The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, February 05, 2007

Essence before Existence?

Remember I've said that I have a theory about the Conservative-Liberal split? It goes like this: there is such violent disagreement about certain social, political, economic and religious factors along the Conservative-Liberal divide. Since I have absolutely no evidence that there is greater or lesser intelligence, honesty or morality on either side, I started wondering what else could cause such a split. After years of observation, I came to the conclusion that there was indeed a factor that could explain it, and that factor is curiously associated with that old saying about "not talking religion or politics." It's associated because it is one of the roots of both: the argument about whether essence (the soul) proceeds existence, or existence (cultural and social programming) proceeds essence. In other words, does the soul which enters this world with your body create your life, or does the nature of the life you're born into create your soul? It was fascinating to me how many attitudes on each side could be clearly labeled one way or the other. Conservatives, (I argued) TENDED to be against abortion and in favor of the death penalty, both making sense if essence proceeds existence--the fertilized tissue is already a human being with a soul, and the criminal has expressed his basic nature and must be removed from the equation. Liberals (I argued) TENDED to be in favor of "a woman's right to choose" and against the death penalty. Again, it makes sense if the soul is like a reef, created by experience not pre-formed upon entry to this world. The criminal does what he does because of social conditions, not innate tendencies. Why execute a man for what society did to him? Or so, supposedly, the argument goes.
How does one arise at one POV or the other? Innate? Social conditioning? Hell if I know, but whichever way you view the world--IF you have a strong tendency one way or another, is a perceptual lens that colors a huge part of your subsequent experience, and causes people to delete that which does not align with those initial beliefs.
I bring this up because I realized that there is another piece of support for this little theory of mine: the IQ debate. Almost invariably, those who come down on the "IQ is genetic, and blacks have less of it on average" are conservative. The debate rages on Conservative blogs, and about 95% I've known who support it have Conservative politics in other arenas. Not all those who adhere to the "IQ isn't genetic, and the racial divide isn't caused by immutable biological forces" are Liberal--I know many conservatives who pooh-pooh the idea. But 95% of the Liberals I know definitely are in the "nurture" over "nature" camp on this issue.
So I'm not saying that, for instance, being a Hawk on Iraq means that you think black people have less gray matter. I am saying that if you think black people have less gray matter, you're more likely to be a Hawk on Iraq.
The basic argument has been raging so long that I suspect it is actually a trick question, sort of like "Is it heads or tails" when the actual answer is, "It's a quarter, idiot." That heads or tails are dependent upon one another, and dependent on point of view. And if you mistake your point of view for the truth, you step away from the light, and into comforting darkness. One of them there duality traps.
So here's the experiment: when you meet someone with strong opinions about one of these three arenas: abortion, IQ, the Death Penalty--do a quiet investigation of their attitudes on the other two. Tally it up. After you've done this about ten times, let me know the results, would you? I've been playing with this for some years, but I could use some other information gatherers.


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