The chemicals that are sloshing round your brain at any one moment profoundly affect how you feel or behave. Low levels of serotonin (the
neurotransmitter influenced by antidepressants such as Prozac) are associated with depression, and high ones with violence. Levels are sensitive to one's social status, which may be why both problems are more common among poor people (yet another reason to create equal societies -- see Love, Empowerment and Social Justice by Tim Root and The Impact of Inequality by Richard Wilkinson). But hard evidence is now emerging that genes may play a part.
A recent study found that people with certain genetic variants are more likely to have low serotonin -- but only if they were stressed. Poor people with the variant were at greater risk of low serotonin, but not rich ones, suggesting that the stress of being strapped for cash fulfils that genetic potentiality. Interestingly, overall, the poor were no more likely to have the genetic variant than the rich, giving the lie to the idea that the poor have dodgy genes -- a kind of genetic sludge at the bottom of the gene and
The plot thickens when you take the impact of child-rearing into account. In a series of studies in New Zealand, adult depression, violence and heavy cannabis use were shown to be about twice as likely if the dodgy genetic variant was combined with maltreatment as a child. Conversely (and very surprisingly to me), if you had variant-free genes, severe maltreatment did not increase your
likelihood of problems.
This finding was recently replicated, in some respects, suggesting there is something to it. However, there remains a major reason for
scepticism. If genes are so important when combined with adverse environments, why are there huge
fluctuations in the prevalence of most emotional problems, like depression and violence? Since it takes millennia for genetic change to occur in a population, genes could not be the cause of these variations. In Britain, violence against the person has increased
45-fold since 1950.
Equally, there can be dramatic drops in the amount of violence that can have nothing to do with genes: rates of homicide in America have almost halved since 1993.
`Bit of both', nature-nurture exponents would argue that it just goes to show that dodgy genes only get expressed if environments activate them. But that could not explain such huge changes. Far more probable is that genetic vulnerability explains none of a 45-fold change in such a short period -- that an awful lot of people with no genetic susceptibility are made, rather than born, violent or non-violent, depending on their society.
Even if it emerges that genes are always involved to some degree, one of the most striking implications of such studies is that emotionally benign
environments are crucial: if you want the minimum of depression or violence, they make an overwhelming case for having a minimum of poor people and abusive parents, rather than societies making tiny minorities super-rich.
African-American entertainer Dooley appeared on local television show Super Entourage (小明星大跟班) a few weeks ago and was told by the crew that they wanted to do a skit in blackface. Dooley, whose real name is Matthew Candler, tells the Taipei Times that Super Entourage wanted to perform a rendition of the wildly popular “Ghana Coffin Dance,” a meme that has taken the world by storm. Instead, he showed them videos about the racist origins of blackface and slavery in America, and they agreed to drop the makeup. “[I told them] about the history [behind blackface] and [said] you decide
June 1 to June 7 In February 1988, Robert Wu (吳清友) set aside NT$17.5 million to purchase two Henry Moore sculptures from London’s Marlborough Gallery. He never bought the pieces. Feeling slighted that the gallery manager initially looked down on him as a Taiwanese, he decided that night to use the money to open his own art space back home. “Without selling any art, that money could support the gallery for four years. If I feature one artist per month, that provides a stage for at least 100 artists,” Wu said in the book Eslite Time (誠品時光) by Lin Ching-yi (林靜宜).
With listicles of local attractions including Costco and numerous children’s playgrounds, I was not expecting much. Opened on Jan. 31, the Taipei MRT’s Circular Line, or Yellow Line, made life in the nation’s capital even more convenient. But judging from Internet search results, it hasn’t opened up many new tourism opportunities, unsurprising as the route mostly crosses densely populated areas and industrial parks. Places like a sports stadium with rainbow colored bleachers perfect for Instagram selfies wouldn’t do it for me either, and it’s pointless to list attractions at the connecting stops that have existed for years. As a history nerd, there
The morning after the ride, my hands ached in a way I’d never before experienced, and my palms looked slightly bruised. Flexing my fingers as I waited for my coffee to cool down, I knew exactly which part of the previous day’s excursion had done this to me. As the go-to-work rush hour ebbed, I’d set off inland on my 125cc scooter. I took Provincial Highway 20 as far as Tainan City’s Yujing District (玉井). From there, I took Provincial Highway 3 into Nansi District (楠西). The route I’d planned would take me past the eastern side of Zengwen Reservoir (曾文水庫)