Does human aggression and violence have a biological basis, or is it rooted in human psychology? Beyond the nature-nurture dichotomy, is nature and evolution the primary source of individual and collective aggression, violence and depression, or is culture and conditioning?
Aggression, in the sense of predator on prey aggression in nature, or male aggression within a species in competition for females, is being conflated with human violence. This mistake stems from the age-old dichotomy, itself a product of the human mind, between ‘nature and nurture.’
Reductionism and the genetic-basis-for-everything belief system is not curing people and promoting a healthier world, but contributing to the worldview disturbingly echoed by a Marine captain, Timothy Kudo, who was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, in his piece, “How We Learned to Kill”:
“Ensuring our own safety and the defense of a peaceful world may require training boys and girls to kill, creating technology that allows us to destroy anyone on the planet instantly, dehumanizing large segments of the global population and then claiming there is a moral sanctity in killing.”
Neuroscientists and their aficionados in philosophy and elsewhere have been coming down strongly on the side of nature in recent years. Or rather, coming down against nature, by holding it, and our genes responsible for everything from aggression and violence to anxiety and depression. Indeed, the obsession with a genetic basis of behavior has reached absurd proportions.
For example, in a recent article in the New York Times entitled, “The Feel-Good Gene,” psychiatrist and Op-Ed writer Richard A. Friedman, announces, “For the first time, scientists have demonstrated that a genetic variation in the brain makes some people inherently less anxious.”
As if that doesn’t imply enough dubious philosophical assumptions, he caps it with reductio ad absurdum: “It is a mutation in the FAAH gene that leads to more of the bliss molecule anandamide bathing the brain.”
The obsessive individualizing of mental and emotional problems, which is being led by the psychological industry, has reached a dead-end. Societal pathology cannot be reduced to the genes within the individual. Beyond a point, reductionism increases pathology at all levels.
Indeed, having fostered the present pandemic of depression more than any other sector of society by prescribing anti-depressants to treat symptoms in the individual rather than also address a diseased culture, psychiatry now turns to neuroscience to find drugs that can enhance things like the “feel-good gene.”
“What we really need is a drug that can boost anandamide — our bliss molecule — for those who are genetically disadvantaged,” Friedman prescribes. No doctor, what we really need is an understanding of why so many people are anxious and depressed in the North American and global culture.
When anxiety and depression are in the air we breathe, doesn’t it make sense to examine the atmosphere as well as look for the cause and cure in the lungs of afflicted individuals?
I’m not speaking from a philosophical ivory tower. I basically lost my 20’s to severe depression, which wasn’t diagnosed until I was nearly 30, before anti-depressants became de rigueur. My depression was of the kind that physically incapacitated. Once a month I’d lose a week to the abyss, when I couldn’t leave the couch, much less the house, for days.
Wanting to find out if there was another path to managing the disease besides psychotropic drugs, I did as much research as I could. More importantly, I admitted that I was a depressive. Then I charted its cyclic progression that, once fully triggered, meant biochemistry ineluctably took hold and ran its course.
It took nearly a year using all modalities—meditation, exercise, self-monitoring without judgment, and talk therapy—but I haven’t had an episode in over 30 years. Sure, I’ve had many ‘down’ days, like most people living in this dark and dead culture, which we’re taught to automatically internalize by the dogma of individualism.
I became convinced that drug intervention should be the treatment of last resort, rather than the treatment of first resort as it so often is these days. I’ve talked with too many people who are on anti-depressants because they feel chronically ‘down,’ or because they’re suffering more from a broken heart than clinical or chronic depression.
I found that anxiety was a red flag signaling the start of a cycle, a warning sign that had to be heeded if the biochemical depression was to be averted, rather than “a mental state that has no psychological origin or meaning,” as Friedman says.
Far from being “a notion that would seem heretical to many therapists,” the genetic paradigm offers an easy and breezy reductionism that nature made us this way. That view, implicit or explicit, has become the standard philosophical stance and knee-jerk operating procedure across the spectrum of mental health practitioners.
I realize not everyone can manage depression, and I’m not hearkening back to the old ‘weakness of character’ idea. But many more people can manage depression than they, or the psychological industry working in cahoots with the drug companies, believe they can.
The entire genetic approach has become very imbalanced, way too freighted toward the nature/genetic side of the equation. We need to acknowledge that this approach isn’t producing whole and healthy individuals, much less a whole and healthy society.
Instead, neuroscientists are doubling down. Flush with tremendous discoveries in brain science, they don’t see that drug intervention, especially with regard to the brain and “boosting our bliss molecule,” is leading us in the wrong direction.
Having removed character from the equation, they’ve also removed responsibility, and then wonder why people and society continue to degenerate and deteriorate.