"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

Let's between us make the world a better place.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Startling New Thinking? Epigenetics and Social Healing

Waiting for my car to be fixed and browsing last weekend's papers, a review in The Times caught my eye by David Aaronovitch of the recent book At the Edge of Uncertainty: 11 Discoveries Taking Science by Surprise by Michael Brooks. Actually it was the headline "Feeling Sick? Blame it on the Ancestors" that caught my attention with the promise of "startling new thinking" and the apparent revelation that events in our past could affect the way genes behave and our present day circumstances; our physical or mental health for example.
This field of "epigenetics" is far from simple or straightforward, and of course our understanding of such things continues to develop as I write. But this is not such a new idea as to warrant the label "startling new thinking." Whatever the exact mechanism involved, we have known for some time that who we are and how we behave as adults is not only a combination of our inherited gene and possibly also our meme makeup, but we are also affected by subsequent influences in our upbringing and our experiences as we develop through childhood and beyond. This is at least part of what is meant when we talk about ‘nature versus nurture’.
I became interested in this subject when I started research for my first book, Healing This Wounded Earth, and found the article by Judith Thompson and James O’Dea in Shift, the magazine of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, or IONS, in Issue 7, May 2005: ‘Social Healing for a Fractured World; a Summary Report to the Fetzer Institute.’ This is a very important document in the context of how we address and transform the collective wounds of the world's population and the implications for social healing, and it was a huge influence and encouragement for me in drawing together the chapters for my own book, endorsing my own thinking. As the authors pointed out, we do indeed pick up mental wounds from the collective experiences of our ancestors, as well as our inherited physical characteristics, and the unhealed wounds of mankind inflicted through millennia of evolution by strife and violence and disaster mean that hundreds of millions of people are psychologically, emotionally and physically scarred and wounded and in need of healing. It has even been suggested by some psychologists, they go on to say, that ‘human culture as a whole has been saturated by unhealed wounding, which, if unchecked, will continue on a downward spiral toward inevitable disintegration.’ Now that is a frightening thought, and we need some healing on a huge scale. And day by day as more and more horrors of war and strife unfold on our screens the wounds in that pool of humanity multiply relentlessly.
I havn't read Brooks' book yet, but Aaronovitch's review implies that epigenetics is only referred to in a fun and fascinating context, linking place of birth with health risks for example. I am far more fascinated in the implications of all of this to our behavioral patterns and how they impact the future of our world; the world that our children and grandchildren will inherit. Because it is clear that wounds manifest themselves in many different and undesirable personality and behavioral traits. We see greed and envy, craving for love and attention, consumerism, lust for power, superiority, violence, overspending, addictions to work and substances, depression, cynicism, despair. As Thompson and O'Dea conclude, "transitioning from violence and massive social wounding to building peaceful and just futures is no easy journey; the complexity lies in finding the balance between truth, justice, peace, and mercy. All of these are necessities for healing and none can be ignored." Definitely!

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