When we finally caught pregnant and made it past the first three months, we decided we were on our way, and we set up a bedroom for the baby. We cleaned a room, painted it, and found a nice crib – but before the baby arrived, we had changed our minds. We’d been thinking and talking a lot about raising children, and it had occurred to us that no animal on earth except Homo Sapiens Sapiens puts their infants away from them like that, out of arms’ reach, especially down the hallway in another room. Just imagine our closest primate relatives, the chimpanzees or bonobos having a separate nest for their babies, where they would be easy pickings for predators of all sorts! We had learned to see that idea as counter-intuitive at best, completely unnatural in the mid-range, and a total set-up for even the worst kinds of abuse – privacy for any horrible act by anyone –in the worst case. We placed the crib against our bed, with the bedside wall taken off. We became a ‘family bed’ family, and remained as one for longer than we ever would have imagined, long past what was to be a lengthy nursing period. It was just the most natural, most loving, and the safest thing to do.
I don’t know when it hit me exactly. I know it came out of what I’ve called ‘the many problems’ in the first few chapters, the umpteen sorts of failed childhoods that people spend their lives recovering from and my suspicion that everyone is suffering that sort of pain, even those who can’t claim one of the popular abuse syndromes. There was something else, too. It was the disenchantment of growing up, the feeling of having been lied to – well, that’s too strong, but I never have been free of a certain childish judgement that life was not what it should be. As a young man, I read about Maya, the world of illusion, in “The Glass Bead Game” the Hermann Hesse novel, and some yoga book, and it struck a chord in me. I think I’ve always seen two worlds at once, the world we have and the one we only say we have. I think in the one we say we have, children are loved, the policeman is your friend, the western world is full of functional democracies, and there are good people and bad people. In that world, we can change the bad people by hurting them.
In the world we have, however, hurting people only hurts them.
In the world we really have, punishing people only hurts them. Punishing people has all the negative effects that abusing them has, and that is our state of affairs, that is what has happened to very nearly all of us. This was my epiphany. Punishment is abuse, only legitimate: abuse with an excuse.