Is it all about biology?

Is what all about biology? Is everything about people and, therefore about society, really explainable in terms of biology or genetics? That’s the question of the day.

The basic idea is this: Everything we do reflects a biological urge to eat, protect our children, avoid danger, or reproduce. Because society is really the sum of everything people do, society is really formed and guided by the same biological forces.

I’ll leave the dissertation on the complexities of human society for someone who needs a dissertation topic. The real point of this post is to tell you about the origins of biological thinking, the costs of this sort of thinking, and the benefits. Look for this pattern to be repeated when I blog about religion, science, morals, economics, social order, individualism, and nature.

Fixation on biology as the cause of everything comes from three sources. First, we all have an inherent need to simplify things. Simple, biological or genetic explanations do seem to work in many cases. Second, science is replacing religion/magic/superstittion as a general way of explaining the world. Anything genetic or biological that sounds plausible tends to be taken seriously. Thirdly, there really is abundant evidence that genetics and random biological variations in the brain influence much of our behavior.

So, what does all this biological thinking cost us anyway? Focusing on biology and genetics costs us in three ways:

1. Dehumanization – We suspect that other people really  exist to serve our reproductive needs and we treat them this way. Using people for money and sex is tolerated becuase its "natural"; crime and adultery increase. Reason and planning are replaced with biolgical urges. Why do women strut around in fashion shows? To display their fitness to reproduce. (Real explanation from some TV show!) Why do people like to watch contortionists like those amazing Chinese acrobats? To see body parts (presumable penises and vaginas) that are not ordinarily on display. (Again, that’s a real explanation.)

2. Misguided social policy – Working on a simple genetic or biological solution to a problem wastes money and time!

3. Opportunity costs – We could be spending our time and money on policies that have a firmer scientific foundation.

Finally, consider who benefits from the simplistic biological view of human behavior. The drug companies benefit by selling us pills to fix our problems. Need energy, more sleep,  less stress? Take a pill and everything will be better. Or, take lots of pills. Don’t worry, the drug companies will make more! Also, scientists and doctors feel more important because they are "in control" of the biological means to fix what’s wrong with us.

Simplistic biological thinking has a huge psychological benefit. People also feel better because they have an explanation for the way things are. They feel that they understand things and can control them. Religious explanations for things serve the same purpose. People hate to get sick and die because of some mindless and random event; they feel better if their suffering seems to be part of a divine plan to help humanity.

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~ by chetdavis on July 22, 2006.

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