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These two phrases capture the essence of life—as it exists and as it ascended to its present level. As it exists, nurture provides us with a flexible framework of behavioral traits that depend in complex ways on our particular genomes. For our purpose on this page we use the word temperament to designate these inborn features. These features are observed not just among humans but among animals as well. Further, they vary within species. How else could the various breeds of dogs having different inborn temperaments have arisen through selective breeding? Further, it is now clear that “training” can affect behavior in both animals and humans. The result of “training” we term personality. Our individual personalities therefore are the products of nature / nurture.

What else is new? Nothing of practical use perhaps, but stop and think about it. Could not nature itself operate in just this way? For example, hot and cold “hydrothermal vents” on the ocean floor are populated by organisms so different that they share practically no genes in common. They might even be called different life forms! A similar “sorting” is obvious among the birds where various species have adapted themselves to hot and cold climes, high and low altitudes. The great annual animal migrations are yet another example of a species accommodating itself to environmental pressures. It is then no great leap of the imagination to view nature / nurture as just another expression of a natural adaptation that operates within and among so many species. The word consilience fits nicely and comfortably here. We are part and parcel one product of many in this thing called nature. And nature is coherent. It is the same everywhere, because the laws of science are too.

So where does this preamble leave us? Well, for one thing, we can read what nature has to tell us. This gives us a description of what is and what is going on. From that we should be able to figure out why things happen. Once we know that, we can work out means to control events, at least within the framework of natural laws. Humans ascended to rulers of the earth by harnessing fire and donning clothing that extended our range. The exponential march of science has enabled efficient agriculture, enabled descents to the very bottom of the ocean, enabled a permanent base at the South Pole, allowed man to live for extended periods in orbit and to walk upon the moon, all while use an iPhone to call and talk to just about anyone on earth for a pittance. And, oh yes, roll back disease. The list goes on and on, and it enables empire where one nation subjugates other nations—unfortunately.

All the forgoing arose from hard science.

If science can do all these things, why have human beings continued to behave like animals?

The short and all too accurate answer is we are animals! By our very nature, we have this complex thing left over from evolution—nature / nurture—and how to overcome it is not an easy task. Our ability to think arrived long after our numerous behavioral traits were cast in concrete.

According to E. O. Wilson, we share about half of our traits with ants, from whom we split hundreds of millions of years ago. He also argued, as we do now, that evolution itself gives rise to our humanistic as well as existential belief systems. Each is an epigenetic expression of our genes.

This is what we mean by cast in concrete. Because we can think, we can, in fact, figure out what and who we are. To most of us, it is frightening to contemplate our own psychologies. In fact, it is too frightening. When we evolved to the level of spoken language, we began to ask “why?”. And that event led eventually to the realm of the abstract. Complexity of expression beyond the needs of hunting, gathering food, shelter, water and sex, led to languages beyond the basic few hundred or so words that survival required.

The questions “why?” required answers, just as they do today. And just like our times, the tribal elders did their best to explain. Some explanations, such as how to start a fire, were merely descriptive and entirely adequate for that day and age. Wind, rain, thunder, and lightning, even defied descriptions beyond simple words. Such events were quite naturally ascribed to gods. Because there were so many such events, polytheism became the first religion. In a very real sense, these “answers” were means to allay fears among the beholders. Still they were superstition—creative answers by ignorant people, not by choice perhaps, but by circumstance.

Nevertheless, the questions “who am I?” and “what is my purpose” are still being asked in our day, unanswerable beyond the facts of evolution. And this is scary. It is so scary that most of us seek refuge in the traditions of the various religions. To a lesser extent, following social traditions, or simply following their inborn herding instinct give comfort to many. Constitutions legitimizing government often fill the same role. Using these natural means, the average human lives day by day. In fact, taking such refuge amount to a coping method for facing the events of the day, just as Karen Horney would have it. Serious students should reference only the papers referred to on the Horney web site. Horney interpreted Anna Freud’s great works on Defense mechanisms for the popular audiences. Defense mechanisms arise much in the manner of the above, but they are rarely immovable—and then only if their owners desire to change. Also known as hang-ups, defense mechanisms get in our way when we gain sophistication with age. Then they are popularly known as hang-ups. See Little Boy Saved, for a real life example of how they work in practice along with a bit more information.

One easily-drawn conclusion is that the peoples of the world are mostly in denial over a number of issues—violence most importantly. Intuitively they may well have a hunch that violence is a built-in genetic potential as Milgram, Zimbardo, and Lederer would have it.

As long as we cannot see ourselves as wild creatures still, violence will be our emotional handmaiden and means to whatever ends. See Sensual Politics for how that plays out on the national scene.

Associated Links
Bringing Lucifer Under Control
External Locus of Control
Framing For Dialogue
Hope For a New Face of Empire
Hope Provided By Nature
Internal Locus of Control
Peace via Nature’s Way
Tea Leaves: How to Read Politicians
Teaching Peace


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