Friday, June 02, 2006

Mother-father-infant triad

One of the most interesting books I’ve ever read is The Human Animal, by Weston LaBarre. LaBarre was both an anthropologist and a psychoanalyst, and this book deals with exactly what I attempted to outline in Chapter Three of my book, that is, how primates and proto-humans eventually evolved into proper (some of us, anyway) human beings. Being that it was published in 1954, many of the details in his book have undoubtedly been superseded by more recent research. And yet, he captured the big picture in a way that few people even attempt to do these days.
I don’t know of anyone else who cites LaBarre as an influence, but if nothing else, he’s a very entertaining writer, full of pithy and astringent comments, asides, and insults. Interestingly, he was a militant atheist, but that doesn’t bother me. So long as someone has a piece of the truth, their overarching philosophy is of no consequence to me. I feel the same way about Schuon, who is LaBarre’s polar opposite. I could never go as far as he does in his condemnation of modernity, but his spiritual genius is so luminous that I just have to overlook that part.
Chapter 6 of The Human Animal deals with sexual differences and the evolutionary circumstances that allowed humanness to emerge. LaBarre makes the provocative statement that “human society is biologically based upon the human body, and most especially upon the human breast and human sexuality.” In an evolutionary tradeoff, human brains grew so rapidly that women had to give birth earlier and earlier, to the point that the brain's incomplete neurology could only be wired together in the extra-uterine environment. The resulting infantile helplessness meant that the evolutionary unit switched from the mother-infant diad to the mother-father-infant triad. This symbiotic relationship further modified all of its members, as they adapted to each other. For example, “the whole emotional pattern of greater closeness in the mother-child bond has ultimate effects upon the more intense inter-individual bond between the sexes.”
Furthermore, this is why “a society’s attitudes toward women and toward maternity will deeply influence its psychological health and all other institutional attitudes.” LaBarre could write in 1954--well before the degradations to womanhood brought about by the feminist movement--that “It is a tragedy of our male-centered culture that women do not fully enough know how important they are as women.” Sadly, today so many women only know how important they are as men. This is a tragedy of monumental proportions, in part because it also results in men not understanding their own role in terms of being men.
One of the keys to understanding male-female differences lies in examining the different ways in which we are permitted to love. As a child we must love in one way, but in order to become an adult we must love in others. Naturally the process is infinitely more complicated for males. This is because our first love object is the mother with whom we are merged. Male identity must me wrested and won from this primordial matrix, otherwise there will be no manhood, only maleness. On the other hand, female identity is absolutely coterminous with their primordial union with the Great Mother, both literally and archetypally. All primitive men know that women can magically make children with their bodies. This is undoubtedly one of the reasons that women are generally more “grounded” and secure in their identity than men are. It would also explain the essential restlessness (and sometimes rootlessness) of men, along with the psychological adaptiveness of male homophobia.
Femaleness as a category is secure: its undeniable signs are menstruation and maternity. But manhood--as opposed to mere biological maleness--has no such obvious visible markers. Rather, it is something that must be constructed and achieved. The adaptive mechanism that allows males to become men is culture. What connects mother to infant is very concrete: the breast and all it symbolizes and implies. Likewise, what connected male to female was the evolutionary change that made females sexually available year-round. But what connects man to man?
“What connects father and son, male and male, is the mystery of logos and logos alone...” It is through this shared pattern that “father can identify with son and permit his infancy, within which son can identify with father and become a man, and within which a male can perceive and forgive the equal manhood of his fellow man.” At the foundation of the State “is our struggle to find both paternal power and brotherly justice in the governing of men.” This is why something very psychologically noxious happens when government becomes mother.
A similar thing happens when God becomes mother or mother becomes God. It interferes with the primordial basis of culture qua culture, which is to convert boys to men. This would explain the universal practice of various male initiation rituals, in which boys are sometimes brutally wrenched away from their mothers in order to facilitate male “rebirth” and full membership in the society of men. Again, femaleness is given by biology, but maleness must be proven, not just to oneself, but to the group. If appropriate models are not given for this drive, we will simply have pathological versions of it, such as the urban youth gang, which is all about proving one’s manhood. In fact, this is why so much contemporary rap and hip hop is so perversely male.
In a matriarchal culture so lacking in male role models, these boys are constantly trying to prove that they are what they imagine a man to be. This is why they are such pathetic, brooding, aggressive, and hyper-sexualized caricatures of manhood. (And ultimately this results from female sexuality reverting back to the mother-infant diad, with no role for men.) Other males--we call them liberals--often take women as their role models, with predictable results. They regard auto-castration as the quintessence of civilization.
Again, male sexual development is inherently more complex and hazardous, for men must first love and identify with the female, only to make a clean break of it and then return to the same object as an adult. Many things can go wrong with this process at each step along the way, as the road is filled with conflict and ambivalence. It explains why men often have the harder time growing up. But women have their problems as well. Some can never graduate from their default setting of loving the infant or mother to loving a man. posted by Gagdad Bob at 7:48 AM 3 comments

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