Geopolitics

How Testosterone Drives History

A new book by a German researcher explores the role that the hormone, which is more present in males, plays not just in mindless aggression, but also the kinds of real-life revolutions that change history.

Protesters in Tahrir Square (Maged Helal)
Protesters in Tahrir Square (Maged Helal)
Fanny Jimenez

Whether in Cairo, Tunis or Tripoli, media images showed that it was mainly men who rose up against those in power. The presence of so few women in Tahrir Square had less to do with Islamic values than it did with sexual frustration. Or at least that's according to a new German-language book by Karin Kneissl called "Testosterone macht Politik" (Testosterone Makes Politics). The hormone, the author says, is the reason why there are more male than female revolutionaries.

Men have nearly 10 times more testosterone than women, which makes them far more prone to risk-taking and acts of aggression. And the younger the man, says Kneissl, the more testosterone floods his body -- which is why men fearlessly throw themselves into the front lines whereas women fighting for freedom are more likely to choose lower-profile ways to do so.

Testosterone is an effective catalyst that collects all the frustration generated by different areas of life and focuses them on a single political foe. Kneissl says the main source of frustration channeled in this way is sexual – sexuality that has no outlets. This was the case in Egypt, where a strict moral code forbids any type of sex outside of marriage. And yet marriage is extremely costly and quite simply beyond the means of many men, writes Kneissl, an Austrian journalist, lecturer and analyst with a PhD in international law.

The author believes that on February 12, 2011 in Tahrir Square, it wasn't a coincidence that crowds chanted: "We're free again! Now we can marry!" The sexual frustration, particularly on the part of young men, that Kneissl believes lies behind the chants was also a key force in fueling the revolution.

Revolution from the gut

Scientifically, it is no news that there is a link between testosterone and aggression, and that the hormone influences our daily behavioral decisions. But Karin Kneissl's thesis is unusual in this context. If the hormone is frequently linked to economic developments, it is not usually associated with political analysis, she writes, where what prevails is a view of mankind as driven more by reason. However, history amply illustrates that while violent uprisings may be born in the brain, it's gut energy that drives their implementation.

Kneissl uses many historical examples to shore up her theory that sexual frustration can fuel aggression, including the European Revolutions of 1848 and in our own time the "Occupy Wall Street" movement. In both instances, she says, young unmarried men with a lot of testosterone in their blood were central players.

The author also stresses, however, that testosterone is not a "macho" hormone. It also plays a role in feelings of social responsibility, the common good and justice – all qualities needed in leaders.

If one subscribes to the idea that an excess of young men raises a culture's proneness to violence and risk-taking, then the future looks worrisome indeed. According to Kneissl, the dramatic lack of girls in East Asia, due to selective abortion and one-child policies, means that many young men may have to go through life without a woman at their side.

Already now in China, there are 130 men of marrying age for every 100 women. If dissatisfaction with the political system should grow, that's a recipe for revolution, Kneissl believes. Her point of view is in line with the "youth bulge" theory, according to which a disproportionate number of 15-25-year-old males is a main cause for wars and uprisings.

Kneissl says her thesis as a new approach to analyzing political upheaval, and an open call to her scientific colleagues. She stresses that even though male testosterone is the focal point of her book, biological determinism is foreign to her. Nor does she have the intention of pulling the rug out from under the concept of free will. Behavior is not determined by hormones alone -- but it is important, she believes, to question just how much reason and rationality drives Homo sapiens, and whether feelings and emotions count more than we once thought.

Read the original article in German.

Photo - Maged Helal

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Society

The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation

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Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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