Propensión Cultural, Greta Struminger, Knome, 23andMe, Steve Pinker, Nir Barzilai, determinismo genético, determinismo genético vs cultura, servicios de decodificación del genoma, predisposición a la vida o a la muerte, genética orientada al consumidor, teorías de neurociencia cognitiva, Cultural propensity, genetic determinsm, genetic determinism vs culture, consumer genetics, cognitive neurosciences theories, genome decoding services, predisposition to life or death, My Genome My Self Steven Pinker The New York Times, Can a DNA test show whether your child will be a sporting star? Peta Bee Times Online, The Genetics of Job Choice Scott Shane The American, Don't worry about your health if you want to see 100 Stephen Adams The Telegraph, Genes predict living beyond 100 Victoria Gill BBC, Longevity: do you have long-life genes? Victoria Lambert The Telegraph.
“We have entered the era of consumer genetics. At one end of the price range you can get a complete sequence and analysis of your genome from Knome (often pronounced “know me”) for $99,500. At the other you can get a sample of traits, disease risks and ancestry data from 23andMe for $399,” says psychologist Steve Pinker to exemplify the point both genetic studies and its practical application have reached. Already into the 21st century, what people had only dared to imagine as sci-fi material, is now a reality not only concrete but even marketable.
For those who were seeking a comfortable haven for the conscience which would allow them to dodge the responsibility for taking control of their own lives, these are good times -why make the effort if genes already announce what is to come?
The widespread belief -widespread to the point it has become part of common sense- that the main cause of conditions such as hypertension, obesity or cancer is some strange genetic inheritance, combined with the already well-known “unhealthy habits”, gives carte blanche to the promotion of “light” ways of conceiving one’s own ways of acting. These weak stands are very much related to typical discourses of the likes of "if it's not X, it is Y", and concomitantly walk side by side with cognitive neurosciences theories which propose the mind is preconfigured and responds to innate tendencies.
The already mentioned genome decoding services, together with others which, for instance, expect to reveal beforehand whether a child will be a sporting star or what kind of job he or she will choose, set one thinking about the current state of our predisposition towards transformative action. Our approval of this kind of information unveils a state of corrosion at the bottom of man's very conception of himself. Far from considering the different aspects which make him a whole as equal and complementary, man make some of these aspects prevail over others (the biological field over the behavioural, for example), thus damaging the innovative ability that derives from assuming oneself as a responsible agent.
But the phenomenon does not end with business initiatives: the very core of the academic community is also producing shallow discourses, such as that of Nir Barzilai, who says that “centenarians can live 'unhealthy' lifestyles and get away with it”. In this way, by extending to all humankind conclusions based upon a study carried out on people born between 95 and 112 years ago -whose environment and living conditions were completely different from ours-, Barzilai creates interpretations which are seductive but also imprudently backed up.
At the same time, the press plays a special role in encouraging this kind of simplistic readings by publishing scientific articles of mediocre quality with little accuracy yet pompous headings such as "Genes predict living beyond 100", or "Longevity: do you have long-life genes?".
What is more striking about the whole issue is that it originates in science. Man, in his eagerness to transcend immanence, uses this tool to get to understand and affect his surrounding world -what else could scientific curiosity be?-, and ends up legitimizing, under the label of “conducted by scientific method”, certain kinds of advances which threaten the very spirit that started the motion.
The development of genetics, in different disciplines but especially in medicine, has been like any other in the history of science. A fortuitous or intuitive discovery starts gaining strength in the light of one out of two basic prerogatives: the facts appearing to confirm the phenomenon’s certainty; or the phenomenon’s content being so precious that, in spite of reversals in the investigation and possible limitations, it continues to be explored -its potential helps it remain in the agenda.
It is the second prerogative we are interested in -the directly proportional relation between the desirability of a discovery and the emphasis laid on its development-, especially in reference to two specific questions: what is it in our culture that makes that discovery so alluring and, at the same time, what kind of impact can it have on our culture? Without questioning the truth behind these developments, what we look for is to understand its effects on the complex bond among individual, health, sickness and longevity. But also to find what kind of discursive and informative manipulation is being ubiquitously exerted with these discoveries -manipulation which is in part responsible for the general state of our culture.
This whole scenario exemplifies how the dynamics of creation and perpetuation of the central culture works: various different agents are its accomplices, and they conspire to promote a kind of discourse and practice akin to its basic presumptions. General public naive fascination with this kind of phenomena and its uncritical acceptance of certain information are at the same time cause and consequence of this media exposition.
This combination of factors does nothing but to create an ascending spiral of arguments which suggest that reality, from every perspective and in its various aspects, is predetermined and therefore cannot be changed. This is a dangerous course of thought because it promotes fantasizing and inaction, attitudes upon which the current state of affair’s survival is based.
All those who suspect that a predisposition towards life or death is cultural and not genetic not only have the basic capital to build a longer, more sustainable life but also can train their capacity to rethink culture from its basis and make decisions regarding their adherence to any tendency it wants to impose on them.