Nature reports this week there is confirmation of — A Ruthless Geneproving our previously argued theory of a guilty ovum and a bad seed is, indeed, true.


Nature reveals:

Selfish dictators may owe their behaviour partly to their genes,
according to a study that claims to have found a genetic link to
ruthlessness. The study might help to explain the money-grabbing
tendencies of those with a Machiavellian streak — from national
dictators down to ‘little Hitlers’ found in workplaces the world over.

If ruthlessness is genetic, and not a behavioral choice, should we consider its induction in our lives — in the form of cruel bosses and angry better halves — and its employment in throughout history in charismatic leaders like Hitler and Charles Manson — as something to be admired or is it a problem in need of punishing?

Are ruthless people broken — or merely living up to genetically coded predestiny?

If we think ruthlessness is a bad gene to propagate — should those with that dangerous disposition be protected under the law as disabled and incapable of behaving otherwise because ruthlessness is who they were built to become and one can never overcome their destiny?

Or is being ruthless a spigot one consciously turns on and off for self-preserving evolutionary advancement?

56 Comments

  1. Hi David,
    If I agree “ruthlessness” is genetic and not a “choice” then every “ruthless”person’s offspring should be the same.
    Is it the case?
    I think even if the case is genetic – these people are aware of it and use it very calculatively.

  2. Are there degrees of ruthlessness, Katha? Or are they all bound to do whatever they wish to get ahead? If ruthlessness is genetic — should ruthless people be allowed to reproduce? Do we want to encourage the propagation of “bad genes” in our societal pool?

  3. I would like to posit that ruthlessness can be a good thing if used well. Traits can be used for the good and bad – you can smother someone with love and you can ruthlessly ensure that an environmental organization gets its message out.
    It used to be said that people born under certain planetary influences (Mars, I think) were destined to shed blood – but they wouldn’t have to be killers. People who schect animals (kosher ritual slaughter) also shed blood, as well as the people who perform the bris milah – the circumcision. Their “destiny” does not have to be so black and white. 🙂

  4. In the field of mental health, we might label this a personality disorder and it’s recognized not a whole lot you can do about a predispostion to ruthlessness.
    Gordon, I’m not sure if the “ruthlessness” you speak of is actually ruthlessness or tenacity.
    I think there’s a difference there.

  5. Your coarse comment surprises me, Gordon! Oxford defines “ruthless” as “having or showing no pity or compassion for others.” Is that ever a good thing? It seems like the primary requirement for becoming a sociopath.

  6. Are personality disorders provided ADA protection, Donna? I agree with you, our sweet Gordon has gone off his rocker and into the rocks with his new support for the ruthless! SMILE! Perhaps… he is discovering… a new gene therapy routine…

  7. I have to admit that’s a tough cookie to crack, David. The idea that there is a possibility that someone could be entirely without redemption, so to speak, is bothersome. Surely ruthlessness must have a good side as well – most dark things in the universe have light sides to them.
    Sorry – didn’t mean to be coarse! Hope my new glasses will fix that. 🙂

  8. I have to say we certainly don’t like you in your new glasses, Gordon, because it seems now you can actually read what you’re reading. Heh!
    Well, to follow your argument, Hitler loved dogs and Manson loves tattoos — does that mean they should live and do as they wish? If we could’ve recognized their ruthless gene in the womb — should they have been killed in foetal to save lives after their birth?

  9. Ah but no glasses yet – so maybe that’s what’s blinding me to the obvious. 🙂
    I think the key would be to guide these maniacs in the right path, if it would have been possible. Could Hitler have become a ruthless leader of the Red Cross, saving millions instead of killing?
    More likely, you are right. However, not even Doctor Who, when confronted with an incubator full of infants that would soon become the Daleks could bring himself to kill them all. He knew they had no future but to become a despicable race of killers yet he could not do it to them.

  10. Well that explains it — you’re trying to see things without your new glasses and your computer screen isn’t cooperating. But, by definition of the word, Gordon, a “ruthless” person would never go into the Red Cross. Is Doctor Who a real person or an imaginary ideal? If you start quoting Visual Basic Bear, I’m coming for you…
    If we could identify a killer in the womb, wouldn’t be doing society a great service by not letting the monster even take a first breath?

  11. Well, Gordon, in order to play along, we have to believe this new “ruthless” gene means Hitler and not someone who just bumps you down the subway stairs.
    And your in foetal decision is… ?

  12. We have all known about your ruthless streak for quite some time, Gordon. Now that you’ve come to terms with it, we need to figure out a way to squeeze it out of you — without using stuffed bears or a magic robe of invisibility…
    We are glad you have agreed to end the murderer’s chance to kill — and we are not ruthless for agreeing with you. We are “scientific.”

  13. Oh and I might have had to use that slight touch of ruthlessness had it not been for the fact that my dear friend Elizabeth is the one that is working at the eye doctor where I am getting my glasses and that it’s the fault of the company that sent the glasses with the wrong prescription that I won’t get my glasses until tomorrow evening. Alas. Having a good friend still meant I saved a couple of bucks on the anti-reflective coating so it’s okay. 🙂

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  15. We are happy to see you blaming Elizabeth, Gordon, because part of the “ruthless gene” identity is to expose the tender parts of innocent parties. We fully support anti-reflectivity, but we do not support your disappointment in any way.

  16. Gordon–I also find it very difficult to accept that a person could be entirely without redemption. And I like how you are trying to turn ruthlessness into a strength! But the means will never justify the end in my opinion.
    These ruthless folks also tend to have very poor insight into their own behavior and by definition they’ll run over anyone in their way.
    David–I don’t know about ADA protection, but they might have a darn good case for filing Social Security disability with a diagnosed personality disorder or perhaps some other diagnosis in the DSM-IV manual!

  17. David!
    If indeed there is a ruthless gene then we should invest our energies in finding scientific ways to neutralize it. We’re already doing it with our genetic predispositions to major illnesses.

  18. That’s an interesting argument, Dananjay, but is it possible to remove the very lifeforce of the ruthless? Without that genetic disposition to guide them, what’s left of them?

  19. David,
    most of us get along very well without it. does being ruthless give you an advantage in the real world? of course, most hierarchical systems are loaded in the favour of the ruthless who get rewarded in the currency of that system and that sets an example for others who figure, like every good soldier, that to be ruthless must be good because it gets rewarded. those who are not born with it have it thrust upon them.
    i don’t know if it is possible, but what kind of world would require you to locate your lifeforce in your ruthlessness without recourse to any other qualities that you may possess? so many people learn to get along without their body parts, major organs or sensory apparatus. it can’t be tougher than any of those disabilities.

  20. But the argument the scientists are making, Dananjay, is that the ruthless gene is there instead of the normal gene or the nice gene so if you remove it you’re left with nothingness and there’s no way to replace that genetic trait yet — we can only identify it.
    If we term ruthlessness a disability — then we’re in for a world of hurt because they can gain equal access, demand legal protections and get special treatment all while continuing “to be” who they were born to be.

  21. David!
    I guess like everything else in nature it’s probably there for a reason. and we must always be chary of undoing what nature has done.
    but i did not term ruthlessness a disability – it is anything but – what i meant was if that ruthless gene could in some way be deactivated without any other debilitating side-effect then these people should be able to learn to get along without it.

  22. That makes sense, Dananjay. I would argue that ruthlessness is a disability, but one that goes beyond the personal and into the wider “danger to society.” Do we mark the ruthless gene as a “terroristic threat” and let the FBI deal with the infant births by sending them to Guantanamo Bay instead of the cradle?

  23. David,
    i don’t think it is impossible for individuals to overcome their genetic pre-destiny – if there is such a thing. some of our most inspiring and outstanding are those who’ve done exactly that.
    i think the answer lies in nurture. isn’t the whole point of the accumulated wealth of wisdom that is contained within our cultures and history and other shared experiences, to help us learn from – and work on – the flaws that we are all heir to in some way or the other?

  24. Yes, Dananjay, in theory that’s just how we’re supposed to belong to each other — but there are some children who, for some genetic reason, are unreachable. We’ve seen killers of privilege be used as debased as cruel to their victims as those who had no schooling and lived in poverty on a farm.

  25. I’ve never studied Hitler or Manson or Dahmer.
    But I’d bet good money that each of these figures had a horrific childhood! There’s no way that these monsters just happen via gene!
    No way!
    In my line of work I usually find that anyone with long-standing mental issues has some major traumatic childhood experience–physical abuse, sexual abuse, child of the system. They usually can rise above if there’s at least one caring adult involved in their life.
    So, I’m not entirely buying the ruthless gene …

  26. Have you seen the long interview with Dahmer’s parents on the Bio channel, Donna? It is quite fascinating because both of his parents are well-educated intellectuals and they’ve been very open about how their son was raised. They are as wondering and confused about him as we are.
    His parents say there was a tendency toward the macabre in his childhood, but they feel a surgery he had when he was young poisoned him in some way and that he was never the same again. Anesthesia is a horrible and powerful thing — of this I know — and it isn’t outside the realm of possibility that his brain was adversely affected, or even “ruthlessly” triggered, by traumatic hernia repair during surgery.
    http://www.crimelibrary.com/serial_killers/notorious/dahmer/14.html

  27. I had heard that he had a very normal upbringing, but I’ve never really delved into it, David. Talk about dark.
    Anything involving the brain whether it be head trauma, surgery, or in this case anesthesia can have dramatic effects on personality, functioning, and judgment. Birth trauma is another problem. All of these can cause biological/neurological problems in functioning and judgment.
    So, again not supported by the gene or bad seed theory.
    If this is truly the case about the anesthesia, very sad indeed!
    Well, it’s sad no matter how you look at it–

  28. You’re absolutely right, Donna! Darkness is all around us and there are terrible things that can happen in the unknowable void. I am always amazed at the people who elect to have surgery and get general anesthesia on repeated occasions. They have no clue what they’re risking.

  29. Hi David,
    I don’t believe that any child is completely lost, i would consider it a failure of those reaching out than blame a child for being unreachable.
    i didn’t mean to equate nurture with schooling or privilege. a child – like Donna said – with one caring adult is good enough.
    and yes, while nurture doesn’t have all the answers it’s probably our only hope.

  30. That’s the thing isn’t it David!
    Why should we make it happen? Who decides? And with whose mandate?
    Genetic engineering that helps an individual infant overcome its susceptibility to diseases is fair use. Because that would involve the decisions of those who have the child’s best interests in mind.
    But to institutionalize it in the name of the greater good of society is grave injustice. and inhuman because it would mean that the society has lost hope.

  31. No court of justice will buy an argument that a person committed a crime because he or she was genetically predestined to do exactly that. and with good reason.
    there is no gene that controls our free will. We are not slaves to our biochemistry. i can be stuffed with the ruthless gene running amok through my system, but it will work only in my self-interest. that makes me culpable.

  32. As it stands now, Dananjay, no court will convict or prove innocent based on genes testing but — like fingerprints and DNA before — one day, a genetic pre-disposition for ruthlessness and killing may be just enough to legally mandate the end of a life before the killings begin.

  33. David,
    in that case, all it’ll take is for one person with the faulty gene to live a full life without committing any serious offense to make sure that such a thing will never come to pass.

  34. Is one enough, Dananjay, if, through DNA research, there is a scientific predilection that indicates throughout history that genetic marker means murderer more than the preservation of life? Every scientific study includes anomalies and outliers. It’s the weighting of the evidence that becomes dangerous and indicting against the marked, but unlived and unproven.

  35. Dananjay! Isn’t that the beauty of annihilating the ruthless gene in foetal? You’d never have to worry about the odd outlier because everything would be zeroed out.

  36. David!
    A predilection to murder doesn’t tend to run in families! and genes don’t appear out of nowhere. anecdotal evidence is enough proof that there is no gene for ruthless murderers. ruthlessness, maybe. and that ruthlessness can exist without manifesting itself in such extreme forms.
    and in the end even these people will suffer either publicly or privately within themselves. there is no escaping that.

  37. David!
    A predilection to murder doesn’t tend to run in families! and genes don’t appear out of nowhere. anecdotal evidence is enough proof that there is no gene for ruthless murderers. ruthlessness, maybe. and that ruthlessness can exist without manifesting itself in such extreme forms.
    and in the end even these people will suffer either publicly or privately within themselves. there is no escaping that.

  38. But how do you deal with the sociopath personality, Dananjay?

    Oxford:
    a person with a personality disorder manifesting itself in extreme antisocial attitudes and behavior and a lack of conscience.

    The ruthless gene would require a certain amount of the sociopath personality disorder, don’t you think? There would be no regret or suffering whatsoever in any of these killers.
    Here’s the BTK — Bind, Torture, Kill — murder and he still has no regret or suffering:
    http://www.crimelibrary.com/serial_killers/unsolved/btk/index_1.html

  39. Yes David!
    that gene combined with a sociopathic personality would make high crime a distinct possibility. by itself the gene is not sufficient cause.

  40. But you’d have a sociopathic personality caused by that ruthless gene, wouldn’t you, Dananjay? Without the gene, the personality isn’t created.

  41. David!
    How do we know that? personality isn’t formed only by our genes. there can be sociopaths without that gene. and the causal link between the gene and the crime becomes suspect.

  42. You’re right we can have all sorts of sociopathic personalities, Dananjay — I’m just wondering if the ruthless gene creates that personality by default? It seems like sociopathtc would be a prerequisite for ruthless because otherwise you’d bee too ashamed of your behavior to truly be ruthless.

  43. That’s a great link, Donna, thanks! I am fascinated how some believe environment forms killers more than genetics. Environments are so variable that they are convenient enemies for those wishing to pin blame on the bad behavior of a murderer — but there are many loveless and unloved people who pick up a knife and begin killing.

  44. No, David!
    Both cruelty and anger can stem from various stimuli. anger can often be just fear or insecurity inverted upon itself. it can even come from a valid and genuine response to injustice. also anger is just an emotion and can sometimes even be the driving force behind positive actions just as much as it can be the cause for cruelty.

  45. Yes, orphanages are breeding grounds for producing loveless children. If babies are left crying and uncared for they eventually stop crying and stop caring. So no surprise about a child like Richard Sonnen. This phenomenon is called attachment disorder. It’s very difficult to treat and requires intensive therapies.
    If someone–anyone–had held that baby, attended to basic needs, it might have been a different story. Who knows what kind of prenatal care the biological mother had. That plays a huge role as well in development.
    God bless this young man and his mother!