The Economist has a splendid snippet up this week on (its own coinage?) Gendercide--the systematic war against infant females, from before conception to after birth. The E focuses on the crime against all those real or hypothetical girl babies which is right and just, but I want to focus for a moment on the other side of the equation: what will the world look like with all those surplus men?
It's rhetorical; you know the answer: not pretty. Young men are mostly of a damn nuisance anyway unless they are tightly supervised or extraordinarily well led (in both cases, this usually implies a cadre of powerful and talented older men, of which more below). The young ones fight the wars; they disrupt the communities; they make all kinds of trouble and they are a whole hell of a lot crabbier than normal if they aren't getting laid. It is not an inspiring picture.
Case in point: I gave some attention last week to Timothy Snyder's admirable The Reconstruction of Nationalism, about the turbulent history of East/Central Europe, specifically the dark and bloody ground that includes Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and the Ukraine. It's a story with a lot of hurt but perhaps nothing worse than the account of the young Ukranians during World War II. As I read it, The Nazis and the Soviets together killed off most of the Ukranian elites (there goes the stabilizing leadership). Meanwhile Hitler dragooned the hot-blooded youngsters into killing squads for the dirty work of systematically murdering Jews. And once they'd done Hitler's work on the Jews, the young folks continued to practice their craft on the surviving Poles. This is a great tragedy all round, but understand I am not saying anything special about Ukranian DNA here: it's a tragedy of social structure, what you get when you turn young men on the loose (to hammer home the point--the Poles for their part weren't a whole lot more polite: they just didn't have quite the same institutional opportunity).
And it's no consolation to point out that these young men are often just being mean to each other. It's certainly true, though: I've been spending some time lately with the strangely hypnotic LA Times Murder Blog. I don't find a count although I'm pretty sure the vast majority of these murders are committed by young men. On the other hand, look at the count of victims: I didn't run all numbers but I can see at a glance that there is a huge modal plurality of men between 17 and 23. So a surplus of young males a hazard even if you are part of it.
There are any number of ways a society can respond to this imbalance. A not-very inspiring device is just to keep them all drunk or stoned until they are too old to care. A sure-fire (sic!) ticket is to fight a war, preferably on foreign soil, perhaps best in a "less developed" country (send along a few institutional brothels to keep them healthy. Sometimes you can get lucky and gin up William James "Moral Equivalent of War," although that takes luck and planning. If the young men were young bulls, you would just castrate them, there's plenty of evidence of that in human history too--the Ottoman Empire, African slaves in Arabia, etc. Meanwhile lately I have made only partly flippant cracks about breeding them out. This is technologically possible, but of course the whole point of the present inquiry is that it isn't happening--rather, quite the opposite is true.
We have, then, a rich menu of possibilities and I really can't guess just which way we are likely to go, but here's one possibility: military orders--trained and organized bands of young men devoting their lives to doing what young men do. I'm thinking in one sense of things like the Teutonic Knights or the original Cossacks, but it is possible to come up with plausible examples closer to home. Russia's vory v zakone--"thieves in law"--probably count as a band of "criminals" (but mostly young men) bound to each other by bands of ritual solidarity and committed to living off the land. You see hints of this in urban street gangs that exist partly as drug delivery networks but partly just for their own sake as foci of bonding and adventure.
Then there is the whole matter of quasi-legal private armies--the near-notorious "military contractors" (heh!) who seek and are bound to find employment fighting other people's wars. There's no shortage of talented young people (but again, mostly male) well trained (largely, be it noted, at taxpayer expense) more interested in the practice of their craft than in subtle casuistry about for whom and why. I wish I could imagine a prettier world than this.