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“It is no surprise that debates over nature and nurture evoke more rancor than just about any issue in the world of ideas.”  In this quotation, Steven Pinker—author of four award-winning books on biological determinism—comments on an issue that has confounded people for centuries.  This, of course, is the argument of whether “nature” or “nurture” dictates our traits and behaviors.  In this instance, nurture connotes the environmental factors that influence one’s character.  Nature represents the idea that heredity is the principle determinant of human traits.  The phrase’s etymology is quite interesting; first coined by Francis Galton, it was probably taken from Shakespeare’s The Tempest: “A devil, a born devil, on whose nature / Nurture can never stick.”  Many believe that at birth, the human mind is a tabula rasa—a “blank slate”—and that most traits are adopted during one’s life.  To the contrary, many others believe that a person’s traits and behavior are preordained by heredity.  In my honest opinion, such a categorically partisan decision cannot be logically made.  Several aspects of a person’s character have been scientifically proven to be caused by ancestry; conversely, some skills and mannerisms are quite clearly acquired during a person’s development.  Most common, however, are the traits that are governed by both genetics and environment.  In his essay entitled Why Nature & Nurture Won’t Go Away, Pinker cogently argues his position that nature is the primary influence on one’s characteristics.  In the essay, he also attempts to dislodge the “nurture” argument and the “mixture-of-both” argument.  Yet, I stand by that latter opinion.  No one could possibly be so bold as to refute either nature or nurture, not even Steven Pinker.  Clearly, genes and environmental signals equally contribute to behavior.

There are some traits that are purely hereditary.  However, most of these clear-cut traits are physiological, having to do with the body.  Examples of genetically controlled traits include vulnerability to diabetes, eye color, and ear lobe detachment—things that are usually static after birth (excepting plastic surgery of course).  Environment does not have any imminent effect on these hereditary traits.  Another relatively clear-cut trait is religion.  Statistically, most children adopt the religious ideals of their parents.  Even after the natural stage of doubt that comes with adolescence, most people will return to their parents’ religious preferences in adulthood.  This parent-child influence practically defines the “nurture” argument.  Parent-child religious trust is something that can only be established during development.  Even if a person decides to observe a different religion than that of his parents, the “nurture” argument is still being proven: it suggests a lack of trust and reinforcement, or a desire for independence.  In Pinker’s words, children do not wish “to surrender to their parents’ attempts to shape them.”  This struggle is engendered only after birth, not in the womb.  Pinker claims: “Virtually everyone concludes that the behavior of the parent causes the outcomes in the child.  The possibility that the correlations may arise from shared genes is usually not even mentioned, let alone tested.”  I have two responses to this statement: First, the parent’s behavior usually does cause the outcome of the child (unless they live apart from each other).  And second, parent-to-child gene transfer has been proven to affect their similarities, yet religious belief is different.  Religious agreement is not a behavioral “correlation,” it is a matter of ethics.

Most characteristics, however, are more complex, usually including genetic influence and environmental influence.  The simplest examples of this would be weight and skin color, which rely both on genes and on environment.  A more complex example would be language.  Pinker writes: “Children exposed to a given language acquire it equally quickly regardless of their racial ancestry.  Though people may be genetically predisposed to learn language, they are not genetically predisposed, even in part, to learn a particular language; the explanation for why people in different countries speak differently is 100 percent environmental.”  Again, Pinker puts all of his trust on one side of argument and not the other.  It is true, that people are not genetically predisposed to learn a particular language.  However, the main point is that people do have a predisposition to learn languages in general.  Pinker actually mentions this, and then dismisses it as unimportant!  This predisposition allows human beings to have great versatility in terms of learning languages—Why should the particular language matter at all?  Therefore, “100 percent environmental” is a false assumption; a child’s language education is partly influenced by heredity, and partly by environment.  (One must be wary when reading from Pinker.  He often attempts to dispel criticism by using phrases like “100 percent.”  Do not be fooled!)

Another interesting case of the nature vs. nurture debate would be free will.  Do people really control their own decisions?  Are a person’s choices genetically preordained, or are they shaped by his environment?  Can people really be blamed for how they act?  This argument cannot be backed by scientific data, but rather, must be discussed philosophically.  In 1924, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb murdered a 14-year-old boy, and were caught red-handed.  Their lawyer, trying desperately to win the case, broached the topic of free will: “this terrible crime was inherent in his organism, and it came from some ancestor… Is any blame attached because somebody took Nietzsche’s philosophy seriously and fashioned his life upon it? … it is hardly fair to hang a 19-year-old boy for the philosophy that was taught him at the university.”  According to the lawyer, the boys’ decision to commit the crime was influenced by radical environmental forces.  An opposing argument would have been that Leopold and Loeb were born to be cruel and vicious, and that they therefore deserved to be locked away in prison.

While only a few traits apply to either nature or nurture, most belong to both at once.  The fact that environmental forces actually trigger genetically-based reactions reinforces this theory.  Heredity and developmental experience work in sync with each other; therefore, it is erroneous to say that dominance belongs to one or the other.  If the question of nature vs. nurture was asked of me, I would reply that the answer is “a fair mixture of both.” 

 1 Shakespeare, The Tempest. 

 Bibliography : 1)) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nature_versus_nurture    2)) Pinker, Why Nature & Nurture Won’t Go Away, 2004    3)) Gould, The Politics of Biological Determinism, 1999

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Please keep in mind that the following was simply an exercise in persuasive writing.  I did not actually agree with its content while I was writing it.  However, I think I might have convinced myself…

Here in America, illegal drugs have already become an integral part of our society, whether we like it or not.  Despite the federal government’s avid attempts to thwart smugglers and drug-dealers, drugs continue to spread throughout the nation.  Youths and adults alike consume drugs of all different kinds: LSD, heroin, crystal meth, and so on.  However, the most widely used illegal drug in America is the Cannabis sativa plant, better known as marijuana or “pot”.  Marijuana’s illegality has created a multitude of problems for American citizens, and the American government.  I therefore believe that marijuana smoking and consumption should be legalized in the United States of America.  The legalization of marijuana would be beneficial in many different ways: the government would no longer have to spend time and money to prevent proliferation, American citizens would be able to enjoy themselves without having to worry about incarceration, and people would have open access to a substance that is, in fact, less harmful than tobacco or alcohol.

Marijuana has already taken hold in our society.  Its mass proliferation is plainly visible at parties, in clubs, and in movies.  The fact that marijuana has become a part of our culture is simply incontrovertible.  Therefore, it has already become a useless gesture for the government to outlaw it.  Not only is the law being disobeyed, but it is not even being well-enforced.  In this era, buying pot is a very simple procedure.  In fact, marijuana is becoming more and more accessible as the years pass.  It is folly for the government to try to fight this process, because it is happening nevertheless.  Our federal government is wasting vast amounts of money every year to prevent smuggling, trade and consumption.  This money could be spent on more important things!  Evidently, it is in everyone’s best interest to legalize marijuana—including the government’s.

One of the most astounding claims that promotes the legalization of marijuana is the fact that it is actually less harmful than tobacco or alcohol.  It is not surprising that people find this hard to believe.  Marijuana has remained illegal in America for so long, that people have come to believe that it is a poison.  This is certainly not the case!  While tobacco causes emphysema, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cannabis provokes none of these maladies.  Numerous tests have shown that tobacco causes pregnant women to give birth to newborns with birth defects and developmental delays; however, marijuana has been shown to have no such effects.  Another factor to consider is addiction.  While tobacco and alcohol addictions are directly related to biochemical processes, marijuana addiction is solely a mental dependence—nothing more than an irrational belief.  According to these facts, there is more reason to outlaw cigarettes than pot.  It seems that the only thing holding people back is the solitary fact that possessing marijuana is illegal.  Since marijuana is even less dangerous than cigarettes, it is only logical that it should be legalized.

Please do not misinterpret my argument as being naïve or idealistic.  I fully realize what could happen if marijuana was legalized too abruptly.  Therefore, it might be more appropriate for the government to simply lessen the constraints.  For instance, why not make possession of cannabis punishable by confiscation or a fine, rather than prison?  This would make marijuana-smoking seem less like a felony.

Many have brought up the fact that marijuana impairs decision-making skills, as well as short term memory and learning capabilities.  These claims are undoubtedly true.  However, the dangers posed by cigarettes and alcohol are far greater.  Thousands of people die every year, as a result of driving while under the influence of alcohol.  The number of marijuana-related automobile accidents is far smaller.

In our society, people tend to look down upon those who smoke pot.  People give pejorative names to smokers, such as “druggy” or “pothead”.  Why is it, however, that this strange cultural phenomenon occurs?  Most members of our society envision cannabis-smokers as being immoral, lazy, and careless.  However, marijuana is simply a method of enjoyment!  Should we look down upon those who feast on Thanksgiving, those who set off fireworks on the Fourth of July, those who drink champagne on New Year’s Eve?  Sexual intercourse can transmit fatal diseases—should we outlaw this as well?

If cannabis were legalized in the United States of America, almost everyone would benefit.  First, the government would have a vast amount of surplus revenue, to use as it saw fit.  Second, people would be able to freely enjoy themselves, without fear of incarceration.  Third, it is likely that less people would resort to tobacco, which is more harmful than marijuana.  In brief, the legalization of marijuana would be a boon to our society.

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Serious Quotes

Let him that would move the world first move himself.

-Socrates

Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.

-Confucius

Work like you don’t need the money, dance like no one is watching, and love like you’ve never been hurt.

-Mark Twain

Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.

-Mark Twain

When I was fourteen years old, I was amazed at how unintelligent my father was.  By the time I turned twenty-one, I was astounded at how much he had learned in the past seven years.

-Mark Twain

I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination.  Imagination is more important than knowledge.  Knowledge is limited.  Imagination encircles the world.

-Albert Einstein

Hide not your talents– they for use were made.  For what use is a sundial, lying in the shade?

-Benjamin Franklin

I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.

-Thomas Jefferson

The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.

-John F. Kennedy

Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.

-Robert F. Kennedy

Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.

-Martin Luther King Jr.

If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.

-Derek Bok: Ex-president of Harvard University

Life is like a grindstone; whether it grinds you down or polishes you up depends on what you’re made of.

-Anonymous

From this arises the question whether it is better to be loved rather than feared or feared rather than loved.  One might perhaps answer that we should wish to be both, but since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.

-Niccolo Machiavelli

Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.

-Napoleon Bonaparte

Not all who wander are lost.

-J. R. R. Tolkien

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Funny Quotes

I used to have mad cow disease, but I’m alright nooooooooooooow.

-Billy Connolly

When I was a kid, I used to pray every night for a new bike.  Then I realized that The Lord doesn’t work that way, so I stole one and asked him to forgive me.

-Emo Philips

Duct tape is like the force.  It has a light side, a dark side, and it holds the universe together.

-Carl Zwanzig

I told my wife the truth.  I told her I was seeing a psychiatrist.  Then she told me the truth: that she was seeing a psychiatrist, two plumbers and a bartender.

-Rodney Dangerfield

My mom was a ventriloquist and she was always throwing her voice.  For ten years, I thought the dog was telling me to kill my father.

-Wendy Leibman

When I was a boy, my mother wore a mood ring.  When she was in a good mood, it turned blue.  When she was in a bad mood, it left a big red mark on my forehead.

-Jeff Shaw

The toilets at a local police station have been stolen.  Police say they have nothing to go on.

-Ronnie Barker

We used to play spin the bottle when I was a kid.  A girl would spin the bottle and if it pointed to you when it stopped, the girl could either kiss you or give you a dime.  By the time I was fourteen, I owned my own home.

-Gene Perret

I’d kill for a Nobel Peace Prize.

-Steven Wright

Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.  After that, who cares?  He’s a mile away, and you’ve got his shoes!

-Billy Connolly

My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty.  She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the hell she is.

-Ellen DeGeneres

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I hope that this will be a wonderful opportunity to share my disturbing thoughts with the world.  Keep your minds open, and read away!

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