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January 14, 2013

Longevity and Resentment

On Friday, I will be 81, an age equated with longevity in many parts of the world, but now being attained quite often in industrialized nations, particularly among segments of the population with a modicum of wealth. To what extent is longevity genetic and to what extent is it a result of individual behavior? Although we now know a lot more about the science of aging, there is still a lot to learn about both the old "nature versus nurture argument," especially as it relates to our individual genomes and the specific environment we happen to be born into. What I have learned about behavior from the unique opportunity Richard Nixon provided me with to study “criminal” drug use in California, has given me a chance to add considerable new information to what was already known.

Of course, having that information believed is another matter. We have many modern examples of people who came up with good ideas that were eventually accepted; Galileo and Newton are among my favorite examples.

Then there were men with bad ideas that were widely believed for a while. Some even had enormous influence, only to be discredited. Adolph Hitler and Richard Nixon are both good examples. Since they lived during my own lifetime, I am able to compare personal memories from direct experience based on their voices and physical images. My memories of both remain intensely negative, but the opportunity to have heard and seen both during life, together with the chance to analyze their impact on today's world has been incredibly more informative than similar impressions of more remote cnaracters like George Washington or Attila the Hun.

The quality Nixon and Hitler had in abundance was clearly resentment, an emotion I've come to recognize as one of the most destructive any human can express. In other words, to the extent a bright, charismatic male is able to project resentment in ways that influence his contemporaries (it’s almost always a man- more on that later), he can become very dangerous indeed.

In that connection, also consider how voice amplification and moving images have influenced history. Would Hitler have had the same impact on German behavior without a microphone and Leni Reifenstahl’s marvelous directorial skills?

Would the Japanese have behaved the same way in World War Two, absent their quasi-religious belief in the idea that surrender to an enemy was so disgraceful that suicide becomes the only acceptable way to atone for it?

That such firmly held beliefs became the basis for the inhuman behavior exhibited by two otherwise improbable allies in World War Two is undeniable.

It would also be absurd to believe that the US, which had become a true melting pot for shared genomes after our successful rebellion against British rule in the late Eighteenth Century had been somehow immunized against similar resentments by that experience.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at January 14, 2013 05:42 PM