The Civilizing Meme

I need to apologize right now. This is not likely to stand on its own, and I am sure to publish it before I complete the thought, that seems to be how I work these days. This is for those who are familiar with me, for people who have been following me on this train of thought already. For the rest, I promise to create a longer version eventually, one that places this in some context. I’ll set the scene in a form of shorthand here, but the setup needs to be longer than a blog, so that’s what I’m sorry for, the format, that it means to get me, you’ve got to read more than one, that I’m stuck trying to force you to read regularly. You have my empathy; I don’t love being subject to that sort of marketing bullshit either.

Having said that, I’ve had another tiny insight regarding what I’m terming the “consequences meme,” the story we tell ourselves about why we owe our children the consequences of their mistakes and transgressions. My proposition has been that the consequences (punishments, aversives – often beatings) create our antisocialization, not any “positive” socialization, that our consequences make us crazy and violent, the “deep roots of war” creature, as opposed to the idea that the consequences civilize us by a form of aversion therapy. Sorry again: that was the background section. Pinker’s right, once you know something, it’s nearly impossible to understand what it would take to learn it from scratch. It’s in my blog, though, in long form, me figuring it out.

Today’s idea is just the other side of one I’ve been going on about. I’ve said many times that evidence for the civilizing effects of our consequences is lacking while evidence for the effects of abuse are myriad – but that was always a one generation conversation. It has occurred to me that second generation evidence is also lacking and that is suggestive of no epigenetic response to match with this civilizing idea.

I’ve said so often I’m starting to lose trust in it, is the idea of the unevolved beast within, that evolution bears Christian original sin out, the idea that we are animals and need to be civilized, hands on, one at a time – this shows up as support for the consequences meme. To be clear, I do not find these ideas to be causative of our child-rearing behaviours, I find them to be effects also, and the common cause of them all to be our need, or our perceived need to raise our children with a bad attitude, as soldiers for our group, always ready to offend or defend.

Now, during all those years that we were laughing at Lamarck, this appeared to skewer him, that we have beaten our children for millennia and still, they never started showing up pre-civilized. Clearly, nothing we did cradle to grave, other than choosing our mates, changed the genome in that scenario. (This idea has been slated for decommissioning, but these things take time.) Of course,  Lamarck is getting his comeuppance now, turns out he was right – not regarding everything, I mean every trait, but he was right about some stuff, so he was right, at least in terms of a few generations. I don’t think he declared it worked with everything, did he? The language has changed, of course, and today’s answers aren’t necessarily matched to yesterday’s questions. I also don’t suppose Lamarck ever said beating children civilized them, probably not explicitly anyhow, but that seems to be what people think, so that’s the environment he was wrong in.

Of course, epigenetic effects, environmental control of gene expressions, these are the environment he’s correct in, but there’s another thing: he couldn’t ever have been right in an environment where beatings civilize their recipients, because we have been testing that for a long time, maybe for as long as we’ve been human by most definitions. That isn’t really working out. Oh, I know, Angels of our Better Natures and all, we have made some improvements – but it probably wasn’t hundreds of generations of beatings that did it, considering what a single generation of beatings seems to do. This is my present proposition:

That if beatings civilized us, that would be an epigenetic effect, and we would expect some long-term evidence like the second-generation effects of things like the Dutch Hunger Winter babies and their offspring, some lingering “civilization” across a generation or three that without intervention would fade out to some primal brutality, but that wouldn’t require an initiation with every child in every generation, forever. Of course, that is the socialization researchers’ long, unproductive search, isn’t it? All the evidence is for the other side, abuse, rough treatment, and the rather dependable results those things bring. As to full blown Lamarckian evolution, the creation of permanent heritable traits, for that, I’ll defer to better minds. Have we gotten from epigenetics to permanence yet? Not that I’ve heard so far. So maybe the discipline we bring to our kids isn’t the full initiation. It’s probably more like maintenance, keeps us forever in the second generation, epigenetically biased for the consequences. (Forever in the second generation. See https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2017/04/28/its-a-childs-world/ )

Anecdotally, I’ve observed a sort of pendulum effect in parenting, some children of cruel parents swing to using a very light hand and some of us who were left on our own to a degree may wish to exercise more control as a response, with their own children, adding up to a possible generational see-saw along a spectrum of strictness or control, perhaps of violence. It may be possible to view first-generation gentle parents as having indeed been civilized by their rough parents if we can view the second or multi-generational rough or more controlling parents as having been antisocialized by their rough parents, and then the question is, what are the proportions? How many respond with tradition and how many rebel? This may tell us which is the more powerful operant, the civilizing one or the antisocializing force of the consequences. For a clue, something upwards of eighty-seven percent of American parents self-report the use of corporal punishment, specifically, spanking. Self-report.

The second proposition, already stated, is that there will then be some multi-generational effects to see from the true effect, that beatings enhance violence rather than attenuate it. I believe these Dutch Hunger Winter baby second and beyond generation sort of effects have indeed been documented with abuse. If there are epigenetic changes being made along these lines, and there are, then this also is an environment where Lamarck is correct, and the news isn’t only good for him. The man’s laughable at the time optimism, his pie in the sky suggestion, that we are self-actualized creatures, capable of directing our own evolution in ways, this is romantic crap when all children require to be beaten civilized, clearly. But in the real world?

Self-actualized is not just what we can be, but what we perhaps have always been. I mean, we could be better, but the good news is we really could; it’s in our power. In the real world where fathers beat their sons to toughen them up and the sons volunteer for the army, the actual world where abuse is causatively correlated with violent crime in the most robust way – this is proof that our natures are in our own power to change. In that world he’s right, intergenerationally, if not permanently.

Romantic optimism and all!

I know, I’m surprised too. I never dreamed I could talk myself into believing anything so potentially positive, but, well . . . there it is.

(I bring scientists and you bring a rock star. – “John Hammond,” Jurassic Park.)

 

 

 

Jeff

July 25th., 2017

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One thought on “The Civilizing Meme

  1. Jeff/neighsayer July 28, 2017 / 7:47 am

    ” . . . that we are self-actualized creatures, capable of directing our own evolution in ways, this is romantic crap when all children require to be beaten civilized, clearly. But in the real world?

    I’ve just been reading, to see how it is that I’ve completely missed my own point in this one, and so far, it’s not bad. I did take an extra day, maybe the first repair was enough this time – but I do have an observation. This bit here, this could easily break down to “romantic crap when we are still religious in our approach and we are all born sinners, clearly. But if we believe in evolution?”

    Like

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