History, Herstory, and the Babystory (11.16.10)
Is the human species "maturing" -- which is to say, evolving -- with time? To answer the question, one must only consider the Muslim world, for it is either more or less mature than the West as a whole. As Dr. Sanity writes, millions of Muslims suffer from "Teddy Bear Syndrome" (coined by Victor Davis Hanson), which is
"the tendency of many Muslims to judge Westerners and those who do not adhere to Islam as 'blasphemous' when they exercise freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of choice, and freedom of religion; and to react in an intolerant, inappropriate and violent rage, demanding death or some other extreme punishment for the accused."
Yes, Teddy Bear Syndrome shares many similarities to left wing political correctness, so it must be a potential that is present in everyone, a primitive impulse that must be "outgrown" -- like throwing a temper tantrum when you don't get your way, or suing to overturn the 2000 presidential election. It is the reason why there is no place in the West more intellectually immature than an elite university campus. But fortunately, most people are not left wing university professors. Yet.
Regarding the etiology of Teddy Bear Syndrome, Dr. Sanity writes that part of the problem results from the failure of Islam "to evolve from its medieval and primitive origins" (emphasis mine). But on any traditionalist view -- including traditional Christianity -- religion does not evolve. Rather, the whole point is that it is fixed and final. However, just like everything else, scripture looks very different to a developmentally mature mind than it does to an immature one.
The psychological immaturity of Islam is generally mirrored by a pseudomature response by the "liberal" West. As Hanson writes, "the reaction to this madness is now stereotyped. Often apologies -- not condemnation -- follow from contrite Westerners. To prevent a recurrence, Western writers, filmmakers, teachers and religious figures quietly edit their work and restrict their speech -- but only when Islam is involved."
When this happens, it is analogous to allowing the baby to run the household. Children naturally try to manipulate parents, but a good parent knows how to set boundaries and to be consistent. However, over the past 40-50 years, especially with the Baby Boomer generation, these psychological boundaries have been discarded, which has resulted in a blending of the sexes and generations. One of the reasons for this is that the Baby Boom generation was the first to prevail in the perennial battle between adults and children, thus providing no check on the tendency toward omnipotence.
Yes, some positive things obviously came out of the 1960s, but one of the most baleful ones was the Genderless Adolescent. This is a person who by definition can never be mature, but only give the appearance of being so. It is much more difficult to be a Genderless Adolescent on the right, whereas it is more or less normative on the left. Anyone who reads left wing blogs knows this is so. As for myself, being primarily a vertically oriented person, I think of politics as more or less of a distraction from reality.
It's not that I believe any kind of salvation lies with conservative political success. Rather, it's just that the left is so incredibly dangerous and destructive on every level -- intellectual, economic, psychological, and spiritual -- that it must be combatted. In fact, most conservatives would prefer to ignore politics and be left alone to enjoy their lives, but this would be irresponsible so long as the left pursues its antihuman agenda with such religious fervor.
Although I haven't thought about it for awhile, one of the books that had the greatest influence on my thinking was Foundations of Psychohistory by Lloyd deMause. His thesis -- which he supports with abundant documentation -- is that "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 level of child care, and the more likely children are to be killed, abandoned, beaten, terrorized, and sexually abused." One of the reasons historians have failed to notice this is that "serious history has long been considered a record of public and not private events." It has generally focused on wars, discoveries, political movements and the like, as opposed to what went on in homes and in the minds of children.
Historians are generally hostile to deMause's approach, and I can understand why. Although his evidence may be sound, I think he pushes it way too far into a historical determinism in which the evolution of parenting is the overriding genesis of all historical change. Nevertheless, I think it would be an error to throw out all of his basic research just because his conclusions may be beyond the fringe.
deMause essentially turns history upside-down and looks at it through an extreme "micro" lens. There's nothing wrong with this -- in fact, it is vital -- but I think it must be balanced with the macro view. It's not an either-or situation, nor should psychohistory be a mere afterthought or subspecialty grafted onto history. Rather, it should form the basis of a stereoscopic view of history, through which we simultaneously look at the macro and micro, interior and exterior, rational and irrational, conscious and unconscious, adult and child, culture and individual, etc.
The problem with most history, even to this day, is that it is too sweeping and general, and ignores the reality of the unconscious and the insights of developmental psychology. It makes it difficult to comprehend something as fundamentally irrational as Islamism. The left, for example, treats Islamism as a rational response to something we have done, which seems like "empathy" or sensitivity but is actually the very opposite, a kind of self-congratulatory indulgence of an enraged child.
In One Cosmos I quoted John Bowlby, one of the early pioneers of attachment theory, who wrote that "The truth is that the least-studied phase of human development remains the phase during which a child is acquiring all that makes him most human. Here is still a continent to conquer." Similarly, Tolstoy wrote that "From the child of five to myself is but a step. But from the newborn baby to the child of five is an appalling distance." Or the anthropologist Norbert Elias: "It seems as if grown-up people, in thinking about their origins, involuntarily lose sight of the fact that they themselves and all adults came into the world as little children. Over and over again, in the scientific myths of origin no less than the religious ones, they feel impelled to imagine: In the beginning was a single human being, who was an adult."
But in reality, In the beginning is a neurologically incomplete, helpless little baby, utterly dependent upon caretakers who may or may not be up to the task of raising him, and who themselves bear the unconscious scars of their own childhood trauma. Thus, it is not so much that "in the beginning is the baby" as "in the beginning is the dynamic relationship between an unformed nervous system that will develop (or fail to develop) its potential in rapport with its caretakers."
Take the myth of Genesis, for example. This can be misleading, since it begins with the creation of a male adult, followed by a female adult (who comes out of the male), and lastly, a couple of children. But in reality, the reverse is true: first there is a baby, out of which comes the mother, who then bifurcates into a mother and father. In other words, the baby cannot possibly imagine that the mother gave birth to him, as doing so would require language, boundaries, a conception of linear time, the differentiation between inside and outside, etc.
Rather, as Winnicott observed, there isn't actually such a thing as a baby (at least as far as the baby is concerned). Instead, there is a true union of mother and infant, a (hopefully) harmonious psychological matrix (matrix being etymologically linked to womb) through which the baby will eventually "discover" the M-other -- and only later her consort, who is Fa(r)ther away in developmental time).
Fascinatingly, Genesis is psychospiritually "spacious" enough to be supplemented with the infant's view of the cosmos. This was an idea developed by James Grotstein, but it is also implicit in the interpretations of some mishnaevious rabbis who consider Genesis a paradoxable about man's movement from psychological infancy and dependence to maturity and dependence. As Kass writes, "Eating from the tree certainly produces a death of innocence. Through judgmental self-consciousness, human beings become self-separated; the primordial childlike, unself-divided, and peaceful state of the soul 'dies.' Thanks to reason and freedom, protoman becomes a different being -- the old one dies. This death, repeated in every human life, we have all experienced for ourselves; the contented and carefree life that we knew as innocent children is in fact permanently lost to us, the inevitable result of our rise to self-conscious knowledge of good and bad."
It is not at all uncommon for great rabbis to turn scripture inside out or upside down in order to squeeze out a little additional wisdom. Don't worry, scripture is resilient. It can handle rough play. In Grotstein's case, he begins with the psychological fact of infantile omnipotence. One can argue whether or not God is omnipotent, but infants certainly are, for how could they know otherwise? Thus, the omnipotent baby is quite obviously the creator of the cosmos, including its mother and father. Clearly, a brand new cosmos comes into being with the birth of every child, does it not? There is no cosmos at all in the absence of consciousness, so it is simply a fact that cosmogenesis is repeated afresh with every newborn baby: cosmogony recapitulates psychogeny, so to speak. Here is another apt quote from the book, this one from David Darling, author of Equations of Eternity:
"[W]e may reasonably view an infant's dawning of awareness on two levels: as a consciousness arising in the individual and, simultaneously, in the universe as a whole.... we can watch an incredibly condensed version of the growth of awareness on this planet, and in the cosmos, in each developing child."
But only if you are a sensitive parent. Isn't this a big part of the joy of parenting, re-participating in the birth of a fresh new cosmos, as your child -- and his world -- changes from day to day? Jesus made so may sensitive comments about children and about the relationship between a child's consciousness and spiritual awareness, that it's a little surprising that people fail to make the explicit connection. In fact, as deMause demonstrates -- and I'll get into some of his fascinating research in a later post -- most parents end up depriving children of this magical and creative mode of consciousness in favor of projecting their own narrow and constricted psychological grid onto them. And nowhere to my knowledge is this more prevalent than in the Islamic world, where Teddy Bear Syndrome can only be the adult expression of a traumatized child who never got to enjoy his godlike omnipotence, and is therefore resentfully living it out as an adult, toward the guilty "parents" of the West.
Ever wonder why Allah is so merciless and wrathful? You'd be too if you were wrongfully denied your birthright, and were therefore plagued by the idea that the world is fundamentally corrupt and unfair.
Yes, just like the angry leftist who never mastered self-control, so he replaces it with other-control.
God is the newest thing there is; the youngest thing there is. God is the beginning, and if we are united to him we become new again.... My soul is as young as the day it was created. Yes, and much younger! --Meister Eckhart