Red Winged Black Bird on a fence post in a field.

The Gangster Gene


Category: philosophies

This can't possibly end well. A Florida State University study linked a particular gene to participation in gangs and use of weapons in violence. (You can read the ABC News article here.) This story makes me cringe.

Don't get me wrong, I love science, and research like this can help solve social ills. The abuse of this research causes problems. As the folks involved say in the article, the gene only shows an increased susceptibility to joining gangs, but actually joining involves environmental factors and personal responsibility. The bad guys will drop that last part.

Who would misuse such information?

To start, people being prosecuted for gang activity will misuse it. This is the most stupid form of misuse. The defendant may claim that he has a genetic predisposition to be involved. Though this seems like a cry for leniency, it really tells a court that he can't help himself and is therefore likely to continue the illegal activity. It brings to mind the "angry, black male" defense of years past where a defendant claimed he couldn't help it because society had made him that way, to which the other side responded, "If that's true, we have to look at all black males as a threat and take them out now." To that, the supporters of the "angry, blank male" defense said, "Uh, we'll get back to you."

The second group poses a greater threat. We have a huge problem with radical racists groups in this country and in the rest of the world. Here in the United States, a large number of gang members are blank or Hispanic, despite the fact that these groups are minorities. The white supremacists groups will grab this research and use it to say that non-whites are genetically driven to be criminals and must therefore be wiped out as a defensive measure. This ignores the fact that joining a white supremacist group is effectively the same as joining a gang even if it's not the first thing that pops into the mind of the middle-class, white American.

The way this information helps, in the right hands, is to guide those who may be at greatest risk. If you are, for example, an inner city youth with the gene that makes you want to join up, let's get you signed up in the Police Youth Auxiliary so that you can feel that you belong. Alternately, there is always Junior Reserve Officer's Training Corps. When you finish, you can join the military as an officer where you will have health care for the rest of your life and will start out earning as much money as many college professors. The whole point of JROTC is to help youth be better citizens.

Knowing how these things work, though, I really expect the bad guys to use this information more than the good guys do. When the good guys do it, they have to ask for funding, but the bad guys rant all they want without formal approval. The good guys have to face the whackos and nuts who think the good guys are up to no good. The bad guys are whackos and nuts who are up to no good. Still, science is good and we need to keep pursuing the boundaries of knowledge.

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