Monday, January 28, 2008

Our Problems Part 4 Why Things are So Bad

People dwell on the world's many problems. And there are an endless number of them – religious fanaticism, war, racism, crime, poverty, environmental degradation and so forth. Reactionaries treat this misery as "man's fate". Some even revel in it, awaiting the destruction of the world when Jesus will beam them up. Progressives on the other hand, look for the source in structural terms such as capitalism, class systems, authoritarianism or patriarchy. But progressives are bewildered by the irrational behavior of so many people, a behaviour that aids and abets those structural causes of human suffering. In a nut shell, structural explanations, while fundamental truths, are not a complete explanation of why things are the way they are.

Abused individuals act in self-destructive ways. These include passivity, lack of curiosity, impulsiveness, obsessiveness, substance abuse, child and spousal abuse. I contend that the human race itself is a collective patient recovering from severe physical, emotional, verbal and sexual abuse and this abuse is the root cause of the irrational behaviour that so bewilders progressives. I say a recovering patient because most of the abuse took place in the past, most particularly in the late 19th to mid-20th Centuries. (This is, of course, not to ignore the recent horrors in Latin America with fascist coups and death squads, nor contemporary religious "fundamentalism".)

Abuse has an effect well beyond the generation that experienced it directly. Abusive behaviour is passed down from one generation to another, but even where this is not the case, there is still a negative effect upon succeeding generations. Someone raised by abusive parents who manages to break the cycle of abuse, might become overly protective of their children, thereby creating another set of, albeit lesser, problems. Someone raised in a sexually repressive attitude, may in rejecting this oppression, go to the other extreme and become irresponsible in their sexual relations.

As with the individual, so too with the multitude. Three or four generations ago abusive behaviour was the normal method of childrearing. (in the Anglosphere and Germany, most especially). One instilled fear in one's children. Emphasis was placed upon subservience to authority. Praise was avoided and children were constantly reminded of their inferior status. Methods involved heavy doses of guilt, humiliation, and other forms of emotional abuse. If this wasn't enough to make the child subservient, verbal and physical abuse were freely used. All these crimes against children were committed in the name of "love" for the child, creating a schizophrenic situation where love = pain and degradation.

The ultimate source of most of these horrors, and with their own particular variety of cruelty, stood the religious cults. The cults terrorized the young into submissiveness with visions of Hell-fire, should they show any independence or rebelliousness. They were taught to feel guilty about merely existing. Children were also taught to hate and fear the body and its reactions, especially those of a sexual nature. Natural desires were repressed to the full. Both religious and secular authorities worked full time to maximize sexual repression, not just among the young, but among adults as well. To add an even more grotesque twist, these same authorities sexually molested their charges or frequented houses of prostitution.

My tour through this genuine Hell, would not be complete without mentioning the extreme racism and misogyny that shouted from every corner. Anyone who was not Anglo-Saxon was branded as second class and this was enforced through the media and popular culture. This is abuse, and yet the Polish or Italian immigrant was to get off easy in comparison to groups even less-favoured. For people of color, endless degradation and humiliation. For First Nations, genocide. For African-Americans, a reign of terror.

Sixty years ago, and for generations before that, women were considered silly, mindless creatures, capable only of bearing and nurturing children. Any natural desire to do anything else was to be suppressed. A woman was second class compared to a man, and was duty bound to obey Father and then Husband. Sexuality was even more harshly repressed in women than in men. Thus, women had to endure severe emotional abuse and if this did not work to keep them emotionally enslaved, verbal and physical abuse were considered legitimate means.

No, I am not engaging in psychological reductionism. The structural causes of our suffering, class systems, authoritarian hierarchies and capitalism, are real, but they do not explain why many are willing to put up with exploitation and bullying, the natural results of these same structural causes. Nor do they explain the large minority who envy, emulate, or worship their Masters and cheerfully persecute, torture or kill those who seek their liberation. Given our history, we are where we ought to be. Those of us who have tried to live in more liberatory and humane ways still carry the legacy of generations of psychologically wounded people. Millions still live in that past, lying trapped in authoritarianism, racism, sexism and a multitude of other manifestations of abuse. It will take several generations more to overcome our cruel burden. But time is running out. The problems pile up too fast to wait for the population to recover. We, imperfect creatures that we are, must work to make the world a saner place, at the same time realizing we will make errors, and there will be difficulties strewn in our path by our past histories.

10 Comments:

Blogger Renegade Eye said...

To Jewish people the holocaust is visceral, as slavery is to Afro-Americans. Events like that dominate your consciousness, no matter what reforms are presented.

10:22 PM  
Blogger Graeme said...

it is interesting how that plays out on a larger scale, as well as in individuals.

9:46 AM  
Blogger Zhu said...

Your post sounds like a Pink Floyd's song ;)

I agree. Especially in Europe where there's still a strong hierarchy at so many levels: students/ teachers, boss/ employees, "good" family/ working class etc.

7:14 PM  
Blogger Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

I'm with you Larry ... to a point. The Enlightenment did not happen in the 1960s. Our general adoration of old ways has changed little and appears to be turning back despite the efforts of us round-earthers. I maintain we were much more free 30 years ago than we are now and when I look to the future I do not need to wear shades.

7:38 AM  
Blogger Werner said...

I have to correct Zhu on one point. Upward mobility is pretty bad in the United States and the UK although the United States is the worst of the two. But most of continental Europe rates higher. There is less poverty than Canada especially in northwestern Europe and the Scandinavian countries .

12:50 AM  
Anonymous dilettante said...

A hint of determinism in a Marxist crust with a drizzle of solipsism and a whipped arabesque of structuralist dreaming.

We encourage you to read Bourdieu, or anyone else who gets beyond reductionist concepts like "the large minority". People do not exist in the political sense, they act. This is a much more useful and complicated way of looking at history.

Also very pleased to have found your blog.

5:55 PM  
Blogger TGGP said...

I recommend that you read Judith Harris' "The Nurture Assumption". It is honestly the best-written science book I've ever come across. It should change your perspective on the impact of abuse on children. John Bruer's "The Myth of the First Three Years" is also supposed to be good on a related topic.

If you want to know why it is that humanity is so violent and hierarchical (and the importance of gender with regard to those aspects), the primatologist Richard Wrangham provides a good explanation in Demonic Males, which I wrote a massive review of that segued into a Straussian interpretation of a reactionary blogger.

5:17 PM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

Sorry, but I am not as impressed by these books as you are. I base my world view not on theories, but personal experience, practical experience and the experiences of others in the social sciences. Every few years for the last 46 – 1962, when I read Ardrey's "African Genesis" – my first encounter with such works – a volume of "paradigm-changing importance" is launched, has its 15 minutes of fame and descends into oblivion. Think also of Konrad Lorenz, Lionel Tiger to name a few more. At best, such works keep science from being complacent and add a nuance or two. The scientific method is not the same as building a court case. You can write a book and "prove" damn thing you want. In the 1950's and 1960's scientists in pay of the tobacco companies wrote reams of studies "proving" no link between cancer and smoking tobacco. Today many of these same scientists for hire "prove" that global warming ain't. "Studies" are still being churned out "proving" that cannabis is dangerous. I could site many more examples.

Of course there are paradigm changes. But these are not made by authors but by discoveries in the field. Excavation of Australopithecine camp sites shows they were gatherers and scavengers. "Man the hunter" is a myth. Mitochondrial DNA analysis shows that the genetic background of Europeans is overwhelmingly what it was 35,000 years ago. Good-bye to the belief that Europe was overun by vast hordes of Indo-Europeans who displaced the original inhabitants.

Attempts to prove that humans or males are INNATELY violent or aggressive or whatever, are unscientific, ideologically-driven hogwash. So too would be the contrary, trying to prove they are innately peaceful and unaggressive.

As for Harris's work – it does not prove that child abuse is not harmful, all it shows is that one's genes and people other than parents can have a major influence. This is of course something I have long known – how else to explain how one abused child will grow up to be a chronic welfare recipient, addict or criminal and another an activist, artist or a writer? What I came to realize is that high intelligence helps in overcoming abuse and mentors play a major role.

8:53 AM  
Blogger TGGP said...

Larry, EVERYONE lives by theory. The only people who explicitly dismiss "theory" are the ones who use unconscious or implicit theorizing.

Harris' work, for example, is built on mountains of empirical data. The theories such as those of Robert Trivers on why it is adaptive for children to be resistant to any attempts by their parents to alter their personality, just help to explain what it is we see. It is only in the most extreme cases like "feral children" that we see the effect of abuse, and even then there are cases of twins or siblings who had the support of nobody but each other and turned out all right.

Have you ever heard the saying "a single data point is garbage"? That's what we call an anecdote, and what most of your personal experiences would qualify as. It is extremely difficult for you to determine any sort of causality without the sort of controls used in scientific studies (Harris' book is in part about how researchers failed to do such controls and so their research had been contributing little to understanding).

If you'd like to point me to some scientific debunkings of Harris or Wrangham, go right ahead. I'd also note, in case you haven't read Demonic Males, that they theorize an "evolutionary feminism" near the end to ameliorate the violence and patriarchal hierarchy sustained by males and (perversely enough) females as well.

2:20 PM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

If you remember “personal experience” was only part of my reason for skepticism. I also mentioned “practical experience and the experiences of others in the social sciences” Say like tens of thousands of case studies, the 120 years of field work that is out there. It also appears the author is guilty of the very things she accuses others of – see below. I remain skeptical...

From Wikipedia “The Nature Assumption”
Frank Farley of Temple University claims that "she's taking an extreme position based on a limited set of data. Her thesis is absurd on its face, but consider what might happen if parents believe this stuff!" Wendy Williams of Cornell University, who studies how environment affects IQ, argues that "there are many, many good studies that show parents can affect how children turn out in both cognitive abilities and behavior." Jerome Kagan of Harvard University argues that Harris "ignores some important facts, ones that are inconsistent with this book's conclusions". Some critics of Harris' book argue that she defines "nurture" differently than it is traditionally defined by psychologists talking about "nature and nurture." These critics charge that "nurture" should include all the environmental inputs, and not just the parent/child relationship. Since contemporary American parents who send their children to conventional schools and allow them to spend hours in front of television and videogame screens have less time with their children than these other inputs do, naturally those other inputs would be likely to have a significant and perhaps larger effect than the parents.
(It is also of interest that Farley, Williams and Kagan have vastly better academic credentials that Harris)

Review by Steve Sailer http://www.isteve.com/nurture.htm
In contrast, her third assertion -- parents don't matter -- is plausible only within her narrow, arbitrary boundaries. To fully explain human behavior, everything matters. Anything conceivable (whether genes, peers, parents, cousins, teachers, TV, incest abuse, martial arts, breastfeeding, prenatal environment, etc.) influences something (whether personality, IQ, sexual orientation, culture, morals, job skills, etc.) in somebody.
To show that peers outweigh parents, she repeatedly cites Darwinian linguist Pinker's work on how young immigrant kids automatically develop the accents of their playmates, not their parents. True, but there's more to life than language. Not until p. 191 does she admit -- in a footnote -- that immigrant parents do pass down home-based aspects of their culture like cuisine, since kids don't learn to cook from their friends. (How about attitudes toward housekeeping, charity, courtesy, wife-beating, and child-rearing itself?) Not until p. 330 does she recall something else where peers don't much matter: religion! Worse, she never notices what Thomas Sowell has voluminously documented in his accounts of ethnic economic specialization. It's parents and relatives who pass on both specific occupations (e.g., Italians and marble-cutting or Cambodians and donut-making) and general attitudes toward hard work, thrift, and entrepreneurship.

As for this obsession with reducing everything to genetics

The Gene Illusion is a book by clinical psychologist Jay Joseph[2], published in 2003, which challenges the evidence underlying genetic theories in psychiatry and psychology. Focusing primarily on twin and adoption studies, he attempts to debunk the methodologies used to establish genetic contributions to schizophrenia, criminal behaviour, and IQ.

See also a review of THE GENE ILLUSION at http://human-nature.com/nibbs/03/joseph.html

4:23 PM  

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