Monday, 27 June 2016

Could your genes make you racist ?

A  frightening awakening

The shocking result of the EU referendum has left remainers weeping in their pillows, the pound falling down the stairs and the xenophobic standing tall and proud. Politics has been truly shaken at its heart with the prime minister resigning and economic emotions flying high with no where to land.

One side effect of the success of the leave campaign has seen an emphatic spread of 'hate crime' and xenophobic outbreaks towards the Muslim, Polish and foreign community. I can only assume those who hold such dire and inhuman views believe that because a slight majority voted for leave it somehow justifies their actions towards benevolent, tax paying and culturally diverse citizens.

Racist graffiti was observed on the front entrance of the Polish Social and Cultural Association (POSK) in Hammersmith which is a direct act of hate crime.

This recent spout of such acts has been encouraged by Brexit but the hate and despise of immigrants and people of differing culture and ethnicity has been bubbling in many Brits minds for years. This is merely an opportune moment to strike. The leave campaign, whilst not explicitly promoting racism, has re-triggered the emotions and motives of many racist groups and in this sense it has been an absolute devastation in terms of dividing Britain.

Polish people have been migrating to the UK since world war II and Polish is the third most common language spoken here in Britain. I went to school with many Polish children and they have integrated within many communities very well, their stores and food becoming ever more popular with typical 'British' people.

The classic thing to say is that many working class people believe their future labour is being snatched away by immigrants and the like, they assert that immigrants should be put second place to them on the job market even if they are more hard working and cheaper labour. However many racist people do not just hate one single community of people, say just Polish or Muslim, but any community which differs to theirs. It seems to extend beyond jobs, fear of terrorism or religion but towards an innate hatred to that which is different to them.

Is there something...  biological going on here?

The Gene hath you by thy neck

Genes provide the instructions for proteins which dictate how your body develops and how it functions. They are the main stars in the show known as evolution and we are merely the vehicles, carrying them on generation after generation.

Now anything your genes instruct (to produce your phenotype) has been selected over great expanses of time, so the behaviours and biological make up of humans must serve a purpose to help propel genes into further generations. We can ask whether there would be any obvious advantages to having a gene, or collection thereof, which encourages a human to stick with other humans who look like it and who come from the same territory. 

If someone has the same skin tone as you and was born in the same place as you it is more than likely that they share more genes with you than say, a dark outsider. This means if you were to protect those who are physically more like you etc. from competing outsiders then similar genes will be more likely to be passed on to the next generation. This makes quite a lot of sense in terms of selfish genes. 

Potentially the selection mechanism for this wouldn't have to be extremely strong, maybe it was enough only to have genes which share resources with similar humans and protect them from danger in particular... it doesn't necessarily have to encourage the hunting of different humans.

Maybe the wide spreading of xenophobia and racism around the world is based upon a common inherited 'racist' gene. Obviously not everyone has this potential gene expressed in them as we see tolerant and multicultural societies existing in our modern world... but maybe because this gene was suppressed by other genetic factors? The environment? Or modern ideologies overriding genetic dispositions?

We can surely question the selective advantage of such a gene, if it were to exist. I proposed early that it may be advantageous for humans to protect those who are physically similar to them, in case they share the same genes. This would, in theory, increase the copies of that gene in the next generation. 

If we consider a small community who only breeds with themselves, under the influence of this said gene, then they will eventually become inbred and increase homozygotsity within cells (duplicate alleles of the gene present). There have been numerous reports of birth defects, learning difficulties and weakened defences of the inbred. 

These defects would surely put the human at a disadvantage in terms of producing offspring, whether it struggles to survive in order to mate or simply it is not sexually attractive, hence those genes will become less frequent within the gene pool.

There is growing evidence that intermixing i.e. interracial breeding which produces heterozygotsity within the cell increases parasite, disease and other harmful disorder resistance  (Professor Bill Amos - Cambridge) also a trait which produces more symmetrical facial structures occurs more in mixed raced adults (Dr Mark Shriver - Penn State).  In fact, many of us find humans of the opposite or same sex attractive solely because they are different... there seems to be a genetic advantage in this view too.

So there could potentially be a gene which protects those similar to oneself however the selective advantages are not convincing and it cannot explain how waves of racist people arise in modern societies, it surely must be something cultural not entirely, if at all, based on genes. Genes can encourage aggression, intelligence and many other things but something like xenophobia and nationalism is surely a cultural phenomenon and we must therefore bring in the right technical Cavalry. 

What do you meme it's me? 

Drawing analogies with the gene, the meme is the cultural unit in which a new form of evolution acts upon. Memes can be considered to be ideas, literal internet memes, snippets of music, art, isms and fashion accessories. Anything that can be imitated and copied by other humans acts as a meme. 

To illustrate the concept quickly just imagine 4 people on the tube, one starts humming a coldplay song, the other hums too but messes up a few times and the others copy him and so forth. The small errors in imitation lead to mutations of that meme. This means memes get passed on (like genes), have variation (like genes) and instruct (like genes) .... all this necessitates a selection process.

Now back to racism. Think of our modern and complex culture as a huge ensemble of memes living in subsystems called meme-pools which consist of memes competing with each other to be copied from human brain to brain. Now maybe it is possible that ideas based on xenophobia, while seemingly created by radical politicians from history etc. , have in fact evolved (in a meme-like fashion) so as to manipulate human brains to copy it.

The idea instructing its brain to be hostile of foreign ideas and values in such a way as to protect itself and fellow cooperating memes such as fundamentalist religion, right wing politics, fascism and nationalism. The idea manipulates the human into sharing it for its own survival without seemingly benefiting those who believe it.

This would mean racism is not innate but acquired through different forms of imitation and it is spread culturally. Memes arising from tolerance, reason and inclusion directly pose a competitive threat these xenophobic memes and hence a clash occurs (we are obviously in the midst of such a clash now). 

Thinking in terms of memes and culture this way is very different to how we normally think of things, it could offer a unique and potentially scientifically interesting perspective into how cultural trends and political movements work. Also it could offer an explanation to how many people acquire ideas and how ideas seem to take control of them, making them do acts which do not directly benefit them economically or in terms of passing their genes on.

It could be a mixture of genetic dispositions and memes taking advantage of these, two distinct replicators manipulating humans for their own endeavour. Only future advancements in understanding many-human-systems, genetics and even memetics will lead to more specific and clear answers to these interesting questions.

All I can say is this...   multiculturalism and the diversification of ethnicity and language brings great benefits to societies in terms of  advancement in knowledge, peace and genetic prosperity. 



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