Epitaph

Schneider David Murray

On November 04, 1995 the Washington Post published the Obituary for David M. Schneider who worked as a professor of cultural anthropology: "His pioneering work American Kinship: A Cultural Account demonstrated what we think is nature in American culture is actually cultural. The feminists picked up on it.  They realized that the same is true about gender: What we think is naturally male and naturally female is actually cultural -- [Richard Randolph]"
This reads like the epitaph for all social sciences. May be social science is not is not about scientific truth but about helping us define who we are and where we belong.  He who says nature determines what human are, and what humans do, also promotes a conservative agenda, which refuses to support the poor and the disadvantaged.  Whereas he who says nurture and culture and learning first of all make us what we are, also promotes the liberal agenda which stresses the redistribution of incomes and the support of the poor and the disadvantaged, to help them get in a position, where they can compete on even terms with those, who where lucky.
There is no doubt about the need for income redistribution, from the well-off to the poor. But the justification of such redistribution is not based on the liberal reasoning.  This redistribution is strictly in the self-interest of the well-off: If the poor feel they have nothing to lose, they will act in a way which brings shivers of fear of destabilization into the neighborhoods of the rich. The criminal energy which is let loose directly affects the well being of the rich and the privileged.  The privileged must pay ransom one way or the other.  If this is done in an organized way, and with the good will of enlightened liberal public programs it will satisfy the professional craving of the nurture-aficionados.
The existence of completely unproductive, or even destructive humans is a direct by-product of civilization.

beggars,
prostitutes,
pick-pockets, and
dealers in illicit goods
already 6000 years ago
crowded the first cities of Mesopotamia,
Egypt, China, and India.

And since that time persons of good will have told us to care about them.  But no educational effort has ever achieved anything to reduce their proportion in total population.
But conservatives, sometimes, use the nurture argument as well, especially when they want to blame the side effects of poverty on specific activities.  This is behind the argument that television, and popular music create the violence among the poor, and the violence of offspring of middle-class families who lost control over their kids. Politicians either try to forbid, or at least shame into stopping, producers of smut and violence entertainment.
The social sciences with their statistical apparatus can provide the numbers which show a clear correlation between the number of uncontrolled TV-viewing time and violent acts of minors. But is what is being measured real?  Contrary to the assumptions of John Locke’s TABULA RASA

there is something there,
before the beneficial influence of education
gives human action form, and structure and purpose. 
The human mind is not empty, before it is formed by the standards of the time. 
What if there is a raw structure of forms of expression and social interaction? 

This raw structure can best be observed in traditional societies who try to make a living on the fringes of mankind, in the most inhospitable environments of the globe, the depth of the rain-forest, the ice crystal fogs of the Northern tundras, the dust of the steppe bordering on deserts. But it can also be observed in the street gangs which emerge in all poverty stricken parts of the most highly developed post-industrial societies.
The structure of interactions of the ghetto-kids reflect the fact that the middle class values could not penetrate the invisible walls of the ghetto. Atavistic human behavior emerges where we find neglect in supporting the entry of the young generation into the complex web of rules and rewards, which the post industrial society has invented.
Such atavistic behavior is characterized by specific forms of male bonding and the unbridled use of violence to ensure territory, status and the feeling of belonging.  [Google gives 1,020,000 hits for juvenile gangs.] These kids do not learn from television, but from their own inner drives.
When social science tries to interpret these phenomena, they do so always with a preconceived idea on how to control, what is perceived as a problem.  Thus social science is a victim of its own successes which reflect their correct interpretations of the behavior of the broad middle-classes. But they must fail, if they try to explain the human predicament as a whole.
Social sciences never know whether they are investigating "culture" or the animal spirits of individuals who are encountered in the guise of the trappings of culture.  This is especially true for the drives of the scientists themselves.  What is the driving force behind Freud's analysis of the unconscious? Why is Margret Mead driven to challenge the sexual customs of mid-century American middle-class persons? From their respective biographies a process of self-validation is emerging which is a great experience in itself but at the same time reveals the pitfalls of their contributions to scientific discourse.
The social scientist cannot put a distance between the individual who is investigating, and the society out of which the questions emerged, which are burning in the mind of the investigator.  What is "real" in social sciences is always the impetus of the animal spirits of the investigator. As soon as social sciences try to abstract from these drives, they become barren tautologies. These tautologies cannot be made more realistic by "empirical" investigation in the form of surveys, and polls.
The only true scientific approach to the human mind can be made in the investigation of the chemistry of the brain, and how this chemistry is affected by social interaction. This is a long ways away from being tackled. Until then, we will continue to be baffled by the "nature" - "culture" dichotomy and always we will take sides with those who please our fancy: And that is what we take for the truth.