Published:  12:00 AM, 27 May 2016

Taming the violent gene

Taming the violent gene

Whenever I read or remember Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, I am filled with an uncanny feeling, which flings me into a distant thought. I neither slide into the feminist argument of the critics of modern days nor glide onto the realities of family relationship in the sixteenth century English society. I rather grasp 'shrew' as the symbol of seamy side of human nature and apply a deeper meaning to the plot. The shrew resides in our bone and contradicts us in all our efforts of wellbeing. Our mission in life is to tame that naughty spirit and elevate ourselves to our good stature. The shrew leaves no stone unturned to make our life turbulent. Only by chaining the beast in our heart, we can make our life free of anxiety. Life becomes peaceful with the total disappearance of the shrew from the scene or its transformation into an obliged agent of service for harmony.
Shrew may be equated with violence. Many scientists believe that there is a genetic basis of our behavioral pattern. Our emotional behavior-laughing, weeping, loving, hating-all may be attributed to the genome structure. Why some people behave kindly while some others cruelly may have something to do with genes in human body. Why some people think positively and some others negatively asks for a genetic explanation. The social theory of behavior brings all to 'nurture', claiming that a person's process of upbringing in society determines how he/she will behave. Even admitting this claim, one can go deep into the 'nature' of one's personality and find out the factors hidden in genetic constitution that might function within the physiological system to influence psychological reality in a tangible way. A particular type of behavior may correspond to a particular gene.
The social scientists would argue that human beings are naturally selfish so they behave in a selfish way. They live in an egocentric world as 'ego' forms the basis of their existence. 'Self' comes first and then 'others'. They act to satisfy their self in the first place and serve others' interests as a secondary urge. This essential selfishness of human nature points to an internal drive, triggered by a specific gene, which the genetic scientists would call 'the selfish gene'. In his book The Selfish Gene (1976), Richard Dawkins made it a point to explain cultural evolution. The world of the selfish gene revolves around savage competition, ruthless exploitation and abominable deceit, though it is often counteracted by the urge of peaceful coexistence with other organisms for the sake of its own survival, making a way for greater accord in society and nature.
If by any means genotype is responsible for human selfish behavior, there might be gene responsible for human violent behavior. Humans are violent by nature, as has been pointed out by many philosophers, latest by Karen Armstrong (the writer of Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence, 2014). If it is a universal truth, we cannot but admit that there is something in their nature that makes them violent. We look around us, and we will witness various kinds of violence perpetrated by people. They will insult and rebuke others to derive a vicarious pleasure. They will blow, kick and club others in a fit of savagery. They will hurl bombs and even blast themselves in a bid to kill others. They will strike others with a sharp weapon to make them bloody. All bloody instances of violence! These are simply the outbursts of sinister impulse coming out of genetic activation. The heat of hatred is emitted by the gene inside, hidden from our ordinary view. The flame often remains subdued but with the stimulus of environmental complexity, it leaps up with its red hellish tongue, out to lick life to death. The world is helpless when the conflagration rages on.
Is it possible to identify the violent gene, at all, in the microscopic world of double helix? I think it is possible. From the breakthrough of genetic mapping, the scientists can spot the particular area of genetic string responsible for the violent behavior, manifest as a destructive force. The implication for such a discovery will be far-reaching. We will look forward to genetic engineering to suppress or remove the violent gene to make humans completely non-violent. We will develop an advanced pharmaceutical industry. One day just with a certain dose of drug, we will get rid of the disease of 'violence', an internal curse externally disturbing. Anti-violence vaccination campaign would be organized around the world for the neonates on a regular basis, so that they will be resistant to the roughish temperament and grow up with healthy physical and mental traits. They will grow up to love rather than hate others. They will fulfill the altruistic purpose of living and become a benevolent species. Probably they will become 'superhuman', with higher moral values, as pronounced much ago by Friedrich Nietzsche and George Bernard Shaw.  If it happens, it will be a revolution in the history of human development.
Presumably, we also have a dormant gene of 'composure' as opposed to the noxious gene of violence. The former is positive and the latter is negative. They reside side by side as arch enemies. One way to neutralize the negative gene is to arouse and boost up the function of the positive one. That is what we are constantly trying with the apparatus of formal and social education, which embodies a lesson of goodness. Children are taught the norms of being polite and gentle, not harming others for any reason. We may hope, with the continuous exercise of invocating virtue rather than vice, for centuries and millennia, a mutation will eventually occur somewhere in our gene pool at some juncture of future course. That will be a great leap in our evolutionary streak, making us a harmless creature, on a plane of higher spiritual consciousness. It is a slow process and an alternative to genetic treatment, though; it is the last chance of our attaining higher goals.
Our ultimate goal will be to drive out all evil debris from the makeup of human body and mind. It is a cleansing operation for our uplift as a spiritual being. The genes of anger, greed, envy and hatred will be identified and rooted out through revolution if not through an evolutionary process. Violence renders us abjectly mean as a species, pushing to individual and collective extermination. We will make our genes of 'love' dominant, giving it a greater role in leading our life. We will conquer our feeling of antipathy with sympathy. Compassion will be established as the basic principle of life. From the shadow of mortality will rise a divine glow, making us worthy of the term 'man', a holy creature!

(The writer is Director, Daffodil Institute of Languages (DIL), and Associate Professor, Department of English, Daffodil International University)

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