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Thursday, September 07, 2006
New Zealand's Maori Confronted by Biodeterminism
In the latest of biodeterminist-related scandals throughout the world, researchers claimed to have found a gene supposedly related to aggressive behavior (nicknamed the "warrior gene") to be twice as high among the Maori people in New Zealand compared to the Anglo population. The finding is being used to explain why the domestic rates of violence in New Zealand are high among those committed by the indigenous Maori population, and the researchers also go so far as trying to say the gene is responsible for their "risk-taking" behaviors such as gambling and smoking.
While the finding has outraged the Maori people, here's what the researcher told New Zealand radio: "I believe this gene has an influence on behavior of humans in general, but I also believe that influence is rather small."
Really? Then WHY did you link the gene to the behavior of a specific ethnic group? Why did you suggest to a genetics council the very reductionistic viewpoint that the gene's influence somehow accounts for the aggressive behavior of the Maori people--the part of the population in New Zealand that has been losing status among the general population ever since the Anglo culture took over? You mean the Maori are NOT supposed to like being looked upon as some kind of backwards indigenous people compared to the "lesser-violent" Anglo peoples?
The approach that says aggression is inbred through genes may hold to some extent for animals like dogs, but when it comes to human beings the matter is particularly more complex. Human beings have a consciousness unlike what dogs experience because human beings have a neocortex. (I'm not saying dogs have no consciousness or make no decisions, it's just likely to be quite different than humans.) You can't say that a gene suspected of being linked to aggressive behavior is the CAUSE of aggressive behavior because if this was the case everybody that has such a gene would act in an obvious aggressive manner. Without looking at the research that supports whatever claim is being made about the "warrior gene," I know you don't find 100% of the time when the person's DNA analysis indicates the presence of the gene the person's behavior is typically violent. Do you have any idea how many hundreds of genes within the entire gene pool can be related to violent behavior? The same situation exists with something like intelligence, which has hundreds if not thousands of different genes contibuting to it. What are biodeterminists in New Zealand standing on when it comes to some supposed "genetic link" when it comes to more "aggressive" behavior among the Maori?-- one tiny gene with a label of "the warrior." This label is fooling us as much as the influence of any one gene when it comes to behavior, but our desire to want knowledge based on making human behavior as easy as the effect of one gene has been running rampant.
To downplay the influence of social conditions, cultural factors, the experience of the individual, existential issues, and even politics to the extent that you focus on one gene as the determinant of human behavior is biodeterminism at its worst. Just think about the ramifications for prejudice against the Maori when it comes to people not understanding the limitations of a scientific approach that implicitly encourages biodeterminism. Can't you see people in the Anglo populations of New Zealand being told about this finding and then going around saying the Maori people have some kind of "bad" gene? Look at this quote I found on another blog regarding the finding:"[The gene also] goes a long way to explaining some of the problems Maori have. Obviously, this means they are going to be more aggressive and violent and more likely to get involved in risk-taking behaviour like gambling. They’re much more likely to binge drink than other groups which are more likely to moderate their drinking."--Obviously?! What's more obvious is that this kind of blatant reductionism that reduces behavior down to the result of a gene is not science; it's a perfect example of scientism. Read the sad article for yourself: http://today.reuters.com/news/articlenews.aspx?type=scienceNews&storyID=2006-08-09T075318Z_01_SYD231417_RTRUKOC_0_US-NEWZEALAND-GENE-VIOLENCE.xml&WTmodLoc=NewsHome-C3-scienceNews-3
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