Inheritance


How do we recognize the difference between tendencies that we inherit genetically, and learned behavior? Tribalism or nationalism, language, musical taste, allegiance to sports teams, politics and religion, ethnicity, race and gender are a few emotionally charged traits that can be surprisingly difficult to sort-out.

For example, religion seems to be genetically hard-wired. As humans, we have an innate need to connect to something that unifies us with our deepest sensitivities, and is greater than ourselves. But it seems equally probable that we are not wired to be Hindu, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim or Buddhist.

The need for social order seems innate, but the form of government that emerges from this instinct is clearly culturally based, including leaning toward republican, democratic, socialist, libertarian, or other party allegiance.

We are genetically predisposed to nationalism or tribalism, the bonding of home and community, but not to which nation or tribe we are allied.

Syntax, the fundamental grammar for human speech, is innate, but not specific spoken languages.

Due to globalization, people are increasingly making the decision to change their ethnicity by abandoning one culture and adopting a new one. Modern medical procedures today make it possible to change genders, which cross both genetic and cultural boundaries. Perhaps one day, with the aid of genetic therapies, we will even be able to choose our own race.

I think I could make an argument that certain genetic traits in humans may align themselves more with the Yankees or the Republicans than with the Red Sox or Democrats, or vice-versa. But that is not the same as saying that certain brains are genetically predisposed to the Yankees or Red Sox, or Democrats or Republicans. These teams, and others like them, have personalities and histories, just like people, or nations, and we are attracted to them or not by their characteristics that are consistent with our values, or simply by their geographical ‘homing’ location.

For now, we can change religions, national ties, political tastes, tribes, ethnicity, gender, learn new languages. But it is unlikely that we can change our basic instincts, short of genetic intervention.

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