Henry Rollins, Others Investigate & Get Tested for “Warrior Gene” Associated with Violence in National Geographic Explorer’s “Born to Rage”
National Geographic Explorer is the longest-running documentary series in cable television history. In its nearly 30 years on the air, it has covered a wide range of fascinating topics and been nominated for and won many awards due to the high quality of its content and production.
I recently learned about an episode of Explorer dedicated to the topic of “the Warrior Gene.”
The episode is entitled “Born to Rage.”
It opens with a question that lies right at the heart of ponerology:
“Are some people born to be violent?”
In its very next lines it answers the question:
“An extraordinary discovery suggests they are. A single gene has been directly associated with violent behavior.”
Our guide through the episode is Henry Rollins, a leading figure in the American punk music scene as lead singer of the bands Black Flag and Rollins Band, now a well-known and accomplished spoken word artist.
Early in the episode, Rollins describes his painful experiences growing up in his family and at school, the violence that was part of his life in punk music and his long struggle with feelings of anger and questions about the reasons behind them.
“Born to Rage” then introduces us to Dutch geneticist Hans Brunner’s groundbreaking discovery of the association between a certain variant of the Monoamine Oxidase A (MAOA) gene – now also known as “the Warrior Gene” – and aggression and violence. We learn the mechanism by which a shortened MAOA gene with reduced activity can predispose men to violence and that a surprisingly high proportion of men have this form of the gene.
The bulk of the documentary involves Rollins meeting with people of various backgrounds with different relationships to violence who are then, along with Rollins himself, tested through a company called Family Tree DNA for the presence of the shortened form of the MAOA gene .
Those whose stories are discussed and who are then tested include:
- The Verdugo twins, a pair of twin brothers previously active since childhood and notorious for their involvement in one of the most violent street gangs in Los Angeles
- A group of men who participate in the highly violent sport of mixed martial arts
- A group of Harley-Davidson bikers
- An ex-Navy SEAL turned ambitious entrepreneur
For some contrast, Rollins also interviews and tests are administered to a group of men who, despite experiences of adversity, bullying and violence in their earlier lives, have come to lead relatively peaceful existences as Buddhist monks.
In the course of the program we learn about:
- The eternal debate over the influence of nature vs. nurture in the development of harmful behavior
- How recent research has brought to light a more significant role than previously understood for “nature” in this interplay
- How those who do carry “the Warrior Gene” can end up taking very different paths in life
- Kevin Beaver’s research on the link between “the Warrior Gene” and involvement in and violence as part of gangs
- The link between “the Warrior Gene” and other behaviors such as financial risk taking
- How this topic evokes controversies regarding genetic screening and even eugenics
- How “the Warrior Gene” influenced the verdict in a murder case with the potential for a death penalty sentence
So check out “Born to Rage” (the video is embedded above) to learn about this fascinating gene and find out which of the people featured in the episode tested positive for it and which did not.
And, if you find yourself intrigued, wondering whether you or someone you know might have “the Warrior Gene,” you and/or they can get tested for it through Family Tree DNA, the same company that provided the testing in this episode of Explorer.
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Categories: Television Shows
Tags: aggression, born to rage, buddhism, family tree dna, gangs, genetic testing, genetics, hans brunner, henry rollins, kevin beaver, maoa, mixed martial arts, national geographic, national geographic explorer, nature vs. nurture, navy seals, violence, warrior gene
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