Nature or Nurture? The answer is …
August 20, 2001
by John Pugsley
Originally published in The Sovereign Individual, June 2000
The central conundrum of my life has been the puzzle of myself. What makes me act the way I do? How can I change myself? Did I inherit my personality and temperament from my parents, or are my likes, dislikes, habits and quirks the accumulated debris of my experiences?
This is more than a question of significance only to curious individuals like myself. The “nature vs. nurture” question has engaged the best of philosophers and psychologists for the past century and a half, if not longer. On the deepest level, it is the most important scientific question that mankind must answer. The very survival of the species may depend on whether each individual’s behavior is primarily the product of heredity or environment.
If individual personalities and behavior are primarily shaped by nurture, that is by parenting, experience and education, it holds that beliefs, tastes, and behavior could be molded by simply providing the “correct” environment during childhood and early adulthood. Like Pavlov’s dogs, citizens could be trained by reward and punishment to salivate when leaders ring the bell promising food, and cringe when they see a picture of the whip. Parents could be trained, and schooling and environment controlled by the reigning authority.
On the other hand, if personalities and behaviors are primarily shaped by our genes, i.e., if nature rules, parenting, education and training can only be marginally effective in changing people’s personalities, temperaments and behavior. The model society would have to be constructed around human nature, rather than human nature molded to the desired social model.
Worldwide, the overwhelming majority believes that nurture rules. In the early 1900s, influenced by the conditioned-reflex experiments of Pavlov, J.B. Watson founded the “behaviorist” school of psychology that seeks to explain behavior entirely in terms of observable responses to environmental stimuli. B.F. Skinner, became behaviorism’s major modern proponent. Sigmund Freud, the most influential psychiatrist in history, postulated that emotional problems are traceable to apparently forgotten psychic traumas in early life, and thereby created psychoanalysis as a tool to discover repressed childhood experiences. His theory has influenced not only all of psychology, but of anthropology, education, art, and literature, as well.
The idea of an infinitely malleable human mind fit perfectly with the aspirations of the social engineers such as Karl Marx, Hitler, and Mao Tse-tung. Fascism, communism and socialism all are founded on the premise that individuals can be trained to behave and conform to whatever social model the reigning authorities dictate. With individuals born a blank canvas, and nurture as the primary paint brush, the perfect society lacked only a designer…and Karl Marx, Adolph Hitler and Mao-tse Tung each had a design in mind.
It is not only communism and fascism that base their designs for the perfect society on the “nurture” model. This same model also forms the foundations of all modern democratic governments. Social “equalization” programs such as Head Start and Equal Employment Opportunity all rest on the premise that the variations in individual intelligence and achievement are rooted in early environments in which the achievers receive an unfair share of education and nurturing at the expense of the non-achievers who were deprived. The theory of the Big Brother state is that the debilitating effects of a defective early environment can be offset by government programs that can bring whole classes of disadvantaged youth up to par with those who were raised in more nurturing neighborhoods.
The problem with the theory of behaviorism, however, is that it is totally wrong. Thanks to remarkable breakthroughs in the biological sciences, it has been proven that genes and not environments, are the primary source of each individual’s personality and temperament.
Thomas Bouchard, head of the Department of Psychology at the University of Minnesota began his famous study of identical twins reared apart over twenty-five years ago. Emerging from this study has come an absolutely astounding picture of the genetic roots of behavior. In fact, so conclusive is the evidence that Bouchard has challenged the members of the American Psychological Association to come up with just one single scientific study that shows any link between basic personality and environment. Not one piece of evidence has been forthcoming.
Bouchard’s findings are now being corroborated in laboratories that are studying the human genome. Dean Hamer, head of the Gene Regulation and Research Division of the Biochemistry Laboratories of the National Cancer Institute has identified specific genes linked to everything from IQ to homosexuality, and from novelty-seeking to risk-aversion.
A vast array of personality characteristics that heretofore have been assumed to be the result of early nurturing and experience, are turning out to be preferences that are strongly if not totally directed by our genes. Extroversion or introversion, neatness or slovenliness, intelligence or slowness, risk-aversion or risk-seeking, one after another, genes are being identified that prove each of us is born with a book of characteristics already fully written on our slate.
What does this mean relative to your future and the future of society? First and foremost, it means that advocates of social engineering who are intent on legislating equality will fail. Government cannot legislate asunder that which natural selection has taken millions of generations to instill in the human being. Populations may be temporarily indoctrinated with the false idea that all individuals should sacrifice their lives and fortunes for the good of the nation, but ultimately, this idea will succumb to the pressure of genes, and individual self-interest will win.
As to you and me, it proves even more clearly that you and I cannot be sculpted by the state to conform to the popular model of the ideal citizen. We should seek to follow our own drummer. We are each born unique, and should strive to maintain our natural identity as sovereign individuals.