A growing understanding of human genetics is prompting fresh consideration of how much control people have over who they are and how they act. The recent discoveries include genes that seem to influence whether an individual is fat, has a gift for dance or will be addicted to cigarettes. Pronouncements about the power of genes seem to be in the news almost daily, and are changing the way some Americans feel about themselves, their flaws and their talents, as well as the decisions they make.
For some people, the idea that they may not be entirely at fault for some of their less desirable qualities is liberating, conferring a scientifically backed reprieve from guilt and self-doubt. Others feel doomed by their own DNA, which seems less changeable than the more traditional culprits for personal failings, like a lack of discipline or bad childhoods. And many find it simply depressing to think that their accomplishments might not be the result of their own efforts.
Now, wait a minute! If you're depressed, it's because of your genes.
Parents, too, are rethinking their contributions. Perhaps they have not scarred their wayward children so much as given them bad genes. Maybe it was not their superior parenting skills that produced that Nobel laureate.Yes, quit blaming us, kids. Quit blaming yourselves too. There now, isn't life easier? No! The easiness or difficulty you feel as you try to live your life is determined by your genetic makeup.
Whether a new emphasis on genes will breed tolerance or bigotry for inborn differences remains an open question. If a trait like being overweight comes to be seen as largely the result of genetic influence rather than lack of discipline, the social stigma connected to it could dissipate, for instance. Or fat people could start being viewed as genetically inferior.Come on! Our tendency toward bigotry and our urge to harass those we perceive as inferior is in our genes.
The public embrace of genetics may be driven as much by wishful thinking as scientific truth. In an age of uncertainty, biology can appear to provide a concrete answer for behavior that is difficult to explain. And the faith that genetics can illuminate the metaphysical aspects of being human is for some a logical extension of the growing hope that it can cure disease.Hey, wishful thinking... it's in our genes.