Rational Religion

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Okay; What Do We Blame?


The Nature vs. Nurture controversy, spawner of some of the most acrimonious debates in academe between even those scholars who are otherwise mostly in agreement, is heating up again. (If it ever cooled.)


The schism is generally along ideological lines; with both scientists and social scientists who define themselves as "liberal" tending to have more trouble with the concept of inherited human personality traits than those who are constitutionally more "conservative."


I am a rampantly liberal thinker who suspects that as animals we inherit a great deal more of who we are than most of my compatriots are willing to allow. 


The mistake both they and the Social Darwinists make is in confusing "innate" with "inevitable."


Dog trainers know that - regardless of breed - there are few canines who are truly intractable and cannot be schooled into patterns of behavior which are acceptable to their owners no matter what their innate heritage.  Some dogs are easier to train to attack than others; some are more "high strung" or protective of their turf; but if socialized to be gregarious at an early age, these same animals can be as safe and reliable as their most "naturally" docile relatives.


This, with an animal who is not even capable of complex rational thought.


Returning to our own species, one of the earliest and most demonstrably innate reflexes in a human child is the blink response.  Flick a hand at a baby's eyes and those eyes will close momentarily even though the child has never been hit and does not expect to be hit.  The eyes are a precious resource, and there is a lot of incidental stuff flying around in the environment which can damage them.   The purpose of eyelids is to protect the eyes, and the blink response is wired in; nearly as physically manifest as the eyelids, themselves.


But a boxer can't blink when a left jab flics at his eyes.  If he does he is open for the following right cross.  Part of a boxer's training is in how to short-circuit one of the most basic, hard-wired impulses in his nervous system.  He dare not close his eyes, even for that millisecond; especially for that one.  


Though with much practice his trainer could probably manage to suppress the reflex, entirely, it is more useful to substitute another action -- such as a parry or an effective counterpunch - for the repressed blink.


At any rate, taken entirely by surprise and outside of the context of the ring, a trained boxer is much more likely to hit you than he is to blink if you feign an attack upon his eyes. 


And this is a hard-wired reflex!   Routinely subverted and circumvented in boxing and martial arts lessons all over the world.


Now, let us admit that we are creatures of instinct, driven and pulled by the genes we were allocated at the moment of conception. 


Our basic personalities, our aptitudes and weaknesses, our health, vigor and general level of intelligence - to say nothing of our relative attractiveness and ability to cope with romantic rejection - are all there in our DNA and there's not a damned thing we can do about that!


They're there, and no amount of not wanting to admit it will keep them from manifesting themselves, willy-nilly, as the environment stimulates them.


But none of them are as immutably fixed as elements of our behavior as that little old blink reflex. If we can change that, we can change anything else that we inherit.


A fighter doesn't learn to protect himself by pretending the blink response doesn't exist.  He confronts it, up front, and learns to deal with it. 


And that is the only way we, as individual inheritors of our own genetic patterns, can ever hope to realize our maximum potential and control the baser elements of our nature.   We have to identify what we are, innately, in order to create ourselves as who we want to be, culturally. 


Trying to pretend that we are not what we are is the recipe for making certain that we will become exactly that; the creature of our biological inheritance, with everything that that implies.