You are currently browsing the daily archive for March 21, 2012.

This post is for adults only.

Those of a sensitive disposition are also forewarned as some readers may find the content disturbing.

The past few days I have been looking at Lloyd de Mause’s research into children and women.

De Mause (pronounced ‘de-Moss’) is an American social thinker who specialises in psychohistory — uncovering the whys and wherefores of our behaviour over millenia.

In yesterday’s post, we saw that he recommends that the future of women be improved in order for them to become better mothers and, by extension, facilitate societal advancement. However, in this is a complex of issues — personal, familial, cultural and historical.

In his 1998 lecture, ‘The History of Child Abuse’, he described ‘six childrearing modes’ and said (emphases mine):

My “psychogenic theory of history” posits that a society’s childrearing practices are not just one item in a list of cultural traits, but–because all other traits must be passed down from generation to generation through the narrow funnel of childhood–instead makes childrearing the very basis for the transmission and development of all other cultural traits, placing definite limits on what can be achieved in the material spheres of history. The main source of childhood evolution is, I believe, the process I call psychogenesis, by which parents–mainly the mother for most of history–revisit a second time around the stages of childhood and undo to some extent the traumas they themselves endured. It is in this sense that history is like a psychotherapy of the generations, undoing trauma and giving historical personality a chance at a new start with every baby born. Only humans have brain networks that allow this miracle to take place. All cultural changes in the past 100,000 years of Homo sapiens sapiens are epigenetic, not genetic. Regardless of changes in the environment, it is only when changes in childhood occur that epigenetic changes in the brain can occur and societies can begin to progress and move in unpredictable new directions that are more adaptive. That more individuated and loving individuals are ultimately more adaptive is understandable–because they are less under the pressures of infantile traumas and are therefore more rational in reaching their goals. But that this childhood evolution–and therefore all social evolution–is terribly uneven is also understandable, given the varying conditions under which parents all over the world have to conduct their childrearing tasks.

Yesterday, we read some of de Mause’s detail debunking that incest is a universal taboo. Nearly every society has a long history — some continuing today — of incest. Child sacrifice also took place and continues in certain societies.

The first of de Mause’s childrearing modes is the infanticidal mode, which comprises the atrocities in the preceding paragraph. As for infanticide from ancient times to the Enlightenment, de Mause said:

I have estimated that perhaps half of all children born in antiquity were killed by their caretakers, declining to about a third in medieval times and dropping to under one percent only by the eighteenth century. Since these skewed sex ratios do not vary by economic class–the rich do away with their children at about the same rates as the poor–the evidence suggests that the parents were coping with the emotional anxieties of childrearing more than economic conditions.

Reading that you might say, ‘But what about the Church?’ De Mause would respond that in this second — abandoning — mode:

Although Christianity attempted to reduce the outright killing of newborns, thus moving beyond the infanticidal mode, it continued the abandonment of children–whether by child sale or by sending to wet nurse or monastery or nunnery or foster family or to other homes as servants–which is why I labeled this second stage the abandoning mode. The refusal of parents to raise their own legitimate children was so powerful that through the nineteenth century over half of the children born in Florence, for instance, were dumped into foundling homes at birth, to be picked up by their families–if they lived that long (the majority died)–when they were around five years old, thus avoiding having homes where crying babies disturbed the peace. The same abandonment was common in France, where, in 1900, over 90 percent of the babies born in Paris were carted out to the countryside to wetnurses at birth. As one author put it, “mother love” was a late historical achievement, not an instinctual trait.

Although infanticide decreased through the centuries in the Christian West, adults’ other sins against children carried on, principally physical and sexual abuse. Recall that de Mause said people consider children ‘poison containers’:

The erotic beating of children continued in Christian times, because of the anxieties of living with a child who is so full of your projections. Children were experienced as always about to turn into “changelings,” those who, as St. Augustine puts it, “suffer from a demon”–which usually meant just that they cry too much, since the Malleus Maleficarum says that one can recognize changelings because they “always howl most piteously,” and since Luther says they “are more obnoxious than ten children with their cr–ping, eating, and screaming.”

Today, it is still common for a parent to say to a child, ‘Be quiet or I will give you something to cry about!’

So, it’s the child’s noise, the unpredictability and, let’s face it, the seemingly spontaneous soiling that has upset adults through the ages.

For centuries, babies were wrapped in swaddling clothes. Even Jesus was. This was not to keep the infant warm but to prevent him from moving around too much. However, some societies kept their young wrapped that way for a few years as a means of keeping the child under control.

By the 13th century, the third mode of childrearing — the ambivalent mode — appeared. The modes overlapped somewhat, as it takes time for widespread change to come into effect:

the giving of young children to monasteries for sexual and other uses, was ended, the first disapproval of pedophilia appeared, the first childrearing tracts were published and some advanced parents began to practice what I have termed the ambivalent mode of childrearing, where the child was not born completely evil, but was seen as being still full of enough dangerous projections so that the parent, whose task it was to mold it, must beat it into shape like clay. Church moralists for the first time began to warn against sexual molestation of children by parents, nurses and neighbors … The length of time of swaddling was eventually reduced from a year or more to only a few months. Pediatrics and educational philosophy were born. Parents of means began suggesting that perhaps rather than sending their infants out to be wetnursed in some peasant village–and thereby condemning over half of them to early death–the mother might herself nurse her infant. The baby, said some mothers who began to try nursing their own babies, even responds to this care by giving love back to the nursing mother, stroking her breast and face and cooing. And if the father, as often happened, complained that his wife’s breast belonged to him not the baby, these bold new mothers suggested that the father should be allowed to hold the baby too.

The ambivalent mode enabled the Renaissance: exploration, invention and more sophisticated forms of art, writing and music.  Parents were less inclined towards the child as poison container and instead began internalising and examining their own personal experiences. It was during this time that Shakespeare gave us the melancholic Hamlet. This internalising also produced a conscious experience of guilt.

The next mode — the intrusive mode — had begun by the 17th century and was most advanced in England, America and France.  Parents removed swaddling clothes after several weeks, they increasingly viewed molestation as sinful and, as such, made it incumbent upon their children not to masturbate. (Prior to the intrusive mode, parents had also given children frequent enemas to cleanse whatever ‘bad contents’ accumulated inside their ‘poison containers’.) Although they still beat their children in a fruitless battle of the ‘wills’ — which, by the way, no parent won — some mothers began locking their children in dark closets or keeping them shut away in drawers for days at a time. It would seem that, even subconsciously, parents tried to beat, starve or kill off (through lack of light) the demons they saw in their youngsters.

Rousseau confirmed that in France babies in their earliest days were often beaten to keep them quiet. Another mother wrote of her first battle with her four-month-old infant, “I whipped him til he was actually black and blue, and until I could not whip him any more, and he never gave up one single inch.” One can sense in this description of baby battering the struggle with the mother’s own powerful parent, with the baby seen as so obstinate that it “won the battle” even after being beaten. In fact, this “double image” of the child as both a powerful adult and a wicked child accounts for the merging of beater and beaten in our myriad historical accounts of child abuse.

De Mause observed that the sequestering of the child in a dark closet marks the beginning of psychological abuse, although psychology did not exist as such at the time.

Along with this came a variety of emotional devices parents used designed to effect better behaviour.  The intrusive mode gave rise to nighttime parental threats of murder or kidnapping by ghosts, werewolves, demons, witches, black canines under the bed, chimney sweeps, Blue Beard, Napoleon Bonaparte, bogeymen and black men. (I recollect one of my aunts giving me the chimney sweep line, although I didn’t even know what a chimney sweep was until some years later when I saw Oliver! Some of my cousins — another family — got the ‘black man’ story.)

Some adults dressed up in terrifying disguises to frighten children into submission.

And there was another means to obedience, which I remember one of the older nuns telling us at school:

Religion was a further source of terrorizing. God was said to “hold you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, over the fire” and children’s books depicted Hell as follows: “The little child is in this red-hot oven. Hear how it screams to come out…It stamps its little feet on the floor…”

During the day, parents and teachers took children to witness hangings. This was seen to be good for moral and behavioural development.

The Victorian Era (19th century) heralded the socialising mode which carried on through the 20th century. De Mause observed the breathtaking progress that Western countries made during that time.  Think of the industrial revolution which became widespread, improved crop production, increased sanitation, the railroads, electricity, public education, the telephone, the automobile, radio, air travel and television. And let’s not forget photography, cinema, plastics, home appliances, the transistor, space exploration, the personal computer and the Internet! Child labour was outlawed or severely restricted in the West. Psychology developed as a discipline and personal development became much more prominent for everyone, adult and child alike.

During the socialising mode, the mother’s role became that of a daytime teacher — not in a homeschooling sense but in a moral, behavioural and practical sense. She taught you how to say your prayers, tell time, tie a shoe, write your name, read a book and bake a batch of cookies. The father continued to sustain the family financially and protect them from harm but was also more personally involved with his children as the decades passed. Generationally speaking, my father — born just after the Great War — was very different from today’s fathers.

Which brings us to de Mause’s last — and current — mode, the helping mode.  De Mause hopes that this will be the start of a pacifistic humanity. I’m less sure. It is certainly the era of helicopter parents and the heaping of praise on children who might not fully deserve it. As I see it, we are becoming more behaviourally class divided than ever before. Middle- and upper-class children resemble one another more in the way they conduct themselves. Working class and underclass children are fusing together — perhaps because of economic circumstances — seemingly quicker than before.  Uniting all the groups, however, is a love of mediocrity, it seems. Perhaps I am just showing my age. However, I do wonder whether progress has stalled for now as teenage pregnancies, single parenthood, substandard education and unemployment increase.

In closing, I wanted to call your attention to something that de Mause says about predicting war, which made me think of trends forecaster Gerald Celente, who foresees a major war coming soon. De Mause said:

Psychohistorians have regularly found that images on the magazine covers and in political cartoons in the months prior to wars reveal fears of the nation becoming “too soft” and vulnerable, with images of dangerous women threatening to engulf and hurt people. These regressed group-fantasies eventually produce so much anxiety that a sacrifice of innocent victims is deemed necessary, and another nation who also needs a sacrifice is located. So regular are these group-fantasies in the media that I was able to forecast, for instance, the recent Persian Gulf War months before Iraq invaded Kuwait by locating in the American media an upsurge in imagery of devouring mommies and guilty children needing punishment.

That periodic sacrifices are in fact lawful is suggested by the regularity with which they occur, nearly every state producing a major war on the average of about every 25 years throughout the past two millennia. In between wars, periodic economic sacrifices serve to relieve our guilt for too much prosperity and to cleanse us of our dangerous economic and social progress. Depth psychology has shown that in individuals progress toward individuation and success often produces regression, including both fears of leaving mommy and wishes for maternal re-engulfment, along with fears of losing one’s self. In nations, the same thing occurs after periods of rapid change and prosperity, and is defended against by the sacrificial ritual called war.

End of series

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