Childhood has been on my mind. Psychohistorian Lloyd DeMause makes pronouncements on child rearing that are too far out for him ever to be accepted into the mainstream. Why does he seem so convincing to me, then?
He claims childrearing advances in Western civilization, beginning with the Enlightenment, led to the freeing of some minds for science and technology and caused other dynamic changes. Much of the ethnographic material he provides leaves him open to accusations of prejudice against non-western societies. I know at least one academic, Dean McCannell, who says that reports of certain sexual practices between men and boys in New Guinea tribes are really the product of dirty minds and have never taken place.*
But no one can dispute the almost universal practice of female castration in Egypt. De Mause blames this practice for what he sees as the backwardness of Egypt and the Middle East in general. What he says that I find shocking is that the women carry out this mutilation in order to keep the males in the family from sexually using the girls. And he also considers circumcision to be a highly sexualized attack on the infant body.
One thing beyond doubt is that it's a big world and all kinds of things go on, so who can say who does not have the actual facts, someone who has observed these things or participated in them, or who has been unable to find any evidence of them? Looking at our own civilization, a few years ago it would not have been possible to get people in general to acknowledge the widespread pedophilia among priests.
These are hard things to read about and think about. We have abandoned the attempt to understand childhood at these deep levels and have descended (or ascended) into a kind of superficial rationality about the vicissitudes of childhood. We tout family values to a high degree, but what do we really mean by this? What families and what values? What was Cheney's childhood like, I wonder? Did his parents torture him? Is this where he developed the taste for shooting helpless animals and friends?
* MacCannell claimed, in his book Empty Meeting Grounds, that western tourists were metaphorically cannibalizing foreign places in an act of appropriation and internalization of other places and peoples. He felt that the claim of oral sex practices among boys and men in New Guinea was a projection of touristic consumption. That is, that westerners want to believe non-westerners engage in unspeakable yet exciting practices.