Decomber 16, 2004 (Ira Pilgrim)

Heredity and Environment

Every adult, whether he is a follower or a leader, a member of a mass or of an elite, was once a child. He was once small. A sense of smallness forms a substratum in his mind, ineradicably. His triumphs will be measured against this smallness, his defeats will substantiate it.

Erik Erikson (1902-1994)

No two people are alike. Identical twins have the same genetic makeup and look alike at birth and shortly after, but that doesn't last for long. In a very short time they start to differ and, unless they make an effort to stay the same, end up as very different from each other. As for the rest of the population, they are different from each other to begin with and become more different as time goes by.

During the first half of the 20th century, a good deal was written about the relative effect of heredity versus environment. In the USSR, Trofim Lysenko, a man with a good deal of political influence, insisted that genetics was not important and that everything could be changed by changing the environment. He almost destroyed both genetics and agriculture in the Soviet Union.

It has been pretty much conceded by biologists and psychologists that both heredity and environment are vitally important elements in the development of people. There is great difficulty in distinguishing between the effects of these two elements, largely because our knowledge of genetics is small and the fact that people do not remember what happened to them in early infancy and childhood. For example, we all started at the breast or the bottle, but I doubt that anyone remembers the experience. The same thing is true of learning to walk and talk, which we all did. Most of what happened to each of us for our first three years of life is not consciously remembered, even though what we learned is an vital part of our mental make up.

Take certain preferences; children who engaged in snow play often keep it up as adults. The adult form of snow play is skiing or snow boarding. To someone born and raised in Hawaii, the thought of snow skiing leaves them cold. For Hawaiians, their main recreation is water sports.

The heredity-environment debate still continues with regard to a person's sexual identity. A lesbian friend tells me that she knew that she was a lesbian for as long as she can remember. She concludes from this that it must be genetic. There is often an assumption that if something is genetic, like skin color, it is not the fault(?) of the person, while if it is environmental it is something that can be changed at will. However, changing something that was formed by early environment might be even more difficult than changing skin color, which can be done with cosmetics. A person's brain is less accessible than his skin.

For the vast majority of people, their physical sexual identity can be determined at a glance. There are very rare people who are born with the physical manifestations of both sexes (hermaphrodites).

The usual thing is that a child realizes at an early age that he/she is physically like the father or mother. Parents also treat male and female children differently. This determines how the child acts and how he/she sees himself/herself. A male child is treated differently from a female child in many ways, from their clothing to many things that are not as obvious. There are, as we all know, exceptions. One of these was of a male child who decided(?) to be female and dressed and behaved as a female, even assuming a female name. Sometimes the mother of a boy who wanted a girl, dresses him in girls clothes or vice versa. This may cause big problems later on. This came to the public's attention with one "transgender" person because he/she was brutally murdered when her male sex partners discovered the deception.

We are all, without exception, the produce of our heredity and our environment. Both of these factors are extremely complex and are poorly understood even by the experts. As the motto of Lake Wobegon says, "We are what we are."

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