If this is true—if Russians are dying for lack of hope, as they seem to be—then the question that is still looking for its researcher is, Why haven’t Russians experienced hope in the last quarter century? Or, more precisely in light of the grim continuity of Russian death, What happened to Russians over the course of the Soviet century that has rendered them incapable of hope? In The Origins of Totalitarianism Hannah Arendt argues that totalitarian rule is truly possible only in countries that are large enough to be able to afford depopulation. The Soviet Union proved itself to be just such a country on at least three occasions in the twentieth century—teaching its citizens in the process that their lives are worthless. Is it possible that this knowledge has been passed from generation to generation enough times that most Russians are now born with it and this is why they are born with a Bangladesh-level life expectancy? Is it also possible that other post-Soviet states, by breaking off from Moscow, have reclaimed some of their ability to hope, and this is why even Russia’s closest cultural and geographic cousins, such as Belarus and Ukraine, aren’t dying off as fast? If so, Russia is dying of a broken heart—also known as cardiovascular disease. —Dying Russians

I have been assigned – the whole class has – to do a paper for Criminal Justice. It is to be a comparative look at two articles. One proposes that violence is inherited, that it is literally embedded in the DNA, and you cannot avoid becoming violent if you have that heritage. Like the Russians above, it is passed from generation to generation, that sense of helplessness for the Russians, the sense of inchoate rage and drive for power in the criminals.

I don’t believe this to be true. Yes, I see that point could be made, in some of the vast slums and ghettos worldwide, that a child born hapless into crime is condemned to repeat the sins of the fathers. But I could never convince myself that we are all ruled by fate, or what has been renamed our genetic destiny. We each, as an individual, have the free will to make choices.

We do not always have the ability to choose precisely what we want, as a child. But we can make corrections to our course as we go through life, to keep pointing that course as true and straight as we can make it, after each navigation around an obstacle that we come upon. All around us may be gloom. What befalls us might be seen as an excuse to lie down and become the victim, demanding that everyone who comes upon us must succor us, and further, give us what we want. It might be far easier to take, than to give, to demand by force that which we are not given, but it is, in the end, our own choice.

Deoxyribonucleic acid is, after all, merely a building block. Look at the building close enough, and you can see that there is no mortar between the stones. We are free to reassemble them to look like what we want to. When my son was old enough to become fascinated with legos, I gave him my big bucket that I’d bought for myself while still in highschool. Then I watched him build the most amazing structures that would never stand up to any external forces… before he drove his cars and trucks into them and knocked them over. Our genes are like those lego blocks. They can’t be changed, but we have the power to manipulate what shape they ultimately take. And we can knock it down and reshape if we realize what we’re doing is wrong.

I find it far more likely that the tragedy of the Russian death rate has to do with the culture they are surrounded in from birth, than from some inherited characteristic. They are told from day one that they are worthless, and it does not let up. Indirect, but pervasive. And I find it far more likely that criminals begin in the same way. Lack of hope is crushing to the soul, and what use is morality without hope? Hope is the key to future generations, to bringing children into the world, with the hope of happiness for them. Without hope, why bother? Why obey the law, why stay alive? If humanity is stripped away, and each person becomes a widget made up of their genes and dictated to by forces beyond their control, why then they must lie down, and rise up a puppet on the strings of their genes.

The other article? Well, that’s a topic for another day. Suffice it to say that I am equally unwilling to lay the blame for crime at the feet of the television and video game console.