Well, yes, obviously

The blank slate view, which is the idea that who we are is entirely or predominantly the product of culture and socialization, is very common in left-leaning media. And left-leaning media also happens to provide most of today’s science journalism. It’s kind of ironic, because the convergent evidence coming out of evolutionary psychology, biology, behavioural genetics and neuroscience that falsifies this blank slate view is simply incontrovertible at this point, but most of the media, and even the popular science media keep clinging to it. At times it’s just embarrassing.

Evolution doesn’t really work if we’re blank slates.

25 thoughts on “Well, yes, obviously”

  1. This is my favourite part of late Weimar era politics.

    Unless you’re a biologist, you could go through life believing in intelligent design, hell you could go through life believing that God made everything just the way it is, and you would be no worse off than you would accepting evolution.

    But if you’re on board with evolution:
    * except when applied to differences between the sexes
    * except when applied to human population groups that have been under intense selection pressure for tens of thousands of years
    ** ESPECIALLY above the neck
    then you are incapable of developing a sensible well-rounded view of society that lets you hold reasonable political views.

  2. Well traditions and sutures also inherit and “fertilise” each other. But yes the blank slate view is impossible to hold if you have ever had children.

  3. Hmm is this fair? About the blank state being a specifically left leaning starting point?
    All the justifying explanations of the status quo or reform used by left and right leanings of the past (and evolution was one) are now accepted to be utter bollocks.
    So blank slate became a kind default. If you want to depart from that you can’t just come up with an argument you need the theory and the evidence backing it up to mount up so that its undeniable and at that point it becomes uncontroversial.

  4. Hallowed Be: Yes, it is a explicitly leftist point. The blank slate ideology is another product of Karl Marx.

    The null hypothesis is that evolution explains the differences between men and women, and the differences between races. And it has never been disproven.

  5. Casual observation of domesticated animals such as cats and dogs shows that they exhibit sexually differentiated behaviour from an early age. So, who teaches it to them then? Or are we arguing that this blank slate theory uniquely applies to humans?

  6. Eugenics is when society intervenes to manage genetic change, by sterilising deplorable elements.
    Was popular in left-wing Sweden, as far as I recall.

  7. Roué, – i’m saying the starting point is blank slate for more than just the left. You don’t really get far saying women belong in the kitchen because domesticated animals. (i know you weren’t saying that, but i’m pointing out that all those saying it was the natural order of things aren’t really given credence anymore)

    Maritime Barbarian- yes as i said not really the done thing now.

  8. Hallowed Be: Eugenics- in its various guises- is a technique, not a theory.

    When was eugenics disproven? Do you have some examples of women who left having children too late attempting to abort their Downs syndrome babies, and having those children magically appear anyway? Do you have some examples of three generations of imbeciles not being enough?

  9. Eugenics is when society intervenes to manage genetic change, by sterilising deplorable elements.
    Was popular in left-wing Sweden, as far as I recall.

    It was promoted by the evil Fabian Society here too.

  10. Hallowed Be:
    > You don’t really get far saying women belong in the kitchen because domesticated animals. (i know you weren’t saying that, but i’m pointing out that all those saying it was the natural order of things aren’t really given credence anymore)

    A sure sign of a bugman who is not familiar with animal husbandry- as the chattering classes are likewise not. Ah, for the days when the people who tell people like you what to think had some familiarity with reality.

  11. ‘but Eugenics has been discredited and abandoned surely?’ No; only the negative sort where you aim to kill the duds. And not entirely abandoned – what else is amniocentesis for?

    The positive sort of eugenics is flourishing in NYC, apparently. There’s a service offered to Jews to help them to avoid marrying each other if both of the couple are carrying some nasty recessive genes that would lead to horribly blighted offspring.

  12. If there’s no human nature and we are all blank slates, then we are indefinitely plastic. If we are indefinitely plastic, then individual freedom is irrelevant, because we will thrive under any political arrangements, however tyrannical…

    This is the thinking behind notions like the New Soviet Citizen.

  13. Paul Rain = “A sure sign of a bugman who is not familiar with animal husbandry”

    Sorry that went way over my head, indeed I haven’t raised animals for a living.

    There’s a very big gap between domesticate animals proving anything about humans. The point i was making was its an acceptable default to assume a difference is conditioned. Problems come when you insist on maintaining that despite strong evidence to the contrary.

    The discredited foundational principle of eugenics was that “superior” genetics explained the relative wealth of european societies and their colonial success.

  14. “The null hypothesis is that evolution explains the differences between men and women, and the differences between races. And it has never been disproven.”

    Far more women than men wear skirts and high heels. This is because of millions of years of evolution. Men in long skirts and high heels trying to run away from sabre-tooth tigers and woolly mammoths had a very low survival rate…

    “Hallowed Be: Eugenics- in its various guises- is a technique, not a theory. When was eugenics disproven?”

    This bit that got discredited was all the “master race” stuff – the *target* of their use of eugenic techniques.

  15. @ Hallowed Be
    So it is an acceptable default to assume that the greater height of men over women is conditioned?
    Brainscans have revealed that while the patterns of male and female brains overlap, there is a significant difference between the mean (and between the modal) patterns of male brains and those of female brains.
    There is no amount of conditioning that can explain why some people are dyspraxic, nor why raw ability in mathematics runs in families.

  16. “So it is an acceptable default to assume that the greater height of men over women is conditioned?”

    It’s “acceptable” as a null hypothesis. For example, we know that human heights have increased by about 10 cm over the past 100 years, due to improved nutrition. So maybe men are taller than women because they eat more of the food?

    It’s wrong, but you have to do proper science to prove it. You can’t just take it as “obvious”.

    Some differences are nature, some differences are nurture, and most differences are a complicated interaction of the two. The default assumption always has to be “we don’t know”, until we have evidence one way or the other.

  17. @ NiV
    The 10cm increase is in the average height which is affected, not just by better nutrition and discouraging smoking during pregnancy but also by the difference balance of racial mix,with a significant increase in the percentage of “black” people who are, on average, taller (and, to a lesser extent by reduction in air pollution which will be gender-neutral, and to “natural selection” with tall men more likely to have offspring, and to the reduction in smoking).
    There is evidence that malnutrition (especially if suffered prior to birth) may, and fairly often does, affect height but none that eating more for those who are not malnourished will affect height. So the upper- and middle-classes would not have their height affected by the amount of food eaten and the gender-differential in height would not apply to them. However the gender-differential in height recorded historically (prior to WWI) is overwhelmingly that for the upper- and middle-classes.
    So it is theoretically possible to use it as a null hypothesis but not “acceptable” because it ludicrously obvious that it is wrong and therefore testing it is a waste of time.

  18. @John77
    “So it is an acceptable default to assume that the greater height of men over women is conditioned?”

    No its not accceptable. Average height is a fact. Take that and apply it to your understanding of how tall different people are.

  19. @ Hallowed Be
    It is actually very difficult for a statistician to say simultaneously that “equal average heights for the two genders” is not acceptable as a null hypothesis and that “mathematical ability is evenly distributed” is aceptable as a null hypothesis. The data are just as skewed.
    If you concede that “equal heights” is not acceptable as a null hypothesis, then a lot of the other claims become unsupportable.

  20. j77- What i’m saying is that if you know nothing about height distribution by sex, its ok to start out assuming they are evenly distributed. As soon as you know different its still ok to expect there to be an evidential burden to bear to rule out the conditioning explanation. Which in areas which are well studied i wouldn’t think that much of a problem. It only really applies in areas that aren’t well studied where there’s a good chance either hypothesiser is talking out of there arse.

    BiCR. How? the question is what does someone, that makes that assertion, got to back it up? The blank slater i would have thought says; “at one point in history women were funnelled/conditioned to do that work”. The nature advocate would have said:”Women were naturally suited and therefore inclined to it.” I haven’t met too many recently that espouse the latter view.

  21. Hallowed Be

    The blank slater i would have thought says; “at one point in history women were funnelled/conditioned to do that work”. The nature advocate would have said:”Women were naturally suited and therefore inclined to it.”

    How about simply – going back over time, those groups that protected the women and put the men at risk easily outbred those groups that took the opposite approach (disposable sperm versus precious eggs / long gestation), and from that the more successful groups evolved where women were better at nurturing / empathy and where men were better at strength / spatial (etc).

    That would still work if males and females initially (Garden of Eden) had started off similarly, both physically and psychologically? From there, evolved nature – and hence the current species is not now conditioned from birth to be different, it’s part of the evolved DNA.

    I didn’t think that was contentious – is it?

  22. PF- that that is a logical story that could be true is still very far from being uncontentious. Provable facts aren’t contentious, or at least they don’t remain so for long.
    Yes we have sexual dimorphism that mean traits are unevenly distributed across the sexes. I do go along with all that. I merely said that its not exclusively left wing to point to a phenomenon where there is difference and start, start out with the assumption that it was conditioning that lead to that state of affairs.

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