The quote at the start of this thread was taken from an article by Jonathan Gottschall. I was sufficiently intrigued by his ‘explanation’ of the Trojan War to get a copy of his book, The Rape of Troy.
His thesis is deceptively simple - sex imbalance in populations i.e. more males than females, causes conflict, violence and war. He backs this up with a wealth of information from evolutionary biology and comparative anthropology. The root cause of conflict etc resides in the drive for reproductive success, the score card of evolution. Given equal numbers of males and females in a population a state of de-facto reproductive imbalance would still pertain since men are always reproductively available whereas women are not. Apparently, there is a naturally occurring birth imbalance in favour of males anyway. This is often increased, due to various factors, in older age groups, especially for primitive societies.
The drive for reproductive success is often not conscious (although at least one quoted primitive society straightforwardly and openly expressed the reasons for inter-tribe warfare as a means of acquiring women). Usually it is masked by social, political, economic or status requirements.
Gottschall’s contribution here is to link up this approach with late Dark Age Greece at about the time of Homer and to demonstrate that much of Homeric society (as described in the Iliad and Odyssey) is entirely consistent with it, including the apparently absurd (to us) rationale of going to war because of a woman. This is not to say that he believes the story.
This book is fascinating, well written and accessible, and abundantly referenced, often with interesting notes. His use of Homer within the context of evolutionary biology and anthropology reveals a thoroughgoing knowledge of his sources and a brave confidence in his ideas.
At the end of it, however, three things stuck in my mind:
First, evolutionary biology makes it axiomatic that reproductive success is the overriding ‘motivator’. Therefore, it seems to me, it can be invoked to ‘explain’ everything. So, in a sense, it really explains nothing. More meaningful and useful explanations of human behaviours devolve to those factors that are commonly associated with them. In the case of war these would be economic, political etc and this would be just as true in ancient times.
Second, evolutionary biology introduces a somewhat pessimistic legacy to life. The ‘perfectibility of man’ idea is severely circumscribed by apparently permanent genetic limitations. However, on the plus side, it may point to solutions - e.g. get the sex balance right and, hey presto! (Gottschall gives reasons why this was not possible for Homeric society because of the vicious circle of violence established in the fist place).
Third, and very personally, is my objection to the ubiquitous designation (thanks to evolutionary biology) of man being an animal. In my view this is no more than a Darwinian expression of the great ‘put-down’, that we are not the centre of the universe, incessantly imposed on us by science since Copernicus. This perspective is a direct consequence of the development of science (time’s arrow of scientific discovery) and seems inevitable but, I think, that in the light of the enormous differences between us and animals, we should take offence at this categorisation, shake it off and re-assert our humanity. Science may provide us with information but it has no right to tell us who we are. Power to the people!