Nature vs. Nurture in the 20th Century

Genetic Determinism Image 01

The Monkey in the Machine and the Machine in the Monkey

I watched this documentary and found it informative about the early 20th Century history of the idea of human genetic determinism.

Although the film is fairly objective in its approach and what it presents, it regrettably tells only part of the 20th Century nature vs. nurture story. The film is missing the subsequent responses to these early theories of human genetic determinism, including those of supporters and more importantly those of their detractors.

To its credit the film does contain some accurate though horrific truths about 20th Century European and American political and scientific intrusion in Africa. For its educational value alone the documentary is worth watching.

In terms of the early 20th Century thinkers who promoted the notion of human genetic determinism the film focuses mostly on William Hamilton, George Price, and later thinkers such as Richard Dawkins who were influenced by them.

It gives no mention of scientists and authors such as Sigmund Freud, B.F. Skinner, Nikolass Tinbergen, Konrad Lorenz, Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt, Desmond Morris, Robert Ardrey, E. O. Wilson, Richard Herrnstein, Charles Murray, James Watson, Jonathan Haidt, and others, particularly many science writers and neuroscientists during the 1990s. The foregoing have, to greater and lesser degrees, also contributed to the biologizing of human behavior. They have done so by insisting that genetics and neurophysiology are more powerful than, in fact override, culture and learning in determining what humans think and do.

Here are other related topics:

The Gay Gene

The God Gene

The Y Chromosome and Violence

Preconscious Brain Decisions

If you are like many in the U.S., you are not sure if nature trumps nurture in determining human behavior, or vice versa. Or, you think there is probably a balance between the influences of genetics and learning.

The idea of human genetic determinism has had a strong and lasting influence on the Western public despite its harmfulness to individual wellbeing and human relations. If you want to fully understand where the idea of human genetic determinism came from, go to the links of the above named persons. While there, give attention to the criticisms of their research and findings.

You can also read on. First, biologist and philosopher Massimo Pigliucci has this to say:

“[W]hile there are fixed elements to our being, we are not fixed beings, since we are (or ought to be) free to choose our projects. Neither biology nor natural obstacles limit our futures to a great extent, and how we live out our human nature will vary because we give different meanings to our facticities. An authentic life is about acknowledging these differences, and stretching ourselves into an open future. It does not follow that this openness is unlimited or unconstrained. We are limited, but mostly by our own imagination.”

For more but not a full course on the nature-nurture debate try the following, my two takes on these ill-founded, unsupported and harmful notions of human neuro-genetic determinism:

“Neuroeconomics? – Neuroscience No Panacea for Understanding Humankind”


“Critique – The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt”


The Myth of White South African Genocide

Ramaphosa Condemns Killings

The Myth of White Genocide

An Unfinished Civil War Inspires a Global Delusion

James Pogue


March 2019

Numbers from the article:

  • 56million people in South Africa
  • 8% are white, own 72% of the rural land
  • 7million are Afrikaners (of Dutch descent)
  • 81% are black, own 4% of rural land
  • 5million squatters
  • 14million live in extreme poverty
  • 13,310 are white living in squatter camps
  • 2017: 20,000 killed, 62 were white

Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF)

  • Black dominated political party championing land redistribution
  • Hold 25 of 400 National Assembly Seats
  • Leader Says: Have more black children as a political weapon.

ANC-Led Government of South Africa (GOSA)

  • Averse to Nationalizing Land
  • ANC Charter: “The Land Shall Be Shared Among Those Who Work It!”
  • 1994, Whites Would Not Sell Land at Fair Market Prices
  • Zimbabwe and Mozambique Land Redistribution Models Unacceptable
  • Government of South Africa Prefers Individual Ownership, Direct State Ownership, Trusts, Communal Land Custodianship. But, doesn’t know how to get there without international outcry or shedding white blood. The latter of which would take the matter away from being about reaching economic reconciliation and equality and force the Western dominated world media to portray it as white genocide. A most unenviable position for GOSA.

Principles, Key Factors:

  • Democracy
  • Rule of Law
  • Reconciliation
  • 25% of Total Population Live in Extreme Poverty

Flooded Street Lawley Township, RSA

Township Images: From Harper’s

Diepsloot Township, RSA

~ ~ ~

Just looking at the numbers above and comparing them to the principles below them, I don’t see how South African society can remain as it is indefinitely.

There can be no real or sustainable democracy, rule of law or reconciliation until matters of the unequal distribution of wealth, including land ownership, are resolved. Something must give.

Land Seizure Meeting

Democracy cannot go on if unequal wealth and land distribution continues. To make things more equitable may require autocratic means.

Rule of law cannot be maintained if 25% of the population remains in extreme poverty.

Reconciliation has to mean doing something about inequality.


An American friend, a long-time expatriate resident in South Africa, reacts to the Harper’s article as follows:

The African and European elites probably are colour-blind. The only colour they’ve learned to recognize is the colour of money. But down at the bottom of the scale, people translate money into racial politics – it’s more emotional.

Perhaps the difficulties of establishing genuine democracy also lead back to what I call the Vacuum Law throughout Africa. In the whole continent majorities are not really represented, and small minorities in country after country take over in various forms of dictatorship. Indeed, South Africa is probably the country that comes a bit closer nowadays to tapping that majority view point in a democratic dispensation, and so reconciliation and rational progress figure high in most peoples’ agendas, when they are sober.

When I listen to my white neighbours, ‘reconciliation’ is hardly what they voice.  They voice hatred. But people in crowds and social occasions are likely to voice such dramatic poses. When attitudes are measured more subtly, as done by the above Institute, a much more moderate picture emerges. The same goes for the black community.

In modern times, generally, the pursuit of wealth and power is usually pursued by any means legal. Then, when that fail illegal means are legalized or taken up outside of the law. In this pursuit the top and bottom of society do not hesitate to use racial, tribal politics – emotion trumps reason especially among the long-suffering, severely impoverished at the bottom.

I may be wrong and my friend’s take is correct. But I can’t help wondering if he is, in fact, wishfully, hopefully exaggerating the notion that “when attitudes are measured subtly (as done by the South African Institute on Race Relations), a much more moderate picture emerges. The same goes for the black community.”  That his “mixture of loyalties” is less the case than is a trembling gunpowder keg of emotion, especially among impoverished and relatively powerless blacks. I hope my friend’s notion of a continuation of reason, deliberation, moderation and patience will carry the day.

Simon Roche

Simon Roche

Whites will not take the initiative to precipitate the last stand, if there is to be one as some white supremacists call it.  That is, to “fight it out, and let’s die like men” as white South African reactionary Simon Roche puts it. The whites have guns and passion but not enough bodies to survive a war of attrition.

Blacks have already taken a stand, come up with a strategy, and begun the battle. That is, just as they did in ousting apartheid – organize, mobilize, then slowly, deliberatively, one open patch of land, one farm, one act of violent protest or sabotage at a time.

The period from the National Party’s implementation of apartheid in 1948 to Independence in 1994 covered 46 years. It’s been 25 years since Independence. Black South Africans have time on their side and they know it.

The ANC-dominated GOSA, for the time being, has no choice but relegate itself the role of the good-faith face of the black majority. When enough of the black insurgency measures mentioned achieve a critical mass of carnage and/or economic decline, the government will be forced to step in. In doing so they will try and take credit as the peace maker, ‘saving’ the whites from annihilation and declaring blacks the winners. It will then position itself as the guiding force and administrator for restructuring and redirecting the society, probably through some scheme of land ownership reform.

Now, all that said, s*** can happen. Events and circumstances can emerge that defy reason and circumvent GOSA contingency planning. Donald Rumsfeld called such unexpected factors “unknown unknowns”:

A combination of factors and circumstances may come into being that push GOSA to take immediate, autocratic action. Either side, black or white, could precipitate such a situation of urgency, such as suddenly emerging and dire social or economic conditions they think are favorable to their cause.  Or, such circumstances could just come together seemingly on their own and force the government’s hand. Such forced autocratic methods would be the worst possible scenario and all bets would be off.

Arriving at a turning point seems to be inevitable. GOSA cannot put off some form of intervention, be it autocratic or parliamentary. Their hand, like the hand of the white apartheid government in 1993-1994 before them, will likely be forced by the black majority’s strategy. Then, true democracy, rule of law and, most important of all, reconciliation will be within reach.


Batshittery – An Anthropological Commentary

Batshittery 03

The Cult That Made Your Grandmother’s Fine Silverware

a video on

Today I Found Out – Feed Your Brain

A friend asked what I as an ethnographer, a student of Humankind, make of the cult reported on in the above video. My answer: “Batshittery americana domesticus, anthropologically speaking.”

This genus, species and subspecies belongs to the taxonomic family of religious cults and other beliefs and practices that have failed to find a place in mainstream American life. Such cults and their beliefs are not in a dustbin with similar nonsense the likes of which are never to be seen again. This one and its sundry mutant variants await us in a holding pattern in the Ethnosphere. Awaiting what? Awaiting their chance to rejoin us and hopefully get into the mainstream of American thinking. That is, as a new and improved human-made supernatural myth to propel us further toward our place in Abrahamic heaven.

But, shockingly (well, not too shockingly), such bizarre approaches, in all spheres of human life, have become more highly feasible options for Americans in recent years. That is, as we careen toward full national batshittery under the pastoral presidential leadership of God’s current anointed one, Junior Jesus Golden Hair.

The full-open, genius and idiocy spewing font of human creativity is bountiful. With liberté, égalité and fraternité must inevitably come some, perhaps an equal measure of, utter cockamamie nonsense, individual and collective. That is a good thing. No font, no diversity of ideas and behaviors, no ever-fresh material for cultural evolution to chew on. No-one knows what oddball notions will be adaptive given the right context.

It’s not so much what kinds of ideas the creativity font provides as long as there’s a great variety in what it produces. What’s really important is the wellbeing of the selective mechanism working on that stuff. Mind you, the selection process has no direction or goal despite the protestations of Protestants, caterwauling of Catholics, or the murmuring of Muslims. Cultural evolution selects ideas that are provisionally adaptive in whatever context happens to exist at the time.

A variety of ideas put in the selection mechanism at a time populated by ignorant, gullible, uncritical, tribalistic people, you get crap out. A variety of ideas put into the mechanism at a better time of a more enlightened population, then you get less crap out. The crap will never be totally eliminated. We’re human. We don’t produce perfection. We muddle through on a few, occasional quirks of genius along the way.

Although it is showing serious signs of declining efficiency in terms of favoring Humankind, which it does not do so intentionally, the winnowing mechanism of our species’ cultural evolution selection process still works, for now.

That is despite the efforts of Ayn Rand, Richard Nixon, Michelle Bachman, Alan Greenspan, just to name a few of my favorites that happen to come to mind; and many other moderns, including that cast of evangelicals and charismatics that have found their way into the White House and are fawning over JJGH. That is, it’s still working well enough for us to have so far avoided extinction and not completely destroyed the biosphere. But, who knows, give us enough time, enough bad ideas in bad contexts and we just might succeed at exterminating ourselves and ending all other life on the planet!

Yes, Jim, thank you for those words of encouragement and hope.

But really, you ask, what about the possibility of a good future where our sub-species, Homo sapiens sapiens, stays the course toward a greater realization of the truly best (that is, humane) Enlightenment political and economic ideals, and continues to flourish on a scientific and technological journey of progress that does not kill everything? Well, I say the chance of that happening is a crap shoot.

Personally, I took my chips off the primate evolution betting table on U.S. presidential election day, November 8, 2016. I no longer have them on us, the relatively weak-muscled, small canine-toothed, wordy, ever-tinkering, sometimes treacherous, sometimes wise primate. Oh, by the way, never turn your back on or otherwise trust a monkey or ape, especially not their evolutionary cousins wearing suits. They’re capable of anything. I know from my personal experience of indignities given and received. But that’s another story for another time.

I’m looking for a better earthly critter to place my money on. How about a total Life on Earth reset starting from one of the Xenophyophora, hydrothermal vent creatures at the bottom of the Mariana Trench?

But, then again, we can’t be certain that the eventual outcome of such a restart would be any better, can we? It might be a worse, shorter, scarier evolutionary run than we’re currently having. Then again, it might stumble toward universal and sustainable peace, love and brother/sisterhood in a paradise on earth. Surely something like that is somewhere in the current font of human creativity.


The Evolution of Western Individualism, Part II of II


Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog (1818) by Caspar David Friedrich

At the December 11, 2018 meeting of Owl & Ibis – A Confluence of Minds yours truly presented Part II of II of The Evolution of Western Individualism, “Individualism in the 20th and 21st Centuries, A Closer Look.” A PDF of the evening’s slideshow is here.

This presentation was Part II of II of The Evolution of Western Individualism. The following handouts were given at the meeting – Handout 1, Handout 2. As always, comments and questions about the presentation, slideshow and handouts are welcome. Topics covered during the presentation included:

Recap of Part I

Collectivism as a Reactionary Force

Measuring Individualism/Collectivism by Geert Hofstede

The Historical Spread of Individualism Beyond the West

Objectivism by Ayn Rand

Individualism in the U.S.

The Modern Rise of Individualism Outside the West

Neoliberalism & Individualism by Noam Chomsky

Closing Thoughts

   Individualism-Group Equilibrium

   Individualism and Morality

Individualism by John Steinbeck

Individualism by Oscar Wilde

The PDF for Part I, “From the East African Rift to Silicon Valley,” is here.


Enlightenment Lost: A Faustian Exchange of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity for Self Glorification and Material Convenience

Yuval Harari

Tech C.E.O.s Are In Love With Their Principal Doomsayer

[Yuval Harari]

Nellie Bowles

The New York Times, November 9, 2018

Erasing Your Individuality

How Silicon Valley is Erasing Your Individuality

Franklin Foer

The Washington Post, September 8, 2017

Imagine observing a group of chimpanzees in the woodlands of western Tanzania. One day, an otherwise ordinary member of the group decides he will affix wildflowers to the hair on his head and rub a red ochre paste on his face. Imagine further that he, so adorned, then swaggers among his fellows gesturing to his new appearance and pointing at and laughing disdainfully at his group mates. Finally, imagine that this same chimp begins taking overt and deceitful actions to get what the others consider a disproportionate share of food that the group has hunted or found.

Three Questions

  1. What do you think Mr. Special’s group mates will think of him, and what consequences might he face for such behavior? His fellows might ignore his appearance or find it amusing. Then again, the ranking male and female might take umbrage if the lesser females start given Mr Fancy the attention and deference they normally give to the two leaders of the group. Eventually and more probably, his antics regarding food, if they continue for some time, will likely result in him being beaten and/or driven from the group.
  2. Now, imagine a corollary scenario among a group of modern humans. Think of a business office situation where someone adorns himself and behaves in a manner suggesting to others that he is superior to them. And that he begins stealing or bullying to obtain promotion, wealth or communal resources to a degree that degrades the wellbeing of his group mates? For example, a cologned, well-coiffed, well-dressed Wall Street financial manager becomes known in the office for his vanity and arrogance. In his work he frequently takes action to demolish low income housing that will put thousands of low income tenants on the street in order to make way for the construction of expensive, highly profitable townhouses on the same land. Does our Mr. Profit exemplify the spirit of liberty, equality and fraternity in his individual and business behavior?
  3. How has it come about that the maverick among chimpanzees scenario is an obvious affront to chimp individual and group morality, yet the corollary among humans is acceptable?

I kindly ask that you not jump to a conclusion, in the currently popular mode of “gotcha, see, I can think faster and therefore better than you,” that I’m a socialist using an evolutionary biology analogy as a rationale. Also, this essay is neither a sophistic argument intent on demeaning all points of view other than mine, nor an attempt at rhetorically deceiving you or clobbering you and your ideas into submission to my way of thinking. I kindly ask that you stay with me a bit longer. I’m simply trying to expand thinking not win points of argumentation.

First, I am not a socialist. During thirty plus years of working and living in Africa, observing firsthand how various forms of national socialism fail, I found little in that social system to recommend to any large society. Now, consider the following. Continue reading


The Evolution of Western Individualism, Part I of II

Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog

A sincere thank you to those who attended Owl & Ibis – A Confluence of Minds on Tuesday, October 23, 2018 for my presentation, The Evolution of Western Individualism, Part I, ”From the East African Rift to Silicon Valley.” For those who missed it a PowerPoint version is here. A PDF copy of the slideshow is here.

A key part of the meeting was an individualism-collectivism measure and an accompanying graph I developed. This may be viewed below or download in higher resolution as an MS Excel spreadsheet here. Any comments or questions you may have about the slideshow or the measure and graph are welcome.


Regrettably, I ran over my allotted time presenting Part I and did not allow enough opportunity for discussion. I will be sure to allow plenty of discussion time during Part II, “Individualism in the 20th and 21st Centuries – A Closer Look.”


November 13 – No Meeting

November 27 – No Meeting

Dec 11 – The Evolution of Western Individualism, Part II, “Individualism in the 20th and 21st Centuries – A Closer Look” by Jim Lassiter

Dec 25 – No Meeting

Jan 08 – Little Known Facts About Gardening by Steve Yothment

Jan 22 – TBD