Can we inherit trauma? It's an interesting question that might be moot.

New York Times Doubts We Can Inherit Trauma

Does trauma change our genetic makeup, and can our children inherit that change? A recent New York Times article casts doubt on how we might inherit trauma through epigenetics.  In considering inequality in our social goods, it might not matter.

Epigenetics is the study of how our biology interacts with our genetic makeup. Current research shows that biological influences, including our environment, affect how our genes are express.

Traumatic experiences, such as famine, can impact how our genes are expressed. There’s evidence in animal research that those impacts can then be passed on to offspring.

I’ve covered epigenetics before, but you may wonder what epigenetics has to do with marketing the social good?

If the design and distribution of our social goods cause trauma, and trauma can be inherited, then we’re shooting ourselves in the foot today and for future generations. Epigenetics thus raises the stakes of social goods.

The NYT article is skeptical that enough evidence exists that epigenetic changes are passed on to following generations. The field of study is still new, and there’s a lot in the biology of reproduction that can thwart such genetic transmission.

But we can inherit trauma without epigenetics–through inheriting social goods that perpetuate trauma.

Poorly designed social goods inflict trauma. Even quality social goods cause suffering because of inequitable distribution, inadequate funding, and weak promotion.

To the extent that our social goods inflict trauma today and remain in place to inflict future trauma, we will continue to suffer individually and collectively. Think about long-running failures in public housing or environmental protection.

The idea that we inherit trauma isn’t essential to the argument for social goods. If it’s true, it just strengthens that argument.

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