by LLOYD DEMAUSE
OF THE AMERICAN
History is, indeed , a stage.
The playwright, she stayed home.
What caused America? What was it that changed a group of totalitarian, bigoted, head-hunting and witch-hunting Englishmen into a nation of fiercely independent Yankees in but one century? In a world accustomed to glacially slow change in historical personality, what sudden shift of psychic forces cracked open the frozen feudal mask of European man and released the powerful individualism which fashioned the world's first modern democracy?(1) Something new had happened to the human personality in America - - Condorcet thought Americans had "stepped out of history", Turgot called them "the hope of the human race" - many agreed on what happened. But what caused it?
Historians over the past 200 years have answered this question with a single theme: trees caused America. Trees, and all that open space, giving the American colonists the freedom to start anew, substituting an institutionless American simplicity for the hierarchical European complexity they left behind.(2) Unfortunately, there are two problems with this environmental
thesis. The first is that the most important social institutions were brought over to America intact - in the heads of the colonists - and two generations after the first Puritans landed New England was as totalitarian, hierarchical and intolerant as anywhere in Europe. Despite all those trees. And the second problem is that if trees, open space and a fresh start could produce democratic men, why didn't it do so in Brazfl or Mexico, or in Siberia for that matter?
The biggest problem with discussing causality with historians is their inevitable assumption that "historical events" are caused by prior "historical events." That is the reason why most historical explanation to date has been essentially narrative: America was caused by an historical event, the encounter of the colonists with Nature. But in fact the initial methodological assumption is mistaken; scientifically, no historical action ever commits a human group to any future action, so it can never be its cause. Pearl Harbor did not cause our war with Japan, because we could have chosen not to retaliate, if we were only different. Any scientific description of the cause of adult historical events must first of all include the formation of the historical personalities involved. including their formation during childhood. The scientific meaning of the question "What caused America?" thus turns out to be similar to that of the question "What caused the giraffe?" Both are answered by evolutionary descriptions. The giraffe is the product of biospeculation from certain mammalian parents through selection and isolation of a deviant population at a specific moment in biological evolution within a certain natural environment. America is the production of psychospeculation from certain psychological parents through selection and isolation of a deviant population at a specific moment in the evolution of childhood within a certain group environment. Just as the locus for transmission of biological structure is the gene, the locus for transmission of psychic structure is the "psychogenic" parent-child interaction. Just as modern synthetic evolutionary biology studies the process of genetic mutation as the ultimate source(3) of new genotypes, so modern scientific psychohistory studies the psychogenic interaction between mother(4) and child as the ultimate source of psychotypes, that is, new historical personalities
What is most unexpected, however, is that psychospeculation, like biospeciation, turns out to be a thoroughly lawful process. The production of psychic variation moves through stages, called "psychogenic modes," similar to the stages of evolution of biological orders, as successive generations of mothers face fresh new populations of infants and attempt to meet their needs in new ways more advanced than those they had endured in their own childhood.
Fig. 1 Schema Of Biological Evolution
Fig. 2 Schema Of Psychological Evolution
Each advance in psychogenic mode diminishes the emotional distance between mother and child. The infanticidal mode of antiquity handled the anxiety posed by the infant's needs through measures which constantly threatened the child's life, including regular infanticide by rich and poor alike. The medieval mode of abandonment substituted continuous rejection of the child, whether to wetnurse, fosterage or monastery. The ambivalent parent, beginning in the Renaissance, viewed the infant as at once both irrevocably evil and greatly idealized. The intrusive mode of the eighteenth century produced a mother who could now guarantee the child some measure of her love but only under the condition of total control of his emotions. And the currently predominant socializing mode uses covert manipulation of the child predominantly through guilt and the delegation of parental goals.
Each psychogenic mode in turn produces historically new adult psychospecies: the schizoid character of antiquity gives way to the autistic character produced by the abandonment of medieval childhood, the late medieval manic-depressive character being followed by the early modern compulsive character, the result of intrusive mode parenting, and finally by the various types of anxiety characters so commonly found in contemporary society.
Each of these modes of parenting is only achieved historically. As in every evolutionary scheme, as Darwin first noted, the table of past stages also turns out to be a table of contemporary taxology, so that the sequence of psychogenic modes from the past becomes a list of contemporary psychoanalytic personality types, produced by the current spectrum of family types, from "battered child syndrome" parenting to "overcontrolling" intrusive parenting. Each contemporary type is therefore at the same time a "psychological fossil" once predominant in a past historical period, much as contemporary reptiles were once the predominant species of a past epoch.
Parallels between biological and psychological evolution are not limited to the lawful production of new types; some of the most important mechanisms explaining differential evolutionary paths turn out to be identical. Two evolutionary mechanisms-selection and isolation-are central both to modern synthetic evolutionary theory and to the psychogenic theory of history, in particular to our present question of the evolution of the American personality. For the production of variation, through mutation or through psychogenic mother-child interaction, is of course only half the story. Equally important are the laws explaining the growth and preservation of variant populations. With the mechanisms of selection and isolation we can return our inquiry into "the origin of psychospecies" back to the question of "What caused America?" For just as the selection of a narrow range of variants from a biological population followed by their geographical isolation prevents the "swamping" of emergent genetic variation so too selection of a narrow range of mothers from the European population and their geographical isolation in America prevented the "swamping" of emergent psychogenic variations by less advanced modes of parent-child relations. The American colonies thus became most prolific in the emergence of new psychospecies, sort of the Galapagos Islands of psychohistory.
Let's take a look at these unusual mothers. The evolutionary moment was the seventeenth century, late in the ambivalent mode of parenting. The production of new mothers from little girls had just reached an important turning point in the evolution of childhood-the virtual disappearance of the conscious and unconscious killing of girl babies as unworthy of living, a practice which stretched back not only to antiquity but even beyond. to our Paleolithic beginnings. (For this and subsequent demographic references, see Appendix.) Now it is unfortunately true that little girls who know their parents are murdering their siblings tend to grow up crippled in their own ability to mother. Although the open infanticide of antiquity - where "more than one daughter was practically never reared" even by the rich-was mildly opposed by the Church, the decline of differential filicide was slow, continuing through the Middle Ages both in open infanticide and through such common practices as sending girls more often to "killing nurses" with only enough money for a few weeks of nurturance, breast-feeding girls for a much shorter time than boys so that they became susceptible to death by
disease, and so on. Although little girls are biologically more hardy than boys in most contemporary societies and have a lower death-rate, the proof that excess girl-killing continued can be seen in the census figures we have showing boys outnumbering girls by one-third, a ratio which did not decline to near equal proportions until the seventeenth century.
Fig. 5 Boy-Girl Rations As An Index Of Filicide
Even then, there were many areas and classes with higher boy-girl sex ratios, a reflection of the wide variation in psychogenic modes in seventeenth-century Europe. England was a century ahead of France and two centuries ahead of the rest of Europe in such crucial indices as the decline of infanticide, the giving up of tight swaddling and the reduction of the shipping out of infants to wetnurses - a practice still so widespread in eighteenth-century France that 80% of all the children in Paris were shipped out to the country to hired wetnurses returning only years later and then often immediately sent out again to school or to apprentice, so that many Frenchmen could truthfully say with Tallyrand that they had not spent one week of their lives under their father's roof.(6) At the same time, in Germany and Italy parents were still having their little boys castrated by the tens of thousands in the hope of being able to hire them out as singers, newborn Russian infants were still being subjected to hour-long ice-water baptisms to "harden" them, and Italian babies were still being nailed up on display carts in religious processions, donated by infanticidal mothers who hoped that their painful death in the service of religion would guarantee their babies a passage straight to Heaven.(7)
Not only was England in the seventeenth century ahead of the rest of Europe in child care, but it was more particularly the English middle class, from which so many American mothers were drawn, which first achieved these historically new attitudes toward children. At a time when the English nobility still sent their children out to wetnurse, numbers of brave English middle-class mothers, particularly Puritan mothers, who were encouraged to pray with and watch closely over their children, began for the first time in history to face the enormous anxieties of actually relating with empathy to the emotional needs of the infant at their breast. When, for instance, their babies cried upon being swaddled, these mothers stopped complaining that man was born in shackles", a phrase repeated ad nauseum since Pliny(8), and instead empathized with their infants and tried leaving them unswaddled, over the horrified objections of their doctors. Frenchmen thought the sight of these unswaddled English infants "deplorable" and complained of the excessive "indulgence of Mothers . . . among the English."(9)
It was from such mothers as these that the American personality was formed. Selected from among the most advanced, and isolated from the "swamping" effects of earlier-mode parents, American mothers became the first in history to face their ambivalent feelings and to begin to fashion the modern intrusive mode of childrearing, a mode which was closer, more nurturant, more consistent and more controlling than any prior mode in the evolution of childhood. The evidence for this is everywhere. Colonial America had the lowest boy-girl ratio and the least child abandonment and infanticide in the world at that time. No huge Foundling Hospitals were required such as were in such abundance all over Europe, and at a time when one could see hundreds of infants every morning in the gutters of London or Paris. Samuel Sewall noted in his diary in 1685 that lie had just seen the "first child that ever was . . . exposed in Boston."(10) In addition, America was the earliest to set up mass public schooling,(11) the earliest to campaign for the end to beating children in the school and home,'(12) the earliest to end outside wetnursing(13) and swaddling,(14) and - a certain sign that the intrusive mode had begun in earnest - the first to write anti-masturbation literature for children.(15) Predictably, European visitors to a man soon began to complain bitterly about this "spoiling" of American children, this extreme "indulgence" which "makes them petty domestic tyrants", partly because American mothers now gave children some of the attention which previously had gone to the father and his guests. (16)
The price paid for this new emotional closeness of intrusive mode mothers was a heavy one. If the paradigm of the previous ambivalent mode mother was "You are bad inside, and I must tie you up and beat you because you are a mere container for my own projected badness," the paradigm for the new intrusive mother became "You are bad, but if you admit it and subject your inner life to total control by me I will allow you to feel dose to me." American mothers therefore became the world's first total control freaks, to a
degree today only found in rare clinical cases. "Their wills ought to be entirely subject to ours," says one colonial parent, "and that whatsoever we command or require, must be punctually comply'd with."(17) The "continuous surveillance" of the little child, the "breaking of the will" started prior to its first birthday, the mother "contending with me will" of the little infant until it learned to subject itself completely by instant response and by the total suppression of crying, producing what Jonathan Edwards termed "cheerful obedience ever after."(18) Whereas the ambivalent mode mother would give continuous enemas to clean out the "bad stuff" inside the baby, the intrusive mother began, for the first time in history, to toilet train the infant, as early as four weeks, subjecting even its sphincters to a regime of total control.
Since mothers were attempting to reduce the beating of children, the use of extreme psychological measures was more often relied upon. For instance, children were continuously threatened with death for disobedience, death inflicted by an angry God who "holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, over the fire," and even penmanship lessons featured writing over and over again the phrase "Remember that you are born to die."(20) The natural result was a child who, like David Ferris, felt death "the most frequent companion of my thoughts", or like two-year-old Elizabeth Butcher, who would reflect on her "sinfulness and corrupt nature" while lying in her cradle.(21) Psychotic episodes abounded in these children, as when the Paris children "began to act after a strange and unusual manner . . . by getting into holes, and creeping under chairs and stools, and to use sundry odd postures and antik gestures . . . "(22)
But at fortunate moments, if the mother felt the children sufficiently cowed to be under her total control, a sweet merging with the mother was allowed, often taking the form of a conversion experience of merging with Christ. Edwards tells us of four-year-old Phebe Bartlet, who in 1735, after praying endlessly in the closet with her mother and after being instructed by her on the punishments awaiting her in hell, goes back to the closet alone and prays:
"Lord give me salvation! I pray, beg pardon all my sins!" When the child had done prayer, she came out of the closet, and came and sat down by her mother, and cried aloud . . . Her mother then asked her whether she was afraid that God would not give her salvation. She then answered Yes, I am afraid I shall go to hell! Her mother then endeavored to quiet her, and told her - - . she must be a good girl . . . she continued thus earnestly crying and talking for some time, till at length she suddenly ceased crying and began to smile, and presently said with a smiling countenance . . . Mother, the Kingdom of heaven is come to me! . . . l love God!(23)
The conversion process, for adult or child, consisted of stages of terror, humiliation and then final merging with a close, intrusive mother a fantasy of regression to a hellish womb and then "rebirth" in a symbiotic state of oneness with a "sweet and lovely" "Eternal Light."(24) This light, the merging with the mother's warmth, previously in history only achieved by lonely mystics, now became, with the intrusive mode, a goal of childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Further, by the 1740's enough Americans had achieved the intrusive mode stage so that they got together in groups for massive fantasies of group-regression, called the "Great Awakening" by historians. Thousands of people would rush to hear preachers who would play the mother's role of terrorizer and allow those assembled to re-experience the regression-and-rebirth fantasy. Although religious revivals had been around since the seventeenth century, it was only in the eighteenth century, when enough intrusive mode adults were available, that huge groups would gather all over America to hear preachers' descriptions of hellfire and damnation, in order to undergo the "frights and terrors, shriekings and screamings, tremblings and agitations, cryings out and faintings" that would purge the badness out of their souls and lead them to the glorious merging with God.(25)
Those intrusive-mode Americans who were able to achieve this regression-rebirth process of merging with the mother, those who called themselves the New Lights, were, finally, the driving force behind the American Revolutionary War, itself a group-fantasy of regression-and-rebirth.(26) Only a personality which had reached the intrusive mode could go beyond the feelings of personal powerlessness and cosmic capriciousness which were caused by the brutality and capriciousness of pre-intrusive mode parenting. Only they could begin to achieve the ego strength and individuality which are the goals of the modern personality. It was the closer, more consistent intrusive mothering which was responsible for the ending of the need for massive projective identification-that whole world of magic, ghosts, demons, devils and other split-off parts of the self, which disappeared in the seventeenth century, prior to any introduction of scientific thinking.(27) It was the new attitude toward children which was responsible for family limitation and the rapid development of pediatrics, the two main components of the Great Demographic Transition so important to the history of the West.(28) And, finally - since the tyranny of parents sustains every other tyranny - it was only intrusive-mode adults who were able to drop the hierarchical world of passive obedience to the "divine right of magistracy and kings"(29) and make the project of revolution against authority a central life task.(30)
That the American Revolution had psychological in addition to economic roots is a notion only recently entertained by historians. Besides such obvious facts as the total absence of economic matters (or for that matter of the supposed issue of "no taxation without representation") from personal journals and letters written during the period 1775-6, the economic argument
has always suffered from the implausibility of the notion that tens of thousands of men would go charging into blazing muskets and cannon for the sake of $1.20 a year in British taxes.(33) No, the American Revolution was first of all a group-fantasy, an assertion of counterdependency from mother-England, a psychotic group process of regression-and-rebirth similar to that of the Great Awakening, except that in the Revolution it was America rather than Christ that became the mother with which one merged.
The path of this group-regression in the years prior to the Revolution can be traced in the shifts in imagery used in describing mother-England. The basic group-fantasy of colonial America was one of total dependence on an all-giving mother. In 1741, despite America's relative economic and political independence, a characteristic metaphor had it that
The colonies are yet but Babes that cannot subsist but in the Breasts, and through the Protection of their Mother Country.(34)
This dependency fantasy of the "tender mother" Britain served to defend against and deny all hostility. For instance, it was thought as ridiculous to suggest stationing British troops in America as it would be "to place two of his Majesty's Beef-Eaters to watch an Infant in the Cradle. that it doesn't rise and cut its Father's Throat."(35)
By the 1760's, however, as enough intrusive mode adults became aware of and began to voice their unconscious hostility, the imagery began to change and the group-fantasy moved step by step backwards in years to earlier and earlier childhood traumata. First, sibling rivalry was remembered; John Otis, Jr. complained that
Every inhabitant in America maintains at least two lazy fellows in ease . . . in mother Britain's lap.(36)
Then specific childhood practices began to return from repression. Britain was depicted as holding young Americans in bondage by "leading strings" (Fig. 6). The practice of putting iron collars around the necks of little children to make them keep their heads erect was transferred to complaints that Americans were "tamely yielding their necks to the yoke" and that for "generations yet unborn the chains of thraldom cannot be put about our necks."(37) By 1765, John Adams asked if "Britain is the mother and we are the children . . . have not children a right to complain when their parents are attempting to break their limbs . . .", a reference to beating with rods, still a common practice in his childhood.(38) By 1773, the group-fantasy regressed to anal imagery, mother-England being seen as "piercing . . . the bowels of her own children", and by 1775 the oral stage reached only this time the mother was seen not as nurturant but as "poisoning", not as pure and tender but as ''an old abandoned prostitute", not as protective but as a murderer, "red with the blood of her children."(39)
Fig. 6 Anon.: Poor old England endeavoring to reclaim his wicked American Children. The strings are leading stings, which were attached to children's clothes and used to control them. The strings also represnt the umbilical cord.
At the same time, political events followed the regressive path of the group-fantasy. The British still imagine that they were stern and fair parents, while the American Loyalists, ambivalent-mode personalities still clinging to hierarchy and unable to merge with the new nation-mother image, continued to insist on the necessity of obedience, even asking that mother-England "chastise her undutiful and rebellious children."(40)
The real turning point in this group-fantasy took place with the Boston Tea Party. The incident itself was strictly symbolic, since both Britain and America were filled with hundreds of similar protest riots.(41) But the infantile symbolism was quite clear to both sides England was jamming food down America's throat, just as mothers used to jam pap down their babies' throats until they threw up (See Figures 7, 8 and 9). This time the colonists didn't take it lying down. The Boston Evening Post termed the tea "poisoned", and the Americans spit it out into the harbor. This spitting-out drove Britain wild with fury. whereas previously she had accepted with virtual indifference the loss of millions of pounds of taxes, she now reacted with military force to this spitting by this "petty little province, the creature of our own hands, the bubble of our own breath.(43) The Battle of Lexington followed, and American group-fantasy regressed to the ultimate trauma, that of birth.
Fig. 7 Anon.: The able Doctor or America swallowing the Bitter Draught. Published by Paul Revere in 1774 after the Boston Tea Party. The tea is like pap poured down the throat, only here reversed, the mother now getting hers. Making America a mother enables the artist to merge another theme, that of birth, with the doctor looking under the skirts of the prostrate woman.
Fig. 8 William Thomson: Papboat. Early nineteenth-century papboat illustrates typical colonial style, used to pour bread and water or milk mixture down babies' throats.
Fig, 9 Philip Dawes; The Bostonian's Paying the Exciseman or Tarring and Feathering. British drawing of an actual event where the colonists forced a tax collector to swallow tea. The tea being poured into the harbor strengthens the equation.
by: Lloyd deMause
The Institute for Psychohistory
140 Riverside Drive, NY NY 10024