English essay #3
Can Health Science Contribute to War Deterrence?
Most of all readers of this article must have been heartbroken by the news of the Russian invasion of Ukraine over the past few months. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are trapped in cities that have been indiscriminately bombed and destroyed in what can only be described as a genocidal invasion.
In the past, however, “kill-them-all” was not uncommon. There have been repeated killings and revenge at the borders of tribes, ethnic groups, or groups with different religions and beliefs. In the midst of such repeated conflicts, those people have saved the world by learning the wisdom of coexistence, including South African President Nelson Mandela, for example, who endured 27 years of incarceration, overcame his grudges, and broke down racism.
To understand how people like Mandela are born and raised, a psychological hypothesis knows as Maslow’s pyramid, may be remembered, Maslow’s pyramid begins at birth with the world of the mother and infant at the bottom, moves to the world of the family, then to the world of devotion within a limited society (tribe, nation, etc.), and culminates in a spiritual world that seeks self-realization in harmony with the wider environment on the top.
Although Maslow’s hypothesis is more intuitive than scientific, findings that support it are emerging from the life sciences, particularly in the field of epigenetics.
Without going into the details of epigenetics, it can be likened to the study of processes that determine when and how each of the tens of thousands of proteins in the body, as well as the cell types that produce those proteins, such as liver cells and bone cells, are produced, and when they are to be stopped, respectively. These processes are established mostly during embryonic life and childhood, but they are also modified somewhat as a result of life circumstances in adulthood.
The main reality of the epigenetic process is to produce the pattern of chemical modifications of some molecules that occur on the DNA molecules, and we know that this pattern is inherited from cell to cell, if slightly modified, even when a cell undertakes divisions and multiplications throughout the lifetime.
The hypothesis of epigenetic inheritance of mental growth holds that the mental joys and successes of childhood, or conversely the pains of fear and abuse, are inscribed on genes through an epigenetic mechanism, leading to lifelong traits of courage and love, or conversely to temperament such as reticence, self-injury, or aggression.
Records show that both Russia and Ukraine have experienced their share of genocide in the past 100 years. For example, Stalin-era Russia robbed Ukrainian farmers of their produce, resulting in over 3 million deaths from starvation (Holodomor), while the German invasion of Russia during World War II resulted in the deaths of over 20 million people, including many who starved to death as a result of siege operations in cities.
Despite these past experiences, many people in both countries have been raised with love and have developed a noble spirit to overcome their resentments and live in a world of harmony. But there may be some whose spiritual growth has been stifled by an ingrained distrust and fear of each other and who have failed to climb up Maslow’s pyramid, remaining in an undeveloped spiritual world where loyalty to a limited national society is a justification.
This may explain the dominant role of a special sector of the government and the difficulty of even past presidents in reforming the paranoia and cruelty that leads to murdering opponents and obliterating whole cities and population.
In the end, if life sciences can be a deterrent in this battle, it may be to rescue the Ukrainian children who are now in intense pain from the cycle of hatred and raise them to bring about a steady spiritual growth. If there is a postnatal heredity at work there, then not only the social environment, but also the nutritional and pharmaceutical environment must play a role.
It is a long-winded story, but I believe that health science can make a significant contribution in order to break free from the never-ending cycle of war.
Presented by Toshi Matsumura, Ph.D. Health and Science Crossroad (hascross, a science café) Yokohama, Japan
Originally presented in Japanese in hascross Newsletter No.32, 20220403