Population Wars: Greg Graffin

Population Wars: Greg Graffin

Title: Population Wars: A New Perspective on Competition and


Author: Greg Graffin

Review by L.P. Schwanbeck 

Naturalism is humanism, according to Graffin, yet the scope of the topics covered in this book are as diverse as they are complicated. Thus, he paints an outline that should get anyone interested in the problems the twenty-first century global community faces.

Whilst the book is informative and eloquently written, Graffin still employs a language the layman comprehends. In the end, you get out of the book what the author promises in its title: a new perspective on population wars and subsequently civilisation(s).

Graffin is a trained palaeontologist, zoologist and geologist. All in all, however, he is a naturalist. He breaks down his view on ecology and its impact on populations as well as individuals’ day-to-day life. From the atmosphere to the bacteria that inhabit our guts we are all part of nature, part of multiple ecosystems. In fact, in a way, we are also an ecosystem, harbouring multiple species within and on us.

Whilst Graffin simplifies these concepts for an audience that is not versed in advanced biology, he still explores the concepts of large-scale biological systems from micro to macro. To illustrate his points Graffin uses the straightforward examples of how bacteria affect his home and property, examples anyone can relate to.

Graffin has stated in interviews that his newest title can’t be summarised in 30 seconds, which is true. Each chapter delves into a new topic that is related to the grand scheme of the book: giving a new perspective of how populations interact with each other, from single cell organisms to civilised cultures.

Rethink the mantra

Graffin wants people to rethink the mantra we have adopted that we view competition as ‘the survival of the fittest’ as well as that biology has a purpose. He disagrees with Aristotle’s teleological philosophy and denies we have free will, based upon neuroscience that shows most of our behaviour is habitual, forming neuro-pathways that we take, such when we are on auto-pilot.

He wants the reader to reconsider the war metaphor the media has drilled into out minds, too, such as ‘the war on terror’, ‘the war on drugs’, ’the war on anything’ – the last word of this phrase being quite interchangeable. This metaphor signifies that something, the thing deemed as evil, can be annihilated. Yet that isn’t possible. Graffin gives numerous examples of how populations keep existing and assimilating, even after war. From the Iroquois, to viral infections that ultimately assimilated themselves into the DNA of us Homo Sapiens. Biology is a process of assimilation, symbiosis that often strikes random deals. It isn’t purpose driven, but pragmatic.

Population Wars by Greg Graffin

‘Graffin denies we have free will.’

Graffin states that this theory of competition and teleological drive has been misinterpreted and that it is used against the less fortunate members of our society. In fact, we are more likely to be products of our circumstances that we are of our own design. In a press release it’s stated that: ‘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.’ Symbiosis in the end, has always been a better solution to problems, human made, or the ones nature faces. Extinction of organisms is not desirable, although the latter is unavoidable, as 99.99% of all species that have existed have gone extinct. We need to move on from our view of evolution as survival of the fittest, as evidence suggests this is not the way evolution operates, it simply assimilates opportunistically.

Indeed, not many philosophers take his stance and it is one that needs further exploration, especially with the challenges we face such as climate change, super bugs and resistance to antibiotics. They all come down to populations interacting: be it humans and bacteria, humans and our atmosphere, or viruses and our cells. The spectrum is diverse and fascinating.

Making sense

The language Graffin uses is often eloquent; one can see and feel in certain paragraphs the skills he has gained as a songwriter, yet the paragraphs are structured like an academic essay. The combination works, as it carries the reader with flow through his ideas, making sense of scientific and abstract ideas that would usually be difficult to understand without previous knowledge.

Graffin as an educator has found a role, which is to enlighten and encourage further discourse. Population Wars is the second book Graffin has published and he said in an interview that he might publish a series of books illustrating his worldview whilst wanting to challenge the one of his readers. He is already doing that successfully with Bad Religion, the punk band he fronts.

Graffin first coined the term ‘Population Wars’ in the song Grains of Wrath, which is on the album New Maps of Hell (2007). The book incorporates ideas he has been developing since the founding of Bad Religion, but refined as he grew up. Indeed, he has pushed the medium of thought quite to the professional edge now. It is a nice change to see a public figure take on social responsibility instead of advocating a shallow lifestyle as seen by many others.

To finish this review I will quote Ralph Waldo Emerson: ‘The man who can make hard things easy is the educator.’ Graffin has definitely done that and given the reader a comprehensive view of the way we really interact with the world and the problems we have created and face. He also tells us how they might be solved. After all, the man is an optimist whose message is: we can persist, if we evolve our ways of thinking.

By L. P. Schwanbeck

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