Social Question

ilvorangeiceblocks's avatar

Social constructivism vs essentialism?

Asked by ilvorangeiceblocks (860points) May 20th, 2013

Question has been on my mind a lot because of the gay marriage bill being passed in New Zealand and just a greater awareness of the issue in general, and I was wondering what the fluther community thought of the idea that people are born with certain traits, rather than being made that way by their environment, e.g. sexuality, thirst for power, psychopathic tendencies, pleasantness, happiness, depression, generosity, a servant spirit, etc. Do you think things are more nurture than nature or vice versa? Very interested, for I sit on the fence seeing as although I’ve thought about it a great deal, I’ve only been able to sit on the fence. Opinions?

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18 Answers

Unbroken's avatar

I don’t see how it matters in the face of gay marriage and social exceptance.

All we really need to do is look at where we are now homosexuals exist are human and therefore are considered equal and should be afforded the same rights to marry/divorce whomsoever they wish like anyone else.

It is a civil rights issue.

As to the psychological components: It’s interesting and there are many theories. I don’t think any one has unlocked that secret for the world.

My guess, it is probably a bit of both nature and nuture, that doesn’t weigh equally true for everyone.

It seems like your culture might be a little more bigoted then America and so you throw homosexuality in the same mid level grouping as pyschopaths, and greed. I think if you would like to hop off the fence it might benefit you to examine what influenced that grouping and whether or not it is appropriate.

ilvorangeiceblocks's avatar

@rosehips Sorry, I appeared to have offended you. My question did not regard whether gay marriage is right or wrong at all, it was about whether people’s predisposition to personalities, certain actions or thoughts was influenced more by their genetics or by the people and culture they had been brought up in. I had no intention of implying that gay people are as bad as psychopaths (I made no inferences that homosexuality held in any way the social stigma that the other two in the group held, and for your benefit I would now like to include happiness, depression, generosity and a serving spirit in the mix, though these issues aren’t exactly as pressing in the media as the aforementioned ideas). The whole homosexuality debate is merely what sparked my line of thought as to whether the way people function are brought about by their environment, or whether they were always predisposed to be a certain way. I implore to you to visit my country at some point. In New Zealand, the media pushes its citizens towards supporting every liberal side of a debate possible, and having become the thirteenth country in the world to legalise gay marriage, I’d like to think that we perhaps weren’t bigoted. Homosexuality is a trait, and so is psychopathy, and had I grouped homosexuality with pleasantness, passiveness and predisposed-to-like-butterflies-and-rainbows, I think that in itself would be biased, prejudiced and also bigoted. In future, please don’t put words in other people’s mouths and claim they were insinuating anything other than what they have said or written down.

augustlan's avatar

I think it’s likely that some traits are inborn and some are not, and that some tendencies are inborn and later reinforced by environment. Which traits and tendencies fall into any of these categories is very hard to say. For homosexuality in particular, I lean towards “inborn”.

starsofeight's avatar

I am inclined to side with nurture. We all pretty much start out as blank slates. Then again, all of existence, which swings pendulum-like between the extremes, seems to wash us all along in its relentless tide. In many issues, we should rather look the more closely at personal choice. A choice may be as simple a matter as ‘it was easy’. However, choices returned to time and again take on the texture of nature. How are we to distinguish between habit and nature?

I have seen certain tendencies in existence that lead me to accept the natural swing between extremes. For instance, a boy with a worldly father may grow up to choose a life as a preacher, whereas that person’s son seems the more likely to grow up and reject the religious life style.

I think many people base their life choices on the kind of mind they possess. Certainly, if you look closely enough, you will see that a person who thinks like a policeman becomes a policeman. A person who thinks like a fireman chooses a fireman job. A man with the mind of a doctor will follow the path of a doctor.

As for certain personality traits, I think they may depend somewhat on a person’s strength, or lack thereof. It may be argued that I am a nice person because I do not have the strength to be otherwise. I don’t possess skill sets that would be of any benefit in a confrontation, therefore my natural choice is to avoid confrontations. Older people, as they loose steam, become nicer and more sociable.

Then of course there are the odds. There is a lot of scope to the human nature. There are bound to be a number of one type and a number of another type. Think of trees along a river. Each tree is different, and produces a certain volume of leaves (as representative of its type)—however, all of those leaves fall off into the river. Some leaves are carried all the way to the sea, but most are caught in the eddies along the banks, where eventually, a kind of settling occurs.

thorninmud's avatar

I read a great article recently that makes a persuasive argument for the power of culture to shape perception. It points out that psychologists have long assumed that there is a more or less universal blueprint to the human psyche, as if we’re all running the same basic “operating system” even though the cultural “data” will vary. Much of the focus of psychological research has been on uncovering this underlying operating system through testing.

But there’s a problem. The vast majority of the testing has been done on subjects from a very homogeneous cultural background: Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic (the article uses the acronym WEIRD). Most psych research subjects, in fact have been western university students. This makes sense if you assume that there’s a common human psychological structure; in that case it shouldn’t matter from which culture the subjects are derived. But when researchers began administering the same tests to a variety of non-WEIRD cultures, the semblance of universality broke down. Tests that had yielded reliable results among WEIRD subjects, and were therefore assumed to represent fundamental human ways of thinking and perceiving, returned very different results. Time and again, the results from WEIRD cultures turned out to be at the extremes of the bell curve.Even such seemingly fundamental aspects of mind as how optical illusions are perceived and one’s sense of self are very different in different cultures.

Then of course there are traits that are based on individual brain structure and brain chemistry. Psychopathy appears to be strongly related to brain structure. But whether that structure results in psychopathy or not depends to a very large extent on environmental factors.

Judi's avatar

The Nature vs. Nurture argument has been going on for centuries. My guess is that it is a bit of a blend. I think that for some people nature has a stronger pull than for others.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

@rosehips ”...you throw homosexuality in the same mid level grouping as pyschopaths, and greed…”

Sorry, but @ilvorangeiceblocks did not do that. The term used was “sexuality”, not homsexuality. And the same grouping also included “pleasantness, happiness, generosity, a servant spirit, etc.”

And I’m also confused how pyschopaths and greed are determined as “mid level groupings”. What does that mean @rosehips?

submariner's avatar

Nature, nurture—or neither? Some actions are free choices that are not determined by nature or nurture.

Coloma's avatar

If you study personality theory it becomes clear that we are all hardwired in our temperament but nurture certainly plays a role as well.
I discovered personality theory a few years ago and it certainly has given me great insight into why I am the way I am. haha
The more open mined and free spirited thinking types are the ones most likely to rock the boat of social protocol and blaze trails into uncharted territory. Inventors, philosophers, explorers and many scientists fall into this category.

KNOWITALL's avatar

I agree with @Judi on this one, a mix of nurture and nature. Some LGBT’s I know have identified very young, and others not until their minds were liberated from their religious upbringing.

If it was a choice, I know quite a few would have chosen to not lose their entire families affections over it, lose businesses, lose friends, etc… There is more loss to some people than the benefit of ‘coming out’, so choosing to be gay or lesbian, to me, just doesn’t make sense. Would you choose a sexual orientation that causes people to hate your guts, or think you’re a rapist or pedophile? Some people equate homosexuality with those, seriously.

As far as the rest, the perfect storm of circumstances can change any of us to good or bad people.

Judi's avatar

I guess I should have read the other answers before reading this. I had no idea this was a choice vs. nature gay debate. If it is, I want to ask every heterosexual person when they CHOSE to be attracted to the opposite sex.

Unbroken's avatar

@Ilvorangeiceblocks You didn’t offend, but I apparently offended you. That wasn’t my intention at all.

To explain myself I didn’t see that you posted sexuality in general under the label and examples of “traits,” of which all are universally culturally negative until you add sexuality which is mostly taboo in multiple cultures. The positive examples you included were tendencies a seperate grouping.

I was just calling your attention to it, maybe it was a subconcious mimicry of your culture or upbringing to group the items thusly.

I thought it was inoffensive manner to point it out but it was late and I was tired and I could have worded it better.

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies The midlevel grouping is just that. The OP targeted a preference in human’s sexuality grouped it as an expressed trait and this is where what you say matters because the exclusion of universally positive traits could be seen as a fear response, inferring negative expressed characteristics or a simple over sight.

Do more research, which the OP is starting to do by questioning a diverse group on the subject is a start to moving beyond that grouping. However a more active and personal level beyond theories and ideas and token arguments is the only way to move beyond the subject.

I will add that nature and nuture argument seem secondary to the homosexualitypart of the question as the OP started off her question with that example and carried it through and added it to the tags. Whereas the rest the title of the question and some secodary tidbits were added in.

The question lacked a little clarity. But I speak no with judgement but much past experience. Big topics or issues I am confused about I have trouble verbalizing and breaking down to manageable chunks. As my past history clearly outlines.

I wanted to outline my response quickly as time is limited and hope I have not done further damage here.

Bill1939's avatar

Re: Social constructivism vs essentialism?

It is astounding the degree of psychological and physiological plasticity that a young human’s brain and body exhibit. Human genes have the potential for multiple natures to fit a myriad of environs into which one might be born. Despite declines in the clime and ease of existence in Homo sapiens’ early history, enough survived and adapted, then flourished under more favorable conditions to become seven billion beings.

Re: Sexuality

Why most people are not bisexual is a mystery to me. To limit oneself to a single gender before one knows the range of their sexual nature seems counter productive.

Coloma's avatar

@Bill1939 Perhaps, but sexuality beyond procreation becomes purely recreational.
From a reproductive standpoint most humans wish to breed with the opposite gender.
It may be fun to explore same genders but no baby birds are going to come from that nest. lol

Bill1939's avatar

I suspect that most sex is recreational. I doubt that everyone who desires to engage in sexual activities does so because they want to produce children. For heterosexuals who can and do use birth control, there are fewer surprise babies. However, with seven-billion and counting, nests are hardly empty @Coloma.

Coloma's avatar

@Bill1939 True that, just saying that sexual preference is pretty hardwired as well.

ilvorangeiceblocks's avatar

@Bill1939 Very well put, thank you sir. (especially for not entirely focusing on the example of sexuality)

Bill1939's avatar

@Coloma, predilection is different from determination. The notion of being “hardwired’ is a simplification of how one’s genetic makeup produces behavior. Sexual pleasures are habituating. Everyone who engages in homosexual activities is not necessarily motivated by their genetics. However, whom one falls in love with likely has a very strong association with genetic inclinations.

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