According to legend (and it's only a legend
), the novelists F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway were in a bar when the former remarked to the latter: "The rich are different from you and me." To which Hemingway dryly answered: "Yes, they have more money." It is safe to say that the poor have less money, by definition, but the way it makes a difference ... er, differs. According to researchers
at the University of Texas at Austin, relatively impoverished socio-economic circumstances have a negative effect on the rate at which small children start to realize their genetic potential, as this is manifest in their cognitive development. The environment created by wealth unlocks the genetic contribution to mental capacities; poverty seems to suppress it. As the news items about the study are quick to point out
, one in five children in the US lives in poverty, and the country is undergoing a massive economic crisis.
It might be better to pull out a few other wider implications of the research, even if it is only one study. The study is basically saying that poverty strikes human beings at their core: if your mind is not at your core, it is hard to say what is. Poverty appears to literally incapacitate, making us relatively less capable of developing the features that make us persons; the idea that poverty dehumanizes us seems as frightening as the disintegration of personhood involved in late-stage Alzheimer's disease. The problem is, while one in five American children lives in poverty (and this is troubling), the poverty of the majority of children in many countries is far worse. Except for a lucky few, their genetic inheritance gets pretty much laid to waste. How much it is laid to waste has yet to be fully studied. But if the study in Texas is any indication, the impact starts much earlier than previously thought.
Labels: ethics, genetics, poverty