Thursday, May 21, 2009

An Old Draft- Just Found This

Taught a class on mental illness and crisis communication the other day. There were other instructors too, going over subjects like community resources and therapy and psychotropic meds. One of the instructors, the one with the Ph.D. after his name, got a lot of questions. One of the questions was the big one: where does this come from? What makes people crazy or criminals or both?
The nature/nurture question.

I sometimes doubt how relevant it is. For self-defense, in the moment of assault the reason the person is assaulting you, what led to his life of crime, is one of the least important pieces of information. When it comes to changing lives or preventing the problem it is important.

Maybe. It's popular to say that nature/nurture is a mix, that neither is definitive, that they interact. It's undeniably true, but also a cop-out. One of my favorite anthropology teachers unabashadly would say, "Nurture. You give a Masai newborn to Inuit parents and in twenty years you get a tall, skinny, black eskimo." It's very important, culture and upbringing. But there is a base, too.

I don't want to talk about just nature and nurture. There are a lot of things in human behavior that can have similar effects but completely different causes and, thus, different solutions. Almost every diagnosed Axis I mental illness has a personality disorder (axis II) that mimics it. Schizophrenia and schizotypal PD; OCD and OCPD. In the Axis I stuff, chemicals are out of balance. Something is broken. The Personality Disorders, by contrast, are pervasive patterns of behavior.

Which is more manageable? Changeable? The organic problems may be inborn, more a real part of the self than any behavior, yet someone with schizophrenia will do almost anything to be 'normal' and 'healthy' and an Anti-Social Personality Disorder will pervert almost any attempt to help him change, feeling perfect the way he is despite the wreckage of broken lives trailing behind him.

Essentially, you can have (almost) the same problem from two different directions.  Where it comes from, nature or nurture; chemical imbalances or choices, might have little bearing on the effects, on how it damages lives.  But it can have profound effects on how the individual perceives it and how, or if it can be treated.

Originally written on 23April08 right after Mental Health Team training


Narda said...

This is a topic very close to my heart. But as applied to budo, to training, do you have any specific suggestions for MA teachers?

Rory said...

I'm not sure exactly what the question is- how to deal with mentally ill students? Or identify who is mentally ill versus mimicing? Or how as an instructor we can give them some coping mechanisms through the training?

Or the other level, whether "heart" that other thing that is so important might be inborn but that there may be a training avenue to get to the same place even if it is not the same thing?

I can interpret your question too many ways, which is a pretty good sign that I'm not understanding.


Clint Johnson said...

Nature defines the envelope of what is possible, nurture defines where inside that envelope we end up. Our minds can no more go outside these bounds set by DNA than our body can.

Since our mental processes are built on the physical structure of the brain, most people do not have the possibility of an IQ of 180. The average person may have a baseline upper limit of 120 that is hard coded by their DNA. Diet, disease and social environment will decide if they settle in at 75 or 115.

Nurture pushes, prods and drags us to a subset of what Nature allows. I tend to see most of culture as a veneer on our behaviour that is more of an excuse for what we do than it is a driver for what we do.

Marginal and extreme cultures would push a person up against the envelope but unless a person has an unusually wide range, it is unlikely that they would be equally successful if dropped into a Spartan Agoge as they would in a Jain Temple.

Since the Masai and Inuit are not anywhere near that extreme, a person's nature would have more "gravity" then the nurture. That Masai baby may grow up to stack rocks into an inukshuk rather than use them to stretch out their earlobes but if they were going to be a mentally stable and empathic person in Mara they would almost certainly become a stable and empathic person in Nunavut.

The nature part of the equation will also reach out and smack them with trouble synthesizing vitamin D and having too low a body fat... so rather than a "tall, black, skinny eskimo" you have a strong probability for a stunted child with rickets freezing to death.