Front page
Silflay Hraka?

Bigwig is a systems administrator at a public university
Hrairoo is the proprietor of a quality used bookstore
Kehaar is.
Woundwort is a professor of counseling at a private university

The Hraka RSS feed

bigwig AT

Friends of Hraka
Daily Pundit
cut on the bias
Meryl Yourish
This Blog Is Full Of Crap
Winds of Change
A Small Victory
Silent Running
Dr. Weevil
Little Green Footballs
Fragments from Floyd
The Feces Flinging Monkey
the skwib
Dean's World
Little Tiny Lies
The Redsugar Muse
Natalie Solent
From the Mrs.
The Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler
On the Third Hand
Public Nuisance
Not a Fish
Electric Venom
Skippy, The Bush Kangaroo
Common Sense and Wonder
Neither Here Nor There
The Greatest Jeneration
Ipse Dixit
Blog On the Run
Redwood Dragon
Greeblie Blog
Have A Cuppa Tea
A Dog's Life
Iberian Notes
Midwest Conservative Journal
A Voyage to Arcturus
Trojan Horseshoes
In Context
The People's Republic of Seabrook
Country Store
Blog Critics
Chicago Boyz
Hippy Hill News
Kyle Still Free Press
The Devil's Excrement
The Fat Guy
War Liberal
Assume the Position
Balloon Juice
Iron Pen In A Velvet Glove
Freedom Lives
Where Worlds Collide
Knot by Numbers
How Appealing
South Knox Bubba
Heretical Ideas
The Kitchen Cabinet
Bo Cowgill
Raving Atheist
The Short Strange Trip
Shark Blog
Ron Bailey's Weblog
Cornfield Commentary
Northwest Notes
The Blog from the Core
The Talking Dog
WTF Is It Now??
Blue Streak
Smarter Harper's Index
nikita demosthenes
Bloviating Inanities
Sneakeasy's Joint
Ravenwood's Universe
The Eleven Day Empire
World Wide Rant
All American
The Rant
The Johnny Bacardi Show
The Head Heeb
Viking Pundit
Oscar Jr. Was Here
Just Some Poor Schmuck
Katy & Bruce Loebrich
But How's The Coffee?
Roscoe Ellis
Sasha Castel
Susskins Central Dispatch
Josh Heit
Aaron's Rantblog
As I was saying...
Blog O' Dob
Dr. Frank's Blogs Of War
Betsy's Page
A Knob for Brightness
Fresh Bilge
The Politburo Diktat
Drumwaster's rants
Curt's Page
The Razor
An Unsealed Room
The Legal Bean
Helloooo chapter two!
As I Was Saying...
SkeptiLog AGOG!
Tong family blog
Vox Beth
I was thinking
Judicious Asininity
This Woman's Work
Fragrant Lotus
Single Southern Guy
Jay Solo's Verbosity
Snooze Button Dreams
You Big Mouth, You!
From the Inside looking Out
Night of the Lepus
No Watermelons Allowed
From The Inside Looking Out
Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics
Suburban Blight
The SmarterCop
Dog of Flanders
From Behind the Wall of Sleep
Beaker's Corner
Bad State of Gruntledness
Who Tends The Fires
Granny Rant
Elegance Against Ignorance
Say What?
Blown Fuse
Wait 'til Next Year
The Pryhills
The Whomping Willow
The National Debate
The Skeptician
Zach Everson
Geekward Ho
Life in New Orleans
Rotten Miracles
The Biomes Blog
See What You Share
Blog d’Elisson
Your Philosophy Sucks
Watauga Rambler
Socialized Medicine
Verging on Pertinence
Read My Lips
The Flannel Avenger
Butch Howard's WebLog
Castle Argghhh!
Andrew Hofer
Moron Abroad
White Pebble
Darn Floor
Pajama Pundits
Goddess Training 101
A & W
Medical Madhouse
Slowly Going Sane
The Oubliette
American Future
Right Side Redux
See The Donkey
Newbie Trucker
The Right Scale
Running Scared
Ramblings Journal
Focus On Reality
Wyatt's Torch

May 20, 2004

Sowing The Seeds

Ritual sacrifice in Pre-Inca Peru.

Holding up the remains of a 2-year-old boy, British archeologist Lawrence Owens said: "The position of the body and the remains of his feces indicate he tried unsuccessfully to free himself from the burial bundle and was buried alive."

Back when he still possessed a residual amount of cool from his time with the Police, Sting wrote a song called "Russians" containing the trite yet apparently unforgettable lyric "Believe me when I say to you/I hope the Russians love their children too."

Obviously, as the entry above shows, some cultures demonstrably don't "love their children too," at least not in any way comprehensible to the Western mind.

When it comes right down to it, I don't want to comprehend the type of mind that sees burying a live child in a burlap sack as an acceptable act, of love or something else. I'd rather shoot that mind right between the eyes, untie the sack, give the kid a lollipop and remove him and his peers from the poisoned society some would have the gall to term a "culture."

Yet any study of the history of children in the West would reveal atrocities equally as shocking.

Throughout history children have been abused, battered, and abandoned. The record is so dismal that the history of childhood becomes "a nightmare from which we have only recently begun to awaken," writes psychoanalyst Lloyd de Mause. "The further back in history one goes, the lower the level of child care, the more likely children are to be killed, abandoned, beaten, terrorized, and sexually abused." Infanticide was a regular practice in antiquity and only recognized as murder in 374 A.D. The practice continued throughout the Middle Ages and into modern times. Even in aristocratic families children were neglected and abused through much of human history. Swaddled in infancy, abandoned to wet-nurses, reared by tutors who regarded regular beating as a salutary mode of instruction--the childhood experiences of even the privileged classes resemble existence in Hobbes' state-of-nature, a place where life was "short, brutish, and nasty." Until the 18th century, about 80 percent of all children would probably be classified as "battered children." In amassing his psychohistories, Lloyd de Mause has found not one life of a child dating from before 1690 in which the child had not been beaten. Spare-the-rod-and-spoil-the-child was a prescription taken seriously by parents, teachers, and caretakers. A child who was not beaten would be idle or vain, a likely candidate for the devil's tutelage. John Wesley, who believed "idle hands are the devil's workshop," also thought that "play is unbecoming in a Christian child," a conviction which happily dovetailed with the needs of the industrialists of his day for the dexterous fingers of child spinners. Laslett reminds us that it was John Locke, an authority on children's learning, who declared in 1697 that it was entirely fitting for the children of the poor to be put out to work at the age of three.

Why was Western society so uncaring of those who would be its future? For the most part, because the thought that one's children would live even to the age of two was a fool's hope.

What can only strike a modern observer as utter callousness toward children was probably a result of the psychic "numbing" produced by the horrifying facts of child mortality. While there are few accurate statistics for child mortality in the preindustrial world, there is evidence that as many as 30 percent of all children died before they were 14 days old. Few families survived intact. All parents expected to bury some of their children and they found it difficult to invest emotionally in such a tenuous existence as a newborn child. "I have lost two or three," wrote Montaigne, "not without regret, but without grief." When the loss of a child was commonplace, parents protected themselves from the emotional consequences of the death by refusing to make an emotional commitment to the infant. How else can we explain mothers who call the infant "it," or leave dying babies in gutters, or mention the death of a child in the same paragraph with a reference to pickles? Even educated parents routinely forgot the names, numbers, and ages of their offspring, and it was common practice to name a newborn child with the name of a deceased sibling. The name was the thing, not the child. There was no sense that each child was a unique being, with a unique identity, symbolized by a name which was given to that child alone.

In order for parents to perceive children as unique beings, the parent had to see the child as a potential adult. The parent had to believe that the baby would live. The parent also had to believe that the child could be shaped, that the child was not inherently evil, but capable of growth, and responsive to nurture. When this transformation took place, the child was "discovered," and childhood began to be seen as a distinct period in human development.

Seen in the context of the paragraphs above, the high regard Western culture has for children at this moment in time is not so much a reflection of the quality of the love that we hold for our children as compared to earlier eras, but of the quantities of hopes and dreams we can invest in each one due to the relative safety in which we can now raise them.

One might speculate that in 30 year's time, given a constant rate of increase in our knowledge of disease, western society will value the children of that day even more than we do now. It's not that the future civilization will have more love for its children than ours does, as if the concept of "love" is quantifiable, but it will be able to invest more resources in its children, secure in the knowledge that such an investment is the safest it has ever been, just as our investment is now. As a consequence of that environment, future parents will cast a very jaded eye indeed on some of the child-rearing practices of today.

Doubtful? Let's use my parents as an example. Thirty-some years ago, when I was a preschooler, my mother and father childproofed the backseat of the family car by throwing a couple of pillows and a blanket or two onto the floorboard. I, and later my brothers, spent the long, multi-day trips to Mississippi and back protected by nothing other than goose down and bed linens.

No responsible parent would even consider doing such a thing today, and an irresponsible one would be arrested--yet somehow I doubt that the Sainted Wife and I love our kids more than my parents loved theirs.

I don't know which of our practices in particular will be frowned upon. If I did, I'd be busily investing rather than writing this, had I any money to begin with. All of this was more or less preparatory text to answering a question Jonah Goldberg asked and then more or less dodged a while ago, which is "Do the Muslims love their children, too?" He also pulls quotes from Sting's "Russians", which says something about the ubiquity of that lyric.

Of course Muslims, as a generic category, love their children too. Of course "We share the same biology / Regardless of ideology." But that gets us nowhere. We are not threatened by anyone's biology. We are, however, threatened by an ideology which is running rampant in the Arab world and which, like that of the Soviets, radically differs from our own. It glorifies death and rewards the taking of innocent life. If you don't feel strongly enough about your own value system to "judge" this opposing view, that's fine. But you are either a coward or a fool.

If the Muslims "of course" love their children too, then a follow-up question needs to be asked, the same one we would ask the Pre-Incan father and mother who bagged up their son before burying him, were they still available and not bleeding all that much.

"If you love your children, if your society loves its children, why are you killing them?"

"If your society loves its children, why does it bury them alive?"

"If your society loves its children, why are they sent out to demonstrate in a war zone, or to blow themselves up on a bus?

The answer I think lies partially in the idea of psychic numbness quoted above. Not all Muslim parents willingly sacrifice their children, but the ones that do live in societies that are bereft of one of the most basic qualities needed to cherish children--hope. They've been numbed by decades of rule by corrupt oligarchs at best and sadistic murderers at worst, the oppression of a fundamentalist strain of Islam and economies so decrepit that the average Eastern European would turn up his nose at them.

The Palestinians are the prototypical example of a people without hope, stuck as they have been for 40 years in a war zone created by a struggle between their murderous, corrupt leadership and a people defending their very existence. Fatah and Hamas won't surrender--the very basis of their claim to authority rests on violence. Israel can't, lest a second Holocaust afflict its citizens. It's no wonder 70% of the Palestinians support the suicide bombers. Life is cheap to begin with in the Middle East, and it's at its cheapest in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Palestinians see no future for their children, so that society has embraced an attitude towards child rearing that the West gave up in the 17th century. Much of the rest of the Middle East is no better. For many Arabs, it's not that they don't love their children, it's that they have so little invested in them compared to so much of the rest of the world. Life is cheap to begin with in the Middle East, and it's at it's cheapest in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Similar situations exist in other places; Sudan, The Congo, North Korea, just to name a few, but most of those regions don't get nearly the media coverage that the Middle East does, so we don't hear about the atrocities committed against children in there.

For this to change, hope must be imported, or created, in regions where there was formerly no hope to be found. If for no other reason than that the war is Iraq is important to the West, for it is our first attempt at removing one of the root causes of the lack of hope in the Middle East--the rule of the despot.

As a result, hope is flowering in an area that hasn't known it for an age.

Posted by Bigwig at May 20, 2004 08:57 PM | TrackBack
First time visitor to House Hraka? Wondering if everything we produce could possibly be as brilliant/stupid/evil/pedantic/insipid/inspired as the post you just read? Check out the Hraka Essentials, the (mostly) reader-selected guide to Hraka's best posts, and decide for yourself.

Bravo, Bigwig! You've outdone yourself with this one- easily your best post in some time. Here's hoping it gets the linkage it so richly deserves.

Posted by: Kevin at May 20, 2004 10:14 PM

Excellent post. Quite right in your analysis, I think. I only hope -- no play on words intended -- Iraq plays out that way. But right now I'm less optimistic than you. This is (yet another) case in which I would be absolutely delighted to be wrong.

Posted by: Lex at May 21, 2004 09:47 AM

Nice work! I have read something that helped me see the war in a new perspective. In a sense, this has given me some hope as well. Great job!

Posted by: Mason at May 21, 2004 10:48 AM

There has been discussion along these lines at Baen's Bar since some European country recently suggested that for 30 days after birth infanticide should be legal. Ugh!

That would do a lot to degrade the "march of civilization".

Posted by: meg at May 23, 2004 12:01 PM

Not to hi-jack this thread, but for some reason, this quote:

"In order for parents to perceive children as unique beings, the parent had to see the child as a potential adult."

brought to my mind the abortion issue.

Posted by: cj at May 24, 2004 01:24 AM
Post a comment Note: Comments with more than two dashes per line will be blocked as spam.

Remember personal info?