DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Blank Slate in our Cultural Perspectives

Written by: on March 1, 2020

When we are growing up, we heard many stories from our parents, teachers, grandparents, and many other storytellers. But the most story ever spoken as a true one was the one that a child of five months old, abducted by a baboon, and ran with her to the deep forest. The parents searched the child, but al was in vain. It took two years before they found a grown-up child in the family of baboons. The child could not speak the human language but the baboon’s language. She had learned the tricks of climbing the trees and behaving exactly like the baboons. It was tough to catch her so that she could be separated from the family of the baboons. It took the wildlife trained personnel to hunt down this girl from the baboons. The human mind is a blank slate from birth but is influenced by the culture, parenting, and environment. This was proven by the girl who had taken all the characteristics of the baboons, although she was not a baboon but a human. She ate the baboon’s food, lived in a forest with no clothing, but still survived the hush forest life among the baboons. It took a lot of time to help the baboon girl regain her human nature, which we were told was not completely reversed.


Therefore, Pinker’s argument in his book “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature,” where he claims that if it were true that the human brain is a blank slate, then human nature would be in a more significant threat. But from the above experience of the child growing in the family of baboons, he grew up, behaved, acted, lived a climatized to the lifestyle of the baboons comfortably. I love the way Pinker reasons that The Blank Slate was not the only part of the official theory that social scientists felt compelled to prop up. They also strove to consecrate the Noble Savage. Mead painted a Gauguinesque portrait of native peoples as peaceable, egalitarian, materially satisfied, and sexually unconflicted.[1] This assumption of the early philosophers was countered strongly by Pinker. History has shown that various communities were involved in tribal conflicts and fighting, and women abduction was the order of the day. In Kenya, we have seen many the communities which depend their lives on keeping a large number of cattle for wealth. These communities have been involved in the conflicts of cattle rustling for years and have been in their DNA since. But still, it is an influence of the community one lives in, and that becomes the order of the day. Could one say these people were born on a blank slate? I believe so because if they were taken from their environment and grow where cattle rustling is not practiced, they would not practice this act that always ends in death and destruction of other people’s properties.

As much as I find Pinker quite complicated, I also find his arguments very factual and sensible in life. He takes care to argue that evolutionary success does not justify morality. According to Pinker, morality must be based on fundamental regard for the interests of individual human beings, but cheaters and those who harm or exploit others ought to be punished.

[1] Pinker, Steve. The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. New York: Penguin Books, 2002. Loc 880 Kindle edition.


About the Author


John Muhanji

I am the Director Africa Ministries Office of Friends United Meeting. I coordinate all Quaker activities and programs in the Quaker churches and school mostly in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. The focus of my work is more on leadership development and church planting in the region especially in Tanzania.. Am married with three children all grown up now. I love playing golf as my exercise hobby. I also love reading.

4 responses to “The Blank Slate in our Cultural Perspectives”

  1. Great reference to mythology John, I identify with the mythological story of the child that was snatched away by the baboon. I also heard a second version of the same story that the baboon was successfully tricked with a pumpkin to let go off the child.
    Pinker does definitely bring out useful understanding of the nature versus nurture influence on human behavior but I belief his work will trigger more debate and research in this area. He definitely rubs me the wrong away for setting aside the Imago Dei idea or the creationist theory. Thank you for sharing the cultural story which is widely shared across cultures in Kenya and I belief in other African cultures.

  2. mm Mary Mims says:

    Ok, I’m confused. Is the baboon story true or a myth? Wallace said it was a myth. Anyway, it’s a great story. However, if she actually could learn to speak a human language, I think it proves Pinker’s point that she had an innate ability to learn human language, and therefore, not a blank slate.

  3. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Thanks for a cultural example from your locale. I appreciate your insight but wonder if we should all be careful of extrapolating endorsements based on limited empirical evidence. Thanks again for your perspective.

  4. Digby Wilkinson says:

    Hey John, interesting examples. I had heard that Baboon story before, though I have to say it sounds a bit like the Disney story “The Jungle Book”. However, the Disney story may have been based on the myth/story too. We are a complex mix of our species genome, our inherited parental traits and cultural voices. We may behave like baboons from time to time, but we are not baboons.

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