- Shreyansh Kushwaha and Pragya Tripathi
EXPOSING THE INTRINSIC BIOLOGICAL DETERMINISM
Updated: Jan 26, 2022
Sarvagya’s ancestors selflessly gave every ounce of their potential in the glory of the art hailed as Bharatanatyam. It has been seventeen years of his vigorous training, yet he manages to present every Mudra in the freshest way than ever before, subtly showcasing his proficiency every time he puts his ghunghroos on. But why did the things seem to take a sudden turn as soon as he reached college? Something that was hitherto his claim to fame, was now acting as a ticket to the club of ‘ambiguously masculine’ members, undesirable of course! He was constantly mocked by his peers for not being masculine enough, for being ‘different’. Today, its been two years since and Sarvagya and Bharatanatyam seem to be detached. Every time he finds his mother pronouncing the Carnatic beats while teaching, he forces upon himself that his limbs don’t fidget. Such stories are not one, Sarvagyas are many, falling as the prey to ‘Biological Determinism’ that doesn’t seem to spare any!
Inception and Evolution:
We surely live in a society where everything is accepted in an organized fashion. Where if one stumbles upon the ‘proper’ queue, is labelled as queer, as unwanted. Determining the traits, behavior, nature, interests and demeanor of the individuals as per their awarded ‘sex’ and then instantly declaring them as passed or failed seems absolutely justified, even to the highbrow eye. It is indeed ‘Biological or Genetic Determinism’ that shapes this entire mechanism, specializing in ripping one off one’s individuality.
Biological determinism refers to the ideology of congenital human behavior being determined by genes and biological attributes uninfluenced by social and environmental factors. Inherent to biological determinism is the lack of free will wherein the person has no control over his behaviour and dispositions and their course of action are believed to be in accordance with their gender, race etc. At the outset, this ideology appears to be a mere age-old stereotype but much to everyone’s surprise this dogma was stated and backed by some of the most prominent scientist of the bygone era.
The first traces of biological determinism are found in Aristotle’s renowned political theory ‘politics’ where he proclaimed “there are species in which a distinction is already marked, immediately at birth between those of its members who are intended for being ruled and those are intended to rule”. Carrying forward the principles of Aristotle, Carlos Linnaeus in 1753, for the first time categorized the ‘human race’ into four categories viz red, white, yellow, black on the basis of brain measurement, stature, hair texture and genetic analysis of heredity. Following the suit of Linnaeus, Francis Galton proposed the theory of ‘Eugenics’ which focused on study and development of methods to improve “human breeds”. Although a scientific dogma, eugenics turned out to be the breeding ground of ‘race determinism’ whose classical examples are the fascist policies of ‘Nazi Germany’ and ‘eugenicist thinking’ in America during 1970’s, where forced sterilization of Jewish woman, anti miscegenation policy whose selective enforcement prevented white woman from bearing children from black men and mass-killing of Jews in ghettos were justified under the banner of eugenics. Overall one can say from the history of biological determinism that sometimes age-old scientific dogma’s are highly influenced political practice, despite of them being proclaimed as universal knowledge.
The tilled field for the seeds of discrimination:
Over the decades, the tool of Biological Determinism, directly and indirectly has been used to institute the gender-based stereotype, instil unequal gender relations and oppression of women so seamlessly that even the contemporary society of intellectuals fails to identify it. Scholars like Patrick Geddes and John Arthur Thompson have taken into consideration the emotional, psychological, physical and physiological distinctions between men and women, on the basis of which they have sought to justify the socio-political maltreatment of the latter and the apparent dominance and supremacy of the former. Biological Determinism somewhere becomes the source of an idea which explains the existing social, political and economic status of men and women based on a predetermined set of sexual differences. Withstanding this derivation, Biological Determinism finds nothing wrong in rightfully justifying the host of toxic and sexist behavioural traits and attitudes. Over the years it has been ingrained within the social apparatus that women naturally have a nurturing behaviour whereas men genetically incline towards adventurous tasks. The idea that a particular gender is supposed to behave in a particular way, that certain traits are fundamentally attached to them apparently stems from Genetic Determinism and shuns the concept of individuality. The ones who publicly come in support of the aforementioned school of thought often cross the threshold of rationalism into making statements which address men being ‘naturally prone to rape’. They even go over the board to blame such crimes as the result of masculine biological trait and their inability to have conscious control over their physical actions.
Men are hereby depicted as superior humans with more sexual needs and desires than their female counterparts, obviously, which ultimately leads to the normalization of slut-shaming a woman for having multiple sexual partners, where sometimes even one counts as many. But men having multiple sexual connections stands absolutely justifiable. Another very interesting aspect of Biological Determinism is how women are exploited by being kept at a ‘higher moral pedestal’. While men are expected to be physically and intellectually superior, women are made to believe that they are morally sounder and patient and thus should understand the inherent supremacy of men at large. This idea burdens women with the baggage of ethics and values which deep down becomes the hurdle in their emancipation. Advertisements are eternal source of marketing which in some or the other way influences the mind of viewers. Many a times one of us would have come across ‘Seagram’s imperial’ commercial whose tagline ‘men will be men’ would have become a topic of our laughter, a ‘laugh’ wrapped with common understanding about the characteristic behavior of ‘men’ and such behaviour justified because they are ‘men’.
Promoting prejudice Through Biological Determinism:
The line ‘Men will be men’ vividly captures the essence of biological determinism and rationally points out the condoning tendency of society based on gender premises. In today’s scenario there is a wide-spread trend to preach about ‘inclusiveness’ pertaining to LGBTQIA community, however at first place we need to ruminate about as to ,why there is the need to ‘include’ the aforementioned community in a societal structure? The answer to this question again points out at the biological determinism and its philosophical cumulative scientific ground that out of nowhere developed a pre-ordained setup for ‘male’ and the ‘second gender’ ‘female’ which ultimately painted ‘falling outside the setup’ image of LGBTQIA community.
Racism is not a new term for today’s generation; however its roots are decades older. The belief that someone’s skin colour and genes are the reason of their supremacy are way too raw to digest. From black power movement to black lives matter, the struggle has not ended, the seed of racism and sexism still nurtures on the ground of biological determinism.
Everyone of us must have heard about the story of chained elephant and his habituated mentality. The situation of the elephant and our society is somewhat similar, the pre-ordained societal setup birthed on the soil of biological determinism is deeply engrained in the mind and heart of people. It is very difficult to rub these facts from the consciousness of society and thus it is important to focus on spreading awareness about these covert topics rather than visualizing a utopian vision of removal of the root cause. Our focus should be healthy conscious nurturing of future generation to protect them from drowning in the age-old rudimentary thought process.
Biological Determinism Vis-a-vis Social Constructivism:
“...socially imposed division of the sexes” – attributes Gayle Rubin to the very idea of Biological Determinism and regards it as a central point of oppression and subjugation of women, globally. In the words of a prominent feminist scholar Simone De Beauvoir – ‘One is not born a woman, one becomes one. Social discrimination produces in women moral and intellectual effects so profound that they appear to be caused by nature’. Beauvoir bashes the idea which calls biology as the ultimate determinant in validating the supremacy of men and marginalization of women.
As a contrary to this standing belief of Genetic Determinism, another theory of societal makeup is the one called as ‘Social Constructivism’. While the former attributes everything to biology and inheritance, the latter on the other hand surmounts every social identifier like race, religion and intellect on top of socio-cultural influences. It draws deep light on the fact that nothing is ‘specific’ in terms of nature and behaviour, that there exists no such robust correlation between gender and the ability to rule, to be ruled, to lead or to follow. It is indeed one’s unique capability to react to the aforementioned factors in their very own different capacities. It absolutely and rightfully attacks the very idea that something can be ‘objective’ and watertight and claims it rather to be ‘subjective’. It further goes on to criticise Biological Determinism, which it classifies as a product of ‘patriarchal and elitist majoritarianism.’ And to these rational allegations, Genetic Determinism has no potential rebuttal, which on one hand struggles to catch the train of reasoning but still manages to rule the mass mentality. Unapologetically.
To sum up:
It was an immensely proud moment for our country when the ‘national defence academy’ allowed females to write its exam. While it was a great initiative by ‘NDA’, still somewhere this late awakening decision subtly points out at the loophole in our mentality, which equalized man and more power with each other.
On comparing the patriarchy and biological determinism with each other, one can conclude that patriarchy is not carbon copy of biological determinism but actually the branch of the same. Such subjugation of selective communities and a particular gender is a result of socio-cultural beliefs, self awarded privileges and the urge of not getting them shared, with the additional subscription to Biological Determinism which appears to be a carbon copy of the existing elitist, racist and discriminatory deeds and thoughts. Therefore, it is not natural that men are violent and uncontrollable, they are made to believe so, similarly it is not natural that women are prone to be marginalised, they are believed to be so. Moreover, over the past few decades, biologists and researchers have disregarded the very scientific basis on which thrives the idea of Biological Determinism. They have disregarded the conception of genetic transmission of traits like intelligence along with the acceptance of the fact that the human behaviour is controlled largely by society, culture, surroundings and environment. But sadly the watertight demarcations between men and women with regard to their social and filial roles do exist in our society, deeply rooted, even today.
Check out the Annual edition of the Probe!