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Inheriting the Trauma of Genocide (wsj.com)
67 points by niyikiza 23 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 48 comments

In the former Yugoslavia we have a concept of "inat", which (among other things, it's a complicated and multifaceted term) is kind of a genetic hatred, passed down from generation to generation. The attempts at genocide in the region are sure to have strengthened those hatreds in future generations, as did all of the other regional conflicts in the past.

I can trace my personal issues as a result of my parents experience to their parents experience in WW2 (Germany). My grandfather for example as a teenager had to clear landmines as a prisoner of war. The damage from these experiences lasts for generations, like a ripple effect.

Anyone with a passing acquaintance of history knows that pretty much every family, from anywhere, will have a long history of trauma starting not very many generations ago.

Looking around my office at people whose stories I know, I see sexually abused people, war refugees, children of war refugees, people who grew up under communism, someone who is coping with a degenerative illness (multiple sclerosis), and on and on and on. Yet these are all functional people, holding down professional jobs.

The interesting part isn't that you can trace your problems back to trauma, but rather how you might some day manage to not have to. Because the more that people successfully do that, the better the world we can build for our mutual future.

"Anyone with a passing acquaintance of history knows that pretty much every family, from anywhere, will have a long history of trauma starting not very many generations ago."

This sidesteps the issue of scale and omnipresence. It's not limited to someone you hold kinship with, or you, or your direct parents, it's the very idea of you. There are few things that personal... and it happened to millions; it's that long "history of trauma" extended from kin to kind.

I'm ethnically Armenian and I've seen children who've never been exposed to any of the gruesome photos, or even set foot in the country, burst out into tears on Red Sunday. The concentration of generational transference is on a different order of magnitude. From there, if you add the wrinkle of knowing what gruesomely and specifically happen to the people closest to you, experiencing trauma like it happened first hand becomes a much more understandable occurrence.

TLDR: Large scale communal lose shift the starting point, personal trauma pushes things over the edge.

In a way it might also be knowledge that is passed on between generations. So my parents and grandparents passed on their deep seated insecurity that comes from their experience of war - but as history shows these extreme situations can return. Maybe my own anxiety might be a preparation for that. I like to think it has such a dimension. Experiences of past generations become part of the genetic markup for the future. Epigenetics is a keyword here.

> like a ripple effect.

I like to visualize it as a shock wave, propagating in the future, hitting generations as it advances. I can very clearly see it on my family.

Are you sure about that?

Family history sure does have influence, but tracing (and blaming) personal issues to postgenerational trauma sounds like a cheap excuse. Unless you just use it to understand where you came from and move on from there. But I doubt focussing on historic traumas are helpful to overcome "issues".

Do you speak from personal experience or are you trying to correct the experience of others based on your mental image of how it should be?

Both. I experienced too many people clinging to past unbill and using it as a excuse to not go forward. As I said, finding out about it, can be helpful, but not if it is focused too much. The OP reminded me of it, so I saw a pattern and replied to it.

Epigenetics for example show that certain gene switches are passed on between generations. Rat mothers that experience anxiety pass this on to their offspring. There is this whole lecture on behavioral biology by Stanford Prof Robert Sapolsky which I highly recommend: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLD7E21BF91F3F9683 Anyway I think having a clear understanding on where you are coming from, with acceptance, is a requirement for moving into the future with the best of your abilities.

"Anyway I think having a clear understanding on where you are coming from, with acceptance, is a requirement for moving into the future with the best of your abilities."

Yes I believe I agreed with that. I just gave my input that I would not focus on the past too much.

"Unless you just use it to understand where you came from and move on from there. "

understanding and accepting is empowering.

Even something less traumatic like being drafted for the Vietnam War has a measurable impact on descendants: https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2016/01/be...

A previous paper by the same author said that those drafted in Vietnam earned less throughout the rest of their careers, and proposed that the difference was due to a loss of work experience.


"This paper also proposes a simple explanation for the loss of earnings to white veterans: they earn less because their military experience is only a partial substitute for the civilian labor market experience lost while in the armed forces. Goodness-of-fit tests suggest that for whites, the time-series of veteran status coefficients is consistent with this hypothesis. Experience-earnings profiles estimated using Social Security data imply that white veterans suffered an earnings reduction equivalent to the loss of two years civilian labor market experience."

The more recent paper you linked to an article about, proposes that the decline in sons earnings are due to an increase in their likelihood of joining the military, less parental time during their formative years, and reduced starting economic positions. The paper's author seems to see it as essentially being the opposite of genetic.

There's another obvious theory that will explain that difference. It was easy to dodge the draft. You could say that those who didn't ended up earning less because failing to get out of going was a signal of incompetence.

Or, if you were aware that the problems they had in supplying raw manpower to Vietnam led the army to emphasize drafting people who should legally have been unable to serve based on their very low IQs, you could observe that it would be pretty shocking if veterans as a class showed equal earning power to society in general.

> They were, to put it bluntly, mentally deficient. Illiterate. Mostly black and redneck whites, hailing from the mean big city ghettos and the remote Appalachian valleys.

> By drafting them the Pentagon would not have to draft an equal number of middle class and elite college boys whose mothers could and would raise Hell with their representatives in Washington.

> The young men of Project 100,000 couldn't read, so training manual comic books were created for them. They had to be taught to tie their boots. They often failed in boot camp, and were recycled over and over until they finally reached some low standard and were declared trained and ready.



I believe these papers made some attempts to avoid seeing the effects of draft-dodging. For example one of them goes only by draft numbers, without looking at who actually fought, and finds worse outcomes among the children of the group with bad numbers (fighters and dodgers) compared to good numbers. But I don't know enough details to say whether some biases remain.

Indeed "McNamara's Morons" is a pretty crazy story. Turns out the army had rules for who to recruit for a good reason.

As I can't read the full article. Do they indicate any kind of leads into an hypothesis that the trauma is transferred through the genes themselves? Or is this more an effect of culture and education?

What can I say? One of my grandmothers came back from Auschwitz, the other from Lichtenwörth. Most of their generation didn't survive. And then I went to Yad Vashem when I was 16. That was a grave mistake. Don't go to Yad Vashem at 16 especially not when you have relatives affected by the Holocaust. I haven't seen a World War II movie since, I can't.

I have seen this first hand amongst my friends who are grandchildren of holocaust survivors.

For many of them their grandparents anxiety is very visible and part of their lives. One grandparent would always steal the free bread from restaurants, another could not be left at home alone, another bought an Uzi and gold and kept it hidden in the house in case the Nazi's come back... the list keeps on going.

I grew up in Skokie which has(or had) the largest concentration of holocaust survivors in the world. Even more than cities in Israel.

One must put in contrast the eagerness to push epigenetics, inheritable trauma with the unwillingness to accept the heritability of IQ and its consequences.

It seems to me that each are eagerly embraced by opposing quarters.

Maybe if each side could drop their defenses and consider the other position, we could come up with a more integrated theory and actually get somewhere.

And this is a fantastic argument why 'The West' owes reparations to the descendants of the West African Slave trade. The genocide in Rwanda, the WW2 Jewish Holocaust (to name but two recent atrocities); these were over within a handful of years. Every single second of it was worse-then-horrible and equally shows the worst of humanity. They nonetheless ended.

The West African Slave trade lasted for HUNDREDS of years. "Chattle Slavery" only ended in name and one needs only look at the Prison system in the United States to see the still evident policies and procedures that continue to this very day to continually harm the descendants of slavery. This is an ongoing crisis, that must be resolved.

What tortured damage lingers in the DNA of these descendants? We have proof that Rwandans, and Jews have suffered damage and harm; is it too hard to imagine that we owe a debt and an obligation to healing these injuries?

And for healing to begin, the damage must stop.

That slavery was horrible, nobody debates. That reparations are the best way to address it is a different story.

Pinker's book Better Angels of Our Nature documents, among other things, how ethnic conflicts have been successfully dismantled around the world. A key part of the successful recipe is a final round of partial justice whereupon only the most egregious crimes get addressed, the aggressors accept the truth of what they did, issue full apologies, and all claims are extinguished. There is no attempt at real justice, but it does end conflict and leaves everyone better off.

By contrast cries for justice have historically resulted in a new round of conflict, which creates a round of retribution, and a continuation of conflict that leaves everyone worse off.

The USA went through this effort after the Civil War. All claims to reparations for slavery should be considered long extinguished. And as much as you don't like it, the US descendants of slavery are massively better off than their ancestors were, and are likewise both better off and happier than most of their relatives in Africa.

It is clear that injustice is not done. I fully support an end to the Drug War, a reduction of prison sentences and a similar round to end the ongoing and current conflict over the same. Not based on long past claims to victimhood based on the slave trade, but based on current injustice.

However we have a lot more examples today of how to successfully end ethnic problems in countries as diverse as Northern Ireland, Timor and Liberia. There is clearly a right way to do it, and that is what I would want us to do now.

Very notably it requires a focus on closing the books on past history, a final round of forgiveness/redemption, followed by a better path forward. Which is the exact opposite of the kind of justice that the reparations crowd is asking for.

> Very notably it requires a focus on closing the books on past history, a final round of forgiveness/redemption, followed by a better path forward. Which is the exact opposite of the kind of justice that the reparations crowd is asking for.

We in the US are saddled by a thriving grievance industry, whose basic motives and goals are contrary to reconciliation.

Ok, so pay reparations for the drug war?

For the damage caused to communities by the implementation of racist policies ostensibly in support of the drug war? Absolutely!

We do something much simpler, we re-distribute based on income. And periodically adjust up or down (via the ordinary democratic process) how much we do this.

Would it be better to set up a separate parallel system to adjudicate precisely who deserves what? If you had a rough childhood because your dad was in prison, he got 10 years when now we'd prefer a sentencing guide which would give him 2, we're going to credit you with tickets for 8 years... and your neighbor whose dad simply died in a car-accident with zero? Create a Department of the Deserving Poor? Maybe we should just try to make things better for anyone who had a rough start, through no fault of their own.

Acknowledgment is worth more than compensation.

Sure, just as long as everyone who's descended from a culture that held slaves pays reparations too.


The ultimate form of leadership, refusing to do the right thing until everyone else substantively agrees to also do the right thing.

You probably don't want to bring up Jews while making this argument, given that their outstandingly high status and wealth in society kind of demonstrates that group social outcomes are more driven by internal characteristics than external circumstances.

They are the people who suffered the worst oppression, literally losing half their people to murder very recently, and who are still the most targeted victims of hate crime. Yet somehow they also ended up comprising >17% of global billionares despite being 0.2% of global population, are massively overrepresented at top schools, in leadership positions at all levels of society, government, and law.

It's hard to argue that outcomes are driven by external circumstances (as opposed to internal characteristics of people) given facts like that.

If trauma had strict generational effects, Jews would be in ghettoes now and Israel would look like Burundi.

Articles like the OP need to make some explanation for the counterexamples like the Jews. Otherwise they're just hammering on their own confirmation bias - seeking examples to confirm the theory, instead of grappling with examples that seem to refute it.

Poor Jews were murdered or died of hunger. Jews in Eastern Europe were mostly poor and in Germany lower middle class on average.

Almost all were killed or robbed of property. Few surviving rich Jews don't change the stats of average Jew being killed before his time.

There was indeed such a slant, in who got out. But whether this explains jewish success in the post-war world... you are in essence proposing a one-generation artificial selection event as the explanation. I haven't worked the numbers but I am pretty sure the effect won't be nearly large enough.

I am saying that Jews in Eastern Europe were mostly poor. There is no richness "despite oppression". There was suffering and lack of means. Also that they were almost all killed, except those with means to survive and great deal of luck. Also that the storiés of rich Jews are mostly nazi and other anti-semitic imagination.

You're conflating "financially successful" with "untraumatized". I'm not convinced that the first necessarily implies the second.

I took his point to be that trauma doesn't determine outcome. Jews have been traumatized, but are successful. Thus the economic outcomes of other traumatized groups may be strongly influenced by factors other than trauma.

> Yet somehow they also ended up comprising >17% of global billionares despite being 0.2% of global population, are massively overrepresented at top schools, in leadership positions at all levels of society, government, and law.

Do you have any sources on this? Because it sounds like typical "Jews control the world" antisemitism.

You seem to be interpreting "yet somehow" as disingenuous conspiracy-theory provocation. But the author was responding to another comment, and from that context (and the lead-up in the comment itself) it's clear that "yet somehow" means "in spite of the ethnicity-level setbacks and targeting that Jews experience", as a counterpoint to the parent comment.

It wasn't the specific wording, it's that claims of Jews having disproportionate wealth or influence is a common argument employed by antisemites:



Yeah, it turns out that conversation is somewhat complex, and we have to listen to the people we're conversing with. There are plenty of canards and dogwhistles about all sorts of issues, but evaluating whether a claim is antisemitic has to go deeper than just noting that it discusses Jews and wealth.

That comment, for example, was arguing that the disproportion could be taken as evidence of Jewish superiority, and yet here you are calling it antisemitic.

Would you use the same superiority argument on white people?

"Would you use the same superiority argument on white people?"

Are you meaning to imply that the previous poster argued for Jewish superiority? I don't see that. They mentioned a hypothetical argument as a counterexample to disprove any notion that these observations are intrinsically anti-semitic.

These are simply claims of fact about the world. One can easily investigate their veracity and see if an error has been made. There is nothing anti-semitic about acknowledging Jewish success.

We also need to pay attention to this line from the article:

>> ..but how they face adversity is also a factor, speculates Dr. Shrira. “After all, the transmission of trauma is also the way the story is told.

I dont mean to diminish past events, or the lasting effects. But at the same time, we need to find ways to remember the lessons of history without reinforcing those effects.

Here is a good article that runs the numbers on what reparations could look like: https://qz.com/1012692/this-is-what-reparations-could-actual...

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