I think I nailed it

Wrote this email in response to a thoughtful, optimistic essay regarding the epigenetic nature of the American character. Sharing it here out of context, but I used so many big words I thought “What the hey! People need to read this!”

I had to put tongue in cheek to reply regarding “national character.” I agree that racial or cultural stereotypes are socio-economic in origin and generally based in ignorance. I don’t quite agree that the positive stereotypes should be parsed differently from the negatory. A stereotype is a stereotype, and they can be used as tools of oppression in different ways. Positive stereotypes buttress arguments for American exceptionalism — not a good thing. Also, the story of the empathizing Americans characterized as warm-hearted and full of goodwill belongs to the twentieth century. I think there’s a whole new story for the 21st… the American character has mutated to some kind of snivelly, whiny, fear-driven slugs with a sense of entitlement that they haven’t earned.

Environmental pressures from Bushism, Corporatism, Terrorism, and bizarro libertarian capitalism have forced the production of socio-cultural enzymes that have torn away vast slices of the American national body’s chromosomes and an unrecognizable monster is emerging. Perhaps the new traits of smug religiosity, hypocrisy, and fear-based belligerence will not be inheritable and so will only be here for a single generation.

I agree wholeheartedly with your conclusion that skin color is irrelevant to both problem and solution. If, for example, it could be shown that my fellow scandinavians indeed ARE stolid and stupid, that a rude taciturnity is built into our genes, the epigenetic turning of a subgroup of linguistically deprived Utah pioneers subsisting on a diet of grains and honey from stolid and morose knuckle-draggers to light-hearted gregarious friends and neighbors might be due to some enzyme balance shift caused by diet and excessive sunlight.

The offspring of these people would likely return to their natural condition if returned to a more natural dark and frigid environment with a dietary shift back to salt cod, salt pork, potatoes, and the occasional holiday blood sausage.

So, if we could nail down the genetic predictors of behavior, personality, and modes of social interaction then we should be able to identify the stressors that in all likelihood cause epigenetic shifts of character. For example the Swiss, in their own milieu, are partial to lederhosen and yodeling, while when they are isolated in an urban culture of poverty and oppression they turn into rappers and hip-hop aficionados.

(I’m late for my telomerase injections, so I may have to cut this short.)

Fearing for their safety, USian rescue workers in Haiti are having a hard time organizing work parties to shift rubble, set up field hospitals, distribute food and water. Is this an epigenetic effect, I wonder, or perhaps simply the product of minds so saturated with the propaganda that has been used to justify exploitation that the leaders of US rescue teams are paralyzed into inactivity by their own xenophobia?

How much xenophobia is a genetic “otherization” trait that supports the survival of small groups, and how much is the product of marketing (or propaganda, as they call marketing in the political arena)? Or does the marketing merely underscore and enhance genetic tendency?

Lamarck was fairly evolved for a dude lacking even an electron microscope. Spontaneous generation has always been a favorite idea of mine.

Posted in Racism, Science
5 comments on “I think I nailed it
  1. Don Harvey says:

    Frank, I too had high hopes for Lamarck. But after years of dedication I still have the same sized peeny-bone. God or Darwin? Either way I am not amused.

  2. fp says:

    It’s about time I heard from you Don. Sadly, spontaneous generation posits that new living forms will arise from inanimate matter. I’ll leave it to you to parse that.

  3. betty jo says:

    T’was an excellent response to be sure. I’m still paging
    through the dictionary for the big words. Perhaps you are right that epigenes will not prove to be the vehicle by which
    we might strengthen the compassion and tolerance that
    seem so often missing in our body politic. Heck, mebe there ain’t no such thing as genes that make us kind, and hence
    nothing for the epigenetic layer to work on. But then,
    no Mom ever smiled at or hugged her child just because God would get her if she didn’t, so there must be something there in the science of evolution with which to craft a kinder society.

    You don’t buy the “encourage the myth that we are a good
    people and maybe we shall become so.” ok, it’s a stretch.
    but then what of Ghandi’s notion that change comes from becoming the change we want to see?

    And, tho I understand such thoughts are playing on the edge of political correct heresy, are stereotypes always wrong? And, are they always, even if positive, politically incorrect? To be sure as you say, they can be used for
    oppression, but can’t they also be used to encourage
    identification with behaviors that are positive and make for a better world?

    I for one, am enchanted that the geneticists have finally abandoned the short form misaprehensions of genetic predestination. I always was partial to free will.

    ok, the observations of that study on multigenerational effects of feast and famine attributed to epigenetic influence on genes was about a fairly specific survival issue. But still,
    if we are to be tarred by the sins of the fathers, there oughta be a way to inherit virtue too.

  4. Betty Jo says:

    Are stereotypes always wrong? And, are they always politically incorrect?
    Are good stereotypes and bad stereotypes sort of like correlations and causality? With the first, they represent observations of (to be sure) potentially statistically insignificant data – but useful in sorting out personal expectations and, if positive, may be viewed as benign. Whereas, if one presumes causality from correlation, then they are bad? Hmm.

    It’s snowing again. Second time in 10 days the weatherman promised rain below 4000 ft. We got 8 inches of white stuff last week, and it surely isn’t rain coming down from the sky this morning.

    I must remember to advise the granddaughters on their Valentines cards – when it’s time to pick their sweeties, they’d best stay away from weathermen. They are, it appears, unreliable and can’t be trusted.

  5. Stereotypes are labels and/or simplifications, sometimes over-simplifications. To the extent that the stereotype offends people with a vested interest in what is being labeled or simplified, it is politically incorrect.

    Don’t I sound like Marilyn Vos Savant?

    Tell your granddaughters, or rather remind them that they don’t need a weatherman which way the wind blows. Also, did you see The Who on teevee yesterday? I felt like their lyrics might be considered mildly subversive. Between the new online generation’s commentary on The Who and the Abe Vigoda/Betty White commercial I thought I sensed a little ageism. I’m probably overly sensitive.



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