- Capitalism and Alternatives -

'As Nature Made Him'---a double hoax

Posted by: Barry Stoller on February 28, 19100 at 12:04:39:

The latest news from the ideological front is that the nature versus nurture argument has been finally resolved---with nature triumphant.

The recent publication of John Colapinto's As Nature Made Him: the Boy who was Raised as a Girl is touted as the final coffin nail in the behaviorist paradigm and, with it, the entire edifice supporting feminism, racial equality, and other 'liberal' state-interventionist policies that arose from the turbulent 1960s.

If indeed nature always triumphs over nurture (as this book purportedly proves) then, logically, any attempt to 'equalize' the status of women---and, by corollary, African-Americans, etc.---will be pointless: nature 'made' them housewives, shoe-shine boys, etc. To follow the conclusion to its final resting place, if nature always triumphs over nurture then capitalism itself is 'human nature' (don't laugh, Greenspan has been saying this in his speeches for years). And as we all know, if something is truly 'human nature,' then there's no use in trying to change it.

The ideological stakes are quite high.

When B.F. Skinner wrote '[c]hildren do not go around forming concepts of their sexual identity and "consequently" behaving in special ways; they slowly change their behavior as people change the ways in which they treat them because of their sex,' he was saying MORE than girls are as capable as boys. He was returning to J.B. Watson's famous theory that anyone was as capable as anyone else in any activity.* This meant that the rich had no special ability in which to legitimize their power and wealth---a proposition with revolutionary implications.

For centuries, ruling classes insisted that ruling classes ruled because of individual merit. Behaviorism challenged all of this, saying that, with the right environment, anyone could succeed. Or put another way, behaviorism asserted that the poor are NOT poor because of laziness or inferior race or weaker sex or bad genes---but the poor are poor because their environments are poor. This position, coupled with Marxist historical materialism, provides a formidable critique of the existing social relations.

But, according to current ideology, all that egalitarianism has been proved unfounded. Girls are girls, blacks are blacks, the poor are lazy, and the rich white men that rule the world rule the world because they are Promethean supermen straight out of Nietzschean dystopias.

Colapinto's new book is being hailed as the final document to prove all this sexist, racist, elitist, classist poison.

Considering its mission, it is a surprisingly poor document.

Originally published as a series of articles in that serious scholarly journal Rolling Stone (Abbie Hoffman wasn't exaggerating when he called Jann Wenner the 'Benedict Arnold of the Sixties'), Colapinto puts into narrative the now-familiar saga of one David Reimer, the 'boy who was raised a a girl.'

For those tuning in late: Reimer, at six months of age, was castrated in a circumcision accident; his parents sought medical advice; met the internationally acclaimed Dr. John Money of the illustrious John Hopkins medical center who advised a 'gender reassignment' as a girl which would include several surgeries as well as the (all important) 'environmental' component. The bonus was a second (unharmed) son, Brian, who would act as the ultimate baseline control for behaviorism's most famous case of nurture over nature.

As Nature Made Him spares no detail in casting the nature / nurture conflict as nothing less than a melodramatic duel between the forces of good and evil.

The parents, good Mennonite stock, were easily duped by the worldly (and libertine) psychiatrist Money; the reputation of science (read: liberal science) transgressed all common sense; a family were nearly destroyed to protect the reputation of the (liberal) establishment bent on turning all decent Americans into femi-nazis and vegetarian commies. Of course, common sense, decency, and reverence for the 'natural order of things' shines through at the end: Reimer 'always' knew that he was a boy and there was nothing any amount of 'conditioning' could do to change that.

Before we cue the credits, however, there are some unsettling details to consider:

  • Most of the 'proof' that Brenda was not a girl involved the preponderance of behaviors such as beating up other kids, playing with toy trucks, throwing a ball overhanded, and refusing to brush her hair---'obvious' and 'automatic' masculine behaviors.

  • Much of the 'proof' that Brenda was suffering from her imposed gender was poor grades and social performance in school.

  • The 'proof' that the parents also suffered from the gender reassignment was chronic unemployment, suicidal depression (mother), and alcoholism (father)---as if none of those things (the father had only a 7th grade education!) could have been responsible for the above. (The twin brother was also a terrible student, and dropped out after the 9th grade.)

  • The school personnel interviewed for the book all stated that they were struck by Brenda's 'boyish' behaviors---yet they also KNEW at the time that Brenda was (biologically) a boy.

  • The surgical alterations that Brenda was scheduled to have (which would have made her appear to be a girl) did not ever transpire.

  • The clear possibility that Brenda's father TOLD her about her gender reassignment when she was 11 years old (p. 124).

Some of the details that Time magazine may care to leave out...

In other words: the gender reassignment was a failure---no doubt. The fact that Money kept claiming in various medical journals that it was a success when it obviously was not (Brenda changed gender in her teens) was a hoax.

However, the shoddy conclusions drawn by this book and by the media establishment promulgating its reactionary message is also a hoax.

At best, all anyone can say about the Reimer case is that it was botched every step of the way.

Conclusion: no conclusion.

The problem is not really whether itís 'all' nature or 'all' nurture---such reductionism is tendentious and silly. The problem is not that the proponents of behaviorism's radical position deny the influence of genetic endowment and physiological factors (they never have). And the problem is not even whether or not biology is really destiny.

The problem is: whoever 'proves' that biology is destiny will then have the platform to DEFINE what 'destiny' is.

And that's the reactionary element in this ideological struggle: if biology is indeed destiny, then according to the ruling class destiny is lower pay and less skilled work for women, blacks, those unable to afford secondary education, etc., etc. Destiny becomes CAPITALISM itself (no sense trying to change nature). And that is something everyone on the left needs to combat as if our lives depend on it---because our lives really DO depend on it.


* 'Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and Iíll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select---doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief, and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors' (Watson, Behaviorism, W.W. Norton & Co. 1925, p. 82).

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