If you despair that ending war is a problem so intractable that, even if it were possible, it would require a hundred years or more, "The Demographic Transition" offers hope and encouragement. This phenomenon, a great shift in human reproduction, indicates that we might end war in 25-35 years—less than a generation.
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 Bomb1 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 are subjected to two opposite kinds of reproductive pressures: 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 care. A classic R-selection species would be a fish species 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.
In contrast, K-selected females take an opposite approach. They produce few offspring but they lavish a great deal of care and protection on each one. In this way the parent generation increases the probability that each offspring will survive and pass on the parent's genes.
Humans, with their 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 total fertility rate was five children per woman.2
The Demographic Transition
Immediately preceding the impressive 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. General improvements in health care increased infant and child survival rates. A great many women also moved into the paid labor market.2
Evolutionary theory holds that reproductive success depends on passing as many genes as possible to the next generation. One might quite sensibly predict, as many did, that these health and financial improvements would enable women to increase their number of surviving children. The changes would add to the already disastrous consequences the experts expected from the then-current birth rates.
But as noted biologist E. O. Wilson observes, 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."3
This profound transformation occurred first in the 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. Moreover, these women frequently acted in the face of powerful religious prohibitions against reducing births by the newly available means.
This unexpected and seemingly miraculous lowering of birth rates—if you will, "super K-selection"—is called The Demographic Transition.
In the early years of the twenty-first century, our global birthrate has dropped to 2.7 children per woman.2 Some countries, such as Italy and Russia, are even alarmed by birth rates that are below replacement levels of two children for each two adults.
Because of the lag time between when a child is born and when she begins to reproduce, the world population continues to grow, and will continue to grow for some time, although at a slower rate. In many poor, developing countries, access to resources is under strain, the environment is severely damaged, and the acute pressure of a still growing population will continue to provide stresses that can be used to foment war. This is one reason why this website emphasizes the need to insure that every society has access to basic resources (see Insure Essential Resources).
A Warfare Transition
The Demographic Transition serves as a metaphor and example for thinking about the problem of war. Given reproductive education and power to control their reproduction, women around the globe are solving the population problem. What would be the result if women had as much influence over politics, economics, and culture as they now have over reproduction? What if the world's women were equally enfranchised with men and equally represented in the seats of political power?
Women, in general, have a deeply evolved instinct for social stability, preferring negotiation and compromise to lethal aggression.4 If women become empowered globally, humanity would likely experience a Warfare Transition as powerful, broad-reaching, and swift as the Demographic Transition. War would become as anachronistic as women bearing ten or fifteen children during their lives.
This Warfare Transition would not require physical force. Nor would it take forever. Like the Demographic Transition, the Warfare Transition would happen with breathtaking speed as women bring their preference for negotiation, compromise, and win-win conflict resolution into the seats of power.
A Future of Hope
In the past, when times got really tough and nasty, people who didn't want to fight could emigrate. Peace, security, or new resources might be found beyond the frontier, at least for a time. This is no longer true. While emigration by the desperate still occurs, 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. More than four thousand years of recorded history shows unequivocally that business as usual will not work. 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—is that way out. We dedicate this site to sharing the information, attitude, and optimism that will bring on a Warfare Transition—the sooner the better.
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