Monday, August 26, 2013


When it comes to the human condition, we are no more than genetic robots. People fly into a rage when someone says something like that. Their ego does not allow them to claim anything but free will or individual independence. The robot idea implies the opposite; it implies we are dependent on our ancestors for how we behave, which denies the old and easily refuted argument that we act as we do because of our free will. Everyone knows chickens act like chickens, dogs act like dogs and people act like people. They also know we have mental capabilities, which allow us to modify innate acts and emotions: xenophobia, hierarchy dominance, gregariousness, lust, fear, hate, shame, and a long, long list of etceteras. Some of us can modify some of these things but not all of them; we are genetic robots. Our behavior is in our genes.

The reason this came to mind is that I watched a YouTube video out of Russia; a video depicting a transgender woman being beating by several thugs. My question about the incident deals with understanding the motivation of those who were doing the beating. This video made the news. Nationalist right wing talk radio hosts pointed out in a “holier than thou way” that it happened in Russia. Left wing talk radio host decried the behavior regardless of where it happened; there is a big difference. We know and they know the same type of thing happens in all countries including the United States: people mistreat others, not only because of because their physical attributes but because of their innate genetic behavior. This type of behavior is not an aberration; it is a “cultural universal”.

What doesn’t seem to be as readily recognized is that, as just pointed out, there are two general class of response to this behavior. If we accept the argument that our behavior is in our genes, we have to accept the idea that our response to that behavior is also in our genes, which is also a cultural universal. As a person interested in evolutionary psychology, I see value in adaptive behavior, such as this at the bestial level, as it relates to survival of the specie. I also see something called humanization, which is adaptation to our social circumstances; something referred to as benevolent behavior, which in turn we promote by individual acts of altruism or innate acts of sympathy and kindness: things done without reward. Of course, humanization extends this to group behavior.

Only through understanding can we feel sympathy and kindness. Understanding is the result of a mental exercise; therefore, we recognize that we can modify our behavior by learning. Those Russian “punks” were beating that transgender person because they failed to understand or “lacked learning”.  That woman could do nothing about what was in her genes and her assailants did not understand that. All that mattered was that she was somehow different. We see people beating people because of the pigment in their skin; we see gay people denied the right to marry because of what is in their genes. Can anyone imagine, now that we know that cancer is in our genes, that we should beat people who medical science has diagnosed with cancer? If it is OK, or rational, to beat people who are transgender, it is rational, to beat people with cancer or in a Christian country, to beat people who are Muslim?

The point of this post is that we are going to have to recognize that those “punks” beating that transgender person were primitives; they were acting on adaptive xenophobic behavior established in genomes before there were human genomes. Humanization somehow passed them by. Aside from the controversy concerning modification of our genome by learning, which many scientists disparaged, many of us have learned to modify behavior. A one armed man does not have one-armed sons; we know that. Three thousand-years of Jewish circumcision have proved that as well. Although our behavior is in our genes, it is different from arms and foreskins, we have learned how to modify our genome—it took over 2.5 million years and we call it humanization. We know this; the evidence is there for all of us to see if we care to look. 

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