email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
269 Amazing Sex GamesA History of MarriageA Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth CenturyActionAll the WayAmerica UnzippedAmerica UnzippedAmerica's Sexual TransformationAmerican EugenicsAmerican GirlsAmerican HookupAn Interpretation of DesireAnarchism & SexualityAnatomy of a BoyfriendAnatomy of LoveAnthony GoicoleaAnticlimaxArt and HomosexualityArt/PornAssuming a BodyAutoportraitBachelors and BunniesBecoming OrgasmicBehind the Red DoorBest Sex Writing 2005Better Sex Through YogaBetter Sex Through YogaBetter Than EverBetween Mom and JoBeyond Diversity DayBeyond SexualityBeyond ToleranceBig Porn IncBill HensonBodies in DoubtBody ImagesBonkBoys Don't CryBreasts - A DocumentaryBrothelBuying SexCase Studies in Communication about SexCase Studies in Sexual DevianceCaught in the WebCelibaciesChildren and SexualityChildren and the Politics of SexualityChildren with Sexual Behavior ProblemsChildren, Sexuality and SexualizationChristy ReportClay's WayClinical Manual of Women's Mental HealthClose toYouClumsyCold HitCollege SexComing of Age in AmericaConfessions of the Other MotherCybersexCyborgasmDare... to Make Love with 2, 3, 4... or MoreDare... to Try BisexualityDating: Philosophy for EveryoneDeadly ButterflyDebating Same-Sex MarriageDeep GossipDeparting from DevianceDesire, Love, and IdentityDigital DiariesDilemmas of DesireDirty MindsDirty StoriesDisorders Of DesireDisorders of Sex Development:Doing ItDoing ItDoing It Down UnderDown and Dirty Sex SecretsDude, You're a FagEarly Embraces IIIEmerald City BluesEmotionally InvolvedEnjoying Guilty PleasuresErotic CapitalErotic InnocenceErotic PassionsEthics, Sexual Orientation, and Choices about ChildrenEveryday PornographyEvolution and Human Sexual BehaviorExploring TranssexualismFade to BlackFagbugFaking ItFamilies Like MineFast GirlsFinal JeopardyFinding H. F.Fire on the Mountain DVDFor Lesbian ParentsFor The Bible Tells Me SoForbiddenFrictionFrom Disgust to HumanityFrom Shame to SinFuckologyGay, Straight, and the Reason WhyGender in the MirrorGender OutlawsGeography ClubGetting RealGetting the Love You WantGirls & SexGirls Gone MildGirls Gone SkankGLBTQGoddess WorshipGoing DownGood GirlsGood PornGood Sex IllustratedGreat Answers to Difficult Questions About SexGuide To Getting It OnHandbook New Sexuality StudiesHandbook of Counseling and Psychotherapy with Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual ClientsHard to GetHardcore from the HeartHear Us Out!HeterosyncraciesHit & MissHomosexualitiesHookedHooking UpHow Sex Became a Civil LibertyHow Sex ChangedHow Sex WorksHow To Be GayHow to Do Things with Pornography How to Give Her Absolute PleasureHow to Have Magnificent SexHow to Make Great Love to a ManHow to Make Great Love to a WomanHow to Make Love Like a Porn StarHow to Think More About SexHypnography for MenHypnography for WomenHysterical MenI'd Rather Eat ChocolateI'll Be Your MirrorIf Men Could TalkImpotenceIn a Queer VoiceIn Praise of the WhipIn the Mood, AgainInsatiable WivesIntense Games DVDInvestigating Young People's Sexual CulturesIt's Perfectly NormalIt's Perfectly NormalItís Your HourJane Sexes It UpJock SturgesJust Between UsKama-Sutra--The Secrets to the Art of LoveKids Gone WildLegalizing ProstitutionLegalizing ProstitutionLet's Get This StraightLets Talk about SexLetters to Penthouse Vol. 50Likely to DieLittle ChicagoLoose GirlLosing Matt ShepardLoveLove and DesireLove and SexLove JunkieLove Lust DesireLove SickLustMad for FoucaultMagical ThinkingMaking American BoysMaking Babies the Hard WayMaking Chastity SexyMaking Peace with PornMaking ScenesMale SexualityMalefemaleMaster BreastsMating in CaptivityMedicalized MasculinitiesMelancholia and MoralismMenMental Health Issues in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Communities MiddlesexMoney ShotMoral Panics, Sex PanicsMy Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me UpMy HeartbeatMy Horizontal LifeName All the AnimalsNatural BeautyNerveNerveNew Sex Now DVDNightswimmingNone of the AboveNormalNormalNot GayNot The Marrying KindNot Under My RoofNothing PinkOedipus WreckedOn Being RapedOne Hot SecondOne Hour in ParisOpenOrgasmOrgasm Inc.OrgasmologyOrgasmsOver 100 Truly Astonishing Sex TipsOverexposedPeekPeriod PiecesPervPhilosophizing About Sex Philosophy of Love, Sex, and MarriagePin-up GrrrlsPINSPlease Don't Kill the FreshmanPolicing SexualityPolyamory in the 21st CenturyPornPorn NationPorn StudiesPorn UniversityPornifiedPornlandPornographyPornographyPornography, Sex, and FeminismPosition Of The Day PlaybookPray the Gay AwayPredatorsPremarital Sex in AmericaPrinciples and Practice of Sex TherapyPrivate Dicks - Men ExposedPrivate Practices DVDProblem GirlsPrudePsychopathia SexualisQueer PhilosophyRapeRape Is RapeRated X - A Journey Through PornRazmatazRecruiting Young LoveRedefining GirlyRedefining RapeRegulating SexRethinking Gender and Sexuality in ChildhoodRethinking RapeRunning with ScissorsSatan's Sex BookScreening SexSelling Sex ShortSexSex & Single GirlsSex (Ed)Sex and SpiritSex and the American TeenagerSex and the SoulSex and the Soul, Updated EditionSex and WarSex at DawnSex by NumbersSex DetoxSex Fiends, Perverts, and PedophilesSex in CrisisSex ObjectSex OffendersSex on the BrainSex PositionsSex Q & ASex, Family, and the Culture WarsSex, or the UnbearableSex, Therapy, and KidsSex, Time and PowerSextasySexting and Young PeopleSexual ArtSexual Boundary ViolationsSexual DevianceSexual DisordersSexual EcstasySexual EthicsSexual FluiditySexual IntelligenceSexual Orientation and Psychodynamic PsychotherapySexual Orientation and School PolicySexual PleasureSexual PredatorsSexual Teens, Sexual MediaSexuality in AdolescenceSexuationSexyBookShameShamelessShy GirlSlutWalkSmall FavorsSmutSocial Control of Sex OffendersSome Assembly RequiredSplit ScreenStir-FryStraight to JesusStrange BedfellowsStripped BareSurviving Sexual ViolenceSymptoms of Being HumanTalkTalk to Me FirstTechniques of PleasureThe Anthropology of SexThe BabiesThe Better Sex Guide to the Kama SutraThe Big Book of PornThe Birth of the PillThe Blue Moon Erotic Reader IIIThe BodyThe Breast BookThe Breath of Tantric LoveThe Busy Couple's Guide to Great SexThe Case of the Female OrgasmThe Chemistry Between UsThe Clitoral TruthThe Education of SophieThe Emergence of SexualityThe End Of AliceThe End of SexThe Erotic EdgeThe Erotic Lives of WomenThe Essential KamasutraThe Fate of GenderThe First Man-Made ManThe First TimeThe Gay Baby BoomThe Good Vibrations Guide to SexThe Happy Hook-UpThe Hite ReportThe Humble Little CondomThe Illustrated Guide to Extended Massive OrgasmThe Illustrated Story of OThe Love CureThe Madness of WomenThe Men They Will BecomeThe Mirror of LoveThe Miseducation of Cameron PostThe Moral Panics of SexualityThe Naked Truth About SexThe Nature of Sexual DesireThe New Erotic PhotographyThe New Gay TeenagerThe Notebook GirlsThe Only Girl in the CarThe Order of the Poison OakThe Origins of SexThe Other HollywoodThe Other PlaceThe Other Side of DesireThe Perils of MasculinityThe Perversion of YouthThe Philosophy of PornographyThe Philosophy of Sex: Contemporary ReadingsThe Pleasure's All MineThe Politics Of LustThe Porn TrapThe Pornographer's GriefThe Pornography IndustryThe Praeger Handbook of TranssexualityThe Psychodynamics of Gender and Gender RoleThe Purity MythThe Real Truth About Teens and SexThe Right to Be ParentsThe Secret Lives of GirlsThe Sex Addiction WorkbookThe Sex Lives of TeenagersThe Sex MythThe Shared HeartThe Sleep of ReasonThe Smart Girl's Guide to PornThe Story of SexThe SurrenderThe Ten Minute Sexual SolutionThe Tenth CircleThe Transformations of GwenThe Transformations of GwenThe Trauma MythThe Ultimate Guide to Sex and DisabilityThe Vagina MonologuesThe ValleyThe Violence of CareThe Virgin BlueThe Virginity ClubThings Tom LikesThinking KinkThinking XXXToo Hot to HandleTransTransTransgender Children and YouthUltimate JudgementUltimate SexUndoing GenderUnlikelyUntangling the WebVirginVirgin NationVirgin Sex for GirlsVirgin Sex for GuysVirginity LostWhat Women WantWhat's Happening to My Body? Book for BoysWhat's Happening to My Body? Book for GirlsWhat's Happening to Tom?What's Wrong with Homosexuality?When Jeff Comes HomeWhen Sex Goes to SchoolWhen the Piano StopsWhere Do We Fall When We Fall in Love?Who Has What?Who's Been Sleeping in Your HeadWilhelm ReichWired for IntimacyWomen and Child Sexual AbuseWomen and MadnessWritten in the FleshZen Sex
In this book, Potts and Hayden explore the evolutionary basis of violence. Drawing heavily on E.O. Wilson's 1998 book Consilience, as well as a range of theoretical and empirical works in social anthropology, evolutionary theory, economics, and behavioral studies, their argument looks to explain why "in every society, across time and space, men on average are much more violent than women." The book is aimed at the general reader, albeit perhaps one with a more than passing interest in these issues, and is, in the main, non-technical.
In the first part of this book, the authors develop this evolutionary psychology. In the Stone Age, being evil to others made good evolutionary sense. Males benefited from violently attacking outsiders, in a pattern that is here termed team aggression, as it increased the chances of successfully propagating their genes. This behavior, once valuable, has however been (inappropriately) retained. And it is this legacy that explains human violence.
Once this mechanism by which violence arose in our evolutionary past has been introduced, the authors turn to an extensive catalogue of instances of its operation: the War on Terror, the downfall of Black September, the origins of slavery, the massacres of My Lai and Thanh Phong, the Khmer Rouge, the Rwandan genocide, Stalin and the Gulag Archipelago, the rise of the Nazi party, the tropes of Right-wing politics, Darfur, the weapons of the Cold War, pro-life activism, the nature of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the development of civilization itself are all in some way consequences of team aggression.
The final parts of the book then offer means by which this evolutionary pitfall can be avoided. In essence, the argument here is that population stabilization is key to avoiding violence. Reproductive freedom for women, the authors argue, "is a crucial and necessary precondition for bringing to an end war as we know it." This argument is well-made and convincing, fits well with the earlier parts of the book, and leads to the impression of a strong, thoughtful and positive contribution to the literature on violence.
That is not to say that everything in this (substantial) volume is successful. For example, the development of the concept of team aggression critically depends on comparative observations of such behavior in primates. However, as the authors admit, such observations are extremely uncommon, with only seventeen directly observed episodes ever reported. More troubling, it has only been seen in one species of primates - Pan troglodytes, but not in others which are commonly used as model systems of human behavior, such as Pan paniscus. Thus the strength of the conclusions drawn from this rare (and poorly understood) behavior must stand in some doubt.
The volume of examples of human violence given can also be overwhelming. While the attempt to show the sheer scope of this behavior is laudable, perhaps a more fully developed analysis of the detailed contribution of team aggression to particular events would have been valuable. That is not to say that the many examples are without interest. A good example are the sections that deal with Potts' own work, such as that recounting his involvement with Marie Stopes International in Sierra Leone. This episode, writes Potts, involved a subversion of the usual rules of team aggression: "Like warriors, like any band of brothers, the staff suffered casualties entering conflict zones, they took risks to protect each other in pursuit of a common goal, and they were bonded in their work."
A more serious difficulty comes in the odd asymmetry between the descriptions of violence in the first parts of the book, and the solutions suggested later. Descriptions of the mechanisms by which our evolutionary heritage influence our behavior strongly emphasize the causal role of genes, rather than the environment. However, when it comes to offering solutions, the authors rely on a much stronger interactions between genes and the environment in bringing about improvements in human behavior. This seems a strange position to adopt, particularly as many of their examples explored in the text -- such as the relationships between population demographics and violence -- strongly suggest that this kind of interaction is key to understanding why, given that all men share this violent past, not all are bad. This over-reliance on both the importance of genes in controlling behavior, and the inappropriately strong distinction drawn between genes and environments as drivers of the way that humans are, harm the intellectual integrity of this work. Even though Potts and Hayden acknowledge that both genes and environments are significant, (e.g. "If we are indeed violent by nature, so too are we subject to the moderating or inflammatory effects of nurture, in all its forms") their case still, ultimately, depends upon this false distinction, and this weakens their overall argument badly.
There are also occasional minor factual errors (a range of different costs for the War on Terror are given; the surgeon Charles Bell is described as working in the Crimean war, rather than at the battle of Waterloo,) but in general, these do not significantly affect the text.
In summary, while the details of this book are interesting, and the conclusions worthy -- and worth taking very seriously -- the argument is flawed by an over-reliance on the genetic causes of our behaviors. We still do not know why, given that all men are genetically cruel, not all of us behave in such a manner.
© 2011 Brendan Clarke
Dr. Brendan Clarke is a teaching fellow in history and philosophy of science at University College London. Originally qualified in medicine, he has recently completed a PhD at University College London entitled "Causality in Medicine with particular reference to the viral causation of cancers". His current research focuses on the history and philosophy of the life sciences.