How much of who we are is based on our genetics? Way back in the 20th Century I had a professor, who today would be considered a racist, at the time he was not that exceptional in his opinions. He pointed out that it was genetics that led the East African’s to be exceptional long distant runners, or that it was genetics that led to some people being seven feet tall and wonderfully coordinated. Of course, this theory was carried on to say it was genetics that leads some races to be smarter than others. I remember sitting in class next to a Ugandan when he said this. I don’t think Michael really accepted the premise and although we’ve not kept in touch, I suspect he went on to prove the Professor wrong, for he was, in fact, a wonderfully intelligent student and gifted soccer player.
Clearly, genetic makeup plays a role in how our bodies form, our skeletons, organs, muscles and tissue develop and grow. It helps define the expectations for our nerves, or senses, and our central processing unit. It is a blue print, it establishes the basic design, it may account for unique abilities, deformities or susceptibilities, or even likelihoods for certain social outcomes, but it cannot account for all the various design modifications that occur in life.
For example, two friends grow up in the tenements of NYC, one goes on to become a surgeon, the other a drug dealer. Why?
When my son played football in Middle and High School, he had a peer with the potential to play at Division I, and perhaps go on to a professional career. He never reached his athletic potential due to the life choices he made. Why did he make poor choices?
Finally, what is it about the human spirit that will drive someone to an immediate short term gain in performance at the cost of his life? Lyle Alzado comes to mind as I write this. Would he have developed his brain cancer if he had not taken anabolic steroids? Lyle thought he would not when he said, “I started taking anabolic steroids in 1969 and never stopped. It was addicting, mentally addicting. Now I'm sick, and I'm scared. Ninety percent of the athletes I know are on the stuff. We're not born to be 300 lb (140 kg) or jump 30 ft (9.1 m). But all the time I was taking steroids, I knew they were making me play better. I became very violent on the field and off it. I did things only crazy people do. Once a guy sideswiped my car and I beat the hell out of him. Now look at me. My hair's gone, I wobble when I walk and have to hold on to someone for support, and I have trouble remembering things. My last wish? That no one else ever dies this way.” Lyle Alzado died May 14, 1982 at age 43.
These questions form the basis for my next and final question, but first some background on my opinions.
First, governments are impersonal. True they are made up of human beings, some quite personal and carrying, others perhaps not, but they govern by the creation of rules and regulations. Fit the square peg in the square hole, fit the round peg in the round hole. For the most part they gain influence by providing money, so people have begun to consider them as they would any rich relative, but they are not. We can go to the government seeking money for whatever we believe to be our need, but what happens when our individual, or minority collective desires out-pace the funds the government has available to pay? At some point someone is disappointed and ultimately there will come a reckoning as more and more of the available funds are used to pay the interest payments for those funds we borrow to keep everyone happy.
Next, those who believe in bigger government would have you believe government creates wealth. It does not. It takes a share of the wealth created by enterprise and spends it on a variety of programs. If the money is spent wisely, it protects the nation, builds a sustainable infrastructure, and advances human knowledge so more wealth is created. Some will question the lack in this short list of social welfare, and attribute it to a lack of concern on my part. I can assure you that is not the case. The purpose of our government is, in the words of the founders, [to] “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” I believe the social welfare programs, including those created in the Roosevelt era like Social Security, those created in the Johnson era like Medicare, and all the rest our Representatives and President have created fall within the ever-expanding category of infrastructure. As noted in the link for welfare, today’s use of the term does not match the use at the time our Constitution was written. Also, not envisioned at the time of our founding was the role of government in the sciences. At that time, science was the purview of the individuals or their benefactors and most governments focused on the problems of today, not tomorrow. Along the way we have come to realize as a nation the need for the government to further the advancement of mankind’s understanding of the world and universe we are a part of.
Third, governments are amoral. They reflect the consensus of citizens, government officials (e.g. police and fire, administrators, employees), judges, and politicians. It cannot establish a moral code for the individual, it can only enforce, through the threat or actual use of force, the whims of the state as manifest by its rules and regulations. If one part of government chooses to ignore those rules and regulations, or apply them unevenly, it will set up a condition where the equilibrium of the state is upset and conflict in government, or between government and the individual is created. We have seen this manifest for as long as I can remember. First in the treatment of the minorities, escalating to a point today where the force of the government is used against political opposition.
Finally, educators may influence individual morality but they are, for the most part, inconsistent since each individual brings their personal views into play, and during early development this inconsistency is as likely as not to simply confuse the child. Where the government creates an expectation for educators to shape the moral code of a generation we see such inconsistency playing out in confusion and loss of individual identity.
Here is my question: At the end of the day what shapes the lives of those who succeed despite adversity, or conversely, what is missing from those who settle for their lot in life and a sense there is no hope?