FeministFrequency Series (plus rambly thoughts on nature vs. nurture)

I’ve been watching Tooltime9901’s video series discussing Anita of Feminist Frequency and her critiques of gaming and pop culture. The first 10 videos in the series are in the following playlist:

And additional videos have since been uploaded:

Ah. The old nature vs. nurture debate. The way I see it is nurture plays a tremendous role, but that stage is set on top of base-level biological drives. When people say “gender is a social construct,” that’s largely true in terms of how the mainstream pushes the idea of gender. But how genders actually shake out in reality oftentimes clashes with the prevailing social norms.  Socialization teaches us what to suppress and what to act upon in order to fit in well enough to function alongside others in a given society, and this of course varies across cultures and sub-cultures. There is no one “true” norm aside from variety, yet our culture is one that celebrates binaries and promotes false dichotomies. One must be either A or B, because C, D, E, P, Q, Y and X aren’t recognized as fully valid. Anything outside of A and B is viewed as a deviation from this supposed norm, and that tends to skew and bias conversations on this matter.

What I just stated appears more in line with what the field of sociology puts forward, though obviously as a social science there tends to be a greater emphasis placed on examining behaviors and in-group vs. out-group dynamics (competition) rather than exploring the biological origins of intrinsic desires. And this stems from specialization and divisions between disciplines that really ought to be freed up to flow together when impressing on students’ minds. But that’s just not how schools operate these days, much to my chagrin.

Both aspects (nature and nurture) matter so much that neither deserve to be trivialized, though it’s still probably not accurate to claim nurture and nature contribute equally to how we turn out. We experience them in tandem, so there’s no clear way to separate the two sets of influences, not usually. Socialization shapes how everything is framed for us, the society having already been in full-swing before we arrived on the scene. Conformity pressures, fear of ostracism, and being schooled by a long line of others instructed to accept similar narratives has led us to follow examples set by others. Furthermore, we do still live with relics from bygone eras that no longer fit with where societies are headed today, resulting in a lot of confusion and guilt and struggles with repression and expression.

But it doesn’t make sense to assume that a blank slate or neutral playing field can be created in the nurture department so that our “true natures” can develop unencumbered, this being one ideal I’ve heard professed by people who apparently think nature can exist in a vacuum. When it comes down to it, nurture is a product of nature — it’s how we’ve evolved as social beings. It’s an inescapable conundrum; the two sets of influences are inextricably united at the hip. Our nature is to nurture and to be nurtured, to teach and to be taught, to lead and to follow. It cannot be stressed enough that we belong to a creative social species.

This gets me to thinking about the two common, albeit very different, definitions of civilization, one pertaining to the formation of chiefdoms and then nation-states and now globalization and the rise of technologies and complex hierarchical organizations, the other being about civilized behavior taught to people in an effort to create and maintain a relatively harmonious and functional society. The latter often tends to be accompanied with utopian underpinnings where it’s believed that we can be altered and trained to become sufficiently docile and law-abiding creatures, and in this dream lies the problem. It’s fast-becoming a social engineering fantasy that ignores our innate, biologically-rooted drives or it aims to somehow eradicate or override them, and this strikes me as very dangerous and unnecessary. (In my mind, this ties in with the field of “mental health” and its goal to label behaviors as “disorders” and then attempt to “treat” them, but according to what normative standard are people being compared?)

When we step too far toward accepting nurture as paramount, we run the risk of fooling ourselves into believing we can play God on such an essential level that undoubtedly will prove psychologically destructive for many if not most subjected to such concocted schemes. Likewise, when people stray too far toward embracing  the role of nature at the near exclusion of nurture-related concerns, we see the rise of dogmatic biologically-deterministic narratives. Both extremes obscure the truth that there is a fusion interwoven all throughout who we are, beginning as soon as an infant begins observing and interacting with his or her environment.

Most of what we see around us is a social/cultural construct, from the concrete jungles we live and drive within, the schools and churches we may attend, family arrangements (e.g, nuclear and blended), employment options and economic conditions (and all money), and material goods and all else created or conjured up by human beings. We live within a matrix of human design. However, all of that exists within the larger matrix of the natural world that originally spawned us and that sets the ultimate parameters on what is possible. Sure, humans aim to push the boundaries and see what can be manipulated, but because we might try drugging ourselves and one another into oblivion to promote peace and non-aggressiveness, for example, doesn’t mean such a strategy won’t prove detrimental to our underlying natures and thence result in consequences that may prove pandemically fatal. (Such a scheme certainly goes against our psychological constitutions as animals and as people. If life feels rather meaningless for many people now, just wait until we become automatons.)

We humans possess great egos yet tend to lack much foresight and patience, making it all the more likely that we would confidently rush into implementing social schemes, thinking we have enough information and evidence to run with, only to learn (as isn’t uncommon) that there was much we did not know about what we were toying with. (As we’re actively in the process of learning already.)

On the flipside, by trivializing the role of socialization and focusing nearly all attention on biological drives, we run the risk of promoting base-level behaviors that civilizing influences have worked to allow people to transcend. Do we want to live as if so primitive that we become preoccupied solely with procreation and basic bodily need satiation? We are animals, but we’re also more than that. We possess amazing minds that have evolved to do a great deal more than strive to prove we are the fittest mating material. In a sense, falling back on dogmatic biological determinism theories serves as a form of escapism, allowing people to convince themselves that base desires and needs are all that ultimately matter and are what we’re most driven toward and thereby should be promptly catered to. Does this not translate into a hyper-focus on sex? Meaning on the act itself with as many partners as possible, rather than on forming lasting bonds and behaving pro-socially within a community network. And wouldn’t such a scheme, if followed through en masse, deliver a death blow to family and community traditions and produce a sense of even greater alienation among individuals? (Does that sound closer to heaven or hell to you?)

So-called social darwinism disappointingly has come to provide an excuse for common laypeople who are not very deeply acquainted with this and related subject matter to view everything in terms of competition and to feel justified and “perfectly rational” in behaving selfishly, going as far as pursuing anti-social agendas. Pick-up artists (PUAs) spring to mind. This view of life strikes me as encouraging psychopathic/sociopathic orientations (because that’s who will thrive is this sort of setup). And at bottom it doesn’t really make biological sense either considering most who are wishing to engage in sex with many partners aren’t doing so with reproduction as the goal, not at a time when the Law dictates that children deserve to be financially supported by parents, making it no longer sensible to want to spread one’s genes far and wide. (And perhaps this is one reason why some MRAs argue for the legal right to opt out of supporting unwanted young produced in “hook-up” situations?)

All I know is that it’s a big, complex ordeal and it does no good to try to jump on one side or the other, as if the imagined divide between these sets of influences is anything more than an illusory perception. If we want to be abstruse about it, the belief that nature and nurture can be meaningfully teased apart from one another is a social construct in itself.

None of my rambling here tonight is directed at the maker of the video series above. Just once again pondering into the wee hours of the night.

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