Book Reviews
Bare Branches:
The Security Implications of
Asia's Surplus Male Population

Valerie M. Hudson & Andrea M. den Boer

book review with expanded views
by William A. Spriggs
October 9, 2006

"The masculinization of Asia's sex ratios is one of the overlooked stories of the century…This phenomenon may be only one example of the linkage between the status of women in society and the society's possibilities for democracy and peace." P. 264.

This book is perhaps one of the most important books that you might read. I consider it to be one of the scariest.

Even though this book is not written from an evolutionary perspective, the entire book is about evolution and evolutionary pressures found within our species' Asian societies. The authors do cite fellow evolutionists, Buss, Betzig, Chagnon, Daly, Thornhill, Tiger, Wilson, and Wrangham, but the main thrust of this academic work is cemented in sociology. Bare Branches focuses on the world of marriage (or this case, non-marriage of males), gender roles, female infanticide, and masculinity in particular that exist today in Asia and its implications inherent in those social trends. It is all about the production of surplus beta males, produced by societies, in more numbers that natural forces could produce. It is about these surplus beta males not having sexual access to females because of their inability to acquire resources, and thus, ultimately, their inability to attract females. Then the authors finish the book with a strong slant toward the possibility that these surplus male populations could be herded into manipulated groups by authoritarian governments for political and military objectives.

The Chinese have a term for these surplus males who are not mated and who do produce progeny -- they call them "bare branches."

This book is scary because it boils our planet's future down to several simple facts: 1) that Asia, which includes India and China, both high-population countries, degrade females and honor the birth of sons. 2) These high population and male-dominated societies openly practice female "sexual selection" (that is - they prevent or destroy the female fetus because those societies feel the female is a burden and the male son is a boon to their legacies - the phrase is used in a social context and not as an evolutionary term). Because of high population density, this in turn, produces large surplus male populations. And thus, combining those factors with solid statistics concerning the violent behavior of human males found in groups, the authors arrive at, 3):

"The sex ratio of the 15-34 year age group, we argue, is especially interesting to the theorists studying societal and inter-societal conflict, given that young men in this age group are responsible for virtually all violent criminal behavior." P 6. The key phase here is: "…societal and inter-societal conflict."

* * *

The most important foundation of their argument lies in why cultural female "sexual selection" exists in the first place.

"In many societies, the type of food procurement system plays a role in determining the prevalence of female infanticide. Hunting, large animal husbandry, and agriculture involving heavy plowing render sons more valuable than daughters. Male-centered food production systems go hand in hand with patrilocality, wherein a wife not only joins her husband's family upon marriage but also severs daily contact with her natal family. In such cultures, females are usually not allowed to inherit real property, because when they marry, it would fall into the hands of their husbands' families. Even before marriage, girls are viewed not as family members but as houseguests. Investment in their care by their natal families is therefore considered a complete loss: A common proverb in patrilocality cultures is, 'Raising a daughter is like watering a plant in another man's garden.' Sons, who stay with their families to care and provide for them, (in their old age), are thus considered more valuable." P. 11.

Hudson and den Boer then zero in on social pressures inherent in individual families regarding female infanticide as they access the various hierarchical groups around them. As I have written many, many times before -"It's about the resources, people":

"We argue that the answer lies in the family's perceived threat of loss of social boundaries with the birth of every daughter. Social boundaries create divisions among people: divisions of identity, wealth, power (in all its forms), privilege, risk, vulnerability, and security. Boundaries allow the family or group to exclude others from sharing its resources). They also shield it from the suffering that a lack of resources can produce. Only by creating and maintaining social boundaries can families and groups perpetuate inequality in resource accumulation and access (underlines are mine for emphasis). During periods of environmental stress, (drought, economic recessions, or depressions) a family or group with strong social boundaries many not need to make adjustments to guarantee its safety; in fact, they are able to resist making any such adjustments. In contrast, non-family or non-group (i.e., out-group) members (single males) are likely to be more vulnerable because they bear the brunt of any sacrifice, suffering, or other adjustment resulting from the environmental stress. Thus the in-group's resistance to making adjustments to environmental stress results in dis-proportionate adjustment for the out-group. There is, however, an obvious glitch to the logic of social boundaries: The in-group's exclusionary access to resources is always vulnerable because of the human need for exogamy - that is, the need to look beyond one's kin group for suitable marriage partners." P. 15.

That last sentence is a very powerful one. It is the fatal flaw to all conservatives who rant and rave about their need to repeal the "Death Tax" and keep wealth via the mechanisms of non-empathy and greed within their families. It's powerful because what life is really all about is solving the "problem" of passing one's genes into the next generation. But God, in (his or her, or its) strongly suggests that interbreeding with others outside their own gene pool is more healthy then interbreeding (See my essay, "The Scent of Diversity" ). f course, the paragraph above also teaches us the "golden rule" of human behavior - "those that have the gold -- get to make the rules." In other words, those of us who wish to "rise up" into the wealthy hierarchies and enjoy the same benefits as the dominate in-groups must "adapt" and make all the changes to "fit" into their point of view and lifestyles while the dominates may "… not need to make adjustments to guarantee its safety; in fact, they are able to resist making any such adjustments."

Also, another quick note about the underlined sentences above: I argue that these "boundaries" the authors write about are biological in origin and are an expanded version of the "peri-personal" area that has been found to exist amongst all individuals in our species. It is the "guarding" or the "greedy" mechanism to exclude others from sharing its resources).

These exclusionary mechanisms lead to discriminations -- think of "Jim Crow Laws," "job discrimination," "red-lined neighborhoods," and "gated-communities"). The great flaw in this type of thinking is that there are more than enough resources to go around. Our ancient minds are still in the Pleistocene age where we honesty believe that we could possibly die if we don't have the latest SUV vehicle to keep us equal in the wealthy hierarchies in which we find ourselves; everything is relative to the human individual mind and that family where it finds itself attached. Greed is a survival mechanism that evolved from our resource-staved ancestors, but in today's modern world, it is way overused to the point of ridiculousness. There is more than enough resources in God's Earthly place to live in peace and prosper.

* * *

OK - I'm going to depart from the usual book review format for a few moments and expand that last paragraph from the authors because of its importance. So if you will permit me, I will simplify it into "common person language." I will add information about the individual "unit" first and then expand into the family unit.

>>Individual humans have "comfort zones" or "peri-personal zones" which expand to include immediate family members with similar DNA structure. See my essay, The Scent of Diversity" for the citation.

>For comfort and safety, parents give their children "instructions" to follow (These are also "boundaries" - both territorial and mental).

>The family sees itself as a single biological unit through co-dependency - usually with the male in the lead due to his strength and potentially violent nature to "protect" the family unit. (The male, however, is usually not aware of the evolutionary pressure that he was an end product of sexual female choice. This basically means that he was "picked" by the female as the best prospect available at that time and in that exact longitude and latitude to protect her progeny)

>"... resource accumulation and access…" behavior occurs within this family unit. This "wealth" accumulation results in safety against hardships and helps to insure the families' passage of its genes into the next generation. In social psychological memes, this is called "hierarchy accumulation."

>Individual families build "fences" or boundaries around those resources to insure their continued safety; these are the "in-groups." The "fences" are designed to keep "out-groups" away from the resources. We could label non-physical barriers as "discrimination," and assume that "greed" is a mental extension of self-preservation.

>Poor families, especially single males, (the "out-groups") who have no resources, understand innately that to have resources like the "in-groups" would also help perpetuate their genes. As a result, they attempt to follow or copy the "rules" passed "down" (down the hierarchy) by "working hard," "going to the best schools," "dressing in the proper clothes," "believing in the 'right' religion, and "following moral social norms" in general. Failure to ascend the hierarchies through their "best behavior" sometimes has the opposite effect of found in the out-groups and they adopt behaviors that plead openly in public to the in-groups to "trickle down the wealth." These behaviors are public calls for mercy and generally are called "grievances."

Evolutionists have called this behavior "tolerated theft" which they suggest emerged from small hunter-gatherer groups where the pleading can be seen by all. The in-group usually concedes and shares part of his "wealth" (piece of captured prey) because they know that somewhere down the road, the in-group might be in the same situation. Unfortunately, in today's society, the rich never visibly see the poor, and thus the pleas for mercy and their grievances "fall on deaf ears." The wealthy merely wave away their guilt by accusing the subordinates of being lazy and not working hard like their families have done. In social psychological terms, this attempt to "trickle down" wealth from the higher in-groups is called "hierarchy attenuation." In today's modern economies, examples would be workfare, or welfare programs).

>The greatest difficulties that in-groups find is that they tend to look amongst themselves for families similar in behavior and on the same hierarchical level as themselves in which to find suitable mating partners. (In Darwin's case, his hierarchical position and "social rules" limited his search for suitable partners to his extended family - He picked his first cousin). The good news for the rich in our modern societies is that there usually plenty of out-groups individuals seeking to "rise-up" to their level, and the in-groups merely have to cherry pick the best of the crop that suits their liking. This mating behavior in social psychological terms is called"…exogamy - that is, the need to look beyond one's kin group for suitable marriage partners."

In order to maintain exclusivity of their resources, the wealthy (or anyone who considers themselves "higher" in a specific hierarchy over "subordinates") go through various behaviors. I found them to be most interesting, and since they transcended cultural boundaries on our planet, I felt them important enough to include these seven mechanisms listed below in this review for the benefit of the evolutionary community: remember people, it's all about the control and flow of resources.

"We find that these generalizations hold true in a variety of cultures throughout time, and apply not only to family-based resource exclusivity but also to ethnic- class-, and caste-based systems of resource exclusivity." P. 26.

"First, in most traditional economies, families do not leave marriage to chance. Rather, they strictly control the choice of mates for their children….the family seeks to keep sons within its social boundaries. More children, particularly boys, augment productive capacity and future old-age security….one's survival and ability to fend off hostile neighbors or to dominate others has been and still remains a function of one's family size and kinship groups." P. 16.

"Second, daughters given in marriage to another family are denied access to the natal family's accumulated wealth…Daughters are not allowed to inherit family accumulation to any significant degree, especially not land…" P. 17.

"Third, to minimize penetration of their social boundaries, families choose their daughters' husbands from families of higher social status (hypergyny)." P. 17.

"Fourth, the giving of a daughter in marriage represents a form of tribute from a lower-status party to a higher-status of the bride's family vis-á-vis the groom's family: thus the Chinese saying, 'the family of the married daughter holds its head down, while the family of the man whom she has married holds its head up.'" Pp 17 & 18.

"Fifth, …in societies that maintain social boundaries, one detects an overall upward movement of women as their families struggle to arrange marriages that will not compromise their own social standing. (In other words, families hope that the "dowry" they have to pay to the "in-group" to accept their daughter will not drain their resources significantly." P. 18.

"Sixth, when the marriage of daughters would be too costly or socially threatening, families pull them out of the marriage market either by engaging in female infanticide or by promoting female celibacy. In the past, some cultures created elaborate systems of nunneries, or secular celibate sisterhoods, where families would often pay a 'dowry' to such institutions in return for taking in their daughters." P. 18.

"Seventh, at the lowest levels of society, surfeits of unmarriageable males start to develop. The greater the number of daughters taken out of the marriage market and the greater the upward movement of other daughters through hypergynous marriage, the greater the number of unmarriageable males at the lower levels." P. 19

* * *

The book then leads us into a more detailed historical perspective on abortion and the "problem" of "missing females." In Chapter 3 and 4, Hudson and den Boer center their focus on two high-population countries: India and China and give us some alarming population statistics.

After establishing the staggering numbers of surplus males that will be available, the authors give us their four general characteristics of male "bare branches":

"First, they belong predominantly to the lowest socioeconomic class…Beginning with nonhuman primate studies and moving up the evolutionary chain to humans, when females are scarce; the only reproductive failures are low-status males… because men with greater status and wealth are better able to attract males." Pp. 188 & 189.

"Second, in economics with market features, bare branches are more likely to be underemployed or unemployed. They are also more likely to be chosen for low-status jobs that are dangerous, menial, labor intensive or seasonal….Their poor socio-economic position and reproductive prospects make them perennial aspirants in large-scale expansionist and insurgent military campaigns through which they might hope to achieve higher positions." pp. 188 & 189. (That's one of the scary parts - especially the phrase, "insurgent military campaigns").

"Third, bare branches are typically transients with few ties to the communities in which they look for work." P. 190.

"Fourth, bare branches live and socialize with other bare branches, creating distinctive bachelor subcultures. Predictably, the rest of the community treats them as social outcasts….The unattached men could not be included in the status groups of the resident community because of the differences of values stemming from the former's lack of structured responsibility, particularly as express in the lack of restraint in recreation, pursuit of immediate pleasure, and the lack of concern for the future." P 191.

On page 192, Hudson and den Boer go even deeper with their research and really go to town on the poor beta males. In their sub-chapter, "Behavioral Tendencies of Bare Branches." (I'm not really sure here, but at this point "I'm 'sensing' an internal 'fear' or bias by the female authors - but, it could just be me).

"First, males are more violent than females." P. 192

"Second, males engage more often than females in other types of anti-social behavior." P. 192.

"Third, unmarried males commit more violence than married males." Here the authors take a paragraph from Robert Wright's book, The Moral Animal, by suggesting that the difference in married vs. unmarried may be because…. 'a good part of the difference may lie in the 'pacifying effect' of marriage….an unmarried man is more likely to incur various risks - committing robbery, for example - to gain the resources that may attract women." P. 195.

The authors do not mention that one possible reason for the "pacifying effect" is that the married male is "getting 'IT'" on a regular basis. Think of it this way -- the sex drive is like 'static electricity'; it builds up until it screams out for release - and to get that 'release,' unattached males are "following 'nature's call" by "attempting, or engaging in" risky behavior in order to acquire resources in which to attract the female. This ultimately allows them to pass their genes. How does one pass their genes?

Unless you live under a rock, the obvious answer is for the male to have SEX with the female. If the male achieves his "goal" of passing his genes - guess what? -- the sex drive is diminished (until the next unconscious buildup). It's not rocket science people. Science needs to come out from under its rock and study the "willingness to perform risky behavior" in males "not getting IT" versus those who do "get IT" on a regular basis. Automobile insurance actuary tables for coverage of young males between 17 -25 are staggering next to a married male in his late 40's. Why is that? Is it because the young males' reflexes are terrible and they can't avoid accidents? - Or, is it because the young male's brain is hard-wired biologically to take risks in order to acquire resources -- and unfortunately his foot is attached to a gas pedal?

Science merely has to study the voluminous work done so far on one of our closest biological neighbors, the bonobos. Sex is the wonderful and playful deterrent to violence in this species. But in order for the modern male to access sex on a non-competitive basis and become "pacified," - males must jump over the huddles of commitment and marriage. We blue-collar workers have a saying in my local environment of Denver, Colorado in 2006: "Men will do strange things for money and 'pussy.'" [Pussy: after 'pussy cat' -- the common man's word for the exterior public hair seen from a distance that covers the female's reproductive organs. Also, shortened to "P-cat" when in mixed company].

If my structured speculation is correct, and the world truly wants to end male violence -- or for non-mated males to become "pacified" -- the world needs to put mechanisms in place on the planet so that males can have sexual release on a regular basis without mated "commitments." Oh, but we can't do that, now can we? Our "morality" calls for the creation of 'perfect' man and wife situations with Ozzie and Harriet imageries. The creation of that 'perfect' world is only possible with the EXCLUSION of others who might degrade the American Dream of perfection. I'm not calling for the legalization of prostitution as we know it today. But if I did, it would not be in its present form of male dominated groups.

If SEX were easy easily available, it would make it harder for females trying to mold males into creating the Ozzie and Harriet Dream. I mean, those males wouldn't work their tails off establishing a home, job career, and positions within the community to get some SEX -- if SEX were easy to get, now would they? Why jump over huddles? Right?

Well, yes - for the short term. But, remember this: "to pass one's genes" does not just mean the ejaculatory success of one mating - it means to leave children behind also. There will always be those of us males who love children and will sacrifice much in order to have them. And to that in today's society means becoming committed to a female. I want all females to look at this in another way: Easy, available sex eliminates the weak and uncommitted males. Remember that Denver quote just two paragraphs above? What it also means is that by "anything," that also means lying and deception in order to "achieve that goal." The only "problem" left for women then, is to improve the "hunting and gathering" process for males willing to commit in a more competitive environment. And that my dears, is easily done with the new world of the internet.

So the question to evolutionists - is the female of our species to blame for male violence because they understand biologically that males compete for SEX and to "forbid" "easy sex" makes males more willing to jump hoops and become "committed" in order to benefit her future progeny? It's a loaded question that will resonate for hundreds of years. They real answer of course, is that it is the creation of cultural social structures that produces marriages and the acceptance of commitment by males. But, is the "pressure" or drive beneath those the creation of these social constructs based on the biology of female choice or sexual selection?

It's usually at the point where I point the finger of blame on the female choice for aggressive males that feminist throw rotten tomatoes at me shout "How dare you!!" Men have degraded women for centuries!!! You are absolutely correct. Our species lives in groups that are based on socially constructed hierarchies. And there is no faster way for male to acquire resources then by forming alliances with his male buddies. The elite female just chooses the best and attracts him with what she has. You must "take the elevator" up one level from biology to sociology and understand that males and females BOTH benefit by being in higher reaches of their respective hierarchies.

We hear all about the "alpha" males and how they come to power, but we seem to forget that fecund females also understand that what is best for their progeny is to find the "best" male to assist them. The problem ladies, is your sisters who sit atop the hierarchy and whisper in the ears of the "alpha" males at night that if they want unfettered access to her sex, then one of the "social rules" that Harriet demands of Ozzie is that "loose women" be excluded from the equation. And like magic, the Madonna - Whore Complex is created -- The degradation of the poor and subordinate females are suddenly the targets of social exclusionary phrases like "loose," "fast." "skants," and "sluts," The names then appear with stereotypical behavior and clothing, and perhaps ethnic origins - all simply meaning: "avoid females displaying these behaviors - they are out of the "mating game" - or more simply - they are out of "competition

* * *

Sorry for my essay rant, let's continue with the book review.

"Fourth, low-status males commit more violence than high-status males." P. 197

"Fifth, males commit more violence under the influence of alcohol and certain drugs than males not under such influences." P. 197

"Sixth, transient males commit proportionately more violence than nontransient males; they also tend to be victims of violent crime more often than nontransients." P. 198 & 199.

"Seventh, males who are predisposed to risk taking, (i.e. men who are young, unmarried, low-status, or substance abusing) exhibit even more exaggerated risky and violent behavior when in groups." P. 199.

On page 200, the authors arrive at their "Consequences for High-Sex-Ratio Societies (high percentage of low-ranking male populations):

"What happens when a society consciously selects for bare branches? The result, we argue, will be a significant increase in societal, and possibly intersocietal, violence."

They hint at the answer of that question by quoting from Mesquida, Christian G., and Wiener, Neil I. "Human Collective Aggression: A behavioral Ecology Perspective," Ethology and Sociobiology, Vol. 17, No. 4 (July 1996) pp. 256-260.

"Young males participate in collective aggression to acquire the resources needed to attract a mate, and we should expect a great majority of the militants to come from that section of the population with fewest resources…it is likely then that controlling elites astutely underwrite such risky undertaking as territorial expansion or colonization, especially when the alternative is have the aggressive tendencies of the male citizens directed at themselves…Tentatively, we like to propose that this intergenerational competition for reproductive resources, when exacerbated by the presence of a relatively large number of resourceless young males, might result in the emergence of male collective aggression, which occasionally expresses itself as expansionist warfare." P. 201.

In other words, the elites of these countries with surplus male population could conceivably use these aggressive, non-attached "surplus males" as pawns in their own wars for expansion.

Quoting from Boone, James L., "Parental Investment and Elite Family Structure in Preindustrial States," American Anthropologist, Vol. 88, No. 4, December 1986. (he is writing about medieval Portugal),

"…a highly competitive, volatile situation at the societal level with respect to the problem of excess cadet males (bare branches), necessitated territorial expansion. Rulers must choose between dispersing these individuals, for example, in expansionist campaigns, or facing disorder and overthrow on the home front…Territorial expansion does not necessarily arise as an adaptive response on the part of a polity to expand its resource base or to solve productive deficiencies facing the population at large: expansionist warfare often results from attempts by individuals or coalitions to maintain control by directing the competition of their immediate subordinates away from themselves and against neighboring territories." pp 201-202.

That really is an important paragraph. It basically says that you have to round up these surplus males and send them off to expansionist wars or else they would organize and overthrow your comfortable position atop the hierarchy. I guess medieval Portugal did not understand that you all you had to do were to put all their subordinate surplus males in prison complexes like we have in "three strikes and your out" America today; it's cheaper than war. But back then, there was little chance of retaliation from the invaded country.

After confirming our fears that roaming or organized groups of single males cause the most violence and could possibly be used as a weapon of war, the authors lead us to their final chapter where they discuss the policy implications. I'm going to cut to bone on their predictions because I have dribbled on too long, but basically, with China and India approaching populations of 120 males for every 100 males, they quote a Chinese official in an Wall Street Journal article saying, "By the end of the century, our country could have a great hoodlum army of 70 million single men." P. 262.

And in conclusion:

"The findings in this volume make possible two broad predictions regarding likely trends in twenty-first-century China and India…leaders…will be hard pressed to address the potentially grave social instability that their countries' ever-increasing numbers of bare branches may produce in the next few decades. To counter this threat, they may be inclined to move in a more authoritarian direction." P. 263

"…The security logic of high-sex-ratio cultures predisposes nations to see some utility in interstate conflict." P. 263.

This last sentence is very powerful: it says that one way to control and limit the population growth of a "threat" to its own security would be to send its surplus bare branches off to war with little possibility, nor concern for their return. The scary part of this is that if the above Chinese official is off by 90% that still leaves China with seven million "hoodlums" compared to America's standing army of 2.5 million. The authors give some population projections of China's surplus males and depending on the male to female "sexual selection" ratios, come up with a figure of between 17,712,000 to 29,208,000 15-34 year olds by the year 2020. That's 17 to 29 million surplus males.

Now, throw India's surplus male population projections into the mix of upwards of 31,671,000 in 2020 (p. 127), and quite frankly you have the gist of a sci-fi war flick on a scale unimaginable.

The best part of this book to the evolutionary community is that it describes beta males of our species and does not focus on the alphas, or social elites of our modern societies. It also causes policy makers to focus more clearly on needs of bare branches and the strong need to change cultural attitudes about lifting the status of women. I strongly believe that if "women got us into this fine mess," then they can get us out of it. And finally, it may force us to look at the biological, reproductive act in a new light.

Even though the book is not evolutionary in theme, I am placing in my Recommended Readings. But because of the strictly academic language and structure, it will have to be placed in my third level. I especially recommend it for evolutionary feminists; I suggest they buy the book and Grok it

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