The Warrior (and the Ghost) in our Genes

In our previous discussion on Ibsen’s Ghosts, we interpreted what Mrs. Alving means by her use of ghosts in the following passage:

“Ghosts. When I heard Regine and Oswald in there, it was just like seeing ghosts. But then I’m inclined to think that we are all ghosts, Pastor Manders, every one of us. It’s not just what we inherit from our mothers and fathers that haunts us. It’s all kinds of old defunct theories, all sorts of old defunct beliefs, and things like that. It’s not that they actually live on in us; they are simply lodged there, and we cannot get rid of them” (Ibsen, p.120)

We reached a possible interpretation of the ghosts Mrs. Alving refers to: social constructs, gender norms, culture, family rituals…etc we inherit that we have no control over. We do not have the power or opportunity to choose the kinds of things to inherit, to what extent they influence us, or even when they start affecting us. Thus raises the question: Are we capable of escaping this predicament?

Image credit: Psychlite, WordPress

Earlier this year in February, New Mexico Supreme Court upholds the murder sentence of Anthony Blas Yepez, who was convicted in 2015 for beating George Ortiz, a 75-year-old man, to death in 2012. According to the testimony given by his girlfriend, Yepez struck the man in the face, leading to his death. Yepez claimed that he didn’t remember what exactly happened next, only that when he woke up, he was lying on top Ortiz’ body. The couple then poured cooking oil over the corpse and set it ablaze, leaving the crime scene by fleeing in Ortiz’ car. 

Yepez’ public defender tried to present evidence about Yepez’ genetic information and history of childhood abuse. However, the Supreme Court rejected the evidence, with the state District Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer saying that she felt “iffy” about whether it was “reliable enough to prove what it proposes to prove.” The warrior gene theory dates back to a discovery made by a Dutch scientist in the 1990s, which claimed that all the male relatives from a family in New Zealand with a history of aggressive violence lacked a specific gene critical for regulating anger. The theory has been hotly debated ever since. 

The finding naturally leads to this question: if the theory is true, is anyone accountable for the crimes they committed? Who should be responsible for their crimes? Is it the offender, or is it the lineage which he or she has no control over? Mrs. Alving proclaims we are all ghosts, and that when she “picks up a newspaper,” she seems to “see ghosts gliding between the lines” (p.120). Perhaps ghosts not only lurk in newspapers, they also lurk in our genes. 


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  1. Thank you for the insightful post! Coming from a STEM high school background, I found this inclusion of the genetic factor into accountability very interesting. To what extent our genes correspond and affect the development of our behavior truly is a topic worth exploring. As we have not reached a consensus, I do not know how to answer this question. However, it is exactly because the theory has not been proved that I understand and agree with why the judge felt hesitant in approving the defendant’s proposal. Even though pre-determined genetic lotteries can give lucky ones a promising headstart, I am a firm believer in the effect of education. Acquired habits from our family, society, and culture, in my opinion, take significantly more responsibility in our decision-making process. Our genes may determine the quality of the seed, but it’s the quality of nutrition, water, and sun that matter. Therefore, before we prove that the ghosts in our genes overpower those of social construct, our focus on exploring human interactions should not be about our genes.

  2. Tamaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan

    I feel like discussing these ghosts, similar to the case above about physical abuse and more is such an interesting think to bring up! It is a lifetime debate of the extent to which the serial killers who grew up in abusive household can be held accountable for their crimes. Like how Oswald selfishly wanted to use Regina and her “joys of life” in order to force her to follow him in his final years, his lies regarding Paris and more. How much of it is from his father and how much of it is his unwillingness to fight the urge? To what extent can we feel empathy towards him and how can Mrs. Alving’s character play into the development of her son’s personality?

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