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Blame, shame, and how our genes are the devil that make us do things
November 11th, 2007 by Sam

Why do we do those things we know we’ll regret – over and over.

Historically, the modern explanation, in Western culture at least, has been that people just choose to do things of their own free will.

When I was growing up, it was the devil – causing you to do things against God.  Of course, the free will thing was still there…  We were given free will so we could choose to follow God or the devil.

But now those darn scientists are finding out that a lot of our behavior seems to be driven by our genes.  Dare-devil behavior, or overeating, or talking a lot (!) may be personality traits that we get from our genetic inheritance.  Not only that, but those things our parents did that drove/drive us crazy were, oh my gosh, caused by their genetic inheritance.  Yes.  I am saying that everything your parents did wasn’t 1) intentionally designed to drive you crazy, or 2) chosen by them of their ‘own free will.’

How people react to this news depends on how they feel about their own and other’s behaviors as far as I can tell.

Those who don’t want to let go of free will:

  • When someone is frustrated with other people’s behaviors, they tend to not want to give up the idea that those people could choose to do otherwise, and therefore want to have the right to blame them.
  • On the other hand, if people are pretty happy with where they are in life, and feel like they have achieved a lot, they want the right to claim credit.

Those who don’t have a problem letting go:

  • When they are frustrated by other’s behavior, but have come to the realization that just yelling at people that “they can change and are just choosing not to” has been futile at best and counterproductive at worst.
  • When people see that their own behavior is caused and accept that willing themselves out of bad behaviors it isn’t likely to work.

So, the blamers are frustrated.  The credit seekers are frustrated.  But the acceptors are not only more serene, they are more likely to get the changes they seek as they explore the causal chain of behavior.

Apparently the Buddists have known this for a while…..  Well, Western culture figured out electricity first, and that’s pretty important too, so we shouldn’t blame ourselves……

UPDATE

Tom Clark of the Center for Naturalism reminded me that our behavior isn’t caused only by our genes – our environment, which includes all of our past, present, and future experiences, interacts with our genes and shapes us going forward.  So, the future has many possibilities, depending on every and all link in the causal chain.


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