Mean Genes
From Sex to Money to Food – Taming Our Primal Instincts

Authors: Terry Burnham and Jay Phelan
Perseus Publishing June, 2000

The authors are a couple of youthful professors: Burnham, an economics professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and Phelan, a professor of biology at UCLA. The book is endorsed by the celebrated sociologist, E.O. Wilson.

The authors introduce the book with the sentence, "Consider this book an owner's manual for your brain." This is a light self help book that runs contrary to those light psycho-babble books that suggest that people trust their inner-child. Its message is that humanity should not trust its impulses. That they should not is apparent in looking back across the ages at the barbarity of people of a great variety of creeds. It is also apparent to people who have grown and realized that they were mistaken in some of their choices.

Mean Genes works it way through the impulse to spend and to get into debt, how to prosper amid temptations that commercial interests throw your way. The book describes the way our brain is set up to be attracted to artificial stimulants that we should avoid, the impulse to eat when we should be limiting our food intake, and the craving for excitement that leads us to take unnecessary risks. Our "thrill seeking genes," they write, are "taking us for a ride" and our sexual impulses are getting us into trouble with our spouses.

The authors describe genetic influence on our interpretations of physical beauty in others. Genetically, they conclude, we are still cave men and women living in ultramodern homes. But we can, if we apply self-discipline and make choices based on learning.

The authors could have added another impulse to combat: being seduced by fake drama. This includes soap operas and other formula presentations that merely massage our emotions and waste our time. There is enough real-life drama or good representations of real-life to respond to.

Copyright © 2007-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.