After almost three decades and 20 billion dollars in funding for genetics research and so-called neuropsychiatry, we’ve learned exactly nothing that is clinically useful.
At the same time, there have been many clinically identifiable consequences resulting from this seemingly never-ending elusive mission:
- A sense of helplessness and hopelessness for those who believe that they are genetically destined to become addicted to alcohol, trapped in psychosis, depressed for “no reason,” a criminal, a Jets fan, etc.
- Blaming the body instead while often ignoring the horrors of the world and/or the need to change our lives
- Allowing for the scapegoating of the poor little gene so that those in power never have to worry about losing said power.
Perhaps most excitingly, it has also resulted in amazing capitalistic opportunities beyond just the world of academia…
Need a New Pair of Genes? On Sale Now for Only $499!
In one of the latest examples of profiteering from the gene fad, there is now an app to determine your personal level of gayness. This is not a joke.
For about the same price as a Starbucks latte, one can take their genetic data (supplied by 23andme for your convenience if you’d like), upload it, and BAM! You’ll be placed along a gradient of gay.
No matter the fact that the study upon which this app is based determined that across half a million subjects, at most 25% of sexuality could be explained by genetics. So, at least ¾ of who you are attracted to has to do with a bazillion other factors besides your genes. But such facts would not make for a nice app.
Let’s definitely not consider the tyrannical regimes that determine homosexuality a crime deserving of the death penalty. Do not wonder how easy it would be for a government official to grab a sample of your saliva and determine you gay. Then kill you. Legally. No, whatever you do, ignore this reality — someone’s making money off an app!
Soon they’ll have one to determine your level of schizophrenia, too!
Sure, the best studies to date looking for genetic associations to the category of schizophrenia find a link that might explain about .25 to 2% of the variance in the population (i.e., it explains nothing). But researchers who “know” that “schizophrenia” is clearly genetic won’t let that stop them.
The most recent exciting headline has announced that researchers have finally found real biomarkers to diagnose schizophrenia! And it can be done through a simple hair sample!
Wow! What a headline!
I mean, once one reads on to the nitty gritty silly little details, it seems that this was really about a “subtype” of schizophrenia never before identified, that the tests done on real humans rather than mice were done postmortem (and therefore on people who had been on decades of psychiatric drugs and who knows what else), that the researchers themselves determined that the likely root cause was early inflammatory stress in childhood (*cough* trauma/stress), and that the altered gene expressions were epigenetic (*coughing fit* environmentally caused *dies coughing*).
But, hey, what’s a little bit of nuance or science when it comes to making a name for yourself?
The President of the United States has even suggested that “neurobehavioral” technology can predict mass shootings. Alternative facts have now become our new reality. What a great day and age for Silicon Valley!
It’s only a matter of time before there is an online section of Amazon offering new and improved genes for all who 23andme determines to be less than ideal. Personalized ads based on your genetic code!
Healthy Stock Only Please
In the early 20th century, academic scholars, philanthropists, and liberal governments were also very excited about research coming out of a blossoming field of study. It was called eugenics.
In brief, eugenics was a field that was determined to create a master race, free from idiocy, poverty, criminality, color, and non-Christians. The Nazis didn’t invent this. Psychologists did for the most part.
Eugenics researchers amassed an enormous amount of work detailing all the ways in which those perceived as flawed in some way were shown to be of defective stock. Eugenics was also based on research from horses and peas.
After WWII, and Hitler, understandably such research was frowned upon. Eventually, however, organizations and groups under this umbrella rebranded. The new acceptable line of study became known as the field of genetics (note: not all genetics research is bad).
Which leaves us where we are today.
Researchers have now embraced the idea that PTSD is a heritable disease with a genetic base. A recent study has claimed to have actually found the loci of the genetic risk! This exciting new finding explains up to a whopping 5-20% of variation across tens of thousands of people. In other words, once again, it means absolutely nothing. At least according to scientists who actually care about truth and, um, science. But, hey, who needs nuance or, say, empathy. Nay, we can now celebrate our newfound proof that even PTSD is a result of defective stock!
US military officials may be having a heart attack en masse with the sheer excitement of it all. Training men and women to become killing machines and then balking when they cannot just revert to the domesticated drone that is many a modern-day citizen is a US military specialty. Now, they have psychological science on their side!
The soldier is not haunted to his very soul by death, cruelty, injustice, terror; nope, he clearly has faulty coding in his brain and soon we’ll have just the pill to fix it.
And, of course, such research doesn’t just affect veterans. The wider population of trauma survivors are also included.
Oh, how abusers across the globe must be getting their party hats on!
The girl subjected to many years of sexual abuse is not wounded to her core by violations, gaslighting, deathly fear; negatory, she is of inherently faulty design passed down through her substandard bloodline for being upset or untrusting or haunted by her past.
Bow Down to the Science Gods
Make no mistake: this is about the religion of scientism, not about science.
The ideological quest for the genetic underpinnings of supposedly un-understandable phenomena such as hearing voices, atypical beliefs, and altered states is one based on faith, not fact. To give the benefit of the doubt, acknowledging the horrors of the world and how our lifestyles unjustly affect, at random, people (and other animals) is terrifying. Feeling helpless in the face of existential dread is intolerable.
But, this is not an excuse.
With the ever-increasing evidence of trauma and its innumerable aftereffects, it is becoming increasingly impossible to ignore.
It seems, though, that if we can no longer deny the traumatic origin of such experiences, then instead we must still blame someone or something so as not to feel helpless or at the mercy of the random chaos of the world. And the religion of geneticism appears to dictate that any reaction to trauma that is not some variation of “get over it” is a result of a defect in the phantasmal gene.
Pull Those Darned Boot Straps Up Already
“What’s the matter? Why are you still upset about [murder, rape, child abuse, chronic oppression]? Get over it already.”
That’s the sentiment of much of Western society and internalized by survivors of tragedy. And these beliefs only serve to further solidify self-hatred and pain.
Perhaps a study needs to be developed to search for the faulty gene variations that result in a complete lack of compassion. Or the gene that makes people worship money and success. Or the gene that causes people to function just fine in the face of horror and go on as if nothing ever happened. Perhaps we can create an app for that.
The thing is, these gene studies show little, if any, identifiable pathway between genes and the numerous traits and behaviors suggested to be caused by our wiring. Even E. Fuller Torrey, star disciple of the medical model, has called the Human Genome Project, aptly, “a dud.”
It is downright frightening where this stuff will lead us.
I Want Off This Ride
If newspapers and other outlets started placing “studies” and apps and other nonsense in their entertainment sections right alongside the horoscopes, then perhaps this would all be fine. Everyone’s entitled to their beliefs, right? Well, unless your beliefs involve aliens, the CIA, or wanting fairness and compassion in the world. Those beliefs can be found in your hair as a result of your coding.
The problem with taking these ideological proclamations as fact is that people are suffering, even dying. Politicians argue for increasingly restrictive policies and scapegoating those deemed “mentally ill” for violence. Suicide rates continue to increase, particularly for our supposedly respected veterans. We have skyrocketing rates of substance abuse and depression. The opioid epidemic.
Will this train stop before it crashes and burns and flies right off the side of a mountain into the fiery pits of molten lava?
“Pickle!” “Pickle!” It’s a safe word. I’m screaming it at the rooftops. “Pickle!” I forfeit. Get me off this train. Just please, please make it stop.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.