Primitive DNA in the Young Male Brain

Gus and WallyBy Dr David Laing Dawson

In the 1960’s we sat on the beach around a fire looking across the inlet to a few lights on the north shore, the moon rising in the east. The guitarists among us played freedom songs, folk songs, union songs, anti-war songs, love songs. We passed a joint or two around, drank cheap beer and wine, and sang.

We were confident, I think, that eventually the Americans would see the folly of the Vietnam War, there would not be a World War III, the iron curtain would collapse, and Russia would eventually find its way to the virtue of a mixed economy and full democracy. Universal health care was on its way. The women among us used birth control, looked forward to careers of their own.

We may have imagined having children at the time, though certainly not grandchildren. But had we imagined having grandchildren I think we would have imagined bequeathing them a world made up of mostly civilized countries gathering at the UN to discuss their mixed economies and their inclusive democracies. We could have guessed, I think, that they would also be discussing excess use of petroleum (or running out of it as some thought would surely come to pass), preserving the forests and wildlife, protecting endangered species, providing education for all, and eliminating poverty.

Fast forward to 2015 and a few countries, including Canada, do have universal health care. The Iron Curtain is gone. Despite Vlad’s wish to be Czar, Russia is getting there. We are certainly talking about petroleum, wildlife, forests and oceans. We continue to argue about the right mix in ‘mixed economies’. Not such high marks on education and poverty.

And then we have ISIS/ISIL and terrorism. Who would have guessed?

In Egypt the army is once again in control. A generational slippage, a step backwards, as often happens in the long, tedious, evolutionary road to an inclusive democracy and a better social contract.

But ISIS and terrorism. That’s not slippage, a step backwards, a pause, a stall. That is some unleashing of the remnants of very primitive DNA in the young male brain. Some instruction that may have served them well as they rode with Genghis Khan, or fought over a watering hole in the jungle, or reverted to cannibalism when other protein was scarce. Some thousands of years ago.

We have two boxer dogs. They can bark at perceived intruders, chase squirrels up trees, make birds take flight, but they are gentle, crave touching and play, and they are overly affectionate with friendly humans. Lovely dogs. But last summer an overweight ground hog, probably the patriarch of a brood in the nearby bushes, wandered onto our dogs’ territory looking for mulberries. The dogs moved quickly. Working as a team they cornered this hapless creature. And then they tore him apart.

Well, as a species our dogs are only a few hundred years from a time when this particular behaviour was required of them to eat, protect their families, and survive. So we have forgiven them. Besides, they don’t have language. It is impossible to teach them and explain to them that level of differentiation, consideration and nuance. And they did not invoke God and his ancient texts in the act of killing.

To be continued:

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