[Paleopsych] genes made me do it

Euterpel66 at aol.com Euterpel66 at aol.com
Fri Jul 8 04:33:59 UTC 2005

In a message dated 7/7/2005 4:59:17 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time,  
anonymous_animus at yahoo.com writes:

>>Consider: you are no longer responsible for
anything. Sound  familiar? Once it was the devil. Now
it is the gene that made you do it.  You are officially
off the hook. It isn't your fault at all. It's  your
faulty genes. It gets even better. Not only is it not
your fault,  but you actually are a victim, a victim of
your own toxic gene  pool.<<

--We ought to distinguish between the  scientific
question, "What causes human behavior" from the
political  question, "How do we encourage people to
control behavior that might harm  society". Confusing
the two questions is a bad idea. 

It's entirely  possible that some people are
genetically driven to violence. But that  would leave
us where we already are: with a group of people who
can't or  won't control their behavior. We may say "You
must control yourself" but we  have no faith that the
command will be enough. So we confine  criminals
instead -- Exactly what we would do if it were proven
their  genes made them do it. The only real difference
would be that we'd no  longer view "deserving it" as
reason to heap scorn on those we've  incarcerated. The
most violent criminals were almost uniformly  treated
with extreme abuse in their formative years, and we
already KNOW  that shaming them only produces more
violence rather than less. Keeping  people who can't
(or won't -- it makes no practical difference)  control
themselves away from situations where they could harm
others is  still the only reliable method of

However, identifying  people at risk for violence,
whether it's a genetic trait or a result of  early
abuse and role modeling, is a good idea. Pre-emptive
incarceration  would not be an acceptable strategy, but
providing counselling and  cognitive therapy might
counteract any existing tendency toward  violence.
Cognitive therapy can identify subliminal thoughts
that  accelerate violence (demonization of others,
shifting blame, shame  spiraling into rage, etc) and
increase the individual's ability to calm  himself and
counteract the hypnotic trance-like triggers that
would  otherwise lead to reactive violence. It may also
be helpful to view groups  which demonize one another
as victims of bad programming, and  introduce
counter-programs enabling each side to see members of
the  other as human rather than as symbols of evil.
Regardless of whether free  will exists or not, it's a
good thing to be able to respond in the early  stages,
before violence breaks out, rather than merely
punishing people  after the fact. 

Perhaps the fear of society is not that people  can't
control themselves, but that by demonizing criminals
we are  accelerating their pathology. What if we're
making things worse, by  focusing on who deserves what
kind of punishment, rather than how to  interrupt
patterns of violence before they become  lethal?


Not only would society be able to identify undesirable behavioral  
tendencies, but individuals themselves would be able to reflect on why they act  the way 
they do. It would have a name. Unknown and uncertainty are two of the  most 
fearful adjectives describing states of mind known to our species. For her  
entire life my daughter knew that her behavior was self-destructive to  
sociality. Last year she found a name for her condition, Asperger's Syndrome.  Since 
then, she's stopped kicking herself for her poor social skills and instead  is 
takingmedication that has worked wonders. She recognizes the reasons for her  
difficulties and tries to work the skills that are necessary to social  

Lorraine  Rice

Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.  
---Andre Gide  

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