Monday, February 13, 2012
Nature vs. Nurture (FilAm Star, February 3, 2012)
Everyone has an opinion on this subject: are each of us the way we are (I mean in the way we think about and understand the world) because of the grip of our intellectual birthright (that we were born to perpetually decipher the “truth” about the world through a mental matrix that is exclusively inherent to each individual)? Or are we the lifelong product of the social, cultural, political, and economic structure that we were cultivated in?
Can we attribute our tragedies, successes, loves, broken hearts, maladies, good health, wisdom, stupidity, et cetera, et cetera, to something that is pointed out to us as our destiny which our lives are inextricably interwoven into? Or are we impossibly inseparable from the premium of free will (thereby we are all painfully or proudly responsible for our actions)?
Living in a liberal democratic society like the United States where most people identify themselves as free citizens—free to make their own choices on just about everything under the sun—means stronger yet, to come dangerously close to a pure conviction that leers at a conservatively-unfashionable posture: that whatever happens to any of us, good or bad, is the result of decisions substantially induced by social forces and not by some preprogrammed behavioral or biological software in our DNA.
The other side of the nature-versus-nurture ledger—that whatever happens to any of us is justice served and that we have no one to scapegoat or credit but ourselves—principally inspired former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain’s inhumane perception that “If you don't have a job and you're not rich, blame yourself.” While that phrase didn’t endear Cain to the thousands of Americans who worked hard and were laid off from their jobs anyway, it appreciated the isolated cells of wealth in America and the people who made it their business to constitute that wealth. Cain and his fellow conservatives recognize them as bold go-getters who acted on the opportunity that presented itself and were richly-rewarded for it.
So is it my fault, not my fault, their fault, everyone’s fault? Many of us constantly ask ourselves things like why am I not rich, why don’t I look like Brad Pitt, why am I not as smart as those scientists who send probes to outer space? How did I end up this way? Was it something I did or didn’t do, or is it my fate to be whatever it is I am or am not? Is there something I can do about it, or is trying to do something about it going to amount to, as the saying goes, futilely “shoveling shit against the tide”?
I stretch this attempt at a philosophical analysis to Filipinos wherever they are. If we are to be honest about why the Philippines is poor, or about why a lot of Filipinos in America struggle to achieve the American Dream, then we should acknowledge that Filipinos as a whole have made their mistakes, mistakes that have been as avoidable as they have been costly. Many would attribute these mistakes and blown opportunities to Filipinos’ supposedly “damaged” culture or to their “irrational” indigenous psyche or to their natural character.
The idea for why millions of Filipinos in the Philippines are poor and why growing numbers of Filipinos in the US are finding themselves excluded from the American Dream demands an equal accounting of the historical role of Western colonization, the moral contradictions of free market, deregulated capitalism, and the unconscionably-disproportionate distribution of wealth and power in the Philippines. What this impressionable conception—buttressed as it is by historical reality—does is take the vast majority of Filipinos off the proverbial hook.
Forums of enlightenment touch on a middle ground between the nature/nurture split. I do the same, but allow me to explain: I sense that we all have free will, but only within the contours of fate. No more likelihood exists other than that some transcendent force (God, Evolution, the Prime Mover, Nature, subatomic particles, Bathala, whatever…) at one time shuffled the deck of existence and dealt each of us our hand in life.
So we are free to choose what fork in the road to take. Sort of. Our decisions and actions are our own, but the paradox is that whichever way we take of our own volition, our path has already been set beforehand. What can we do about it? Whatever you possibly can and want. Besides, it’s been decided already.