No one should underestimate the enormous challenges to be met and conquered to bring about a paradigm shift in human history as monumental as abolishing the practice of war. In 2014, in a chapter entitled “Pulling Elements of the Plan Together,” I broadly outlined many considerations that a group of determined leaders would need to take into account to successfully unite the global community in shared, sustained, successful action. (Hand 2014) Subjects ranged widely:
The need to pursue an effort to bury the “just war” concept, which, encouragingly, is already gaining adherents.
The need to understand the major barriers to success in ending war and thus be able to take account of them.
The requirement that leaders understand the different advantages of what have been called “Constructive Program” (good works) and Obstructive Program” (nonviolent direct action) as the means to bring about a major social paradigm shift.
The need for a clear and unifying strategy, to be shared by all stakeholders in a nonviolent ending-war movement.
The need to provide a mechanism for leadership of hundreds of efforts and coordination between them—the example of the International Committee to Ban Land Mines (ICBL) described as a model.
The need for the campaign to have: (1) a spectacular, media-attention-getting launch, (2) to schedule regular stakeholder follow-up meetings for evaluation and planning, and (3) to hold celebrations of intermediate victories to keep the movement advancing toward the ultimate goal and to attract and enlist recruits.
The need for leadership to apply the principle of lever and fulcrum to guide selection of the most vulnerable points of the war system upon which to direct the campaign’s shared efforts to force change, with some suggested targets and goals. Fulcrums are weak points of the war system, and the lever is the force of “people power.”
The need for leaders to appreciate the strategic tactic of putting women on and restricting men from the front lines of all kinds of public demonstrations.
The need to understand the differences between “Gradualist” and “Obstructionist” approaches as the means to end war, and the weaknesses of the former. A gradualist approach to moving us in the direction we want society to go relies on an assumption that there is a historical trend occurring in human history toward nonviolence and/or it relies entirely on using education and organic processes from the ground up to effect change. An obstructionist approach relies on using the tools of nonviolent confrontation to take down the war machine.
One objective that seems a logical necessity at some point would be to convene a conference of world leaders who can succeed in hammering out an enforceable global peace treaty. That would be difficult enough. Uniting and energizing a critical mass of global citizens to advance the foundational tasks encompassed by the cornerstones of the project A Future Without War, briefly encapsulated in the list entitled “Summary of the 9 AFWW Cornerstones,” that would be more difficult still.
When contemplating all of the above any sensible person might believe that ending war is a challenge so intractable that, even if it were theoretically possible, it would require a hundred years or more to accomplish. Described below, however, is the demographic transition. This phenomenon, a monumental and global shift in human reproduction, offers hope and encouragement because it indicates that with sufficient will we might experience a warfare transition—an end to war—in two generations or even less.
Demographic transition: relevant background
During the 1960’s, the global human population growth rate was so alarming that academic papers and an explosion of books such as Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb (1971) predicted dire consequences. We were skirting the edge of doom, we were told. Our burgeoning population, like bacteria growing out of control in a Petri dish, would soon reach levels where Mother Earth could no longer provide even minimal survival resources, let alone a healthy, comfortable, beautiful quality of life.
In the late 1960s, the population boom reached its all-time global peak. It then began a startling, totally unexpected, seemingly inexplicable decline. The disaster-predicting experts and a lot of other people wondered why? The answer lies in biology and evolution.
Biology basics: r-selection vs. k-selection
Living things utilize a spectrum of two opposite kinds of reproductive strategies: R-selection and K-selection.
In R-selected species, females produce large numbers of offspring, in some cases, offspring by the millions. They produce so many they don’t even try to lavish care on any of them. They make so many that some survive without any care. A classic R-selection species would be a fish whose spawning females every year release many thousands of eggs into the water. After a male fertilizes the eggs, the eggs drift unprotected. Most are eaten or otherwise perish, but enough survive and mature to pass the parents’ genes to the next generation.
At the other end of this reproductive spectrum, females of K-selected species take an opposite approach. They produce few offspring but they lavish a great deal of care and protection on each one. In this very different reproductive modus operandi the parent generation increases the probability that each offspring will survive and pass on the parents’ genes.
Humans, with their usual single offspring per birth, are clearly on the K-selected end of the continuum, along with chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos, and other primates. Historically, women commonly bore as many as ten or fifteen children in a lifetime. While many offspring died young, enough in each generation survived to eventually spread our species across the globe. During the period from 1950 to 1955, before the birthrate plummeted in the late 1960’s, the average global fertility rate was five children per woman. (Cohen 2003)
The demographic transition in humans
Immediately preceding the stunning global birthrate drop, several newly invented and highly effective birth control methods and strenuous worldwide efforts at their distribution made contraception and reproductive health services widely available. Also, general improvements in health care increased infant and child survival rates so that women didn’t feel the need to bear so many children to ensure that some would survive them, or to supply needed help with maintaining the family income, or to be available to care for them in their old age. Freed from the enormous burden of bearing and raising many children, a great many women even began moving into the paid labor market. (Cohen 2003)
Evolutionary theory holds that reproductive success depends on passing as many genes as possible to the next generation: this might logically be taken to mean, producing as many surviving offspring as possible. One might quite sensibly predict, as many did, that women’s improved health and financial improvements would enable them to significantly increase their number of surviving children. That kind of change would then add even more people to the then-current birth rates, exacerbating the already disastrous consequences experts were expecting to the environment and to quality of life. But as noted biologist E. O. Wilson observed in 2002, the most amazing thing happened:
Reduced reproduction by female choice can be thought a fortunate, indeed almost miraculous, gift of human nature to future generations. It could have gone the other way: women, more prosperous and less shackled, could have chosen the satisfactions of a larger brood. They did the opposite. They opted for a smaller number of quality children, who can be raised with better health and education.. . . [H]umanity was saved (from an increasing population explosion) by this one quirk in the maternal instinct. E. O. Wilson
This profound shift to reduced birth rates occurred first in developed countries and eventually reached into the developing world. Most significantly, the change was largely the result of voluntary choices made by millions of women who had only minimal information and minimal access to reproductive control. These women, in fact, frequently acted in the face of powerful religious prohibitions, or threats from husbands or family, against reducing births by the newly available means. In short, this female preference is stronger even than culture, often stronger than social compulsion.
Along with reduced number of deaths due to medical advances, this unexpected and seemingly miraculous lowering of birth rates—if you will, “super K-selection”—resulted in a reduction of population growth: the demographic transition.
Population growth, human competition for basic resources, and war
As a result of the demographic transition in the early years of the twenty-first century, the global birthrate dropped to 2.7 children per woman. (Cohen 2003) Some countries, such as Italy and Russia, and by 2018 even China, became alarmed by birth rates in their countries that dropped below replacement levels of two children for each two adults. They instituted incentives to encourage reproduction.
Despite this reproductive decline, the population size of the world as a whole will continue to increase for some time, although at a slower rate, because of the time lag between when a child is born and when she begins to reproduce. In many poor developing countries, especially in Africa, where the demographic transition has not yet occurred in full force, continued growth in population size continues to seriously strain access to basic resources. It causes severe environmental damage, for example, by increasing water pollution via excess use of pesticides, or reduction of forest to make way for agriculture or housing. Into the foreseeable future, the acute pressure of a still growing population will continue to stress multitudes. The result will be that competition for resources in still-burgeoning populations will provide fertile ground for both emigration and war.
Adding to the pressures of growing population size, as of 2019 the increasing onslaught of climate change can only exacerbate struggles over resources due to crop damage or failure from such phenomena as longer droughts, more frequent and more powerful hurricanes, shifts in growing seasons, and invasions by formerly absent agricultural pests.
Although the demographic transition clearly won’t be enough to counter the threats of population growth and climate change, it nevertheless serves as an important metaphor. This swift, widespread, massive social shift serves as an example for thinking about the problem of war. It is a shift that rests on a “quirk” of human female nature: a preference for bearing fewer children and giving each more care.
A Warfare Transition – The Role of Women
Similarly, a warfare transition would also rest on “quirks” of human female nature. As explained in other essays, women have two evolved instincts that are more strongly characteristic of women than men: a preference for social stability and concern for community and child welfare. (see Women: the Pivotal Catalyst for Positive Change and Long-term Stability” and “Differences between Men and Women with Respect to Aggression and Social Stability”) Given those strong female preferences, what might be the result if women had as much influence over politics, economics, and culture as they now have over reproduction? How might these “quirks” of female human nature relate to a campaign to abolish war?
If empowered globally, women’s strong innate preference for social stability would becomes a significant contributor to decision-making processes at all levels. It’s not unreasonable to expect that humanity would likely experience a warfare transition. Men desiring to break us free from endless cycles of killing and destruction would swiftly find legions of empowered partners driven by that same goal. The global community would experience a shift in orientation every bit as powerful, broad reaching, and swift as the demographic transition. War would become as anachronistic as women choosing to bear ten or fifteen children or more during their lives.
This warfare transition would rest on the genuine preference of both men and women to live their lives and raise their children in peace. It would not require physical force or even education against warfare. Nor would it take a hundred years. Like the Demographic Transition, the Warfare Transition would happen with breathtaking speed as critical masses of women bring their preferences for avoidance of physical aggression and win-win forms of conflict resolution into seats of power alongside men. The more rapid the empowerment of women, the more rapid the onset of a warfare transition.
A Future of Hope
In our deep past, when we lived as nomadic foragers, when times got really tough and nasty, people who didn’t want to fight could emigrate. Peace, security, and/or new resources might be found beyond the frontier. This is no longer true. While emigration by the desperate still occurs—and is increasing in disturbing numbers—the habitable parts of the globe are now occupied. There are no new lands, no new frontiers. Moving now merely shifts problems from one place to another. In reality, there are no empty places where we can go—at least not on this planet.
We desperately need new ways to deal with our inevitable conflicts over resources. Nearly four thousand years of recorded history chronicling our many forms of patriarchy shows unequivocally that business as usual—all male governing—will not free us from war. People ache with a growing, alarming sense that our backs are to the wall. We need a way out. A warfare transition—a phenomenon that will depend upon the global empowerment of women and their evolved “quirks”—is that way out. A Future Without War, is dedicated to sharing the information, attitude, and optimism that will catalyze a warfare transition—the sooner the better. Maybe even “before it is too late.”
Cohen, Joel E. 2003. “Human population: the next half century.” Scientific American 32: 1172-1175. Ehrlich, Paul. 1971. The Population Bomb. New York: Ballantine Books. Hand, Judith L. 2014. Shift: The Beginning of War, The Ending of War. San Diego, California: Questpath Publishing. Wilson, Edwin O. 2002. “The Future of Life.” Excerpted from Scientific American. February, pp. 84-91.