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25584More than genetics?

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  • John Weber
    Nov 21, 2002
      The concept of the selfish gene often is implicit
      in the ideas on this list. I would not disagree
      with the power of genetics to form and direct our
      behavior. The concept put forth on the Selfish
      Gene Mailing List was that we act out of our
      genetic predeterminations and then rationalize
      our behavior for explanation. This has a ring of
      some truth to it. The motivations of life are
      power and sex. Power being the adequacy to
      continue the life of the individual - fight,
      flight, freeze, eat and for mammals, play. Sex
      being reproduction. The common denominator for
      these two is stimulation. These are written into
      the instructions.

      I can certainly see the hormonal reactions to the
      environment effecting us all through life
      including and especially prenatally. Stresses
      experienced by the pregnant woman influence the
      hormonal experiences of the fetus. I would
      propose aggressiveness as well as sexual behavior
      as being influenced. And the stresses of
      crowding, hunger and fear also can be proposed to
      effect population numbers. None of these
      connections seem outside the realm of

      There are two aspects that I feel are missed or
      at least confuse me. First I must propose that a
      major aspect that makes humans is the ability to
      self talk. This ability has its prime onset
      around 2 years of age and results in what are
      called �emotions of reference� by Michael Lewis -
      such as pride, guilt, shame, envy. This self
      talk is for me how the child is shaped in the
      ways of the family, society and culture. Through
      them the directives of the selfish gene are
      shaped and manifest. Territoriality could easily
      be seen as an action of all life. How that
      territoriality is manifest is determined through
      the family, society and culture. This ability
      to shape what in other animals is more blunt
      instinct is to me our most powerful tool
      equivalent to the talon, soaring and keen eyesite
      of the eagle. Through this shaping tool we are
      taught how to behave in our physical and social
      environment allowing us to inhabit the ends of
      the earth and also makes us the most social and
      socially dependent animal.

      Family, society and culture then for me add
      another dimension to the selfish gene. We may
      well be programmed to reproduce and that
      reproduction and its product can certainly be
      shaped by conditions in the environment. Let me
      add a dimension that I have seen in the therapy
      office. A woman with a childhood of abuse and
      abandonment will want a baby so that she will
      feel loved. When the doting infant begins to
      test its wings around 2, the mother moves away
      from the infant feeling once again abandoned.
      She turns around and has another child with a
      similar experience and same reaction.

      It could well be argued that this is only the
      genetic directives in action but there is clearly
      personal motivations involved. Also, her early
      abandonment of her children as they mature,
      generates in these children behaviors that can be
      very disruptive to the society. Shame, which is
      learned perceived wrongness in the person by the
      person and a failure to find belonging in the
      group, is a devastating emotion. For such a
      social animal, not belonging is a very deep wound
      and can create very destructive behaviors.
      Looking at the childhood history of many
      conscienceless criminals will turn up this sort
      of early history. Alice Miller�s study of Hitler
      shows this. In addition, I have never met a
      fundamentalist religious and/or political that
      didn�t have this history which promoted seeking a
      firm, black and white environment for safety and
      belonging. These are environments that are
      usually intolerant because tolerance raises
      questions and questions are dangerous to the
      fragile psyche.

      The point of this is that, yes, I agree that
      genetics are shaping our life as humans, I simply
      think there is overlay to this basic shaping
      determined by family, society and culture that is
      just as important in the human situation.

      There is a second part that baffles me about the
      unmitigated selfish gene approach. It would
      seem that it does not have survival value to put
      too much energy into behaviors that do not
      directly promote power and sex and the common
      link of stimulation. The peacock puts a lot of
      juice into its feathers. With good feathers, he
      gets into the sack more often. This is the
      equivalent of the big, 4 wheel drive pick-up. I
      had a very attractive and intelligent young
      friend tell me about her interest in a young man
      who was no where near here peer intellectually,
      because he had this �cool� truck. Now, he may
      not have enough money to buy bubble gum because
      of this truck, but, ah, peacock feathers work.

      So why do we build churches, monuments, do art,
      write symphonies? Selfish gene proponents want
      to call this static. Perhaps. I have seen a
      Mexican village where most of the homes were
      literally hovels and on the hill above these
      hovels stood a beautiful, well built church. (by
      the way, most of these hovels had television
      antennae, go figure).

      So much energy put into so much seemingly must
      have a purpose and not simply static. When the
      first fish (this metaphor folks) climbed out of
      the sea did it bring genetic possibilities
      coevolved with the breathing function that only
      later manifest their utility?

      We certainly seem to be in a new ball game as the
      human animal without having left the old one.

      These two aspects of the genetic approach to
      behavior baffle me - the personal shaping by
      family, society and culture and the massive use
      of energy in areas that do not manifestly promote
      individual survival and reproduction.
      John Weber
      As usual, confused in Minnesota but warm.

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