predisposition

A dictum that held sway among some who tried to explain human activity in the 1980s was that we are more-or-less blank slates who are inscribed with our character by experience, especially social experience. Current psychological wisdom has taken a swing against nurture in favour of genetic predispositions, environmental factors, and peer mores and pressures as factors in the formation of character.

Being a parent of twins has meant that I have had a wide variety of twin literature given to me. Especially when our twins were newborn, people clipped articles, photocopied papers or gave us books on the subject. Studies of identical twins brought up in separation show that these extremely rare individuals tend overwhelmingly towards convergence in the details of their tastes, behaviours, opinions, and so on, although I know of no case in which twins brought up speaking different languages, or in different countries with different cultures, have been compared. The notion that the character, or aspects of it, may be genetically determined offers an interesting take on memory; for if something as complex as one’s preference for, say, the fragrance of Joy by Patou can be inscribed in the genetic code, then surely one can be immortal through one’s offspring in a more particular sense than notions of living through the family usually encompass.

Was my brother Raymond more predisposed to war than I was? Certainly he played war games, bought and read war comics, and rehearsed battles with toy soldiers, tanks and model aeroplanes, whereas I was not particularly interested in these pastimes, preferring for play a combination of the scientific and the fantastical that would later turn into a teenage passion for science fiction. Was my brother manifesting a genetic tendency, inherited perhaps from our grandfather Carol who had fought in several wars, that I had missed in the gene-shuffle, getting a fantasy gene instead of a military one? Perhaps it was simply that I had been born four years further from the Second World War than he, and that crucial events of my upbringing took place beyond its atmosphere, suggesting that early years are formative in this regard. Tendencies expressed in childhood may not in any case bear fruit in adult behaviour. Now that we are in our fifties, Raymond flies hang-gliders for pleasure in a practical expression of the fantastical and escapist, whereas I practice the martial arts.

019 Lesley at schoolLesley’s early years are forever lost to me, so I must forego all speculation about what formative experiences and styles of nurture may have resulted in the character that I knew. To me, she has almost no history, appearing ex nihilo with my arrival on the scene, or perhaps four years earlier with Raymond’s, or perhaps, vaguely, ten years earlier when she got married, before which was, well, nothing.

In that void, a tentative few stories grew. Like the time when, as a twelve- or thirteen-year-old, she had had a fervent conversion to Christianity, and had tested the fervency of her faith one afternoon after Sunday school by going to the school swimming pool dressed in her school uniform, or the special version of that uniform for Sundays, and had strode out onto the water in the full and utter confidence that her faith would bear her up. After that, she abandoned Christianity.

The next faith that she was to find, within the next three or four years, was Communism. Around this was a silence as palpable as cotton-wool, so that I never knew what, if anything, she had ever done for or with or on behalf of the Communists, nor, except for a very few instances, do I know now.

From these stories and absences that flit like ghosts in the empty room of her past, I must construct, should I care to, theories of how she came to be the person I knew. They are not sufficient to make a convincing account, and I find I am reluctant to do so.

__________

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