Coevolutionary Fitness

I just started reading Not By Genes Alone, a book about gene–culture coevolution, the idea that human behavior is based on the interaction of biology and culture, that culture affects the evolution of our biological states, of our genes, and not just the other way around. It’s a way of thinking around the nature/nurture debate, which has always seemed a silly debate to me. So, the very first chapter is about how the Southern US is more violent than the North, how men are more likely to kill one another there, and how it relates to the concept of honor. The authors cite studies that show Southerners more likely to be both polite, because of honor, and likely to quickly become violent when they feel their own honor is challenged, accompanied by surges in cortisone and testosterone. It got me thinking about folks who are gun ownership radicals–a group far more prevalent in the South–and how they build these dramatic narratives in which they are protecting something heroically, something they deem a matter of honor, of citizenship: the right to own guns as a means to protect themselves. What they might be protecting themselves from is not so important (the Government, Shadowy Thugs, Home Invasions, Mentally Ill People who Also Have Guns), what is key is that there are enemies about, and they are heroes, ready to go quickly from calm to murderous. It made me wonder to what degree this narrative was biologically conditioned, and inherited, that perhaps much of the population of gun ownership radicals have a predilection to surges of cortisone and testosterone, and the degree to which this “defending my family/country etc” narrative is simply an outlet for a genetic predisposition. If that’s the case, then I both feel sad for those folks, since it must be hard to find ways to construct narratives of self that place one in the role of faithful hero, but it also makes me believe even more strongly that these are the people who should have the least access to guns, since they are more likely to be violent. In as much as the NRA has tried to shift the narrative to “it’s a mental health issue,” I wonder if they would accede to genetic and cultural testing as a test for gun ownership, with those folks who have both a genetic disposition toward violence and cultural history of violence, be restricted from owning guns? Actually, I know the answer, I just wonder what flimsy argument they might come up with to challenge the suggestion. That said, such a test is in no way close to emerging from the research, and it is important to be very careful not to fall into the simplistic evolutionary psych pit of claiming gene x=behavior x. Still, it’s worth pondering why some people want so badly to believe they are heroes, and that their manhood (for it is almost inevitably men) is predicated on honor as a midwife for violent action.

Cds listened to as I try to listen to all the ones I own: 623) Jonathan Richman: Surrender to Jonathan!; 624) Dolly Parton: RCA Country Legends; 625) Sam and Dave: Soul Man; 626) Honky Hoppers: Standing Room Only; 627) Ernest Tubb: Country Music Hall of Fame Series; 628) The Band: The Band; 629) Múm: Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy; 630) Yo La Tengo: Painful; 631) Nanci Griffiths: The Complete MCA Recordings; 632) Camper Van Beethoven: Key Lime Pie; 633) Bjork: Telegram; 634) T-Bone Walker: The Complete Imperial Recordings, 1950-54; 635) The Only Ones: The Only Ones; 636) The Residents: Duck Stab; 637) Tony Toni Tone: Sons of Soul; 638) Thievery Corporation: The Mirror Conspiracy; 639) Morphine: Good; 640) Producer’s Trophy: Roof International; 641) Indiana Stone: Struggle; 642) The Cardigans: Super Extra Gravity; 643) Ana Moura: Keep My Life in Your Hand; 644) The Rolling Stones:  Exile on Main St.; 645) Banco de Gaia: Iqizeh; 646) Bjork: Debut.