Friday, March 24, 2006

Human nature

By John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.)

A doctrine that flows very directly from the Leftist need for change is their usual rejection of the idea of human nature. Leftists are usually emphatic that there is no such thing as an inherited, unchangeable human nature. Since Leftists want to change more or less everything, anything that is unchangeable is anathema to them. This root and branch rejection of heredity was of course what underlay Stalin's support of Trofim Lysenko's otherwise thoroughly discredited Lamarckian theory of evolution -- the idea that characteristics acquired in one's lifetime can be passed on to one's offspring. Marx himself clearly had Lamarckian ideas of a sort, believing that the "soil" and the geology on which one lived influenced what one became. Geras (1983) has however argued that this did not mean that Marx totally rejected the idea of human nature. Later Leftists, however, often have done so.

Prof. Stephen Pinker gives here a brief and very readable summary of the state of our scientific knowledge about how much of ourselves we owe to our genes. Excerpt:

It's also been undermined by behavioral genetics, which has found that at least half of the variation in personality and intelligence in a society comes from differences in the genes. The most dramatic demonstration of this fact is that that identical twins who were separated at birth have fantastic similarities in their talents and tastes.

What he writes is not new. Behaviour geneticists have been telling us of the overwhelming importance of our genetic inheritance ever since the first twin studies. And even the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus had enough insight over 2000 years ago to say: "A man's character is his fate."

Leftists who think that all untoward adult behaviour is malleable and just the result of an unfortunate upbringing and not the result of heredity should read this article. It does its best to espouse environmental influences but in the end cannot get past the fact that a violent adulthood can be predicted from behaviour even in infancy. Excerpt:

Research released last month from the Australian Temperament Project claims that it is possible to pick up early warning signs that children may be heading for delinquency, drug-taking and criminal behaviour. Some experts claim children who go on to develop delinquent behaviour are different from their peers from as early as two years of age. The Australian Temperament Project has followed 2443 Victorian children and their parents from infancy in 1982 to adulthood.

The full report of the study is available here (PDF). Note particularly p. 6.

And another interesting snippet from the same study:

The study also found that children's temperaments varied widely in Australia because of its multi-cultural society. It said children from Mediterranean parents were five times more likely to have a difficult temperament than those from Anglo-Saxon parents. "It's not just the ethnic group asserting its individuality, we know they're different and we have to adapt our clinical interventions to take into account those cultural differences," Oberklaid said.

And there are also now several substantial twin studies showing that anti-social behaviour (of which criminal behaviour is a sub-set) is up to 70% hereditary. Julia Kim-Cohen and co-workers, for instance, studied the way children coped with a difficult early environment and found that IQ differences were 45% genetic and that differences in anti-social behaviour were 70% genetic. See Child Development, of 2004. See also the conclusion in a 2004 twin study reported in The Archives of General Psychiatry: "Conduct problem scores were significantly heritable based on parent and teacher reports and self-reports. Combining data from all 3 informants showed that they are rating a common underlying phenotype of pervasive conduct problems that is entirely genetic, while teacher ratings show separate genetic influences that are not shared with other raters."

Despite all that, Leftists generally reject the importance of heredity in order to justify their frequent claim that "education" can change almost anything in human behaviour. Even Leftists in the "Western" world claimed for many years that "education" could create "a new Soviet man" who would work for the common good rather than for selfish greed. "The new Soviet man" is of course now as dead as the dodo but modern-day Left-dominated American schools still often seem to demonize the normal human tendency to seek out one's own economic self-interest as "greed" or as being "uncaring" and still foolishly try to "educate" such tendencies out of their students. Students are made to feel ashamed of what are normal motivations.

As has already been noted, any idea of human nature or of inherited characteristics says that important things about human beings just CANNOT be changed willy-nilly and that does not suit the change-loving Leftists at all. So Leftists simply reject what does not suit them -- regardless of the enormous evidence in favour of inherited characteristics. The entire academic discipline of behaviour genetics should not exist from a Leftist point of view.

Conservatives, by contrast, not only have the view that there are important and essentially ineradicable inherited human characteristics but they share with Christians the view that those characteristics are of a "fallen" kind: characteristics of selfishness, aggressiveness, untrustworthiness etc. That Christians and conservatives share such a central belief about human nature is of course a large element in the general compatibility between Christianity and conservatism and the frequent opposition between Christians and Leftists (e.g. "Godless" Communism versus the Roman Catholic church).

This conservative (and scientific) rejection of the Leftist idea that human beings are infinitely malleable does of course pose a major threat to the Leftist's assumptions, theories and programmes and it is one that the Leftist cannot really rebut so the usual Leftist response is simply some sort of ad hominem nonsense such as claiming that conservatives are less "compassionate" (As if Leftists in power such as Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were "compassionate"!). Abuse takes the place of argument. As Krauthammer (2002) put it:

"[Liberals] think conservatives are mean. How can conservatives believe in the things they do -- self-reliance, self-discipline, competition, military power -- without being soulless? How to understand the conservative desire to actually abolish welfare, if it is not to punish the poor? The argument that it would increase self-reliance and thus ultimately reduce poverty is dismissed as meanness rationalized -- or as Rep. Major Owens (D-N.Y.) put it more colorfully in a recent House debate on welfare reform, "a cold-blooded grab for another pound of flesh from the demonized welfare mothers." ...

This article of liberal faith -- that conservatism is not just wrong but angry, mean and, well, bad -- produces one paradox after another....

It should be noted, however, that Leftists reject the idea of heredity only because it is inconvenient to them. There is, for instance a big essay on Gene Expression that looks at the writings of prominent psychologist Jerome Kagan. It shows in great detail how Kagan's Leftist and anti-heredity ideology makes him ignore and contradict his OWN published research findings -- which show big hereditary influences. Excerpt:

In the course of the experiment, Kagan noticed something unanticipated. The Chinese children, little more than babies, whether attending day-care or raised at home, were consistently more fearful and inhibited than the Caucasians. The differences were obvious. The Chinese children stayed close to their mothers and were quiet and generally apprehensive, while the Caucasians were talkative, active, and "prone to laughter". These characteristics were confirmed by the mothers as typical of their children's behavior at home as well. In addition, the researchers discovered that the Chinese tots had less variable heart rates than the Caucasians. Kagan could not avoid the clear evidence of an innate difference between the two groups of infants. It is ironic that this scientist's conversion to a biological-genetic view came along the lines of racial differences. Kagan was a political liberal who only three years earlier had been one of the most vociferous critics of Arthur Jensen's theories on the heritability of IQ, theories that he and most everyone else denounced as racist. Now he was publishing his observation of fundamental personality differences between racial groups.

Leftists reject the importance of heredity when to acknowledge its influence would make nonsense of some change that they propose. In other cases, however, heredity can be speedily resurrected. Current Leftist advocacy of "gay rights", for instance often seems to centre on a claim that homosexuals "can't help it". They are born different (born homosexual) and therefore should not be criticized in any way. And much feminist advocacy too seems to centre on a claim that women are naturally (for instance) more "nurturing" and can even be seen as superior on that basis.

So consistency is not a Leftist virtue. They are no more concerned about consistency than they are about the facts. In psychological jargon, their cognitions are "motivated" -- i.e. their needs (for change etc.) are so great that they see only what they want to see. In an attempt to cover that up, Leftist psychologists even try to show that conservatives have exactly the same fault!

There is an excellent article by John O McGinnis that gives much more detail of the way in which genetic research keeps giving further support to conservative thinking on a whole range of issues. In fact studies come out almost daily which show that more and more human attributes are genetically determined. Read here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here just for starters.


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