Meandering Technologist

The meandering thoughts and observations of a Technology Engineer.

Tag Archives: Neuroscience

Reflections on Privledge

There are many things in this world that I’m thankful for, but I know that there are many things in this world that are mine because of who and where I was born. In many cases, it could be argued that there are things that I have that aren’t available to everyone. I have things that are born out of the resiliency of my parents and out of the idea that they wanted a better future for me, not everyone is so lucky.

It is also the case that there are people who are much more privileged than I am, but does that mean I have no care or should disregard those that have less than me? Not less stuff or money, but less access to a life where they have opportunity. Where they could make a choice about what they want to do, who they want to do it with and where they want to do it?

Some would turn the discussion into a philosophical one: Does anyone really have choice in what they do? It’s an interesting point and worthy of a personal examination, most peoples initial reaction would be that they absolutely have personal free will over how they live their life. You can say, for example choose between Vanilla or Chocolate ice cream, or you could choose to take the long or the short way home from work. You could also make bigger choices about who you’re going to marry, who you want to be friends, with and how risky of behaviors that you choose to partake in.

Now, the other school of thought is that we don’t really have much say, cognitively in what we say and what we do. A lot of the activities that we take place in and a lot of the things that we do are driven by reaction and habit. Anyone who has tried to change something about themselves, be it smoking, weight, or chewing their nails, or any other habit usually finds themselves at a dire crossroad where they know what they want, but are incapable of making a change to their behavior.

What’s important there is that inability to make a change in your personal behavior, regardless of the personal desire to make the change. This has been established by a lot of testing on the part of neuroscientists and people much smarter than me. So the real question comes down to how far this programmed behavior problem goes.

Does it go so deep that we could eventually predict with accuracy how successful one person or another will be in life? Will be able to figure out what kind of person you will marry? Will we figure out how many kids you will have? The science hasn’t quite extended to the point that we know if we can even ask these questions. But I think that there are going to be a lot of things about our lives that are being run by parts of our brains that let us think we have control over the outcome and direction of our lives.

I don’t think that there is necessarily anything wrong with this. In fact I think it is reassuring that the brain takes a lot of that load off and I think that we do have a simple choice in much of what happens. We have choices about how we choose to reflect on our current experience. We have choices about how things make us feel. The same studies about habit have found that people that think about making changes in relation to how it impacts their interpersonal relationships, rather than on how good or bad it is for them, make the changes easier than those that don’t think about it that way.

So, that was a mighty tangent from my first thought, but it applies. If we know that much of the actions, thoughts and desires you have are a result of the habit forming parts of the brain, habits that are formed early in life and persist through life. How can we know then, that there really is any way to help someone grow out of their situation. Sure we hear about people that make it out of dire situations of being poor, or disadvantaged, but how often does that really happen? I would bet, that far more often that people born to lives that aren’t in any way privileged, educated or successful are going to have a much harder time breaking out of that situation.

This lines up in the same direction with how hard it would be for me to break into the millionaire/billionaire section of society. I’m born and raised on the habits and pitfalls of the middle class America rather than on the privilege that many receive higher than me.

So, I think that in general it shouldn’t be the place of another person to tell any other person that they should just pull themselves up by the boot straps and get to work making or doing something. Many people just don’t have the capacity or habits to make that work for them. They don’t have access to seeing the world through a lens that privilege brings.

It should be the goal of everyone that truly wants a free and open world to have as many people as possible attain the goals of personal self-control and awareness. Everyone should have a sense that they are controlling the path in their life and have a say in what they get out of life. It would be a much happier and healthy place if we could get over the idea that the roads are paved in gold and anyone can make it.

It’s only true if you know how to find the road, and walk down it.