The social gene! Why this pandemic will leave the world inherently depressed and non-social?

Subrato Banerjee & Nandini Sharma

Scrolling through a litany of recent social media posts over good dalgona coffee, we have a joint-eureka moment … and here it is – times are rather peculiar – we need heroes who simply don’t show up and stay at home instead – and yet, weekends for many, remain a consequence of assiduously laid out plans to unravel the ritual of social gatherings over evening drinks, with almost a dozen people under the same roof … culminating in ostentatious posts on social media … in ways that would make troglodytes look smarter.

We have now been able to identify the gene that is responsible for that constant itch for social gathering … to gossip, brag and dole out opinion. This of course, has been possible only after hours and hours of research by us in our scientifically-rich fields … of economics and social development. And we feel compelled to explicitly mention this, alongside our well-demonstrated ability to convey a simple message (that social gatherings must be avoided!) … in a single introductory sentence that just happens to be a paragraph long. Having met these prerequisites to establish our credibility for an educated audience that is clearly disinclined to believe anything, unless it is in a media outlet (or even in the form of a forwarded message on some online messenger), we now present our central argument.

In the currently febrile environment, people with the social gene (that itch!) have a strict survival disadvantage in relation to those who do not. Thus, the social gene is likely to be eliminated at this stage of our evolution, leaving the survivors of this pandemic to pass on their non-social traits to the subsequent generations that follow. Simply put, if there is a social gene, it will be eliminated … and indeed, we know that there is … not because our attempts at understanding realities make the strict standards of scientific inquiry look quixotic … but because it is in a media outlet (in fact, in this very article) now!

Of course, the (more recently evolved) mammalian brain such as ours, has the capacity to override the instinctive urge for social gatherings – but with the social gene going into an overdrive, after being brutally suppressed for over two months, we can safely ignore this possibility, just as we have ignored the fact that there are people out (literally out! for lack of choice) there, who would do anything to trade their places with ours. After all, if we remain confined within the comfortable walls of our homes, how different are we from the troglodytes who, almost by definition, lived inside their comfortable caves? The point being, that the social gene will force us out into social gatherings, handshakes, and possibly even hugs (social media will perhaps at best be a very very poor substitute) – the very things that need to be avoided in order to survive as per current scientific wisdom.

And for whoever cared for a balanced lifestyle, the world to emerge as a consequence of the loss of the social gene will likely be one where non-social behaviour thrives (or worse, where reality is virtually-lived!). It will be a world with science but without art; with substance but without style; with thought, but without instinct; and with heads but without hearts. The million-Dollar question then is – will those with the social gene wait it out to preserve themselves and see through the pandemic? We believe that we already have the answer to this question, for the empirical evidence so far, suggests otherwise.

Finally, to further speed up the process of turning our prediction into reality, we invite the socially over-inclined to the celebration (over drinks) of our findings, which will most certainly, not have to stand up to the intransigence of the scientific community at large (which does cause a frisson of fear, to admit the truth, from the very thought of coming across as cretinous and unscientific), for given the quality of our evidence, the likelihood of a serious scientific examination of our findings are comfortably exceeded by that of both of us making it to the Wimbledon doubles-final!


Subrato Banerjee
is a behavioural economist with interests in applied game theory, statistics and industrial organisation.  




Nandini Sharma
is a development professional specialising in public policy and governance. Her work has primarily been geared towards driving industry action on sustainability and responsible business conduct.