Thursday, August 22, 2013

Nature and Essence

I've been reflecting recently on created natures, essences, and definitions of things. I often hear people speak of the ” essence” or ” nature” of a gender, or a species, or a subculture, and when I do, there are many different opinions about what constitutes nature and essence. What does this mean? How am I going to define the nature and essence of anything, gender-related or otherwise?
After some thought, I have decided upon two litmus tests which must in my opinion be present if an attribute is to be considered the essence or nature of a thing, though their presence does not necessarily dictate said attribute as essence or nature.

The two litmus tests are:

1. Is this attribute unique to this entity, and

2. Is this attribute universal for all entities of this type.

If it does not meet these two tests, then I would classify it as a characteristic, not an essence/definition or nature. (an attribute could be natural to an entity, and generally present, without being unique to that entity, but if that is the case then I would hesitate to use that attribute to define the essence of what makes that entity itself)

For example, monkeys generally like bananas. all monkeys like bananas? Maybe. I honestly have no idea. Is banana liking unique to monkeys? Absolutely not! Therefore, while monkeys may love bananas, I could not say that the essence of a monkey, as opposed to a bird or a fly or a human, say, is liking bananas.

I should add that I'm assuming health and normally in entities- there are some humans who, due to mental and physical illness/abnormality, do not demonstrate some of the essential qualities of humanity, but this makes them no less human. For example, I would list a basic capacity for abstract thought as an essential quality of humans, because it is both unique and universal to healthy, mature humans. Some people are born with severe mental deformities which prevent them from having this ability, but they are still human and because they do not fall into the healthy/mature category they need not negate the quantifying of humanity in general.

As to gender roles- if something is the essence of masculinity or femininity, it should be both unique to and universal within that gender. None of the social traits like aggressive, nurturing, emotional, logical, stoic, or attributes/behaviors like providing, protecting, submitting, and supporting can be essential to a gender based on the above two tests, because none of them are both unique to only one gender and universal within it.

Thus, I would say that there is no masculine or feminine ” nature” apart from the biological/reproductive/chromosomal. We can make generalizations, but even if every stereotype/generalization was 90 prevent accurate, and none of them are, they will never apply universally and should never, ever be seen as prescriptive.  Social science supports some social/behavioral statistical differentiation between genders, but it supports such diversity within genders as well, to an even greater degree.

Universal. Unique. So long as I retain those two tests, I can never be a gender essentialist.

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