Sunday, March 26, 2006

Sunday Intellectual Question: Nature vs. Nurture?

What really makes us who we are? Pop-psych talks about Nature vs. Nurture, but shouldn’t there be another category?

Current discussions of genetics are the ultimate example of “Nature”: Are we destined to do certain things? Do our parents and their parents, by their simple existence, make up the sum of who we are? The truth is, while we can identify some of the genetic code, we are still at a loss as to exactly what it means. There is even some question as to whether or not genetic code has the ability to change as a person grows.  

To find a good example of Nurture you don’t have to look farther than the many parenting books on the market. A lot of the books require you to do the right things, in the right order, at the right time or else your children will be doomed.  

While it is true that you should definitely take good care of your children, and we have to deal with some things in our lives that we can’t change, are we not, on another level, ultimately responsible for our own actions?

I think there should be another category called “Life Choices” or “Self-Induced Torture”.  I really think that in spite of everything we are responsible for our own actions, even bad choices.  Let me know what you think.


Joel said...

Am I the fault of my parents? Well, they certainly have something to do with the fact that I am here, but are they the ones who held my hand and made me do the bad things of my life? No. Would I feel differently if I grew up in a drug infested, licentious household? I don't know.

I think this is the difficulty that socialogists encounter. They don't see normal children but problem children. Problem children usually come from problem homes. Are their problems because of their problem homes? No. If they grew up in non-problematic homes they would still find problems if they wanted. Would they be as bad outwardly... ahh... now I think we have a point to look at.

Because of availability to outwardly bad things children in problem homes will manifest their badness with the outwardly bad things they found at home. Children in a non-problem home will still find bad things to do, though many may not see them as really bad! Does this mean that they are not bad? Of course not. They are just as bad, but thankfully they are not causing really bad problems.

The level of what people think is bad nowadays is totally different from 20 years ago. Kids are now expected to rebel (he's just a typical teenager... no, he needs a whooping!). This is bizarre, and we are going to see the results all around us. We are all to blame for our problems. Sure, others make available to us the bad choices we can make, but we still choose the bad all by ourselves!

How's that for a tome?

Nancy said...

Actually, Joel, geneticists have isolated anti-social gene patterns that, regardless of where you grow up, if you have the anti-social gene, your likelihood of being involved in criminal behaviour is higher. It may be linked to impulse control, inhibitors in social interaction, or in the abilty to read and act on social cues. Does that gene absolve you from responsibility? No way. But it does help explain why even in homes where parents provide a good environment, problems still occur. It is in most of our natures to be selfish and preserve our needs and wants before others. We develop it very early, after all what is a temper tantrum for. Yet (except maybe with you) your children don't witness any grown ups throwing themselves on the floor, kicking and screaming because they aren't getting what they want. So how is that behaviour nurtured???? It comes from within... it is nature and it must be untrained to get rid of it.

Love the debate... where are the other commentators?????

Joel said...

Thanks, Sis... glad to hear that someone is in my corner!!! Just for the record, my last tantrum was 2 years ago, but I was by myself, so no one ever noticed!!!

As for the gene... I am always sceptical to hear that a gene is for x or y or z. I personally don't know enough about genetics to fully argue here, but am skeptical enough to be wary. Anti-social behaviour is one thing... but anti-social behaviour can also include just wanting to be alone more often than not, it does not mean solely that they are trouble waiting to happen.

I guess what it comes down to is that natural man WANTS someone or thing to blame for our problems, mistakes, addictions when really we are the only common denominator in EVERY situation. I guess it must be something within us that makes us bad.

If this is so, where has the theory of 'tabula rasa' gone? I guess its in the bin!

Nancy said...

The blank slate theory has basically gone bye-bye many years ago. As educators, we have learned that there is a lot more to teaching and learning than providing info and opportunity to a black box and expect it to come out the way we thought it went in. Humans have a lot more going on that can be taught in a behavior modification (see Pavlov's dog) model. We (not me, of course) keep doing very stupid things that aren't in our best interest and aren't reinforced positively. Alcoholic binges (getting sick should be a very negative deterrent, but it isn't for some people), bad relationships (serial abuse victims) etc. all shoot down the theory that we learn from our mistakes. We CAN learn from our mistakes, but as you purport, we have to want to learn from them.

I agree though, that society tolerates much more than it has in the past and much more than it really ought to. The good news (?) is that pretty soon in order to rebel, children will have to stay away from drugs, work for a living, get married to a person of the opposite sex, and take care of their children....just so they can be different from their parents!!!!

Joel said...

Lol... that is so true. However, I wonder if that will really be the only recourse for rebellion against self-centred parents in the near future. History has shown us that human ingenuity for finding deeper forms of rebellion and trouble is almost limitless.

Yet, hope exists for the future to find some kind of light to turn our society a bit more to the right than it is now!

Cara said...

Good debate you guys! I think the thing that bothers me the most with the theories behind genetics is the idea that we are predisposed to certain actions, behaviours and conditions. While this is possibly true would we really want to know? Even better, would it benefit us to know? One would assume that if we knew our child would be anti-social and so more likely to be a crimnal we would do everthing we could to push him past that barrier. In practice the childs actions would either become "excusable" or worse, never good enough to get past what it has decided he would be: a Self fufilling prophecy. Are we willing to believe, like the Ancient Greeks, in fate? Will there be a modern Oedipus who will be destined, by genetic code, to kill his father and marry his mother? Would we do to this Oedipus what his mother did, nail his feet to a tree to die of exposure for fear that the prophecy might come true?

Joel said...

But that is what some in utero tests are all about... what if your child will have Down Syndrome? Abort it! That's essentially the only purpose for those tests! Now, add to this the possibility of a gene identification for being a criminal... how many people would abort those children, too? God help us for our misuse of science!