Genetics and $700 bn Bailouts

<p>As I write this, the United States Congress is busy deciding whether or not to spend upwards of $700 million to &ldquo;rescue&rdquo; Wall Street from its binge of bad investments and corporate greed. For some reason, I&rsquo;m reminded of a television news clip I saw a few years ago, when Enron collapsed. A high level executive with his hands cuffed, was being helped into a police car. A more perfect example of an American male could not be found&mdash;his perfect dark suit, purple silk tie, and $300 hair cut. The man was staring directly at the camera. I will never forget the look on his face. It was not a look of anger or surprise that he was in that situation. He seemed to be beyond that. It might just have been me, but what I saw in that man&rsquo;s face was a deeply felt question, perhaps &ldquo;what was missing from my life that let me believe in such a skewed vision of reality?&rdquo;&nbsp;<br /> <br /> That vision of reality may be a uniquely American idea that encourages profits and economic growth regardless of the damage to public health and safety, the environment, human rights, or the dignity of people. How did this happen? <br /> <br /> In his book, American Mania, Peter Whybrow attempts to understand the stress of modern Americans living over-programmed, highly consumptive lives. He refers to the fact that many modern Americans have descended from a small group of ancestors with a greater frequency for the &ldquo;exploratory and novelty seeking D4-7 allele&rdquo; in the dopamine receptor system of the brain. Modern research suggests that of all humans who have ever lived only 2 percent traveled more than 50 miles beyond the place they were born. Those 2 percent may have the D4-7 allele in common. <br /> <br /> From an evolutionary biology perspective, this makes sense. Our earliest ancestors lived by hunting and gathering in small, extended family communities in which everyone played their unique and necessary role. I imagine them staying in one place as long as they could find the plants and animals they needed to stay strong and healthy. I imagine that just when food became scarce one of the group who&rsquo;d been gone a few days, came back with information about a new much more abundant place, less than a day&rsquo;s walk away. This explorer may have been driven by the D4-7 allele. This allele, then, may have been a factor contributing to our survival as a species. <br /> <br /> Testing shows that the D4-7 allele appears at a greater frequency in modern Americans who have descended from Europeans, all of whom travelled many more than 50 miles from where they were born. Whybrow believes that our obsession with &lsquo;reward&rsquo; is heightened in America where, compared to where they came from, our immigrant ancestors found what seemed like unlimited opportunities. Today, this obsession with rewards (wealth!) might be a factor not only in believing that our individual needs trump those of our community, but also in masking any internal ethical responses in certain individuals, which they now justify by their belief that &ldquo;the market will take care of it.&rdquo; <br /> <br /> The D4-7 allele in a small percentage of humans may be another illustration of the need to more fully understand our evolutionary foundation. Hopefully this will help us avoid the problems associated with the fact that the lives we were designed to live are very different from those we&rsquo;re living. Also, we should take comfort from this, knowing that deep inside each of us is a biological force with one goal: to pass life on to the future. <br /> <br /> <br /> <em>Brooke Williams is a conservationist and writer living in Jackson, Wyoming and Castle Valley, Utah.</em></p>