“It’s in their genes.” A researcher has found what he called a “warrior gene” that appears more often in Maori than non-Maori (about twice as often apparently) that makes them, he says, susceptible to addiction, aggression and other generally bad things.
Before all the headline writers get too excited about that finding, let me say two things.
The first is to be aware that such a gene isn’t necessarily bad: such an obsessive gene may have helped Polynesian explorers conquer the Pacific in the first place.
The second point is to heed the warning of the researcher himself not to read too much into this. As he says, there are many factors that influence behaviour, and this is just one.
And he’s right, isn’t he. Whatever our genes say about us, it’s far from all they say about us. In the age-old argument as to whether it is genes or environment that ‘create us,’ what is infinitely more important is to realise that genes and environment are only half the actual picture. The other half of the picture – the one about which we can do something ourselves -- is the faculty that helps make us distinctively human: Free will. The choices we make to do the things we do.
Tibor Machan has a useful way of seeing how these three things co-relate: nature and nurture (in other words genes and environment) give us our personality, the things about which we as adult human beings can do nothing about. But character is what we make of this. Character is what we choose to do to make ourselves. Character, the thing that makes the us in each of us, is made possible by the faculty of free will.
We might have genes that make us potentially great at tennis or golf, at painting or at music, at intellectual pursuits or sporting endeavour – what is critical however is what we ourselves choose to do about those potentials, what we do to either make the most of them, or ignore them.
“Man,” as Ayn Rand affirmed, “is a being of self-made soul.” We are each given our own ingredients, and by the choices we make with what we’re given we go on to make ourselves. That’s what it is to be a human being, and it's on those things that we should really judge each other.
Going back to where we started then, and if we choose to take this research about ‘warrior genes’ at face value, we can see that all in all it’s an interesting little story but, as the researcher himself says, it’s only a very small part of the picture. Unless, that is, we choose to make something more of it than it deserves. I suspect we all have genes that make us susceptible to certain behaviours, both good and bad. What’s infinitely more important is what we choose to do about that.
LINK: Once were warriors: gene linked to maori violence - Sydney Morning Herald
Nature v nurture - character is all - Not PC (Peter Cresswell)
RELATED: Science, Ethics, Philosophy, Racism, Maoritanga