Q. Is talent ‘god given’?

A. We were discussing this sort of thing in a social psychology class last friday.. lecturer is advocate of social constructionism.. which says exactly that all aspects of personality and aptitude are culturally produced. one person is shy, another is outgoing solely due to past experience and the self-reinforcing expectations of ‘society’ that you are that sort of person (ie if you act a bit shy people treat you as shy and it perpetuates this role) likewise talents are result of application.

I disagree with such an extreme position but it was very hard to pin down where genetic/biological predisposition ends and practice and experience take over. this is because it is difficult (impossible?) to ‘measure’ talents or personality, they don’t exist on an absolute scale.. are you 1.4 times more impatient than me??.

As people have pointed out you will rarely find a superb musician who hasn’t put in thousands of hours of practice, a marathon runner who doesn’t train, a mathematican who doesn’t live and breath hard sums (geeks!) But to go from saying that practice makes a difference to arguing for a completely blank slate is disengenuous.

Often the claims are politically motivated, left leaning academics who cannot bear the idea that people are not absolutely equal in everything, who think that even admitting there are differences is but a few steps away from eugenics, from Morlocks and Eloi. You can’t refuse to call the sky blue just because you prefer the colour red.

People are different, it goes against the weight of scientific evidence and our personal experiences to claim otherwise. But this isn’t a charter for gloomy fatalism or rampant discrimination. It is at the heart of the awareness that everyone is equal in the eyes of the law, but they are never going to agree with each other on everything or want the same things. law, society and government should be about embracing and supporting that diversity. your tastes and ideas of morality are different from mine, neither of us should treat them as absolutes and force others into submission, rather the ideal will compromise on a minimal set of laws that protects me from explotation by you and vice versa (‘the least worst option’ or Rawls’ version of the social contract)

on the flipside, the personal level – hard work and practice make a difference however good you start off (as Arnold Palmer or was it Gary Player? said “The more i practice the ‘luckier i get’) and there is far less set in stone than get told by your personality questionnaire, your miserable school music teacher or anybody else!

if you practice and get better, that’s good enough isn’t it?

About caspar

Caspar is just one monkey among billions. Battering his keyboard without expectations even of peanuts, let alone of aping the Immortal Bard. By day he is an infantologist at Birkbeck Babylab, by night he runs BabyLaughter.net
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