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War, Blood, Men and Women

August 3, 2011
Barbara Ehrenreich 2 by David Shankbone, New Y...

Barbara Ehrenreich 2 by David Shankbone, New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recently read Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book “Blood Rights” in which she postulates that the source of the human lust for war is not, as has previously been believed, its prehistoric experience with hunting (too male-centered) but with humanity’s status as prey of the fearsome predators that stalked our predecessors soon after they first dropped down from the trees.

I tend to agree with her that the great hunter myth is wrong. Before we hunted we were prey. We scavenged and we ran away. As a result, we, humanity, developed those human traits that we know so well, anxiety, suspicion and a pathological fear of the unknown or the different. It could perhaps be argued that the function of art, education, and knowledge is to reduce the number of unknown things to be fearful of, replacing them with what we really should be fearful of, not what is out there but what is in us.

She goes on to suggest that actual warfare began in about 12,000 BC when with the worldwide disappearance of large mammalian herbivores and predators rendered the male hunter-defenders under-employed. As a result, they took to drinking, fighting, stealing from their neighbors and beating their wives.

While I agree with the timing of the disappearance of the large mammals, and the resulting anguish, it is just as likely that the urge to war was generated by the realization that taking your weaker neighbor’s food and resources were easier than the now extreme rigors and insecurity of the hunt. As a rule, humans always have been fairly easy prey. We just replaced the tooth and the claw of the great hunters of the jungle with human gangs with better weapons.

Unfortunately, she seems to stray from her thesis a bit when she attempts to argue that her observations somehow justifies the erroneous contention of many feminists that women are just littler men who bear children.

She pictures the prehistoric women strapping their baby on to her back, throwing her dugs over her shoulder and leaping upon the menacing saber-toothed tiger with equal if not greater ferocity then her male companions who it might be added, remain unburdened by either child or breasts. Mother Courage in animal skins.

Really now, do we need that image to prove that male chauvinism, is as muddle-headed as most males themselves?

While I am sure women joined in protecting the tribe as they tramped through the predator-infested grasslands of north-central Africa, in fact, given the short life span of these proto-humans and their omni-temporal sexual proclivities, most mature women of the tribe would be either pregnant or lactating. It would be foolish and unnecessary for them to be on the front line of danger except in the direst of circumstances.

I think it is sufficient to recognize that from a species perspective woman are much more valuable than men. A tribe of 100 men and one woman will soon go extinct. A tribe of 100 women and one man will probably survive. (This is not to deny the high probability that the sole representative of his or her sex in the suggested examples would soon die of exhaustion.)

In the battle for survival of the tribe from predation, men are expendable, women are not. It could be argued that women are expendable in childbirth [just ask the Catholic Church and the Pentecostal mafia]. Talk about giving up one’s life for society, childbirth has taken a greater toll on women than all the wars of history have taken on men. If we are able to draw any genetic predisposition from the situation it is that men are conditioned to die, often for no real reason, while women are conditioned to survive and take care of themselves (that is why they are generally smarter than men). Until recently women had no choice but to give up her life for the benefit of the species in childbirth. Men have always had the choice of giving up their lives in war even though most of them were too dumb or testosterone poisoned to realize it.

She also argues from the historical evidence of the existence of a number of ferocious goddesses, such as Kali, Artemis, the Gorgon and so on, that it somehow indicates in pre-historic times men acknowledged women could be as bloodthirsty as they. While that is undoubtedly true as history and the “Badass of the Week” website will attest, the conclusion that women are just like men or that they can and should do what men do does not follow. (If they want to do it, that’s another thing, foolish as that may be.) In her eagerness to right the wrongs imposed on women by male myth-making, she is selling her gender too cheaply.

At one point where she dismisses the female goddesses of agriculture and fecundity as male constructs. She argues that the prehistoric figurines found throughout the much of the Eurasian continent interpreted as fertility representations, in fact merely reflected that women of the time were generally fat. She then wonders why depictions of men in cave paintings showing them a small and skinny with big penises are not considered fertility symbols also.

Nevertheless, the divisive intellectual conflict between feminism and male chauvinism aside, it seems to me the central problem with her theory of the genesis of war is the basic mistake that she and most other commentators (male or female) make when theorizing about the fundamental causes of armed conflict. They fail to differentiate between the psychological, social and genetic makeup of those who go off to fight in wars and those that send them there.

To me, humanity’s predisposition to warfare is explained not by simply whether they were originally predator or prey but by the fact that when they first dropped from those protective trees and trembling stood upright so that they were able to see above the grasses of the veldt, they looked about for four things, predators, prey, sex  and someone to do the dirty work or to take the fall.

English: Lokotunjailurus emageritus, a Homothe...

English: Lokotunjailurus emageritus, a Homotherium-like saber-toothed cat from Kenya. Based on Mauricio Anton`s skeletal drawing.

Imagine if you will, a small band of proto-humans set upon by a ravenous saber-toothed tiger. One of the men guarding the tribe turns to the one next to him and says, “Quick Smith run over there and punch that thing in the nose.”

Smith in his manly exuberance does so.

“Oh-oh,” says the first man. “Too bad for Smith, brave of him though. Well, let’s push on while the cat is busy with him.” He turns to the rest of the tribe as they prepare to run away and shouts, “We shall remember Smith’s sacrifice for all eternity.”

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