The Carlin Conundrum: Genetics Affecting Will

  • I have watched all George Carlin’s HBO specials, listened to many interviews, and read a couple of his books. So when I heard him say the following I was somewhat surprised:

    Gotta have luck in this world. Part of it is your genetic makeup, that's luck. And then, what you do with it is also partly genetic. Because hard work... is genetic. The desire to do hard work, the willingness to work hard and be determined, and not be set, not be turned aside. That's all genetic too. It can be altered or a little reinforced...

    It didn’t seem like something he would subscribe to. After doing a little internet searching, I became aware that it was possible he was basing his statement off the “5 Big Personality Traits Theory.”
    From Wiki:

    The Big Five personality traits, also known as the five factor model (FFM), is a model based on common language descriptors of personality. When factor analysis (a statistical technique) is applied to personality survey data, some words used to describe aspects of personality are often applied to the same person. For example, someone described as "conscientious" is more likely to be described as "always prepared" rather than "messy". This theory is based therefore on the association between words but not on neuropsychological experiments. This theory uses descriptors of common language and therefore suggests five broad dimensions commonly used to describe the human personality and psyche.

    That these underlying factors can be found is consistent with the lexical hypothesis: personality characteristics that are most important in peoples' lives will eventually become a part of their language and, secondly, that more important personality characteristics are more likely to be encoded into language as a single word.

    The trait that most closely relates to Carlin’s quote would be “conscientiousness.”

    Conscientiousness is a tendency to display self-discipline, act dutifully, and strive for achievement against measures or outside expectations. It is related to the way in which people control, regulate, and direct their impulses

    Here's the part Carlin could have been referring too:

    Genetically informative research, including twin studies, suggest that heritability and environmental factors both influence all five factors to the same degree.[72] Among four recent twin studies, the mean percentage for heritability was calculated for each personality and it was concluded that heritability influenced the five factors broadly. The self-report measures were as follows: openness to experience was estimated to have a 57% genetic influence, extraversion 54%, conscientiousness 49%, neuroticism 48%, and agreeableness 42%.[73]

    While this data on conscientiousness is interesting and amusing, “effort/willpower exerted” is a completely abstract and subjective experience. It is impossible to “test” for such a thing. Someone with multiple sclerosis might be trying ten times harder than you not to wet their pants standing in line waiting for the bathroom; yet they do wet their pants, while you successfully exert mild effort/willpower and maintain dry drawers.

    Then again, I am falling into my own trap. What does “ten times harder” mean? It doesn’t mean anything. If God does exist, it’s only for him/her/it to know. That’s like saying you “love” your child more than someone else does. It’s impossible to scientifically prove.

    This issue also triggers ancient concepts like reincarnation, karma, and having a soul. Are we just DNA and the sum of our parts, or is there something we haven’t scientifically discovered yet and maybe never will? Maybe it’s something we will only understand after our physical bodies die and our consciousnesses venture to the next plane. Then again, maybe “lights out” is really “lights out,” and nothingness is the eternal fate for us all.

    The great philosopher Chumba states:

    There’s an undefinable quality, “spirit,” that can’t be measured nor discounted. So of course, science ignores it. It is anti-dogmatic to the religion of Science.

    Furthermore, if you believe Carlin's theory, it can hamstring you right out of the gate. It’s a self fulfilling prophecy: O well, I come from a line of bums. Back to Jerry Springer and day drinking on food stamps. Perhaps this “nature” (as opposed to “nurture”) attitudinal focus is currently hampering individuals in certain racial groups from reaching their full potential.

    Although I believe Carlin made too strong and bold a statement, I don't want to discount the fact that genetics could play a factor as a basic jumping-off point.

    Chumba states:

    If I were to put words in his [Carlin's] mouth, I would further clarify his remarks by suggesting that perhaps some people have a genetic disposition towards hard work, whereas others have to “work harder at working hard.” A strong work ethic is instilled early. If there is a genetic disposition, and you don’t have it, you can learn to work hard by example, and by actually just being plunged into working at a young age in life.

    “Working hard” could also need to be measured in terms of what is achieved, and what an achievement or success is, is highly subjective. It would depend greatly on whether you believe your life’s decisions/behaviors are being judged on some type of moral/ethical scale. Personally, I believe whatever you focus on is where your consciousness will go. If you treat others with a greedy, vindictive, and insincere attitude, in your next life you will go to a place where the dominating attitudes are those attributes. Conversely, if you treat others with an empathetic, honest, and humble attitude, your reward will be a world where those attributes dominate.

    To confuse things further, Carlin states in his book When will Jesus bring the Pork Chops:

    Hard work is a misleading term. Physical effort and long hours do not constitute hard work. Hard work is when someone pays you to do something you'd rather not be doing. Anytime you'd rather be doing something other than the thing you're doing, you're doing hard work.

    R.I.P. George

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  • @chumba I like shoveling snow (don't tell my wife.)

  • @dingle I like Carlin's definition of "hard work". It personally resonates with me. It's not "work" if you enjoy it 😉