Friday, May 23, 2014

Freedom is in Our DNA. Or Not.

So? Why not? Many traits are now known to be heritable, including intelligence, aggression, extroversion, agreeableness, and openness.

This does not mean these traits are absolutely determined by genes. If I understand the concept rightly, heritability is a measure of the observed differences -- the variation -- in a population that can be attributed to genes. Yeah, I could just look it up, but why would I want to yield to an expert?

Okay, "heritability of a trait is the square of the coefficient of G in a linear approximation to the surface GxE to trait." Thanks for the tip!

It's a somewhat slippery concept, since it measures "relative contributions of genetic and non-genetic differences to the total phenotypic [observable] variation in a population," but "is not the same as saying that this fraction of an individual phenotype is caused by genetics." Thus, as Wade points out, "genes don't determine human behavior; they merely create a propensity to behave in a certain way."

So much for homosexuality being caused by genes. Oh well. There's always nurture, i.e., environmental deprivation or trauma.

It brings to mind what one of the early fathers said about astrology: the stars incline, but do not compel.

As to the genes that influence aggression, Wade mentions that -- come a little closer, I'm gonna have to whisper this -- "African Americans are more likely to carry the violence-linked allele of MAO-A promoters than are Caucasians," but this does not -- {gulp} -- imply "that one race is genetically more prone to violence than any other." For one thing, there are no doubt yet-to-be discovered gene sequences that muddy the issue and account for the intrinsic racism of white Europeans.

Besides, as any liberal knows, "people who live in conditions of poverty and unemployment may have more inducements to violence than those who are better off."

O.o

Which is no doubt why white collar crime doesn't exist, and why the wealthy 1% are the Best People in the World.

At any rate, since genes don't determine any human behavior, this implies that we are always free. If we are always free, this implies that we transcend our genetic programming. Thus, to suggest that "freedom is in our DNA" is slightly oxymoronic, for it would be like saying that "freedom is determined." But to the extent that freedom exists, it can only be permitted, not compelled.

Wait, I'm confused. Animals don't have free will. So, how does freedom get into -- or escape from -- the genome? Or, what happened to the genome that permitted freedom to manifest?

Maybe I'm not asking or conceptualizing this in the right way, because it strikes me as Very Weird. Take an ant, for example. Would we not say that roughly 100% of any (minimal) variation we see between two ants is attributable to genes? Or in other words, there is no freedom.

But even the most heritable human trait still leaves us with a margin of freedom. Where did this margin come from?

Well, it comes from God, of course, since we are talking about a vertical margin. I don't see any other way to account for it, especially because this is not a blank or "empty" freedom, but rather, a "structured" freedom. Yes, our freedom is under constraint, but it is not genetic constraint but moral constraint.

These constraints are, on the one hand, given by God (e.g., the Ten Commandments), but on the other, discoverable by our natural reason.

However, it very much appears to me that our natural reason has improved over the millennia, so there was clearly a time that we needed those Ten Commandments handed down from on high, because most men could not discover them with their natural reason.

This is something I've been thinking about while reading Stark's How the West Won. In particular, the sadistic violence of past humans is just so over the top that they might as well be a different species (which implies that our contemporary Islamist sadists are swimming in their own private idahole).

Examples are far too numerous and too gross to chronicle, but just consider how much the Romans loved their inconceivably violent spectacles, as if they had absolutely no capacity for empathy. "Besides being fed to wild animals, people were executed in the arenas in a variety of sadistic ways -- flogging, burning, skinning, impaling, dismemberment, and even crucifixion."

In other words, crucifixion was entertainment, whereas today liberals wet their pants at the thought of some worthless convicted sadist suffering for even a moment. How do we get from the one to the other, and why do liberals, like the Romans, empathize with the sadist and not the victim?

The larger point is that in the not-too-distant past, human beings did not have to struggle with their conscience over, say, torturing animals for fun. There are still people who are like this, but it is one of the hallmarks of sociopathy, of an antisocial personality disorder (which in turn seems to be under heavy genetic influence).

Does this mean that most people in the past had what we now call antisocial personality disorder? Yes and no, since they lived in an environment that normalized such things. In that environment, someone who opposed torture on principle would stand out.

Indeed, Stark says that there is no recorded evidence of any ancient civilization uttering a peep about slavery being problematic. To me, this again implies an absence of empathy. Slaveholders might concede the humanness of the slave, but only in an abstract way. It is as if they could not put themselves in the position of the other and thereby say to themselves, "this is intrinsically wrong."

Oh, by the way. There are still some 30 million slaves in the world, the vast majority in Muslim countries, central Africa, and the Democratic Party. Not that there's anything wrong with it, because Diversity.

To be continued...

11 Comments:

Blogger Paul Griffin said...

If what and who I am is determined entirely by my genes, then nothing I do is my fault, by definition (still trying to get that guilt off of me...). Then I am left with a sort of negative freedom, wherein I just take the path of least resistance. No responsibility, no effort, no thought even.

Of course, as my momma likes to say, any dead fish can swim downstream.

We begin to resemble those men Lewis described in "Abolition of Man" as the new authors of humanity, unable to be led by anything but whatever happens to be their strongest impulse.

5/23/2014 10:00:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

"genes don't determine human behavior; they merely create a propensity to behave in a certain way."

Yes. This is one point that a great many people seem not to grasp, especially as it pertains to black communities. That is, some seem to think that the high crime rates and all the rest are intractable problems, essentially "fated" by genetics. I disagree; for one thing, you can see similar arrays of behaviors in certain British underclasses - those who live on the dole, fail to marry, fail to finish school, and have lots of children out of wedlock because they can get more money and better housing if they do. And if you don't think violence is as much of a problem, you've never seen a stadium full of yobs in full-on riot mode. And remind me again, how many people died under communism? And how many of those communist regimes were run by palefaces?

Genes matter, and so does culture. They each must shape the other. How many generations did it take to turn Vikings into asexual weenies who sit by while their women are assaulted by Muslim invaders?

5/23/2014 10:02:00 AM  
Blogger Christina M said...

"Abolition of Man" has always been my most favorite of C.S. Lewis's book, along with his essays, "The Weight of Glory" and "Transposition." My younger self was instinctively wise and had good taste. I look back in appreciation. C.S. Lewis has kept me out of a lot of trouble over the years.

Boko Haram = "Western education is sin"

I have known since 9/11 that the key to getting the Muslim world out of its darkness and squalor is to humanize and educate its women and that it would take generations. I knew it instinctively in the moments after I heard that hijackers were slitting the throats of stewardesses in the back of the plane. Even before I found out the hijackers were Muslim. I knew there was the real war on women.

I had always wondered until fairly recently how Leftists and Islamists could be fellow travelors, until I realized that they both worship the same capricious and sadistic god.

Julie, spot on! "How many generations did it take to turn Vikings into asexual weenies who sit by while their women are assaulted by Muslim invaders?"

p.s. I set "The Natural Way of Building" and "The Geometry of Love," aside, briefly. to read "Making Gay Okay." I sucked that book down in a day. What a good book!

5/23/2014 10:41:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Some on the materialist side want to have it both ways -- compatibilists or whatever they are called, like the guy who said, "Man can do what he wills but he can't will what he wills." That sounds pretty meaningless to me. No different than the ant.

Genetics gives us the material with which the spirit must deal. "To whom much is given ..."

5/23/2014 10:42:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

To whom mulch is given, be a bullshit artist.

5/23/2014 10:43:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

A big raccoon thumbs up on The Abolition of Man, the non-fiction version of That Hideous Strength. I read that and ask, Was it really that obvious back then? Or was Lewis a prophet? Or both.

5/23/2014 10:45:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

O well: sometimes the first duty of intelligent men is the restatement of the obvious. Orwell, rather.

5/23/2014 10:49:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Mine eyes have seen the gory of the coming of Barack,
He is holding down the Wookie's skirt
where it hikes up in the back.
He has loosed the faithful race card of the butt-kissers' attack.
The Truth is Mulching On.

5/23/2014 10:53:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"At any rate, since genes don't determine any human behavior, this implies that we are always free. If we are always free, this implies that we transcend our genetic programming. Thus, to suggest that "freedom is in our DNA" is slightly oxymoronic, for it would be like saying that "freedom is determined." But to the extent that freedom exists, it can only be permitted, not compelled.

Wait, I'm confused. Animals don't have free will. So, how does freedom get into -- or escape from -- the genome? Or, what happened to the genome that permitted freedom to manifest?"

As I don't buy that animals don't have free will, I'm kinda liking the gene as something like a gatekeeper - perhaps to a depth or range of choices, without determining what those choices would be.

Human's seem to have all the restrictions on our choices, save for those we habituate ourselves towards (or from), turned off. But animals, particularly pets, show some range of ability to make choices and to feel the consequences of them. From first hand evidence, that seems self evident.

5/23/2014 03:59:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"Oh, by the way. There are still some 30 million slaves in the world, the vast majority in Muslim countries, central Africa, and the Democratic Party. Not that there's anything wrong with it, because Diversity."

Bam.

Speaking of Stark, I'm not finished with the book yet, but while I agree that the darkness of the dark ages, and the sudden brightness of the Renaissance and Enlightenment have both been over emphasized by self interested parties ... I've got a problem with his characterization of 'no real biggee' involved in the transition from the fall of Rome, to the 'barbarians' who replaced them. He concedes that the period following Rome was dark, but 'only' because literacy and particularly writing, were reduced during the period.

I don't think you can write off the coarsening of society, and then pick right back up with the importance of the right ideas and actions. The idea that since the machinery of govt continued on, so civilization continued, only more decentralized (yay!), and without a use for the blatherings of elites(yay!), seems to go against every other fine point he has to make about civilization, the church, etc.

5/23/2014 04:15:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Author of classic leftist manifesto admits being repulsed by his own perfect ignorance and leaden prose. Must be senile.

5/24/2014 08:28:00 AM  

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