Last week, World War 3 nearly started in Ladakh. A dry, high-altitude region of Indian Kashmir on the Himalayan border with China, it’s been the site of escalating tensions and military buildup for some time. On June 15, the first physical confrontation between the Indian and Chinese militaries for 45 years erupted, killing at least 20 Indian and 45 Chinese soldiers.
There are all sorts of geopolitical reasons cited for the escalating tension between the world’s two most populous countries, but there is one more central and timeless problem that is going to drive both countries towards violence and instability — women. Or a lack of them.
In his History of the Normans, written circa 1015, Dudo of St Quentin argued that the reason the Vikings went raiding was because they couldn’t find wives, an idea echoed by the Tudor antiquarian William Camden in his 1610 book Britannia. ‘Wikings’, Camden suggested, were what you got when there weren’t enough women to go round, resulting in an excess of young men hanging around full of machismo but without any prospect of finding a nice girl and settling down. (Viking literally means raider.)
So, whenever these spare males “multiply’d themselves to a burdensom community”, Camden reports that an area would draw lots. Those of the young troublemakers chosen in the lottery would be sent off on a ship to make a nuisance of themselves overseas. Which they did.
In evolutionary biology, the ‘operational sex ratio’ is a term used to count the proportion of males and females in a given species that are seeking a reproductive mate. As soon as the ratio tilts away from 50:50, the sex that’s over-represented will have to compete to secure a mate from among the less-plentiful potential partners of the opposite sex.
Though they wouldn’t have used that phrase, both Dudo of St Quentin and William Camden were both describing this phenomenon in human males. Where potential wives are scarce and the ‘burdensom community’ of spare men multiplies, the result is more violence and crime. One 2019 study showed that where polygyny — that is, multiple wives — is a social norm for higher-status men, attacks on neighbouring ethnic groups skyrocket. With a few men monopolising eligible women, the rest are forced to seek status and resources by attacking other tribes.
India and China both have an extremely ‘burdensom community’ of spare males. The normal ratio of newborn boys to girls is around 105:100. But as Mara Hvistendahl documents in Unnatural Selection, thanks to prenatal ultrasound and sex-selective abortion the ratio in China is around 118:100, and 108:100 in India. In some regions of India, the ratio rises as high as 150 males to 100 females. Though sex-selective technology is now banned in India, it’s still widespread, and the country now has some 37 million more men than women. Studies estimate that China has around 30 million excess men.
A naïve view of ‘mate competition’ might imagine this would play to women’s advantage. Females in sexually dimorphic species don’t choose mates at random but select for traits that will give their offspring an advantage of some kind. In bird terms, that might translate into choosing the male who can build the most splendid nest. Humans, being evolved creatures, do this too: ‘hypergamy’, or more colloquially ‘marrying up’, in practice means that the wealthier a man is, more women will consider him a desirable partner.
Certainly, some women benefit: hypergamy in China is brutal. Young Chinese men in some areas pay a deposit to a woman’s family even for the right to date her, non-refundable if the match doesn’t work out. Women refuse anyone who doesn’t have a car, a house and money for a ‘bride price’ running to tens of thousands of pounds.
But other women pay the cost. Human rights organisations have reported the ugly side-effects of the woman shortage, which include skyrocketing sexual harassment in India, and bride trafficking in China. There, women are tricked into migrating from countries such as Cambodia or Vietnam before being locked in a room and repeatedly raped until they are pregnant. Sometimes these women are allowed to escape but must leave their child behind.
Along with a hidden cost in abused and trafficked women, Chinese history suggests that bachelors with no prospect of marriage are associated with banditry, violence and even civil war. The Nien rebellion of 1863 was driven by ‘bare branches’, as men with no prospect of marriage are called in China. Meanwhile, in India, social scientist Prem Choudhry expects the woman shortage to make politics more extreme, as a man with no family is considered worthless and will need to prove himself somehow: “If they remain single, they will be declared not men at all.”
Historically a common solution to the problem of ‘bare branches’ has been to divert them from domestic trouble-making to foreign expansionist warfare. The Viking raids on Britain were one result of this; so was the conquest of Ceuta. Joao I of Portugal, the illegitimate son of King Peter I, came to power with the help of their own variety of ‘bare branches’ in 1385. But when he realised that their piracy and robbery posed risks to his own rule, he sent them off to seek status and resources by invading North Africa instead, kicking off a long and ugly history of European colonialism on that continent, the repercussions of which still echo today.
I’m not suggesting all the tensions between India and China can be attributed to spare men. Ladakh is close to the headwaters of the Ganges: not a location India wants to see under Chinese control. But unlike Dark Ages Scandinavia or medieval Portugal, modern nations can’t just send their spare men off on expansionist wars — although there are reports that China is using Uighur women like Viking men would have used captured Saxons.
And men who cannot demonstrate their masculine worth by forming and supporting a family will look for other opportunities to prove themselves. The prospect of two nuclear-armed superpowers squaring up within a political climate shaped by angry young men should worry us.
Angry incels closer to home should worry us too. Tempting though it may be to imagine that in the West progressive values have somehow abolished our evolved tendencies to intrasexual and inter-sexual competition for the best mates, evidence suggests otherwise.
Although the sex ratio in the liberated West is the normal 105:100, today this isn’t translating straightforwardly into family formation. As women have become more educated and economically independent, researchers hoped hypergamy would fade away, with women becoming more willing to ‘marry down’. It would make sense: after all, a woman doing well in a demanding career might in theory have an easier life if she married a self-employed plasterer whose flexible schedule would let him deal with school runs and appointments.
But after hundreds of thousands of years of evolving to prioritise mates with resources and status, it seems that many women still prefer to seek the ‘best’ potential partner. One recent US study showed that even where women are more educated than their partners, they’ll still show a preference for men who earn more than them. That is, high-flying women will disregard the plasterer and pursue an equally high-earning husband.
To compound the problem, social norms in favour of monogamous marriage have loosened over the decades since the 1960s — but this hasn’t made women less choosy about their partners. The number of American men under 30 who have never had sex tripled between 2008 and 2018 — but hasn’t risen nearly as rapidly for women. The only plausible explanation is that women are still having sex, but they’re competing for a smaller pool of desirable men and leaving the rest on the shelf.
You only have to look at online dating advice for American men to see this at work: “Show her you aren’t the average video game playing, cheap beer drinking, couch potato loser she wants to avoid,” advises one article on cultivating the ‘Alpha male persona’.
So even with normal sex ratios, our culture is creating a sort of flotsam of sexual no-hopers, composed of those males who simply aren’t impressive enough to attract anyone even for a fling, let alone a committed relationship. The grievances of this sexual underclass are creeping into our politics, as Angela Nagle argued in Kill All Normies: “Sexual patterns that have emerged because of the decline of monogamy have seen a greater level of sexual choice for an elite of men and a growing celibacy among a large male population at the bottom of the pecking order. Their own anxiety and anger about their low-ranking status in this hierarchy is precisely what has produced their hardline rhetoric about asserting hierarchy in the world politically when it comes to women and non-whites.”
In case anyone is tempted to dismiss this as harmless losers posting misogynistic memes, remember incels go on actual killing sprees. And there’s considerable overlap between the ‘redpilled’ community of sexually frustrated anti-feminists and the far-right more generally. As in the Nien uprising, ‘bare branches’ make for ugly politics.
Bare branches also make for enthusiastic terrorists. ISIS used sexual slavery as a key plank in its recruiting pitch for foreign fighters. Like the ‘Wikings’, men who don’t have many prospects at home will take considerable risks if they think it’ll get them laid, and (again like the actual Vikings) never mind whether the girls are willing or not. Conversely, settling down de-radicalises: according to research by the Institute of Family Studies, people with children are less likely to express views consistent with white identity politics. Likewise the Saudi Arabian deradicalisation programme essentially involved getting extremists married, and has proved very effective.
It’s difficult to tackle this subject without yourself getting accused of being ‘redpilled’ or a men’s rights activist. But it’s surely possible to discuss the political and social problem of spare men without believing that the solution is to force unwilling women to have kids with them.
And addressing this problem should absolutely be seen as a feminist project. Being consigned to a life of hopeless, low-status singledom makes men more violent, sexually dangerous and politically disruptive. This is not an excuse, but it is a reality. It’s straightforwardly in women’s interests to improve the lot of our own burgeoning plague of Wikings.