Primitive DNA in the Young Male Brain Part II

Gus and WallyBy Dr David Laing Dawson

Those disparate thoughts and memories floated through my mind (Part I) after watching a disturbing documentary about ISIS/ISIL/IS and especially the sequence of young boys, coached by older boys, waving their rifles at the camera and shouting their slogans of death.

And then another disparate memory arrived. In my youth I was a fan of science fiction, but I have always been puzzled by this: When science fiction writers need to describe and explain or create a system of governance for a far off planet in another galaxy (or on earth) in the distant future, either as background for the warp speed adventure or as an integral part of the story, they create kingdoms, oligarchies, dictators with near magical powers, serfdoms, master/slave relationships, warring tribes, and people who have achieved technological wonders and then returned to till the land in small communes, where everybody dresses in white, speaks Olde English, and worships at sunrise.

Even King Farouk of Egypt was more optimistic than our science fiction writers when he said something like, “Soon there will be only five kings in this world: the king of hearts, spades, clubs, diamonds and the king of England.”

I get it. Liberal, inclusive democracies are boring. Peter MacKay has stepped down. He is leaving the caucus, retiring from politics. We will work hard to find some palace intrigue behind this move, but, if there is any, it will be vague, arcane, unsubstantiated, and unexciting. I am glad I live in this country.

But there is something here to consider. An advanced form of governance, a liberal democracy with an independent judiciary is the product of social evolution. It is not the product of biological evolution, though it is our ability to use language, to empathize, to engage in abstract thought that has made it possible. But it is not biologically natural. If it were, then our teenagers would be watching the parliamentary debates rather than Game of Thrones. And as soon as they were allowed they would be voting in all elections.

So, let’s face it, our inclusive liberal democracy, precious as it may be, continuing to evolve and, we hope, improve, is an overlay – an overlay on top of some pretty primitive impulses, some ancient DNA.

And what do these thoughts mean, if anything? I think this: If we happen to survive global warming, if those primitive impulses don’t trigger a nuclear war, and if the sun waits a billion years or so before exploding, we need to acknowledge this commonality, this biological reality. We are not made in God’s likeness; we are not born without a program; we are not inherently good; we are, to quote Star Trek, “ugly bags of mostly water”; and the DNA that served us well as Homo Habilis and Homo Erectus, remains within us sleeping under a thin layer of civilized instruction.

If you don’t believe this, just think of the astonishing stupidity of shouting FHRITP on camera.

So apart from all the other things we need to do to make this planet a better place, we need to accept the reality of being partially evolved biological entities with limited life spans, discard all old and new age religions that bestow some form of divinity upon us, and educate, educate, educate.

And the next time I interview an 18 year-old, I would like to find that he or she has at least a rudimentary understanding of the evolutionary history, the importance, and the fragility of our democracies and our inclusive social contract.

3 thoughts on “Primitive DNA in the Young Male Brain Part II

  1. This is really a very thoughtful piece. But is it not written from a male perspective? Young male DNA flourishes in an environment where older male DNA dominates. You just have to look at the picture of the G20 leaders. Despite the promise of the sixties, there are not too many women in there. When Stephen Harper emerged from the closet after the sole gunmen stormed parliament, the first thing he did was call his mother, because he was concerned that she might be worried. Yet Stephen Harper, an example of Older Male DNA, does not extend the same concern to the mother who worries that her child might die from fighting in some useless war or the mother who asks how often her seriously mentally ill son has been in solitary confinement.
    I totally agree that we need to educate, educate, educate. But social justice requires that we also listen, listen, listen. We will be more able to do so when more women, minorities, and those marginalized by poverty and disability represent us in parliament.

    Sorry, did not mean to sound so pedantic. Still really enjoyed your blog.


    1. This is from Donald Fordyke

      > So there is “an overlay on top of some pretty primitive impulses, some ancient DNA.” Well, perhaps not quite so ancient. When a dispute cannot be settled, and the toss of a coin is not acceptable, then a settlement has generally been achieved by fighting it out.
      > Take two geographical groups A and B, one of which (A) has slightly more genes for gullibility, expressed especially in its male youth. Then it is likely that the A youth will be more inspired to fight for their cause than B youth. The genes for gullibility thus have great survival value and will increase among humankind.
      > Again, take two geographical groups A and B, one of which (A) has slightly more genes for being better able to con the gullible, especially when expressed in its middle age and elderly generations. Again, the A youth will be even more inspired to fight for their cause. Thus, the genes for conning the gullible have great survival value and will increase among humankind.
      > Thus we should not be surprised at today’s events (Trumpism and Isis). By all means let us have “education, education,” but it partly depends on who is doing the “education,” what their level of “education” is, and how sceptical their audiences are likely to be.


  2. Providing of course that the elder(s) of the A group are not Hitler, Kim Jong Un mad, and inspire their gullible youth to fight a war that will destroy them, or that other impulse, the realistic and altruistic one, has not created a system of checks that won’t allow a Mugabe to rule for 30 years.
    And it is worth noting that in the countries with good public education systems unfettered by politics or religion, the youth of those countries are less likely to believe in an Alpha male in the sky.
    Some recent items in the news have reminded me how much we need to overcome some other instincts that once served us well: Trump (and the Pope) wade into the question of best care for a single brain damaged, blind, dying infant in England, but Trump is quite willing to void health care for 20 million of his own people.
    It made sense once. The only infant we cared about was the one in our own village. Now, thanks to modern technology, we can come face to face with a single named and suffering baby in another country, and we respond, while a statistic is still just a statistic.



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