The Human Condition Documentary Proposal—Part 2 Soul
Nurturing Now Becomes Our Priority
The importance of nurturing in the maturation of humanity and in our own lives (for our own maturation follows or recapitulates the path our species is undergoing) is one of those extremely confronting truths, like integrative meaning, that humans have had to live in denial of. The reason it has been so confronting is that with the emergence of consciousness in humans (the subject of Part 3), a terrible battle broke out between our conscious self and our instinctive self (the subject of Part 4) and ever since then no child has been able to receive the totally unconditional love that all children received during this love-indoctrination period and now instinctively expect and need. Since we were, until Page 35 of
Print Edition now, unable to explain our upset, corrupted state, it hasn’t been psychologically safe to acknowledge the full importance of nurturing. Without the explanation of why we haven’t been able to nurture our offspring as much as we would like, the immense significance of nurturing had to be denied by all but the very brave. The so-called ‘nature versus nurture’ debate is really about people needing a way to avoid the significance of nurturing.
Over the years a number of books and articles have attempted to broach the truth of the extent of the damage we cause our children by not nurturing them as much as their instincts expect. Understandably, these attempts have very often been met by a ‘deaf’ public; by parents unable to cope with the condemnation and guilt that that truth causes. One book that has met with some public acceptance is Jean Liedloff’s 1975 book The Continuum Concept. Liedloff largely avoids the morality issue associated with the ideal state of altruistic, integrative, cooperative love involved in nurturing, stating simply that we need to give infants the caring treatment that ‘is appropriate to the ancient continuum of our species inasmuch as it is suited to the tendencies and expectations with which we have evolved’ (p.22 of 172) in order for them to have ‘a natural state of self-assuredness, well-being and joy’ (www.continuum-concept.org).
One of the most truthful and courageous acknowledgments of the importance of nurturing can be found in an article titled The Social Necessity of Nurturance, by journalist Betty McCollister, published in the January 2001 edition of the Humanist journal. Here is an extract from this right-thinking, yet extremely confronting, article: ‘the United States—a nation with 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of its prison population. We can somehow find money for jails but not for measures that could give our babies and children a good start in life and thus drastically reduce the need for such institutions…Will the nation follow California’s lead, as it so often does, and ultimately spend more on jails than on education?…Is there no other option?
Of course, there is. To find it we must first learn two fundamental things about our species: how we evolved into the large-brained Homo sapiens we are; and the nature of a mother’s role as primary caregiver. Once we understand these two factors we will be better able to determine how best to support her during pregnancy and lactation and how to enable her to give more of herself to her infant at least during the crucial first year, when the child’s brain doubles in size, and preferably for the first five years, while the brain trebles in size to attain three-fourths of its final growth. How did we become human? What brought our ancestors to the threshold between our animal ancestors and our hominid selves, which we crossed about four million years ago? We can’t even begin to solve in any meaningful way our multiple, interlocking social pathologies except from the perspective of our evolution…evolution is the unifying principle that…explains how we descended from our ape ancestors. It offers us clues as to what is going amiss and why…
Our ancestors lived in closely-knit tribes in which cooperation and loyalty were essential. It was within that matrix—with devoted infant care and strong interpersonal links—that the brain enlarged from the size of a chimpanzee’s to double that in Homo erectus and quadruple that in… ourselves…Clearly, then, leaving mothers to cope entirely on their own flouts everything inherent to our nature and risks disastrous results.
A look at our hominid past helps us to understand our pathological present. About four million years ago, one line of apes assumed bipedal posture. This freed the hands, with their opposable thumbs, for grasping, which brought eye-hand coordination which led to larger brain development, for which nature selected. However, because the birth canal could dilate only so far and the pelvic girdle not at all in bipeds, the skull had to mature after birth. The hominid solution was to bear increasingly unfinished infants who required increasingly intensive and extensive care. Lacking instincts to make them self-sufficient, the young required assiduous nurture. This pattern continued with the resultant cycle of increased helplessness; need for more care, more social interaction, more communication; formation of more complex and larger brains; demand for even Page 36 of
Print Edition more nurture.’ This is a grand effort to get to the bottom of the fundamental question of how we became human, however the prolonged infancy and exceptional need for nurturing wasn’t a result of the increased brain size and birth canal limitations forcing infants to be born early, rather it was a result of the love-indoctrination process. The large brain didn’t develop until after the extended infancy and intense nurturing took place as evidenced by the bonobos, who don’t have a very large brain, but are intensely nurturing and are already neotenous. Also, as will be explained in Part 3, what promoted a conscious, intelligent, large brain wasn’t the availability of hands to manipulate the world, but love-indoctrination training of the brain in selflessness.
McCollister continues: ‘Thus we became a species whose helpless newborns must have others on hand for them twenty-four hours a day, preeminently the mother due to her ability to breastfeed …the bonding between mother and child…lays the foundation for future growth…Our evolution has resulted in a species whose infants can’t thrive without continual, loving attention. Here, then, is the clue to raising fewer unhappy, alienated, violent youth for jail fodder…Every human infant must have unconditional love; without it, an infant’s health and growth will be stunted… Anthropologists, neurologists, child psychiatrists, and all other researchers into child development unequivocally agree and have sought for decades to alert society.
For example: …Ashley Montagu (anthropologist): “The prolonged period of infant dependency produces interactive behavior of a kind which in the first two years or so of the child’s life determines the primary pattern of his subsequent social development.” Alfred Adler (psychiatrist): “It may be readily accepted that contact with the mother is of the highest importance for the development of human social feeling…” Selma Fraiberg (child psychologist): A baby without solid nurturing “is in deadly peril, robbed of his humanity.”…George Wald (biologist): “We are no longer taking good care of our young…” Ian Suttie (psychoanalyst): “…The infant mind…is dominated from the beginning by the need to retain the mother—a need which, if thwarted, must produce the utmost extreme of terror and rage.”…James Prescott (neuropsychologist): Monkey juveniles “deprived of their mothers were at times apathetic, at times hyperactive and given to outbusts of violence…showed behavioral disturbances accompanied by brain damage…” Richard M. Restak (neurologist): “Scientists at several pediatric research centers across the country are now convinced that failure of some children to grow normally is related to disturbed patterns of parenting.” Sheila Kippley (La Leche League): “It is obvious that nature intended mother and baby to be one…”
In the face of such overwhelming, unanimous testimony, can we doubt that we are failing our children? The dismal truth is that, on the whole, babies received more and better care 25,000 years ago, 250,000 years ago, even 2.5 million years ago, than many do today…To correct this, we must first recognize that, while both parents play vital roles in an infant’s development, the mother—like it or not—is the primary caregiver. Biologically, that’s how the system works. And such an immeasurably important task cannot be sustainably carried out in her “spare time.”…Humanity was geared for females to cherish offspring in the womb, bond with them at birth, and lavish love on them at the breast. It isn’t sexist to esteem motherhood. It is sexist to trivialize it…Grasping the connection between negligent infant care and adolescent violence…we are obliged to act…Alienated, with low self-esteem, pessimistic about the future, in schools that don’t educate, the children who should be our hope for the future instead drink, smoke, take drugs, get pregnant, commit suicide, and commit crimes which land them in our awful jails.’
For all her exceptional sensibility and right-thinking, McCollister hasn’t delved to the bottom of the problem and asked the question screaming to be addressed: ‘but why have humans stopped loving their infants?’ There may be a legitimate reason for why and without that reason understood all efforts to properly nurture children may be futile. In fact, as has been emphasised, there is a legitimate reason why nurturing has been so compromised, and the understanding of that reason, namely the unavoidable and necessary Page 37 of
Print Edition battle between intellect and instinct that emerged during humanity’s adolescence (to be explained in Part 4), is the only way that the disrupting battle can subside and nurturing be given the consideration it requires.
Of course the imposition of this battle between our instinct and intellect has repercussions beyond that of impairing a mother’s ability to focus on the nurturing of her infants. Since this battle only emerged some 2 million years ago, and only became intense in the latter part of those 2 million years, the great majority of human history was spent living cooperatively. This means infants now enter the world firstly expecting it to be one of gentleness and love, and secondly with almost no instinctive expectation of encountering a massively upset, embattled world. It is the extreme contrast between our species’ instinctive memory of a harmonious, happy, all-loving world, and our species’ more recent massively embattled, angry and egocentric world, that makes the shock infants must experience entering the world now so psychologically damaging. We have been living in denial of both the truth that our ancestors lived in a state of total love and that we are currently living in a state of near complete corruption of the ideal instinctive world of our soul. As a result of these two denials we haven’t been aware of how devastating it must be for infants to encounter our world. The whole issue of the extreme innocence of children and extreme lack of it in adults needs to be taken into account when thinking about childhood. Playwright Samuel Beckett was only slightly exaggerating the brevity today of a truly soulful, happy, innocent, human condition-free life when he wrote, ‘They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more’ (Waiting for Godot, 1955). To describe the shock effect of innocence’s encounter with our human condition-afflicted, upset, corrupt, alienated, selfish, angry, false world, psychiatrist R.D. Laing borrowed the words of the 19th century French poet Stéphane Mallarmé: ‘L’enfant abdique son extase’, ‘To adapt to this world the child abdicates its ecstasy’ (The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise, 1967, p.118 of 156).
It should also be pointed out that except for one reference to ‘unconditional love’, McCollister’s account of the importance of nurturing makes no mention of the training in altruism and resulting morality that is the true purpose and significance of nurturing. The love-indoctrination process is not recognised; it is in fact being blatantly denied for it is an insight readily deduced from the information presented. Such is the extent of the denial/alienation in the human make-up now. As novelist Aldous Huxley once said about the insecurity of our human condition, ‘We don’t know because we don’t want to know’ (Ends and Means, 1937, p.270).
Without the understanding necessary to ameliorate that insecurity, it has been psychologically unsafe to acknowledge the importance of nurturing as both an instinctive expectation, and as the creator of our sense of morality. Admitting to our inability to adequately relate and be affectionate to our children, as McCollister bravely does, is confronting enough in itself, let alone having to face the truth of the integrative, cooperative ideal state that children’s instinctive selves expect. There is guilt enough in just attempting to be a loving parent without also having to face the truths of integrative meaning, our integratively-orientated, ideal-world-aware soul, and our own corrupted condition. Children and the issue of nurturing have the potential to expose us terribly. The quotes included in this section about the importance of nurturing are amongst the bravest that exist on this subject and even they comply with this position of avoiding the real significance of nurturing, which is the training of altruism.
With the arrival of the dignifying and thus liberating understanding of why humans become so preoccupied and corrupted (see Part 4) all focus will be able to return to nurturing. When this occurs, those brave (or, depending on how you look at it, reckless) books that did at least acknowledge its importance will prove particularly useful.
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Print Edition One particular example of a work that discusses the importance of nurturing and the psychological impact of the failure to do so is Thinking About Children, the 1996 compilation of the extremely honest writings of the renowned child psychiatrist D.W. Winnicott: ‘There are certain difficulties that arise when primitive things are being experienced by the baby that depend not only on inherited personal tendencies but also on what happens to be provided by the mother. Here failure spells disaster of a particular kind for the baby. At the beginning the baby needs the mother’s full attention…in this period the basis for mental health is laid down [p.212 of 343]…the essential feature [in a baby’s development] is the mother’s capacity to adapt to the infant’s needs through her healthy ability to identify with the baby. With such a capacity she can, for instance, hold her baby, and without it she cannot hold her baby except in a way that disturbs the baby’s personal living process [p.222].’
In 1967 psychologist Bruno Bettelheim wrote an extremely confronting book about autism, which he titled The Empty Fortress in reference to some (in truth all) mothers’ inability to provide a secure and loving environment for their offspring. He also coined the term ‘refrigerator mothers’ for the cold-heartedness of what we can now understand (see Part 4) is all humans’ unavoidable, human condition-afflicted, immensely alienated state.
In his brave 1970 book, The Primal Scream, world leading psychologist Arthur Janov dealt head-on with the consequences of parents’ inability to love their children with anything like the amount of love children received before the intruding battle of the human condition emerged. Note the acknowledgment of the extent of the denial that sets in to cope with becoming extremely corrupted. ‘Anger is often sown by parents who see their children as a denial of their own lives. Marrying early and having to sacrifice themselves for years to demanding infants and young children are not readily accepted by those parents who never really had a chance to be free and happy [p.327 of 444]…neurotic parents are antifeeling, and how much of themselves they have had to cancel out in order to survive is a good index of how much they will attempt to cancel out in their children [p.77]…there is unspeakable tragedy in the world…each of us being in a mad scramble away from our personal horror. That is why neurotic parents cannot see the horror of what they are doing to their children, why they cannot comprehend that they are slowly killing a human being [p.389]…A young child cannot understand that it is his parents who are troubled…He does not know that it is not his job to make them stop fighting, to be happy, free or whatever…If he is ridiculed almost from birth, he must come to believe that something is wrong with him [p.60]…Neurosis begins as a means of appeasing neurotic parents by denying or covering certain feelings in hopes that “they” will finally love him [p.65]…a child shuts himself off in his earliest months and years because he usually has no other choice [p.59]…When patients [in primal therapy] finally get down to the early catastrophic feeling [the ‘primal scream’] of knowing they were unloved, hated, or never to be understood—that epiphanic feeling of ultimate aloneness—they understand perfectly why they shut off [p.97]…Some of us prefer the neurotic never-never land where nothing can be absolutely true because it can lead us away from other personal truths which hurt so much. The neurotic has a personal stake in the denial of truth [p.395]’.
It is worth including the following quote to illustrate how the human condition—the ‘personal stake [very many humans have] in the denial of truth’—has manifested itself in mechanistic science. In his 1989 book, Peacemaking Among Primates, Frans de Waal records: ‘For some scientists it was hard to accept that monkeys may have feelings. In [the 1979 book] The Human Model…[authors] Harlow and Mears describe the following strained meeting: “Harlow used the term ‘love’, at which the psychiatrist present countered with the word ‘proximity’. Harlow then shifted to the word ‘affection’, with the psychiatrist again countering with ‘proximity’. Harlow started to simmer, but relented when he realized that the closest the psychiatrist had probably ever come to love was proximity.” ’
In his 2002 book They F*** You Up: How to Survive Family Life, child psychologist Oliver James acknowledges that ‘Our first six years play a critical role in shaping who we are as Page 39 of
Print Edition adults’, and says ‘One of our greatest problems is our reluctance to accept a relatively truthful account of ourselves and our childhoods, as the polemicist and psychoanalyst Alice Miller pointed out’ (Intro), and that ‘believing in genes [as the cause of psychoses] removes any possibility of “blame” falling on parents’ (ch.1).
The following dialogue from the 1989 film Parenthood illustrates how our near total inability to be honest has impaired any advance in science: Counsellor: ‘He’s a very bright, very aware, extremely tense little boy who is only likely to get tenser in adolescence. He needs some special attention.’ Karen: ‘It’s because he was first.’ Counsellor: ‘Hm?’ Karen: ‘It’s because he was our first. I think we were very tense when Kevin was little. I mean, if he got a scratch, we were hysterical. By the third kid, you know, you let him juggle knives.’ Counsellor: ‘On the other hand, Kevin may have been like this in the womb. Recent studies indicate that these things are all chemical.’ Gil: ‘[points at Karen] She smoked grass.’ Karen: ‘Gil! I never smoked when I was pregnant…Will you give me a break?’ Gil: ‘But maybe it affected your chromosomes.’ Counsellor intervening: ‘You should not look on the fact that Kevin will be going to a special school as any kind of failure on your part.’ Gil: ‘Right, I’ll blame the dog.’
The last word on the importance of nurturing is best left to Olive Schreiner who, in her extraordinarily honest 1883 book The Story of an African Farm, wrote: ‘They say women have one great and noble work left them, and they do it ill…We bear the world, and we make it. The souls of little children are marvellously delicate and tender things, and keep for ever the shadow that first falls on them, and that is the mother’s or at best a woman’s. There was never a great man who had not a great mother—it is hardly an exaggeration. The first six years of our life make us; all that is added later is veneer…The mightiest and noblest of human work is given to us, and we do it ill’ (p.193 of 301).
The hitherto unacknowledged, unexplained and all-important, guilt-lifting reason why women have only been able to ‘do’ the task of nurturing ‘ill’ is because of the unavoidable and necessary intrusion of the battle of the human condition (see Part 4). Now, with the arrival of this immensely overdue ameliorating understanding, it becomes a matter of great urgency and priority that humanity returns to focusing on the nurturing of its infants.
To come back to the theme of this documentary proposal, we can see that the insecurity about our corrupted human condition was the missing element in resolving a debate about a critically important question concerning our existence; in this case, the importance of nurturing in the maturation of humanity and in our own lives.