History Through the Eyes of a Child
"Psychosocial development as articulated by Erik Erikson describes eight developmental stages through which a healthily developing human should pass from infancy to late adulthood. In each stage the person confronts, and hopefully masters, new challenges. Each stage builds on the successful completion of earlier stages. The challenges of stages not successfully completed may be expected to reappear as problems in the future."
I want to focus in particular on the first stage -- birth to 18 months -- vis-à-vis what we were discussing yesterday about the terrible treatment of children in the past. Again, from the Wiki article -- it's somewhat poorly written, but you get the point:
Psychosocial Crisis: Trust vs. Mistrust
"Developing trust is the first task of the ego, and it is never complete. The child will let its mother out of sight without anxiety and rage because she has become an inner certainty as well as an outer predictability. The balance of trust with mistrust depends largely on the quality of the maternal relationship.
Main question asked: Is my environment trustworthy or not?
Central Task: Receiving care
Positive Outcome: Trust in people and the environment
Ego Quality: Hope
Definition: Enduring belief that one can attain one’s deep and essential wishes
Developmental Task: Social attachment; Maturation of sensory, perceptual, and motor functions; Primitive causality.
Significant Relations: Maternal parent
"Erikson proposed that the concept of trust versus mistrust is present throughout an individual’s entire life. Therefore if the concept is not handled properly during infancy, the individual may be negatively affected and never fully immerse themselves in the world. For example, a person may hide themselves from the outside world and be unable to form healthy and long-lasting relationships with others, or even themselves. If an individual does not learn to trust themselves, others and the world around them then they may lose the virtue of hope, which is directly linked to this concept. If a person loses their belief in hope they will struggle with overcoming hard times and failures in their lives, and may never fully recover from them. This would prevent them from learning and maturing into a fully-developed person if the concept of trust versus mistrust was improperly learned, understood and used in all aspects of their lives."
Now, if Erikson is close to even half-correct, it shouldn't be too difficult to detect huge societal differences based upon the quality of childcare. Among other things, we should see at a minimum a persistent lack of trust, and possibly outright paranoia. We should see disturbances in the ability to apprehend linear causality. We should see relationships tinged by anger, impulsivity, and envy. We should see a kind of hopelessness toward the world, and therefore futility about the possibility of change.
So, what does Stone find in his examination of late medieval society? He pretty much sees the contemporary Islamic world: "The violence of everyday life seems to have been accompanied by much mutual suspicion and a low general level of emotional interaction and commitment. Alienation and distrust of of one's fellow man are the predominant features.... The basic assumption is that no one is to be trusted, since anyone and everyone -- wife, servants, children, friends, neighbors, or patrons -- are only kept loyal by self-interest, and may, therefore, at any moment turn out to be enemies."
Stone cites so much fascinating evidence for his conclusions that it is impossible to duplicate it here. Remember, he's not saying that everyone was this way, only that it was the psychohistorical "mode," if you will -- just as you wouldn't say that every American is trustworthy, honest, transparent, and hopeful, even though most Americans are. It is just that, as Stone writes, prior to modernity, a majority of individuals "found it very difficult to establish close emotional ties to any person. Children were often neglected, brutally treated, and even killed; many adults treated each other with suspicion and hostility; affect was low, and hard to find."
(By the way, yes, I am well familiar with Rodney Stark's revisionist works on the Middle Ages, but I don't think they fundamentally contradict anything here; first, there was nothing "Christian" about the thought and behavior we're discussing, and in fact, Christianity ultimately pushed the populace toward a higher ideal of emotional health. Secondly, the evolution of technology took place on a parallel psychohistorical track, as there is no necessary relationship between this and other trends.)
Of note, as I was saying the other day, it is not as if everyone need be paranoid and suspicious for the entire society to become so, just as a sane Palestinian had better keep it to himself if he secretly admires the Jews, or an American university professor had better hold his tongue if he thinks there are some intrinsic differences between men and women. Under such primitive conditions, it's probably a good strategy to act as primitive as the majority of the tenured in our occupied universities.
For the same reason, the Parable of the Tribes teaches that we had better have as much capacity for violence as our most primitive enemy, or face being conquered by that enemy. This is why the most decent country in the world must have the biggest military. It's not a paradox at all, liberal fatheads.
In his classic Autumn of the Middle Ages, Huizinga paints a similar picture to Stone. Since paranoia was the norm, it shouldn't be surprising that people "condemned as basically sinful" the "entire sphere of the beautification of life with an exception being made in cases where such efforts assumed expressly religious forms..." He discusses at length the "gruesome fascination" with sadistic violence, and how criminal execution was "an important element in the spiritual nourishment of the people" (I would say psychological nourishment).
The courts invented horrible punishments that it is almost beyond our capacity to imagine, unless we happen to be from the Muslim world. I was going to describe some of them, but I think I'll skip it. But I'm sure you remember the scene at the end of Braveheart, when Mel Gibson is being drawn and quartered. Read here for the details of what that procedure entrailed, I men, entailed, and then ask yourself, "what kind of perverse imagination came up with this?" You can almost picture a scene from a Monty Python movie (this comes to mind), in which the authorities are trying to top each other in their cruelty. It's so "over the top" in its sadism, and yet, people watched on in fascination, as if they were viewing a horror flick:
"What strikes us about the judicial cruelty of the later Middle Ages is not the perverse sickness of it, but the dull, animal-like enjoyment, the country fair-like amusement, it provided for the people.... [They] cannot get enough of the spectacle of [suspects] undergoing repeated torture. The people delay executions, which the victims themselves request, for the enjoyment of seeing them subjected to even more sufferings" (Huizinga). It is difficult for us to comprehend "the incredible harshness, the lack of tender sentiment, the cruel mockery, and the pleasure of watching others suffer."
(Incidentally, in my opinion, liberal hysteria over our "torture" of terrorists is a transparent projection of their own naked sadism. Once you think about it, it becomes obvious, given the level of ungoverned and free-floating rage on the left. If you want to see a contemporary version of primitive sadism, just read the comments at huffingtonpost when Dick Cheney undergoes a heart procedure or Tony Snow undergoes chemotherapy. It gets so vicious that they have to turn off and hide the comments.)
Norbert Elias was one of the first to really dig into the historical evidence of childrearing practices, and draw out the psycho-cultural implications. As he wrote, "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."
In fact, this is one of my biggest divergences from Schuon, whose spiritual insight is otherwise so extraordinarily lucid. Nevertheless, the developmental egg is undoubtedly prior to the historical chicken. As Elias puts it, "a child of the twelfth century develops a different structure of drives and consciousness from that of a twentieth century child." How could it not be, without undermining everything we know about child development? No emotionally healthy parent would ever treat a child in the manner they were routinely treated in the past. In fact, I think it is because we can't imagine it, that many historians just skip over the evidence. It's just too alien. Politically correct academics do the same thing with the contemporary Islamic world, what with its honor killings and general degradation of female children. They look but don't see.
Elias writes of how common infanticide was in the past. Indeed, I would suggest that the average pro-abortion person has more moral compunction about the procedure than the average person in the past had about outright infanticide. "Children came, they cried, they generated work, and the parents had no use for them.... Eliminating little children is easy. In ancient Greece and Rome we hear time and time again of infants thrown onto dungheaps or into rivers. Exposing children was part of everyday life. People were used to it. Until the late nineteenth century there was no law against infanticide."
Elias' general conclusion is that "a legend has become established which makes it look as if parental love and affection for their children is something more or less natural and, beyond that, an always stable, permanent and lifelong feeling. In this case, too, a social 'should' is transformed into the notion of a natural 'is.'"
But in the absence of the transcendent Ought, there is no humanity.