Genetic Determinism

Many times in my life I have used genetics as a sort of determinism to limit my own potential. Certainly, there are things that I am genetically incapable of doing, but that list is much smaller than I usually realize. In a sense, saying I can’t do something because of biology (or society) can be an excuse for not trying, an easy way out of a hard situation. There is also a tendency to compare my abilities and potential to others and assume roles… for example, my brother is the artistic one, which means I’m not artistic.In a family of six kids we all kind of had unofficial roles and passions to help us stand out as individuals.

The areas of my life where I have used genetics as an excuse is varied.

  • I’ll never be comfortable with an open relationship because I’m naturally jealous or monogamous (I certainly overcame this one)
  • I’m naturally “stocky” and I will never have six-pack abs (Working on this now, I wanna get sexy for all the ladies and gents)
  • I’m just not a good artist
  • I’m not creative a person and creativity is something you’re born with (I actually don’t think that is true, I’m beginning to see creativity as a muscle to be exercised instead of a genetic trait like eye color)
  • I’m terrible with foreign languages and will never be fluent in one
  • I’m not musically talented and can’t sing or play an instrument
  • I’m not a good dancer
  • I’m not good at helping people who are mourning
  • I’m not a funny person

I am certainly never going to be the most talented person in any of those areas, but that doesn’t mean I should neglect them outright if they are areas that I truly want to grow in. Instead of using genetics as an excuse I need to be more honest with myself, and that means my weakness in those (and many other) areas generally falls into two categories: improving in them is very difficult or I’m not really interested in improving in those areas.

Roles, identities, and the things I love and hate (or are good or bad at) can provide me with direction and purpose in life, but I shouldn’t mistake them for who I actually am. I am someone who does economic analysis, but I am more than just an economist. I am someone who isn’t good at art, but I am more than just a bad artist. I am a person who enjoys being outside, but I am more than just an outdoorsman.

When I accept something as beyond my control and wrap my identity up in it, I abandon opportunities for improvement. Instead of seeing something as an area in which I can improve with hard work, I just surrender or; instead of seeing something as a subject that I genuinely don’t enjoy or have an interest in or see value in improving I act like a victim, “I would love to draw but I just don’t have the talent.”

7 thoughts on “Genetic Determinism

  1. Great post! I wrote my senior thesis on the issue of free will. I took a deterministic stance. I second guess myself almost every day and wonder if I’m limiting myself, or if it’s cop out from trying harder at life. But I also ask which scenario is truly more self-defeating: telling yourself you can’t? Or telling yourself you CAN only to learn, after working yourself to death, that you Truly cannot? Which scenario is more likely to lead to psychological state of learned helplessness? This I ask you!

    • I think, generally, you are more likely to have learned helplessness if you refuse to try. But, I think we need to have realistic goals, and that means having goals that are within our control. It is like the ancient Stoics (and many others) talked about, we only have control over a limited amount of things and we shouldn’t worry or concern ourselves with things outside of our control. It is unwise to stress out about things that we have no (or limited) influence over… which is really most things. People stress out over politics, how other people feel, or work stuff that is beyond their power. We should instead focus only on what we can actually control.

      If we use that foundation when setting our goals then I don’t think it can become helplessness. For example, instead of setting the goal of becoming a professional basketball star (which involves many, many things outside of my control) I set the goal of practicing daily and working hard to become the best basketball player I can then I am in control of my goals. I may fail, I may slack off and never reach my goal, but at least it was in my own control.

      At least for me, I’d rather set goals, try for them, and fail, then sit around and wonder if I could accomplish something but never try.

      • Wow I really like this. Figuring out what’s in our control, and setting realistic goals seems key. Basketball is a great example. The goal shouldn’t be to make the NBA, but to be the best shooter, dribbler, defender, etc. that you can be. I just thought of another idea, I’m gonna make another comment…

  2. Our new, industrialized, highly interconnected society is a big problem I think, because it’s at odds with the tribalist nature of the human organism. Specifically, our self-esteem plays a big price I think. Because for so many thousands of years, you knew maybe a few hundred other people and that was it. And the benefit of that is that you could become the best basketball player in your tribe (or whatever) and feel good about that. But now, the whole world is your stage – 7 Billion people. Suddenly, being the best basketball player in your neighborhood isn’t good enough anymore, it doesn’t impress you or your neighbors. Because everybody’s watching YouTube videos of the Harlem Globetrotters dribbling 4 balls at once, or Lebron James going up 12 feet into the air to block a shot. That’s the bar, and i bring that up because now adays it seems hard for people to set those realistic expectations and goals because our culture tells us, either overtly or subvertly, that “the world is your oyster” it’s up to you to use it to be the best. If you work hard enough you can be anything you want. But everyone wants to be Lebron James (or the equivalent in whatever profession). We all want to be the best in the world. And let’s face it, the best in the world are freaks of nature. End rant. Lol. Does make any sense to you? Can u relate? What was your major, by the way?

    • Our increasingly interconnected society is certainly a challenge and very different from what our species evolved to live in, but I think we can overcome our nature. There is a temptation to compare ourselves to everyone and to try and be the best, but we have the potential to be stronger than that temptation. For me, practices like meditation, religious ceremony, and having a close tribe make it easy to not compare myself to others. As Ryan Holiday discusses in his book of the same name, Ego is the Enemy. Our Ego, like many of the traits we evolved with are no longer necessary for survival, and they can actually prevent us from thriving. There are a variety of traits, ranging from how we store fat to our sexual drive to negative emotions like anger/jealousy/fear, that served a very necessary evolutionary function 10,000 years ago but are now harmful to our health. As cliche as it sounds, the only person we should measure against is ourselves. At least that’s my goal, to be the best “me” I can be and not really concern myself with other people (some days are easier than others).

      My major was Economics with a Poli Sci minor, but it’s been a while since I was in college. I generally spend my time educating myself on a wide variety of issues, including philosophy, spirituality, nutrition, psychology, science, and sexuality.

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