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Early infanticidal childrearing

Early infanticidal childrearing is a psychohistorical model developed by Lloyd deMause within the framework of psychohistory which purports that childrearing in the paleolithic era and in contemporary pre-literate hunter-gatherer tribes can be summarized by three basic ideas:

  • children are not considered human
  • infants are useful to parents as erotic objects
  • children aren't considered useful to any adult in any other way

This particular model is a psychological concept that attempts to explain anthropological data, especially from such societies as the Yolngu of Australia, the Gimi, Wogeo, Sambia, Bena Bena, and Bimin-Kuskusmin of Papua New Guinea, the Raum, the Ok and the Kwanga, based on observations by Geza Roheim, Lia Leibowitz, Robert C. Suggs, Milton Diamond, Herman Heinrich Ploss, Gilbert Herdt and Robert J. Stoller, L. L. Langness, and Fitz John Porter Poole, among others. While anthropologists and psychohistorians generally do not dispute the data of their particular research, they dispute its significance (both in terms of importance and in terms of meaning) and its interpretation.

In brief, supporters are attempting to explain cultural history from a psycho-developmental point of view, and argue that cultural change can be assessed as "advancement" or "regression" based on the psychological consequences of various cultural practices. While most anthropologists reject this approach, and most theories of cultural evolution, as ethnocentric, the psychohistorians in their turn proclaim the independence of psychohistory and summarily reject the opinions of anthropologists.

This model makes two central claims: first, that the attention paid by parents of contemporary primitive tribes to their children, such as sucking, fondling and masturbating, is sexual according to an objective standard (critics claim that this standard is culture-bound and Western); second, that this sexual attention is inordinate, according to an objective standard (critics claim that this standard is culture-bound and Western).

This model is also based on a reported lack of non-sexual attention paid by infanticidal parents, such as mutual gazes between parent and child, observed by Robert B. Edgerton, Langness, Maria Lepowsky, Bruce Knauft, John W. M. Whiting and Margaret Mead among others.

Such mutual gazing is widely recognized in developmental psychology as crucial for proper bonding between mother and child, the failure of which invariably results in absent empathy, a characteristic most notable in psychopathy. Other examples of absent non-sexual attention include keeping infants away from open fires, preventing children from playing with knives, and stopping newborns from crawling into the sea.

The model also explains many other well-documented facts, such as the large jump in the mortality rate of Papua New Guinean children after they reach the weaning stage.

Proponents of the model claim that the consequences of infanticidal childrearing are many and devastating. Among them are recorded a high rate of insanity and suicide even among young children.

Various scholars (notably Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson) have rejected this view of non-Western societies. Anthropologists generally argue that everywhere parents must negotiate between nurturing and loving their children on the one hand, and disciplining and socializing them on the other. They further argue that what constitutes "love," "sex," appropriate sexual behavior, and appropriate behavior in general, is culture-bound (and that much of what counts as average or even ideal childrearing practices in industrialized societies would be inappropriate in non-industrialized societies, and might be considered abusive by people of other cultures). They suggest that documented increases in infant mortality, mental illness, and suicide are more likely consequences of stresses brought on by Western conquest or colonization. Finally, most anthropologists do not consider non-industrial societies to necessarily be more primitive than industrial ones and find the assertion of the model that all societies of the same technological level have the same childrearing practices to be suspect and unsupported by fact. They argue that most models of cultural evolution (including many devised by anthropologists) are not so much scientific theories as myths of colonialism used to justify the denial of human rights to non-Western peoples.

In return, Lloyd deMause and his followers accuse most anthropologists and ethnologists of counter-transference[?] and of being apologists for incest, infanticide, cannibalism and child sacrifice. They claim that what constitutes child abuse is a matter of objective fact and that some of the practices which mainstream anthropologists apologize for, such as beatings of newborn infants, result in brain lesions and other visible neurological damage. Other practices may result in psychosis, dissociation and magical thinking. They also claim that the extreme cultural relativism proposed by many anthropologists is contrary to the letter and spirit of human rights.

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