Tuesday, June 14, 2005


Scientists working in labs with male prairie voles have recently discovered that at least certain aspects of social behavior (i.e. possibly all of it) are due to the vagaries of "junk" DNA (DNA whose function is unknown to scientists). They have not yet gone so far as to designate such behavior 'junk behavior' (scientists tend to be rather shy in their claims), but I figure it's an inevitable offshoot of DNA research, so I've gone ahead and named it just so we can move forward with the concept.

We laymen know junk behavior when we see it, and we see it all the time: on streetcorners, in supermarkets, on the freeways, you name it, it's a long list. We know junk behavior like we know junk food and junk tv. But now science has found a seminal DNA basis for it all – admittedly only in male prairie voles, but it's a beginning - and given it a very colloquial name. It's about time there was a scientific foundation for this vast concept, mere seed though it may be at the moment.

But what does this imminent revelation portend for society at large? We all engage in junk behavior at some point in our lives – mostly in our earlier years, thank goodness - and if we're paying attention, we learn the difference and aim for quality behavior later in life; that's what education and personal development are all about. However, the older we get the more apparent it becomes that there are large cadres of people in society who don't make the transition; their entire lives seem to comprise junk behavior. Many of the most prominent are in media, business and politics, fields that, given the nature of power, offer little incentive toward quality behavior development.

And knowing that it might be DNA that's at fault - and not a personal lack of scruples or integrity - could tend to aggravate junk DNA-rooted societal problems down the line. Entire populaces might begin serially electing junk leaders, for example. Other parts of our junk DNA may yet evolve to save us, but the final results are not yet in; so for our own good, let's keep an eye on those prairie voles.

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