Mental health and genetic determinants

Issue section: 

I agree with John Parrington’s assertion that human characteristics and disorders are the product of an intricate interplay between society and biology. However, this academic generalisation should not be confused with a Marxist approach to human suffering.

It is a mistake to fetishise science as a politically neutral force that can be wielded by either class. As Rose and Rose explain in Can Neuroscience Change our Minds?, science and society co-create each other. Specifically, capitalism promotes biological explanations to divert attention from social conditions. Alcoholism is blamed on the “genetic susceptibility” of indigenous peoples to deny the impact of colonialism, and poor school performance is blamed on genetics to cut social programmes.

Parrington avoids the question of whether society or biology plays the dominant role, implying that they are somehow equal. If that were true, then the effort of the scientist in the laboratory would have equal value to the effort of the socialist in the workplace.

How much biology and society contribute to a problem is not a scientific question; it is a political question of where to focus our efforts. Socialists understand that science cannot meet the needs of the majority under capitalism. That is why we emphasise capitalist social relations as the cause of causes and why we prioritise the need to change social conditions.

Susan Rosenthal