The brain is like a book, the first draft of which is written by the genes during fetal development. No chapters are complete at birth, and some are just rough outlines waiting to be filled in during childhood. But not a single chapter — be it on sexuality, language, food preferences, or morality — consists of blank pages on which a society can inscribe any conceivable set of words. Marcus’ analogy leads to the best definition of innateness I have ever seen: Nature provides a first draft, which experience then revises….’Built-in’ does not mean unmalleable; it means ‘organized in advance of experience’
– Jonathan Haidt in The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, paraphrasing and then directly quoting Gary Marcus. Though Haidt is not Marxist, I couldn’t help but think of this line:
Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.
Marx’ context was completely different (for starters, he was referring to society’s self-justifications and not individuals), but both communicate an essential truth…there are limits to how far we can reinvent ourselves. Even as babies, we are carried by the inertia of our genes’ intent, and as adults, by the customs and culture of the society and times in which we live.