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Nature Vs. Nurture Debate Essay, Research Paper

The debate which I will be delving into in this paper is known by a variety of names, but be it referred to as nature versus nurture or blood versus environment the players on both sides remain the same. Those who believe that human nature is determined by genetics and therefore cannot be changed are usually among the reactionary elite. They tend to be overt racists or a t least predisposed to stereotypes of ethnic groups or classes. They vehemently dispute the opposing view that can be used to threaten their privileged position in society. Proponents of the view that most human characteristics are products of the environment in which they are raised are usually on the left side of the political spectrum and criticize present social conditions. Experimentation, the best manner with which to gather evidence, is frowned upon when humans are involved so both sides of the argument are difficult to prove decisively. However, I support the view that humans are the result of the environment in which they are nurtured, especially in the early formative years of their childhood, and I believe that my opinion is better supported with compelling evidence than the opposing view. Due to the wide range that my thesis covers, I will focus mainly on the debate surrounding those of African descent and the belief of many that blacks are less intelligent and more criminal than other races.

Notions of racial superiority are not by any means a recent development nor solely American. Evidence of racism is found in the so-called classical society of Ancient Greece and in earlier civilizations. But actual attempts to scientifically back the claim of superiority of one race over another began in earnest in the late nineteenth century. This was instigated by the findings of Charles Darwin on evolution and an offshoot theory: Social Darwinism. Authors of such material were much more blatantly racist in their writings, freely employing slurs, and adamant that races such as Africans and Asians were incapable of civilization or even of governing themselves. They therefore concluded that such practices as imperialism or slavery were not only necessary but also beneficial. In the interests of brevity I will only discuss one author s work, Count Arthur de Gobineau s The Inequality of Races. Rest assured, though, because discussing one is like discussing them all.

Gobineau s asks the question of whether every race has the capacity for becoming equal to every other. To this, he answers a definitive no. He bases his conclusions upon how civilized a group is. It is unknown upon what he bases his opinion of civility as the Count was not known to have traveled outside of the European continent and it is unlikely that he met more than a few (if any) individuals who did not share his basic ethnic background. His conclusions, however, were the basic beliefs of most Europeans and it is striking how similar they are to many of today s stereotypes. Gobineau declares that the negroid variety is the lowest and that his intellect will always move within a very narrow range. After going on about this for a while, the Count turns to his belief that Africans have heightened senses and therefore are more prone to acting irrationally or passionately. The African eats furiously, and to excess and is equally careless of his own life and those of others: he kills willingly, for the sake of killing. Gobineau reminds us, though, that they of course cannot be blamed for these traits, as it is only their nature to act in such a manner.

The views of some in the social science community today is remarkably similar to that of Count Gobineau and his ilk, though it is couched in more circumspect and politically correct terms and is backed up with innumerable tables and graphs filled with statistics that back their conclusions. They still claim that blacks are naturally less intelligent and more passionate (read: more criminal) than their Caucasian or Asian counterparts. They use these arguments to advance not imperialism or slavery but a different agenda: racial profiling, the end of affirmative action and welfare, even eugenics. They all come to conclusions that seem reasonable based upon the information and scenarios that they provide. But when one looks at some of the factors that these scientists failed to account for, another picture emerges.

These people declare that blacks not only are less intelligent than any other race but believe that they cannot ever attain ever achieve parity because they do not have the capacity to do so. J. Philippe Rushton points to a correlation between what he calls cranial capacity and intelligence. In one example, he measured the brain size of US military personnel and separated them by sex, rank, and race. He found that among enlisted men not only did the Negroid (1449 cubic centimeters) have less cranial capacity than that of the Caucasoid (1468 cc) or Mongoloid (1464 cc), the officers of each race had more cranial capacity than the enlisted soldiers. (Interestingly, he barely discussed the implications of his data that showed females (Caucasoid 1264 cc) had smaller brains by far than even the Negroid. From his conclusion, we would guess that females would be far less intelligent than men. Rushton states that when the data is controlled for body size and other variables the gap shrinks but remains quite substantial. He explains this away by proposing that the sex difference in brain size is related to those intellectual qualities at which men excel, that is, in spatial and mathematical reasoning. (132) I don t really see what that means. I can only conclude that he does not want to follow his theory to its logical conclusion: men are smarter than women are due to cranial capacity.) Rushton, of course, goes on to point out all the statistics that show blacks scoring lower than other races on test after test. He feels that these statistics further substantiates his theory.

I do not think that there can be any quarrel over whether blacks do poorer on standardized tests than other ethnic groups. Simply put, they do. The question of why this occurs is what causes all the disagreement. Rushton is a good example of a person who believes that genetics are the reason for this. I dispute this belief strongly and will show the weaknesses and inconsistencies in his reasoning. First of all, the main problem with the social sciences is that they are not really sciences at all, at least in their ability to experiment. When studies are done that look into test scores on a certain exam the resulting data is not like that of a chemistry or biology experiment because there can be no controlling of other variables. When the ACT scores of 11th graders are separated by race, they simply cannot be compared outright. That is, however, what many do, including Rushton. Therefore, other factors that have a strong bearing on the scores are not taken into account. These factors are environmental. There are innumerable areas that should be accounted for including poverty, location, and family situation. And level of education should not be seen as an unchanging commodity for every person. The type and quality of education differs from not only school to school but from teacher to teacher. The education I received at Rolling Meadows High School (in a school district where the spending per student was the third highest in the state) was much better than I could have gotten at an inner city one. I know that if I had gone to in such an environment, I would not be as successful a student because I would not have been as well prepared.


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