While the geneticists are telling us the old Nature/Nurture debate has been made obsolete or been solved, depending who you talk to, I just went ahead and solved it. Part #8
Now that’s a long title, but it’s a great Tweet, isn’t it?
This is convergence, this little essay, for me this is where all the major threads in my mind come together: the ancient classic dialogue, human behaviour, child discipline, and yes – even trolling.
OK, that wasn’t bad, but this is just the bullet point brainstorming stage right now.
- A note about “things”
- A note about the “Nature” thing
- Trolling and narrowing the argument
- The “Nurture” thing, the Abusive Ape Theory
- Warrior society’s fears, head on, a lethal mutation (too late, we already have several)
- Liberals’ fear of science, dark hints
- The “Deep Roots of War” thing
Whups, turned into a Table of Contents. Maybe that’ll work.
I was very young when I fell in love with the image of a dark, depressed genius, Richard Burton kind of thing, Maybe Judy Garland, maybe Jim Morrison, no-one in particular, the image, really. Edgar Allen Poe. But this isn’t about me. This is about all of us.
We can organize and control ourselves in this one way, we can kill anything and everything, and what we can’t – all of us, yet, at least so far – we can fight forever, or live in détente with, pending new technology.
Wait! Hear me out! This is not the end, there is hope and change in here yet, somewhere, I swear. Damnit, I had it right here just like, ten seconds ago, hold on . . . well, what the . . . OK, please don’t make me have to start with the nasty crap again, every time I lay out the present state of things as a preamble, it depresses my mind and I never get past it . . . it’ll come to me. C’mon, c’mon . . . damnit! Hope and change, hope and change . . . ah! It’s the very first bit, isn’t it?
The “we can” part.
There was a time we couldn’t have done that, and now we can. Evolution makes the impossible possible. Focus on that, not on the scatological nature of my proofs, OK?
I know our apparent specialty sucks, or at least by this point it’s starting to look less like a feature than built-in obsolescence, but we did it, so it proves we can, we did everything the biologists say, out-competed the rest, carried our genes to every corner of the earth and a little beyond. Avoided the predators and located the prey, and except that the ants and Elon Musk also think so, we run this planet. I mean we run it as a madman doomsday fantasy and we may prove it by destroying it, but the point is, we have the power, no-one gave us this world to rule and destroy, we made than happen, we took it. OK, maybe we told each other a story about how someone gave it to us to do with as we would – but it’s not true! We are liars. We took control.
We are presently hoping to hold on to what is left of our external world and its ecosystems, so we perhaps couldn’t imagine it, and many can’t imagine it now, but if we could remember what it was like before we began this techno-nightmare, then we might be able to see that killing an entire planet would be no small task either! Anyone setting out on that quest would surely be the most ambitious ape ever spawned, no? And surely that ape would be laughed out of the tree, considering that there are still many of those who are doing that laughing now, despite that the impossible dream is almost certainly a done deal at this point.
The proofs of our creative powers are all negative thus far, I’m afraid. This should have been impossible, our current state of affairs, that some one of millions of species should take on the rest in some insane death match and actually win!
I mean, it’s not the best thing predicted by evolution, is it? Isn’t evolution the explanation for diversity, quite the opposite function? I think we all understand that many of our troubles stem from evolved functions and their effects changing as our environment changes, that it is some evolved survival strategy of ours that has lost some balancing aspect and has become a new threat in itself that we need to solve now, not just for ourselves but for the whole environment.
Unfortunately, I think many of us think it in just that passive voice, though, functions and effects. I approve generally, I don’t trust our own voice simply speaking in its interests, just as I don’t so much trust my own personal emotional internal voice. I have always been aware of vast dark regions in my own experience, and so I have learned to “black-box” myself to some degree like that. I do think we need to treat ourselves that way to see what’s going on, like some animal we’re observing and can’t simply ask, because our unconscious parts are still important real-world things with causal connections and we need to take all that we can into consideration if we’re trying to find the truth.
If we think of it in only this way, though, we are helpless observers, riders on the storm, and that’s just not it. We have our fingers in this particular function, everywhere we can reach, our DNA is all over it. Again, the proofs are all negative to date – but those proofs are in, we did this by the process we call “nurturing.” If this is your first time with me, maybe you’re thinking – “negative nurturing?”
Yes, nurture, in the sense of influences on children, is a negative thing, that’s the great secret. We decided at some point that the nurturing phenomenon we were looking for was a “good” thing, a positive thing, and why was that? We call it the same thing we call providing food, buy why? Surely the inference cannot be that we humans are unlike any other creature because we feed our children.
Are we so proud of ourselves? Have we looked around and said to ourselves, “look at all this wonderful stuff humans have done! Whatever it is we’re doing, we had better just keep doing at, because who could argue with these results?” Why the hundred-year academic search for positive influences and effects upon human children in a world of strife and struggle seems a saner question, what positive world are we trying to explain? I believe it to be an assumption of something like Christian Original Sin in play here, a core belief that bad things are to be expected by default and it is good things that require explanation, and so that is where our efforts along these lines have been wasted, I mean spent. We are indeed learning from these attempts, and that will all be useful data if we create a sensible structure in which to put it.
I think we need to define our “nurture” idea a little better, and isn’t the point of it that nurture in this sense specifically defines influences upon children that adults actually make, as opposed to what we merely intend, or worse, what we merely say we intend? There is this difference in the definition of “punishment” and probably many other words, between the everyday meaning and the scientific one: in general speech, we can call attempts to punish “punishment,” but in technical terms it doesn’t qualify unless it can be shown to have succeeded and modified the behaviour. I’m sure a scientific definition of this “nurture” thing would have the same sort of requirement. Or, more to the point, as I’m attempting to do, we can redefine the process as unconscious and say the measurable real-world effects we do see reflect the true, evolved, unconscious intentions behind our “nurturing.”
Now, parents all report good intentions, but I don’t really trust these humans when they tell me their intentions are “good,” everything is some sort of “good” for somebody, right? “Good” and “bad” are a little too fluid for that – University of “Hee-Haw” – ask your parents. Maybe if you saw that first weak attempt at the “Ghostbusters” movie, the one with dudes: I’m a little fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing too.
Seriously, though: I think the first meaning of “good” is staying alive, and many, many living things have been known to do some horrible shit in order to accomplish that basic “good,” right? That’s what I’m talking about here, or that’s the space in which I’d like to have a conversation. I’m saying what we apparently want is what we’re getting – well, what we would be getting as traditional hunter-gatherers, crazy, angry, aggressive men that the men in the next village think twice about before they mess with (and crazy, angry, aggressive women who apparently punt their three-year-olds out the door to live at the mercy of the crazy, angry, aggressive adolescents in the children’s’ group to nurse the next child). What we are getting is this human world right here – and I don’t mean right here in a classroom or a library full of well dressed WEIRD people reading and quietly sharing insights, I mean here on Earth, wherever there is conflict over resources, fighting and war, and wherever folks are afraid to go outside. My entire blog has been written in an effort to make the connection between these things. Nice folks, more ladies than men, perhaps, and the psychology minded, many folks intuit this, and while it seems no-one expects confirmation from science, little ol’ I am here to tell you all of that logic and science is really there.
I’ve made the point before: fifty percent of each of us already knows it, Dad said it to many of us: the beatings will continue until you’re tough enough. Well guess what? We’ve “won.” We’re tough enough.
We’re tough enough now – because we don’t think so, and so ever strive to be.
That’s my theory of human nature.
We saw ourselves in the utterly helpless primate baby, and clever, devil-monkey that we are, we figured out how to change it, and boom – just maybe a hundred thousand years or something, maybe only twenty, maybe the entire history of our genus – and we are in the position to affect everything else alive here in the most powerful way. We did that. We saw something, imagined an answer (you could say a process of selection, etc., brought about the answer, but I’ll suggest that evolution does some of these things through the human brain, and that is also evolution), and implemented it, with some spectacular, albeit spectacularly bad, results. Sing it with me –
We are self-created creatures, in the sense of the deep roots of war.
That means we’re not stuck with it, because we weren’t stuck with our lives as some archaic version of chimpanzee just going with the flow of nature, were we?
Sometimes I worry that what we’re up against here is that we haven’t evolved a sense of evolution, and try as we might, we don’t have language in which the world is not static, and things are not simply “as they are.” The “deep roots of war” implies time, and evolution perhaps – or is the point of the phrase that the depth is supposed to intimidate? Things may change, but this is deep, right? Did this concept get coined while we all thought evolution had to be long, slow, and done without our participation? I think this is where my own visceral reaction to the phrase, “the deep roots of war” comes from. It’s a cynical nod to evolution the main thrust of which is, “forget it, evolution, schmevolution, your war is the deepest part of you.” Where have I heard that song before? We are finding evidence of religion as an evolved thing. Further along this line, it is not from a sophisticated, mathematical view that our very brief history – not twenty thousand years of war, right? – looks “deep.” Deep compared to the Hebrew calendar is not “deep” in evolution or biology, at least not for large animals, right?
Sorry, I know – “roots.”
The depth of these roots I will allow back to our common ancestors with the chimpanzees, something deeper than our divergence with the chimps, maybe in the tens of million years, and it’s just a guess or an intuition, but for starters, I’d stop at sixty million, before the mammals got the run of things. All creatures’ “roots” go all the way back to the beginning, and if we’re tracing violence that far, we have to acknowledge everything else that old, like everything. War will be our defining item there when employing archaeology for this question, and the relevant “roots” will likely be specific to primates like us and the chimpanzees – so war is maybe twenty thousand years deep and its roots perhaps in the tens of millions of years deep. It’s not eternity, and it hasn’t been “just the way it is” for very long at all. Things are changing. Something I’d be looking for if I knew how, and I hope some geneticists will pick up the thread, is for the dates of some of these “warrior” alleles, for the advent of particular epigenetic responses to abuse. If my idea can ever show anything like evidence, I guess that would be it.
Plus, we’ve got far less successful/destructive cousins that share all of our “roots” of depth anyway; the difference is in the newer roots, the shallow ones, if it’s there. So. Self actualization?
It’s the science fiction dream, that we outgrow this cycle of abuse and manage our lives consciously, that we perhaps reach an age and a level of maturity where we finally lose our taste for war, of course –as happens for an old soldier in his own lifetime if he lives long enough, but on a species level. It’s a group-competitive function I’m going on about, so all the groups are going to have make the move together, which makes it unlikely, understatement of the year. We’ll be hoping for a hundredth monkey sort of effect, too bad that’s not a thing; as I said, unlikely in the extreme – but quite impossible if we don’t even identify some sort of crazy goal like that, if we don’t even dream it. Again – this present circumstance, that we in a few tens of thousands of years should progress form killing one another to killing everything in order to do it, the whole globe – was also unlikely in the extreme.
I think the way we find ourselves trying to manage what is left of the wildlife is the beginning. In my first draft of this new world, everything is like that, managed, and yes, it’s the Leftist totalitarian nightmare that kept Ayn Rand and keeps so many freedom lovers awake – but I’m just guessing that. I don’t know, I was raised in this system, same as you.
In a mere fifty years or so, I have produced these few thoughts that I think are sort of new; that’s not easy, I’m extremely proud of myself for these few instances of reason, of putting two and two together. I consider these to be rare events and it’s sad that they mostly happen with no witnesses, in apartments where folks brood alone, but so be it. Happy people are not going to be obsessed with solving the world’s problems if it means first proving what is wrong with the world – perhaps if that had been easier; it should have been the preamble, but I’m almost sixty and I haven’t even started school yet. I’m sorry, did I set the whole thing up as if I had the full vision to offer? Self deception in service of deception, I’m afraid. I hoped I would have one, I’ve been trying to have one, write one, staring at this screen day after day, hoping to see what needs to be laid out, waiting for the lightning . . . Gawd, another stop and a restart, like every McCartney song in concert.
We stop implementing our default, evolved solution for our personal security, which of course is a Red Queen’s game, we are constantly in some unconscious battle training and so are “they,” and I’m not sure what happens – but this response we have, our “strength,” it doesn’t “solve” anything; the whole plan is to be more of a problem than the other guy, no-one is trying to be less of one. It’s never going to go away if this is what drives it, if we are their army’s raison d’etre.
Huh. I find myself wanting to give that the internet’s shittiest boost: “let that sink in,” which is pathetic, I should be driving it in, right?
How about this – if Steven Pinker is right about the world becoming a less violent place, he doesn’t appear to know why, if he had a solid answer to why, I assume we’d have been hearing about it and there would be a debate, but this is why. Somehow, we must be beating our children a little less, on average. Hard to imagine, watching the news, I know, as bad as things are, they used to be worse. This is where we’re stuck, our evolved situation has us split up into groups and being the other group’s problem is our solution. Could some group, some nation, or some faith, make the change, stop abusing their children and so “weaken” themselves and still be all right, still exist and survive through intelligence rather than aggression? I’m asking that if we do not in every generation reinforce every child’s pre-configuration for conflict and war, won’t they still grow up seeing the dangers and attempting to deal with them? Wouldn’t we still protect our lives and our cultures even if we weren’t abused, even if we weren’t set up to attack theirs? Surely, this is one early version of the dream, possibly more likely than the whole world agreeing at once. Of course, Pinker’s improving world isn’t the whole world, nor is it a single church or nation, and if he’s right, then it is happening nonetheless, somehow incrementally, despite that the human tournament has not been suspended, despite that we are still in competition.
There a little hope and change in that, I guess, but time has run out for evolution to do this for us, for this to happen like Pinker thinks, slowly and cumulatively, maybe automatically. My putting improved dramatically and forever the day I finally realized that no-one was moving the thing but me, that I really did have the power and the responsibility to control that putter head myself. I used to try and hope, I really thought it was a matter of chance. That sounds ridiculous and embarrassing, but it’s true, and to carry that metaphor forward, we discipline our kids and hope for the best, and we all agree it’s a matter of chance. That’s fine if what you want is an excuse after the fact, but if you really wanted to control outcomes, you’d be taking conscious control of the process, because there ain’t nobody else holding that belt other than you either.
Same as my putter.
And I was terrified before I took charge of it too! Honestly, if I thought that awful putting was me, and not some element of chance, I’d have sharpened the end and fallen on it. It was a leap of faith, actually trying and fearing failure when I really had applied myself, a kill or cure sort of situation, but like the golfers say, playing well solves everything. Of course, that awful putting was me, who else? But the difference is me conscious about it, nothing else, and again, embarrassing, what could be more obvious, who else did I think was waving my putter around in a jerky figure eight pattern? It’s nowhere near as obvious in the larger conversation, the connections between our discipline and the chaos of the human world, so no shame we’re here, and the fear is exponentially worse. But the experience will follow the same pattern too.
Embarrassment, amazement, and probably an overwhelming sense of “why didn’t we do this years ago?”
That’s the sign of self-realization, right? And you never really know what it’s going to look like until you get there. I’m sorry if I fell short on the hope and change front, if the problem appears strong and the solution feeble – but I guess that puts me in good company, kind of like the real scientists. I haven’t given up for forever, just for today. I’ll get us there, I hope. Eventually.
April 11th., 2018