the NeoEugenics' Home Page
Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants, and Natural Selection by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy. (1999)
This is not merely a review of Mother Nature but rather a philosophical discourse using what we know about primate evolution to speculate on the means of a new eugenics' program. That is, what do we know about Mother Nature that will facilitate improving on our species' future. This book is unique in that Hrdy brings a dispassionate wealth of information about who we are, without qualification or moral sidebars. She states flatly what we were, how it makes us what we are, and lays out the absurdities of our current debates regarding abortion, feminism, family values, the sanctity of life, sexual promiscuity, equality, aggression, and a myriad of other human misconceptions about what life should be.
She begins: "Long ago a wise friend, evolutionary biologist George Williams, warned me that natural selection is an impersonal 'process for the maximization of short-sighted selfishness,' something far worse than moral indifference. Darwin was of the same mind: 'maternal love or maternal hatred, though the latter fortunately is most rare, is all the same to the inexorable principle of natural selection.' Natural selection is primarily about differential reproduction, which simply means that some individuals leave more offspring than others. Once we understand that natural selection has neither morals nor values, a concept like Mother Nature ceases to be shorthand for romanticized Natural Laws that are more nearly wishful thinking than objective observation of creatures in the world around us."
This book, by looking primarily at the female side of evolution, reveals how males and females as far back as 1.7 million years ago, were closer in size indicating that we were starting to form the lifestyle that is still with us today, characterized by a division of labor between male hunters and female gatherers. Hrdy states: "Body and mind, for better or worse, we passed through the Pleistocene crucible. As is frequently noted, our ancestors lived as hunters and gatherers for 99 percent of the time the genus Homo has been on Earth. This is why I rely so heavily in this book on evidence from parents who still lived as hunter-gatherers when they were first studied by anthropologists. Nevertheless, there are important respects in which a fixation with the Pleistocene is limiting. Many traits that affect infant survival and women's reproductive success are far older than the Pleistocene, and some are more recent. . . . Some nonhuman primates, especially other widespread weedy and very adaptable species (like savanna baboons or langur monkeys) are very variable indeed, living in multi-male groups one place, harems in another, aggressive in one locale, peaceful someplace else. All primates are social. . . . In mammals, natural selection will almost always have its greatest impact on the vulnerable life phases: in utero, during infancy, and just post-weaning. Assuming twenty-five years per generation, there have been about four hundred generations from the start of the Neolithic until now. This represents four hundred opportunities for natural selection to act. A selective differential of just 2 percent can boost a gene from rarity to near fixation (that is, from a genetic frequency of less than 2 percent to more than 98 percent) in ten thousand years or less. Theoretically, changes in humankind's biological and social environments since the Neolithic should be reflected in the genome of modern humans, and many are."
The above eclectic quotes illustrate how we are not a set of predictable modules of behavior, but rather we are made up of a tool chest of possible desires and actions based on our evolutionary past. That is, sociobiology does not look at any specific extant tribe of hunter-gatherers, or any particular pattern of mammalian or primate behavior in determining what makes humans tick. What is done, is mathematical models or algorithms are devised that include all species based on universal models of reproduction and natural selection. Then human behavior is studied and the results are tested against these universal models. Under different ecological niches, humans will vary the way they behave. For example, motherhood is also extremely flexible as Hrdy notes: "Every human mother's response to her infant is influenced by a composite of biological responses of mammalian, primate, and human origin. These include endocrinal priming during pregnancy; physical changes (including changes in the brain) during and after birth; the complex feedback loops of lactation; and the cognitive mechanisms that enhance the likelihood of recognizing and learning to prefer kin."
It has always been assumed somehow, that men (and some women) in the eugenics movement, can blame women for not producing more children. The dreaded decline of birth rates in advanced industrialized societies is laid at the feet of selfish women, who are not doing their share to produce more children. It has always been assumed, that it was their job to have as many children as possible. But what has been ignored is that as flexible strategizers, humans take many paths to fulfill their desires, there is not one template for all to follow. In the eugenics' movement, we had better understand these various desires and human actions under different ecological conditions if we are to promote our program, not on the backs of women, but by a commitment of everyone involved equally.
Hrdy states: "Wherever women have both control over their reproductive opportunities and a chance to better themselves, women opt for well-being and economic security over having more children. For many, leaving children every day while they work is a matter of survival, the only way mothers can support their families, or the only way they can secure a decent future for offspring. . . . (A big difference between modern industrial societies and people who live by foraging is that children who must not only be fed but clothed and educated become more costly with age, not less.) . . . . At first their choices [to have fewer children] appear counter to evolutionary expectations, until we recall that mothers evolved not to produce as many children as they could but to trade off quantity for quality, or to achieve a secure status, and in that way increase the chance that at least a few offspring will survive and prosper. This is why a closer look at what late-twentieth-century women are doing reveals behavior that is not so much unnatural as behavior that is in conflict with conventional expectations --- all the myths and superstitions about what women are supposed to want. . . . Real-life mothers were just as much strategic planners and decision-makers, opportunists and deal-makers, manipulators and allies as they were nurturers."
That is, mothers do not reproduce for the benefit of the group or tribe; they reproduce only to further their own children's possibility of survival. And many times, that meant holding off having children until the time was right, and that included killing any children that were born at inopportune times. Similar to men who want resources to attract women, women want status to confer upon their offspring because status is transferable. So like men, women desire that which may lead them to follow a path that may end up as an evolutionary dead end. That is, as part of our evolutionary machinery, the desire for status to provide to offspring may end up producing NO CHILDREN because the desire for status is too great; and the desire for children not strong enough. That is, once we advanced technologically to be able to have status, sex and security, without the normal consequences of children, evolution was turned upside down. Desires no longer drove evolution as it was intended.
While looking at nature to get clues about human reproduction, Hrdy notes that: "[Some birds,] by optimistically aiming high, then allowing the strongest in [the] brood to pare it down as needed, mother birds brought brood size in line with food supply by both what they did (lay eggs at intervals but begin brooding right away) and what they did not do (intervene or compensate). . . . Although a mother's interests would often be identical with those of her brood, this would not always be the case. The same mother who bravely drove away a predator from her nest would not intervene to protect the last-hatched chick from a less ferocious but more lethal enemy, its own older sib. This was a highly discriminating mother, whose commitment to her young was contingent on circumstances."
She goes into elegant discussions with regards to how different animal species balance producing offspring in order to optimize reproductive success. Allowing only the strongest offspring to survive. Trimming brood size to available resources. Giving up on offspring altogether, letting them all die in order to start over again under better circumstances. The number of ways mother nature has of making sure some offspring survive is truly remarkable. But always, it is not simply quantity that matters but only that some offspring survive to keep the evolutionary crap shoot going for another round.
Hrdy explains the much suppressed phenomena that also explains everything from child neglect and abuse to infanticide: "To postpone ovulating again for that long [after having her child killed] would put her at a disadvantage in competition with other mothers who went ahead and bred with the infanticidal male. Furthermore, the sons of such a mother would be at a disadvantage in competition with the sons of infanticidal males who, instead of waiting around for a chance to breed, took matters into their own hands by eliminating impediments to their breeding."
That is, it is to a primate mother's advantage once their child is killed by an infanticidal male to mate with that male, because her sons will inherit the savagery that will make her sons reproductively successful. This is similar to human women who prefer violent males who may protect them, only to have the males turn their violence on them. But if such violent males are reproductively successful, the abused mother still rears more dominant male types who will also be reproductively successful. So humans also play this odd game of being attracted to a mate that may be personally harmful but reproductively successful in the long run.
Fortunately, for humans, as we become more intelligent there seems to be a dissipation of this violent nature. A bar fight between some steel workers in the local pub would not seem to them or their mates to be unusual, but it would be very unusual at a bar where university professors congregate. So is this desire by women to want dominant males cultural or genetic? Still both, but we are flexible strategizers. Moral rules or ethos change with the ecology, and behavior changes to take advantage of the situation. The expected behavior is different for academics. They are just as brutal, but they use words rather than fists in their quest to show their dominance. And women are capable of rationalizing that having smart and aggressive male offspring has more value now than having a mate that can keep her safe from predators.
Hrdy also brings a new perspective to the promiscuity of some women. Our male dominated society, like those before us, maintains the double standard of macho men and the sluts. Men want their women to be faithful, while desiring the freedom themselves to have as many sexual liaisons that they can get away with. She states: "By casting wide the web of possible paternity, mothers could increase the prospects of future survival of offspring, since males almost never attack infants carried by females that, in the biblical sense of the word, they have known. Males use past relations with the mother as a cue to attack or tolerate her infant."
Essentially then, when women --- like their primate sisters --- stray to copulate with other males, even those in neighboring troops in very dangerous liaisons at the territorial borders; she is buying insurance. And there are many variations on this theme for women. No matter how perfect or secure a women thinks her relationship is with her mate, things could change in the future. Women, unlike men, are not looking for sex for its own sake necessarily, but are hedging their bets for the future. This may not be done on the conscious level but again is part of the natural desires that were once reproductively successful. Women are looking for mate replacements, looking for protection, spreading out the possible paternity interests for the children she has, etc. That is, there are many reasons why women will take chances to stray from the male that is her soul mate at present. Nothing is for certain.
Rushton, in his book "Race, Evolution and Behavior" goes into great detail on this very theme of promiscuity. Though he could have gathered data on many different groups of people or races, he breaks his study into just Asians, Blacks, and Caucasians. He shows that the reproductive strategies of the three are on a continuum from very high promiscuity with low investment parenting for Blacks to very low promiscuity with high investment parenting for [Eastern] Asians. Whites are between the two extremes. Apparently, many of these innate racial differences are due to the environmental pressures put on different population groups during the Wurm glaciation about 10,000 years ago that selected for high intelligence and high investment parenting, along with numerous other behavioral traits.
This book is filled with interesting observations, and I will highlight one as a sidebar. Hrdy states that: "Let's say that females really are choosing more symmetrical partners. Are they after better genes in potential fathers, or after protectors and providers who are bigger and in better condition? The trouble is, we can't yet tease genetic effects apart from developmental happenstance. For example, recently discovered correlations between degree of fluctuating asymmetries and performance on IQ tests can be explained either by better genes for the relevant abilities inherited from one or both parents, or by favorable conditions early in life --- a healthier environment for physical development inside the mother's womb." This line of reasoning is possibly one way of helping us understand if Blacks are genetically low on average intelligence, or if there is some environmental component. If Blacks do suffer from environmental stress, then they should show more asymmetries. To my knowledge, this hypothesis has not been tested.
I stated above that female status was important, but it may be detrimental now for humans. Returning to this theme, Hrdy states: "Goodall did not immediately grasp, however, was why female rank was so important. We now know that, given the opportunity, a more dominant female chimp will kill and eat babies born to other females. Over the decades that records were kept at Gombe, at least four, possibly as many as ten, newborn infants were killed, by females. When Goodall reported the first two cases of infant killing and cannibalism by another mother in 1977, the so-called crimes of a female named Passion, she, like most people, assumed that the female killing these infants must be deranged. . . .Nevertheless, chimpanzees breed so slowly that it was 1997 before Goodall and zoologist Anne Pusey had collected enough data to show a statistically significant correlation between female rank and a mother's ability to keep her infants alive. . . .Mother chimps like Flo, then, were not simply doting nurturers but entrepreneurial dynasts as well. A female's quest for status --- her ambition, if you will --- has become inseparable from her ability to keep her offspring and grand-offspring alive. Far from conflicting with maternity, such a female's ambitious tendencies are part and parcel of maternal success. . . . With the support of their mothers and other matrilineal kin, daughters born to high-ranking baboon females rise in the hierarchy and, in turn, pass on the advantages of their acquired rank (along with such perks as early reproductive maturity, and greater offspring survival) to daughters. The female baboon, like most social mammals, introduces her baby into the network of social relationships she has forged. Daughters who grow up surrounded by high-ranking kin give birth at an earlier age to offspring more likely to survive. Since baboon daughters inherit their rank from their mother, these social advantages are transmitted across generations as maternal effects, and the reproductive advantages accumulate through time in her matriline. But this strange bias in production of progeny only made sense in the light of variation between females."
What these studies show, and we can see the same behavior in mothers today, is that the number of children is correlated with status. In some environments, where status may not be available to be provided to children, and where birth control is not available or condoned, parents will opt or accept large families, even if many of the children will die. Now, under current economic conditions, some people from cultures that are struggling find that even they can have large families and that most of the children will live. Under such circumstances, we have reproduction that is much higher than what would be expected during our primitive past.
At the other extreme, modern moms who can taste success and status, will naturally focus on gaining the status and the good life and may postpone having children, and in many instances not have any children at all. Hrdy notes that smart, aggressive, status seeking women --- now that having children is not necessary when having sex --- are deferring children for later in life or not at all. That is, the desire for status, to be transferred to offspring, is now not necessarily the outcome nature was aiming for. That reproductive algorithm has been subverted by birth control. Likewise, women who already have money and status (most likely inherited) have more children on average. They are secure at an early age, have the status desired, and turn to raising the children to pass on their genes and their wealth or status.
What we need to understand then, is that we are no longer bounded by evolutionary rules, but we still have the desires. Women still desire status, but no longer have to bear children when having sex. Men are still promiscuous and they desire fame, fortune, and power because these qualities attract more women to have sex with, and at one time resulted in having more offspring. Now this is no longer true. So our desires have not changed much, but technology has changed the evolutionary outcomes of our behavior.
So is eugenics doomed? Not at all, we just need to reformulate how we reach our goals. First, it does not necessarily matter if population group 'A', that is in a dysgenic decline, produces more children than population group 'B', that is highly eugenic. If the eugenic group is within national sovereign or even ethnic cultural borders, and is secure from penetration from outside groups, what does it matter how many other people there are? Theoretically then, eugenics is not about getting one group to out produce another group. Within the group that is climbing the evolutionary ladder, it is only required that each generation produce more quality children. That is, gifted children are selected over the others through prenatal testing, screening, looking at the genetic quality of the future parents, sterilizing those offspring of low intelligence who managed to get through the eugenic filter, etc. Within the eugenic group then, and with an understanding of Mother Nature and the absence of any natural moral state or rules, we can do anything within what humans have a desire to do.
But what if women just stop having children? Well, since a eugenic program is a joint responsibility then women should not have to carry any more of the load than men. For example, breeding farms could be set up in environmentally friendly facilities, and guest breeders (like guest workers) could be paid for bearing the children. In a resource rich, nationalistic culture lacking a draining welfare state, the cost would not be prohibitive. Later, I will discuss attachment theory, and my understanding according to Hrdy that bonding between children and adults occurs in humans after birth, and is independent of biological considerations.
Furthermore, Hrdy states: "It is widely assumed that competitiveness, status-striving, and ambition, qualities that are essential for success in demanding careers, are incompatible with being a good mother, who is expected to be selfless and nurturing. 'There is no getting around the fact that ambition is not a maternal trait. Motherhood and ambition are still largely seen as opposing forces,' states Shari Thurer, a prominent contemporary psychologist. Sociologists can document at length the 'cultural contradictions' produced by women combining motherhood with jobs in the American workplace."
So again, with a modern eugenics' program, why not decouple childrearing with motherhood. That is, for those eugenically conscious mothers, provide the genetic code and the resources, and leave the childbearing to those who can be paid for it, and the childrearing to those who are competent, enjoy doing it, and prefer it to other careers. Think of the possibilities! Sending children to nurseries where they are nurtured and protected by caring alloparents, the biological parents will be able to look in on them via the Internet, and the richness that could be provided such as teaching the children in a multilingual setting so that developmentally they will be able to master easily several languages by enhancing the language centers in the brain at an early age.
Again, Hrdy states: "Because we are primates, adoption and the rearing of genetically unrelated babies come easily. Unlike herd-dwelling ungulates, we do not have a critical period minutes after birth when a mother must imprint on her baby's smell and bond with it then or never. If we were sheep, we would not have to worry about babies getting mixed up, switched at birth in maternity wards. But we are primates, and primate females in the right frame of mind find all babies fascinating and attractive. For such females, the most important ingredient for eliciting love is not the molecules producing a particular scent, or genetic relatedness, but physical proximity over time. . . . Engaging in nurturing behaviors, in turn, seems to make the pituitary secrete more prolactin. (As Eliot put it, 'Our deeds determine us, as much as we determine our deeds.')"
What Hrdy shows in numerous examples that explains the human bonding mechanisms between a mother and child (or alloparent and child) is that first, the child has there own needs for safety, security, etc. The child is essentially a parasite that is demanding a life support system, and many newborn features are made to attract adult adoration, and much of newborn behavior is meant to manipulate those capable of giving care to do so at any cost. This hormonal feedback system works on proximity models between the mother and child or allomother and child. That is, the same neurological bonding mechanism are capable of being triggered whether the caretaker is the mother or not. A child removed from the mother right after birth, should not be missed by the mother. A child given to a surrogate mother, can bond with the child just as much as the natural mother. So humans have evolved to have a great deal of flexibility in the degree of commitment a mother is forced to make to a child. More on this later when infanticide is discussed.
The child is brought into what it and the mother innately senses emotionally to be a hostile environment, even if that is no longer the situation today. Hrdy states: "According to this third hypothesis, which might be termed the vestigial lactational aggression hypothesis, postpartum depression is an endocrinological by-product or leftover from an intense intolerance of others that was once adaptive among mothers who might need to protect infants from either predators or conspecific members of their same species [infanticide]. The root of her depression derives not from the mother's suppressed desire to abandon her infant, but from a fierce compulsion to protect it that fills her with hostility toward others. The worse off she is, or the more potentially threatened the mother feels, the more defensive she should be. Even women with no particular depression undergo a postpartum decline in positive feelings toward husbands in the couple of months immediately after birth, which seems very odd --- except as an artifact of lactational aggression."
And our changing world even accounts for teen pregnancies, but not as a moral decline as many conservatives would like to have us believe, or liberal interventionists would like us to solve with socialistic policies. Hrdy states: "Since the Neolithic, and especially in the past several centuries, better-nourished girls have begun to mature earlier, and are capable of conceiving earlier than ever before in human existence --- closer to twelve than twenty. In the United States in 1996, a half-million babies were born to girls between ages fifteen and nineteen, 11,000 to girls fourteen and under --- the highest rate of teenage births of any industrialized country. People refer to this as the problem of teenage pregnancy, yet it is more nearly a problem of failed contraception, an undermining of evolved safeguards that under conditions more typical of human existence protected very young girls from inopportune conceptions. Any adolescent girl living under foraging conditions who found herself in the unusual situation of being plump enough to trigger ovulation in her early teens would almost certainly be in an unusually productive habitat. She also --- and this is important --- would have to be surrounded by well-disposed adults helping to provision her. In modern societies, however, adolescents can be terribly disadvantaged, lack all manner of social and economic support, yet still be so hypernourished that they reach menarche at twelve and conceive by fifteen. The amount of fat a girl has on board has become a dangerously misleading signal telling this young mammal that it is a good time to go ahead and reproduce, when it is anything but. In the United States today early childbearing and large numbers of closely spaced births are the two greatest risk factors for child abuse and infanticide. . . . Even fed the same diet of high-fat, high-carbohydrate Big Mac equivalents, daughters of mothers born in the warmer climes of southeastern Europe reach menarche earlier on average than daughters whose ancestors came from northwestern Europe. Just why this is so (cold winters? taller bodies? greater likelihood of famine?) is not known. Nevertheless, recent European migrants to Australia, all currently living in the same environment, start to menstruate at different ages depending on whether their mothers came from southern or northern Europe --- strong evidence that some genetic component influences age of menarche."
Note that again, Hrdy supports Rushton's massive research. She may be familiar with Rushton's work --- I would be surprised if she is not aware of it --- but it may not be politically correct for her to mention it. Hrdy, like many in the sociobiological field often times completely ignore racial differences in their works. But she does seem at several times to concur with Rushton on his conclusions with regards to racial differences in intelligence and reproductive behavior. For instance, she states that, "Ethnographic information for different human societies (these data all referring to the same species) similarly suggests that paternal care is most intensive where monogamously mated men have a high certainty of paternity." Again, this is reflective of the lack of paternal care among Blacks where the race is more promiscuous versus the Asians at the other extreme with high investment parenting and low levels of promiscuity. And again she notes, "When, however, children are susceptible to sudden, unpredictable demise, it should not be surprising that men go to great lengths to sire as many [children] as possible, in the hopes that some will by chance survive." This reproductive strategy was more prevalent in Africa according to Rushton, while again the other extreme of Asians was to take very good care of fewer offspring through planning, monogamous commitment, using an evolved higher intelligence.
Hrdy also explains why so many cultures are now male dominated, with women looked upon as mere chattel and female infants often discarded as worthless. She states that "Matrilineal descent systems disappear as soon as farming becomes intensive, when plows, livestock, and paid employment are introduced, and irrigation systems built. But the possibility of mother-centered lifestyles is latent, and always there, reinvented all the time when resources become unpredictable, adult male mortality rates go up, or whenever it becomes imprudent for a mother to rely on protection or provisioning from a single man. . . . Of 8,000 abortions performed at a clinic in India, 7,997 eliminated fetuses parents had been told would be daughters. (Typically, mothers being tested already had one or more daughters.) . . . . [In other cultures] unwanted daughters may be dispatched either the traditional way (by smearing opium on the mother's nipples or by poisoning with plant extracts) or the modern way --- denying a daughter breast milk, so that she dies of unavoidable (and unprosecutable) natural causes. . . . 'Daughters are no better than crows' observes a Tibetan proverb. Variations on this theme can be heard throughout northern India. 'Their parents feed them and when they get their wings, they fly away.' Daughters, people complain, leave at marriage; resources devoted to rearing them are lost to the patriline. With them depart substantial dowries, enriching their husbands' families while impoverishing their own. Parents dread the prospect of marrying off several daughters almost (but not quite) as much as they dread potential disgrace should a daughter fail to marry into a family of appropriate status, or be seduced and left pregnant but unmarried. . . . . In one of the few studies of its kind, Mead Caine of the Population Council of New York quantified the value of labor provided by sons as compared with daughters in Bangladesh. By ten to thirteen years of age, a boy is a net producer. By age fifteen a son has repaid his parents for what it cost them to rear him, and by age twenty-one repaid them for one sister as well. . . . Daughters, by contrast, though they work early and hard, leave home before they repay parental outlays."
These brief quotes in Mother Nature highlight why women are so devalued in many societies, and why the understanding of these evolutionary principles can be used to reverse that condition completely. In a modern technological society, and especially in one that is eugenically centered, women will again be of extreme importance. And not because they will be kept barefoot and pregnant, but because they can contribute equally to resource accumulation that is paramount in a eugenic's societies establishment and continuation. It seems to me, that as people become more intelligent, they are less likely to settle for simply having children to satisfy them. Instead, those who are interested in children will be more akin to child psychologists in their preferred roles as alloparents. That is, in a world of specialization, women will no longer need to choose between their traditional roles and a modern one where responsibilities are shared. Note that in many respects, we are going back to the hunter-gatherer society where shared responsibilities are essential. Mothers could not afford to stay in camp and take care of children, they had to gather food and were an important source for providing food.
With regards to community members' contributions, Hrdy has a lot of interesting research that I will summarize briefly. She notes that traditionally, adolescents do not contribute very much in the way of help in hunter-gatherer cultures, and that same pattern is seen in adolescents everywhere. Then she explains that older women become increasingly productive as the years go buy. She then states that, "[T]he capacity of humans to evaluate contributions of family members, and to adjust their tolerance accordingly, has to be included in any attempt to model the evolution of postreproductive longevity through kin selection. Without such flexibility, the burden imposed may often have been greater than a family could sustain."
What she describes is how treatment of the old changes in different ecological niches. In some tribal cultures, the tribal assassin basically eliminates the old when they no longer can produce. So every member of some tribes knew, at some point in their aging life, there might be a swift blow to the head and it was over. And yet, there was no attempt to change this practice, because it had a powerful evolutionary advantage for the group.
Likewise, in a eugenic society, we need to address how to care for the old when they become unproductive. In order to allocate precious resources towards future generations, those whose time has passed must be morally committed not to selfishly drain enormous sums of money to sustain their lives for only a brief period of time. It has been estimated that 90% of the total medical costs in the United States are allocated to the elderly in the final months of their lives, trying to keep them alive. What a dreadful waste of money. But how do we address it ethically without appearing as monstrous, even though other cultures have been able to do so without guilt?
It seems to me that the more intelligent people become, the more they will be able to deal with the concepts of death. It is part of our nature to fear death and to try and hang onto life as long as possible, it is built into our evolutionary algorithms. And humans are rather unique in the fact that women live on long after they are no longer reproductive. Hrdy explains that this is because they are capable as acting as alloparents and are therefore contributing to the group's reproductive success. So what is to be done? As medical technology advances, we may be able to keep people alive long after they have anything to live for.
In a eugenic society where creativity, learning, building, evolving and caring about the future makes up the ethos it seems to me that the whole concept of work will have to change. No longer will we go to work with the intention of retiring as early as possible to lie around and take it easy. I have to believe that motivated, intelligent people want more out of life than this. That means, as we become more advanced as a society, the goal will be to keep everyone healthy and productive as long as possible and to retire only when the energy to contribute is no longer there --- the will is gone.
Finally, after retiring for those last years, we must come to grips with the unliving. Those who are terminally ill, or have extremely debilitating conditions where they are alive but have no mind left, must be allowed to depart gracefully and with dignity. This transition must all be made part of the eugenic ethos, where everyone agrees what is to be done when the rational mind is no longer capable of making decisions. Simply, it would be a matter of a contract. If a person had independent resources to pay for their care to the very last moment possible, so be it. But for the rest, the extension of life would be incorporated into living wills and voluntary programs of selected health care. That is, turning our backs on socialism, I could opt to put a great deal of my money into a health plan that would keep me alive no matter what, or I could take a more valuable approach for me and dictate that when these conditions are met, I will be allowed to die without pain. That is, once the contract is set in place, the state cannot step in at the last minute because someone pleads they were wrong about how they would feel at the very end about how they used their resources. This may appear to be a libertarian approach to health care, except that it conforms to the more communitarian ethos of eugenics. That is, the contractual mechanism is the same, but the purpose and intent is not. The eugenics society is interested in preserving resources to be allocated for its program, not just for private wealth.
To listen to the current debate about abortion, you would think that human morality has never varied and we have always cherished life. But the opposite is the norm. Humans have evolved to prune their brood size after birth, as a mechanism for survival. It has only been in the last few decades that with the introduction of birth control and the medical advances in safe abortions that mothers have abandoned older means of disposing of unwanted children, such as: starvation, abandonment, poisoning, burying them alive, etc. These were the tried and true means of disposing of the unwanted children that happened to come along when men had their way with women to their satisfaction, and women had to submit for the various reasons including survival of themselves and their offspring.
A sample of these practices have been compiled by Hrdy: "These early Christian parents, much like the barbarians Darwin and various anthropologists described, abandoned rather than killed their unwanted infants. The deeper Boswell delved, the clearer it became that very nearly the majority of women living in Rome during the first three centuries of the Christian era who had reared more than one child had also abandoned at least one. He found himself looking at rates of abandonment of around 20 to 40 percent of children born. If Romans gave to crippled beggars it was because everyone is afraid he might say no to his Own child. . . . Some significant portion of those who survived were being sold as slaves and prostitutes --- which is what they were doing in brothels in the first place. . . . Although the best known [home for abandoned children], the Innocenti was just one, the largest, of sixteen such foundling homes in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. Three centuries after it opened, mortality rates were still appalling. Of 15,000 babies left at the Innocenti between 1755 and 1773, two-thirds died before reaching their first birthday. The very tangible results were the imperial foundling homes in Moscow and St. Petersburg, intended to qualify Russia as a player in the mid-eighteenth-century European Enlightenment. The doors of these grand repositories were formally opened in 1764. Both the St Petersburg and Moscow foundling homes were soon admitting a steady stream of ill-fated applicants. Of the 523 children admitted during the first year, 81 percent died. There followed two years of improved survival prospects, culminating in the catastrophe of 1767. Ninety-nine percent of 1,089 infants admitted that year failed to survive to the next. . . . A fine plan in principle, but the administrators failed to foresee the number of parents who would seize the chance to delegate care of their children to others. By providing payments to wet nurses, the state foundling homes also created financial incentives for the torgovki, women peddlers who scoured the countryside for abandoned babies to deposit at the foundling homes. These babies were then transported from the foundling homes back to the countryside, where they generated pitiful stipends for peasant women. Many of these wet nurses kept the passbooks guaranteeing payment and passed their charges on to even more poorly paid --- and not necessarily lactating --- women. Even more desperate were the unmarried women who managed to secure for themselves skimpy sinecures by getting pregnant, depositing their own baby at a foundling home, and then qualifying to wet-nurse a foundling for pay. A tiny, lucky percentage of the hired wet nurses (if anyone in this tragic network can be called lucky) managed to bribe a foundling-home employee to assign them their own infants. In the words of historian David Ransel, the state's well-intentioned plan for caring for infants became a case study in 'unintended consequences on a massive scale.' . . . Although David Lack's ideas about the tradeoffs mothers in nature make were by then built into sociobiology, most social scientists still assumed that in nature, mammal mothers instinctively and automatically care for every infant they produce. Badinter's reasoning was simple. If mother love is instinctive, all normal mothers should be loving. However, if the vast majority of mothers in eighteenth-century France had opted not to rear their own infants but to delegate their care to inadequate wet nurses instead, this was more mothers than could reasonably be dismissed as aberrations. . . . Such maternal love as Badinter could document was often discriminatory and selective. A wet nurse might be brought in from the outside to nurse an older son while the younger son was sent far away [to die]. . . . One mother code-named "Asago" viewed her first three husbands as poor prospects for long-term support and buried at birth the first six of the ten children she bore in her lifetime. Yet infants born to women who had managed to forge stable relationships, or who, having grown older, had decided to proceed with a family no matter what, were loved and cherished. . . . In 1865, Dr. Mayer correctly prophesized that 'The whole thing is so revolting to good sense and morality that in twenty years people will refuse to believe [wet-nursing] ever happened.' Today, scholars who recall this era tend to follow Dr. Mayer's lead. 'It must have been common knowledge,' writes twentieth-century psychoanalyst Maria Piers in her book Infanticide, that the wet nurse the parents hired was 'a professional feeder and a professional killer. . . .' Wet nurses, proclaims another modern commentator, 'were surrogates upon whom parents could depend for a swift demise for unwanted children.' . . . But more than conscious pronatalism was at stake. In France, husbands had an extra incentive to get their babies to wet nurses. They wanted their conjugal privileges, and the Catholic church discouraged sex between husbands and nursing mothers, perhaps for the same reasons so many cultures do. Postpartum sex taboos are found across traditional societies from North and South America to New Guinea and Africa, presumably as an extra precaution, a failsafe to guard against a new sibling being born too soon. Ironically, a custom that originated because it increased infant survival by guaranteeing longer birth intervals more often had the opposite effect in Catholic countries. Sending infants out to wet nurses probably led to far more infant deaths than abbreviated birth intervals due to the occasional impregnation of a nursing mother. . . . But to interpret variation in the way mothers respond to infants as meaning that somehow a woman's biology is irrelevant to her emotions, or that there are no evolved maternal responses, is to misread both the human record and a vast amount of evidence for other animals."
So there is no doubt that children have always been expendable, and the only thing mother nature cares about is that the finest and most viable children survive, and that other children that cannot help in this regard are better off dead. They have no evolutionary purpose. Any moral or cultural ethos to the contrary is merely a result of human desires to live by new and probably dysgenic rules, brought about by excess resources and a new hyper-altruism that is out of control.
Evolution is a slow process, where genes change in response to the changing environment. That is, the mechanisms we have, the tool box of desires and preferences, is now far behind our modern technological world. In a society of individuals, ruled only by governmental laws, the free riders no longer need to fear the ostracism that kept members of the tribe from acting contrary to the benefit of the group. There is no longer any tribe, and we are headed for globalism where one set of rules applies to all (theoretically if it was not for rampant egalitarianism that makes some minority groups more deserving than others). Along with this lack of social restraint or tribal censorship of destructive behavior, the very people who were once purged from the tribal group are now the very ones who can prosper under globalism and socialism. Those people who have no guilt or shame being on the dole or receiving free benefits. Those who are predators and care little about anyone else's feelings. The sociopathic types, who think only of themselves and are proficient at deception, especially when filtered through the political process or by the media. All of these deviants, once controlled by tribal sanctions and ostracism, will now be allowed to flourish (see Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior by Christopher Boehm, 1999).
A eugenic society therefore must get back to the moral ethos of reproduction for quality, not just quantity. We must be willing to allow technology to function in such a way that ancient rule's of child preference apply to promoting a eugenic, not a dysgenic nation. Every generation should be more intelligent than the last, and capable of solving problems that are not blocked by our Neolithic brains, presently unable to process certain types of data that makes social interaction on national levels so difficult. That is, our brains are made to operate in tribal units of about 50 people, and where everyone knew what everyone else was doing and deviants were under strict social control. That is all gone now, and we are now controlled by media moguls, politicians, despots, organized crime, corrupt corporations, international tribunals, religious sects, etc., etc. The tribal ethos is gone forever.
Can we recover? Yes, certainly, as soon as we can start to increase our average intelligence to catch up with a new nation-state status. That is, through eugenics we can become once again a people who can intelligently understand what deceptions are facing each and every one of us and take appropriate actions. A people that is smart enough to see through cheap advertising and propagandizing tricks and ploys by those who want to become dominant over us. Almost everyone wants to subjugate others; it is part of our nature. So a new overman must be created, one that is equipped intellectually to recognize and deal with those who wish to harm him.
So back to infanticide and eugenics. We really have no choice but to allow our ancient ethos with regards to children to progress as it has in the past. We have ample data that clearly shows that children have routinely been tossed aside for the benefit of parents or for the benefit of offspring that were more viable --- past, present or future. There is not an innate bond between mothers and their children. The bond is cultural, hormonal and resource dependent.
Hrdy states, "As with other mammals, a mother's emotional commitment to her infant can be highly contingent on ecologically and historically produced circumstances. No one knows how the underlying mechanisms work. But it is a reasonable guess that such mechanisms involve thresholds for responding to infant cues. These would be endocrinologically and neurologically set, possibly during pregnancy and prior to birth, rendering a mother more or less likely to become engaged by infantile cues as she makes decisions about how much of herself to invest in her infant. . . . Humans confront the same posterity problems other animals do, but resolve them differently. Instead of innate mechanisms that bias production of sons or daughters at conception (as in wasps), or differential retention of mostly female litters (as in the coypu), human mothers consciously choose sons and daughters after birth, in line with parental evaluation of what the repercussions will be for long-term family goals. The underlying psychology --- although not the outcomes --- are probably similar when modern American parents make choices about how much money to spend on toys for their children, or certain medications, like growth hormones."
So contrary to those who think that evolutionary investigations into our innate natures leads to set patterns of behavior, we know that we have a great deal of flexibility in our reproductive choices. We can devise new ethos or community morals that not only tolerate more eugenically based decisions, such as aborting defective children, but we can encourage a morality that to do otherwise causes guilt. We see these moral sanctions everywhere about us. I find it almost impossible to litter, as I was raised not to do so in pristine Wisconsin. Now in Hispanic California, it would seem odd to most not to just throw trash on the ground wherever they happen to be. And the same flexibility is found in the way we view children. A eugenic society will be one that honors the quality of the child above all else, a future contributor to the generations that will come after. Any deviation from this goal of perfection and high intelligence will be seen as vile and anti-social. We are a species that is easily indoctrinated, and views can change rapidly once new paradigms are set in motion, as we see the results of our dysgenics trends and the decadency of our current welfare state.
In addition, we are learning that human nature has a natural actuarial component that weighs costs and benefits. The more intelligent will recognize what will be required to succeed in the future, and will adopt measures to ensure that offspring will prosper under new social rules. Women will now join men equally in their contribution to the tribal goals.
It will take a new commitment by both men and women to sacrifice their petty differences in what they think ought to be, to bring forth what humans can be. Hrdy writes, "In humans, whose infants are so costly, and for whom conscious planning (thanks to the neocortex) is a factor, maternal investment in offspring is complicated by a range of utterly new considerations: cultural expectations, gender roles, sentiments like honor or shame, sex preferences, and the mother's awareness of the future. Such complexities do not erase more ancient predispositions to nurture. All the systems in this messy composite are vetted according to costs, benefits, and genetic relatedness to the infant recipient of altruistic maternal acts."
So how complicated will it be for us to manipulate genetic frequencies in our offspring to bring forth a new species. Hrdy notes with regards to abortion, "On what grounds do humans accord the mother's interests priority over those of her fetus? 'Equal Rights for Unborn Women' reads the slogan on an anti-choice T-shirt. What to do about seemingly irreconcilable moralities: the rights of the unborn versus the bondage of the born? If human DNA is 98 percent identical to that of a chimp or a bonobo, what is it that makes the information encoded in this DNA human rather than ape? What is responsible for the transformation of the potential encoded in human DNA into a being with the unique cognitive and emotional capacities that make us human and distinguish us from all other animals? Scientists estimate that a mere 50 or so genes --- out of the vast number of genes that chimpanzees and humans share in common --- account for the cognitive differences between the two species; that fractional genomic disparity combined with differences in several regulatory genes that control the timing of gene expression make all the difference."
Fifty genes! That is all we have to follow with regards to frequencies in our children to make sure they are gifted rather than average or slow. That is, it is the variation of these fifty genes that are found in different population groups that makes all the difference between behavioral traits and intelligence. We probably all have the same fifty genes, but the the variations called alleles make the difference. And as the Human Genome Project comes to completion, and we can identify the differences in these fifty genes and test for them in the fetus, along with debilitating genetic diseases, we will be well on our way to a vigorous quantum leap in having genetic tools for fetus selection. For example, with fertility drugs, what if a mother had five embryos to start with and then selected the best one genetically to bring to term. That alone would bring forth only the top 20% of all randomly generated children. And again and again, generation after generation, until the average IQ is raised to the highest level possible by going to fixation. That is, humans would reach an intellectual height without further enhancing mutations or genetic alterations. Everyone could be a Hawkings or an Einstein solving complex mathematical problems, while others would rather do manual labor because of temperament. But there would be no dishonor or disgrace in either profession. It would be a matter of preference, not ability.
Dr. Laura, the social-conservative talk show host guru, who claims to understand both God's moral instructions to humans and what is best for children, would be quite shocked to find out that children do not need a biological mother and father. What they need is safety, security, nourishment, and caring human contact and they are not particular where or how these needs are met. Attachment theory is important, because any eugenics program must know how much flexibility there is in various ways of raising children in new unorthodox manners without causing emotional damage to the children. There is no point in having children who are bright and creative if they are emotionally miserable. So what do children need?
Hrdy states that "[M]ore often than not, securely attached babies do grow into socially secure schoolchildren who mature into adults who form stable attachments and rear secure children, while insecure attachments breed more insecure attachments. . . . In ways not yet understood, 'ghosts in the nursery' interact with inherited temperament and local customs to generate regional differences in childrearing. Studies done in northern Germany record surprisingly high proportions of avoidantly [insecurely] attached infants, while south German and Japanese babies are generally secure. Even when insecurely attached, they rarely avoid their mothers or exhibit indifference; rather, they resist by pushing their mothers away. Similarly, children reared communally in Israeli kibbutzim are almost never classified as avoidantly attached, so long as they retain sustained contact with their mothers.
"From the age of six weeks, kibbutz infants are cared for in small communal groups, nine hours a day, six days a week. They were visited frequently by their mothers, who came each day to feed and bathe their babies. Some of these infants were in communal care during the day but slept at home at night. Of those sleeping at home, 80 percent were classified according to the Ainsworth procedure as securely attached. But of those spending the night away from home, only 48 percent were. Boarder babies were deposited in large communal dormitories, where they were mixed in with all children under twelve and attended by a couple of custodians. A child waking in the night would probably not encounter anyone familiar enough to qualify for what Eliot and Bowlby thought of as 'the meeting eyes of love,' the baby's primary reassurance that care will continue to be forthcoming. The message is fairly clear: effects of communal rearing depended on both the quality of the care itself and on the child's experiences within its own family, in his or her quest for commitment from caretakers."
So communal living is a viable form of establishing a eugenics' program where due to productive parents, personal preferences towards nurturing children versus making money to provide other's to nurture one's child are all viable means of raising healthy and happy children. It is a matter of quality of the communal care and a healthy family experience. And I would have to submit that a parent who wants to work at some stimulating job and mix that up with some child care is a much healthier arrangement than forcing parents into roles that make them miserable, with the children reading that discomfort or anger on a daily basis. Dr. Laura is just not equipped to judge human behavior with her religious blinders on.
Hrdy adds: "Situating infant emotions in a tangible world trivializes psychoanalytical preoccupations with imagined, interior worlds. For infants, the world really is a dangerous place. By situating the mother (or other primary caretaker) at the center of each developing infant's universe, Bowlby's theory of attachment stings most smartly where it pricks the conscience of every mother who is aware of her infant's needs but who also aspires to a life beyond bondage to them."
The new parent must be able to pursue higher intellectual interests that may not include an obsessive interest in child psychology, while some members of the community will gravitate towards this chosen field. It is a matter of temperament. Everyone should be able to chose the kind of work they enjoy, and that includes even more physical or social occupations for those highly intelligent members of the community that don't aspire to bury their heads in research or books. I would make no attempt to breed out of people a variety of personality traits, idiosyncrasies, occupational preferences, or even overt laziness for example. To me, intelligence is the singular trait that is always a benefit to the individual and to the community. Such variable traits as ambition, introversion, risk taking, etc. we can eugenically leave in place until we are much more capable of dealing with our humanness. We need time for our genomes to catch up with our phenotypes in an exponentially changing technological world we have created for ourselves.
So what is the relationship between mother and fetus? Is it one of nurturing the child? Not by a long shot. The child is 100% genetically similar to itself, but only related to its host --- the mother --- by 50%. That is, in terms of Dawkin's selfish genes approach to natural selection, the child as parasite will take from the mother (the host) as much as it can without killing her in the process. Mother nature is far from loving but is in a struggle for survival.
So what are the (not always aware of) objectives of the mother? To bring forth offspring that will carry half of her genes into the next generation, ad infinitum if possible (we are all a product of that endless chain of descent from the primal muck). It is not to just have children because of some abstract goodness in children or sanctity of life. It is not done for fun or entertainment or some other abstract reason. Urges and desires were set in place, under millions of years of evolution, to make sure that some children would survive each generation to carry these selfish genes blindly on into the future. So motherhood is far from the idealistic and loving model we have been taught to accept from our current cultural ethos.
Hrdy writes with regards to selection, "Mothers who tended to be more discriminating about which babies they cared for fared better. During famine and other crises, selective mothers would be the only ones who left surviving offspring. If we are to believe the record from antiquity (and I do), the behavioral response to inopportune births was to abandon or terminate care. Hence the many human infants who were forced to rely on the 'kindness of strangers,' as described in chapter 12. Human mothers are far more likely to abandon their infants than are other primates who give birth to one baby at a time.
"In terms of maternal infanticide and abandonment, humans resemble birds and litter-bearing mammals more nearly than they do other primates. Although utterly unprimatelike, infanticidal mothers are not in the least unnatural. Because we take maternal love for granted, it has rarely occurred even to evolutionists to ask the same sort of questions about humans that we now routinely ask about coots or canaries. What effect has discriminative maternal solicitude had on the survival equipment of human infants, the attributes each infant enters the world with, and the signals it sends?"
So are we stuck with the dysgenic ethos that we have today? Hopefully not because we dare not slide backwards with regards to our cognitive capital --- we as a species are barely able as it is to understand the principles of democracy and constitutional law. Any reversal in our ability to think could put us once again under the demonic control of totalitarianism. We as a species would not have the capacity to control the natural dominance hierarchy of our species.
Look at how our reproductive process works today. Every child, no matter how genetically flawed, must be cared for and scarce resources wasted while the gifted children are all but ignored. People readily adopt babies from the underclass such as crack babies that are not only innately deficient in intelligence but have been further harmed by fetal addiction. This cultural altruism is slowly turning humans, by sheer numbers, into caretakers of what should have never been --- children that would in other times have been discarded as not viable to the job at hand.
Hrdy states that "In contemporary Western society, parents are respected and admired for caring for the same infants that in other societies mothers would be condemned by their neighbors for not disposing of. Some adopting parents in the West go out of their way to select the neediest infants, and commit themselves to years of therapy on behalf of children who will never repay that care in any material sense. Unlike other animals, humans are able to consciously make choices counter to their self-interest. Indeed, much of what we consider 'ethical behavior' falls in this category.
"So far as genes and tissue are concerned, embryo-fetus-baby represents a biological continuum. No distinction can be other than arbitrary. In this sense, the transition between fetus and person-hood is no less ambiguous today than it was a hundred thousand years ago."
So we are in fact now free of what should be in a Panglossian world of goodness, and can get on with planning, with great flexibility what we are to become. That doesn't mean however that we can ignore our desires, but we must understand what they are, how they came about and why, and develop a eugenic ethos to work within what we are able to devise in a workable program. That is, unlike Marxism and its flawed understanding of human nature, eugenics is free to pursue any path, as long as it does not go against the grain of human nature. We must always ask, at every juncture, if we put this or that program in place how will human nature try to take advantage of it (the free-rider problem)? Is it viable? Does it give people a sense of purpose? Who may rebel against it --- the lazy and incompetent or those who provide the resources? So how flexible is human nature with regards to motherhood, the family, etc?
Hrdy observes, "Yet one of the many ironies in the bonding saga is that even if someone were so rash as to succumb to the naturalistic fallacy and imagine that what evolved is necessarily what should be, there is remarkably little in the primate evolutionary record that turns a female's sex into a pre-charted destiny of full-time stay-at-home caretaking. Nor is there anything that rules out a mother sharing or delegating caretaking to others. Female primates have always been dual-career mothers, forced to compromise between maternal and infant needs. It is precisely for this reason that primate mothers, including human foragers, have always shared care of offspring with others --- when it was feasible.
"The politician who proclaims that 'every child from the moment of conception [should be] protected by law and by love' is merely mouthing words. Parental emotions cannot be legislated.
"An updated evolutionary perspective cannot solve such problems, but it can at least focus attention on the real issues. It is not a matter of 'motherhood versus vocation.' Rather, the question is: Under what circumstances can a mother safely afford to delegate care to allomothers? And, additionally: How can allomothers be motivated to care? Obstacles' mothers face when they seek to go off to forage or to work are real enough, particularly in environments (workplaces) where infants are not welcome and mothers lose credibility for considering their needs. These problems have less to do with an infant's need for exclusive care by its mother than with values and attitudes in modern workplaces, and the scarcity of reliable and willing alloparents."
I hope this eclectic look at Mother Nature dispels the many myths held by both conservatives and liberals about how the world should be ordered. Both sides suffer an extreme disregard for empirical data, and rely on emotions or folk psychology to make their arguments. If one looks at eugenics, it is neither liberal nor conservative. It is future oriented, with a program for investing more in the genetic capital of our children than merely palliative fixes for the numerous problems brought about by socialism or the welfare state, and with no viable answers being put forth by the conservatives.
For example, it may be that crime is declining to some extent because of abortion. It spares unwanted children from being born and made miserable and alienated thus leading to crime. It is the conservatives who want to stop abortion while wanting to put criminals in jail. And the liberals want us to spend billions of dollars at intervention, not realizing that their welfare state has allowed millions of poor --- most of whom are genetically cognitively challenged --- to breed as they like because the state will provide. And why is this?
Hrdy sums it up well: "Natural selection, and with it the most powerful and comprehensive theory available for understanding the basic natures of mothers and infants, was rejected, as social scientists and feminists took another route. That path, which led away from science, led them to reject biology altogether and construct alternative origin stories, their own versions of wishful thinking about socially constructed men and women, and infants born with more nearly a desire for mothers than a need."
That is, we are now emerging from Marxist dogma on the left and religious dogma on the right. Eugenics is empirical, and unlike the left-right struggle it is grounded in facts, not fantasy. I will surmise that religious dogma and faith will decline in the future as humans better understand science and/or are able to fathom their own vulnerabilities with regards to eventual death --- the two primary driving forces that underpin blind faith in the supernatural. On the other hand, even as we watch the collapse of Communism, Marxism is alive and well and is growing by other names. Postmodernism, socialism, globalism, Boasian anthropology, multiculturalism, anti-nationalism, etc. All of these movements are grounded in the totalitarian desire to crush the human desire for self-identity in favor of one human model of how our species should interact. It is universalism, and it is intolerant of any thought or speech that violates its dictates with regards to socialist internationalism. However, all humans are goal-directed towards reproductive success starting with the genes, the self, the family, the tribe and fellow kin. When we ignore the driving forces behind our purpose, we will continue to misread what makes us human --- a combination of ancient algorithms and goals that we must understand before we can reshape human behavior to our liking, and that too must be allowed to vary from one group to another. There must never be a singular model of what we are to become, because then we will have once again slipped back into the totalitarian nightmare of globalism where only a singular human archetype will be allowed.
Written by Matthew Nuenke, June 2000. (This article can be used without my permission for distribution, republication, etc.)
[1.] Hrdy page 468-70
In modern Western societies, infants are regarded as fully human the moment they are born, tagged, blood-tested, foot printed, granted citizenship and legal rights. Mothers are encouraged to bond with their infant almost immediately and regarded as strange if they do not. It is an efficient and admirable scheme. It is also, given the full range of human experience, unusual.
More typically (found in 86 percent of societies in one cross-cultural study), full human identity is postponed till after some specific postpartum milestone or rite of passage in which the baby is publicly acknowledged, given a name, receives a soul. The ancient Greek amphidromia is a classic naming ritual. Alloparents pick up the baby and carry it around the hearth, then hand the newly named baby back to the parents, thereafter a full-fledged member of their community. In an Indian village in Rajasthan, some time after birth neighbors and kin will gather at a "cradling ceremony" to joyously sing songs and sew clothes for the baby. Hijras (sexually ambiguous castrated men dressed as women) show up to entertain people and bless the baby --- especially if it is a boy. Prior to the late nineteenth century, infanticide would have been sanctioned before the ceremony, but not after.
Birth rituals may occur right after birth, or months later. They may be celebrated simply, or with all the fanfare of a cathedral christening. In the majority of cultures, full rights as a group member are postponed till after inspection and acceptance of the baby by parents or alloparents who have committed to rear it. Criteria for acceptance can be very arbitrary, and open to interpretation. Recall that in some South American tribes, too much or too little hair is considered a sign of maternal misconduct, dooming the neonate --- but not necessarily. "This is not a human being, this child has no hair" Elena Valero was told by other women after she gave birth among her Yanamamo captors. "Kill him at once," they said, only to be contradicted by the husband who had taken E1ena. He merely said, "Let her bring him up, even if he has no hair . . ." and told the women to go away.
In parts of Africa, South America, and in the Pacific Islands, babies born with teeth, multiple births, or breech births can be viewed as "ill omens" that prejudice parental acceptance of the baby. Such traits are often susceptible to interpretation, as illustrated by the case of a West African father who demanded that his baby; who was born with six fingers, be killed. The midwife, however, ridiculed him for misreading the signs of witchcraft; to her experienced eye, polydactyly signaled prosperity.
Passages to personhood may be viewed as more gradual. Among the Ayoreo, the critical milestone is relatively late. No child is considered completely human until he can walk. In other societies, milestones range from taking food, beginning to smile (around five weeks), laughing (four to five months), or cutting teeth. Passage through universal developmental phases hints at the infant's future potential and also attests to how much investment has gone to getting an infant to this stage. The mere fact that an infant has survived long enough to pass these milestones further indicates that someone has taken responsibility for the child.
Grief displayed by bereaved parents is often greater if the baby dies after naming or after one of these developmental milestones has been passed, signifying both the emotional bond that has intensified over time, and also the child's perceived worth. DeVries was struck by the contrast between how detached, almost nonchalant, Masai mothers were if an infant succumbed before being named, as compared to the extreme grief --- screaming, self-mutilation, and chaotic racing about --- exhibited if death occurred afterward. Apparently, passage through the "second birth" marks not only a public decision to keep the infant but also a change in the emotional tone of the relationship between mother and infant.
When United States senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan declares that he is pro-choice but against late-stage abortion because it is too much like infanticide, he is restating the anthropologically obvious. Almost all infanticide in traditional societies occurs right after birth, and is conceptually identical to late-stage abortion. Neonaticide is favored over abortion simply because infanticide is safer for the mother. (Although traditional societies do have ways to induce abortions, such crude methods as the pregnant woman asking someone to jump on her stomach, they are neither effective nor anything approaching safe.) The situation is reversed for societies with Western medicine. Abortion --- especially in early stages of pregnancy --- is safer for the mother than giving birth is. No one with other options chooses infanticide.
In no other primate do mothers appear to distinguish between a new baby and a new baby that will be kept. Nothing is known about when in the course of hominid evolution such distinctions came to be emphasized. My own guess is that mothers grew more discriminating as they were increasingly called upon to simultaneously provide for multiple offspring of different ages. If this supposition is correct, mothers faced with the prospect of provisioning a staggered clutch of slow-maturing, highly dependent offspring would already have been somewhat discriminating prior to the Neolithic. After it, mothers would have become more fastidious still as settled living brought with it birth intervals shorter still. Such mothers would have been among the earliest intellectuals, enlisting natural history, myth, and ritual to explain anomalies, justify their actions, and reconcile necessity with emotions. Then, as now, combining survival, maternity, and work confronted mothers with chronically irreconcilable dilemmas. Emerging belief systems made such dilemmas easier to bear, as intelligent and increasingly compassionate creatures invented stories they could live with.
The way a mother thought about her fetus would have become integrally linked with her view of the world generally. Practices such as assigning names to individuals came linked to a mother's dawning awareness of death and history. Increasingly, mothers would be able to imagine and articulate what the future might hold, including what the impact of a new birth might be for her other children. To a mother giving birth during this dawn-time of humanity, it would have been critically important not to regard a neonate as having equal standing with older children.[return]
[2.] Hrdy --- pg. 414
Prior to five or six months of age, infants smile indiscriminately at almost anyone. It is as if this is a honeymoon period during which an infant becomes familiar with its local community, mostly kin. Around six months of age, however, infants begin to respond quite differently to unfamiliar people. Novel objects continue to be interesting, but the "visual looming" of a strange human jolts the infant into vigilance. His pulse rate rises; he may begin to cry. In the words of developmental psychologist Daniel Freedman: "Animate strangers are the major source of fear for infants in the second half of the first year." Strangers strike toddlers as especially fearsome if they are encountered in a strange place, if they are tall, male, bearded, or if the infant is used to living among familiar people (rather than, say, in an orphanage), and is not accustomed to new faces.[return]
[3.] S. B. Hrdy --- pg. 450
When organisms must cope with new situations, all Mother Nature has at hand are the leftovers in the cupboard. Mutations are rarely any use. This is why the most rapid adaptations tend to be behavioral rather than physiological. Individuals use behavior to produce a new phenotype, and subsequently, at a more leisurely pace, selection for traits that complement and enhance the new phenotype can be selected for in the conventional Darwinian way.[return]
[4.] S. B. Hrdy --- pg. 432
By 1996, Shirley Tilghman and other molecular geneticists at Princeton undertook a series of experiments with specially genetically engineered strains of mice to test Haig's predictions. Ideas that had once seemed little more than wildly speculative gleams in Haig's eye were correctly predicting fetal growth in mice depending on which parent's genes were in charge. At a given genetic locus, experimentally manipulated mouse embryos received either all their genetic instructions from the father or all from the mother. Untrammeled expression of paternally imprinted genes produced giant babies, 130 percent of normal size at birth. Fetuses whose growth factors were monopolized by maternal instructions were dwarfed down to 6o percent of normal size.
In 1998, the strangest imprinted gene of all was described --- the mest gene, which is expressed only when it is inherited from the father, never expressed if inherited from the mother. Mother mice whose only copy of the mest comes from their mother exhibit deficient maternal responses and, in particular, fail to eat the placenta after birth, missing out on that last dose of fetal propaganda.
Haig speculated that some of the more puzzling inefficiencies of pregnancy, as well as some of its occasional pathologies, were actually by-products of this long history of conflicting agendas. No longer upright, the participants lean markedly in one direction or the other, so that if the tugging ever stops, they topple over.
Obstetricians have long referred to the placenta as "a ruthless parasitic organ existing solely for the maintenance and protection of the fetus, perhaps too often to the disregard of the maternal organism."
In effect, after twelve weeks, the fetus is in a strong position to command the mother's body to carry on with the pregnancy. As with any well-organized invasion, the next step is to establish supply lines.[return]