by Cesar Tort
The three previous books of Hojas Susurrantes, and the fifth one, won’t be translated for this blog. Several of the images for this blog editon of my book, and the sentences between squared brackets do not appear in the printed edition.
Preface to the 4th book
Throughout history and prehistory children’s lives have been a nightmare about which our species is barely starting to become conscious. “Parents are the child’s most lethal enemy,” wrote the founder of modern psychohistory. While paleoanthropologists have found evidence of decapitated infants since the time of our pre-human ancestors, and while it was known that infanticide continued into the Paleolithic and the Neolithic periods, the emotional after-effects on the surviving siblings was only first appreciated by Lloyd deMause with the publishing of History of childhood in 1974. As we will see in the third section of this book, substantiated by a hundred references, infanticdal parents were the rule, not the exception. Even in the so-called great civilizations the sacrifice of children was common. In Carthage urns have been found containing thousands of burned remains of children sacrificed by parents asking favors from the gods. It is believed that infants were burned alive.
Although in a far less sadistic way than in Carthage and other ancient states, and this explains the genius of the classic world, Greeks and Romans practiced infanticide in the form of exposure of newborns, especially girls. Euripides’ Ion describes the exposed infant as: “prey for birds, food for wild beasts to rend.” Philo was the first philosopher who made a clear statement against infanticide:
Some of them do the deed with their own hands; with monstrous cruelty and barbarity they stifle and throttle the first breath which the infants draw or throw them into a river or into the depths of the sea, after attaching some heavy substance to make them sink more quickly under its weight.
In some of his satires Juvenal openly criticized abortion, child abandonment, and the killing of adoptive children and stepchildren.
My first reaction in the face of such revelations was, naturally, a healthy skepticism. This moved me to purchase books about infanticide and histories of childhood not written by “psychohistorians”, but by common historians; and I started to pay special attention to certain kinds of news in the papers of which previously I scarcely gave any importance. One day in 2006 a notice caught my eye, stating that there are 32 million fewer women than men in India, and that the imbalance was caused by feticide. I recalled a photograph I had seen in the June 2003 National Geographic, showing a Bihar midwife in the rural North of India, rescuing a female baby abandoned under a bridge. Infanticide and selective abortion, particularly of girls, continue as I write this line. According to a Reproductive Rights conference in October 2007 in Hyderabad, India, statistics show that 163 million women are missing in Asia, compared to the proportion of the male population. They are the result of the exposure of babies, and especially of selective abortion facilitated by access to techniques such as prenatal testing and ultrasound imagery. These snippets of information gathered from newspapers, coupled with the scholarly treatises which I was reading, eradicated my original skepticism about the reality of infanticide.
But let’s return to psychohistory as developed by deMause. There are cultures far more barbarous than contemporary India as regards childrearing. In the recent past of the tribes of New Guinea and Australia, little brothers and sisters witnessed how parents killed one of their siblings and made the rest of the family share the cannibal feast. “They eat the head first”, wrote Géza Róheim in Psychoanalysis and anthropology published in 1950. Gillian Gillison observed in Between culture and fantasy: a New Guinea highlands mythology, published in 1993, that the mother eats the son’s penis. And Fritz Poole wrote:
Having witnessed their parents’ mortuary anthropophagy, many of these children suddenly avoided their parents, shrieked in their presence, or expressed unusual fear of them. After such experiences, several children recounted dreams or constructed fantasies about animal-man beings with the faces or other features of particular parents who were smeared with blood and organs.
These passages are quoted in Lloyd deMause’s book The Emotional Life of Nations. Reading further in this work, one can also learn, as Wolfgang Lederer wrote when observing the tribes, that other primitives threw their newborns to the swine, who devoured them swiftly. Lederer also recounts that he saw one of these mothers burying her child alive:
The baby’s movements may be seen in the hole as it is suffocating and panting for breath; schoolchildren saw the movements of such a dying baby and wanted to take it out to save it. However, the mother stamped it deep in the ground and kept her foot on it…
Australian aboriginals killed approximately 30% of their infants, as reported by Gillian Cowlishaw in Oceania; and the first missionaries to Polynesia estimated that up to two-thirds of Polynesian children were killed by their parents. In a 2008 article I learned that infanticide continues in the islands even as of the time of reporting. Tribal women allege they have to kill their babies for fear they might become dreadful warriors as adults.
Another type of information that shocked me in deMause’s books was the frequency throughout history of the mutilation of children. Once more, my first reaction was a healthy skepticism. But I had no choice but to accept the fact that even today there are millions of girls whose genitals have been cut. The Emotional Life of Nations publishes a photograph of a panicked Cairo pubescent girl being held down by adults at the moment when her family has her mutilated. Every time I see that photo I have to turn away my head (the girl looks directly into the camera and her pain reaches me deeply). According to the French National Institute for Demographic Studies (INED), in 2007 there were between 100 and 140 million women who had had their genitals removed. The practice ranges from the partial cutting of the clitoris to the suturation of the vaginal orifice, the latter especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, some regions of the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. The INED study points out that in Ethiopia three-quarters of women have been genitally mutilated, and in Mali up to 90 percent. The practice is also carried out in Yemen, Indonesia and Malaysia. In historic times there were a large number of eunuchs in Byzantium, and in the West mutilation was a common practice for boys. Verdun was notorious for the quantity of castrations performed, and in Naples signs hung above stores saying, “boys castrated here.” Castration was common as well in other cultures. DeMause observes that the testicles of boys between three and seven years were crushed or cut off. In China both the penis and the scrotum were cut, and in the Middle East the practice continued until recent times.
DeMause’s books are eye-openers also about another practice that no school text of traditional anthropology had taught me: the tight swaddling of babies. It is worth noting that historians, anthropologists, and ethnologists have been the target of fierce criticism by some psychohistorians for their failure to see the psychological after-effects brought about by such practices. Through the centuries, babies were swaddled by their mothers with swaddling clothes wrapped around their bodies, several times and tightly fastened while they screamed in their vain attempts at liberation. Before reading deMause the only thing I knew of such practice was when I as a boy saw a cartoon of a couple of Red Indians who had their baby swaddled, of which only a little head was visible crying big time, while the Indians walked on casually. Despite its being a comic strip, I remember it made a mark in my young memory because of the pity I felt for the baby boy and how I noted the parents’ indifference. This happened decades before I read Foundations of Psychohistory, wherein it is described that this practice was universal and that it goes back to our tribal ancestors.
of the Indian tribe
Nez Perce (1911)
In Germany and in some Austrian families swaddling continued into the twentieth century. We can imagine the baby Hitler as he was swaddled by his mother, Clara Hitler, and left choking with sobs with his excrement enclosed in his swaddling bands. Even Alice Miller herself, the heroine of my third book, was swaddled as a child. In Europe swaddling is still practiced in some rural parts of Greece. The sad spectacle of the swaddled newborns in Yugoslavia and Russia draws the visiting foreigners’ attention. Even in the city in which I was born a few friends have told me that some relatives swaddled their babies.
Those who have read my previous book would not be surprised that the man in the street has barely thought about the ravages that these practices — swaddling, mutilation, growing up knowing that mom and dad had abandoned or sacrificed a little sister — caused in the surviving siblings who witnessed it. What we have before us is the most potent taboo of the species: a lack of elemental consciousness of what parents do to their children. As we will see at the end of this book, some historians of infanticide who do not belong to the deMausean school, such as Joseph Birdsell, Laila Williamson, and Larry Milner, estimate in astronomical figures the infanticide rate since the Paleolithic. If their estimates are accurate, quantitatively speaking the so-called “Holocaust” was insignificant compared to the children murdered by their parents.
But before elaborating further on this nearly unbelievable information, I must write down a few words about my forefathers.
[Those “few words,” actually pages 425-451, will be omitted in this online edition.]
A class with Colin Ross
What in the human mind makes us pick on innocents? The best text I have read on this subject appears in the book The Trauma Model by Colin Ross, whom I introduced already in my second book when talking about the unfortunate life of David Helfgott [interpolated note for this online edition: see e.g., the Academy Award-winning film Shine].
The problem of attachment to the perpetrator
Attachment theory, originally developed by John Bowlby, is one of the most fruitful platforms with which to explain human psychological development. Evolution always chooses its available mechanisms for its use, and since every living creature has the imperative to survive, hominids developed an unconscious structure to maintain the illusion of parental love even when there really is none. Perhaps the most popularly accessible way in which we can imagine presenting what attachment is, is through a modern fairy tale: Steven Spielberg’s film Artificial Intelligence. I’m referring to the scenes in which the father, Henry, warns the mother, Monica, not to imprint their adoptive son David with the program of affective attachment, if she is not completely sure that she will want to reciprocate the love that David would profess, since the program is irreversible (“The robot child’s love would be sealed — in a sense hardwired — and we’d be part of him forever”). After some time Monica reads to David the seven magic words that imprint him (“What were those words for, Mommy?”).
Psychiatrist Colin Ross
The platform which Ross is standing on in order to understand mental disorders is what he calls “the problem of attachment to the perpetrator.” We can visualize the enormous emotional attachment the human child feels toward the parent by remembering the veneration that, despite her conduct, Leonor and Josefina always professed to their mother, María [my grandmother, my godmother and my grand-grandmother respectively: the subject of the unpublished chapters]. Such attachment is the problem. In his book, Colin Ross wrote:
I defined the problem, in the mid-1990s, in the context of the false memory war.
In order to defend myself against the attacks by hostile colleagues, I sought solid ground on which to build fortifications. It seemed like the theory of evolution offered a good starting point. What is the basic goal of all organisms according to the theory of evolution? To survive and reproduce. This is true from amoeba on up to mammals. Who will dispute that all organisms want to survive and replicate? This seemed like safe ground.
Dragonflies, grasshoppers, salamanders and alligators do not have families. They do not send cards on Mother’s Day. Things are different if you are a bird or mammal. Birds and mammals are absolutely dependent on adult caretakers for their survival for a period after birth, which ranges from weeks to decades depending on the species. For human parents, it seems like the period of dependency lasts over thirty years. In some species, if the nursing mother dies, the child dies. But in others, including elephants, if the nursing mother dies, a female relative takes over the care of the young one, and the child survives. In elephants there is a built-in Child Protective Services, and there is a sociology of attachment.
Attachment is like the migration of birds. It is built in, deep in our brain stems and DNA. The infant bird or mammal does not engage in a cognitive, analytical process to assess the cost-benefit of attachment. It just happens. It’s biology. The fundamental developmental task of the human infant is attachment. You will and you must attach. This is true at all levels of the organism. You must attach in order to survive biologically, but also in order to thrive and grow at emotional, intellectual, interpersonal and at all possible levels.
We know the consequences of failure to attach from several sources. The first is the third world orphanage. Orphan babies may have an adequate intake of protein, carbohydrate and fat, and may have their diapers changed regularly, but if they are starved for love, stimulation, attention, and affection, they are damaged developmentally. Their growth is stunted at all levels, including basic pediatric developmental norms.
In the text quoted above, I have eliminated all the ellipses, as I have done with the other quotations below. Ross goes on to explain the body of scientific evidence on the effects of abuse in the offspring of primates: “The Harlow monkey experiments, for instance, are systematic studies of abuse and neglect. Little monkeys cling desperately to their unresponsive wire-and-cloth mothers because they are trying to solve the problem of attachment to the perpetrator, in this case the perpetrator of neglect.” He also mentions experimental evidence that profound neglect and sensory isolation during early infancy physically damage the brain in a measurable way: “The mammal raised in such an environment has fewer dendritic connections between the nerve cells in its brain than the mammal which grew up in a ‘culturally rich’ environment.” It is in this context that Ross states that it is developmental suicide to fail to attach, and “at all costs and under the highest imperative, the young mammal must attach.” He then writes:
In a sense, we all have the problem of attachment to the perpetrator. None of us have absolutely secure attachment. We all hate our parents for some reason, but love them at the same time. This is the normal human condition. But there is a large group of children who have the problem of attachment to the perpetrator to a huge degree. They have it to such a large degree, it is really a qualitatively different problem, I think. These are the children in chronic trauma families. The trauma is a variable mix of emotional, verbal, physical and sexual abuse.
The locus of control shift
For psychiatrists Theodore Lidz, Silvano Arieti and, in a less systematic way, Loren Mosher [cited extensively in my previous books], in schizophrenogenic families not only one but both parents failed terribly. If the problem of attachment to the perpetrator is a cornerstone in understanding the trauma model of mental disorders, there is yet another one. Though the number one imperative for birds (and in previous times, the dinosaurs) and mammals is to attach, in abusive families the child makes use of another built-in reflex: to recoil from pain. Ross explains what he calls “The locus of control shift” (in psychology, “locus of control” is known jargon).
The scientific foundation of the locus of control shift is Piaget and developmental psychology. We know several things about the cognition of children age two to seven. I summarize this as “kids think like kids.” Young children are self-centered. They are at the center of the world, and everything revolves around them. They cause everything in the world [“locus shift”] and they do so through magical causality. They do not use rational, analytical, adult cognitive strategies and vocabulary.
Imagine a relatively normal family with a four year-old daughter. One day, the parents decide to split up and dad moves out. What is true for this little girl? She is sad. Using normal childhood cognition, the little girl constructs a theory to explain her field observation: “Daddy doesn’t live here anymore because I didn’t keep my bedroom tidy”.
This is really a dumb theory. It is wrong, incorrect, inaccurate, mistaken and preposterous. This is how normal kids think. But there is more to it than that. The little girl thinks to herself, “I’m OK. I’m not powerless. I’m in charge. I’m in control. And I have hope for the future. Why? Because I have a plan. All I have to do is to tidy up my bedroom and daddy will move back in. I feel OK now”.
The little girl has shifted the locus of control from inside her parents, where it really is, to inside herself. She has thereby created an illusion of power, control and mastery which is developmentally protective [of the attachment].
Ross explains that this is normal and happens in many non-abusive, though dysfunctional, families. He then explains what happens in extremely abusive families:
Now consider another four year-old girl living in a major trauma family. She has the problem of attachment to the perpetrator big time. What is true of this little girl?
This other girl is powerless, helpless, trapped, and overwhelmed. She can’t stop the abuse, she can’t escape it, and she can’t predict it. She is trapped in her family societal denial, her age, threats, physical violence, family rules and double binds. How does the little girl cope? She shifts the locus of control.
The child says to herself, “I’m not powerless, helpless and overwhelmed. I’m in charge here. I’m making the abuse happen. The reason I’m abused is because I’m bad. How do I know this is true? Because only a bad little girl would be abused by her parents.”
A delicious exemplification of the locus of control shift in the film A.I. is the dialogue that David has with his Teddy bear. After Monica has abandoned him in the forest David tells his little friend that the situation is under his control. He only has to find the blue fairy so that she may turn him into a real boy and his mom will love him again…
In contrast to fairy tales, in the real world instances of the locus of control shift are sordid. In incest victims, the ideation that everything is the fault of the girl herself is all too frequent. I cannot forget the account of a woman who told her therapist that, when she was a girl, she took baths immediately after her father used her sexually. The girl felt that since she, not her father was the dirty one and that her body was the dirty factor that aroused the father’s appetite, she had to “fix” her little body.
But there are graver cases, even, than sexual abuse. According to Ross, in near-psychotic families:
The locus of control shift is like an evil transfusion. All the evil inside the perpetrator has been transfused into the self, making the perpetrator good and safe to attach to. The locus of control shift helps to solve the problem of attachment to the perpetrator. The two are intertwined with each other.
Although Silvano Arieti made similar pronouncements half a century before, these two principles as elaborated by Ross are the true cornerstones to understand the edifice of this work. As I mentioned in my second book, when I visited the clinic of Ross in Dallas as an observer, I had the opportunity to observe the therapies undergone by some adult women. I remember a lady in particular who said that if her husband hit her it may be because she, not her husband, behaved naughtily. In his book Ross mentions cases of already grown daughters, now patients of his psychiatric clinic, who harm themselves. These self-harmers in real life exemplify the paradigm of the girl mentioned by Ross: evil has been transfused to the mind of the victim, who hurts herself because she believes she is wicked. In my previous book I said that in the film The Piano Teacher a mother totally absorbs the life of her daughter, who in turn redirects the hate she feels toward her mother by cutting herself in the genital area until bleeding profusely: a practice that, as we will see in the next section, is identical to the pre-Hispanic sacrificial practice of spilling the blood of one’s own genitals.
In his brief class Ross showed us why, however abusive our parents, a Stockholm syndrome elevated to the nth degree makes us see our parents as good attachment objects. The little child is like a plant that cannot but unfold towards the sun to survive. Since even after marriage and independence the adult child very rarely reverts in her psyche the locus of control shift to the original source, she remains psychically disturbed. For Lloyd deMause, this kind of super-Stockholm syndrome from parents to children and from children to grandchildren is the major flaw of the human mind, the curse of Homo sapiens that results in an alter ego in which all of the malignancy of the perpetrator has been transfused to the ego of the victim. In a divided self this entity strives for either (1) substituting, through the locus of control shift, the unconscious anger felt towards the parents on herself with self-harming, addictions, anorexia or other sorts of self-destructive behavior, and/or (2) harming their partner or the next generation of children. In any case the cause of this process is the total incapability of judging and processing inside ourselves the behavior of the parent: the problem of attachment to the perpetrator.
The History of Childhood and Its Newton
John Bowlby advanced the fundamentals for understanding attachment; Colin Ross did the same for mental disorders in human beings, and I will keep his class in mind to explain psychohistory. But Ross is a physician, not an historian. In the following pages I will show the deeper reasons why parents have abused their children since time immemorial. The perspective to our past will open up in the widest possible way: a framework of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of years of what has occurred in my family and in all other families of the human and pre-human species. In both this and the following pages my biography will disappear and it will only reappear in my next book, not without having shown first the psychogenic theory of history.
Lloyd deMause (pronounced de-Moss), born in 1931, studied political sciences in the University of Columbia. After his university studies he borrowed money to establish a publishing house that consumed ten years of his life before again taking up his research work. While Freud, Reich, Fromm and others had written some speculative essays on history on the basis of psychoanalysis, such essays may be considered the Aristotelian phase of which today is understood as psychohistory. In 1958, the year in which I was born, Erik Erikson published a book about the young Luther in which he mentioned the surging of a new research field that he called “psycho-history” (not be confused with the science-fiction novels of Isaac Asimov). After a decade, in 1968, deMause presented a sketch of his theory to an analytical association where, unlike Freud and his epigones, he focused psychohistory into the diverse forms of childrearing. After the West abandoned colonialism and endured for its behavior a handover to other nations and ethnic groups, it became a taboo to focus in the dark side of non-Western cultures. By choosing a frowned-upon research area in academia deMause had to make an intellectual career independently. The drive of his research was always what the children must have felt in the most diverse cultures of the world. As we saw, the mammal, and even more the primate, are so at the mercy of their parents that the specific forms of childrearing cannot be dodged if we are to understand mental disorders. But it is precisely this subject matter, the forms of childrearing and infantile abuse, what conventional historians ignore.
In his essay “The independence of psychohistory” deMause tells us that history qua history describes what has happened, not why, and he adds that history and psychohistory are distinct fields of investigation.
Whole great chunks of written history are of little value to the psychohistorian, while other vast areas which have been much neglected by historians suddenly expand from the periphery to the center of the psychohistorian’s conceptual world.
DeMause does not care that he has been accused of ignoring the economy, the sociology and the use of statistics. “The usual accusation that psychohistory ‘reduces everything to psychology’ is philosophically meaningless — of course psychohistory is reductionist in this sense, since all it studies is historical motivations.” The statements by deMause that I like the most are those in which he says something I had been maintaining for many years before reading them, when I told myself in soliloquies that, if we have to be objective to understand exact sciences like physics, only by introducing subjectivity we could understand the humanities:
Indeed, most of what is in history books is stark, raving mad — the maddest of all being the historian’s belief that it is sane. For some time now, I often cry when I watch the evening news, read newspapers, or study history books, a reaction I was trained to suppress in every school I attended for 25 years. In fact, it is because we so often switch into our social alters when we try to study history that we cannot understand it — our real emotions are dissociated. Those who are able to remain outside the social trance are the individuals whose personal insights are beyond those of their neighbors.
Psychohistory is a science in which the researcher’s feelings are as much or even more a part of his research equipment than his eyes or his hands. Weighing of complex motives can only be accomplished by identification with human actors. The usual suppression of all feeling preached and followed by most “science” simply cripples a psychohistorian as badly as it would cripple a biologist to be forbidden the use of a microscope. The emotional development of a psychohistorian is therefore as much a topic for discussion as his or her intellectual development.
I no longer believe that most traditional historians are emotionally equipped.
DeMause adds that, when he talks with a typical scholar who only uses his intellect, he runs into a stare of total incomprehension. “My listener usually is in another world of discourse”.
The publication of The History of Childhood in 1974 marks the turning point in the field that deMause created. Putting aside the idealizations of previous historians, the book examines for the first time the history of Western childhood. In the new deMausean paradigm the force of the change is neither technology nor the economy, but the interactions between parents and children. For example, the majority of social and political thinkers set off from the premise that wars and other human catastrophes have a rational explanation, say, economics. Alice Miller and some psychohistorians maintain that at least some wars are irrational actions, and that they result from an unconscious drive: to get even with unprocessed vexations from childhood. However, the daring exposé of an entire rosary of brutalities on childhood, like the ones mentioned in the preface of this book, moved Basic Books to break the contract it held with deMause to publish The History of Childhood. The process by which from here on contemporary psychohistory was born is fascinating. In this section I will recycle and comment on some passages of one of the articles by deMause, “On writing childhood history,” published in 1988, a recapitulation of fifteen years of work in the history of childhood.
DeMause had taken courses at a psychoanalytic institute and put to the test the Freudian idea that civilization, so loaded with morals, was onerous for modern children; and that in ancient times they had lived in an Eden without the ogre of the superego. The evidence showed him exactly the opposite, and he disclosed his discrepancies by criticizing the anthropologist Géza Róheim:
I discovered I simply could make no sense at all of what Róheim and others were saying. This was particularly true about childhood. Róheim wrote, for instance, that the Australian aborigines he observed were excellent parents, even though they ate every other child, out of what they called “baby hunger” [the mothers also said that their children were “demons”], and forced their other children to eat parts of their siblings. This “doesn’t seem to have affected the personality development” of the surviving children, Róheim said, and in fact, he concluded, these were really “good mothers [who] eat their own children.”
Most anthropologists did not object to Róheim’s extraordinary conclusions. In his article deMause called our attention to a very distinct reading by Arthur Hippler on Australian aboriginals. DeMause had already consolidated his publishing house, and in the Journal of Psychological Anthropology he published an article in which Hippler, who had also directly observed the aboriginals, wrote:
The care of children under 6 months of age can be described as hostile, aggressive and careless; it is often routinely brutal. Infanticide was often practiced. The baby is offered the breast often when he does not wish it and is nearly choked with milk. The mother is often substantially verbally abusive to the child as he gets older, using epithets such as “you shit,” “vagina to you.” Care is expressed through shouts, or not at all, when it is not accompanied by slaps and threats. I never observed a single adult Yolngu caretaker of any age or sex walking a toddler around, showing him the world, explaining things to him and empathizing with his needs. The world is described to the child as dangerous and hostile, full of demons, though in reality the real dangers are from his caretakers. The mother sexually stimulates the child at this age. Penis and vagina are caressed to pacify the child, and clearly the action arouses the mother.
Keeping in mind what Ross said in the case of the second girl, we can imagine the transfusion of evil that these infants, children of filicidal cannibals, would have internalized; and how could this have affected their mental health. I believe it is appropriate to continue quoting excerpts from the deMause article: it is very instructive to understand psychohistory and how it contrasts with the postulates of anthropologists and ethnologists. Once the observations by Hippler were published, an enraged defender of Róheim responded:
I am indeed much more sympathetic to Róheim’s accounts, precisely because he does not rush to the conclusion that deMause does. Australian Aboriginal culture survived very well, thank you, very much for tens of thousands of years before it was devastated by Western interference. If that isn’t adaptive, what is?
The description that Hippler and Róheim give of this aboriginal culture seems the worst of all possible nightmares for children. But for Western anthropologists to avow condemnatory value judgments is the ultimate taboo. Some of them even accept the Freudian theory that the historical past was less repressive for childhood, and that Western civilization was a corrupter of the noble savage. But they avoid the fact that Hippler and Róheim themselves observed barbarities towards the children that would be unthinkable in the civilized world, like eating them. (Other sources that confirm the veracity of claims of filicidal cannibalism appear almost at the end of this book.) However incredible it may seem, anthropologists and ethnologists do not condemn these cannibal mothers. Under the first commandment of the discipline, Thou Shalt Not Judge, the emotional after-effects of childrearing are ignored, such as the clearly dissociated personalities that I myself saw in the Ross clinic, and even worse kinds of dissociation.
In the academic world Róheim was not as well known as Philippe Ariès, an historian who collaborated with Foucault and an author of a classic book on the history of childhood, L’enfant et la Vie Familiale sous l’Ancien Régime. Ariès started from the Freudian premise of the benignancy of the milieu towards children in past times. Just as with Róheim, Ariès didn’t deny the beatings, the incest and the other vexations against children described in his book. What he denied was that such treatment caused disturbances. “In other words,” deMause writes mockingly, “since everyone whipped and molested children, whipping and molesting had no effects on any child.” Ariès has been taken as an authority in the history of childhood studies. DeMause not only rejected his assumption that there were no psychological after-effects; he inverted Freud’s axiom. DeMause’s working hypotheses are simple: (1) within the West the forms of childrearing were more barbarous in the past, and (2) compared to the Western world, other cultures treat their children worse. These hypotheses, which broke the table laws of the anthropologists, would give birth to the new discipline of psychohistory. For the academic Zeitgeist the mere talk of childhood abuse, let alone of soul murder, was against the grain of all schools of thought in history, anthropology and ethnology, which take for granted that there have been no substantial changes in parental-filial relations.
The academics could not deny the facts that fascinated deMause. As we saw above, Róheim did not deny them; in fact, he himself published them. Ariès also did not deny them. The tactic that deMause found among his colleagues was the argumentum ex silentio: without historical trace of any kind, it was taken for granted that children were treated in a way similar that in the West today. The following is a splendid paradigm of this argument. In 1963, ten years before deMause started publishing, Alan Valentine in his book Fathers and Sons, published by the University of Oklahoma, examined letters from parents to their children in past centuries. He did not find a single letter that transmitted kindness to the addressee. However, in order not to contradict the common sense that in the past the treatment a man gave his sons was not different, Valentine concluded:
Doubtless an infinite number of fathers have written letters to their sons that would warm and lift our hearts, if we only could find them. The happiest fathers leave no history, and it is the men who are not at their best with their children who are likely to write the heart-rending letters that survive.
DeMause found the fallacy of the argumentum ex silentio everywhere, even among the same colleagues who contributed articles to his seminal book, The History of Childhood. For example, when deMause made a remark to Elizabeth Wirth Marwick about these kind of letters, and also about the diaries that parents wrote, Marwick responded that only the bad left a trace in history. Most historians agreed with her. DeMause had started to study the primary sources of these materials. Marwick was only one among two hundred historians that deMause had written to for his book project, of which he worked with fifty. He claims that in all of them the argumentum ex silentio appeared at the time of reaching the conclusions to which the evidence pointed out to.
The reasons were, naturally, psychological. An Italian historian delivered to deMause the draft of a chapter that began by saying that he would not consider the subjects of infanticide and pederasty in ancient Rome. DeMause had to reject it. Other would-be contributors went further. At the beginning of this book I spoke of the torment that swaddling with tight clothes has represented for babies. John Demos, author of a book about the family in American colonists, denied that the European practice had been imported into American soil despite the evidence that deMause had collected and published (in a television history program even I saw a drawing of an Anglo-Saxon swaddled baby). As regards other kinds of abuse in American childhood, Demos used the argument that bibliographical evidence in letters, diaries, autobiographies and medical reports was irrelevant; that what mattered were the court documents.
The problem with this argument is that in colonial times there were no organizations for the protection of childhood, which originated in nineteenth century England and which have become much more visible since the 1980s. Demos did not only argue from the basis of lack of court documents against the thesis that parents abused their children more in colonial times. He also argued that “had individual children suffered severe abuse at the hands of their parents in early New England, other adults would have been disposed to respond.” Demos’ conclusions were acclaimed in his time. But just as in his argument about court documents, this last conjecture suffers from the same idealization about the past of his nation. If other adults were unwilling to respond it was simply due to the fact that in those times the social movement of infant protection had not yet arisen.
Once deMause discarded all those who argued on the basis of the argumentum ex silentio, nine historians remained. Even while the contributors were delivering their articles, some of them showed reticence about publishing all the evidence they had found. Before publication the nine contributors — ten with deMause — circulated their articles among themselves. Most of them were shocked by the first chapter written by deMause, whose initial paragraphs became famous in the history of psychohistory:
The history of childhood is a nightmare from which we have only recently begun to awaken. The further back in history one goes, the lower the level of child care, and the more likely children are to be killed, abandoned, beaten, terrorized, and sexually abused. It is our task here to see how much of this childhood history can be recaptured from the evidence that remains to us.
That this pattern has not previously been noticed by historians is because serious history has long been considered a record of public not private events. Historians have concentrated so much on the noisy sand-box of history, with its fantastic castles and magnificent battles, that they have generally ignored what is going on in the homes around the playground. And where historians usually look to the sandbox battles of yesterday for the causes of those of today, we instead ask how each generation of parents and children creates those issues which are later acted out in the arena of public life.
Once the initial impression was past, some of the contributors were reluctant that their articles should appear beside the initial chapter by deMause, and, as I previously mentioned, Basic Books broke its contract. However, since deMause was already the owner of a publishing house he decided to publish it himself.
Although the contributors finally accepted that their articles would appear under a single cover, the history journal reviews were very hostile. Even a magazine like New Statesman derided deMause: “His real message is something more akin to religion than to history, and as such unassailable by unbelievers. On the other hand, his fellow-contributors to The History of Childhood have much useful historical information to offer.” Some reviewers were impressed by the body of evidence on child abuse in past centuries, but they supposed that future investigations would place such evidence on a much more benign context. “Ariès for one,” wrote deMause, “remained convinced that childhood yesterday was children’s paradise.”
The initial chapter of the book edited by deMause was titled “The evolution of childhood”. DeMause claims that of the published reviews on this chapter, translated into German, French, Italian, Spanish and Japanese, no reviewer challenged the evidence as such; only his conclusions. “Yet not a single reviewer in any of the six languages in which the book was published wrote about any errors in my evidence, and none presented any evidence from primary sources which contradicted any of my conclusions.” As we will see in “A Critique of Lloyd deMause” his theories are not exempt from error. Far from it! There are errors: lots of them. But these critics who rushed to judge him falsely did not see the real faults of his model. With regard to the published reviews, deMause wrote:
Since it was unlikely that I could describe the childhood of everyone who ever lived in the West for a period of over two millennia without making errors, it was extremely disappointing to me that the emotional reactions of reviewers had completely overwhelmed their critical capacities. No reviewer appeared to be interested in discussing evidence at all.
There were nonetheless magnanimous reviewers like Lawrence Stone, who in November of 1974 wrote in New York Review of Books about “the problem of how to regard so bold, so challenging, so dogmatic, so enthusiastic, so perverse, and yet so heavily documented a model.” But the majority adhered to the conventional wisdom, as did E.P. Hennock in a specialized magazine:
That men in other ages might behave quite differently from us yet be no less rational and sane, has been a basic concept amongst historians for a long time now. It does not belong to deMause’s mental universe. The normal practices of past societies are constantly explained in terms of psychoses.
Once more, the evidence as such is put aside to proclaim the conventional wisdom, which is taken for granted. In a review published in History of Education Quarterly, Daniel Calhoun wrote that deMause’s approach resembled a regression to 19th century concepts, an antiquated evolutionistic morality for Calhoun.
Despite the rejection from academia, in the next years his colleagues who contributed to articles to the Institute of Psychohistory undertook the task of analyzing deMausean theories. More than twenty scholars familiar with the subject made a constructive criticism of his work. The first academic who exhaustively evaluated it was Glenn Davis in his book Childhood and History in America. Davis concluded: “I believe the psychogenic theory of history has by now passed a crucial initial test and has moved to a new stage of development.” The academic establishment thought the opposite. The American Historical Review called Davis “a convert” and The Journal of American History published: “If deMause seems to be the Pangloss of the history of childhood, Davis, with this book, lays claim to be its Candide.” Davis felt deeply hurt. He abandoned psychohistory to continue his doctoral studies, but soon after he committed suicide by jumping from the George Washington Bridge. In the following years of the publication of his book, deMause’s journal, Journal of Psychohistory, was quoted and attacked by New York Review of Books, Harpers, Commentary, Psychology Today, Human Behavior and the London Times Literary Supplement.
Thus constructive criticism reduced itself to the same journal published by deMause. Because of the discretion of the contributors, this entailed a situation in which the most weak, and even fantastic aspects, of deMausean theory were not criticized (as I said, in the third section of this book I myself do the criticism). However, scholarly evaluations of the evidence of the treatment of children in the past presented by deMause were published.
William Langer, Richard Trextler, Barbara Kellum and R.H. Helmholz backed up the evidence about infanticide. One of the most interesting aspects of such segregation between orthodox academics and those who moved inside deMause’s circle is that today’s encyclopedias, such as the Britannica of 2007, continue to claim that infanticide was done out of poverty. Langer and other authors had demonstrated that rich people committed infanticide in a greater scale than the poor. This is one of the problems that show up when the academia decides to ignore a field of study.
Among the psychohistorians, in Germany Friedhelm Nyssen wrote Die Geschichte der Kindheit bei L. DeMause, in which he examined the bibliographical references he could track in the works by deMause. Another German, Aurel Ende, focused on verifying the historical sources of the battering of German children by their parents. Raffael Scheck examined more that seventy autobiographies of Germans born between 1740 and 1820 and confirmed Ende’s findings. Keeping in mind the class with Colin Ross on the attachment to the perpetrator, it is interesting that Scheck wrote: “In most autobiographies can be felt how much children loved their parents even when they were cold, beating and abusive.” Attachment to the parental figure so much permeates the human mind that the ubiquity of the social identification with the perpetrator should not seem odd for us. For instance, in a couple of articles of deMause’s journal, Karen Taylor documented in great detail how the conservative sectors opposed the movement against violence on children in the nineteenth century.
Elizabeth Pleck studied more than a hundred autobiographies, diaries and letters by Americans written between 1650 and 1900 in Domestic Tyranny: The Making of American Social Policy Against Family Violence from Colonial Times to the Present, and she quantified her findings. It is interesting to note that, according to Pleck, in the first half of the nineteenth century parents started to shift from beating their children with objects to spanking. The American Joseph Illick, who had contributed to one of the chapters of The History of Childhood, wrote in 1985: “DeMause created an interest in the history of childhood which did not exist before, and he has been the original source of inspiration for most of the scholarship on childhood in this country over the past decade.” Peter Petschauer, a German psychohistorian, expanded in great detail on how swaddling was practiced along with other barbarities in Prussian education. Other European researchers of childhood also commented on the work by deMause: Katharina Rutschky, Alice Miller and Linda Pollock. Miller accepted both deMause’s material and his conclusions. Rutschky only accepted the evidence but rejected the conclusions. Pollock rejected both.
Although Rutschky is the author of books on history of pedagogy, and coined the term “poisonous pedagogy” that Miller popularized and that was so useful in my previous book, I will only briefly comment on the other author, Linda Pollock. Her book Forgotten Children: Parent-Child Relations from 1500 to 1900 is most often cited to deny the deMausean thesis that the treatment of children was different in the past. According to Pollock: “With few exceptions, children seemed to be quite attached to their parents as infants and continued to have deep affection for them.” Pollock does not seem to have any knowledge that, as is the case of other mammals, our biology predetermines us to attach to our parents independently of their behavior. The most pertinent criticism by deMause on Pollock is his pointing out that her study was based on diaries of the parents themselves. “A similar methodology,” writes deMause, “would construct a statistical history of crime by ignoring all police reports and relying solely on the diaries of criminals to establish crime rate statistics.” Despite such elemental reality, many reviewers considered Pollock’s book as definitive in the field vis-à-vis the deMausean model.
At present studies of the history of childhood continue to emerge from psychohistorians and other academic historians alike; for example, the study by Colin Heywood. But it is precisely books like Heywood’s, which accept the historical evidence of abuses of childhood but differ from deMause’s conclusions, that have convinced me that deMause has found a gold vein that still has substance for much exploitation. DeMause ends his retrospective article of 1988 by pointing out that, despite the rejection by the academy, The History of Childhood, the books of Alice Miller and other popular authors who advocate the cause of the child are widely read by an important niche of society.
The central thesis in psychohistory is that the dynamics of social emergency is psychogenic: it has its roots in the treatment of children, not in economics. DeMause has no illusions. Like Thomas Kuhn, he knows perfectly well that paradigm revolutions are achieved gradually while the defenders of the old paradigm die and are replaced by new individuals. “If childhood history and psychohistory mean anything,”, writes deMause, “they mean reversing most of the causal arrows used by historians to date.” In other words, the way of seeing the world in the humanities and in social sciences is upside down, and psychohistory places our feet back on the ground. The relations between parents and children have determined the social, political and economic aspects in all civilizations of the world. In contrast to the findings of Darwin about the organism and its environment, in Homo sapiens the external world does not mold future developments so definitively as the intergenerational emergency of empathy does, as we will see. In a nutshell, the main finding of psychohistory is that academic history fails to recognize the profound role that the love of the parents for their children plays in the future developments of mankind.
Psychohistory continues to be, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, a controversial field of study. However, at the moment of writing, psychohistory courses are given in Boston University and in other universities in New York, and The Journal of Psychohistory has been published for more than thirty years.
Periodization of Parental-filial Relations
In recent decades several historians without any link to the deMausean school have written about thirty books on histories of childhood. I will mention only a couple of those published in 2005: When Children Became People by Odd Magne Bakke and Growing Up: The History of Childhood in a Global Context by Peter Stearns. DeMause has iteratively complained that books of this sort are presented to history students as if childrearing in the past had been as benign as Western childrearing in our times. Stearns for example is author and editor of more than forty books, but he does not cite a single of the fifty or so psychohistorians. I have encountered this attitude only in some scholarly books by parapsychologists who ignore, en bloc, the texts of skeptical criticism of the paranormal hypothesis. In his book Stearns attempts to absolve the parents by claiming that, as some encyclopedias do, infanticide has had an economic motivation; when it is well documented that in some periods infanticide was more common in well-off families. In a similar vein, at the end of his book Stearns claims that modern childhood is more prone to mental disorders than in traditional cultures: the diametrically opposed to what the facts tell us, as we will see.
The evolution of childrearing
Psychogenesis is the process of the evolution of empathy, and, therefore, of childrearing forms in an innovative group of human beings. In a particular individual it is an evolution of the architecture of his or her mentality, including the cognition of how the world is perceived. Psychogenesis depends on the parents’ breaking away from the abusive memes in which they were educated: a phenomenon that deMause has occasionally observed in the historical migrations of people that left behind some of their childrearing methods. Referring to biological evolution, Julian Huxley said that evolution has been “an enormous number of blind alleys, with a very occasional path of progress”. With the exception of the most advanced culture, something similar can be said of the cultures of the world (cf., for example, how Islam has stayed for centuries in a psychogenic blind alley in its treatment of women and, consequently, of children).
The above graph does not represent biological evolution from worm to man, but psychogenic evolution: specifically, the seven psychoclasses identified in psychohistory. Although only six modes appear in the graph, deMause divides the mode depicted as a horizontal bar in two periods, as shown below. Had the first period of the infanticidal stage appeared in the graph, it would have been an extremely long prolongation of the bar into the left because, in addition to Antiquity, it would have comprised the Neolithic and even the Paleolithic. For practical purposes, the graph starts approximately from the year 200 A.D. and, although it illustrates psychogenic modes in the West, it does not show Greece at its peak. For deMause, the farther it is rummaged into the past, the more abusive the parental-filial relations. Henceforth the graph is always ascendant (precisely his mistake, as we will see in the third section). With the exception of the helping mode of childrearing that barely started in some Western families of the twentieth century, the rest of the stages have been, from greater to lesser degree, abusive. In the next paragraphs I will rephrase diverse deMausean texts of how the seven psychoclasses evolved, and at the same time will include some ideas of my own.
Early infanticidal childrearing. Infanticidal, incestuous and abusive behavior has been observed among primates. For psychohistory there exists apparently only a slight evolutionary leap forward of childrearing from our primate forefathers to the family forms in the most primitive nomadic tribes. DeMause calls it early infanticidal childrearing. Most of this stage covers the period in which paleontologists and archeologists have found vestiges of ritual killings of very young humans and pre-humans: from the Paleolithic to the dawning of the Neolithic. In savage tribes this form has persisted till our times, like the headhunters of Mundurukú in Brazil or the aboriginals of some Oceania islands.
In Western societies of the twenty-first century a type of family persists that, it could be said, roughly equals this psychoclass: the families that schizophrenicize their children, or turn them into serial killers or violent criminals.
Late infanticidal childrearing. When the treatment of children became less brutal in a group of innovative parents, confidence among adult individuals grew to the degree that social links, solid enough to allow the creation of the first villages and city-states, could be established: a milestone in the ascent of man. But infanticide continued. All societies of the Ancient World invented sacrifices in which infants were killed in honor to the deities. However, after the Babylonian captivity some Hebrews abandoned the sacrificial practice. Other peoples, including the Greeks, abandoned the ritual sacrifice of children and introduced a less savage form of getting rid of them: unsheltered exposure. Since the psychological after-effects of a surviving sibling who grows up knowing that his parents ritually sacrificed a little sister is different from the abandonment of the newborn he never met — in addition to comparatively better child care in the Greek and Roman world — this evolutionary leap explains the explosion of arts and sciences in the classical world.
As can be appreciated in the graph, psychoclasses live together in our times. In the graph the most common forms of childrearing stand out, occupying most of the graph space. This is why the horizontal red bar of infanticide appears since the first centuries of our era and continues through the Middle Ages up to our age. Abundant testimonies exist of infanticide in the Middle Ages, and complaints were even heard from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. The form of late infanticide by exposure continued in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in underdeveloped countries. Compared to the West, in the Third World many parents are stagnated in more archaic forms of childrearing. As already noted, paper notes are common about mothers who kill their newborns in India. More advanced psychogenic sectors within that nation and in other backward countries have started to emerge to abolish the custom.
Abandoning. Church authorities initiated a persistent struggle against infanticide (a struggle that continues in present times in the form of opposition to abortion: a subject that psychohistorians ignore). According to deMause’s analytic interpretation, Christians saw in their children their seriously injured inner self, and consequently the child still was the object of great fear. Instead of liberating the fear by exposing their babies, deMause’s theory goes, in the early Middle Ages some families started to practice oblation: abandoning their children to the monasteries. It was a less brutal form to elude the dangers of their projections. In the West children were not only abandoned in the monasteries; sending them to wet nurses or delivering them to adoptive parents or to other homes for years was a generalized practice in Europe’s middle and upper social classes.
Ambivalent. The beginnings of the twelfth century mark the end of child abandonment in monasteries. Nevertheless, the baby continues to be a creature full of adult projections and had to be castigated. The child is swaddled with long-spun bands until he or she looks like a log, completely immobilized and deprived from the use of its limbs: a torment if we think of the liberties that, with recent technology, can be observed on the free movements that unborn babies enjoy in the womb. Swaddling the infant was a common practice in former psychoclasses, who swaddled their offspring for periods of several months to one year. For deMause this practice was universal and it goes back to the second millennium B.C.
However, by reducing even more infanticide and child abandonment, the members of the new and more advanced psychoclass, less dissociated than the medieval man, eventually produced the Reformation and the Renaissance.
Intrusive. At the beginning of the sixteenth century the level of psychic integration of a small group of innovative parents accomplished one more step forward in the unfolding of empathy, and the child appeared less dangerous. As the parental projections were further reduced, mothers started to un-swaddle the infant. In the intrusive mode, however, the frequency of the beatings continued. DeMause writes: “Of the seventy children prior to the eighteenth century whose lives I have found, all were beaten except one: Montaigne’s daughter.” Since human tendency is to attach to the perpetrator and to recreate in the next generation the educational memes, beaten children beat their offspring, as had been done in the ambivalent mode, too.
Nevertheless, since the intrusive mode was even more empathic and less abusive than the previous mode, the new psychoclass was responsible for the scientific and technological advances of the seventeenth century that eventually led to the Industrial Revolution.
Socializing. This is the psychoclass that less explanation requires: it is the form of childrearing in which most Westerners have been raised.
By the nineteenth century some parents did not believe it necessary to terrorize or batter their children. Instead, they resorted to psychological forms of manipulation. Socialized children were granted far more respect and liberty than any other child of the previous childrearing stages. Although the socialized child rarely calls into question the status quo, the socialized generation, and here we might also include some families of the most Westernized Eastern and Latin American nations, is emotionally more robust than our coetaneous from other psychoclasses.
Helping. DeMause is a radical liberal who believes that all wars are the work of dissociated minds. His psycho-reductionist vision of the world is a reaction as to how he was abused as a child (occasionally, in his diverse writings deMause confesses the abuses he suffered as a boy). In the above paragraph on late infanticide I took the liberty of talking of Greece and Rome in more luminous terms than the rather sinister vision in deMausean texts, which means that as early as this chapter I have started a slight revision of psychohistory. However, given the fact that what deMause understands for “helping mode” differs enormously of what I understand by it, and not only in the evaluation of war, in this paragraph I will abstain from summarizing deMause’s posture on the apex of psychogenic development, barely visible in the graph.
Even though deMause rejects homosexuality, he seems to support the feminist revolution in sexual matters. Conversely, I believe this entails the catastrophic demographic crisis for that psychoclass, as we will see in the third section, where I disclose my views of what the helping mode of childrearing ought to be. Suffice it to say that the old platitude, “No hay que confundir la libertad con el libertinaje” (“Liberty should not be confused with licentiousness”), that I heard so many times as a teen and that by then I felt it antiquated, has surprisingly come to life again in the face of today’s demographic and migratory crisis in the West (once more, subjects for the third section).
It is important to reiterate that all of these family forms of childrearing coexist in the twenty-first century, and that the most primitive psychoclasses have coexisted with the most advanced ones. Apparently incomprehensible conduct, like the immolation of Islamic terrorists or the caste system in India, ultimately has its roots in differences in childrearing. Even in the most advanced countries there are families that belong to the most primitive psychoclass: which explains the existence from psychoses to serial killing. And in these advanced societies barbaric actions, analogous to trepanations in the Ancient World, are still perpetrated. We should never forget what I wrote in the second book about lobotomist Walter Freeman, who, traveling from state to state, performed thousands of leucotomies on children upon their parents’ request. (If I would be given a choice of either being sacrificed in the Tezcoco lake in Aztec times or being leucotomized in twentieth-century America, I would chose that fate of the ancient Nahua child.) Conversely, in backward countries there may exist some far less abusive families than the most regressive Western families. The notion of psychoclass, therefore, has to be understood in percentages: in the majorities of a given population, and proportions.
Nonetheless, there is by and large an obvious superiority in the West. It is the most advanced sector psychogenically. The table shown here depicts how a particular kind of childrearing is related to a specific mental disorder: the bones of deMause’s model onto which I will be adding the flesh in the following pages. A more detailed exposition of the diverse childrearing modes appears in the articles of History of Childhood. It is worth a reminder that the point of view of these more conventional historians is not always in agreement with the radical model of deMause.
Julian Jaynes and the bicameral mind
Many have asked why, if the encephalic mass of primitive man had already reached its present size almost half a million years ago, the technology did not go beyond the rudimentary hand axe. Why through hundreds of thousands of years couldn’t men innovate? It was not until the Mesolithic, between 10,000 and 8,000 B.C. when the first signs of structural edifications such as graveyards appear. The archaeologist Ian Hodder believes that the Neolithic revolution of agriculture was the result of a dramatic change in human psychology, but he has no idea why it occurred. As explained in the previous pages, for psychohistory such revolution in psychology was the result of the transit from the “early” to the “late” infanticidal modes of childrearing. However, it is a fascinating essay by Julian Jaynes that throws the most light on how, by the end of the second millennium before our era, another huge alteration occurred in human mentality.
In 1976 Jaynes published The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Jaynes calls “breakdown” the transit of bicameral mind — two chambers or brain hemispheres — to modern consciousness. The transit is relatively recent, and it represents a healing process from a divided self into a more unified or integrated one. Jaynes describes how society developed from a psychological structure based upon obedience to the god’s voices, to the subjective consciousness of present-day man. Like deMause’s psychohistory, Jaynes’ model caused many of his readers to see mankind from a new perspective. He elaborated a metanarrative purporting to connect the loose pieces of previously unconnected fields — history, anthropology, ancient texts, psychiatry, language, poetry, neurology, religion, Hebrew and Greek studies, the art of ancestral societies, archaeological temples and cuneiform writing — to construct an enormous jigsaw puzzle.
Jaynes asked the bold question of whether the voices that people of the Ancient World heard could have been real, a common phenomenon in the hallucinated voices of present-day schizophrenics. He postulated that, in a specific lapse of history a metamorphosis of consciousness occurred from one level to another; that our present state of consciousness emerged a hundred or two hundred generations ago, and that previously human behavior derived from hearing voices in a world plagued with shamanism, magical thinking, animism and schizoidism.
In the Ancient World man had a bipartite personality: his mind was broken, bicameralized, schizophrenized. “Before the second millennium B.C., everyone was schizophrenic,” Jaynes claims about those who heard voices of advice or guides attributed to dead chiefs, parents or known personages. “Often it is in times of stress when a parent’s comforting voice may be heard.” It seems that this psychic structure of a divided or bicameral self went back to cavemen. Later in the first cities, the period that deMauseans would call late infanticidal childrearing (Jaynes never mentions deMause or psychohistory), the voices were attributed to deities. “The preposterous hypothesis we have come to is that at one time human nature was split in two, an executive part called god, and a follower part called man. Neither was conscious. This is almost incomprehensible to us.” Preconscious humans did not have an ego like ours; rational thought would spring up in a late stage of history, especially in Greece. However, orthodox Hellenists usually do not ask themselves why, for a millennium, many Greeks relied on instructions coming from a group of auditory hallucinating women in Delphi. To explain similar cultural phenomena, Jaynes lays emphasis upon the role that voices played in the identities, costumes and group interactions; and concludes that the high civilizations of Egypt, the Middle East, Homeric Greece and Mesoamerica were developed by a primitive unconscious.
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind describes the theodicy in which, three thousand years ago, subjectivity and the ego flourished. For the common man consciousness is the state of awareness of the mind; say, the conscious state at walking. Jaynes uses the term in a more restricted way: consciousness as the subjective universe, the self-analyzing or self-conscious mind; the “I,” the will and morality of an individual, as well as the development of the linear concept of time (which used to be cyclic to the archaic mind, perhaps due to the observation of the stations of the year). The man who left behind his bicameral thinking developed a more robust sense of self, and Jaynes finds narrative evidence of this acting self in the literary record. He examines Amos, the voice of the oldest Old Testament text and compares it with the Ecclesiastes, the most recent one. Likewise, Jaynes scrutinizes the Iliad looking for tracks of a subjective self, and finds nothing. The Homeric heroes did what Athena or Apollo told them; they literally heard their gods’ voices as the prophets listened to Yahweh’s. Their psyches did not display brightness of their own yet. (If we remember the metaphor of my first book, the mentality of ancient man was similar to what astronomers call a “maroon dwarf”: a failed star like Jupiter, not a sun with enough mass to cause nuclear fusion so that it could shine on its own.) Matters change with the texts of Odysseus’ adventures, and even more with the philosophers of the Ionian islands and of Athens. At last the individual had accumulated enough egocentric mass to explode and to shine by itself. Jaynes believes that it was not until the Greek civilization that the cataclysm that represented the psychogenic fusion consolidated itself.
By Solon’s times it may be said that the modern self, as we understand it, had finally exploded. The loquacious gods, including the Hebraic Yahweh, became silent never to speak again but through the bicameral prophets. After the breakdown of divine authority, with the gods virtually silenced in the times of the Deuteronomy, the Judean priests and governors embarked upon a frenetic project to register the legends and stories of the voices that, in times of yore, had guided them. It was no longer necessary to hallucinate sayings that the god had spoken: man himself was the standard upon which considerations, decisions, and behaviors on the world rested. In the dawning of history man had subserviently obeyed his gods, but when the voice of consciousness appears, rebelliousness, dissidence, and even heresy are possible.
Through his book, which may be called a treatise of psycho-archeology, Jaynes follows the track of how subjective consciousness emerged. His ambitious goal is to explain the birth of consciousness, and hence the origin of our civilization. Once the former “maroon dwarfs” achieve luminescence in a group of individuals’ selves, not only religious dissent comes about, but regicide, the pursuit of personal richness and, finally, individual autonomy. This evolution continues its course even today. Paradoxically, when in the West it reaches the stage that deMause calls “helping mode” it entails ill-fated consequences such as Caucasian demographic dilution and the subsequent Islamization (as we shall see).
Although Jaynes speculates that the breakdown of the bicameral mind could have been caused by crises in the environment, by ignoring deMause he does not present the specific mechanism that gave rise to the transition. Due to the foundational taboo of human species, explained by Alice Miller in my previous book and by Colin Ross in this one, Jaynes did not explore the decisive role played by the modes of childrearing. This blindness permeates The Origin of Consciousness to the point of giving credibility to the claims of biological psychiatry; for example, Jaynes believes in the genetic basis of schizophrenia, a pseudoscientific hypothesis, as shown in my second book. However, his thesis on bicameralism caused his 1976 essay to be repeatedly reprinted, including the 1993 Penguin Books edition and another edition with a 1990 afterword that is still in print.
In the bicameral kingdoms the hallucinated voices of ancient men were culturally accepted as part of the social fabric. But a psychogenic leap forward gives as much power to the new psychoclass as the Australopithecus character of 2001: A Space Odyssey grabbing a bone. “How could an empire whose armies had triumphed over the civilizations of half a continent be captured by a small band of 150 Spaniards in the early evening of November 16, 1532?” The conquest of the Inca Empire was one of a handful of military confrontations between the two states of consciousness. A deMausean interpretation would lead us to think that it was a clash between the infanticidal psychoclass and an intermediate state of ambivalent and intrusive modes of childrearing. If we take into consideration the graph published above the Spaniards were up the scale at least three, if not four, psychogenic leaps.
This reading of history is diametrically opposed to Bartolomé de Las Casas, who in his Apologética Historia claimed that in some moral aspects the Amerindians were superior to the Spanish and even to Greeks and Romans. Today’s Western self-hatred had its precursor in Las Casas, who flourished in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In identical fashion, in the twenty-first century it is irritating to see in educational TV programs an American in Peru saying that the Incas of the times of the Conquest “were much smarter than the Spanish.” The truth is that the Incas did not even know how to use the wheel and lacked written language. They literally heard their statues speak to them and their bicameral mind handicapped them before the more robust psyche of the Europeans: something like an Australopithecus clan clashing with another without bones in their hands. The Spaniards were, certainly, very religious; but not to the point of using magical thinking in their warfare stratagems. According to a sixteenth-century Spaniard, “the unhappy dupes believed the idols spoke to them and so sacrificed to it birds, dogs, their own blood and even men” (this quotation refers to Mesoamericans, the subject-matter of the next section). The Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa believes that his ancestors were defeated due to a pragmatic and basically modern European mentality in contrast to the magical thinking of the natives; and the Mexican Carlos Fuentes wrote that the conquest of the American continent was a great triumph of the scientific hypothesis over the indigenous physical perception.
Jaynes overemphasizes that the prophets of the Old Testament literally heard Yahweh’s voice. Because the minds in the Ancient World, like present-day schizoid personalities, were swarmed with sources of hallucination, humans still lacked an inner space for retrospection and introspection. Bible scholars have debated at length about what could have caused the loss of prophecy gifts in the Hebrew people after the Babylonian exile. I would say that the elimination of the sacrificial practice of infants meant a leap toward a superior psychoclass, with the consequent overcoming of the schizoid or bicameral personality.
But going back to Jaynes: Formerly terrestrial and loquacious, the later mute gods were translated to a heaven, making room for human divination: the consultation of human beings that (for having been raised by more regressive parents I may infer) still heard the fateful voices. Even though the divine voices made themselves unnecessary for the new kind of human, praying continued to a god who was incapable, centuries ago, of communicating through divine voices.
The entire succession of [Old Testament] works becomes majestically and wonderfully the birth pangs of our subjective consciousness. No other literature has recorded this absolutely important event at such length or with such fullness. Chinese literature jumps into subjectivity in the teaching of Confucius with little before it. Indian hurtles from the bicameral Veda into the ultra subjective Upanishads. Greek literature, like a series of steppingstones from The Iliad to the Odyssey and across the broken fragments of Sappho and Solon toward Plato, is the next best record, but still too incomplete. And Egypt is relatively silent.
Jaynes’ book is dense, closely argued, and despite its beautiful prose often boring. But the chapter on the Hebrew people titled “The Moral Consciousness of the Khabiru” is must reading. If he is right, it was not until the fifth century before the common era when the bicameral mind began to be seen as the incapacitating disorder that is presently labeled as psychosis. In contrast to the mystic psychohistorian Robert Godwin, I am closer to Jaynes in that one of the most persistent residues of bicameralism is our religious heritage.
Jaynes, who died in 1997, may be the proverbial author of a single book. But many people continue to read The Origin of Consciousness. Tor Norretranders, a popular author on scientific subjects, expanded the bicameral hypothesis in a book published a year after Jaynes died, The User Illusion, and he cites more recent investigations than those collected by Jaynes.
Despite the book’s popularity and the fact that Jaynes taught in Princeton University and did archaeological work, his colleagues did not pay him much attention. Many academics reject theories that have been presented through literary books. It is understandable that a book with such lyric passages has been ignored by the dry science taught in the psychology departments; by neurobiologists, and by evolutionary theorists. Jaynes, basically a humanist, had not presented his theory in a scientific or falsifiable format.
I have explained falsifiability elsewhere. Even I have been asked by an editor to present the trauma model of mental disorders in “falsifiable” form, the Karl Popper term. Adepts of social sciences grant such authority to the hard sciences that, when they run across a text that emphasizes the humanities, they want to see everything translated to the language of science. They do this in spite of the fact that, in the reign of subjectivity, hard sciences are incapable of producing something truly significant. Notwithstanding this scientific demand, I concede that if we humanists make claims that could be interpreted as scientific hypotheses, it doesn’t hurt to present them in such a way that they may be refuted, if per chance they are wrong. Consequently, I must make it very clear that the trauma model, that I introduced in my previous books, is falsifiable.
For instance, it occurs to me that, if the model is correct, in the Israeli kibbutz children cannot be easily schizophrenized. The cause of this would be, naturally, that in the kibbutz they are put farther away from potentially schizophrenogenic parents than the children in nuclear families (let alone the Palestinian families that openly promote terrorist self-immolation among their offspring, assisted by their national television). Something similar could be said about Jaynes’ ideas. His hypothesis can be presented in falsifiable form always provided that the presentation is done through a deMausean interpretation of it, as we shall see almost by the end of this book.
Once it is conceded that even humanists who venture into foreign lands can present their theories in falsifiable form, I must point out that very few academics, including psychologists, are willing to delve into the darkest chambers of the human psyche. To them it is disturbing that prehistoric man, and a good deal of the historic man including their ancestors, had behaved as marionettes of hallucinated voices or nonexistent gods. Jaynes’ ideas represent a serious challenge to history as it is officially understood and even more to religion, anthropology, and psychiatry. He seems to postulate that a scant connectivity of the two brain hemispheres produced voices, and that the changes in consciousness caused the brain to become more interconnected through the corpus callosum. In case I have interpreted him correctly, I am afraid it is not possible to run tomographs on those who died millennia ago to compare, say, the brain of the bicameral pythoness against the brain of the intellectual Solon. Let’s ignore this non-falsifiable aspect and focus on hypotheses that may be advanced by epidemiologists in the field of social sciences. Studying the changes of incidence patterns of child mistreatment through history or contemporary cultures is a perfectly falsifiable scientific approach.
In the book reviews of The Origin of Consciousness available on the internet it can be gathered that the experience of many readers was as electrifying as a midnight ray that allowed them to see, albeit for a split second, the human reality. If the ultimate test for any theory is to explain the most data in the simplest way, we should not ignore the psycho-histories of Jaynes and deMause. If they are right, the explanatory power of an unified model would help us understand part of the human mystery, especially religion and psychosis.
Silvano Arieti and schizophrenia
Paradoxically, if something had been impeding the collective form of suicidal psychosis that the West self-inflicts today, the massive migration of inferior psychoclasses, it was Christianity. But Christianity is in crisis and Westerners lack a new myth that bestows on them a self-image for social cohesion. Jaynes wrote:
In the second millennium B.C., we stopped hearing the voices of the gods. In the first millennium B.C., those of us who still heard voices, our oracles and prophets, they too died away. In the first millennium A.D., it is their sayings and hearings preserved in sacred texts through which we obeyed our lost divinities. And in the second millennium A.D., these writings lose their authority… And here at the end of the second millennium and about enter the third, we are surrounded with this problem.
Hearing voices is the archetypal symptom of what today is named schizophrenia. But the distinctive traits between ancient schizoids and modern Western man is not absolute. In his magnum opus, Interpretation of Schizophrenia, Silvano Arieti wrote a sentence imagining a space visitor, more integrated psychologically than the Earth dwellers, who would find many instances of “paleologic thinking” (bicameral thought) in the moral, social and religious costumes of Western man.
Psychiatrist Silvano Arieti
Those who give credibility to everything that, under the banner of science, the status quo sells us, will consider it foolish that I take seriously an author who published a work about paleologic thinking and schizophrenia in 1955, the edition translated to Spanish. The reason that moved me to do it is simple. As I have said, decades before Colin Ross published The Trauma Model and Schizophrenia, Arieti had already written, with different words, some phrases about the locus of control shift (explained way above). In 2007 I felt confident to ask Ross if he knew that Arieti had said something very similar to his model half a century before. Ross replied that he barely had read Arieti. His ignorance surprised me but I understood him: the good doctor is more a busy clinician than an armchair theorist. Anyone can acquire through the internet the 2004 book that Ross wrote about schizophrenia. On the other hand, the 1965 Spanish translation of Arieti’s treatise is not even available in the catalogue of out-of-print books. In 1975 a second, revised edition of Interpretation of schizophrenia won in the United States the National Book Award in scientific subjects. In this chapter I will use both editions: the 1955 edition, and the 1975 edition republished in 1994 (in the second edition the book was thoroughly rewritten and fattened with medical testing on schizophrenia).
Virtually forgotten, Arieti’s treatise is an authentic mine of theoretical and clinical information to understand psychosis. Most striking about the massive body of literature from Arieti’s colleagues that pointed at the family as responsible for the schizophrenias in their patients is that the theory was never refuted. It was conveniently forgotten, swept under the rug of political correctness in the mental health professions. It is very common to read in the textbooks of contemporary psychiatry and psychology that the theory of the schizophrenogenic parents was discarded because it was erroneous with the most absolute absence of bibliographic references to support such claim. I cannot forget an article written in the present century in which an investigator complains that, despite an extensive search, he did not find any coherent and clear explanation of why the schizophrenogenic theory has been abandoned. As always, everything has to do with the fact that to question the parental deities is terrifying for most people, especially for those who are forbidden from using their own emotions: academics, including the mental health professionals. As deMause said way above: “The usual suppression of all feeling” in childrearing studies “simply cripples a psychohistorian as badly as it would cripple a biologist to be forbidden the use of a microscope.”
Arieti distinguishes between a “paleologic” form of thinking, and the thinking that comes from “Aristotelian logic” that rules Western man. Since the first edition of his book Arieti points out that the paleologic thinking, which modern man only experiences in dreams, was omnipresent in prehistoric cultures. In order to avoid a runaway anxiety that drives the victim into panic, the patient diagnosed as schizophrenic abandons the Aristotelian norms of intuitive logic and lapses into the sort of thinking of our most primitive ancestors. Like John Modrow, Arieti acknowledges the value of the work of Harry Sullivan about the panic the child experiences as a result of an all-out emotional assault from both parents. The paleologic regression can be adapted years after the abuse occurred, even when the child has become economically independent [interpolated note: a chapter on Modrow appears in my second book]. The withdrawal from reality, or psychotic breakdown, is the last and most desperate attempt of the unconscious to maintain the ego in a state of internal cohesion. A dramatic regressive metamorphosis arises when, one after another, the defenses that the victim had been using do not work anymore. To a greater or lesser degree all human beings function with a dose of neurosis, but in the psychotic outbreak, when neurotic defenses collapse, the subject falls into even more archaic forms of defense: mechanisms which had been overcome millennia ago, a regression to the bicameral mind.
Arieti’s book contains chapters about his clinical experiences with patients. In the case of two brothers, Arieti describes how one of them suffered a pre-psychotic panic as a result of the abuse at home and observes that, once in a florid state of psychosis, “The paleologician confuses the physical world with the psychological one. Instead of finding a physical explanation for an event, he looks for a personal motivation or an intention as the cause of an event.” Just as the primitive man, in a definitive breakdown of the Aristotelian superstructure, for the disturbed individual the world turns itself animist; each external event having a profound meaning. There are no coincidences for those who inhabit the world of magical thinking. Both the primitive animist and the modern schizophrenic live in distinct dimensions compared to the rational man. The conceptualization of external happenings as impersonal physical forces requires a much more advanced level of cognition than seeing them as personal agents. Arieti wrote:
If the Greeks are afflicted by epidemics, it is because Phoebus wants to punish Agamemnon. Paranoiacs and paranoids interpret almost everything as manifesting a psychological intention or meaning. In many cases practically everything that occurs is interpreted as willed by the persecutors of the patient.
Arieti also writes about the time before the Homo sapiens acquired the faculty to choose an action through what we call today free will, and he adds:
Philogenetically, anticipation of the distant future appeared when early man no longer limited his activity to cannibalism and hunting, which were related to immediate present necessities, but became interested in hoarding and, later, in agriculture in order to provide for future needs.
The reference to cannibalism makes me think that, though unlike Jaynes Arieti maintained that schizophrenia is due to the parents’ behavior, unlike deMause Arieti did not conceive that such cannibal practices, like the ones described in the Preface, could have injured the inner self of the surviving children in prehistoric times. Nevertheless, Arieti disagrees with the theoretical psychiatrists who see no similarities between schizophrenic and non-schizophrenic. He believes that such points of view “are fundamentally wrong”, and, speaking of non-Western cultures and even of the times of Cro-Magnon man, he writes:
Often the culture itself imposes paleologic conceptions and habits on the individual, even though the individual is capable of high forms of thinking. The more abundant is the paleologic thinking in a culture, the more difficult it is for the culture to get rid of it.
This last phrase reminds me how presently Western culture imposes relativist conceptions on the individual, even though the typical Westerner is potentially capable of discriminating among inferior cultures: a higher form of thinking. Arieti also rises the question of why civilization originated only ten thousand years ago. Like Jaynes, he believes that the incredibly long gestation of civilization had to do with the persistence of paleologic thought, and he adds that presently the paleologic defense mechanisms underlie the human psyche and can return in extreme conditions.
Arieti elaborated his theory twenty years before Jaynes or deMause started to write their books, and he was within an inch of discovering what deMause would discover: precisely that schizophrenogenic forms of childrearing through the Bone Age and the Stone Age had impeded the psychic integration of our ancestors. Getting ahead in time to Ross, Arieti wrote: “A characteristic unique in the human race — prolonged childhood with consequent extended dependency on adults — is the basis of the psychodynamics of schizophrenia.”
Arieti defines schizophrenia as an extremely regressive reaction before an equally extreme state of anxiety, a dynamic that originates in infancy and that accelerates in adolescence, or later, due to abuses at home (think of the case of the second girl in the Ross section). “In every case of schizophrenia studies serious family disturbances were found” (emphasis by Arieti). He adds that to produce schizophrenia a drama is needed which is sufficiently injuring to the inner self; a drama that, if we ignore it, we become deaf “to a profound message that the patient may try to convey”. And writing about one of his patients, and getting again ahead in time to Ross, he tells us that this patient “protected the images of his parents but at the expense of having an unbearable self-image”.
Interpretation of Schizophrenia contains the keys to understanding issues that at first sight seem incomprehensible, and even bizarre, for those of us who live in the world of Aristotelian logic: the probable meaning of the symbols of the oneiric world in which the psychotic individual lives; his apparently incoherent salad of words, the linguistic whys of his inner logic and the many regressive stages of the disorder. In Arieti’s treatise there is an enormous richness of ideas and theoretical schemas that I cannot summarize here, as well as clinical analyses of his patients, to understand the gradations of madness. Even though, as I said, in the middle 1970s his book won the National Book Award, in a more valiant world his work would have been influential. But society freaked out before the findings of Arieti and his colleagues because, to understand psychoses, it would have been necessary to point the index finger at the parents. As a Ross reader would say, the problem of the attachment to the perpetrator, the basic and fundamental axiom of the human psyche, could not allow this (Arieti himself dedicated his magnum opus to his parents).
Let us see where the ideas expressed in this chapter drive us when pondering the violent past of ancient Mexico, and how the psychogenic arrest of that culture may serve us to understand the dilemmas that the West faces today.
[Index page for this book here]