Instinct or Social Norms?

Follows is an excerpt from my next book, Stone Age Babies in a Space Age World: Babies and Bonding in the 21st Century, pending publication.
Where have our instincts gone? And why do we
deny them? We aren’t completely bereft when it comes to sex, though our
bedrooms seldom come under public scrutiny, however this age of psychotherapy
finds us feeling guilty and puzzling over conflicting feelings about ourselves
and our urges. And our parenting skills. Why?
         
We are the only mammals who have devised an alternative feeding method from
what we were born with or what Nature intended. We are also the only mammals
who dress ourselves, and our baby mammals, as soon as possible after birth. Why
have we so de-valued our instincts? Are we so afraid of them? When a baby is
born we hurry to dress him, put clothes back on ourselves, cover up and remain
like that for the rest of our lives, unless we challenge society and question
our own nakedness phobias. Primitive cultures did not, over the past centuries,
and still do not fret over phobias or dress their babies so soon, if at all.
Carolyn Flint*, my favorite midwife in all of Britain, advocates that after
birth we go home, if we are not there already, take all our clothes and our
baby’s clothes off and go to bed with our little mammal for at least the next
ten days and properly bond, not to mention mom getting enough rest and
establishing a good milk supply. (Nappies or diapers allowed). How many readers
cringe at that thought? Why? 
         
Why has Western culture dictated which instincts are socially acceptable and
which are not, and why have we not rebelled? How has it gone on for so long? Why
have we succumbed to letting so-called experts — who often propose only
theories and hypotheses and not even hard evidence — dictate how we treat our
babies? When did we begin to doubt our instincts? Why do others have so much
collective sway over us? And why have we relinquished our rightful places as
protective, nurturing mothers and fathers? Is this progress? Is this what
evolution teaches?
         
Why would it? Logic tells me otherwise. Logic suggests that instinct would be
preserved over and above transient ideas that individuals invent. When did we
begin valuing un-tested, structured, formal education over natural instincts?
Are we so afraid of being blamed or appearing different from a newly conceived
norm that others are enamored with, that we rush en masse into nonsensical
behaviors? When did this irrational behavior begin? Why have we not seen our
error, perhaps moved on to learn from it, and corrected it? Why not? 
         
Do we see this in other mammals? I think not. Bears build dens in the fall just
like they have been doing for hundreds of centuries; eat what they will need to
sustain themselves through the winter, just as they have been doing for
millions of years, deliver their young before spring, nurse them even while
half asleep, then eventually fully wake up to go out and forage, returning to
their dens at just the right intervals to feed their cubs. Their milk contains
high levels of fat so that their cubs will be fine for several hours at a time
until they return. Human milk does not contain such high levels of fat. Human
babies know this, but we have ignored them (and their insistent cries) in the
past and instead nurse them on a schedule, often making them wait to feed for
up to 3 or 4 hours, though they actually need to nurse by two, and did try to
tell you that.
         
Why do we doubt ourselves in favor of contradictory information? In retrospect
I marvel at my own passivity. Before I had my own babies it never occurred to
me that babies didn’t need processed baby food. I never wondered what happened
before corporations made millions of dollars producing miniature jars of
over-cooked, tasteless (and often far too starchy) baby foods. Taste it – go
ahead and try some! I did and I was amazed that it sold in the markets at all.
I didn’t even wonder what infants ate in China or Africa or New Guinea in my
lifetime or thousands of years ago, for that matter. It never occurred to me
that mothers in other countries had already figured out how to feed their
babies after breastfeeding without buying strained food. I assumed we were so
very much smarter in the Western World. There is enough evidence around me that
proves we aren’t the only race to have survived in spite of the possible
deprivation of not having access to Gerber foods. What did the rest of the
world do, anyway? Would instinct serve me here too? Could Nature really have
answers that we have discredited all these millennia? When did we stop
listening? Why?
         
One hunch is that we stifled many of our instincts around the same time that
modern man became more mobile, and the intact family unit with its generations
of wisdom, care and continuity became threatened. What happened when we no
longer had grandparents, parents, and aunts and uncles all sharing their two
cents over everything the youngest members of the group did, or didn’t do?
Perhaps we turned to ‘experts’ in all the various disciplines who happily
offered ‘wisdom’ to us in their place. We have reinforced their position of
authority by returning to and honoring their advice. In turn we have
increasingly doubted ourselves. We have perpetuated a farce, and our newborns,
who are not yet polluted by these errors and know better, cannot tell us we are
wrong. They try: they cry, fret, fuss, some refuse to thrive. Others develop
colic, learning disorders, attention disorders, and a gamut of disturbing
physical and emotional problems – I doubt we will ever realize the enormity of
the entire scope of avoidable disasters that our errors have and are continuing
to cause.
         
When I first began observing groups of people who have been able to retain
their extended family system, I also saw very primitive bonding behaviors.
Perhaps I was seeing this because the child that was raised in this way, was
being prepared to become the healthy adult who in turn would choose to
perpetuate the extended family with its continuum of bonding still intact.
         
The Age of Enlightenment may be at least one other player in the demise of our
instincts. This was an intellectual movement in Europe that may have begun as
early as the 1600s and developed throughout the 1700s. Intelligence became
based on ‘enlightened’ rationality. The goal was to establish an authoritative
elite body of knowledgeable ‘experts’ who would lead the world toward Progress.
The masses were viewed as poor souls wallowing in irrationality, superstition,
and tyranny which were what this new school now called the Dark Ages. This
so-called ‘Enlightened’ era set the stage for the American and French
Revolutions. It also resulted in the rise of capitalism, the invention of
socialism, and a new renaissance in music and art.
         
Men decided they had finally woken up to The Age of Reason and appointed
themselves the designated leaders of Progress. They assumed that, quite suddenly, they knew better as enlightened humans than the animal kingdom. They believed
they had somehow woken up that morning instantly brilliant and insightful and
intuitive, when in fact they had just thrown out all the intuition they ever
had. The churches also jumped in to do their part. They taught the unfortunate
masses that they must now rise above their animal natures (think instinct) and
renounce sin (now equated with instinct).
          In this light, using their newly acquired, enlightened thinking, they
viewed marriage as an inevitable sin, and as a result, the great age of
monasticism soon reached its climax, flourishing with tens of thousands of men
and women literally arriving in droves at the monasteries and convents,
convinced that they would gain God’s favor by renouncing their instincts, and
being ‘good’. (Good = holy). I do not believe this was the Creator’s intention.
         
Scripture tells us, “And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it
was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.” (Genesis:
1:31) It still amazes me that God tells man and womankind to “be fruitful and
multiply” (Genesis 9:7) and then might change his mind 360 degrees.
Permanently. Why?
         
We have also seen in the past century where renegade individuals have rebelled
on behalf of their children, against the norm, though far too few to make a
world-wide impact. In Japan, just during the past decade, a small group of
families dared to defy the status quo and blew the whistle on a country-wide
system that is virtually destroying their children. They began the homeschool
movement there for the first time in 2003 after a decade of school violence and
a rise in teen suicides directly related to the pressures of the educational
system. South Korea now has a never-been-seen-before epidemic of suicides among
young people and recent studies are telling them that most happen around high
school and college finals week. This is completely unacceptable. Is this what
we call Progress? So, are we enlightened, finally? Are we? Where does this
lemming-like behavior come from? Shall we also dive head first in the same
fashion? Will our own country have to look like this before we wake up? Why?
Not surprisingly, as parents grapple with the evidence there is also a
resurgent interest in baby-friendly activities, numerous classes for new
parents, and the baby carriers their grandparents and great-grandparents used.
We see today in these Asian countries, and countries around the globe that slings,
amauti, wraps, rebozo, parraje, cradle boards, manta, and numerous other
age-old baby carriers are replacing the American-made strollers they worked so
hard to purchase in the past. Breastfeeding, baby wearing and even homebirth
are making a comeback in Korea, Japan, Mexico, and China – and the list goes on
and on. Finally some courageous people are becoming truly enlightened. Finally
some families are insisting on bonding with their babies and risking the ire of
entire countries full of skeptics. But at what cost. Why?  
     

“Women today not only possess genetic memory of
birth from a thousand generations of women, but they are also assailed from
every direction by information and misinformation about birth
.” ~ 
Valerie El Halta

*see Carolyn Flint: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bsVi4Mccac (with permission)


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