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5. Serotonin and society
The serotonin levels of the members of a community profoundly affect the degree of harmony and prosperity (shalom) in that community.
The term, “pecking order,” comes from the commonly observed behavior of hens in a barnyard. They typically establish a social hierarchy of perhaps five levels, A through E, from highest to lowest. The members of level A never peck, or pick, on each other, and no one ever picks on them; but they have the privilege of picking on any member of levels B, C, D or E. The members of level B never pick on each other, nor on members of level A; but members of level A pick on them, and they have the privilege of picking on any member of levels C, D, or E. And so on.
The members of level E do pick on each other, as well as being picked on by members of levels A, B, C and D.
Members of the higher levels generally never have to defend themselves from those of the lower levels; in general, they’re never challenged.
Such social hierarchies or caste systems exist among many animal species, including human beings; the term “caste system” itself comes from institutionalized human social hierarchies.
In each such species, it is found that the members of the higher castes have correspondingly higher serum serotonin levels, and those of the lowest caste the lowest serum serotonin.
It would appear on the one hand that raising an individual’s serum serotonin will tend to let that individual rise in the social order; moving from contexts of greater violence and turmoil, into contexts of greater harmony and peace. However, the amount of shalom in any level of the social order depends heavily on the members’ levels of serum serotonin.
Let us look again at the attributes common to people of lower or higher serotonin levels.
I had no knowledge of these things during my years as a school teacher, but looking back, I can see clearly how my most disadvantaged students found it most difficult to stay on-task, and displayed other attributes of low serotonin.
It should be evident that folk who have the attributes in the lefthand column will tend to be downwardly mobile, and those who have the attributes in the righthand column, upwardly mobile.
Again, Paul’s words about “the fruits of the spirit” (Galatians 5):
19Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. *** 22By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.
It is among the poorest in any society that “the works of the flesh” prevail. “Against such there is no law” is likewise telling, for that it is likewise among the poor that criminality is most common. Part of the reason: for those who have chosen to see life as a struggle to survive — who, by my observation, most commonly have specifically chosen to make their lives that way — there is no such thing as right or wrong, no such thing as morality. It’s irrelevant to, and inappropriate for, them.
Some seek to explain all this in terms of competition for scarce resources. On the one hand, certainly social injustice makes resources more scarce for the poor. On the other hand, in the decades I have lived (to some extent intentionally) among the poor, and having at this writing been actually homeless for seven years; there is no way injustice and scarcity can account for the injuries I commonly see poor folk inflict upon each other.
15And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples — for there were many who followed him. 16When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
In short, those who live in the midst of the greatest turmoil and violence, who are constantly creating turmoil and violence, are those in greatest need of learning The Way of Peace — which, I hold, is what Jesus taught.
On February 23, 2018, the McElderry Park district of Baltimore celebrated 500 days without a homicide. This is a remarkable achievement. There was no change in the system; there was no change in resources — but one: I hold that goodwill, itself, is any individual’s principal resource. What did change was the number of folk seeking to live as Jesus taught — living The Way of Peace.
Related: Chaos overwhelms the poor