. . . yeah, I probably don’t mean that the way you’d think.
This isn’t that the children are our future, or that we are only renting here and giving up our damage deposit when that was supposed to be for them instead. I’m talking, as usual perhaps, about the Nurture Assumption, and today more about the book by Judith Rich Harris than the assumption itself.
Ms. Rich Harris has the most wonderful writing voice. I imagine any man or reasonably flexible woman who has read her has fallen in love; I certainly did. So, the nurture assumption, that we all assume that we mould our children somehow into acceptable adults is the primary proposition in the book, but it is perhaps the second largest point in it that it seems to be our childhood peer group that moulds our personalities instead. Now, I’m ignorantly arrogant and suspicious, so I haven’t quite made my mind up about that bit just yet, there may be more to it, but if it’s true, or mostly true – and it is, at least mostly – then human culture is children’s culture, right? Or rather, human culture is developmentally arrested at some point in childhood.
Ladies, I have to ask – does this strike a chord, a feminist chord? Haven’t you always known you’re up against grown men’s bodies inhabited by the souls of angry young boys?
The basic, aboriginal scenario she described (from many years of reading and writing textbooks on the subject) is a village of sixty to a hundred and sixty people, perhaps three main family lines, and mothers having babies every two or three years – at which point the previous child is weaned and let outside to join the children’s group. Here, we learn and grow, and graduate to have our own children. Adult personality testing shows our grown personalities to show far more conformity with the children’s peer group than with our parents.
Sometimes if we’ve only just heard this, I imagine it takes a second to sink in, but another way to state the scenario Rich Harris describes (I don’t think she put it this way), is this: we are somehow immune to intergenerational learning and we mostly don’t know a thing that every child doesn’t know. Maybe we can learn throughout our lives (I hope so, I’m about to retire and planning to keep trying), but our ability to pass it on to children is severely impeded once we are of breeding age ourselves!
Now, I think that’s a sort of an argument for a general cause to support some vague idea of our adult “children’s culture,” but I have something of my own to add, namely that the means and ways of this “influence” and “socialization” that happens in the children’s group happen to be the same ways and means that parents are so valiantly trying to justify with the nurture assumption: abuse. Abuse in a generic sort of sense, sure, but in all senses.
We can say that parents use rough methods at home and that the children perhaps emulate, or we can say that the parents have only just exited the children’s group where that was the way of life as well, the ways and means of conformity and organization, and that they simply carry on as they always have in the group, albeit with younger children for perhaps the first time. It’s a circle of life sort of thing. Personally, I have chosen to blame the parents for this vicious cycle, because for the most part they are older and closer to some definition of legal responsibility – but also, because we have been trying to get the kids to stop hitting each other for years already and that just isn’t working out! I think we should try stopping the adults, see if that works better.
That was a bit of me, but really, that is the implication of the children’s peer group, has to be, right? That the social pressure during our formative years, that the society this testing shows we conform to is the society of pre-pubescents. There’s a nibble for the biologists in it, too. Part of the theory is that your parents aren’t so likely to beat you to death as the peer group is, because the gene relation is closer, so that we conform to the bigger threat, the more realistic threat. The Nurture Assumption spelled it out graphically in terms of hunter-gatherer warrior societies, where if a boy won’t fight, he is tormented until he either fights back or is killed. One presumes there are very few adult pacifists.
Perhaps it’s not so sad that we are living a life designed and enforced by children because of their inexperience, but rather that the structure of our society is formed from experience that includes a lot of boyish competition and violence. I’m not sure about that, and this is absolutely a thought in progress . . . I’m postulating this, the eternal children’s group and the associated adult “children’s culture” – and a different, first generation adult culture in every generation? Again, we can learn, it’s only that adults can’t teach kids, at least not social things. But the eternal, timeless children’s culture of might is right (and sex doesn’t matter?), the unconscious side of our culture, and the adult side where things change and evolve . . . ?
I think I’ve taken this as far as I can . . .
April 28th., 2017