I am not one to believe our physical, emotional and intellectual development is either all genetic or else all environmental. I’m not even one to say we’re half and half. Nor will I say we’re 60/40, as in “We’re 60% genetic and 40% environmental.”
Believing our development is strictly based on genes is a belief in a determinism so complete it can lead to horrors such as Nazism, with its insistence that some people are born so inferior they have to be eradicated. Claiming our development is completely due to the environment can lead to other horrors such as Communism, because of its belief all of us are infinitely plastic and can be molded into gods – once you get rid of the people who cannot be molded.
This nature/nurture controversy has led to many furious debates not only in the past, but today. These arguments will exist in the future. There is a third alternative, one that I believe is much more fruitful than the simplistic view of “We’re mostly one or the other.”
The third one is known as fetal programming, which I heard about it several years ago, but hadn’t given much thought until I recently met a woman who has a Masters degree. Okay, lots of women have Masters degrees. But one brother also has one, in Mathematics. Another brother is a TV, stage and film actor. Then there is the sister who designs jewelry and sells it. I told her, “You do know of course the existence of your family is nearly impossible.”
She told me she came from a big happy family, and that got me to thinking about fetal programming. In short, and oversimplified, fetal programming is the theory that hormones released by the mother during pregnancy have a very powerful effect on the fetus.
My view, long before I had heard of fetal programming, is that a happy pregnant mother will release “good” hormones which wash the developing fetus, and an unhappy mother will release “bad” hormones. Her happiness in turn is dependent on her husband’s happiness, which of course will affect her. His happiness will be strongly influenced by a job he likes, and making a good living from it.
In other words, a happy family will create babies that from conception are the best they can be in body and brain, because of the optimum influence of hormones.
Here is a quote I ran across about fetal programming, and darn if I can remember where I got it: “A comprehensive number of epidemiological and animal studies suggests that prenatal and early life events are important determinants for disorders later in life. Among them, prenatal stress (i.e. stress experienced by the pregnant mother with impact on the fetal ontogeny) has programming effects on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis, brain neurotransmitter systems and cognitive abilities of the offspring.”
In a nutshell, if you want happy, smart, healthy, talented kids, make sure the parents are happy. There are other very important determinants, such as nutrition and the environment after the children are born. Conversely, it’s not hard to create unhappy, not-so-bright kids prone to various sicknesses.
What I find disturbing is the destructive influence of the government on fetal development. I don’t find it such a bad thing if the government would confine itself to telling mothers to watch what they eat when pregnant, and to not smoke or drink, but apparently government officials don’t have the slightest clue about how destructive the government can be to families and children when it goes far beyond those simple commonsense things.
Here’s what I mean: wages in the United States stopped going up in 1973 and have been flat since. In many cases, they have been declining. As hard as it is to believe today, at one time a high-school graduate of a husband, on 40 hours a week and on his salary alone, could provide a nice house, a car, and raise several children with his wife. Those days have been gone so long most people don’t even know they ever existed.
Here’s an example of those days long gone: I know a retired man who bought his middle-class house in 1969 for $14,000. He was a high school drop-out and worked all his life as a carpenter. In 1969 he was making $14,000 a year, which meant his house cost one year’s salary. His mortgage payment was $141 a month, for 30 years. Try to find something similar today.
These days, both husband and wife have to work to maintain a middle-class existence – and they’d better have graduate degrees. When a baby is born it is, as soon as possible, given to a day-care center so the mother can go back to work. Then it’s sent to public school, unless the parents decide to homeschool. That means the wife has to quit work, which means they’d better go live in a cabin in a rural area and grow a garden…which is not such a bad idea.
The ogre Karl Marx and his demented modern-day followers (say, the buffoon Van Jones) consider destroying families and babies being raised by strangers to be commendable, but one thing they failed to predict is that in less than ten years we have had over 80 public-school shootings.
These shootings now have a shorthand label, and everyone knows what it means: “going postal.” It not only happens in schools, but workplaces, and even in public.
One of the reasons why these shootings happen? In two words, unending stress. People end up with adrenal glands the size of golf balls.
Then we have the high school dropout rate. What is it in some places? Forty percent? Yet I’ve read of high school principals in such districts making $100,000 a year. You might as well burn the money. It’s just tax money, anyway.
The State, in its attempt to “help” families and the economy, has instead damaged them, sometimes severely. The economy is badly damaged, pace court intellectuals, and has been for over 35 years. This damage was, and is being done, by government interference.
In attempting to help families, the State has damaged them. Just as it has damaged, and sometimes destroyed, neighborhoods, towns, and cultures. Grotesquely, the people who promote these policies can never see the bad effects, and instead convince themselves there are only good ones.
Is it not possible the unending stress that affects people also affects the fetus, right from the moment of conception? That it affects body, brain and character, throughout its entire life?
I have wondered for a long time what happened to the polymaths we had in the past. In our time, the only one I can think of offhand is Freeman Dyson. Where are our Thomas Jeffersons, our Ben Franklins, our Adam Smiths, our Isaac Newtons, our Bernhard Eulers? Is the loss of these people because of environmental causes, or genetic causes? Or is there a third, better, explanation for it?
Back in the 1930s the dentist Weston Price travelled the world studying “primitive” cultures. He found some very disturbing things. When people ate “modern” processed food the children ended up with bad eyesight, crooked teeth and other life-long ailments. When they did not eat processed food their children had none of these problems.
Price called his book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. Now, it looks as if this one should be written: “Stress and Character and Intellectual Degeneration: What the Government Does to Us and our Children.” What exactly are we dealing with now? PTSD right from the moment of conception?
Some fetuses are of course constitutionally stronger than others. But what about those who are not?
Utopia is not an option. But a better world is, and a better country. If the U.S. had not strayed from its original path, we’d have a small government, stable money, a growing economy, and many high-paying jobs. And stronger families.
Instead, we have a massive and ever-growing federal government, appalling deficits, unending wars with the attendant lies and propaganda, inflated money that has made the dollar worth a penny compared to its value a little over 100 years ago, an unemployment rate of over 10%, and the hemorrhage of tens of millions of jobs and trillions of dollars of our wealth to our enemies in the Middle East and China.
None of us are islands. We’re all connected to something. We are part of families, nuclear and extended; neighborhoods, and the other things I listed -- towns, cultures, countries, economies. These things should exist to support the most important thing, the family. For the most part, they do not, contrary to Hillary Clinton and her imaginary village.
Conservatives and libertarians are right in their beliefs that things should be bottom up, from what Burke called our “little platoons.” Those who believe things should be top-down, from the government down to you, have it exactly backwards. They are the ones trying to degenerate and destroy everything, including children. And, as far as I’m concerned, fetuses.
The Bible (which I see as excellent practical wisdom even more than religion) tells us the sins of the fathers are visited on the children. If only it was not so.