Growing a Bigger Clan - The Politics of Sexual Control

Sex, Power, and Partisanship: How Evolutionary Science Makes Sense of Our Political Divide - Hector A. Garcia 2019

Growing a Bigger Clan
The Politics of Sexual Control

In all the discussion of contemporary policy on birth control, it is necessary to remember that natalism (encouraging reproduction) has been a core tenet of religions throughout the ages and of Christianity in particular. Indeed, across the globe religiosity is associated with higher birthrates,49 and natalist dicta is often embedded in religious canon. For instance, in the Bible, God kills Onan for spilling his seed—that is, for withdrawing during sex with his brother's widow, Tamar, instead of impregnating her per Levirite law.50 There are many religious explanations for Onan's execution. But ancient Israel was marred by nearly continuous warfare, and a basic fact of coalitionary violence is that larger coalitions are more powerful.

This rule was painfully evident in the biblical era, during which larger, stronger groups regularly slaughtered smaller, weaker groups with impunity. More specifically, invaders typically slaughtered men, whereas, once again, women were often spared and taken as sexual spoils. In violent times, men have a rather obvious incentive to enlarge the warrior class. It is from this incentive that men have created religious dictates that promote an ever-expanding tribe and why political orientations based on male competition favor these dicta. Recall that the Christian god's very first decree to humans is to reproduce, and in it we can see the importance of dominance, not only in competitions between God's “chosen tribe” and other races, as we commonly see, but with all other competitors as well: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”51

The Christian formula appears to be winning fitness competitions worldwide. At 2.3 billion as of 2015, Christians make up the largest population of believers on Earth, and fully 31 percent of the world's people.52 Some of these numbers are a result of evangelizing, but they also greatly reflect high birth rates.53

Saint Augustine of Hippo (354—430), whose writings have had a great influence on modern-day conservative Christian sexual morals, saw lust as an abomination, the sin that brought about humankind's fall from God's grace. Despite his convictions, Augustine well understood the need for Christians to reproduce themselves. “The will of God,” he insisted, was “not to serve lust” but “to see to the preservation of the race.”54 According to early religious laws, sex could be for procreation only (between husband and wife), and only in the missionary position, which was believed to increase the chance of conception.55 Following Augustine's enduring authority, the Catholic Church continues to vehemently oppose contraception, and today Catholics make up fully 50 percent of the world's Christians.56

And so religion's sustained anti-contraception policy has had the measurable impact of enhancing Christian evolutionary fitness around the globe. Moreover, the value of large groups remains tied to their utility in coalitionary violence. Religious warfare has seared its way across the historical landscape for as far back as we have records. During the conquest of the Americas, for example, fleets of Spanish men set sail across the Atlantic under crosses and banners, thirsting for gold and glory. Stripped down, the conquest was primate males bent on acquiring territory, sequestering resources, killing off the male competition, and breeding with the resident females, all at the explicit command of church and crown, and their natalist agenda. In terms of fitness, these efforts were immensely successful, creating two continents of mestizo believers claiming loyalty, surrendering resources to the church and crown, and abiding the command to expand the Catholic population. Today, 40 percent of all Catholics reside in Latin America,57 and the Catholic Church owns more real estate than any multinational corporation, and, further implicating male competition in all of this, genomic studies find a disproportionate contribution of European male genes across Latin American genome.58 These feats of male mate competition would have been impossible with a doctrine espousing, say, the regular use of contraception.

The doctrine of Manifest Destiny offers another example of how religious and government powers have used fecundity to swarm the opposition. Manifest Destiny itself highly influenced the US government's expansionist policy during the conquest of America's western territories, which was a violent and protracted competition for territory with the natives already living there. In an 1845 article in the Democratic Review, where the term Manifest Destiny was first used, westward expansion was equated with “the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions” (here Providence, of course, referring to God's alliance). The “multiplying millions,” however, referred specifically to reproduction for European immigrants. To put this bias into perspective, consider that when the US government's extermination of Native Americans ended, it took up the business of sterilizing Native American women by force throughout the reservation system.59

A contemporary example of conservative, conflict-based natalism comes from the Quiverfull movement, a small but rapidly multiplying anti-contraception conservative Christian group based primarily in America, Australia, and the United Kingdom, which claims its inspiration from an unequivocal Bible passage from Psalms:

Sons are indeed a heritage from the Lord, fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one's youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them. He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.60

Of one of the movement's leaders, Nancy Campbell, offers, “We look across the Islamic world and we see that they are outnumbering us in their family size, and they are in many places and many countries taking over those nations, without a jihad, just by multiplication” and that “the womb is such a powerful weapon; it's a weapon against the enemy.”61 Perhaps not surprisingly, most (if not all) Americans associated with this movement identify with the Republican Party.

Tying all of this back to political psychology, it follows that those with minds calibrated for male-centrism, higher xenophobia, and focusing on competition with the outside tribe for their place in the gene pool would be most opposed to contraception—an effective barrier to winning fitness competitions.

Indeed, this reason for anti-contraception politics was noticed by Margaret Sanger (1879—1966), a community nurse who became the first president of Planned Parenthood. Notes Sanger,

In every nation of militaristic tendencies, we find the reactionaries demanding a higher and still higher birthrate. Their plea is, first, that great armies are need to defend the country; second, that a huge population is required to assure the country its proper place among the powers of the world…. As soon as the country becomes overpopulated, these reactionaries proclaim loudly that it is their moral right to expand…and to take by force such room as it needs.62

Sanger's observations are borne out by history. Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Nicolae Ceausescu, and Idi Amin, all of whom killed rival groups en masse, also took specific measures to restrict or outlaw access to contraception and abortion, which sent birthrates skyrocketing.63 Baby booms provide the human fodder that fuels authoritarian ambitions. We can see the purpose of creating population surges (of one's in-group) in the words of ethnocentrists in the modern day. For example, Steve King, a Republican congressman from Iowa, said in a CNN interview, “You cannot rebuild your civilization with somebody else's babies. You've got to keep your birth rate up, and that you need to teach your children your values. In doing so, you can grow your population, you can strengthen your culture, and you can strengthen your way of life.”64

In short, conservative opposition to birth control is rooted in male mate competition. Not only does birth control stir fears of cuckoldry, but it also keeps populations smaller relative to the rival tribe, which has always been a grave concern of men, who are disproportionately targeted for killing by the invading hordes. However, while growing the tribe may temporarily provide security for one's own kind, there is a large body of research showing that it comes with costs—social instability and male violence.