Anda di halaman 1dari 7

THE GENETIC IMPERATIVE AND RELATED MATTERS

PROLOGUE

In a race between a tortoise and a hare, the hare will lap the tortoise many, many times before the tortoise
crosses the finish line! Aesop’s fable of the Tortoise and the Hare is generally interpreted in the USA to mean
that hard work can overcome inherent deficiencies. The undeniable fact is that if the hare does not waste his
inherited physical advantage, the tortoise can never catch him.

THE GENETIC IMPERATIVE

Our genetic inheritance places limitations on all of us that we cannot overcome. Such limitations can
be viewed as the upper limits to which one can aspire to achieve. Beyond a certain point, no amount of
hard work can make one smarter, can allow one to run faster, or can stretch one’s powers of understanding.
I say an upper limit because it is all too possible to squander one’s genetic endowments, either by choice
or because of circumstance. Thus, the hare, through sloth, relinquishes his inherited advantage to the
tortoise, who, through perseverance and hard work, maximizes his potential for doggedness and wins the
race. The moral as it applies to the Protestant Ethic is clear: Hard work can elevate the underdog to
victory over the favorite who possesses more natural ability. One must be careful, however, not to
denigrate the hare’s innate ability to run, because in so doing, one risks an over-glorification of the
tortoise’s achievement while disregarding its obvious mediocrity with respect to speed. Such
misinterpretation leads to the conclusion that one trait is more laudatory than another. And in a society
vulnerable to abuse by bourgeoisie ordinariness, plodding mediocrity can become exalted way beyond its
worth while intuitive excellence is disparaged. It would seem more profitable to view inherited strengths
and weaknesses as the natural by-products of the genetic diversity that exists in all living things. Moral
judgments are out of place in matters evolutionary. Nature does not recognize morality!

Nature provides physical laws that give order to the Universe. Darwin discovered the process by
which all living things change through time. It became known as Evolution, and its motor, Natural
Selection. The sophistry of the Creationists notwithstanding, the evidence for Evolution is compelling, as
any independent thinker will discover. Scientists working to decipher the nature of the human genome are
uncovering evidence of genetic pre-dispositions to physical diseases and mental illness, and they are
documenting the genetic basis of personality! The Gordian knot of human evolution is unraveling.
Molecular Biology has shown that humans vary very little (almost 1%) in the composition of their double
helix (the DNA molecule) from that of the chimpanzee. Since we share so much of our genetic makeup
(98.76%), it is evident that chimps are our nearest living relatives in the non-linear, many-branched bush
of animal evolution. The conspicuous gap that exists between us and our primate cousin is explained by

1
Chaos Theory which asserts that seemingly trivial differences in initial conditions produce great
accumulating and unpredictable results.

Chaos Theory provides us with a useful analogy: the snowflake! Because a water molecule in a storm
cloud freezes from the center out, the ice crystal thus formed, in conformity with its pre-determined
structure, expands outward in six identical points as it amasses moisture. In its downward journey, the
snowflake is subjected to disorder and ever changing surrounding conditions (temperatures, winds,
moisture content, etc.) which are different for each individual snowflake. The physics of snowflake
formation is ordered, however, so that all snowflakes exhibit similarly intricate hexagonal patterns. Thus,
there is order within chaos, and non-linear phenomena (those with numerous variables in constant flux --
like life, and snowflakes) function within distinct patterns imposed by their true, and unchanging, nature.
Change the initial conditions even minutely, however, and a different pattern with new boundaries results.

Chaos applies to diversity between humans as well. When one considers the immensity of the human
gene pool, the apparent randomness that decides which of the numerous available ova (1 million in each
ovary) will mature to be fertilized by a single of millions (200-500 million) of sperm available in any
given act of conception, the work of chance in the process is obvious, and the resulting diversity among
humans is predictable. Chance not only determines which genes will be inherited, chance also determines
which environment, both natural and societal within which the resultant unique individual will have to
interact. In spite of this randomness, we all intuitively perceive some sense of order in our individual
lives. Arguably, this innate awareness comes from those genes that find expression via our subconscious.
The subconscious is the gatekeeper of instincts, intuitions, hunches, and ESP—that elusive “sixth sense”.
It makes us aware of our uniqueness and acts as a means of expression between our genetic pre-
dispositions and our consciousness.

Other genes provide us with our individual perspective on life, the filter through which we consciously
interpret events and surroundings, and select what elements will be judged truly relevant to our decision-
making process. The subconscious, since it senses more than our conscious mind can handle at any given
moment, can apprehend faster and interpret meaning from the overwhelming number of stimuli that
bombard our senses; and, it can advocate for actions we can consciously either honor or ignore. There is a
1 ½ second delay between all that the subconscious senses and what our conscious mind selectively acts
upon. When one trusts to the subconscious and does not override it consciously (not an easy undertaking),
it is possible to “live in the gap” as it were, for short periods of time. At such moments, the world outside
us moves in slow motion while our minds are functioning at warp speed. “Living in the gap” explains
excellence in all its forms. Authors speak of characters “writing themselves”, artists admit to unseen
forces taking control of their brushes, and athletes explain the phenomenon as “being in the zone”; when
asked what his mind is thinking of as he hits a golf shot, Tiger Woods tellingly answers that he “blacks
out” and only subsequently picks up the flight of the ball in midair as it travels toward the green.

2
Another function served by the subconscious is that of sorting and filing. It stores all in short-term
memory and waits for us to sleep before sorting through our daily experiences, relegating some to long-
term memory and some to the recycle bin. Long-term memory is composed of a series of “hooks” where
like or similar stimuli are stored. This explains why our dreams sometimes seem incoherent as they jump
from one memory to another as adjacent “hooks” are triggered. The brain, in the process of sorting and
storing joins experiences it finds related in a complex and fragmentary filing system not consciously
understood by the individual. Colors go one place, shapes another, smells and sounds somewhere else; all
pertinent elements are then presented to the conscious mind as a coherent memory. The “Library of
Babel”, described by Jorge Luis Borges in Labyrinths, 1964, provides an example akin to what I imagine
our memory to comprise.

Our unique genetic inheritance, so similar in general terms and yet materially different in the specific,
sets the limits within which we function; and, acting within the context of our external natural and societal
environments, our genes design and shape the pattern of our lives. Like the snowflake, we are buffeted
along through life, our senses bombarded by the flashing kaleidoscope of daily existence, learning first
this and then that, amassing knowledge, expanding intellectually, growing emotionally, and finally,
melting away physically. Thus, it is our individual genetic inheritance that creates stability within a life
immersed in the chaos of continuously changing variables. In the lexicon of Chaos Theory, our personal
genome becomes the “strange attractor” that insists on order within the disorder of daily life. One can
think of our genetic endowment as forming a “box” within which we can exercise free will in making life
choices; conversely, these same boundaries deny our venturing outside our genetic enclosure. We cannot
think “outside our box”! Studies using identical twins offer the best evidence for the validity of this
contention. Such research has one overriding appeal; one does not have to control for genetic variance.

In the case of identical twins, the patterns will be near duplicates, but since individual environments
are never exactly alike, differences will arise -- the character and degree of such alteration defined by the
composition of the twins’ specific surroundings and their physiological condition at any given moment.
Nevertheless, one can expect a striking similarity to exist as regards the choices that identical twins will
make, given that their perceptions, personalities, intellect, and outward appearances are exactly alike.
There exists a delicate balance between the forces of instability (environmental) and stability (hereditary).
While environmental forces flood us with myriad choices, our genes, by setting boundaries, narrow our
options by eliminating those alternatives that radically deviate from the genetically established pattern.

Thus, chance sets the initial conditions, genes provide the driving force and set boundaries,
environment supplies the context, and infinite diversity is the final consequence. And what is Man’s
contribution to the equation of life? Fearful Man interjects his superstitions, and in his blurry thinking
conjures up gods, and ghosts, and leprechauns, and dragons, and aliens from outer space! The list is
interminable since Man has a remarkable talent for invention. Presumptuous Man then conceives of an
hierarchical structure with himself at the top, introduces good and evil, and fathers other dualities that

3
tend to polarize and alienate individuals. Then he creates laws to formalize his biases! Eventually,
powerful Man decides he is superior and concomitantly labels those not like himself, inferior. Then
diversity becomes disruptive, and homogeneity the ultimate good. Follow this premise to its logical
conclusion and one quickly passes to the abuses of Eugenics which gave birth to the Holocaust.

The pitfall in such genetic experiments is that no one can answer the basic question as to which
qualities and traits to breed for. Notions of superiority and inferiority vary widely from society to society.
Morals are similarly relative; for any belief strongly held by one society, either past or present, can be
offset by the exact opposite belief just as strongly defended by another society. Even in societies where
strict caste sanctions are imposed, and the genetic pool within each sector somewhat restricted, purity is
never achieved because the genetic process is still very much a chaotic process based to a large degree on
chance. And since the human race springs from common ancestry, the genetic pool is so large and varied
that the continued appearance of individuals cannot be precluded. The only criterion that appears to me to
offer any promise for the improvement of the human condition is to select for longevity, the premise being
that wisdom comes with age. We may not have long to wait to prove the validity of this notion since
modern industrial societies have been restricting the number of offspring so that their populations are
becoming more and more aged. I have no great hope that much will improve – given that Conservatism
also seems to increase with age!

Diversity then, is likely to continue to define the human condition. We are neither superior nor inferior
to each other; we are different, one from another. Each human being is born with pre-dispositions that are
genetically determined. Additionally, each is born into a culture where these inclinations can be
encouraged or suppressed depending on the prejudices and norms of behavior peculiar to a particular
society. These norms are invented by humans to create order, and are not derived from Nature where
survival through procreation is the only imperative.

The problem posed for societies that attribute a religious basis to moral precepts and then base their
legal systems on this premise, is the apparent contradiction between Genetic Determinism and “moral”
blame. I contend that no such contradiction exists. An individual whose behavior is in concert with this
“true nature” cannot be blamed on moral grounds. Nevertheless, he can be held accountable for any
antisocial acts he commits. Let me explain by discussing two opposing theories of the “self”. First
envision a bull’s-eye whose center spot is surrounded by ever widening concentric circles. This illustrates
the kernel theory of the self. Then envision a spiral emanating from the central spot in an ever widening
arc. This exemplifies the spiral theory of the self. The distinctions between the two are important
because societies can be organized depending on which theory is accepted as valid.

The kernel theory separates one’s “real nature” from its environment; the self is inviolate and hidden
from outside perception by layers upon layers of experiences. The spiral theory of the self asserts that at
any moment a person is just the sum total of his or her experiences; the existence of an inner kernel to be

4
identified with one’s real nature is denied. The distinctions between the two life views are significant and
basic to the organization of society. The spiral theory leads to a society based upon behavioral principles
of environmental dominance, the negation of “human nature”, and a belief in the pliability of humans so
that changes to individual personality can be effected through the control of environmental variables. The
kernel theory does not allow for the manipulation of one/s “real nature” by any means whatsoever. As
George Santayana states: “I might wish to change my surroundings and my way of living; I never
undertook to change myself.” Santayana’s sentiment is more in keeping with evolutionary realities.

The kernel theory of being is arguably more easily accepted by Hispanics who possess two forms of
the verb, “to be”. In Spanish the ser describes a permanent condition (genetic endowment), while estar
refers to a temporary set of circumstances (environment). I can change my environment at will – I cannot
change my genetic endowment as it pertains to physiology, personality, intelligence, or perspective. Nor
can I overcome genetic limitations, both physical and intellectual. Thus, to an Hispanic, the existence of
an inner being, inviolate and permanent, is accepted intuitively. The Anglo, lacking the clearly
demarcated duality of being, must either deny the existence of the genetically determined internal “self”,
or must invent a spiritual “soul” to satisfy his innate feelings of individuality. Small wonder then that, in
total denial of all genetic evidence to the contrary, Empiricism, Pragmatism, Environmental Determinism,
Positivism, and Behaviorism took root and flourished in the English-speaking world.

Those individuals, who, fortunately for them, inherit the herd mentality, by far the most numerous,
find their niche within their host society with little difficulty and are considered normal. A minority
deviates from the norm and are labeled abnormal, eccentric, challenged, or any number of euphemistic
terms to explain their divergent attitudes and behavior. The “abnormality” I find most interesting is
sociopathy. Behaviorists, since they see the environment as deterministic with regards to behavior, tend to
focus on the anti-social sociopath; their logic leads to equating sociopath with psychopath. Sociopaths
come in a variety of flavors; they can range from harmless recluses to psychotic serial killers. One must
draw a distinction between “amoral” and “immoral”, as well as between “asocial” and “antisocial”. The
repudiation of ordinary moral precepts can result in personal isolation from society at one extreme, to
criminal activity at the other. As regards “morality” itself, I recognize two separate kinds: conventional
morality based on religion or law and imposed from above (God or Society), and, a life-affirming morality
that comes from within the individual. The former is ever-changing and capricious in its rationalizations;
the latter is permanent and authentic in its service of human nature.

I am particularly interested in those chameleons that consider conventional morality invalid, but
choose to change their colors situationaly to the exclusive benefit of themselves. I suspect that there are
many “successful” sociopaths among us. Those chameleons who intuitively understand that society’s rules
do not apply to them, but understand, nevertheless, that they must appear to play by the same rules in
order to achieve their goals. Such individuals can be either asocial or anti-social or anywhere in between.
To sociopaths, the rules of society have no meaning, their perceptions of the world varies so radically from

5
the norm. Their behavior is deemed normal by the majority in only the most abnormal of circumstances,
e.g., killing is normal in war; lying, cheating, and stealing is quite normal behavior for a spy! It is not the
act itself that is deemed moral or immoral so much as the circumstances that led to its commission.
Under circumstances wherein civil order exists and the rule of law governs, such aberrant behavior will be
considered criminal, with attendant penalties exercised.

Paradoxically, sociopaths can be included in the elite of society, especially if wealth is accepted as the
price of admission to such exalted position. Lack of integrity, (conventionally understood to mean honesty
and morality in ones dealings with others), and the accumulation of wealth go hand in glove. The rich,
who can afford to hire specialists to help them circumvent the law, can survive quite comfortably in a
materialistic society. The only requirement that such individuals must obey is society’s demand for
conformity. They must learn to control their asocial or antisocial behavior, or at least give the appearance
of doing so.

Integrity, when given the meaning--being true to oneself, fits quite nicely within the lexicon of the
Nietzschen immoralist who understands that morals are not absolute. The immoralist recognizes that
morals are rules of acceptable behavior invented by societies to curb the animal tendencies that are
inherent in human nature. The immoralist despises the smug, sanctimonious, certainty exhibited by “true
believers” who attribute a religious basis to moral tenets. The Ten Commandments, after all, are much
more concerned with how one must not behave; they offer little guidance as to positive behavior. As
such, the basic system of belief of the Judeo-Christian is demonstrably anti human-nature with predictable
results – hypocrisy and guilt. The immoralist then, can either prosper materially in the same way as the
“successful sociopath” by adopting the chameleon-like behavior that will allow him to exist and prosper
undetected, or by following the dictates of his genetic endowment, he can establish a personal morality
based upon virtue as he perceives it. The same constraints apply, however, one disregards society’s rules
at one’s own risk!
The problem posed for behaviorist philosophies is one of accountability. They argue that if, for
instance, criminal behavior can be explained by genetic determinism instead of free choice, then no one
can be “blamed” for the way they behave. Morality, therefore, becomes a non-player in structuring
society. I believe this proposition to be a false duality that separates the individual from the group, and
equates blame with accountability. Laws are necessary because the varying natures of individuals make
necessary constraints upon individual behavior in favor of society at large. Individuals cannot be
“blamed” for satisfying the dictates of their “real nature”, but Society can surely hold them accountable
for acts that are judged to be detrimental to good order and a peril to others. In the “Crito”, Socrates
accepts the right of the state to pass laws and punish transgressions. And in Camu’s, “The Stranger”, the
state condemns Meurault in spite of the fact that he committed a murder in conformity with his “nature”.
I see no contradictions here!

6
In short, the idea that the world is orderly and structured hierarchically, that morals are absolute and
not relative, that evolution is somehow progressive and advancing doggedly to some utopian Paradise, is
patently myopic. Chaos is the natural condition! Attempts to install an artificial order must necessarily
result in the suppression of the individual by the majority will. Ironically, Evolution, through the process
of mutation in individuals and not by reason of environmental pressures, produces change. And if such
change proves advantageous in the struggle to pass on one’s genes, then, and only then will the species as
a whole evolve into something different. Different, but not necessarily better!

CONCLUSION

Daniel Dennett explains evolution (Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, 1995); Steven Pinker debunks The
Blank Slate, 2002; Judith Rich Harris exposes the true nature of The Nurture Assumption, 1998; and Matt
Ridley documents how genes influence behavior (Nature via nurture, 2003; while Richard Dawkins
discredits The God Delusion, 2006. So what are we left with? Nietsche’s Immoralist pushing Camus’
rock (The Myth of Sisyphus) in Machiavelli’s real world (The Prince).

Life is the expression of an algorithm replete with if  then statements and feedback loops that reside
in a brain hard-wired by our genetic software with enough plasticity to allow for modifications in response
to environmental influences.

The ineluctable self (anatomy, intellect, personality, and perspective) is the “kernel” of our existence;
our “free will” is manifest in the behavior modifications we consciously adopt to insure our survival when
coping with the challenges presented by the ever-changing memplex we find ourselves immersed in at
any given instance.

And, if we are fortunate enough to satisfy our biological imperative, our parenting responsibility is to
objectively determine, and encourage, the expression of those potentialities we discover in our progeny.

Essentially, the genetic imperative is to stay true-to-self and to protect our integrity while being
bombarded by competing notions of conformity that challenge one’s true nature. The “tyranny of the
majority” is largely incompatible with the expression of individuality, and all too often, is irrational in its
insistence on the acceptance of religious, nationalistic, and ethnic dogmas.

Copyright  gene dominguez, 2007