notions of human nature & environments (which are...)

Daniel A. Foss (U17043@UICVM.BITNET)
Fri, 21 Oct 1994 11:10:49 CDT

having reflected long and hard on what is meant by "environment."

I've been slogging in the heritability-of-IQ strife on two other cable
channels, LEFT-L@UCBVMSA.BITNET ("Building a Democratic Left Movement") and ("Progressive Sociologists Network"), prior to its
metastasizing on ANTHRO-L. Frankly, I did not consider hereditarian claims
tending toward an "aristocracy of cognition" positing genetic superiority as
other than raw meat for the sociology of knowledge:

> What we have here are "notions of human nature," tricked out as science. As
>scientific-seeming, they may *appear to be proven*. They cannot, however, be
>*falsified*, scientifically, in that the motive for the dissemination of such
>notions is social and extra-scientific.

> The [preferred] response to these, to any, "notions of human nature" must
>be to account for, to explain, why they exist from *outside* the discourses,
>knowledge base, methods, and professional literature of psychometrics and human
>behavioural genetics:
> All societies give rise to normative-idealist "notions of human nature" (as
>well as folk-wisdom acknowledging lapses from idealized standards) compatible
>with prevalent social conditioning and social construction in each; also, they
>posit whatever sort of "human nature" is assumed or explicitly propounded as
>*prior* to society-as-it-is (with the latter's conditioning and construction).
>*The latter is quite impossible*. (For so far from belaboring the obvious, I'd
>like to call a halt, assume a loftier view:)

Hereditarian elites have alternated with cooptative ones, promoting
commoners to elite stature by demonstrable merit. The Athenians employed both:
*Aristoi* or *Eupatridae* were curbed by the devolution of power throughout
the citizen caste as a whole under Kleisthenes' reforms (507 BC et seq), with
the citizen caste itself riven by property-ownership-based stratification. The
*thetes*, members of the citizen caste who were manual laborers or day
laborers, were dependent upon welfare payments from the state in performance of
their citizenship obligations. (That's right, the men received the welfare
payments.) In return, the *thetes* furnished the democratic regime with the
weight of numbers without which it might have succumbed to the strata of large
property owners, *kala kagathoi* (persons of quality and breeding); indeed, in
411 and 404-403 the state did fall - briefly - into their scheming hands; the
issue was settled by aroused masses in the streets. At other times, demagogues
mobilizing the less-prosperous fought elections and schemed for magistracies or
jury membership hoping to predominate in the state if not very heavily. Here,
rival "notions of human nature" were rivals, the alleged or posited "affinity
of human nature" for the dynastic-lineage-old family with wealth; and the
contrary affinity for the self-made of proven talent. This did not, however,
exhaust "notions of human nature," in that the slavery/debt-peonage system
generated notions of a "natural slavery" of non-Greek-speakers. "Notions of
human nature," as I saw it, were to be inferred or sifted from overt articula-
tions by reference to a society's diachronic development and synchronic
analysis of its contradictions.

To cut this short, my interest in arguments like that in The Bell Curve were
in the realm of, "Why do such and such other types of people (categorized by
income and occupational prestige) find certain congenial "notions of human
nature" congenial at certain times, like the present, when the "neo-aristocra-
tic" notion gains at the expense of the "opportunity" notion, as earliest
articulated by Descartes: "Good sense is, among all men, that which is most
widely distributed." The hereditarians, disparaging the preparation of the
masses for "the future" on a "level playing field," are given ammunition to
argue, that the playing-field should henceforth be locked up as a shameless
waste of money and teaching resources on the essentially mentally inferior.

Genes, in this invocation of extra-scientific self-interested ideological
pressure, become functionally equivalent to good or evil spirits, notably
the latter. What's more, the very title, The Bell Curve, rules out monogenic
disease, where an undesirable allele is expressed in the phenotype, not the
usually-predominant allele: The effects of monogenic defects are pronounced
bumps or blips on the distribution, not "Bell Curves." This renders certain
that whatever-it-is may be construed desirable, deliberate breeding to yield
such characteristics is idle; and it is the environment represented by society
itself which is determinative.

> The only truly universal part of the natural habitat of humans in general
>or in particular are society and community with their corresponding shared
>culture). It is in this society - subsuming community - with community subcul-
>tures, at least, the only part of each person's environment that she or he is
>systematically taught from birth that it is Forbidden to transform. Yet,
>transformed it is, has always been, by quotidian struggle, reformist legisla-
>tion, administration, social upheaval or Revolution or Civil War, and the
>ever-ubiquitous "unintended consequences."

In what sense is society an environment?
Here are my suggestions for consideration by wiser heads.
1. Society is the environment for the human organisms found living in it.
[Note: The word "persons" is eschewed in that many organisms, eg slaves,
may be denied the social construction of "persons."]
2. Society is the environment of itself.
3. Society is the environment of other societies; else it comprises sub-
divisions or subcultures whose environment is both society as a whole
and one another.

[It all seemed so simple ere I got tangled in flypaper.]

Daniel A. Foss