Meditations Upon Psychohistory: “Whispering Leaves” by Cesar Tort, Part 1
Children have been the garbage bin where the adults dump the unrecognized parts of their psyches. It is expected that the child-garbage bin absorbs the ill moods of her custodians to prevent that the adult feels overwhelmed by her anxieties. If I kill the soul of my daughter I thus kill the naughty girl that once inhabited me.
~El Retor no de Quetzalcoatl, English Translation, (Pages 415-610 of Hojas Susur rantes) by Cesar Tort
Not to be confused with the fictional Psychohistory of Asimov’s Foundation novels.
Some time back I thought about writing a post on the moral imperative of maintaining mental hygiene. The destructive potential of Schedule II personality disorders is something I’ve been interested in since suffering through the abuse and false-accusation of Domestic Violence from a Borderline, and one of the most frightening aspects of the whole ordeal was how long it took for me to regain sanity. Mental illness is infectious, and to maintain moral behaviour we must all be vigilant against the formation of neuroses, regardless of whether they come from the deeply mentally ill, or from the day-to-day stresses of living in our societies (it’s worth noting that these are most likely not distinct phenomenon).
The idea never jelled into a full post because of its brevity. I knew it was connected to the many other topics I write about, but the different elements required a catalyst before they’d react. Tort’s book was that catalyst. In the following essay I plan to quote liberally from him, and expand upon his ideas, rather than simply review his work; suffice to say that I heavily recommend reading it for yourself, and that I’m a great admirer of his blog. Tort is a man who doesn’t shy away from dangerous ideas, but who also understands that reversed stupidity is not intelligence.
So let us move forward and consider the roots of mental illness, its effects upon history, the nature of violence, the theory of Psychohistory, and the implications this has for the present cultural crisis we find ourselves in.
The Ur-Theory of Mental Illness
The classes of Mammalia and Aves are unique amongst life as we know it for their high metabolisms, methods of reproduction, and complex cerebrums; the latter two being distinctively correlated (and possibly requiring the former for functioning). In layman’s terms, we have the “lizard-brain” of fight/flight/eat/fuck, and the “mammal-brain” (or “bird-brain”) of love/nurture/socialize/pair-bond.
Despite separate evolutionary ladders, our brains and our child-psychologies developed in very similar ways.
Our children are born incomplete, half-formed; baby birds, monkeys, and opossums finish gestating outside of the mother, both physically and mentally. The parent-child bond is absolutely critical, hard-wired into us is a need to be protected and loved. The most thorough (and disturbing) investigations into this were performed by psychologist Harry Harlow with his rhesus macaque experiments. While it is common-sensical to notice that abused animals tend to grow up vicious, Harlow demonstrated that early-socialization was mandatory for primates, elsewise they develop severe depression and schizophrenic behaviour patterns. After being raised in isolation for 30 days, six months, or a year, severe social- and sexual-deformity was the result:
Harlow also wanted to test how isolation would affect parenting skills, but the isolates were unable to mate. Artificial insemination had not then been developed; instead, Harlow devised what he called a “rape rack,” to which the female isolates were tied in normal monkey mating posture. He found that, just as they were incapable of having sexual relations, they were also unable to parent their offspring, either abusing or neglecting them. “Not even in our most devious dreams could we have designed a surrogate as evil as these real monkey mothers were,” he wrote. Having no social experience themselves, they were incapable of appropriate social interaction. One mother held her baby’s face to the floor and chewed off his feet and fingers. Another crushed her baby’s head. Most of them simply ignored their offspring.
Being mothered is not optional. It is not merely a matter of providing sustenance. It is absolutely critical for future cognition. Harlow was able to destroy these primates, not through abuse, but through denial of love. While I am unfamiliar with any other experiments upon mammals or birds, cases such as feral children (demonstrating the nurturing instinct of wolves), and the way herring gull chicks tap the red spot on the mother’s beak to be fed – as wells as basic common sense – suggest this is universal amongst the higher-order animals.
And yet there is a major divide between humans and the rest of the primates. In other animals, child-rearing is a distinct phase with a distinct end. In the movie Cool Hand Luke, his mother says to him:
Sometimes I wish that people was like dogs, Luke. Comes a time, a day like, when the bitch just don’t recognize her pups no more, so she don’t have no hopes nor love to bring her pain. She just don’t give a damn.
~Arletta, Cool Hand Luke
Anybody who’s familiar with animal breeding can attest to this; my parents have a pair of pure-bred golden labs, a mother and a daughter, and it’s notable how completely absent the mother-daughter bond is between them. The daughter is the more dominant of the two, and she takes on the Alpha role without reservation. Past weaning, the parental bond disappears in other animals, including primates (suggestive evidence of which we will get to in a later post).
Contrast to humans where things are utterly different. First off is the mere length of parental-dependence; at the very minimum humans require twelve years before they’re able to function independently, and recent neurological evidence can arguably push full mental adulthood into the mid-twenties. Not only does this extended-period provide more opportunity for error, the child-rearing in our species is so remarkably complex, (multiple stages, each requiring a different sort of input) that if any one stage is mis-performed, future neuroses result.
The second difference of note is that the parent-child bond in our species never disappears. Possibly a result of our neotenous tendencies, even as elders we sill crave the relationship we had with our deceased parents. In other species the parental bond falls away like baby teeth, in ours we never stop being our parents’ children.
Thus we come to the ur-theory of mental illness in humanity. In other species parenthood is largely binary – six months of being fed and socialized will result in a mentally well-adapted animal. In humans this bond is so foundational to our identity, that there are a myriad of ways in which it might go wrong. Mental illness – outside of the rare instances of genetic or environmental damage (e.g. Wilson Disease or Foetal Alcohol Syndrome) – are caused by social abuse during childhood, be it parental or societal.
Attachment to the Perpetrator & The Locus of Control Shift
Blaming the vast majority of mental illness on parental abuse engenders the knee-jerk response of: “Things are tough all around – get over it!” This may be a good attitude to embody, but it can blind one to the full social and historical implications of mental illness.
Neither myself nor Tort bring this up out of a masochistic excuse for failure, anymore than looking at the childhoods of serial killers excuses their crimes.
The second challenge of such a statement is that it claims that the myriad of mental illnesses we see derive from one particular mechanism; bold as this might be, it is the natural conclusion which we must draw.
All mammalian babies are utterly dependent upon their mothers for survival; thus the immediate need for imprinting. In humans this happens even more so, and in the cases of abusive parents the result is “Attachment to the perpetrator.” Tort quotes Dr Colin Ross to explain:
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.
~Dr Colin Ross, The Trauma Model: A Solution to the Problem of Comorbidity in Psychiatry
On top of the immediate requirements for survival, there is information and identity. Children not only believe whatever they’re told, but they also require an ego-identity to subscribe to – we have a need of agency. Without an ego-identity, without a developed sense of agency, neuroses and schizophrenia are the result.
Children raised in a stable and loving environment grow to understand their own agency; deny them love and stability, and their primal need for agency will lead them to become deluded on the matter. This is known as the “locus of control shift.”
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 magic al 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 haveto 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].
…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.
~Dr Colin Ross, The Trauma Model: A Solution to the Problem of Comorbidity in Psychiatry
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 [the founder of Psychohistory Theory], 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.
- Mammals and Birds evolved for complex child-parent relationships, these are a neurological necessity
- Humans take this to the next level, our extensive childhoods and complex cognition require far more than just love and nutrition
- Failure to receive these psychological necessities is the foundation of all neuroses
- These neuroses, by their very nature, are memetically heritable from parent-to-child, down the familial line
So far we’ve largely been quoting and summarizing. Next time we’ll explore the social and historical implications of this, as well as the claims made by deMause’s Psychohistory, the nature of violence, the societal crises which result from improved mental-health, how this relates to Strauss & Howe’s generational cycle, and how this relates to the modern reactionary challenges of Feminism, Democracy, Marxism, and general social degeneracy.