David Dobbs tells us about a new theory in genetics called the orchid hypothesis that suggests that the genes that underlie some of the most troubling human behaviors — violence, depression, anxiety — can, in combination with the right environment, also be responsible for our best behaviors.
Most of us have genes that make us as hardy as dandelions: able to take root and survive almost anywhere. A few of us, however, are more like the orchid: fragile and fickle, but capable of blooming spectacularly if given greenhouse care. So holds a provocative new theory of genetics, which asserts that the very genes that give us the most trouble as a species, causing behaviors that are self-destructive and antisocial, also underlie humankind’s phenomenal adaptability and evolutionary success. With a bad environment and poor parenting, orchid children can end up depressed, drug-addicted, or in jail — but with the right environment and good parenting, they can grow up to be society’s most creative, successful, and happy people.
From start to finish, this is one of the most interesting things I’ve read in weeks.