Sunday, July 6, 2008

This Is the First Day of My Blog

Welcome to my blog. I'm new to blogging, so this will be an ongoing experiment in freespeak and freewrite. I'll talk about my books, comment on writing, and express my concerns about anything and everything. Words are precious to me. Putting thoughts into words is my passion and my profession.

Be forewarned. A lot of my comments will be political. I believe that the 2008 Presidential election is the most important, the most critical in our history. The Bush/Cheney administration has severely damaged our beloved country. The choice we make in the coming election will determine whether the damage continues or whether repair and reclaiming our democratic ideals can begin. During the past eight years, Bush/Cheney abandoned our precious Constitution, shredded our Bill of Rights, turned away from international law, and began a path toward a fascist police state. They launched a war based on lies, they ignored laws they didn't like, they raided the U.S. Treasury on behalf of their greed-driven corporate supporters, they illegally spied on Americans, they condoned torture, they governed by fear manipulation, and they turned their backs on hard-working, middle-class Americans and the poor. They should be tried for war crimes. At the very least, they should be impeached.

Following is the essay I wrote recently for my website:

Making A Killing

It’s all about money. Forget about the freedom-and-democracy rhetoric. That’s for chumps. War is the biggest money-maker on the planet. With every bomb dropped, every rocket launched, every gun shot, the weapons manufacturers ring up profits. Ka-ching! Ka-ching! Only the dead have nothing to gain.

So it has come to this. After some three million years of primate evolution, humans are still turning on each other with a ferocity seen only among chimpanzees. Homo sapiens, the species with the most complex brain, seems beset with madness. Visitors from another planet would be justified in thinking they had discovered a vast insane asylum.

Sadly, the fact is that the most deadly violence is committed by men. Numerous studies show that men are more likely to kill other people than are women, and they are most likely to do so in organized groups. The question has been raised whether humans have a violent brain. The answer is No, according to many anthropologists and evolutionary psychologists. Indeed, studies show that humans can live in cooperative groups much better than they can live in violent groups. Criminologist Manuel Eisner of Cambridge University says his study of history indicates that homicides have actually been declining since the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. During that time, says Eisner, there were an average of 32 murders per 100,000 people per year. The homicide rate declined every century thereafter, finally reaching 1.4 per 100,000 people in the twentieth century (Eisner 2001). Deaths from warfare have also declined. “If the wars of the twentieth century had killed the same proportion of the population that die in the wars of a typical tribal society, there would have been two billion deaths, not 100 million,” says Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker (Pinker 2007, Jones 2008). However, before humans congratulate themselves on a decline in violence, it’s necessary to take into account weapons of mass destruction. Nuclear weapons can instantly vaporize entire regions and the millions that inhabit them. Nuclear wastes tick out their half-lives over thousands of years, bestowing a toxic legacy on soil and water for future generations. It is not enough that violence has declined. In today’s world, warfare should be obsolete.

The political leaders who still pursue warfare as foreign policy, seem specimens of arrested development, their intelligence lagging so far behind the times that they might as well be ice men, thawed from a glacial past to confront a world for which they are unprepared. In their mindsets and actions, they are maladapted to the high-tech age. Seemingly bereft of reason and negotiating skills, they pursue inappropriate policies, making war instead of peace. It’s as if their brain cells never developed beyond the Stone Age, the early stage of human evolution that spans several hundred thousand years.

During the Upper Stone Age, some 40,000 years ago, anatomically modern people known as Cro-Magnons appeared. At that time, the total human population of the planet was probably less than one million. (Today it’s 6.5 billion.) Throughout the Stone Age, which comprises most of human evolutionary history, people lived in small groups of hunters and gatherers. They faced their enemies with clubs or spears. Battle was up close and personal. The reach of a weapon was arm’s length or the distance a rock could be thrown or a spear hurled. Then men fought to protect their women and children or their territories from bands of hostile males. Today, there are still bands of hostile males -- armies of them -- fighting each other, all out to kill, maim, and pillage, as if life were not short enough. Even warfare is not enough to satisfy their thirst for blood. Using their bodies as weapons, men rape and terrorize girls and women, treating females as reusable spoils of war. More recently, some young men turn their bodies into incendiary devices, killing themselves and anybody else in their suicidal path.

Modern warfare broadcasts its madness – grown men acting like bad little boys throwing tantrums with the most lethal weapons ever invented. Men getting their rocks off with each target incinerated, each bagged and tagged body, each woman raped, each child eviscerated.
Total madness! All waged by big men who have never grown up.

Bad boys, drunk on power, seem to be in charge of many countries, large and small. Even in the most sophisticated country on the planet – the United States – a bare majority of voters elected a bad little rich boy to the Presidency. Some folks said he was the kind of guy they’d like to have a beer with. Better they had left him in the bar. The arrogant folly of George W. Bush’s reign – yes, it has been an imperial Presidency – is the greatest disaster in U.S. history. His soon-to-be legacy is a list of horrors: a pre-emptive war in Iraq based on lies, suspension of habeas corpus, condoning torture, illegal spying on American citizens, a wrecked economy, tax policies that benefit the one percent of wealthiest Americans, and “signings” that place him beyond any law he doesn’t like.

For Bush and his compliant cadre of Republican faithful, war is money in their pockets. No matter that war kills other people’s children; no matter that war mongering in our high-tech age is suicidal, genocidal, and ecocidal. In the ultimate gesture of denial, this President doesn’t attend soldiers’ funerals. And, hey, so much destruction can be launched by remote control, just like a video game!

Afghanistan, Iraq, Chad, Congo, Darfur, Israel, Kenya, Lebanon, Pakistan, Sudan – all places of turmoil where innocents struggle against the violence imposed by bully leaders flaunting their pitiful machismo like the sandbox boys fighting with toy weapons. But these weapons are not toys.

In contrast are the artists, scientists, doctors, and inventors who compose symphonies, write novels, rocket astronauts into space, send instruments to explore the far corners of the universe, map the human genome, and analyze the DNA of cancer cells. One segment of humanity working to improve life and bring beauty to the world; the other vested in violence and death.

Given the vast destructive power of nuclear weapons, there can be no winners in modern warfare. So why do so many men glory in death and destruction?

I believe we can find some answers in evolutionary biology. Male-male combat occurs among many species of animals as part of the male reproductive strategy. Males fight to establish status and dominance. Males fight to obtain resources to impress potential mates. The genetic stakes are high. If a female doesn’t choose a male as her mate, he is a genetic zero. He will produce no offspring. Countries that foster war and base their entire economies on weapons manufacture have, in effect, nationalized male-male competition for resources but these resources are no longer connected with reproduction. Warfare could thus be viewed as male mating strategy run amok. Controlling the resource – in the case of Iraq, oil – is the goal. However, it is interesting that the young men who detonate themselves seem seduced by a fantasy of postmortem mating with virgins in Paradise.

In this election year, Americans face a clear choice between the warmongers and the peacemakers. Indeed, the Republican candidate, John McCain, has said staying in Iraq for one hundred years would “be fine” with him. Only those who lack vision, reason, and common sense would condemn this nation – and the planet – to eternal war. So much more is humanly possible.


Eisner, M. 2001. British Journal of Criminology .41:618-638.

Jones, Dan. 2008. Killer Instincts. Nature . 451:512-515.

Pinker, S. 2007. The New Republic . 236:18-21.

1 comment:

Tom Kirby-Smith said...

That's the same Mary whom I met almost 50 years ago on the original Cunard Queen Elizabeth. She was bound for Toulouse till the fleas ate her toes, then decamped to Paris.

I see that there are two lines of a limerick there:

She was bound for Toulouse
Till the fleas ate her toes.

let's see:

I remember I met Mary Batten;
I've forgotten the chair that she sat in.
She was bound for Toulouse
Till the fleas ate her toes.
"Pulex" is the word "flea" in Latin.