I don’t have much comedy in my heart this week. Had a couple of humor-driven posts complete, proof-read, and in the hopper (“haw-puh, kid”) but I’m just not in that head/heart space.
I’d begun to contemplate epigenetics, which involves the trait variations caused by external/environmental factors that can (and do) switch genes on or off and affect how cells read/interact with genes instead of being caused by changes in the DNA sequence.
It means the environment CAN impact genetic expression in the here and now. No protracted evolutionary process necessary. Just people, places, events, and things outside of us.
I recently read about an experiment in which mice were tortured in the presence of orange blossom. It’s really fucked what we do to living creatures for the sake of science, but ultimately even more deplorable what we do to them for the sake of health and beauty supplements, including shampoo and make up. However, the torture that animals endure in the name of science often yields important, perhaps even critical information…and so I think it’s important to respect that information and the lives lost for it. Anyway, torture and orange blossom. The offspring of that experiment, when presented with the scent of orange blossom, would react with a fear reaction. That is, without any of the torture endured by their parents, the children somehow were epigenetically changed to fear the very scent that brought havoc on Mommy and/or Daddy.
I also read that pregnant women who survived the Holocaust as well as those who lived through the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001 and who suffered PTSD (…and the reduction in cortisol that accompanies that experience and disorder…) had children who, when later tested, also showed the hormonal signs of PTSD.
Although this science is neither “airtight” nor devoid of legitimate detractors, I will venture to write the following: We know the environment, the “nurture” rather than the “nature,” which we discussed above, will have behavioral, hormonal, and likely epigenetic impacts on the humans within said environments.
Now consider war, genocide, slavery, and socio-economic oppression.
Might we not expect the people involved, including the offspring, and the offspring of the offspring, and perhaps multiple generations to experience the impact of those preliminary horrors?
Can we expect a black teenager today to overcome the residual impact of slavery, torture, and historic, systemic socio-economic oppression? From historical, socio-cultural, biological and genetic perspectives? (No, I’d argue.)
Can we expect a Jewish child to interact as if the holocaust didn’t happen to countless family members just several generations back? And again, I’m talking about the neuro-chemical and genetic changes passed down from parent to child to child to child. I’m talking about the socio-cultural and historical impacts on an entire subgroup. (Again, I think not.)
I’m surely missing historic tragedies whose impact has rippled through tens if not hundreds of generations, thus changing the very nature of the humans whose ancestors faced unprecedented horrors. Please forgive my ignorance and limited thoroughness.
It seems, to me, that we need to stop asking people to stop bringing up the past. We need to stop making excuses for the sins of our ancestors, both biologically and culturally. That is, “My ancestors didn’t own slaves,” is no excuse to ignore the repercussions and impact of slavery on U.S. society, economics, infrastructure, etc. I can only take responsibility for my actions, but I should make myself as well-informed as possible about the history that led to my current milieu and the myriad people surrounding me with whom I’m interdependent.
Then, I can interact, advocate, collaborate, and simply build human relationship across any population. Not race. There is just one race. A human one that had better start taking care of itself and the statistically miraculous environment on which we presently exist.
Think. Smile. Relate. Communicate. Love.
Right now is all we have.