On a phrase I’m tired of hearing
“I’m genetically wired to do X”
Increasingly, I am hearing this as an explanation for behavior on news programs. A reporter asks an expert, why is this happening. The expert says, “Well, we’re genetically wired to do this.” So far, I’ve learned from various news reports that I’m genetically wired to be nervous when others are nervous, to be selfish, to be sexually promiscuous, to like chocolate, to lack courage, to be spiritual, to be thankful, to think my children are superior to others, etc. It’s all very overwhelming, and I have come to believe that if there is anything that we are genetically wired to do, it may be to come up with explanations for things that begin with the phrase “We’re genetically wired.” If I understand evolutionary theory at all – and I’m not sure that I do – you’re not supposed to say that because a thing is, it is therefore the best solution possible. (For more on this read Gould’s excellent essay on the Panda’s thumb here. In addition to his excellent prose style, he has the added advantage of being an atheist and therefore knows a lot about how God works.) That is, the story does not necessarily have to be:
Once upon a time there were all sorts of men. Some were always faithful to their wives, some were unfaithful only on Tuesdays, and some cheated on their wives every time it started raining because they water tickled them in a special way, and some of them had 1003 liaisons in Spain alone. The wind blew for a billion years and all that was left was that guy who had been hanging out in Spain. That’s why last Tuesday when it started raining, I couldn’t help myself.
It seems very much like the existentialists critique of early Freudian terminology. At least the way it is used in the popular press, “I’m genetically wired” has simply come to mean, “It’s not my fault because”.
There is also the possibility that I’m genetically wired not to like genetically wired explanations for things. If that is the case, I can only assume that after the wind continues blowing for another billion years, my kind will thankfully work its way out of the system. Worse, it could be that people that are genetically wired to write essays about being genetically wired have the evolutionary advantage.