Genes for Aggression?

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A new study by researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health has combined genomics with functional nuclear resonance imaging (fMRI) of brains to look for the roots of aggression. As I reported in my 2002 column "Born To Be Wild?," researchers found that children (especially boys) with a low activity version of the gene for monoamine oxydase-A (MAO-A) who were abused in childhood were more prone to violence. Boys with the high activity version of the MAO-A gene, even if abused, were much less violent and less likely to get into trouble with the law. MAO-A is an enzyme that breaks down serotonin in the brain.

The new research using fMRI looks at the brains of people who carry the two different versions of the gene. The researchers found:

A version of a gene previously linked to impulsive violence appears to weaken brain circuits that regulate impulses, emotional memory and thinking in humans, researchers at the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) have found. Brain scans revealed that people with this version–especially males–tended to have relatively smaller emotion-related brain structures, a hyperactive alarm center and under-active impulse control circuitry. The study identifies neural mechanisms by which this gene likely contributes to risk for violent and impulsive behavior through effects on the developing brain.

Males are more vulnerable because MAO-A genes are carried on the X chromosome. This means that men who get one X along with a Y chromosome receive only one version of the gene whereas women get two X chromosomes which gives them a much higher chance of inheriting at least one high activity (low violence) MAO-A gene.

Genes are not destiny, especially if we choose to counteract their possible negative effects. For instance, people with genes that predispose them to produce "bad" LDL cholesterol can thwart heart disease by exercising, eating a low fat diet and/or taking statin drugs. Similarly, people who find that they have inherited a low activity version of the MAO-A gene may some day choose to take a drug (which does not currently exist) that boosts the gene's activity in order to lower their chances of engaging in inappropriate violent behavior.

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  1. Things like “innapropriate rage,” “depression,” “ADD/ADHD,” and other psychiatric “diseases” are direct results of living in a society that is so out of tune with our true natures. Once we cease our nature-raping (a big love of conservatives/libertarians), stop with the mindless consumerism (ditto), and get rid of the countless faceless beauracracies our society runs on and get back to nature, all of these “diseases” will miraculously disappear. Of course, by the time this happens, we will all probably be dead and the world irreparably fucked up due to the destruction we’re causing it (the destruction that anti-environmentalists like Ron Bailey love to deny).

  2. andy, I agree entirely.

  3. Wasn’t there a finger analysis into aggression as well? Supposedly if a man’s index finger was much shorter (as opposed to just shorter) than his ring finger he tended to be more aggressive. The study was done on hockey players not too long ago. No idea what the results found.

  4. Fascinating, and thanks for posting that Ron.

    andy, you sort of have a point, in that this natural variation of genes may lead to behavior that’s only considered “inappropriate” in today’s society. (Previously, perhaps these boys would have been the warrior class?) But that brings up the question of whether we should be knee-jerk treating these people with hormones to “correct” that problem.

  5. Yes, but what about appropriate violent behavior? 🙂

    I think there?s a problem with some scientific thinking that these sorts of broad things (?violence?) are so narrowly reducible. I?d guess that any chemical management of one ?impulse? caused adverse reactions to some other area where that impulse actually provided some good.

    IN one case, my brother is severely schizophrenic, and the drugs they?ve had him on at times produced side effects far worse than the actual condition itself. Which connects to this recent piece in the NYT, which says, ?maybe medication isn?t the only way to deal with things??

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/21/health/psychology/21schiz.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

  6. Matt Ridley’s book Nature via Nuture provides a pretty good description of some of the subtle relationships between predispositions in genes and the influence of social stimuli…I think he makes the case that many of the behaviours that are initially associated with specific genes are later found to be associated more weakly with these genes or to also be associated with other genes. In other words, once the headlines fade, we may find out we don;t know as much as we might think about the roles of specific genes in behaviour…figuring out the alphabet (decoding the genome) isn’t quite the same as being able to read Shakespeare…and understand Hamlet’s torment.

  7. andy – you have a valid point, I think, but then you decide to soften your point by making some silly statements.

    For one, do you really think it would help if everyone on the planet “went back to nature”? It’ll kill most of us off, I’m sure. Maybe that’s what you want.

    Secondly, with a strong economy and good wealth, you can do whatever you want, including going “back to nature”. Go take a vacation horseback riding in the mountains, or swimming on a beach.

  8. Man, this makes me want to kick Bailey’s ass.

  9. WW, while you’re at it, why don’t you kick this server’s ass?

    owdog:

    “For one, do you really think it would help if everyone on the planet “went back to nature”? It’ll kill most of us off, I’m sure. Maybe that’s what you want.”

    Explain, exactly, how it would “kill most of us off.”

    “Go take a vacation horseback riding in the mountains, or swimming on a beach.”

    This is only good for the actual time doing it, and maybe for a brief time afterwards, but after enough time in our giant, artificial and impersonal cities or our sprawling, sacchrine suburbs, the symptoms begin to return.

    GILMORE:

    “?maybe medication isn?t the only way to deal with things??”

    I wonder if your brother, or anyone else, would have developed schizophrenia if we didn’t live in a society so unhealthy to human beings. Schizophrenia may just be the most extreme symptom of this.

    linguist:

    “But that brings up the question of whether we should be knee-jerk treating these people with hormones to “correct” that problem.”

    Well, in the parameters of our society this may be an effective way of treating these problems, but I look at it like this: If I’m stuck in an Arctic blizzard, a warm cup of tea may warm me up temporarily, but getting entirely out of this environment is a much better solution.

    L Ron Hubbard:

    Thank you

  10. Sounds like Andy’s off his meds today.

  11. Sounds like Andy’s off his meds today.

  12. I’m curious, Andy: given the psychiatric disorders you listed, I can see how these would seem to be disorders only caused (or only diagnosed) because of the way we live today. My take is that most of these things probably have some adaptive advantage in the history of our species. But then I also think there are some that, maybe, don’t. There are probably some genuine psychiatric diseases that are in no way adapted and are in fact diseases. Schizophrenia may be one.

    Do you agree? Or is your problem with psychiatric diagnoses across the board? Because schizophrenia would be just as much of problem if we all did go “back to nature”.

  13. Whose to say wether there’s a real correlation here? There might just as well be some so far unknown genetical error that causes both the before mentioned low activity and (via nature to nurture) the tendency to violent behavior.
    I recently asked a world class neuroscientist a similar question: Whose to say wether the charasteristics of the neurasynaptic connections in the brain of a depressed person are causing the mental state rather than are the cause of the mental state or wether the connection bertween the two is more complex?

    If somebody answers this post in a very witty and snappy way and makes me look like an idiot, I’ll feel crappy. The crappy feeling will manifest on the physical level as, say, tiredness and lack of appetite. Such a physical state will again increase the mental down hill and so on in a vicious circle. A cup of coffee and a jog would increase my appetite and decrease the tiredness and thus boost my mental state. But it would be mistake to presume that the tiredness and lack of appetite are the primus motors behind all crappy feelings.

    Anyway, the neuroscientist’s answer was that there’s no consensus on this issue and that he himself had no definite opinion on the subject matter.

  14. The irony quotient is sufficiently high here that I can never tell if a post like andy’s is serious or not. In any case, speaking as an anti-environmentalist (which is not at all the same thing as being anti-environment), I remain constantly astonished at people who *do* make such comments seriously.

    Personally, I’ve never raped nature in my entire life even if I did make an ungentlemanly pass at it once or twice. And what the hell would mindful consumerism be? Hunting for bargains?

    Still, it has always struck me that the whole point of society and civilization is to avoid nature’s typically harsh treatment of its inhabitants as much as possible and that this is a good thing. After all, it is only natural for each of us to wish to survive, reproduce and avoid pain and death as much as possible; thus, it also strikes me that environmentalists in general are always exhorting us to act in decidedly unnatural ways.

    I expect at least one semi-reasoned retort arguing some silliness about sustainability and so forth. The fact is, however, I care next to nothing about future generations much beyond my great grandchildren (should I ever have any) and even less about what might or might not survive the extinction of my species. The fact, also, is that no one else really does, either.

  15. All I could think reading this was: Wow, didn’t anyone else read or see A Clockwork Orange?

    Violence is neither bad nor good, it is the context in which violence is used which determines its goodness or badness. Violence in self-defense is good.

  16. andy,

    The earth likely couldn’t support the current human population without the use of technology to reap much more food yield out of it than it would provide “naturally”. That’s why everyone returning to nature would result in mass starvation and death. Well, one reason. There’d be no modern medicine to treat disease either.

    If returning to nature temporarily only provides temporary respite, perhaps the cure would be to make enough money to buy a large tract of land and then live on it “naturally”.

    Re: I wonder if your brother, or anyone else, would have developed schizophrenia if we didn’t live in a society so unhealthy to human beings. Schizophrenia may just be the most extreme symptom of this. Interesting speculation, but as your wording demonstrates that you know, it’s entirely speculation.

  17. “There are probably some genuine psychiatric diseases that are in no way adapted and are in fact diseases. Schizophrenia may be one.”

    I’m not so sure this is the case. One does not inherit schizophrenia itself, only the probability of developing it. I believe that many of the problems caused by modern society and urban living only serve to increase this probablility (don’t take my word for it, either:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schizophrenia#Diagnostic_issues_and_controversies

    “The fact is, however, I care next to nothing about future generations much beyond my great grandchildren (should I ever have any) and even less about what might or might not survive the extinction of my species. The fact, also, is that no one else really does, either.”

    Speak for yourself, Mr. “Being a selfish prick is cool if you’re honest about it.”

    “And what the hell would mindful consumerism be?”

    Not using more than you really need.

    “Still, it has always struck me that the whole point of society and civilization is to avoid nature’s typically harsh treatment of its inhabitants as much as possible and that this is a good thing.”

    Respecting nature and living in harmony with it are not mutually exclusive with living a “comfortable life”

  18. “This is only good for the actual time doing it, and maybe for a brief time afterwards, but after enough time in our giant, artificial and impersonal cities or our sprawling, sacchrine suburbs, the symptoms begin to return.”

    So, tell me, how exactly is it that you get an internet connection all the way out there in the tundra/desert/savanna/jungle/forest/prairie?

    And it would seem that if you were actually hewing to your worldview, you’d be too busy doing things like checking your traps to see if you’d snagged any rabbits or other small, edible game.

    Or failing that, digging for legumes.

  19. “Interesting speculation, but as your wording demonstrates that you know, it’s entirely speculation.”

    Not necessarily, there are cultures out there that live far more in harmony with nature than us and, while I’ve never looked into it specifically, I’m sure a study could/has been done that compares our rates of schizophrenia with theirs.

    “The earth likely couldn’t support the current human population without the use of technology to reap much more food yield out of it than it would provide “naturally”. That’s why everyone returning to nature would result in mass starvation and death. Well, one reason. There’d be no modern medicine to treat disease either.”

    I didn’t say I was necessarily against the use of technology, it just has to be within an environmentally sustainable context. And I’m not advocating that we all leave the cities and camp out in some forest immediately, just that reconsider our priorities, and quickly.

    As for the “no modern medicine,” people in the Amazon have done fine for millennia without “modern medicine.” Of course, so many arrogant Westerners refuse to look at their treatments as legitimate. We could learn a lot from them, at least if we stopped destroying acres and acres a minute of irreplacable biological diversity. And we won’t even get into the fact that so many of our diseases are direct results of our lifestyle.

  20. “Interesting speculation, but as your wording demonstrates that you know, it’s entirely speculation.”

    Not necessarily, there are cultures out there that live far more in harmony with nature than us and, while I’ve never looked into it specifically, I’m sure a study could/has been done that compares our rates of schizophrenia with theirs.

    “The earth likely couldn’t support the current human population without the use of technology to reap much more food yield out of it than it would provide “naturally”. That’s why everyone returning to nature would result in mass starvation and death. Well, one reason. There’d be no modern medicine to treat disease either.”

    I didn’t say I was necessarily against the use of technology, it just has to be within an environmentally sustainable context. And I’m not advocating that we all leave the cities and camp out in some forest immediately, just that reconsider our priorities, and quickly.

    As for the “no modern medicine,” people in the Amazon have done fine for millennia without “modern medicine.” Of course, so many arrogant Westerners refuse to look at their treatments as legitimate. We could learn a lot from them, at least if we stopped destroying acres and acres a minute of irreplacable biological diversity. And we won’t even get into the fact that so many of our diseases are direct results of our lifestyle.

  21. “Interesting speculation, but as your wording demonstrates that you know, it’s entirely speculation.”

    Not necessarily, there are cultures out there that live far more in harmony with nature than us and, while I’ve never looked into it specifically, I’m sure a study could/has been done that compares our rates of schizophrenia with theirs.

    “The earth likely couldn’t support the current human population without the use of technology to reap much more food yield out of it than it would provide “naturally”. That’s why everyone returning to nature would result in mass starvation and death. Well, one reason. There’d be no modern medicine to treat disease either.”

    I didn’t say I was necessarily against the use of technology, it just has to be within an environmentally sustainable context. And I’m not advocating that we all leave the cities and camp out in some forest immediately, just that reconsider our priorities, and quickly.

    As for the “no modern medicine,” people in the Amazon have done fine for millennia without “modern medicine.” Of course, so many arrogant Westerners refuse to look at their treatments as legitimate. We could learn a lot from them, at least if we stopped destroying acres and acres a minute of irreplacable biological diversity. And we won’t even get into the fact that so many of our diseases are direct results of our lifestyle.

  22. “Interesting speculation, but as your wording demonstrates that you know, it’s entirely speculation.”

    Not necessarily, there are cultures out there that live far more in harmony with nature than us and, while I’ve never looked into it specifically, I’m sure a study could/has been done that compares our rates of schizophrenia with theirs.

    “The earth likely couldn’t support the current human population without the use of technology to reap much more food yield out of it than it would provide “naturally”. That’s why everyone returning to nature would result in mass starvation and death. Well, one reason. There’d be no modern medicine to treat disease either.”

    I didn’t say I was necessarily against the use of technology, it just has to be within an environmentally sustainable context. And I’m not advocating that we all leave the cities and camp out in some forest immediately, just that reconsider our priorities, and quickly.

    As for the “no modern medicine,” people in the Amazon have done fine for millennia without “modern medicine.” Of course, so many arrogant Westerners refuse to look at their treatments as legitimate. We could learn a lot from them, at least if we stopped destroying acres and acres a minute of irreplacable biological diversity. And we won’t even get into the fact that so many of our diseases are direct results of our lifestyle.

  23. Your logic is thus: If somebody does give a shit about, say, the Baltic Sea, he should act ‘naturally’ like the fishes swimming in it. Fishes are selfish bastards who sometimes even eat their own offspring, so clearly these Baltic Sea loving hippies are illogical morons. Some projecting in process here, maybe?

  24. Your logic is thus: If somebody does give a shit about, say, the Baltic Sea, he should act ‘naturally’ like the fishes swimming in it. Fishes are selfish bastards who sometimes even eat their own offspring, so clearly these Baltic Sea loving hippies are illogical morons. Some projecting in process here, maybe?

  25. and so, andy, are your prescriptions for how others should live prescriptions for yourself (shall I assume you are posting your comments from the wild using only enough energy to satisfy your ‘need’)?

    Or are you just another human contributor to global warming?

  26. and so, andy, are your prescriptions for how others should live prescriptions for yourself (shall I assume you are posting your comments from the wild using only enough energy to satisfy your ‘need’)?

    Or are you just another human contributor to global warming?

  27. Not necessarily, there are cultures out there that live far more in harmony with nature than us

    Uh-oh. I feel a Noble Savage argument coming…

  28. andy – fyodor already answered your question for me. Another point would be, if we all went “back to nature” I guarantee the hug masses having to strike out into the wilderness to get food, shelter, etc would certainly fuck the planet up but good until the herd got thinned out by the mechanisms described by fyodor.

    As to mindful consumerism – do you practise what you preach? You’ve never thrown food away? Do you own a car? Do you have more than, say, 4 or 5 sets of clothes?

    Look, I’m in some argreement with you. I grew up in a rural setting, rode horses all the time, ran around out in the woods climbing trees, you know, living in nature. Now I’m a city person and I think some things got “masked” by being so active (like ADHD, for one) that I know have to face. I do that by trying to stay active, and I have so many choices about how to do that, it’s great.

    Now I’m rambling, but I think what I’m really trying to say is “chill out” and tone it down a little and maybe people will listen to you instead of rolling their eyes at you.

  29. Didn’t some genetic study show that ADD/ADHD corresponds to a gene that’s been around since the Paleolithic and may be an adaptation to the hunter-gatherer way of life, which was inherently fast-paced and chaotic? Or am I just spinning my wheels and trying to look smart?

  30. Genes are not destiny, especially if we choose to counteract their possible negative effects.

    Wouldn’t terminating these fetuses be the most cost-effective way to counteract the negative effects?

    No more new drugs, please. My health insurance bill is large enough already, thank you.

  31. Isn’t one problem with discussions like this that it’s impossible to determine what is “natural” for humans? Given that one thing humans do with some enthusiams is build big, impersonal cities in big, impersonal civilizations, I think one could reasonable assume this is as natural for us as digging holes is for rabbits. I’m therefore uncomfortable with the idea that if we give up living in cities we’ll end mental illness. While some mental illnesses may very well be nothing more than natural variations that are now disfavored by the environment, others have no apparent use under any circumstances. (Can anyone tell me what good hallucinations or debilitating depression would have been to a hunter – gatherer?)

    In this case, we don’t even have to wonder whether completely redoing civilization would solve this problem, because there is a simple solution available to us. What Mr. Bailey described in this case is a genetic marker for a condition that can produce antisocial behavior if it is present in a certain environment. The gene doesn’t make everyone who has it unmanagebly violent; abused boys with the gene are generally worse than those without it. We don’t need to worry about the side effects of removing any child from the presence of someone who beats the kid, and from the article quoted that is more likely to prevent the kid from becoming violent later in life than giving some drug that hasn’t been invented yet.

  32. Isn’t one problem with discussions like this that it’s impossible to determine what is “natural” for humans? Given that one thing humans do with some enthusiams is build big, impersonal cities in big, impersonal civilizations, I think one could reasonable assume this is as natural for us as digging holes is for rabbits. I’m therefore uncomfortable with the idea that if we give up living in cities we’ll end mental illness. While some mental illnesses may very well be nothing more than natural variations that are now disfavored by the environment, others have no apparent use under any circumstances. (Can anyone tell me what good hallucinations or debilitating depression would have been to a hunter – gatherer?)

    In this case, we don’t even have to wonder whether completely redoing civilization would solve this problem, because there is a simple solution available to us. What Mr. Bailey described in this case is a genetic marker for a condition that can produce antisocial behavior if it is present in a certain environment. The gene doesn’t make everyone who has it unmanagebly violent; abused boys with the gene are generally worse than those without it. We don’t need to worry about the side effects of removing any child from the presence of someone who beats the kid, and from the article quoted that is more likely to prevent the kid from becoming violent later in life than giving some drug that hasn’t been invented yet.

  33. Isn’t one problem with discussions like this that it’s impossible to determine what is “natural” for humans? Given that one thing humans do with some enthusiams is build big, impersonal cities in big, impersonal civilizations, I think one could reasonable assume this is as natural for us as digging holes is for rabbits. I’m therefore uncomfortable with the idea that if we give up living in cities we’ll end mental illness. While some mental illnesses may very well be nothing more than natural variations that are now disfavored by the environment, others have no apparent use under any circumstances. (Can anyone tell me what good hallucinations or debilitating depression would have been to a hunter – gatherer?)

    In this case, we don’t even have to wonder whether completely redoing civilization would solve this problem, because there is a simple solution available to us. What Mr. Bailey described in this case is a genetic marker for a condition that can produce antisocial behavior if it is present in a certain environment. The gene doesn’t make everyone who has it unmanagebly violent; abused boys with the gene are generally worse than those without it. We don’t need to worry about the side effects of removing any child from the presence of someone who beats the kid, and from the article quoted that is more likely to prevent the kid from becoming violent later in life than giving some drug that hasn’t been invented yet.

  34. Geotech, there is a guy by the name of Tom Hartman, iirc, who has advanced that theory.

    He’s got some interesting thoughts on dealing with ADD. Unfortunately, he’s a New-Age crystal-kissing shmuck.

  35. happyjuggler,

    True enough, given only black / white circumstances. However, there’s a lot of gray areas in life. I’m kinda sensitive to this issue right now cause a friend of mine who has a bit of that violent impulse control difficulty is currently worried about a jail sentence stemming from smashing a beer bottle over someone’s head — AFTER said person started punching him in the face. The few witnesses were either people my friend didn’t know or friends of his adversary. My friend would have benefitted from being able to exercise better control, even if it was ostensibly in self-defense, cause now he’s in big trouble. Where exactly to draw the “blame” in this scenario is hard to say. Might have to go co-sign a bond to bail the dude out later today….

  36. Geotech, there is a guy by the name of Tom Hartman, iirc, who has advanced that theory.

    He’s got some interesting thoughts on dealing with ADD. Unfortunately, he’s a New-Age crystal-kissing shmuck.

  37. Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii’m Captain Kiiiiiirrrrrrrk!!!

  38. The comment about the unlogical hippie bashing was intended for Mr Ridgely, but never mind that. I’m just as uneasy with the other type of extreme that Andy represents, and it really is a bit paradoxical to use this sophisticated technology for advocating such an ideology.
    Yes, the whole noble savage thing is a huge myth, but there is no need to go to the other extreme and only dwell on, say, the cannibalism and torture the Amerindians practised, or the clearly materialistic tendencies in their culture or any other hunter-gatherer societies. All generalations suck. Hollywood started with clearly racistic stereotypes of blacks and then at some point the policy changed into another type of lie: Suddenly the black characters are usually denied of all negative charasteristics. They remain sidekicks, though.

    Still back to the environmental issue: Having personally witnessed an absolutely unique ecosystem (the Baltic Sea) being raped in front of my very eyes from 1975 to 2006 I can’t help but feel that somebody has violated my property rights. Not one cubic meter of it is mine legally, but… Well, I don’t suppose anybody here will understand this.

  39. Before this crap server ate my message a couple of hours ago, it read:

    “Yeah andy, we need to let go of these psychiatric “diseases” and get back to enjoying more earth-centered diseases, such as cholera, small pox, dysentery, plague…”

    But that’s all water under the bridge now, I guess.

    And Fyodor, I’m not going to get jumped if I hang out with you this Friday at the Denver get-together, am I? Best of luck to your friend.

  40. Things like “innapropriate rage,” “depression,” “ADD/ADHD,” and other psychiatric “diseases” are direct results of living in a society that is so out of tune with our true natures.

    Probably true. Mass murder is also natural and not the result of a mental illness.

    Genes for Aggression?

    Since humans are agressive animals, obviously so.

    Genes for differing levels of aggression? About as obvious as genes for differing heights and body sizes. Population sameness tends not to be an “environmentally stable strategy.”

    Interesting article:
    http://ruccs.rutgers.edu/ArchiveFolder/Research%20Group/Publications/Mad/Madhouse.html
    “Darwin in the Madhouse:
    Evolutionary Psychology and the Classification of Mental Disorders”

  41. “As for the “no modern medicine,” people in the Amazon have done fine for millennia without “modern medicine.” ”

    except for the whole lower life expectancy, constant warfare, inability to defend onself from outside cultures thing, you’re totally right.

    “nature” is a great idea that unfortunately does not actually exist in nature.

  42. I will try again (for the 4th time)

    This research is not needed: it has been long established that with a tape measure and some large calipers, a person’s intelligence and tendency towards violence –among other things– can be readily known

  43. michael Palin,

    I understand you very well. During my transition from state-liberalism to libertarianism, I embraced a property-rights exception for “the natural world,” which I felt was in a sense partly owned by everyone, kind of in a joint manner with the legal owner, somewhat akin to the way children legally belong to their parents or guardians but society at large can still place limits on what the parent/guardian can do. My rationalization was that no one made the natural world. Owners of property have a right to the fruits of whatever part of the natural world they mix with their own efforts, but they don’t have an absolute ownership to how that part of the natural world gets to be used because on its own, no one made it. Or so I theorized. I would hesitate to advocate such a notion now, but part of me is still at least open to it. At the very least it does sadden me to see or know of beautiful places soiled. The most fair way to deal with the issue is to pool resources to buy beautiful parcels of land to presrve their beauty. Perhaps if environmentalists were less enamored with centrally planned solutions, there’d be more support for preserving natural beauty through voluntary transactions.

  44. B.P.,

    On my friend’s behalf, thanks. He’ll probably have to live down such jokes for some time, but for now, they’re the least of his worries!

  45. andy:

    Speak for yourself, Mr. “Being a selfish prick is cool if you’re honest about it.”

    I shall. Indeed, I did! People claim to care about humanity or nature or future generations, but it’s mostly hogwash. You can’t really care about people you don’t know however much you might gain some sort of emotional benefit from wishing them well abstractly.

    “And what the hell would mindful consumerism be?”
    Not using more than you really need.

    No, really, that won’t do at all. After all, someone will come around and point out that you really didn’t need to use whatever trivial electrical energy, etc., it took to engage in this thread. Eventually we get down to just who is to decide what you or I “really need,” and beyond trying to persuade someone to act voluntarily we end up simply imposing our preference sets on others. “Mindless consumerism” just translates to buying stuff you don’t like.

    “Still, it has always struck me that the whole point of society and civilization is to avoid nature’s typically harsh treatment of its inhabitants as much as possible and that this is a good thing.”
    Respecting nature and living in harmony with it are not mutually exclusive with living a “comfortable life”

    Respecting nature is fine. For example, one should always be respectful of the dangers of nature. Living in harmony with nature, on the other hand, is absurd insofar as the phrase has any cognitive content in the first place. But nature just is what it is. And, as such, we’re just another part of it.

    Mr. Palin:

    Your logic is thus: If somebody does give a shit about, say, the Baltic Sea, he should act ‘naturally’ like the fishes swimming in it. Fishes are selfish bastards who sometimes even eat their own offspring, so clearly these Baltic Sea loving hippies are illogical morons. Some projecting in process here, maybe?

    I think not. Obviously, it would be unnatural for people to act like fish because, well duh!, we are not fish. But fish are neither selfish or unselfish, they are merely acting like fish. We, too, are merely acting like human beings, using our biological advantages to facilitate our survival, reproduction, etc. Insofar as there are any moral issues involved, they arise among people and not between people, on the one hand, and nature, on the other.

    As for the Baltic Sea and such, I think the operative phrase of your comment was “I feel.” I sympathize, but we can’t go around giving priority to your or my feelings (let alone andy’s) when other legitimate interests are concerned. All other factors being equal, I would prefer preserving rather than dispoiling nature, but all other factors are not equal. People need food and shelter and energy, etc., and very few (andy included) would voluntarily opt to go native in the Amazon, so trade-offs must be made.

    Are they always made well? Of course not. But the solution is not to stop making them and it is certainly not to embrace some knee-jerk enviro-fundamentalism like, well, like some people I could mention.

  46. fyodor,

    Yep. We must remove the soil from all the beautiful places.

    Or perhaps you know of a vendor for unsoiled soil?

  47. About the Amazonian people… there has actually been some research by those “crystal-gazing schmucks” applying shamanic techniques inspired by tribal Amazonian people to treat mental “illness” ranging from Depression to Attention Deficit with some success without drug intervention. Of course, it’s not that hard to best the 30% success rate of SSRI’s.

    Increased life expectancy vs. native populations probably has little to do with the stimulants they give kids to keep them docile in the classroom and more to do with nutrition and immunization.

    At any rate, though they have been given to 3 times as many kids in the last 5 years, the drugs haven’t been given to anybody long enough to determine long-term side effects, much less the impact they will yield on the evolution of the species.

    As for genes as the trigger for mental illness, the labeling of ADD/ADHD and similar states is so incredibly subjective, it makes it nearly impossible to determine causality. How do you establish a control group?

    There is also an argument from the realm of media study which finds a parallel between literacy and mental states. The ubiquitousness of this digital world we now swim in finds language more and more shifted into the realm of the glyph, icon and smiley, away from rhetoric, linguistics and grammar. This could be a much more elemental, cultural explanation for the seeming epidemic of the short attention span with greater repercussions than mere biological tendency.

    But don’t ask me. I’m reading old paper books by the fire in my teepee. [please “hear” the sarcasm]

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