Nature or Nurture?
Two stories making headlines this week got me thinking about that old age debate, nature versus nurture.
The nature versus nurture debate is one of the oldest issues in psychology. Some philosophers such as Plato and Descartes suggested that certain things are inborn, or that they simply occur naturally regardless of environmental influences. Other well-known thinkers such as John Locke believed in what is known as tabula rasa, which suggests that the mind begins as a blank slate. According to this notion, everything that we are and all of our knowledge is determined by our experience.
The first story that got me thinking about this debate involves US Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, accused of killing nine children & seven adults in Afghanistan. His defense says he suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, that if not for his 4 tours of duty and the ugliness of war he wouldn’t have snapped. This is the nurture defense which limits Bales’ responsibility for the acts he committed & to lay blame instead on the US military and the supposed injustice of the wars in which Bales has been fighting for nearly a decade. However, there are more than 50,000 soldiers, active & retired, who have 4 or more deployments. How many have committed massacres?
Critics of the post traumatic stress disorder defense are likely in the nature camp. They believe that Robert Bales was born with a predisposition for violence that is innate to his being. If Bales was never in the military is it possible he still would have committed a violent crime? Could he have gone on a rampage shooting up an office building or local mall? Nature advocates think it likely. Begs the question, nature or nurture?
The second case is about former Rutgers University student Dharun Ravi who was convicted of spying on his gay roommate, Tyler Clementi. Prosecutors said Ravi set up a Web cam in his dorm room, watched Clementi kiss another man then tweeted about it and excitedly tried to catch Clementi in the act again two days later. Shortly afterward Clementi committed suicide by jumping from the George Washington Bridge.
Nurture advocates (and a jury) claim Dhuran Ravi was directly responsible for the suicide of Tyler Clementi, that if not for the humiliation Ravi caused, Clementi would be alive today with a bright future. But, could it be that Clementi was born with an innate inability to cope with adversity or a predisposition for low self esteem and mental illness and would’ve taken his life at some point in his life? If not, then why doesn’t every person in America that gets humiliated, bullied or abused kill themselves? Begs the question, nature or nurture?
What do you think?