A topic of discussion that has been popular amongst philosophers from time is concerned with man’s nature as a being (and this obviously includes women – its just feminism didn’t exist for the ancient Greek’s and neither did personal hygiene; clearly we’ve come a long way). Are we good, bad or maybe neither? Questions surrounding this topic have yet to be completely answered and even to Kanye’s disgust Sway’s attempt at an answer would be horrendous at best. A popular notion that was put forth by Jean Jacques Rousseau (and no this is not some French designer that Kanye is obsessed with right now) is that man is shaped and molded by the institutions in which he exists. That is to say, man is a product of his environment. Whether you agree or disagree as to when man’s “evil” or “sinful” side comes into play, be it at birth or later on – it is apparent that society does play a role in shaping us as humans; albeit for better or for worse. All you have to ask yourself is: would you do what you do, wear what you wear or even say what you say if it wasn’t for the influence(s) around you?
Taking that for what it is, we can see the potential in how growing up in one particular environment could spawn and create a different life experience and world view relative to growing up in an environment with different “settings”, so to speak. Take for example a plant. A plant that has enough water and sunlight is given the potential to flourish. Compare that to that same plant being placed in a dark room with no water. There is only a minute chance that that same plant would survive for as long as it would have given better conditions like in the first scenario. Same plant, but vastly different outcomes. Of course this may be an exaggeration but it highlights the similarity in the analogy – the variables in your environment are factors that can control/limit your outcome.
The setting in which you find yourself in is not a microcosm for how life actually is – rather it’s more of a set of parameters in which you function. In this way, your environment can mask, highlight, emphasize and even distort certain aspects of your worldview. Your environment plays a major role in how you see the world which ultimately affects how you live in it. What I want to touch on is the experience of growing up in an urbanized area and to bring forward some of it’s defining factors.
Almost all of us at some point in our life find ourselves looking for a higher meaning or purpose. We see the good and we see the bad, we know what we should do and often do what we shouldn’t. We’re aware of the pressures and the temptations of falling into societies ills – however you define those ills. Do you think people want to join gangs, be violent, sell drugs and get caught up in street life? My answer to that is no. In fact, a lot of people do those things as a means of survival. It can be argued that poverty is what drives most of these actions. Impoverished communities in the inner city are where these things are most prevalent. Being a drug dealer or gang member isn’t the most sought after career path for most but, for many kids in the inner city it’s an attractive calling because those are the people with money and power. Is the guy working a 9-5 at McDonalds making as much money as the drug dealer, does he look as cool too? Quite clearly the answer is no. In this way you can see how choosing one over the other makes more sense given the setting of the inner city. Sadly, it’s too often true that people will sell drugs or join gangs simply based on their financial situation. You don’t have to look further than some of the most notable rappers in that have existed like Notorious BIG or even Jay-Z. They have mentioned how drug dealing was used as a means of survival to provide for them and their respective family’s. There may not be any better depiction of living in such a constrained society then Kendrick Lamar’s LP Good Kid M.A.A.D City (GKMC). Lamar’s narrative throughout the album serve’s as an example highlighting the different ways in which many urban youth (and sometimes himself) fall victim to their environment. Lamar’s depiction regarding the duality of being a spiritual being and at the same time existing in the mundane encapsulate what a lot of people struggle with. Lamar raps about the gang culture in Compton, about drugs, about violence and quite oppositely brotherhood, family, love and God.
Be it at that, Lamar’s story carefully examines the struggles of choosing between what you want to do and what you’re almost “forced” to do. It’s the struggle to find the balance between your consciousness/spirituality and the ‘sinful’ environment that you happen to find yourself in. We don’t choose where we’re born or how rich our family is but we do control our ability to make decisions. The notion that we are products of our environment is true – but only to an extent. It’s just all too easy to not have to assume any of the responsibility ourselves – we have to be accountable. At the end of the day, it’s a fine line between how much control you have over your actions based on your environment. However, so long as you are aware of your decisions and the outcome that they bring – who are you to blame?
Words by eightyfourth&west