Women – Not the Peaceful Creatures You Think

(Credit: Hans Makart / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

This is an excerpt from The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History by Howard Bloom (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1997). Reprinted by permission from the author.

Women—Not the Peaceful Creatures You Think

The rivalry of women is visited upon their children to their third and fourth generation.
Gelett Burgess

Males play the greatest role in stirring up bloodbaths. They do most of the killing, and they also do most of the dying. This makes men sound pretty atrocious. And indeed they are. Males by far outdo females in aggression. Remove the testicles from a rooster, and it becomes a peace-loving bird. Sew the testes back into its stomach, and the masculine hormones once again flood the fowl’s bloodstream. Now the recently mild-mannered chicken struts off to start a fight.

It’s not surprising when pundits declare that if only we had female leaders, war and international aggression would rapidly disappear.[34] Many people are convinced that females are inherently peaceful. Okay, so Margaret Thatcher, the female former prime minister of Britain, won the Falklands War, supplied the British military with nuclear submarines, and packed those subs with atomically tipped ballistic missiles. Indira Gandhi led a military campaign against Pakistan, jailed her opponents, and suspended civil liberties. And Peru’s Shining Path guerrilla assassination squads were headed almost entirely by women.[35] But surely these are just aberrations. Or are they? The evidence from the world of our closest relatives in the primate family indicates that the cheerfully idealistic picture of women is a self-delusion. Females, too, are victims of the Lucifer Principle.

Dian Fossey, the chronicler of the central African mountain gorillas, had been following a gorilla band for nine years when she suddenly noticed that one of the tribe’s babies had disappeared. This came as a shock. The baby hadn’t been sick. Fossey couldn’t understand what had happened to it. The naturalist and her aides hunted through the forest, looking for the remains of the body, expecting to find it in one of the spots where the gorilla group had fought with a rival band. But Fossey found no corpse whatsoever at the battle sites.

Finally, acting on a hunch, Fossey and her African helpers collected all of the dung the gorillas had left during the previous days. After their years following this group, the researchers could identify which dung came from which gorilla. For days, the humans painstakingly sifted through the excrement. Finally Fossey found what she’d been looking for: 133 bone and tooth fragments from an infant gorilla—contained in the deposits left by the dominant female and her eight-year-old daughter.[36]

The mother of the dead baby came from a social level these female gorilla aristocrats despised. She was an outcast the well-placed ladies frequently mocked and bullied. Her presence simply could not be tolerated in proper company. Her child was beneath contempt. Fossey concluded that the head female and her daughter had attacked the infant, killed it, and eaten it.[37]

There was more than mere cruelty behind this murder of a helpless baby. Effie, the aristocratic female who had apparently led the infant-killing effort, was in the last stages of pregnancy. Three days after the brutal incident, she gave birth to a baby of her own. Effie had acted like the ambitious wife in a harem who fights to eliminate the children of her rivals. Through infanticide, she had become the only female with four children in the group at one time. She had ensured that she and her young would be the tribe’s ruling class. By doing so, she had turned the entire group into a support mechanism for her own offspring.

Effie was very much like Livia, the most powerful woman of Rome in the days a little less than two thousand years ago when that city was reaching the peak of imperial power. According to Robert Graves’s careful reconstruction in I, Claudius, Livia—like Effie—was one of a number of wives.[38] And like Effie, Livia was mated to the dominant male in the pack. Specifically, Livia had managed to inveigle into matrimony a man named Augustus Caesar, the leader who had grabbed the reins of Rome from his rivals and stabilized the Empire in a time of turbulence. In the process, Augustus had become the most powerful man the world had ever known.

Gorillas manage to keep a whole gaggle of wives trailing behind them simultaneously. Augustus didn’t have that privilege. The law forced him to possess his official mates one at a time. Livia was Augustus’s third wife. She had won him when she was a tender seventeen. Well, maybe not so tender. According to Graves, the teenage beauty had grown contemptuous of a previous husband because the unlucky gentleman believed in such principles as liberty for Rome’s citizens. Livia had no patience with these notions. She was convinced that all power should be centered in the hands of one man—preferably a man under her direct control. So she divorced her soft idealist and sought out a harder husband whose possibilities were more in line with her own aspirations.

At the time, Augustus was married to someone else. In fact, he’d had a number of children by the woman at his side and seemed reasonably pleased with his present wife’s ways. But that didn’t stop the ambitious young Livia. She managed to tarnish the reputation of his spouse and to drive additional wedges between the unfortunate lady and her husband. Then she inserted herself into the gap, making her presence the only logical consolation for Augustus’s distress over his wife’s disgrace.

Livia quickly consolidated her hold over Augustus. Soon, he would not make a major decision without her. Like the gorilla Effie, Livia had struggled to become the first lady in the band. And like Effie, Livia was ambitious for more than just herself. She was ambitious for her children. Rome had been run in the past by a democratic senate, but Augustus was shifting power to a one-man emperorship. Livia wanted the newly established imperial throne to go to her own children.

It wasn’t that easy. There were rival claimants to the seat of imperial authority. First in line were two of Augustus’s old friends and confidants. But, more important, there were Augustus’s three grandchildren, born to the daughter of his previous wife. One by one, according to Graves, the rivals died off. Some collapsed mysteriously, others came down with lingering diseases, and still others suffered inconsequential wounds but were given the wrong medical treatment. Surely, Livia’s expertise in poisons and her network of murderous helpers—much like the cooperatively cannibalistic cronies in the gorilla Effie’s clique had nothing to do with these deaths.

Finally, only Livia’s children were left, as Graves puts it, “to carry on the line . . . Livia’s line.”[39] Livia, like Effie, had eliminated her children’s rivals and guaranteed her offspring a spot on the top of the heap.

One empress in China roughly seventeen hundred years ago took Livia’s ambition several giant steps further. To ensure her children power over the empire, she eliminated every single individual in a rival extended family. In all probability, this minor act of manslaughter was not limited to a mere handful of human obstacles. Chinese noble families of the period usually had hundreds or even thousands of members.[40]

Livia, Effie, and the Chinese empress were as bloodthirsty as any male. And the motivation that drove them was distinctly maternal—the desire to give every advantage to their young.

Women are violent. In fact, females are as much a part of the apparatus that triggers male violence as the men themselves. Nobel Prize-winning ethologist Konrad Lorenz described a common behavior in several species of ducks. The female runs out to the edge of her husband’s territory and tries to provoke another duck, then runs back to her male, stands next to him, and looks behind her at the enraged rival in the hope that her mate will jump into the fray.[41] Many are the human females who have tried to stir up a similar fight.[42]

Women encourage killers. They do it by falling in love with warriors and heroes. Men know it and respond with enthusiasm. The Crusaders marched off to war with ladies’ favors in their helmets. They were not setting out on some mission of gallant gentleness. On their way through Asia Minor, the Crusaders literally roasted Christian babies in cases of mistaken identity. Because the local folk did not speak a language they understood, the chivalrous knights assumed the panicky babblers were heathens. Heathens, of course, deserved no mercy. So the heroes sliced up the adults and baked the infants on spits, all the while thinking of how the damsels back home would admire their bravery.[43]

Technically, this is called sexual selection. The females of a species develop a craving for a certain kind of guy, and all the males compete to live up to the female ideal. Lady peacocks adore hunks with towering blue tails, so peacock gentlemen sport foppish plumes.[44] Lady bowerbirds swoon over bachelors with an architectural flare, so bowerbird males turn sticks and scraps into a Taj Mahal. And what have human females gone for in nearly every society and time? “Courage” and “bravery.” In short, violence.

The poetry of the classic sixth-century Arab master Labede is a testament to the feminine ability to bring out the animal in a man. In Labede’s lyrical verses, a young fellow jostles along on his camel, dreaming of how he can get his beloved’s attention. She, it seems, does not recognize his true worth. He dreams of how he will prove his manliness with feats of daring glory. Now, what is the one feat of daring glory guaranteed to rivet the admiration of a beauty in Labede’s tribal desert society? You rush into the nearest village, kill a few of the males, and steal as many camels and old clothes as you can get your hands on. Greatness belongs to the killer. And the young ladies swoon over guys who are great. Labede will tell you, it works every time.[45]

Even T. S. Eliot’s erudite “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is the intellectualized cry of a man who feels women will not look on him with admiration and bear his children unless he wins their attention with a few violent deeds. “I have heard the mermaids singing each to each,” mopes the protagonist. “I do not think that they will sing to me.” What would get these lovely girls in the sea to give the poet a second look? Well, he could be a bit more like Prince Hamlet—able to finally make a decision and kill. But the poet hesitates. He is not the kind of person to take decisive measures. He imagines himself growing old, a foolish, lonely man, ignored by women all his life. Finally, he consoles himself. “There will be time,” he says, “to murder and create.”

But females do more than provoke violence among males. They engage in it themselves. Primatologist Jeanne Altman, studying the female baboons of Kenya’s Amboseli National Park, noted that when a new baby baboon arrived, the females all rushed over to see it. As it grew older, the baboon ladies came back time and time again. At first glance, their interest looked touchingly affectionate, but, on closer inspection, it was something quite different.

During a typical incident, a mother and baby sat in the savannah grass. A high-ranking female walked haughtily over to the pair. She tugged gently at the baby’s arm. When the mother would not give up her child, the socially superior female grew impatient. She tugged the arm more violently. Then she yanked at the baby’s leg. The mother reared back, bared her teeth, and made a warning sound. She knew what this meddler was really up to. Given half the chance, the lady of lofty social standing would grab the infant, treat the squealing child like a rag doll, drag it around, pass it back and forth to her friends, and in the end injure it so badly that her “interest” might very well prove fatal.

The chattering anger of the mother did its work. The female from a higher social sphere went back to her clique. The mother was a member of the underclass, looked down on by the haughty and none-too-kind members of the female in-group. The worried nurturer spent the rest of her day clinging tightly to her infant. She could not gather as much food as she needed for herself and her baby, for she was too preoccupied with protecting her offspring from an unforeseen attack. Her child wriggled impatiently in her arms. Further research suggests that the child wanted to go off on its own and have a good time. But this was one baby that would never have the freedom to run and play. It would never be able to wrestle and roll about with the children of the more dominant females. It would never experience that easy social access that leads to self-confidence and a quick mind among baboons. Ultimately, this toddler—like its mother before it—would live its adult years at the bottom of the social pile. The baboon’s mother was forced to smother it overprotectively simply to ensure that it survived. For among baboons, the babies of the dispossessed have an omnipresent mortal enemy: the females of the tribe.[46]


It is useless for women to blame violence on men, and it would be futile for men to blame violence on women. Violence is built into both of us. When Margaret Thatcher constructed a nuclear navy, she was not behaving in a manner distinctly male, nor was she behaving in a manner distinctly female. She wasn’t even obeying a set of impulses that are uniquely human. Thatcher, like Rome’s Livia, was in the grip of passions we share with gorillas and baboons, passions implanted in the primordial layers of the triune brain.

Excerpted from The Lucifer Principle by Howard Bloom. Copyright © Howard Bloom, 1997. All rights reserved.

[34] For a bit of historical background on the concept of superior feminine morality, see Reay Tannahill, Sex in History (New York: Stein and Day, 1980), 390-91. Historian Joan Kelly summed up the prevailing notion when she said, “I know, in the depth of my being and in all my knowledge of history and humanity, I know women will struggle for a social order of peace, equality and joy” (quoted in Antonia Fraser, The Warrior Queens [New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989], 7).

[35] Tina Rosenberg, Children of Cain: Violence and the Violent in South America (New York: William Morrow, 1991).

[36] Fossey, Gorillas in the Mist, 77-78.

[37] Jane Goodall’s team observed a whole series of similar incidents in the Gombe Reserve. One family of chimpanzee females made a regular habit of killing and eating their rivals’ infants (Goodall, “Life and Death at Gombe,” 616-20).

[38] Graves’s historical novels are noted for their solid research. In Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia they are lauded for their “scholarly” content (Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, 3d ed. [New York: Harper & Row, 1987], 402).

[39] Robert Graves, I, Claudius, (New York: Vintage Books, 1934), 13-147.

[40] Eberhard, History of China, 121. The instances of females who become killers so they can place or maintain their own children on top of the hierarchy is endless. The dominant female Cape hunting dog, for example, establishes herself at the pinnacle of the pack and gives birth to a litter of pups. Then, of a lower-ranking female has the audacity to produce offspring of her own, the top-ranking lady turns killer. She leads her pack-mates in a puppy-killing frenzy—utterly eliminating the offspring of her rival (Daniel G. Freedman, Human Sociobiology: A Holistic Approach [New York: Free Press, 1979], 31).

[41] Konrad Lorenz, On Aggression (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974), 58-59, 63-64.

[42] For a description of how Yanomamo women egg their men on to battle, see A. W. Johnson and Earle, Evolution of Human Societies, 127.

[43] Torturing fellow Christians and plundering their villages was actually a common practice among the crusaders. See Frederic Duncalf, “The First Crusade: Clermont to Constantinople,” in A History of the Crusades: The First Hundred Years, ed. Marshall W. Baldwin (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1955), 263, 265, 269, 271, 282. The worst example was in 1204 when the knightly “saviors of the faith” actually sacked one of the two most important capitals of the Christian world, Constantinople (J. M. Roberts, Pelican History of the World (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1983], 349).

[44] For a more detailed explanation of the why’s behind peacock vanity, see Matt Ridley, “Swallows and Scorpionflies Find Symmetry Beautiful,” Science, 17 July 1992, 327-28.

[45] William R. Polk and William J. Mares, Passing Brave (New York: Ballantine Books, 1973), 33-36.

[46] Susan Walton, “How to Watch Monkeys,” Science 86, June 1986, 23-27.

Howard Bloom has been called “next in a lineage of seminal thinkers that includes Newton, Darwin, Einstein, [and] Freud” by Britain’s Channel4 TV, “the next Stephen Hawking” by Gear Magazine, and “The Buckminster Fuller and Arthur C. Clarke of the new millennium” by Buckminster Fuller’s archivist. Bloom is the author of The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of History (“mesmerizing” – The Washington Post), Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century (“reassuring and sobering” – The New Yorker), The Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism (“Impressive, stimulating, and tremendously enjoyable.” James Fallows, National Correspondent, The Atlantic), The God Problem: How A Godless Cosmos Creates (“Bloom’s argument will rock your world.” Barbara Ehrenreich), How I Accidentally Started the Sixties (“a monumental, epic, glorious literary achievement.” Timothy Leary), and The Muhammad Code: How a Desert Prophet Gave You ISIS, al Qaeda, and Boko Haram – or How Muhammad Invented Jihad (“a terrifying book… the best book I’ve read on Islam,” David Swindle, PJ Media).

Bloom explains that his field is “mass behaviour, from the mass behaviour of quarks to the mass behaviour of human beings.” That specialisation gives him a wide scope. His scientific work has been published in: arxiv.org, the leading pre-print site in advanced theoretical physics and mathematics; PhysicaPlus, another physics journal; Across Species Comparisons and Psychopathology; New Ideas in Psychology; The Journal of Space Philosophy; and in the book series: Research in Biopolitics. In 2005, Bloom lectured an international conference of quantum physicists in Moscow – Quantum Informatics 2006 – on why everything they know about Schrodinger’s Equation is wrong, and the concepts Bloom introduced were later used in a book proposing a new approach to quantum physics, Constructive Physics, by Moscow University’s Yuri Ozhigov.

Bloom’s second book Global Brain was the subject of an Office of the Secretary of Defense symposium in 2010, with participants from the State Department, the Energy Department, DARPA, IBM, and MIT. Bloom is founder and head of the Space Development Steering Committee, a group that includes astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Edgar Mitchell (the sixth man on the moon), and members from the National Science Foundation and NASA. He has debated one-on-one with senior officials from Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Gaza’s Hamas on Iran’s global Arab-language Alalam TV News Network. He has also dissected headline issues on Saudi Arabia’s KSA2-TV and on Iran’s global English language Press-TV. And he has probed the untold story of the Syrian Civil War with Nancy Kissinger.

In addition, Bloom’s work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Wired, Knight-Ridder Financial News Service, the Village Voice, and Cosmopolitan Magazine. He has appeared 199 times for up to five hours on 500 radio stations on the highest-rated overnight talk radio station in North America, Clear Channel’s Coast to Coast AM, discussing everything from the biome in the gut and the evolution of the stars to the mechanism of the Great Recession of 2008 and North Korea’s rocket programme.

Bloom has his own YouTube series, Howard the Humongous, which gets up to 790,000 views per installment. His website, howardbloom.net, has had between four and five million hits. Follow him on Twitter at @HowardxBloom.

The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History
By Howard Bloom
Atlantic Monthly Press (March 13, 1997)
ISBN-10: 0871136643
ISBN-13: 978-0871136640

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