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Monday, 10 March 2014

Societies in Decline

Students of the wider sweep of history are very acutely aware, I suspect, of the manner in which societies - and their attendent cultural forms and influences - rise and decline. Sometimes they are violently overthrown and even eradicated by a more aggressive neighbour. Egypt versus the Hittites, Hittites versus the Assyrians, Babylon versus Assyria, Persia versus Babylon, Greece (Macedonia) versus Persia, Rome versus Greece, versus the Carthaginians, and so on. Along the way there is often an element of 'ethnic cleansing' - Rome's Punic Wars against Carthage, and their suppression of the Etruscan civilisation, spring immediately to mind - but that is the tip of the iceberg.

In the Far East there is a similar pattern of rise and fall of societies and cultures, each one weakening one society, often by simply killing off all males. There is evidence that this happened in Britain once the Angles and Saxons began a serious settlement invasion. Recent reading I have been doing on the subject of genetics and genetic diseases suggests, for me, a possible explanation as to why we are seeing an increasing number of genetic defects in the world's populations, and why, in some groups, we seem to be seeing a form of 'regression' physically and mentally. I must stress that I am NOT a geneticist. I have NO qualification in that field and I know only what I can access online, in paper journals and books on the subject. So what I think can be dismissed by those with far more knowledge as "speculation" - but I would hope that someone, somewhere, will be kind enough to consider this, and perhaps explain to me why I am wrong - or why I'm right.

Many now accept that western society is in decline. We have lost our competitive edge as the business phrase is, and our taste for military adventures. Our response to threats such as that posed by Iran or Mr Putin's Russia, is to retreat into hand-wringing appeals to their 'better nature' and launch into a flurry of 'diplomatic activity' and horse trading until someone, somewhere, can emerge waving a bit of paper and proclaiming "peace in our time". A century ago, we'd have sent a Fleet and bombarded someone until they saw our point of view. And that is part of the problem I am about to raise. Each of those 'little' wars culled sections of the human gene pool. Until the so-called Great War of 1914 - 1919, the numbers were actually quite limited - assuming one ignores things like the French losing 10,000 of their nobility at Agincourt, or Napoleon's loss of 100,000 men retreating from Moscow. In the Great War, however, all the European nations and their colonies threw the cream of their genetic pool into the trenches and carried out a cull of it on an industrial scale.

Then we repeated the folly barely twenty years later - and this time involved the rest of the world. Add to that, the Russian Bolshevik 'cull' now estimated at more than 30 million, and the Japanese 'cull' of Chinese in Manchuria and elsewhere (estimated at around 10 million), Mao's cull estimated at 100 million, and we have a stage set for a massive restriction in genetic diversity. The impact is probably most notable in the former British Colonies and Dominions since the "European" genetic pools in these countries was quite small, and their losses during the first and second World Wars disproportionately high. However, the Germans and their allies, and the Russians and their's suffered higher losses than everyone else in this conflict, and the French probably, in proportion, most of all. So why have we not seen the collapse of their populations before this?

Part of that answer is, I think, due to the fact that post 1945, their populations have grown, expanded and to some extent been replaced, by inward migration from all over Europe, and lately, from Africa and the Near East. The loss of genetic diversity among the 'native populations' has, to some extent been masked and the effects delayed by it. In Britain, where there has tended to be less 'mobility', I would suggest that the loss of genetic material has had a more visible and insidious effect. There has been a large increase - according to one source an above average increase, in the incidence of Multiple Schlerosis, Thyroid problems, Aspergers Syndrome, Parkinsons Disease and several other genetically caused disabilities. Given that we know it requires a minimum of 2.5 million people to provide the unrelated genetic diverstiy to prevent 'inbreeding' in any population and all the problems that causes (I'd love to know who the genius was that included the ban on marrying brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, cousins, etc., almost 3,000 years ago in the Bible), it does not take a genius to work out that a lot of this is down to 'bad genes'.

So where do they come from? Back we go to the 1914-19 and 1939 - 45 wars. All sides lost millions of young men. Young men at the height of their breeding capability, and at the point where the genetic material they carried was at its best. Then we subjected the survivors to diseases, to radiation, to chemicals and a range of conditions, stresses and diets guaranteed to cause genetic damage - and now we reap the results.

OK, so I'm not an expert. I'm not a biologist, and I'm certainly not a geneticist, but the more I read on this, the more I realise we have a serious problem. That we have compounded it by interfering in the process of 'natural selection' as well, just makes it worse. Who cannot be moved by the grief of parents who have a child whose only hope of survival at birth is a total replacement of all its organs? (There was a case of this a while ago where the NHS was sued to force them to provide it for a desparately ill baby) What does it actually achieve, given that the reason is the child's genetic blueprint is loaded with defects?

Yes, the World Population has exploded and expanded since 1945, largely due to the eradication of a range of diseases we were prone to and which the weakest members of our population gereally succumbed to. Infant mortality has fallen everywhere, more children survive to adulthood and breed, more adults survive beyond 45 years and some even breed into their sixties. All of which adds more genetic defects to the pool if the latest research saying that men over 30 are more likely to pass on defects than under that age. Children who died in their prepuberty often did so because they lacked resistance to certain common ailments, or had some defect in their systems which meant they couldn't cope with it.

For Europe, I would suggest that our gene pool was seriously weakened by the wars of the 20th Century, and though it is now diversifying again, it is simply widening the range of damaged genes we can use. As I said at the outset, I'd love to see what the real geneticists, biologists and experts say about this. So far I see and read a lot of skating round the edges, but, as far as I can see, no one is prepared to take a longer and wider look at it.

Maybe someone should.

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