River Wissey Lovell Fuller

The Village Soapbox

July 2008

Ron explores the influence of heriditary and social upbringing on a child's character. He also has a dig at The Royal mail and its decision to axe hundreds of rurla Post offices

Nature or Nurture?

A big question. Some people think that every baby is born 'pure', a clean slate yet to be written on. They believe that the type of person an individual becomes is determined by the way in which they are raised, the environment in which they live and the events they experience. In other words, the way in which they are 'nurtured'. Others believe that the personality or character traits are inherent, there from the start. They say the 'nature' of the individual is fixed at birth.

I doubt if there is a clear answer to the question. It must be true that we are greatly influenced by the example set for us by our parents, our experiences and our environment, especially in our formative years. At the same time we can all see very different characters in toddlers, even at two years old or less it is possible to detect personality. Two siblings raised in identical manner and circumstances can display quite different character traits at a very early age. Some babies are of a placid and calm nature whilst others are very active and sometimes fractious, is this an indication of their future behaviour even at that very early stage? Even before the age of two, a dispute between two children over a toy can often result in one child standing up for itself, being assertive, even being aggressive, whilst the other may be retiring in manner, even submissive. Surely those traits were inherent at birth?

In some adults we can observe unpleasant traits. We have all met people who seem to enjoy hurting others, it might be something relatively innocuous such as causing them acute embarrassment, some take pleasure in rubbing salt into existing wounds others are real bullies with a sadistic streak that enjoy physically hurting people. Some go even further: What type of person is it that repeatedly stamps on another's head when they are down? What sort of person will repeatedly stab a pregnant ewe and drag it through Wells? Who would strangle a taxi driver until he lost consciousness and then set fire to him. All that just in order to steal a few pounds? Are we all capable of such behaviour? I don't believe that the majority would do such things quite regardless of their nurture.

Even worse, perhaps, are the crimes committed by some on national or ethnic grounds. During and after the war I, along with everybody, learned with horror of the behaviour of some Nazis towards those over whom they had power. Similar, but perhaps even worse tales were told of the Japanese. At the same time, of course, we knew there were good Germans and good Japanese. Since that time there have been numerous further examples of man's inhumanity. Not long ago some Serbs behaved cruelly towards the Kosovans, Hutus murdered Tutsis. Today Arab militia torture and rape Africans in Darfor. The list is endless. History is full of tales of inhuman behaviour of some people towards others so we must conclude that it was ever thus. Sadly we hear of instances of Americans and British indulging in torture. The people responsible for these acts shelter behind the fact that they claim to be acting for the good of the nation or the good of their race but the individuals concerned must have a cruel streak in them. I am sure that, if ever the situation arose in this country where we had a secret police like the Gestapo, we would have no difficulty in finding recruits.

I don't believe that you can blame spiteful or sadistic behaviour by individuals entirely upon their upbringing or their experiences. Fortunately there are others who have a natural compassion towards anyone that they see to be suffering and will want to do something to ease their pain, I like to believe that they are the majority.

I have concentrated on the nasty aspects of behaviour but I am sure that the same argument would apply to all behavioural traits. Some people are jolly whilst others are morose, some gregarious, some shy and so on. To what extent are their characters born in them and to what extent are they dependent upon their upbringing? In trying to answer this question 'nature or nurture' I fear that I must conclude that certain fundamentals of a person's character are inherent at birth.

Royal Mail

Two years ago Royal Mail made £120 million profit. It provided a good service achieving 95% next day delivery of first class mail, even to remote areas. Charges were lower than in almost any other Western European country. It was a postal service that could stand comparison with any other and it was publicly owned so that £120M went into the national coffers. But, in keeping with the worshipping of market forces that has characterised our governments for the last twenty years, this Government is determined to privatise it. As a first step towards ruining Royal Mail they kept control of Royal Mail charges through the appointed regulator. As a second step they allowed private operators to compete with Royal Mail for the lucrative business market. Needless to say, because Royal Mail was required to deliver letter mail all over Britain, including the remotest areas, and because it was limited on the price it could charge for that service, it found it difficult to compete for the bulk business mail and lost much of that business. Despite this loss of business and the loss of business to electronic mail, the regulator would not allow a worthwhile increase in the charge for letter mail. Last year Royal Mail made a £28M loss. I am not surprised. Now that Royal Mail has been made into a loss making enterprise, public objections to privatisation will reduce.

During a Radio 4 programme recently the question of privatisation was discussed. A representative of the German postal services, which have been privatised, was involved in the discussion. He told us how successful the privatisation had been, how profitable the company now is and how it was expanding into world markets. He claimed a very high percentage of next day deliveries. It all sounded most encouraging. Royal Mail appeared to be rather sluggish by comparison and failing to make more of the global opportunities, although it did match the Germans on next day deliveries.

Towards the end of the discussion it was revealed that the German company charged three times as much as Royal Mail for letter services. What would Royal Mail have been able to do had it been allowed to charge even twice as much as it does currently? How much more profit would have found its way into the Treasury? How much will our charges rise when it is privatised? Where will those extra profits go?

I am not opposed to privatisation in general but I think that postal services, water supply, electricity supply, railways and other similar public services, along with oil and coal, should have remained in public hands. Relying on market forces is not always in the Nation's best interest. The need to see optimum profit on the balance sheet at the end of each year does not encourage long term planning and investment for the future. The shambles of the railways that are now costing the taxpayer even more in real terms than when it was British Rail and the current situation over energy supplies are evidence of the shortcomings of reliance on market forces. It has been obvious for a long time that there would come a point when the demand for oil exceeded the supply but there has been no effort to prepare for that situation. To quote one economics expert; "Britain has squandered the blessing of North Sea oil and gas by allowing the stuff to be bought up at low prices." Perhaps the current problem of energy supply and the mess in the financial sector will convince more politicians that public ownership can be the most appropriate way in some cases and that better regulation of markets is necessary in other instances. But perhaps that is too much to hope for.


"A cynical ,mercenary, demagogic, corrupt press will produce in time a people as base as itself."

Joseph Pullitzer 1847 - 1911

I guess he has been proved right

Ron Watts

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