Human nature

Human Nature

There is an interesting statistic about women’s jobs. In poor countries like Pakistan where women are forced to do whichever job brings in money, women often work in traditionally male fields like engineering and computer programming. In countries like Sweden where there is less material hardship and women are free to choose their profession they tend to choose traditional women’s jobs; jobs with a high level of human interaction like teacher, therapist and hairdresser.

Some progressive liberals detest this statistic and feel that Scandinavian women are being duped into settling for traditional women’s roles instead of training to be engineers, physicists or mathematicians. The idea that men and women have differently patterned brains at birth, with women being more interested in human relations and men being more autistic and interested in manipulating objects, is anathema to such people. They will only be happy when 50% of engineers are women, whether they want to be or not.

A recent article by Toby Young about nature/nurture brought all this to mind. There is now a consensus among scientists that about 40% of our personality is genetically determined. This still leaves 60% free for our environment, which we generally think of as being our school and parenting, to shape us. However, as we get older we can often choose our environment to suit our tastes.

Take me for instance. I am relatively free to spend my time as I please. I work as an English teacher but could retire if I wanted to since I probably have just about enough money to survive until I get my pension. And if I did need money but wanted to quit teaching I could always go back to being a postman or go on the dole.

I spend much of my free time reading online articles about current affairs because that’s what I like to do, not because I am forced to. If I wanted to I could watch movies, go outside and take photos or just send tweets all day. So where I spend my time and the way I spend it is in tune with my tastes, which are largely a factor of my genes.

So if my genes shape my tastes and my tastes shape my environment, then surely my genes end up contributing more than 40% to my personality. Perhaps in countries where people are constrained by economic, social, religious and other factors their genes really do contribute only 40% to their personalities but in freer societies that figure is probably much higher.

I think the same is true for whole societies. The Japanese are naturally conservative, quiet and introverted and they have built a society in tune with their nature. The norms and customs of society in turn affirm the nature of the people living in it in a virtuous circle.

So is Japan always peaceable? Clearly not since they turned very militaristic in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Is there, despite this, a discernible trend towards civilised behavior among the Japanese? I believe there. I also believe that other peoples create societies that largely reflect their own nature and these are often vicious rather than virtuous circles. Please think of your own examples.

Anyway, I like this idea. I would rather be who I am largely as a result of my genes, passed down through thousands of generations than putty in the hands of a random environment I just happened to be born into 60 years ago. I want to be a child of my ancestors, not a child of my time.

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