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The Big Answer

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The Average Expectable Environment Is Not Good Enough: A Response to Scarr

an article by Diana Baumrind

(our site's article review)

A researcher by the name of Sandra Scarr has jumped on the biological determinism bandwagon, coming down hard on the side of nature in the nature-nurture controversy, and specifically stating that genotypes drive experiences and control human development, and experiences in the environment do not—she labels these nearly irrelevant. Baumrind, of course, finds such ideas naïve and erroneous. (Sandra Scarr has proposed radical women-centered views and policies that treat kids as hardly more than annoyances to be dealt with. Both women and men need to arrange childcare that considers filling the needs of kids as the primary consideration. Scarr's nonchalant attitude towards kids is in need of a serious rethinking. home environments need to be win-win, not parents win but kids lose.)

Such an environment-is-irrelevant attitude not only underlines the naïveté levels of the genetic determinism faction, but also highlights the inherent limitations of scientific specialization itself. Consider the uncommon wisdom and intellectual contributions to world knowledge of those with a broad and powerful, dynamic, diverse, eclectic background—such individuals as Buckminster Fuller, Erich Fromm, Abraham Maslow, Carl Sagan, Fritjof Capra and the Tofflers.


On the other hand, great thinkers such as Freud, Marx, B.F. Skinner and others concentrated on certain areas, but in spite of their brilliance in those areas their knowledge limitations in other life areas can be cited as prominent reasons why much of their thinking was ultimately too reductionistic to represent ideas that will illuminate the 21st century and beyond. But the ability of the former people (Tofflers, etc.) to think holistically and synthesize new and enhanced ideas from broad, ecological, systems thinking has kept their ideas perpetually relevant for the foreseeable future.

Scarr’s thinking, evolving out of heritability analysis, is good as far as it goes, but it is so one-sided it nearly represents a caricature of not just genetic determinists specifically, but of agenda-worshipping think tank minds in general with their penchant for polarizing rather than clarifying issues—which in turn reminds one of mass media and the divisive factionalization and politicization of current Culture-War-infested issues thinking.

Mass media, to get ratings, arranges dramatic arguing on talk shows that polarizes rather than clarifies issues
Mass media, to get ratings, arranges dramatic arguing on talk shows that polarizes rather than clarifies issues

Isn’t it just a bit too convenient that those that side myopically with the nature side of the nature-nurture controversy are, in one fell swoop, absolving themselves of any responsibility for their nurturing errors, since “such things are irrelevant anyway”? Isn’t it too cute by half that such people can relieve themselves of their parenting-guilt burdens and do “cutting-edge science” simultaneously? The downside of this cavalier attitude toward the importance of parenting knowledge (which most people have little of and most schools teach little of) is only too manifest in our cultural symptoms. Fix these with drugs, says Big Pharma, and with a straight face! But most of us can see through this self-serving demonstration of endless greed, regardless of the harm it does to our citizens.

Big Pharma's endless greed is breathtaking
Big Pharma's endless greed is breathtaking

Big Pharma spreading 'good health via medicine' across the land
Big Pharma spreading "good health via medicine" across the land

But, unfortunately, aren’t the genetic determinists' simplistic, Second Wave, reductionistic outlooks a slap in the face to the essential new, ecological-holistic paradigm and simply another manifestation of the inherent weaknesses of the old, mechanistic-reductionistic paradigm? Systems thinking and ecological thinking (unlike psychoanalysis, Marxism, behavioristic determinism and rewards/punishment contexts and win-lose thinking in general) are not just the new fad, trend or wave. They are the essential new Third Wave context for a survivable future, and the scientists who manifest a failure to adopt this new wisdom as their own will ultimately stumble and eventually render themselves irrelevant.

It is in this context that Scarr’s work and Baumrind’s response to it must be held. Baumrind does a fine job of pointing out the football-stadium-sized holes in Scarr’s positions. Scarr is properly concerned that mothers cease being blamed for their children’s biologically based psychopathologies. But Baumrind says that the proper goal is to enrich environments so as to bring out the best of kids’ biologically based proclivities, empower parents and reinforce their sense of responsibility for the kids they conceive, and advocate a highly effective and nurturing level of parental involvement, rather than the “average expectable environment” Scarr deterministically promotes as adequate.

Baumrind assumes that parents: “. . . are intrinsically motivated to do all in their power to enhance the quality of their children’s lives in order to satisfy their emotional needs for affection, meaning, generativity and accomplishment . . .” (This—if true—means of course that any parent who understands what the MC movement is about and what it can do for them and their families will be hard pressed to conjure up a reason not to get involved. See Why Register for an MC?.)

Registering for MC search and match
Registering for MC search and match

She concludes that: “Given limited resources, many socialization researchers choose to focus on those factors that are most susceptible to change—on how parents and educators can provide an optimum environment for optimum development of optimum human behaviors." Amen.

Parents—far from being off the hook when it gets to the effects of their parenting—are in truth more on the hook than ever, and Big Pharma's attempt at even bigger profits by supporting genetic determinists' simplistic, Second Wave, reductionistic outlooks will someday be looked back on as shameful and mercilessly opportunistic.

Big Pharma is seeking even bigger profits by supporting genetic determinists' simplistic naïveté
Big Pharma is seeking even bigger profits by supporting genetic determinists' simplistic naïveté