Whilst Graffin simplified 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 himself 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, however, related to the grand scheme of the book: giving a new perspective of how populations interact with each other, from single cell organisms to civilized cultures. 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.
Graffin in fact 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.
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 these ideas of his, being able to make sense of what are scientific and abstract ideas, that would usually be difficult to understand without previous knowledge of the topics. Graffin as an educator has found a role, which is to enlighten and further humanities discourse. Population Wars is the second book Graffin has published. 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 by now. It is a nice change to see a public figure take on social responsibility instead of advocating a shallow life style 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.” As 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.
L. P. Schwanbeck
Added 4th November 2015