While the title suggests another dire warning of a coming explosion in the world’s population, in fact, the term “population wars” as used here refers to a historical pattern of populations brought into contact with one another, the ensuing conflicts, and the resulting assimilations.
Graffin (co-author: Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science, and Bad Religion in a World Without God, 2010) is the lead singer and songwriter for the punk band Bad Religion and a lecturer on evolution at Cornell University, where he earned his doctorate in zoology. Both sides of his life are apparent as the iconoclastic storytelling scientist challenges conventional thinking about evolution. The populations discussed range from microbes and viruses inside the human body to American Indian tribes and European settlers in North America—all stories of the persistence of populations, compromise, and assimilation. Human wars, writes the author, are not about victors and the vanquished but rather natural population phenomena. As populations grow, conflict is inevitable, and it is therefore incumbent on us as a species to alleviate its ravages as much as possible. Graffin argues that we must revise our thinking about two concepts: competition and free will. He rejects the idea that competition is a driving force of evolution, seeing evolution rather as the product of symbiotic relationships. As for free will, he writes that humans are the products of genes, embryonic development, and environment but that if we care to, we can, to some degree, make informed choices about our actions. His recommendation: instead of thinking about annihilating our foes or eradicating evil, turn our thoughts to protecting our environment, learn from the natural world how other species have managed to get along, and “become a race of enlightened citizens among the community of other species with whom we coexist.”
The science lectures are occasionally long-winded, but Graffin’s message is challenging, and the professional entertainer shines through.