Re: Why war? Why gender? What exploits whom?

Author Subject: Re: Why war? Why gender? What exploits whom?
Murray Feldstein Posted At 09:47:29 10/23/2002
I don’t think Harold and I disagree as much as he believes. Let me address Harold’s second point first, and then discuss his larger problem with my statements at the same time I address the post from Withheld that followed Harold’s post.

I don’t understand Harold’s statement that I regard economic exploitation and war as mutually exclusive. Imperialism certainly is exploitive and can cause war, but I don’t think that Imperialism and Global Trade are one and the same. There are three ways that people can get something from other people that have what they need: They can (1) beg for it and depend upon other the people’s largess, or they can (2) take it without the other’s consent (or get their government to take it for them—that’s Imperialism), or they can (3) set up a system whereby they trade for what they want with something they have and the other people need. Societies that establish mutually beneficial trading policies tend not to fight with each other. The more our cultures evolve to permit that kind of global trading system, the more we can reinforce our genetic tendency to survive and reproduce using peaceful rather than warlike means.

The answer to Harold’s question as how there can be cultural diversity if in fact our genes program us for war is that there is nothing in our genetic make up that forces us to go to war if we don’t feel threatened by outsiders. Cultures evolving in two different locations will become diverse and never have to fight each other, especially if they never meet! What happens when they do meet depends upon how their culture has adapted them for the meeting. When Cook sailed the Pacific he came across diverse cultures: Some welcomed him into their homes and even their bedrooms (to their later regret), while others looked upon him as a food source. Which encounters do you suspect were more peaceful?

I think the problem that people like Harold and Withheld have with the notion that there are genetic determinants for war is an outmoded and overly narrow understanding of how genes work. Forget Mendelian descriptions of genes as discreet packages that make eyes hazel or brown in and all-or-nothing fashion—something you get at birth from your parent in predictably dominant or recessive pattern and which cannot change no matter how you wish otherwise. Some genes work that way, but the overwhelming effect of our genome is far different.

When we speak of someone as having inherited their parent’s musical ability we probably mean something like their genes program the proteins that appreciate the rarefactions and compressions in the air around us (sound waves) in a way that is different than someone else without musical talent. Or perhaps it’s in the way that those sound appreciations are relayed to the central nervous system. The point is that musical ability has a biologic basis. Making music is a universal human activity, and is normally considered a cultural phenomenon.

There is no artificial boundary between biology and culture. There is a material underpinning (biological, molecular, atomic, sub-atomic) of human activity, including ideation. While I agree with Withheld that war is a social and historical phenomenon, this in no way negates it from it also having a biological basis. We cannot have history without language or memory, and both of those faculties are genetically determined as part of our human nature. So are social interactions.

Withheld’s decision to resist the genetic impulse to reproduce is a decision that is made all the time. Very few people resist the genetic tug to copulate. The contraceptive industry depends on it. We have “outwitted” our genes in this instance. I would hope we could do the same for the making of war.

There is something that Withheld needs to know, however. I have seven grandchildren. That means that thirty years from now it is statistically likely that more people will share my hair color, body build, and ideas than do Withheld’s.

This post is part of the War and Gender forum.