Tuesday, August 20, 2013



I never felt comfortable with the claim that humans are innately aggressive and wars are inevitable because of our genes (or if we are male warriors, because of our testosterone). The evidence for genes for war or that testosterone is what makes us fight wars is a “pull out of the air” belief, not something backed with mappable genes. It is certainly not something a molecular biologist could presently identify through gene products and target cells in the brain with innate circuits activated.  Without that type of evidence why put other people’s lives at risk because it is a comfortable belief?  I believe we learn to hate just as we learn to be bigots based on religion, nationality, race or sex. Is there a gene for being a slave master?  Is there a gene for making us homophobic?  Is there a gene for exploiting others?  Is there a gene for greed?  I doubt these cop-outs that avoid thinking about the causes of our discontents and passing them off to biology.  My field does not need that type of endorsement.  It’s just as damaging as the 1930s when genes were used by bigots to justify compulsory sterilization of so-called unfit people in the United States or to justify racial hygiene, especially as Nazi ideologists identified their racial hygiene movement.

There are times in our history when we had alternative thoughts about our values.  I think of the GI Bill that put hundreds of thousands of veterans to college free and as a result gave us the greatest rise in middle class in the twentieth century.  I think of the efforts to establish a Peace Corps whose job was to help needy people around the world build their homes, develop irrigation, create efficient cooking facilities, educate children, and establish public health efforts so they could have more food, a cleaner life with less infectious diseases, newspapers they could read, and roads they could travel.  The same was true for Vista which attempted to remedy many of the problems of those living in poverty or slums in the United States.  I think of the national effort to build the interstate highways which have linked our cities from coast to coast.  I think of the WPA during the Great Depression that provided great public works – bridges, airports, buildings, and provided murals, theatre groups, and parks for communities that lacked a tax base to raise money for them. 

We have largely replaced those values with a gospel of greed, indifference to others, self-interest, a belief that social failure is personal failure, a belief that helping others subsidizes laziness and stupidity, that a government’s role should be limited almost entirely to building a huge military, fighting wars that protect economic interests, regulating the bedroom and defeating efforts to organize labor, eliminating minimum wages or cost of living programs, eliminating health insurance by government, and breaking up public school systems to foster religious based or privileged based schooling.  At the same time the wealthiest are allowed unlimited influence on their legislatures, including opportunities to support candidates with huge sums of cash, gerrymander districts to limit the democratic process, and provide generous subsidies for the rich and a look the other way policy if the rich stash their money in foreign banks and shift their factories to developing nations where labor costs are far below US poverty levels. 

I call such efforts a trend to establishing a plutocracy of the wealthy for the wealthy. It is not an America at its idealistic best.  Why have we abandoned the Monroe Doctrine which tried to keep us from involving ourselves in foreign wars?  Why have we engaged in virtually perpetual war since the end of WWII?  Are the only two forms of government we can imagine being that of a choice of  a plutocracy of uncaring wealthy rulers or a communist type state that stifles individual freedom to criticize one’s government?  Is there no place for a representative government where the middle class and the poor have a voice and can favor peace over war?