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From the very beginning, life on Earth has been defined by war. Today, those first wars continue to be fought around and literally inside us, influencing our individual behavior and that of civilization as a whole. War between populations - whether between different species or between rival groups of humans - is seen as an inevitable part of the evolutionary process. The popular concept of "the survival of the fittest" explains and often excuses these actions.
In Population Wars, Greg Graffin points to where the mainstream view of evolutionary theory has led us astray. That misunderstanding has allowed us to justify wars on every level, whether against bacterial colonies or human societies, even when other, less violent solutions may be available. Through tales of mass extinctions, developing immune systems, human warfare, the American industrial heartland, and our degrading modern environment, Graffin demonstrates how an over-simplified idea of war, with its victorious winners and vanquished losers, prevents us from responding to the real problems we face. Along the way, Graffin reveals a paradox: when we challenge conventional definitions of war, we are left with a new problem, how to define ourselves.
Populations Wars is a paradigm-shifting book about why humans behave the way they do and the ancient history that explains that behavior. In reading it, you'll see why we need to rethink the reasons for war, not only the human military kind but also Darwin's "war of nature," and find hope for a less violent future for mankind.
Historians and scientists both see life as about competition, but it is more about cooperation, says Graffin (Anarchy and Evolution), frontman for the punk band Bad Religion and occasional Cornell University lecturer. In this spirited work, he explains that losers of human wars undergo less "annihilation" than "assimilation." Similarly, in the creation of complex life, he says that what mattered most was simple organisms' assimilation not annihilation of one another. However, Graffin makes some sweeping generalizations that lack essential nuance. For instance, he says that our nuclei are probably assimilated Precambrian viruses; our macrophages, assimilated amoebas. Neither theory is widely accepted, yet he grants them the same weight that he gives to the more established notions that our mitochondria are assimilated proteobacteria and plants' plastids are assimilated cyanobacteria. There are other passages that will give specialists pause, and brighter lines should have been drawn between guesses and genetically supported theories. Still, while his speculations supporting his thesis that symbiosis is the key driver of complex life are not all fully backed by research at this time, they are always intensely thought-provoking. Graffin's view that complex life is generally more about cooperation than conflict remains controversial among evolutionary biologists, but many of his arguments are intelligent, challenging, and inspiring.