*Kate is now in the process of becoming an American. And this is why I’ll borrow beg or hitchhike to go to her swearing in ceremony. She’s one of us. She won’t take that oath lightly. And even despite the last 8 years and the present political insanity, she’s CHOOSING us.- SAH*
A Destiny Beyond the Crab Bucket – Kate Paulk
Nature or Nurture, DNA or Culture
In a sane world, the answer is “yes”.
It’s become self-evident that we do not live in a sane world. We have people trying to simultaneously claim that culture is race (that is, that nature/DNA is all there is) and that humans are endlessly mutable (that nurture/culture is the only factor in what we become). Meanwhile, some of the opponents of said mental midgets are claiming – without apparent irony – that DNA is destiny.
No, it’s not. No more than having poor parents is a guarantee of being poor one’s whole life, or that growing up in a slum means never being able to escape it. Unless, of course, you actually do believe that Nature, or DNA, is the whole sum of a person and therefore there is no free will, no ability to rise above one’s nature and become something better.
To which I say, bullshit. The evidence is against it. There is no tabula rasa, but there is also no predestined path determined at or before birth. We all, every last bloody one of us, have a choice in how we respond to the shit life dumps on us.
To claim that DNA is everything is to insult every person who has chosen to rise above shitty circumstances – to climb out of the crab pot, if one borrows Pratchett’s analogy. All of us have the ability to climb out of the crab pot that is our nature – but not all of us choose to do so.
To put it another way – all of us get a bunch of traits, abilities and so forth wired in. Some are more coordinated than others. Some are more intelligent. How we express those traits depends a lot on what our culture – both the local culture in our homes and the broader society we observe as we’re growing up – regards as the proper way. In Australia there’s an extremely strong streak of cutting down the tall poppies, so people with unusual abilities tend to be rather modest about them – yes, even in sports. The tendency is to attribute success to “luck” and misfortune to “not doing it right”.
The US cultures I’ve seen since I moved here are somewhat the opposite: success is because one worked for it and did it right, where failure is because you didn’t work or didn’t do things right.
Of course there are nuances: you don’t make broad sweeping generalizations without a boatload of exceptions. But the overall trend holds.
To claim that because someone belongs to X “victim group”, be it black lesbian unicorns with three legs or whatever they will always be this way is to claim that we are the sum total of our DNA and what happens to us – in short, that we have no free will and our choices are not our own. To reject this view and claim that DNA is destiny is equally short-sighted: DNA is the start. You can have genetic issues out the wazoo and adjust your life so their impact is minimized. You can let them hammer you and wail about your victimosity. Or anything in between.
Similarly, the claim that we in the West have to “accept” the atrocities committed by certain parties in the name of their disgusting ideology disguised as a religion is as bigoted as the notion that blacks or arabs (or anyone else, for that matter) are inherently more violent because DNA, and equally disprovable. Ask older American blacks (or check the statistics of the time): in the 1950s despite often blatantly bigoted policy in many parts of this nation, despite widespread poverty, there were a great many thriving black communities, with colleges and schools that – despite far less in the way of resources than their white counterparts – were the equal of many of those white counterparts, and the better of quite a few of them. The young men of those communities did not try to kill each other on a daily basis, nor did they make large swathes of inner cities no-go zones. Their descendants are hardly genetically different, as a group.
What has changed is the dominant culture: it’s gone from “beat whitey at his own game” – which ultimately leads to good outcomes for the largest number of people – to “whatever whitey does, do the opposite and call it good” – which does not. Why?
The Western culture, particularly the USA variant of it, values the individual independent from his or her ability to contribute to society at large.
This shows up in any number of little ways: the US habit of counting every live birth, no matter how premature, as a childbirth even if the baby only takes one breath outside the womb (which, incidentally, does interesting things to the US infant mortality stats as well as to the average expected life span); the notion of the three great inalienable rights – nobody else has this. Nobody. The other major Anglo nations (Canada, Australia, New Zealand) come close, but even they don’t go as far as the USA; the idea that an American – any American – is the equal of anybody else and this is why American Presidents traditionally do not bow to foreign royalty; hell, the arguments over damn near everything that spring up and get carried out loudly and cheerfully in public.
Nobody else does this. Every other culture I know about is less concerned about the rights of the individual than the USA. Even Australia, which in many ways comes closest, is more likely to favor the needs of society at large (and small) over the rights of the individual.
Thing is, as Sarah has mentioned a few times, when you allow the rights of the individual to take precedence, you get a whole raft of things happening, the majority of which wind up being massively beneficial to society at large and small because the misfits are able to spend more energy being themselves instead of fitting in. Hell, the non-misfits with bright ideas are able to spend more energy being themselves instead of fitting in.
It’s a small thing, but over the course of years and millions of people it adds up and you get the USA instead of, oh… Russia. Or China. The average Russian or Chinese person is no less capable than the average American, but both Russian and Chinese culture actively discourage individuality. The State, Mother Russia, whatever… these are more important than any individual Russian or Chinese life.
But be warned: America may be more resistant to the culture of conformity, but we’re not in any way immune. Our media and education system have spent decades indoctrinating us with the “society above all” culture and calling it good.
It isn’t. The radical American experiment has borne fruit far beyond anyone’s expectations. The poorest American has a standard of living more or less on par with middle-class Europeans (and Australians), and thinks this is normal.
Let’s not allow anyone who says race is culture or DNA is destiny to screw that up.