The Nature vs. Nurture Debate.


The past week, the news wires were hot with the story of an attempted mugging gone wrong.  A gang of yobs, running in age from fifteen down to ten, and all related to each other, got on a city bus and tried to mug a seventeen-year old passenger.  The passenger wasn’t giving it up quickly enough, so the ten-year old began to reach in his back pack for a gun with which to murder the passenger.  The passenger, realizing what was going on, grabbed the ten-year old in a bear hug and squeezed the little mutt.  The ten-year old, who already had his hand on the grip and his finger on the trigger so as to shoot the seventeen-year old, fired the gun and the slug tore into his arm.  The little shit was shot by his own gun.

Well, the little dear was whisked off to the hospital where he was patched up, arrested and handcuffed to his bed. The newspapers report this ten-year old “child” has a rap sheet as long as the proverbial arm.  In his brief life, he’s committed armed robbery, assault, theft and several other major crimes.  And several counts of each, one should note.

In court later in the week, the “child”‘s mother showed up.  She wanted the judge let her take her “baby” home to nurse his wound.  Having inspected the rap sheet, and having seen the report from Child Protective Services of a year back in which the mother flat-out declared the boy unmanageable, the judge kept him in the slammer.  Mama burst into shrieks and wails about how the system was being unfair to her “baby” and yack, yack, yack.  A true enabler, this woman.

Toward the end of the week, the radio talk shows got in on the act.  One host, a curmudgeonly conservative fellow, conducted a poll.  He wanted to know if his listeners thought the little savage could be redeemed.  Was the boy, by nature, a beast?  Or perhaps with proper nurturing, could the little fellow respond and we’d see the milk of human kindness pour forth from his little soul?  The old nature vs. nurture question.  Well, the general opinion was he’s not redeemable; he’s just vile by nature.

Of those who called in, about sixty-percent thought he should simply be vivisected straightaway and used as an organ donor.  Another thirty-percent thought the best course was giving the boy a lobotomy to make him manageable then remand him to custodial care.  The only thing that would come out of an attempt to salvage this creature, the callers maintained, would be the eventual murder of innocent people.  They said the only thing this ten-year-old would ever contribute to society is a sea of tears and pain.

While I tend to more liberal positions, on this case I was in total agreement with the audience’s general sentiment.  I know, I know; the good Liberal position is that a baby is a blank slate; that there is noting lurking in a baby that would dispose it to a life of violence and crime; it’s all on how the child is raised.  But I disagree.

And so would you, if you’d ever met Tiny Turnbull.

Well, I never met Tiny Turnbull in the sense we broke bread together, or even shared a school bus ride, I just knew him by reputation, which was bad.  For when I got into seventh grade, Tiny (then a senior) was already a legend in the community.

Born to a farming family, Tiny had been raised by what appeared to be good, kindly, Christian parents, and was part of a respected extended family.  A good augury, no?  But according to stories making the rounds, Tiny was bad from the get-go.  He was a vicious little baby who bit his mother’s teat, hit and bit his older siblings and flew into terrifying rages when his whims were denied and urinating everywhere.  As a toddler, Tiny liked to torment insects by tearing off their little legs and watch them squirm until they died.  He launched unprovoked attacks on other kids, koshing them with sticks or even rocks.  His parents were dismayed by their son and his siblings were ever-cautious, seldom turning their backs on baby brother.

By the time Tiny started school, all the kids in the area were scared of him and avoided him like the pox.  Elementary school did nothing to improve Tiny’s disposition either.  If anything, school made it worse.  “Incorrigible” was the word most often associated with Tiny’s name.  An undisciplined animal, in the eyes of most.

As Tiny grew, so did his depredations.  When he was about the same age as the little chap who tried to mug the seventeen-year old last week, Tiny punched-out an old woman who wouldn’t let go of her purse.  She ended up in Hennepin County General Hospital with a broken face and Tiny ended up doing a stretch in the Glenn Lake reform School.  Even that had no effect.  In fact, in less than a week, Tiny was put in the isolater after getting caught anally raping another boy.

By the time he made it to high school, Tiny was a thoroughgoing criminal, but more in the mold of Freddy Kruger than Al Capone.  Pretty creepy fellow.

The first time I saw Tiny, I knew in an instant who it was: Short and squat with a pendulous belly hanging over his belt, Tiny had a shockingly small head and acne so severe his face truly resembled a pizza.  Oh, and he had no chin; just a line sloping from upper lip to collar-bone.  To augment his fearsome appearance, Tiny walked with a rolling swagger, his face frozen into a permanent sneer.

As ugly as he was, and with a vicious streak a mile wide, you’d think Tiny would have been a friendless loner.  Not so.  Tiny had an almost Mephistophelian power over weaker minds in the way of Hitler, Stalin or Charlie Manson.  Like flies to a road apple, the area’s dullards were drawn to Tiny and swarmed about him worshipfully.  They soon formed a gang with Tiny as its fearless leader.  As for everyone else, simply being in his presence — even when you didn’t know who it was — made the little hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

Tiny and his retinue of lick-spittles could be seen roaring around the countryside in a rusty old Lincoln with Tiny sitting in the backseat like a mafia don.

One summer’s night in 1954, when Tiny was in his senior year, he and his troop were roaming about, looking for trouble.  And if they couldn’t find any trouble, they thought they’d make some.  Well, sure enough, they did.  Having gone into Minneapolis to visit a tippling house, the Lincoln was cruising slowly down Portland Avenue when it passed by a house with a young man sitting on the front stoop, minding his own business (his mother said at the trial that he was playing fetch with the family cocker-spaniel).

Tiny looked out the window and saw the young man, contemplated him for a few seconds as the Lincoln rolled by and then, nodding in the young man’s direction, said, “Stop the car!”

Tiny ordered the driver to back up and park in front of the young man’s sidewalk.  Tiny got out and led his crew up the walkway to confront the young man.  Tiny’s little gang had a fearsome appearance: Leather jackets, blue jeans with studded belts and chain-drive wallets, and (of course) heavy engineer boots with steel toes and lugged soles.  The young man saw them coming and stood.

Tiny walked to within inches of the young man’s face and stood, shifting his weight from one foot to the other with pent-up energy and balling his fists.  Tiny’s eyes squinted: “What the fuck you call me?” he hissed.

The young man protested.  Words were exchanged.  Then Tiny said, “Let’s stomp this fucker.”  And so they did.  Heedless of the watching neighbors, Tiny drew back his right leg and planted his boot square in the young man’s crotch.  The young man doubled over and in an instant, the gang was on him like buzzards on a carcass, kicking, kicking, kicking.

When the young man had stopped moving, Tiny looked down on the supine form, and gave the coup de grace — Using the hard rubber heel of his boot, Tiny used all of his considerable weight and brought down his heel square on the young man’s temple.  A sickening cracking sound was heard and the young man’s right eye popped from its socket.

Looking at his inert victim, Tiny wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve and said, “I need a beer.”  With that, the gang got back in the Lincoln and were off.

Of course the Lincoln had trouble starting so one of the neighbors had time to write down the license number.  By the time Tiny pulled up in front of his parents’ home, three squad cars were waiting in the bushes.  As soon as Tiny killed the engine, the cops swooped in and busted his ass.

Long story short, the jury convicted Tiny of first-degree murder and the judge gave him life.  The rest of the gang got similar treatment.  They were all hauled off to Stillwater, where Minnesota maintains its maximum security prison where, as far as I know, they still rot.

Yes, as the ten-year old mugger and Tiny Turnbull demonstrate, there are people who are bad by nature and no amount of nurturing will do a lick of good.  The sooner we face this fact, and prepare to sequester them at an early age, the better for us all.

-Merlin-

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3 Responses to The Nature vs. Nurture Debate.

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