I’ve been amused for years by attempts to blame culture for things obviously biological. This comes down to that old nature vs nurture debate. Naturally I never could substantiate my pro-nature views via reason alone, although it was always fun trying. I suspect that those who blame nurture and culture, do so because that path offers a possible way to ‘fix the problem’—simply educate the misguided to ‘fix’ the culture and we can all live happily ever after. On the other hand, if nature is mostly to ‘blame’, then we would seem to be left helpless(1), (except for the path Buddha’s Noble Truths offer).
I am also amused whenever scientific research digs up evidence that helps settle the issue. The recent article in Science News, Female chimps play with dolls, puts another nail in the coffin of blaming the male chauvinist culture for gender inequality.
“Although play choices of young chimps showed no evidence of being directly influenced by older chimps, young females tended to carry sticks in a manner suggestive of doll use and play-mothering,” Wrangham says. (Child-bearing females never played with sticks and thus didn’t model such behavior for younger chimps.)
“These new data suggest that sex differences in how children play may go way back in our evolutionary lineage and predate socialization in human cultures,”
Certainly, culture plays a role. For example, the style of the dolls girls play with will vary from culture to culture. Even so, the bottom line is nature. Our primal genetic makeup lays the foundation—the mold—upon which cultural idiosyncrasies form. The emergent property model is a useful way to picture this natural process expressed in culture.
For example, a person born 15,000 years ago with the genetic ‘balls’ to head toward the rising sun could have been the one to discover America first. A person with the same genetic makeup (a clone if you will) born today could become the one to land on Mars first. Culture determines the ‘look’ (the body) of one’s actions; nature (genetics) determines the ‘feel’ (the spirit) of one’s actions. One caveat: stressful child nurturing can affect emotional development negatively. For example, an aboriginal kid with the same genetic makeup as a urban street thug (or Jared Loughner for that matter), but spared the chaos and anonymity (disconnection) of the urban cultural environment growing up, he would turn out strikingly different.
(1) The wish to avoid feeling helpless is probably one major reason a belief in free will is irrespirable. I was finally able to accept the likelihood of no free will as I became comfortable with feeling helpless.