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Proactive epigenesis: upbringing and education as a method of epigenetic fixation of non-violence


As we know, the human brain has certain innate dispositions, including a disposition to violence inhibition. However, although humans are neurobiologically predisposed to certain values, it is very important to take into account the influence of culture and society. In this case, we should consider epigenetic mechanisms that play an important role in how the structure of the brain develops in response to ethical and social norms. This can greatly help us with the problem of how to eradicate violence from human relationships.

To begin with, it is worth briefly considering what epigenetics is. This branch of genetics studies changes in gene activity during cell growth and division, that is, changes in protein synthesis caused by mechanisms that do not change the DNA structure itself. Such changes can persist during cell division and even be inherited, but this heredity is temporary and is not passed for more than several generations. From an evolutionary point of view, this is a mechanism for creating temporary adaptations to temporary changes in environmental conditions. A good example of this is a study that found that the grandsons (but not granddaughters) of men who went through a famine in Sweden in the 19th century were less prone to cardiovascular disease but more prone to diabetes[1]. It is also known that factors such as stress, hunger, and environmental temperature that affect the mother during pregnancy determine the epigenetics of the child. However, it is worth noting that, unlike mutations, epigenetic changes are reversible.

Understanding the epigenetic influence on human development has led some researchers to the idea of such a concept of upbringing and education of children as proactive epigenesis. This idea suggests that the moral education of children from kindergarten onwards should rely on an understanding of how human neurophysiology works and how it interacts with cultural and social influences. It is also necessary to understand that inspiring models and gentle encouragement have a strong positive effect, while violence, for example, corporal punishment, can seriously harm a child[2]. And for a better understanding of this idea, we should consider in more detail some of its points.

Based on it, if new cultural patterns, such as a better ability to control aggression, become epigenetically fixed in our brains, then more peaceful societies might hopefully develop. However, it is doubtful that they can be accepted in a society in which the inhabitants' nature is in conflict with them. It is unlikely that societies that encourage violence will be able to stabilize non-violent traits. The solution to this is the use of special education programs for many generations, which, in any case, will have a positive impact.

We should add that there is definitely no conflict with the biological nature of humans in an education aimed against violence since humans are naturally predisposed precisely to the inhibition of violence. Although the real problem may be authoritarian governments in some countries that normalize violence as an acceptable, if not necessary, tool in the control of public order.

Also, the idea of proactive epigenesis in itself does not say which particular neurophysiological mechanisms should be paid attention to in the formation of educational programs. But it is obvious that, first of all, it is important for us to be familiar with the theory of the violence inhibition mechanism, based on which we can connect the innate disposition to inhibition of violence with the serotonergic system, as well as the genes and proteins that affect its function[3][4]. For example, we can consider the MAOA gene. As one study shows, it mediates the impact of abuse in childhood on violent behavior in adulthood. Compared to the more stable carriers of the high-activity variant of this gene, carriers of its low-activity variant are exposed to certain risks. Maltreatment makes them 4 times more likely to commit violent crimes. However, under normal treatment, they do not become more violent than carriers of the high-activity variant[5].

The idea of proactive epigenesis involves the search for some universal ethical norm that must be fixed epigenetically. But, again, it is not clearly stated what kind of norm it should be, although in general, the idea is about creating a non-violent society. Ethics can be a subject of heated debate, so it is important for us to define some sort of minimum standard that everyone can actually agree on, and non-violence is just that. Moreover, the presence in a human of an innate violence inhibitor points to this norm as a natural part of human behavior, while many other norms can already be more a product of culture and environment. So, the question of a universal ethical norm can already be considered solved.

The problem that the idea of human biological enhancement has negative connotations associated with its use by some dictatorships to create a society predominantly populated by “good citizens” or “racially pure citizens” can also be considered solved. We understand that such formulations can be determined by a long list of claims coming from the subjective opinion of authorities. The norm of non-violence is the minimum possible norm, it is already inherent in the vast majority of people from birth, and the ability to easily commit violence due to violence inhibitor dysfunction can be clearly defined as a pathology and mental disorder. The caution called for by the researchers who put forward the idea of proactive epigenesis is already provided in the norm of non-violence; the main thing is not to go beyond it and not add any other norms, which is what dictators have always done in practice. The norm of non-violence is a sufficient norm to achieve a better society.

Finally, they are also cautious about the idea of drug and gene therapy to treat the problem of violence because of a lack of understanding of the effects of this on the functioning of the human brain. Of course, based on the available research and the concept of the violence inhibitor, we can see great promise for this approach, especially given that dysfunction of the violence inhibitor is a pathology and therefore needs to be treated. But nothing prevents the development of both ideas in parallel. While there are no reliable and effective therapeutic solutions to the problem of violence, it can be mitigated by proactive epigenesis, which is a more cautious solution. Also, keep in mind that epigenetic influences can be temporary and reversible, so we cannot drop the search for a more effective therapeutic approach.

Proactive epigenesis is a great idea for those who would like to change society in a better, more non-violent direction through social methods and especially through upbringing and educating children. Anyone who does or plans to do this should better study human neurophysiology and become familiar with the specifics of the violence inhibition mechanism. If you get a good understanding of what an individual needs in order to experience inner resistance to violence and be able to show empathy, your efforts will definitely not be in vain.

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1) Pembrey, M. E., Bygren, L. O., Kaati, G., Edvinsson, S., Northstone, K., Sjöström, M., Golding, J. (2006). Sex-specific, male-line transgenerational responses in humans. Eur J Hum Genet. Feb;14(2):159-66. doi:10.1038/sj.ejhg.5201538
2) Evers, K., Changeux, J.-P. (2016). Proactive epigenesis and ethical innovation: A neuronal hypothesis for the genesis of ethical rules. EMBO reports, Vol 17, No 10. doi:10.15252/embr.201642783
3) Blair, R. J. R. (1995). A cognitive developmental approach to morality: investigating the psychopath. Cognition 57, 1-29. doi:10.1016/0010-0277(95)00676-p
4) Siegel, J. Z., Crockett, M. J. (2013). How serotonin shapes moral judgment and behavior. Ann N Y Acad Sci. Sep;1299(1):42-51. doi:10.1111/nyas.12229
5) Caspi, A. et al. (2002). Role of Genotype in the Cycle of Violence in Maltreated Children. Science, 297(5582), 851–854. doi:10.1126/science.1072290
Last modified: 2024/05/09 01:14 by Volunto

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