology, are but mirrors of sex-dichotomous mindset and the essential biological principles underlying it.


Having already here diverged to set the ground regarding a proper understanding of men/women, I now move on from the general assertions/assumptions about warfare, to now consider the further assertions/assumptions specifically regarding women that underpin the imagining that female social influence somehow can eradicate warfare. These are no less unfounded oft-cited supposed truths about human sociality regarding women and contributions women make, repeated without analysis, which I will address under three further headings.

Assertion/assumption #4:

All social structure is or easily can be made essentially or completely ‘unisexual’ (asexual)

Given (as has been noted) that humans profoundly self-sex-segregate, then cross-sex interaction ahead of and in pairing, courtship and family life aside, it would be expected that the sexes essentially retain their same-sex sociality. Notwithstanding the relative ease with which the sexes can get along with each other in most situations, it would be expected that any novel cue from such an environment would not rival the psychological salience of those concerning intra-sexual competition and inter-sexual display.

The workplace and other civic organisations in being necessarily hierarchical are the contemporary equivalent of the (male) hunting group, and therefore presumably males apply the psychology of intra-sexual competition and coalition; whilst females correspondingly apply specifically female psychology as if they remain in a (female) extended-family gathering group. Both sexes likely will be non-consciously nonplussed by the presence of the other, and crucially this surely is compounded for females by their own presence in a non-female form of sociality. It is not merely that inasmuch as workplaces necessarily are hierarchical in structure then there is no way to compromise between the two forms of grouping: male and female in-group psychologies are radically different.

Male in-group psychology (unlike that of the female) is to identify with symbolic groups such as the work-group, college year-group, etc (Maddux & Brewer 2005). If unisexual (asexual or androgynous) social grouping is artificially imposed, as in some workplaces, then mirroring what happens in childhood when compensatory same-sex sociality is correspondingly increased (Segal et al 1987), it breaks down through men tending to quit (Kwon & Milgrom 2010): men require other men to compete against for status in order to accrue mate-value. However, with the male role ancestrally being defense of the whole natal group, males show no preference for sex of in-group member. By contrast, women have no such role; and instead, because of female exogamy, women need to be able to quickly bond with newly encountered same-sex members of a non-natal group. This would appear to explain the finding that there is a female fourfold same-sex preference for in-group members (Goodwin & Rudman 2004).

This sex-separation is evident even within mature Western formally androgynous societies, as in the gang lifestyle long rife in the USA, amounting to localised low-level civil war in American cities under the radar of mainstream civic life. Gangs overwhelmingly are all-male, with a few that are all-female; the all-male gangs having females only as hangers-on at the periphery. With the approach of the collapse that engulfs all empires eventually, many more males likely opt out of the mainstream to join gangs, precipitating a failed state. Neighbourhood gangs then can and do coalesce into armies of a size capable of waging nationwide civil war or international asymmetric warfare.

There is no prospect, even with the most concerted international cooperation, of some all-embracing social order from which vast numbers of males would not feel profoundly excluded. Even if there were any prospect of some unified amorphous international sociality, long before it came to pass, the evolved modes of male-led group-fission would prevent its realisation. The resulting in-group/out-group oppositions would from time to time lead to overt serious conflict, maintaining the perennial reality of humanity at or on the cusp of war.

Assertion/assumption #5:

Women don’t escalate conflict, whereas men readily do so

From early childhood, males spontaneously engage in same-sex rule-based team games, whereas female interaction is naturally in same-sex dyads (Benenson 1993). This is indicative of the coalitional nature of male sociality and its inherent conflict-resolution properties enabling coalition formation and maintenance; a facility that is available to be applied to in-group/out-group conflict to prevent unnecessary escalation. Indeed, male psychology re in-group and hierarchy surely facilitates the nesting within other in-groups and hierarchies, thereby eliminating any basis of hostility in favour of larger-scale coalition. [That, as mentioned above, the hamadryas baboon exhibit this; shows its phylogenetic antiquity, and that it can hardly be beyond the capability of human males.] The presence of females might be expected less to facilitate this than to escalate conflict through spurring out-group hostility (possibly pre-emptive attack), both through eliciting male care and protection behaviour towards in-group females and as male display.

Male display is apparent in studies in the economics literature designed to investigate competition/cooperation that contrast same- and mixed-sex groupings. Especially when the activity is male sex-typical (in itself, how it is rewarded, or how it is carried out), then in the mixed-sex condition males perform as well or better than in the same-sex condition (whereas females perform no better or worse) (eg, Ding, Bosker & Harskamp 2011). Interpretation in terms of either more or less competition and/or cooperation is a flawed conceptual narrowness owing to an economic model that does not make any motivational distinction between the sexes. So it is that interpretation (and experimental design) by authors usually fails to take account of inter-sexual display (and the lack of salience of competitiveness inter-sexually, given that competition necessarily is essentially intra-sexual, as I have explained). More plausible interpretation is that males crank up their display of male sex-typical activity in the presence of females to the point that they may perform actually better than in intra-sexual competition, even though they are not being competitive per se – likely they are competitive with their own past performances to ensure the display’s effectiveness. By contrast, as a forum for display, females are unlikely to use activity that is not female sex-typical. Backing off to focus instead on projecting their appearance is simultaneously how they compete with other females and display to males. These inter-sexual dynamics in the context of the male sex-typical activity antecedent to warfare again points to the likelihood of a not merely ineffective but counter-productive impact of the presence of women.

There is seemingly a female contribution to cross-group integration, in that the human species is considered female-exogamous: women tend to ‘marry out’. This in-breeding avoidance mechanism famously through history (and, it may be presumed, ancestrally) has been co-opted to create alliances, not least to obviate war; but the instigators of this political tactic have been older family members, especially men, rather than the women themselves. Not only, then, is it male behaviour that capitalises on female-exogamy to make it instrumental to heading off warfare, but with the phenomenon always having been in play it is not available as some new female phenomenon through changed female roles to make a novel contribution to preventing warfare. Quite the reverse given the retreat from marriage. In any case, there is dispute that humans are female-exogamous. Increasingly data and analysis reveals both male and female exogamy, and in reciprocal exchange (Chapais 2010).

Assertion/assumption #6:

The minority of women motivated to climb male sex-typical social structure are typical women

The point has already been made that women ‘high-flyers’ are distinct from typical women in being what Hand would decry as ‘dominators’; and that therefore the few women who might be in a position to influence decisions regarding war would do so through qualities other than ones Hand supposes need to be imparted to men. To expand on this: rank in a hierarchy confers mate-value to males; this being according to genetic quality. By contrast, female mate-value in being according to fertility – in human terms, youth/beauty – as a ‘given’ cannot be determined through contest. In any case, this is only vis-a-vis other females. Why then are there any women at all who choose to ‘ape’ men in the workplace or other civic organisations in what is essentially a male dominance hierarchy? [Of course, both sexes may progress upwards in work hierarchies merely through absorption in the job; though this is much more so for men because task-focus is sex-typically male; as is a facility for sustained extreme focus — see chapter 4 of the book Why Men Don’t Iron (Moir & Moir 1998).] Presumably it is so as to place themselves in the path of high-status men for mating purposes – more effectively than by merely sitting behind the reception desk, for instance! It is likely that other women see this as a ‘cheating’, ‘double’ sexual game. This may well be what is being picked up in the pronounced resentment women feel specifically towards their female managers (Molm 1986; Mavin & Lockwood 2004), though this may be due to (or compounded by) the different nature of female in-group psychology (see above). Whereas men always identify themselves as a member of a symbolic grouping as in the work-group, women’s sense of in-group is, by extension from family/friends, a haphazard collection of personal connection that cuts across groups such as the work-group. A female manager likely would not see many or most of her female subordinates as being within her in-group, whereas to some of her subordinates she will likely feel an intimate personal connection. In showing such partiality, a woman surely will cause considerable resentment.

The upshot is that to remain and thrive ascending in line-management, a woman might need to have a fairly ruthless disposition over and above anything that a man would require. This is another quality that is the antithesis of the qualities women supposedly would bring to the higher echelons of male sex-typical social structures rendered socially amorphous ‘unisexual’ realms. Furthermore, the presence of women is likely to intensify male intra-sexual competition; females being, obviously, male display targets.

Whatever is the prevalence of female high-achievement in male terms though, the trend almost certainly will be downwards because of differential low fertility. Unless female high-fliers reproduce at similar rates to females generically then the genetic underpinning of the behaviour that facilitated climbing the male-styled hierarchy of the workplace will be purged from the gene pool. There will be a progressive fall in the proportion of women in future reaching top positions. The most striking fact in demography is the negative correlation in females between education and fertility, but as to what are the factors behind this and how this extends specifically to workplace high-fliers is not at all clear.

Quite apart from the possibility that females behaving male-sex-typically are correspondingly deficient in female sex hormones, there are inter-related important factors weighing against successful reproduction. First, acquiring the attribute of rank in a male hierarchy can confer only male not female mate-value: hardly the best way to attract males. Second, the years of heavily committing to a career in order to be propelled into the paths of high-status males in executive workplace positions leaves the woman of an age when her most attractive years are behind her, and during which time she is likely to have eschewed serious pair-bonding through delaying in favour of the sort of mate-value levels she anticipated later encountering. Third, it is likely that males avoid pair-bonding with women who move in the workplace circles of high-status men, for the reason that such women have a lot of opportunity for extra-pair sex and have conspicuously shown themselves to desire this scenario in their protracted striving. These mutually reinforcing considerations – that likely feature in evolved implicit male cognition – are factors resulting in what has been dubbed the ‘Bridget Jones Syndrome’ of the woman successful in male terms but conspicuously lacking in success in usual female terms.


It follows from all of the above that we would not expect women in high office or in positions of influence to have any useful contribution (at least over and above that of men’s) to make to defusing potential warfare; nor even to be less war-mongering than men. Indeed, they may be worse war-mongers than are men. History provides plenty of evidence of war-mongering and despotic women rulers (such as Catherine the Great and the Queen Isabellas of Spain – ether one; or, more recently, Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher and Indira Gandhi). Then there are women as consorts of rulers exhibiting their warmongering and despotism indirectly. An assessment is for historians, but even a cursory examination reveals the small proportion of past rulers who were women as not standing out for their antipathy towards warfare. Rather, they appear to be  disproportionately warlike.

Both history and science show that humans seek group identity that is not anomic sub-summation within a socially amorphous vast population — certainly not the entire global population; because with nobody outside of it there is then no group with which to identify. Humans appear to have evolved to live in the context of at most about 150 individuals (Dunbar 1993). Our social psychology seems to reflect this, but even if Dunbar is out by one or even two orders of magnitude this has enormous implications for our current formerly unimaginable scale of social organisation. Consequently, although surely we have evolved great mental flexibility to facilitate ‘work-arounds’ in evolutionarily novel situations, the attempt to subsume individuals en mass in a gargantuan social order counter-productively leads to group-splitting; and, it follows, from time to time at least … war.

It is reckless in the extreme to dismiss out of hand the enduring lesson of history and what increasingly we know from psychology: that contrary to ideological wishful thinking humans have irreconcilable needs – even within the individual, never mind between individuals. Human conflict is perennial and inevitable; albeit not in any particular context and set of circumstances to make warfare a predictable outcome – there being too many variables to consider, even to be confident that all have been identified, let alone in any way quantified and understood in terms of how they may interact. Pragmatic realism is the only approach that can maximise the incidence of peace and minimise the need for defensive (or pre-emptive) war when, from time to time, deterrence loses credibility.

The nature of all Western ideology as rooted in the Abrahamic religious teleology of ‘the promised land’ and the megalomania and war this is prone to produce, has been comprehensively outlined by (the English philosopher) Gray (2007). Lying squarely within this Western ‘promised land’ ethos, the great irony is that cultural-anthropological and feminist notions about warfare are ideological elitist-separatist positions that are in  themselves at best unwitting war-mongering in the context of disputes with Islamic states, and actually fuel the current war in Afghanistan. This woefully counter-productive state of affairs has come about through a surfeit of advocacy in place of (any or very little) science.


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