Thursday, June 2, 2016

Raising Children - A Wrong Turn 10,000 Years Ago.

The depth of research done since I had my experience in 1968 and even more since I wrote the piece 1998 is wonderful.  Much of it is above my pay grade so to speak but the work is available to read and learn. 

The concepts here are of critical importance for having a future.


In 1968, while fishing on the causeway between Miami and Miami Beach, I had an epiphany. I had just finished a BS in anthropology and had studied psychology for many years (and went on later to get a degree, become licensed and practice for 20 years).
I was looking at the skyline of Miami (boy I bet it has changed) and realized that it couldn’t go on. “Civilization” was asking too much of us. We are too separated from nature.  We are too pack in together.  Our original child development situation had warped.  Our connection to our brethren had been lost.  We had allowed our hubris and arrogance to blind us to our situation.
In 1972, Limits to Growth came out.  So besides not being healthy for humans psychologically, sociologically or spiritually, we are creating an unsustainable, environmentally devastating and devastated world.
 Then Energy for Survival by Wilson Clark, Energy Basis for Man and Nature by Howard T. Odum and Elisabeth C. Odum, The Fires of Culture by Carol E SteinhartTechnics and Civilization by Lewis Mumford,  Creating Alternative Futures: The End of Economics by Henderson, Hazel.

This comes from an essay I wrote around 1998.
Consider it this way.   If humanity is seen as a person who is 100 years old, the first 99 years of her life would have been spent as gatherer and hunter.  She would have only one year to adapt to the changes in family structure, living arrangements, child rearing and all the other pressures and stresses that the shift to agriculture brought.  This same 100 year old person would have five or six days to adapt to the enormous changes brought about by the industrial revolution.   And less than a day to adapt to the mass of information made available by electronics.
Each adaptation moves us further away from the original social and physical environment of our emergence.  Is it bad or wrong?  This is not the criteria.  There is no fault.  Each accommodation comes from necessity and is the best we know at the time.  At the leading edge of human history is an accumulation that can expand and deepen the knowledge of our travels. It can also cause great confusion and grief.                                                                             


The list of hunting and gathering childrearing traits I had learned in anthropology was one of the underlying reasons for my reaction in 1968.  So I went looking again recently which is one of my ways to understanding.

I was fortunate to find this book when doing an interlibrary search.  Narvaez, Darcia; Panksepp, Jaak; Schore, Alan and Gleason, Tracy.   2013.  Evolution, Early Experience and Human Development.  Oxford.  London.  
Darcua Narvaez listed the experiences of our earlier evolution and development.

•   Lots of positive touch – as in no spanking – but nearly constant carrying, cuddling and holding;
•   Prompt response to baby’s fusses and cries. You can’t “spoil” a baby. This means meeting a child’s needs before they get upset and the brain is flooded with toxic chemicals. “Warm, responsive caregiving like this keeps the infant’s brain calm in the years it is forming its personality and response to the world,” Narvaez says.
•   Breastfeeding, ideally 2 to 5 years. A child’s immune system isn’t fully formed until age 6 and breast milk provides its building blocks.
•   Multiple adult caregivers – people beyond mom and dad who also love the child.
•   Free play with multi-age playmates. Studies show that kids who don’t play enough are more likely to have ADHD and other mental health issues.
•   Natural childbirth, which provides mothers with the hormone boosts that give the energy to care for a newborn.
Ross A. Thompson added in his entry "Adaptations and Adaptations"
·   cosleeping with caregivers
·   Living in social groups (i.e. high social embeddedness)

I wrote Darcia Narvaez and she sent me several of her papers and names of other books. I am interested in researching further the psychological and social result of not having our original childrearing practices.


I think our present political, economic, social, and environmental situations not only here in the USA but also globally in many places is bring home to roost the wrong turn we took some 10,000 years ago.  I think this modification came with horticulture/agriculture and we have become more estranged ever since.   I believe it may well be at the root of our assault on nature and the multiple dilemma that we now face globally.  I also believe the Dumbar number (groups of 200) may have been more critical than we know.  Moving beyond a certain group size undercut social control of individuals and unleashed again our assault via technology on nature.

Consider this:
Insecure attachment. Crittenden (1998) and Fosha (2003) describe three psychological ways in which infants adapt over time to habitual non-responsive caregivers developing forms of insecure attachment: “feeling but not dealing,” “dealing but not feeling,” and “neither feeling nor dealing.” When the caregiver is rejecting or inconsistent, an insecure attachment develops with that caregiver. When caregivers are rejecting of a young child’s overtures for affection or need satisfaction, the child learns to suppress emotion and develops an avoidant attachment (dealing but not feeling). When caregivers are inconsistent in response, the child learns to use affect as a way to get attention and needs met, shutting down cognition (since it is unreliable predictor of caregiver behavior), developing an ambivalent or anxious attachment (feeling but not dealing). When the child is abused, the child does not develop in feeling or thinking and ends up with a disorganized attachment (neither feeling nor dealing). Those with insecure attachment become inflexible and self-centered in social situations—they emotionally withdraw, attack or manipulate.
Narvaez, D.    2014. “Natural Morality, Moral Natures and Human Flourishing.”   In B. Musschenga & A. van Harskamp (Eds.), Why be moral? On the capacities and conditions for being moral. [Springer Library of Ethics and Applied Philosophy] Heidelberg, Germany: Springer.


“Moral Heritage1: Engagement of the Heart”
Narvaez, Darcia; Panksepp, Jaak; Schore, Alan and Gleason, Tracy.   2013.  Evolution, Early Experience and Human Development.  Oxford.  London.

“The companionshop care that children receive in these societies contributes to the capacities for social enjoyment and face-to-face compassionate morality, providing a baseline for what I call an engagement ethic”.  pg. 94

“The engagement ethic comprises capacities such as social pleasure, presence, reverence, sysnchrony and intersubjectivity, empathy, mentalizing and perspective taking.”  pg. 106.

“Presence.  Full emotional presence, or resonance with the Other in the moment, represents one of the key features of the engagement ethic.  Presence is relational attunement to life in the vicinity, encompassingthe sense of connection to all of life.” pg. 96

“Reverent hospitality  .  .  .  .  Reverence is a perception of the phenomina related to a thing or entity, its being-nature” pg. 97

“Synchronized intersubjectivity involves emotional attunement with Other.” .  .  .  .  Our bodies, as social animals, have ‘evolvedsympathetic detection  .  .  . of the motives inherent in one another’s ways of moving’ and our social cooperation ‘depends on this mysterious intersubjective sympathy.”  pg. 98

Empathy is attunement with another’s feeling and needs.   The ability to feel with another – to feel the same emotion – is fundamental to the mammalian mind.  pg. 98

Perspective taking.  Early experience with intersubjectivity facilitates the development of the neurobiological underpinnings for perspective taking or mentalization, the ability to imagine another’s viewpoint and understnd what might be motivating their behavior, a critical capacity for effective human relations.  pgs 99-100.


In addition, I think our original milieu maintained constraint so we maintain an ongoing sustainability:

I believe there are five natural factors that determine and will continue to determine our history and future.
* All life reproduces to the maximum their environment allows(population density).
* All life will use all the resources in its environment to promote its present living (population pressure).
* Much of life manifest an us against them protectionism (even plants release poisons to the soil to protect their territory. This is the convergence of territoriality (which is manifest by all life) and the need to belong for this dependently social animal called human.
* We are immersed in an environment of our own making and our "brilliance" threatens us with unintended consequences (whether agriculture or nuclear power).
* Groups larger than the small group of 30 to 200 people, which is the social environment in which we evolved for a million years, creates power-over and inequality.
These five factors are a natural part of life and being human. For more detailed exposition:


Some Bibliography

Ancestral Landscapes in Human Evolution: Culture, Childrearing and Social Wellbeing (ed. with Valentino, Fuentes, McKenna, & Gray; OUP, 2014)

Narvaez, Darcia; Panksepp, Jaak; Schore, Alan and Gleason, Tracy.   2013.  Evolution, Early Experience and Human Development.  Oxford.  London.  


  1. I have had much the same reaction, living with hunter-gatherers for a time .. made my return to "civilization” a bit of a shock. Since then, Mel Konner wrote a book on The Evolution of Childhood, and I wrote this essay for the evolution institute:

  2. Great thoughts Jon. I found a lot to think about here and also agree this is very important to consider. Thanks for posting it.