Monday, January 08, 2007

Is too much Testosterone a Terminal Illness?

So here we are in the twenty-first century. Sounds like a long time, doesn’t it? So much has happened. Certainly times and experiences have waxed and waned. So many families, children, laughter, terrified screams, unutterable joy, unimaginable savagery.

And we now know of at least sixty centuries of people building towns of cities, trading and competing for resources, going to war. Our ancestors, distant almost beyond imaging, were using fire around a million years ago. First the reptilian brain, then mammalian brain, were up and running. Then they learned how to cook meat, which gave them enough protein and fat for their brains to expand. A million years ago, they still had no prefrontal cortex, no language as we know it today. Our ancient ancestors explored their world, made simple tools like stone axes, and continued with no discernible evolution for hundreds of thousands of years.

Eventually, all the branches of human evolution died out, leaving us. Our curiosity, our cunning, our capacity for guile and treachery is legendary. It’s easy to see that our species, like those before us, has come to the end of how it’s been. Either we continue to adapt, radically adapt, or our species will go the way of our ancestor species. Flying into a psychotic rage and slaughtering others will no longer save us. Actually, there is some evidence to support the notion that our species continues to evolve, including the evolution of consciousness itself.

You see, in many ways our ancestors from 100,000 years ago were not that different from us. If we were to dress and groom them, they could walk down a crowded city street with barely a glance. For tens of thousands of years, most of our evolution for has been inside, in the development of our brains. There are many of us now who long for peace, who envision a world where everyone feels safe, loved, and celebrated. But those of us who choose peace have been at the mercy of those who choose war. One of the hallmarks of those who choose war is that they have no mercy. Blood lust is as real as sexual lust.

Studies show that high levels of testosterone do make it more likely that those men suffering from it will father more children, and seem to have some additional benefits. Yet we are now hearing that these high levels of testosterone are toxic to the individual as well as to the society in which they live (see article here). As a society, I believe we most find ways to harness and channel this energy in honoring, respectful ways that do NOT include war. Many of us, and more all the time, do not suffer from a surfeit of testosterone. We’re not hyper-competitive, we don’t need to be the best, the richest, the flashiest or the loudest. Yet we have a right to be, a right to live in peace and thrive.

There is an old adage that might makes right. Yet, when we look at our human history over the 8,000 years or so we’ve been keeping track, empires always fall. The center (of power) never holds. And now, with our ability to annihilate each other, to fish the oceans bare, create global warming, and continue to dither as the ruthless prey on the defenseless (Darfur), our species, considered the most adaptable in our long lineage, must adapt and evolve again if we are to survive in a meaningful way. When will we, as a species, wake up and see excessive testosterone as a terminal disease?

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