I was intrigued by the exchange of letters between Owen Brovont and John Cameron on “White Privilege” and “Moral Structure” in The Independent issues of June 25 and July 2.
John Cameron is right and Owen Brovont is totally and factually wrong. Brovont does not seem to understand the recent developments in neurobiology that clearly show that people’s behavior is totally dependent on their genetic makeup and their environment from conception to the present. Nature and nurture. Neither is of their own making.
Brovont (as do most conservatives) subscribes to the discredited view of the “self-made man” (or woman) who is successful because of his/her own effort, willpower, hard work and a good education. This view claims that the poor are lazy, lack ambition, and did not get the education necessary, so their place in society must be their own fault.
A recent Pew Research Center survey found that conservatives are more likely to subscribe to the false belief that good things happen to good people and that individuals who suffer disadvantages in life that are out of their control are somehow responsible for their own situations. This view has been called the “Just World Hypothesis” and it is a total fallacy that has been scientifically discredited. It represents blaming the victim in its worst form.
Neurobiological and psychological and sociological research has long shown that we are the product of our circumstances. As an example, I recommend reading the book “Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst,” by Robert M. Sapolsky. We exist in a society where the life trajectories are largely determined by impersonal social and political systems. For example, we can get a good education if we have the right genes and were born into the right environment. It’s a question of luck, not effort or accomplishment. For example, recent research has shown that children born to the top 10% of earners are typically on track to make three times more income as adults than the children of the bottom 10%. The psychological and sociological literature is full of similar examples.
To quote Nassim N. Taleb from “Fooled by Randomness:” “Lucky fools do not bear the slightest suspicion that they may be lucky fools – by definition, they do not know that they belong to such a category. They will act as if they deserved the money.”