Genes, Free Will, and Sharks
by H. Millard
THE OTHER DAY I saw a muddled newspaper column written by a well known libertarian writer. In his column, the writer told readers that he has very little interest in his own Hungarian ethnicity (how White of him). He then went on to tell everyone else that they shouldn’t care much about their ethnicity either because, golly, this would rob them of their self-determination.
It was clear from the start that the writer was heading off in the wrong direction. This was soon evidenced as he began mixing up the concepts of ethnicity, race, national origin, genes and religion such that any intelligent discussion of these things would elude him. And, elude him they did as he went happily on his way preaching his know-nothing, but good-natured, Telly-Tubby view of reality.
As usual with those who know little about such things, the writer begrudgingly acknowledged what every sixth grade student knows: Genes determine how tall we are, our skin pigmentation, eye color, and even elements of our personality, tastes and preferences. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, the writer than veered off into la-la land by cautioning readers that to go much further would be hazardous because we might lose our belief in our free will. What he “forgot” to mention was that the laundry list of characteristics and traits that he had just ticked off are genetic and thus are more broadly racial in nature than ethnic.
The column writer then tried to address the issue of free will in more detail, but he made the typical PC mistake of our age and never once used the word “race.” It’s my guess that he was trying to avoid being called a racist. However, in trying to avoid using the “R” word, he got various concepts jumbled up so badly that any intelligent discussion about genes became confused and almost meaningless. For example, he wrote: “Do Italians have to see the world as Italians and Germans as Germans, Catholics as Catholics, Jews as Jews, Japanese as Japanese, and so on.” You, dear reader, probably see how bollixed up that is.
Actually, and contrary to his advice, we do have to go much further if we are to understand the human condition and how we relate to everything else in existence and if we are to ever design just societies where individuals can pursue happiness and live their lives in peace and harmony and seek to fulfill their destiny as they, themselves, determine .
In truth, our much vaunted free will is overrated, at least when you look at statistical analyses of how humans behave. And we have to look at statistics to see the patterns. Despite what some want to believe, it’s a fact that different groups of people who share the same genes often act and react in similar ways to various internal and external environmental influences. Some groups are more prone to violence than other groups. Some groups are more prone to various other things than other groups. This does not mean that every individual of every group will always act in accord with the statistically revealed genetic group program, because there are variables involved. Still, genes-r-us.
And, what of these variables — these areas where we seem to have free will? Are they really a matter of our free will or are they, too, built into our genes? The answer, dear friends, is that they are in our genes also. They’re there because genes “want” to survive, and they need to be able to adapt to changing conditions in order to do so.In other words, they’ve been engineered with alternative pathways, such that we might envision our genes as having a Plan A, a Plan B, a Plan C, etc. In addition, the eternal struggle of all that is in existence plays out within our own bodies. This means that we do have choices, but we need to understand that our choices are gene related.
We have different genetic influences struggling with each other inside of us as we go through our lives. Remember, each of us carries 23 chromosomes full of genes from each of our parents. One parent may contribute a gene for, say, alcoholism. The other parent may contribute one for just the opposite trait. Which one is expressed? It depends on circumstances. If the person with an alcoholic gene never takes a drink of alcohol, the alcoholism gene loses and the other one wins. If that person takes a drink of alcohol, then the alcoholism gene may win. And, so it goes with a series of almost binary choices in our lives.
So where is our free will? Must we robotically follow the dictates of this or that gene? In a sense, yes. However, we also have genes that have given us our brains and the ability to think about these things and to override some of the impulses of our other genes. To do this, we must hold ideas in our minds of what is right and what is wrong. To hold these right ideas we must have the right understanding and conditioning. If these ideas are strong enough, because the genes that allow us to have them are stronger than other gene influences, we can override the other genes. This, of course, is where religion and philosophy enter the picture, because these are the traditional sources of the right understanding and conditioning that enable us to override certain of our other genes. Unfortunately, they are also the source of wrong understanding and conditioning that can be harmful.
In Vermont recently a Black man murdered two White people. According to the U.S. Census, Vermont has 608, 827 residents and is 96.9% white (about 589,952 white people). It is only 0.6% black (about 3,650 black people). It has one of the lowest violent crime rates in the nation. In 2000, there were nine murders in Vermont which equates to a 1.5% murder rate.
Contrast Vermont’s statistics to those of Washington, D. C. to see if you can find any clues about why we are the way we are. According to the U.S. Census, Washington, D.C. has 550,521 residents and is 37.4% white and 57.7% black. In 2000, there were 239 murders which equates to a 41.8% murder rate.
See any patterns? Free will? Genes? Something else? Or are you too PC to even ask the questions or look at the statistics? Welcome to the new Dark Ages where intellectual inquiry into the nature of reality — when it involves humans — is something that the Big Brother blenders have proscribed. So, go about your lives and do not notice patterns — and be forever befuddled about why things happen the way they do. Don’t forget the advice of the libertarian writer with whom we started this essay, and don’t have any interest in “ethnicity.” Hey, such things aren’t important. We have free will. We don’t need no stinkin’ statistics.
Remember, that compared to your risk of being attacked and killed in Washington, D.C. your relative risk of being attacked and killed by a shark is very small. Also remember that not all sharks will attack you. However, if you are in the presence of sharks here’s some advice about what to do:
If a shark begins to get too interested in you by coming closer and closer, the best strategy is to leave the area — swim quickly away, watching the shark all the time. Sharks are less likely to attack a “school” of divers than a solitary individual. If a shark is acting overtly aggressive — look to back up against whatever structure (reef, rock outcropping, piling) is available, thereby reducing the angles with which the shark can approach you.
(© 2010 H. Millard)
* * *
“Millard is an original. His books aren’t like your typical fiction. If you don’t know where to put his books, try the same shelf with Kerouac, Kafka, Sartre and Nietzsche…”
|Ourselves Alone & Homeless Jack’s Religion messages of ennui and meaning in post-American America by H. Millard In Ourselves Alone and Homeless Jack’s Religion, H. Millard, the hard-to-pigeonhole author of The Outsider and Roaming the Wastelands, has put together some of his category-bending commentaries on post-American America. The commentaries deal with politics, philosophy, free speech, genocide, religion and other topics; all in Millard’s edgy style. They lead up to Homeless Jack’s Religion, in which Homeless Jack lays out revelations he found in a dumpster on skid row. Click here to buy. ISBN: 0-595-32646-3|
|ROAMING THE WASTELANDS– (ISBN: 0-595-22811-9)H. Millard’s latest sacred cow toppling book, is now available at Amazon.com by clicking on this link or by calling 1-877-823-9235. “A fun–and sobering–thing to read” – Alamance Independent|
|THE OUTSIDER – (ISBN: 0-595-19424-9) H. Millard’s underground classic story of alienation is available at Amazon.com by clicking on the this link or by calling 1-877-823-9235.|