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.