Re: The genetics of blame (fwd)

P. Myers (
Fri, 21 Aug 1998 19:24:47 -0700 (PDT)

Thanks, T...couldn't have said it better myself!! Pat Myers

On Fri, 21 Aug 1998, Theodore Latham wrote:

> Pat,
>     A Gene for Homelessness ... I doubt it seriously. I do know that 
> genes exist in the human body that govern the self destructive behaviors 
> and unhealthy dependencies that people adopt throughout life. These are 
> things such as negative self talk, physical abuse of self, chronic 
> manipulation, drug & alcohol abuse, suicidal thoughts, isolation, 
> destructive relationships, procrastination, self-hatred, depression, 
> feelings of inadequacy, low self worth, guilt, shame, anger, etc. And 
> let's not forget fear of failure and rejection. Thus, it could never be 
> said that any given person living on the streets in anywhere USA came to 
> be in that fix because of a Homeless Gene, but it could be plausible 
> that due to a family history of chemical dependency in their genetic 
> make up, they grew up to be a Crack Head, and thus became homeless as a 
> direct result of not being able to manage money. So, once again ... I 
> say there is NO such thing as a Homeless Gene, but instead there exists 
> a combination of genes that regulate the attributes and character 
> defects that many homeless people often have. Nuff Said!
> Regards,
> Tedrico Latham
> _________________________
> Your Informative Homelessness Resource Link!
> P.O. Box 514 Rich Square, NC 27869 (252)539-4228
> <>
> "P. Myers" <> forwarded:
> >Subject: Fwd:  The genetics of blame (fwd)
> >
> >
> >Long, but very interesting article!! Pat Myers
> >
> >*********************************
> >You've got to dance like nobody's=20
> >               watching, and love=20
> >                  like it's never
> >                    going to hurt.
> >
> >Subject: Fwd:  The genetics of blame
> >
> >The genetics of blame
> >
> >A gene for homelessness? Is this a joke? Not entirely, for those who
> >subscribe to the burgeoning new mix of science and politics called 
> neuro
> >genetic determinism, writes Professor Steven Rose.
> >
> >Early last December the science writer Matt Ridley contributed a column
> >to the Daily Telegraph. He argued that, contrary to long-held
> >common-sense views, genetic research now proved that how we are brought
> >up and the nature of our family background have little effect on the
> >sort of people we become. All important aspects of our personality are
> >somehow preordained by the genes in our bodies. Hence, he concluded
> >bluntly, interventions by social workers into our lives would not solve
> >these problems; it was time for political conservatives to abandon 
> their
> >residual moral authoritarianism and move towards policies more in 
> accord
> >with biological realism.
> >
> >Ridley's views on the importance of genes are shared by much of the
> >press. Week after week newspapers report what are seen as major
> >breakthroughs in biological and medical understanding, though few draw
> >out the seeming political lessons with such clarity. A random sampling
> >of newspapers last autumn offered the discovery of a gene contributing
> >to IQ and another for schizophrenia, Edward Kennedy's belief that he
> >carried "the genes for alcoholism", and an announcement that mail-order
> >gene tests would soon be available.
> >
> >Genes have been located, it is claimed, not only for diseases like
> >breast cancer but for homosexuality, alcoholism and criminality. And
> >there is the notorious and only half-facetious speculation by Daniel
> >Koshland, former editor of the prestigious Science journal, that there
> >might even be genes for homelessness.
> >
> >At the same time as drugs to extend life, improve memory or prevent
> >compulsive shopping make newspaper headlines, university scientists 
> call
> >press conferences in which they claim to have discovered the biological
> >causes of sexuality or of violence in modern society.
> >
> >
> >
> >In 1995 the London-based medical charity, the CIBA Foundation, 
> announced
> >that it was sponsoring a closed meeting of behaviour geneticists whose
> >research pointed to a "biological" origin for the incidence of violent
> >crime - and of course its concentration in non-white inner city 
> ghettos.
> >An earlier attempt to hold a similar meeting in the US had to be called
> >off when protesters objected to its racist assumptions.
> >
> >The emerging synthesis of genetics and the brain sciences -
> >neurogenetics - and its philosophical and political offspring,
> >neurogenetic determinism, offers the prospect of identifying, ascribing
> >causal power to, and eventually modifying genes affecting brain and
> >behaviour. In a world full of individual pain and social disorder, neu
> >rogenetics claims to be able to answer the question of where we should
> >look not merely to explain but also to change our condition. Give 
> social
> >reasons their due, the claim runs, but in the last analysis what really
> >determines things is biology. Urban violence, homelessness and psychic
> >distress are desperately serious features of modern life to which
> >solutions are required - although no one to my knowledge is researching
> >the genetic causes of homophobia, racism or financial fraud. There is a
> >widespread despair at the failure of the socialist - or even
> >social-democrat - project of remodelling society to alleviate these
> >ills.
> >
> >Under such circumstances it is easy to understand the attractiveness of
> >seeking explanations and interventions rooted in human biology. This
> >drift from the social was memorably summed up by Margaret Thatcher when
> >she claimed there is no such thing as society, only individuals and
> >their families.
> >
> >The question is whether such explanations are valid and useful or
> >whether they merely exacerbate social distress whilst failing to 
> provide
> >meaningful scientific insights into the origins of the problems they
> >seek to understand.
> >
> >This is not a new debate; it has recurred in each generation at least
> >since Darwin's day. What is new today is the way in which the mystique
> >of the new genetics is seen as strengthening the genetic argument. At
> >its simplest, neurogenetic determinism argues a directly causal
> >relationship between gene and behaviour. A man is homosexual because he
> >has a "gay brain", itself the product of "gay genes", and a woman is
> >depressed because she has genes "for" depression. There is violence on
> >the streets because people have "violent" or "criminal" genes; people
> >get drunk because they have genes "for" alcoholism.
> >
> >Such simplification, with its cheaply seductive dichotomies of nature 
> or
> >nurture, genes or environment, is fallacious. The phenomena of life are
> >always and simultaneously about nature and nurture. Human existence and
> >experience is always and simultaneously biological and social. Adequate
> >explanations must involve both. Yet again and again one finds the
> >simplistic, unqualified, determinist claim making the headlines and
> >setting the research agenda.
> >
> >The undoubted successes of molecular biology since the discovery of the
> >double-helical structure of DNA in 1953 have fostered a gung-ho
> >triumphalism among such genetic propagandists - the belief that their
> >science can explain everything that is to be explained about the human
> >condition. That they can rebuild humanity in an improved image if
> >allowed. "Give me a gene and I can move the world," seems to be their
> >claim. Furthermore, the new neurogenetic determinists want not merely 
> to
> >do their science but also to control its uses. Sociobiologist E 0
> >Wilson, for instance, advocates a code of ethics which is "genetically
> >accurate and hence completely fair".
> >
> >So is such neurogenetic determinism good science? I believe that it is
> >not, that it constantly oversimplifies the complexity of human 
> behaviour
> >and shoehorns it into genetic models.
> >
> >Take violence as an example. To make the claim stick, determinism has
> >first of all to lump together many quite different activities - rape 
> and
> >arson, child-beating, pub brawls, strikers confronting police on picket
> >lines, civil war. The US fighter pilot directing a smart missile at a
> >Baghdad bunker is supposed to be showing the same biological propensity
> >as a man beating up his lover. All are examples of some brain process
> >going on inside "the violent individual", a brain process that can be
> >objectively quantified, "separated" into genetic and "environmental"
> >components, and then potentially drugged or engineered away. As if
> >anyone could really believe that genocide in Bosnia could have been
> >prevented by mapipulating the serotonin levels in the brains of Serb g
> >enerals or politicians.
> >
> >Such determinism serves to relocate social problems to the individual,
> >thus "blaming the victim" rather than exploring the societal roots and
> >determinants of the issues that concern us. Violence in modern society
> >is no longer to be explained in terms of inner-city squalor,
> >unemployment, extremes of wealth and poverty and the loss of the hope
> >that by collective effort we might create a better society. Rather, it
> >is a problem resulting from the presence of individual violent persons,
> >themselves violent as a result of disorders in their biochemical or
> >genetic constitution.
> >
> >But in a strange way, the blame is simultaneously placed upon them and
> >lifted from them. Where once a murderer might have been regarded as
> >morally culpable, or the cause of his violence sought in an unhappy or
> >abused childhood, now it is argued to be due to chemical imbalances in
> >his brain, themselves the consequence of faulty genes or birthing
> >difficulties. Thus in a recent US court case the lawyer of Stephen
> >Mobley, sentenced to death for the violent murder of a pizzaparlour
> >manager, seeks permission to mount a genetic defence against the
> >sentence, claiming that the killer may carry a gene which predisposes
> >him to violence. In which case Mobley would not be "responsible" for 
> the
> >murder he committed. "It was not me, it was my genes."
> >
> >Another interesting twist is demonstrated in the case of homosexuality.
> >If it is "in the genes" then there is no way a society, however
> >homophobic, can justify condemning gay people for following their
> >genetic dictates. It is not surprising therefore that certain sections
> >of the gay and lesbian community have actively welcomed the genetic
> >claims or that the Christian fundamentalist right are worried about 
> just
> >how far the determinist argument can be stretched.
> >
> >The second immediate consequence of such determinism is that attention
> >and funding is diverted from the social to the molecular. If rates of
> >alcoholism are catastrophically high among native Americans or
> >aboriginal Australians, the ideology demands funding research into the
> >genetics and biochemistry of alcoholism. Of course one can offer
> >multiple forms of explanation for any phenomenon in the living world. 
> Of
> >course there are likely to be differences in the brains and bodies of
> >people who become "alcoholic" or "violent" compared with those who are
> >not - and research exploring these differences can be informative. But
> >it does not necessarily provide an explanation or point to a solution.
> >For example, crimes of violence are more frequently carried out by men
> >than by women. One may argue that this says something about the Y
> >chromosome, carried by men and not women. But the overwhelming majority
> >of men are not violent criminals, so the policy implications of 
> research
> >seeking to explore the Y chromosome in the context of crime - short of
> >selective abortion of all male foetuses - are negligible.
> >
> >
> >
> >------------------------------------------------------------------------
> >
> >Where once a murderer might have been regarded as morally culpable, or
> >the cause of his violence sought in an unhappy or abused childhood, now
> >it is argued to be due to chemical imbalances in his brain, themselves
> >the consequence of faulty genes or birthing difficulties
> >
> >------------------------------------------------------------------------
> >
> >Violent crime is much higher in the US than in Europe. Could this be
> >accounted for by some unique feature of American genes? Well, possibly,
> >but pretty unlikely, granted that much of the American population
> >originated by migration from Europe. But also the rates of violent 
> crime
> >have changed dramatically over quite short time periods. For instance
> >the death rate from homicide among young US males increased by 54 per
> >cent between 1985 and 1994. No biologically-based explanation can
> >account for this increase, so what has changed in the US over this
> >period that might account for such an increase? What is different about
> >the organisation of US society from that of Europe? Could one important
> >difference be the estimated 280 million handguns in personal possession
> >in the US? Unlike genetic ones, such hypotheses may give clues for real
> >solutions.
> >
> >Good, effective science requires a better recognition of the variety of
> >causes and possible solutions. Failing this it becomes a waste of human
> >ingenuity and resources, a powerful ideological strategy of
> >victim-blaming and a distraction from the real tasks that both science
> >and society require.
> >
> >
> >
> >Steven Rose is Professor of Biology at the Open University. His latest
> >book Lifelines exploring the themes of this article, was published by
> >Penguin, London, last September. This article first appeared in The New
> >Internationalist in April 1998.
> >
> >Copyright =A9 1998, Searchlight
> >
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You've got to dance like nobody's 
               watching, and love 
                  like it's never
                    going to hurt.