The Grateful Dead and Philosophy: Getting High Minded about Love and Haight

By Steven Gimbel | Go to book overview

15
Mama Tried: Biological
Determinism and the
Nature-Nurture Distinction

CHUCK WARD

Fathers are usually giddy with optimism about their children’s future when those children are infants. They see only golden promise. But consider the case described in the Grateful Dead song “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo”:

On the day that I was born
Daddy sat down and cried
I had the mark just as plain as day
which could not be denied.

The song tells the story of a rambling, gambling man, and we clearly see the idea that the man’s character was fixed from birth. It was clear to the guy’s father—it could not be denied— that this kid was no good! How can that be? How can the fate and character of a person be fixed from birth? Don’t we choose our destiny? Can’t we work out the path of our life and work on the kind of person we become?


Do We Choose Who and What to Be?

It is, of course, an obvious fact that we make choices. We make mundane choices all day long: what to have for breakfast, what record to play, whether to plant petunias or mums in the window box. Occasionally we make choices that have pretty significant effects on the course of our lives: what major to pursue in school, whether to take the job offer and move the family across the country, whether to quit the job and follow the Dead

-177-

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