XXXVII The Evolutionary Roots of the Clash of Civilizations 2

This is a sequel to xxxvi.

Suicide For Sex

The essay on the evolutionary dimensions of civilizations (xxxvi) started by recalling the hot discussion on the relationship between Islam and the West. Regarding this relationship, evolutionary psychology book Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters (2007) by Alan S. Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa attempts to provide an explanation of Muslim suicide bombings that I wish to discuss presently.

According to Miller and Kanazawa, suicide bombers are 1/ always Muslims, because 2/ Muslim societies are polygynous, which means that some men remain without mates throughout their lives, and 3/ Islam promises virgin mates to the martyrs in the afterlife, which is bound to be appealing to men without mates.

1/ “While suicide missions are not always religiously motivated, when religion is involved, it is always Islam.” (p. 165).

The emphasis on the word “always” is the authors’; they seem to be confident there is no exception. Yet, the statement is incorrect. Even if we dismiss WW2 Japanese kamikazes as a religious phenomenon, although the Japanese government of the time was implementing a policy of State Shintoism that emphasized the divine descent of the Emperor of Japan and thus infused patriotism with a sense of the divine, so much so that one of the first moves made by the Americans after Japanese surrender was to demand that the Emperor publicly declares to his people he was no god, we find “militant” suicides in other religions too.

Albeit the following examples, from Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism, are not strictly speaking suicide missions, that is, acts aimed at provoking casualties to an enemy while sacrificing one’s own life in the very act (of which I see no other historical example beside Japanese kamikazes and Muslim Jihadists), those other suicides are similarly intended to promote the cause and interests of a religion in a confrontational context, and nothing in the evolutionary interpretation of suicide missions by Miller and Kanazawa explains per se why the suicide takes the form of a military mission rather than of something else. The promise of haur uljanati, the houris of paradise, is actually made to all male believers and not specifically to human bombs.

Martyrs are well-known characters of the earlier times of Christianity, especially the Roman times, and the suicide-like indifference to death displayed by these people during their ordeals became propaganda for the nascent religion, which certainly contributed to its success. That these martyrs did not die with weapon in hand while Muslim martyrs die with weapon in hand or rather being themselves the weapon (human bombs) is not to account for by polygyny and/or by the promise of houris but rather by the warrior ethics contained in the Quran and Islamic tradition.

This being said, Muslims can also be martyrs in the Christian sense, that is, allowing enemies of the faith to take their lives without resistance rather than in the act of fighting. Some hadiths tell how idolaters used to submit Muslims to the test trying to force them to pay homage to idols, which is against the will of Allah, and that the Muslims who, being firm believers, refused were put to the sword. This is the same as the Biblical (Catholic and Orthodox) story of the Maccabees.

Fundamentally, contemporary suicide missions are only a variant of such past acts of martyrdom. Knowing that allegiance to one’s God will be, with more or less certitude, cause of one’s death at the hands of God’s enemies and accepting it, is a form of suicide that the history of several or all religions can attest. Again, that this allegiance takes the form of a suicide commando mission rather than more passive or acquiescent forms of suicide is accounted for by the warrior ethics that is present in the Quran and Muhammad’s exemple, whereas it is absent from the Gospels and the life of Jesus.

In Hinduism, the jauhar was a form of collective suicide sanctioned by Brahmans; it was especially frequent among Rajputs during their wars with Muslim conquerors. When all chances of victory had vanished, the women first took their own lives, slaughtering their children on the occasion, and the men then went to fight to death on their last battlefield. The custom insured that no prisoner was taken by the enemy. We find a similar episode in the siege of Masada during the first Jewish-Roman war (73-74 AD): According to classical accounts, the besieged Jews eventually committed mass suicide rather than surrendering to the Romans.

Finally, there is the practice of self-immolation in Buddhism, of which recent history provides a few examples, the best-known being the self-immolation through fire by the Vietnamese monk Thich Quang Duc in 1963, in protest against the religious policy of the American-supported South-Vietnamese government. The legend says the monk’s heart did not burn and is now kept as a holy relic in the vaults of the Vietnamese National Bank.

So, although suicide missions as such are only found in current Muslim Jihadism and WW2 Japanese kamikazes (who could well have been performing a religious act), the will to sacrifice one’s life for one’s faith is a feature common to the history of many and perhaps all religions.

2/ “Across all societies, polygyny increases violent crimes, such as murder and rape, even after controlling for such obvious factors like economic development, economic inequality, population density, the level of democracy [“obvious factor”?], and world regions. (…) The first unique feature of Islam, which partially contributes to the prevalence of suicide bombings among its followers, is polygyny, which makes young men violent everywhere.” (p. 166)

The reason polygyny increases violent crime is that it exacerbates male competition for females. As the sex ratio is roughly 50-50, by allowing some men to mate with several women to the exclusion of competitors, polygyny forces some other men to remain without mates.

Miller and Kanazawa go on: “However, polygyny by itself, while it increases violence, is not sufficient to cause suicide bombings. Societies in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean are much more polygynous than the Muslim nations in the Middle East and Northern Africa (…) Accordingly, nations in these regions have very high levels of violence, and sub-Saharan Africa suffers from a long history of continuous civil wars, but not suicide bombings. So polygyny itself is not a sufficient cause of suicide bombings.” (p. 166).

The authors are not dealing with institutional polygyny but with what I call (see xxxvi) cryptic polygyny, that is, the practice of polygyny no matter what legal arrangements regarding matrimonial bonds are. Among the most polygynous nations in the world, as they appear listed in note 31, p. 210, we find, for instance, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Haiti (all these with the “maximum polygyny score of 3.000”). These are countries which populations are largely Christian and where the institutional form of pair-bonding is monogamous marriage and institutional polygamy is outlawed and criminalized. So bear in mind that, although the authors do not make it explicit, it is not institutional polygyny that is at stake. Other forms of polygynous practice, that is, cryptic polygyny is not in the least “unique” to Muslim countries; as Miller and Kanazawa write, “All Humans Societies Are Polygynous” (subtitle p. 91).

The violence alleged to be caused by polygyny relates to a “polygyny score” that has nothing to do with institutions and legal systems. Were we to examine these polygyny scores by country, we might find that Muslim countries do not stand particularly high. Among the twenty most polygynous countries listed page 210, I find the following to be predominantly or significantly Muslim: Morocco, Nigeria, Niger, Chad (53%). That makes four countries out of twenty.

Besides, Miller and Kanazawa overlook the fact that a good deal of Jihadists do not come from Muslim countries at all. Some of them come from Muslim communities in Western countries; many of these communities have been secularized in the course of acculturation, and the Jihadists had to undergo a sort of reconversion process from a materialist, secularized lifestyle to radicalism. Some others are even autochthonous converts from these Western countries with no previous family or any other links with Islamic traditions. The number of foreign fighters combatting today in the ranks of Daesh would be about 30,000.

Before conversion or radicalization, these people had the same access to women as other men, that is, in an evolutionary perspective, the same access as other men at the same status level. (Given that a lot of Jihadists had a delinquent career, it may even be argued that their access to mates was in fact greater than that of other men from the same city parts, thanks to the fast money such careers allow.) If the number of people from Western countries willing to resort to terrorist violence is great, then, following Miller and Kanazawa’s idea, polygyny in Western countries – by which more men are prevented from mating – must be high. By stressing polygyny as a factor in violence in general and in terrorism in particular, the authors, again, are not saying that institutional polygyny is the cause.

Institutional polygyny might in fact contribute to reduce the prevalence of actual polygyny in a society. The idea has been broached in xxxvi using the concept of reproductive climate along A.S. Amin’s lines. Institutional polygyny is a long-term institution that promotes men’s commitment to their mates and children. So is institutional monogamy, albeit the data (current divorce rates in the West, polygyny scores in Christian Caribbean and African countries) seems to indicate it fails to curb short-term strategies in some regions.

3/ “The other key ingredient is the promise of seventy-two virgins waiting in heaven for any martyr in Islam. This creates a strong motive for any young Muslim men who are excluded from reproductive opportunities on earth to get to heaven as martyrs.” (p. 166).

There is no denying that such a belief can serve as motivation. Even more than the warrior ethics I have invoked in (1/), belief in houris is doctrinal. Hence, whereas polygyny as such is not associated uniquely to Islam (see 2/), the belief in question clearly is, because you cannot rewrite the Quran, can you? Yet, houris, unless I’m mistaken, are no privilege of the martyrs but are promised to all believers, so the reason some Muslims choose death and others acquire sex slaves as war spoils, as allowed, I am told, by Daesh, remains to be explained. Suicide missions suggest that obedience is extreme in these movements, but so it is in any fanatical group.

Religions promising afterlife describe it as everlasting bliss, and although this bliss does not always explicitly entail incarnated virgins available for sexual acts, it can be appealing enough to induce the sacrifice of one’s life for one’s belief.

As far as Hinduism and Buddhism are concerned, the varied existing heavenly abodes where souls may spend some time during the course of their transmigrations are described in picturesque details, some of them being quite erotic, a fact that suggests the existence of a similar motivation in these religions. The way Apsaras, or celestial dancers, for instance, are depicted in ancient art is unmistakable (picture: Curvaceous Apsaras from the well-known Khajuraho temple). They are spouses of the celestial musicians Gandharvas, and it is possible to reincarnate as a Gandharva or as any other minor deity.


Not only these heavenly abodes entail sexual representations, but the very idea of reincarnation may serve sexual motivations. A Buddhist might be willing to commit a suicide attack in order to be reincarnated as a playboy; what would prevent him, as a playboy, from mating with 72 virgins or more? For the time being, Buddhist clerics do not promise next life in the incarnation of a womanizer in exchange of a suicide mission, although they could do so, inside the very frame of their creed, and the reason why it is only Muslim clerics who promise afterlife sexual gratifications as a reward to suicide attacks is not explained by our authors here.

Buddhists are not known to play this card, although some believers certainly aspire to a more gratifying sexual life after their next birth, as some are wearing so-called charm amulets to improve their sex life in the present already. In Thailand these amulets often depict the legendary character Kun Paen in the company of multiple nude women; other charm amulets represent women in acts of bestiality, some others are in the shape of a penis, at times anthropomorphized (penis man). Thai monks routinely bless such talismans.

As to the idea that Jihadists, on the Iraqi theater of operations, kill more Iraqis than they kill Americans because they are “unconsciously trying to eliminate as many of their male sexual rivals (fellow Iraqi men) as possible,” it is far-fetched. As stated above, Daesh counts some 30,000 foreign fighters, for whom Iraqis are no more fellow men than Americans, and that would be half of Daesh’s army. A simpler explanation is that it is more difficult to kill an American than an Iraqi in Iraq – not only because of numbers, but also because American soldiers are certainly better trained and better equipped, and they probably station their Iraqi allies on the most “strategic” positions.

All these elements suggest that Miller and Kanazawa’s explanation is somewhat shallow.

Jihad vs Panda Express


As explained in xxxvi, Jihad is not parochialism but globalism. I define it “Islam as globalism.” If you want to give Barber a better example of parochialism, I suggest you name France to him. He could have titled his book “La France vs McWorld” or “La France vs Jihad,” and that for sure would have been a better illustration of the opposition he makes between parochialism and globalism. Need I expatiate?

Islam is a global power. Some people deny the existence of “Panislamism,” arguing Islam’s diversity. They do not seem to notice the current movement toward homogenization at work throughout the Muslim world, albeit they know the movement’s name as they appropriately call it Wahhabism or Salafism or fundamentalism.

Islam is a global power. They’ve got human bombs. They’ve got petrodollars and sovereign funds. They’ve got migrant communities throughout the Western world and beyond. They’ve got sympathy among scholars and intellectuals round the world. About this last point, let me tell you the story of Professor Subramanian Swamy from Harvard Summer School.

Prof. Subramanian Swamy taught Quantitative Methods in Economics and Business at Harvard Summer School from 2001 to 2011. As an economist he wrote papers together with Nobel Prize Paul Samuelson. He is also involved in Indian politics and was India’s minister of commerce and industry from 1990 to 1991. He was president of the Janata Party from 1990 to 2013, until the party merged on with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The party is labelled Hindu nationalist.

After the 2011 Jihadist bombings in Mumbai, Swamy wrote an article in an Indian paper that was deemed Islamophobic by a few readers. After a campaign of denigration, he was dismissed from Harvard Summer School, in America, the same year. It turns out I took his class in Summer 2004. I did not know his credentials at the time and I can testify that, as a professor, he never talked about these issues, so I would never have guessed the truth about him had I not discovered it by chance years later on the Web. I disapprove of his dismissal.

Swamy and other Indian politicians are for example accused, including in the West, of demonizing Mughal rule. There is one funny argument in the views of those who defend the Mughals as tolerant rulers. They say Mughals promoted intercommunity marriages, but Hindus claim these marriages amounted to sequestering Hindu women, their war booty, inside Muslim harems. If the latter are correct, then Mughals’ defenders would be praising as enlightened tolerance and benevolent wisdom the age-old practice of all ruthless conquerors throughout history.

Here is how Swamy envisions India’s relationship with the country having the largest Muslim population in the world, namely Indonesia: “Over 90 per cent of the economic world powers’ commercial sea-traffic passes through the narrow (90 miles) Malacca Strait. If we can develop naval power to the point where we can police this strait, it will give India enormous power and leverage to influence international events. This has diplomatic implications. It is obvious, for example, that we cannot control the Malacca strait without the active cooperation of Indonesia. However through proper diplomatic moves we can obtain Indonesia’s cooperation and forge a strategic relationship with that country because we have long historical links with these islands through our cultural links of the past.” (Hindus Under Siege: The Way Out, 2007, p. 97).

Swamy is perhaps overconfident, because Indonesia, albeit often advertised as a model of tolerant Islam (Islam warna-warni, or “multicolored Islam,” as the phrase goes), is undergoing the same process of homogenization through radicalization at work round the Muslim world. One example will suffice to buttress this contention.

The following passage deals with the current situation in Thailand’s three southernmost provinces, whose population is prominently Muslim (>80%), in an otherwise overwhelmingly Buddhist country (92%). “As of September 10, 2008, there were forty-one beheadings according to the Bangkok Post. Terrorism experts argue that the style of many of these southern Thai beheadings is influenced by Muslim militant actions in the Middle East. However, there is more evidence to suggest that Thais are being trained in Indonesia or that the expertise comes from Indonesian-trained Thais who have stronger regional and local connections than countries in the Middle East. According to the Thai newspaper Isrā, in one instance a Thai ustaz (Islamic teacher) who teaches Islam in Yala Province had trained as a commando and studied Islam in Aceh, Indonesia. Among the Thai ustaz’s commando training were techniques for beheading people.” (M.K. Jerryson, Buddhist Fury: Religion and Violence in Southern Thailand, 2011, p. 92).

What is striking in this piece of information, besides the gruesome facts and the trial for incompetence the author is making against “terrorism experts,” is that Thai Jihadists do not train in Malaysia but in Indonesia, although (i) Malaysia is the closest neighboring Muslim country, (ii) whose policy is more Islam-oriented than Indonesia’s. It seems Jihadists find a safer shelter and/or better logistic support in Indonesia, which hints at the latter truly being the soft underbelly of the region with respect to fundamentalist plans, in spite of the showcase of Muslim tolerance. Indonesia is a poor country, ranking 100th as to GDP per capita (at purchasing power parity) (10,517 INT$), compared to 44th for Malaysia (25,639 INT$) (World Bank 2014). In 2002 Indonesian government allowed Aceh province to enforce Sharia law and is now under pressure from other provinces to extend this policy. To summarize, it is in tolerant Indonesia that Thai (Patani) Jihadists learn beheading techniques.

Savanna Park Virtual

As my friend X says, “A life among people who fancy themselves in the savanna is not worth living.” He means that people live in a virtual savanna; they believe in the reality of an environment of evolutionary adaptedness (EEA) that is no more. To discuss the present point, let us return to Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters by Miller and Kanazawa.

“Since the advent of agriculture about ten thousand years ago and the birth of human civilization which followed, humans have not had a stable environment against which natural selection can operate.” (p. 26). This is why intelligence, that is, as the same Kanazawa defines it in his book The Intelligence Paradox (2012) (discussed in xxxv), the capacity to deal with “novel and nonrecurrent adaptive problems,” has become important in human societies: Human civilization, our man-made environment is unstable and requires dealing with novel problems on a much more frequent basis, almost on a daily basis. Yet, our instincts often stand in the way and prevent us (the less intelligent of us) from dealing adequately with our current environment. For instance, abusing one’s mate is an instinctually adequate behavior to intimidate her into complying and shying away from close contacts with other men that would jeopardize the man’s position; yet, this behavior is criminal and may result in incarceration, ruining entirely the position that the man intended to secure (p. 24).

Therefore, intelligence can be construed as a non-emotional path to knowledge, because our emotions have been shaped in the stable environment of the ancestral savanna in order to make us behave in the ways adaptive to that environment. In spite of some scholarly attempts to discard the dichotomy reason-emotion, no matter how you take it emotions are in the way when you try to solve an equation. This is why for all abstract problems machines will do a better job than humans in the future.

Machines would already have replaced human toil and work if humans were not intent on preventing this evolution as much as they can, out of emotions designed in the vanished savanna. In 1941 already, James Burnham contended: “Using the inventions and methods available would, it is correctly understood, smash up the capitalist venture. ‘Technological unemployment’ is present in recent capitalism; but it is hardly anything compared to what technological unemployment would be if capitalism made use of its available technology.” (The Managerial Revolution). Given the pronounced tendencies toward crime attested by the current, already massive, permanently unemployed “underclass,” decision-makers are doing their best to have low-productivity industries and services subsidized in exchange of the latter maintaining the highest possible figures of human toil, which, from the advent of division of labor through the assembly line and bureaucratic procedure in organizations on, has become unbearably monotonous and machinelike.

It would be unbearable too, in the service sector, to interact as customers with humans playing the role of machines if that would not satisfy some inner savagery and cruelty keen on seeing other people degraded and at one’s mercy – a savanna emotion. The usual person, placed in such a situation as a waiter or shopkeeper, talks back to customers, whereas machines are always well-behaved. Do not bring savanna apes to confrontation when you can have these functional operations processed by machines.

The managerial revolution that has taken place and is the real engine of our affluence has nothing to do with old-days capitalism. Entrepreneurs are gone or they stand in the way. For aught I know, the entrepreneur today is the cleaning lady I pay. The engine of economy is elsewhere, amidst organizations contracting with the state, organizations offered foreign contracts through diplomats’ bargaining, oligopolistic markets, contractors entirely dependent on organizations, organizations that are shareholders, organizations filled with interchangeable organization men whose personal value is nil as measured by their departure or removal or passing away having no effect whatsoever on the company’s market value… The human factor there is the problem – what can make the machine go awry some day or the other. So-called experts sustain the myths of capitalism, but that is spin.

Spin is the word for politics too. The spoils system is over, ended by the Civil Service Reform (USA) and the “rise of the technician bureaucracy” (Aufstieg des fachgeschulten Beamtentums) (Max Weber). Recalling the so-called “Monicagate” in their light-hearted fashion, Miller and Kanazawa explain that other politicians (men) have affairs too. Do they? “It would be a Darwinian puzzle if they did not.” (p. 144). I suggest another “Darwinian puzzle”: Why does not “the most powerful man in the world” (p. 143), as some journalists, and a few light-hearted scholars, like to call the president of the United States, have the largest harem on earth? It looks like the most powerful man is a nice and decent functionary who’s doing as he’s told. He’s there for the cameras, making believe, by his presence, in the savanna tribe. This is monkey dance. Entertainment for the savanna brain.

The profound meaning of democracy, as most high civil servants do not come and go with elections (which is spoils system) but serve any elected person and apply, each in his or her sphere of competence, any program that comes out of the ballot box, is either that bureaucrats, because they put themselves at the service of others’ ideas, live an ignoble life (construing living for one’s ideas as noble), or that ideas don’t matter in the least and our societies follow an inevitable course.

When the once most powerful man in the world named Bill was faced with impeachment proceedings for his whoopees in the White House and his lies, he said please not to make him waste his time, ‘cause he’s got a job to do. May I ask who appointed him to the job? It’s no job at all. At most we’ll have to call it an office, and one is not appointed there by competent persons for one’s competence but by the people as a good monkey dancer or a good person, depending on how you see things.

Do journalists investigate politicians’ private lives or not? If they do, do our authors mean that most affairs escape these investigators’ attention? Well, well… Why not assume that journalists are good investigators, when this assumption, precisely, is made about them in other fields? Because the scarcity of affairs would be a Darwinian puzzle…

May 2016

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