The Breast To Rule Them All

The breast is best. That signifies the central importance of breastfeeding. But one could also take it as pointing to our cultural obsession with human mammary glands, something not shared by all cultures. I’m going to make the argument that the breast, at least in American society, is the main site of social control. Before making my case, let me explore what social control has meant, as society has developed over the millennia.

There is a connection between social control and self-control. The most extreme forms of this dualistic dynamic is authoritarianism and hyper-individualism (Westworld, Scripts, and Freedom), the reason liberty has a close relationship to slavery (Liberty, Freedom, and Fairness). In reading Julian Jaynes’ classic, he makes this clear, although he confuses the matter a bit. He sometimes refers to the early Bronze Age societies as ‘authoritarian’, but he definitely does not mean totalitarianism, something that only describes the civilizations that followed later on. In the broader usage, the word ‘authoritarianism’ is sometimes tinged with his notions of archaic authorization and collective cognitive imperative (“Beyond that, there is only awe.”). The authority in question, as Jaynes argued, are the external or dispersed voices that early humans heard and followed (as today we hear and follow the voices in our own metaphorical “inner space”, what we call thoughts or what Jaynes referred to as self-authorization; The Spell of Inner Speech). Without an archaic authorization heard in the world allowing social order to emerge organically, an authoritarian system has to enforce the social order from above: “the ultimate power of authoritarianism, as Jaynes makes clear, isn’t overt force and brute violence. Outward forms of power are only necessary to the degree that external authorization is relatively weak, as is typically the case in modern societies” (“Beyond that, there is only awe.”).

And the ego is this new form of authoritarian power internalized, a monotheistic demiurge to rule over the inner world. Totalitarianism turns in on itself and becomes Jaynesian consciousness, a totalizing field of identity, but the bicameral mind continues to lurk in the shadows, something any aspiring authoritarian can take advantage of (Ben G. Price, Authoritarian Grammar and Fundamentalist Arithmetic). “We are all potential goosestepping authoritarian followers, waiting for the right conditions to bring our primal natures out into the open. With the fiery voice of authority, we can be quickly lulled into compliance by an inspiring or invigorating vision […] The danger is that the more we idolize individuality the more prone we become to what is so far beyond the individual. It is the glare of hyper-individualism that casts the shadow of authoritarianism” (Music and Dance on the Mind).

The practice of literally carving laws into stone came rather late in the Bronze Age, during the period that preceded the near total collapse of all the major societies. That totalitarianism then, as today, coincided with brutality and oppression — never before seen in the historical record. Authoritarianism as totalitarianism apparently was something new in human experience. That might be because totalitarianism requires higher levels of abstraction, such as dogmatic laws that are envisioned and enforced as universal truths, principle, and commandments. Such abstract thinking was encouraged by the spread of more complex writing (e.g., literature), beyond what earlier had been primarily limited to minimalistic record-keeping. Individualism, as I said, also arose out of this violent birth of what would eventually mature into the Axial Age. It was the radically emergent individual, after all, that needed to be controlled. We now take this all for granted, the way the world is.

There was authority as archaic authorization prior to any hint of totalitarianism, but I question if it is useful to speak of it as authoritarianism. The earliest civilizations were mostly city-states, closer to hunter-gather tribes than to anything we’d recognize in the later vast empires or in our modern nation-states. Even in gaining the capacity for great achievements, the earliest civilizations remained rather basic in form. Consider the impressive Egyptian kingdoms that, having constructed vast stone monuments, didn’t even bother to build roads and bridges. They were such a small population so tightly clustered together in that narrow patch of fertility surrounded and protected by desert that nothing more complex was required. There weren’t the vast distances of a centralized government, the disconnections between complex hierarchies, nor numerous specialized social roles beyond the immediate work at hand. These societies were small and simple, the conditions necessary for their maintaining order through social identity, through the conformity of groupthink and cultural worldview, rather than violent force. Besides lacking written laws, they also lacked police forces and standing armies. They were loosely organized communities, having originated as informal settlements that had become permanent over time.

Now back to the breast, the first source of sustenance and nurturance. Unfortunately, we don’t have any idea about what the ancients might have thought of the breast as a focus of concern, although Jaynes did have some fascinating thoughts about the naked body and sexuality. As totalitarianism appeared late, so did pornography in the broad sense as found in portrayals of sex engraved in stone, around the same time that laws also were being engraved. With fantasies of sexuality, there was sin that needed to be controlled, guilt that needed to be punished, and the laws to achieve this end. It was all of a single package, an emergent worldview and way of being, an anxiety-driven self-consciousness.

Lacking a time travel machine, the next best option is to look at other societies that challenge biases of Western modernity, specifically here in the United States. Let me begin with American society. First off, I’d note that with the Puritan comes the prurient. Americans are obsessed with all things sexual. And so the sexual has a way of pervading our society. Even something so innocent as the female breast, designed by evolution to feed infants, somehow becomes a sexual object. That projection of lust and shame isn’t seen in all societies. In hunter-gatherer tribes, it is common for the breast to have no grand significance at all. The weirdness doesn’t end there. We don’t have to look to tribal people to find cultures that aren’t sexually prudish. Among some traditional cultures in Asia and elsewhere, even the touching of someone else’s genitals doesn’t necessarily express sexual intentions, as instead it can be a way of greeting someone or showing fondness for a family member. But admittedly, the cultures that seem the most foreign to us are those that have remained the most isolated from Western influences.

The Piraha, according to Daniel Everett, are rather relaxed about sex and sexuality (Dark Matter of the Mind). It’s not that they typically have sex out in the open, except during communal dances when orgies sometimes occur, but their lifestyle doesn’t accord much privacy. Talking about sex is no big deal and children are exposed to it from a young age. Sexuality is considered a normal part of life, certainly not something to be shamed or repressed. As with some other societies, sexual play is common and not always leading to sex. That is true among both adults and children, including what Westerners would call pedophilia. A child groping an adults genitals is not considered a big deal to them. And certainly there is no issue with two children dry-humping each other or whatever, as children are wont to do in their curiosity and budding sexuality. Sex is so common among the Piraha that potential sexual partners are more available, such as with a cousin, step-sibling, or step-parent. The main restrictions are between full siblings and between a child and a biological parent or grandparent. This is a close-knit community.

“The Pirahãs all seem to be intimate friends,” writes Everett, “no matter what village they come from. Pirahãs talk as though they know every other Pirahã extremely well. I suspect that this may be related to their physical connections. Given the lack of stigma attached to and the relative frequency of divorce, promiscuousness associated with dancing and singing, and post- and prepubescent sexual experimentation, it isn’t far off the mark to conjecture that many Pirahãs have had sex with a high percentage of the other Pirahãs. This alone means that their relationships will be based on an intimacy unfamiliar to larger societies (the community that sleeps together stays together?). Imagine if you’d had sex with a sizable percentage of the residents of your neighborhood and that this fact was judged by the entire society as neither good nor bad, just a fact about life— like saying you’ve tasted many kinds of food” (Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes, p. 88).

[As a quick note, the Piraha have some interesting practices with breastfeeding. When hunting, orphaned animals sometimes are brought back to the village and breastfed alongside human offspring, one at each breast. These human-raised animals will often be eaten later on. But that must create another kind of intimacy for babies and toddlers, a kind of intimacy that includes other species. The toddler who is weaned might have as one of his first meals the meat of the animal that was his early playmate or at least breast-mate. Their diet, as with their entire lifestyle, is intimate in numerous ways.]

That offers quite the contrast to our own society. Appropriate ways of relating and touching are much more constrained (certainly, breastfeeding other species is not typical for American mothers). Not only would an adult Westerner be imprisoned for touching a child’s genitalia and a child severely chastised for touching an adult’s genitalia, two children would be shamed for touching one another or even for touching themselves. Think about that. Think about all of the children over the generations who have been ridiculed, screamed at, spanked, beaten, or otherwise traumatized for simply touching themselves or innocently playing with another child. Every form of touch is potentially fraught and becoming ever more fraught over time. This surely causes immense fear and anxiety in children raised in such a society. A psychological scarification forms into thick egoic boundaries, the individual isolated and separate from all others. It is the foot-binding of the human mind.

There is one and only one form of touch young children in the West are almost always guaranteed. They can breastfeed. They are allowed human contact with their mother’s breast. And it has become increasingly common for breastfeeding to extend for the first several years. All of the psychic energy that has few other human outlets of skin-to-skin contact gets narrowed down to the mother’s breast. The potency of this gets underestimated, as it makes many of us uncomfortable to think about it. Consider that a significant number of mothers have experienced an orgasm while breastfeeding. This happens often enough to be well within the range of a normal biological response, assuming it’s not cultural. Yet such widespread experience is likely to be judged as perverse, either by the mother in judging herself or by others if she were ever to admit to it. The breast becomes a site of shame, even as it is a site of desire.

Then, as part of weening, the child is given a pacifier. All the psychic energy that was limited to the breast then gets transferred to an inanimate object (Pacifiers, Individualism & Enculturation). The argument for pacifiers is that they’re self-soothing, but when you think about that, it is rather demented. Young children need parents and other adults to soothe them. For them to not be able to rely upon others in this basic human need creates a psychological crisis. The pacifier lacks any human quality, any nurturance or nutrient. It is empty and that emptiness is internalized. The child becomes identified with the pacifier as object. The egoic-self becomes an object with a part of the psyche that stands outside of itself (what Jaynes refers to as the analogous ‘I’ and metaphorical ‘me’) — the bundled mind becomes a splintered self (Bundle Theory: Embodied Mind, Social Nature). This is extremely bizarre, an expression of WEIRD culture (western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic; although the last part is questionable in the case of the United States). Until quite recently in the scheme of history and evolution, regular intimacy among humans was the norm. The first pacifier wasn’t used until 1935.

So, even in the West, some of these changes don’t go back very far. A certain kind of prudishness was introduced to the Western mind with Christianity, one of the transformative effects of the Axial Age. But even then, sexuality was much more relaxed in the Western world for a long time after that. “As late as Feudalism, heavily Christianized Europe offered little opportunity for privacy and maintained a relatively open attitude about sexuality during many public celebrations, specifically Carnival, and they spent an amazing amount of their time in public celebrations. Barbara Ehrenreich describes this ecstatic communality in Dancing in the Streets. Like the Piraha, these earlier Europeans had a more social and fluid sense of identity” (Hunger for Connection).  It is no surprise that, as more open sexuality and ecstatic communality declined, modern hyper-individualism followed. Some like to praise the Western mind as more fluid (Ricardo Duchesne, The Higher Cognitive Fluidity of the European Mind), but for the same reason it is also more unstable and sometimes self-destructive. This is a far different kind of fluidity, if we are to cal it that at all. Individuality, in its insatiable hunger, cannibalizes its own social foundation.

* * *

It occurs to me that this breast obsession is another example of symbolic conflation. As I’ve often explained, a symbolic conflation is the central way of maintaining social order. And the body is the primary field of their operation, typically involving highly potent focal points involving sexuality (e.g., abortion). The symbolic conflation obscures and distracts from the real issues and points of conflict. Obviously, the female breast becomes a symbol of something far beyond its evolutionary and biological reality as mammalian mammary gland. This also relates to the discussion of metonymy and shame by Lewis Hyde in his book The Trickster Makes This World — see two of my posts where I connect Hyde’s work to that of Jaynes’: Lock Without a Key and “Why are you thinking about this?”.

* * *

Do Other Cultures Allow Sex Acts to Calm Babies?
It depends on how you define “sex act.”
by Cecil Adams

Not to go all Bill Clinton on you, but we need to define what we mean by “performing a sexual act.” For now let’s just say that, based strictly on appearances, some cultures tolerate stuff that in the United States would get you branded as a pervert. Examples:

In 2006 a Cambodian immigrant living in the Las Vegas area was charged with sexual assault for allegedly performing fellatio on her 6-year-old son. The woman’s attorney said what she’d actually done was kiss the kid’s penis, once, when he was 4 or 5. A spokesperson for the Cambodian Association of America said that while this kind of thing wasn’t widespread in Cambodia, some rural folk went in for it as an expression of love or respect, although in his experience never with children older than 1 or maybe 2.

En route to being elected U.S. senator from Virginia in 2006, Jim Webb, onetime Secretary of the Navy under Reagan, was lambasted by his opponent for a passage in his 2001 novel Lost Soldiers in which a Thai man picks up his naked young son and puts his penis in his mouth. Webb responded that he had personally witnessed such a greeting in a Bangkok slum.

Numerous ethnographers report that mothers and caregivers in rural New Guinea routinely fondle the genitals of infants and toddlers of both sexes. In the case of boys this supposedly aids the growth of the penis. It’s often done in public and is a source of great amusement.

The Telegu-speaking people of central India dote on the penises of boys up through age six, which they hold, rub, and kiss. (Girls escape with minor same-sex touching.) A typical greeting involves an adult grabbing a boy’s arm with one hand and his penis with the other.

A 1946 report claimed that among lower-class Japanese families, parents would play with the genitals of children to help them fall asleep, and a researcher visiting Japan in the 1930s noted that mothers played with the genitals of their sons.

I didn’t make an exhaustive search and so don’t know to what extent such things occur in Latin America, Europe, Australia, or elsewhere. However, it appears that:

Fooling with kids’ privates is a fairly widespread practice in Asia, particularly among people toward the lower end of the socioeconomic scale. The reports are too numerous and credible for them all to be dismissed as the ravings of hysterical Westerners. My surmise is that, as societies become more westernized, urban, and affluent, the practice dies out.

The acts are sexual in the sense that those doing the fondling are well aware of the sexual implications and find it droll to give a little boy an erection.

Lurid tales occasionally do surface. Reports of mother-son incest were briefly faddish in Japanese magazines in the 1980s. These stories played off the unflattering Japanese stereotype of the mother obsessed with getting her son into a top school, suggesting some “education mamas” would violate the ultimate taboo to help their horny pubescent boys stay relaxed and focused on studying. A few Westerners have taken these urban legends at face value. Lloyd deMause, founder of and prolific contributor to a publication called the Journal of Psychohistory, cites the Japanese mother-son stories as prime evidence in his account of what he calls “the universality of incest.” It’s pretty clear, however, that incest inspires as much revulsion in Japan as anywhere else.

A less excitable take on things is that Asian societies just aren’t as hung up about matters of the flesh as we Western prudes are. In Japan, mixed-sex naked public bathing was fairly common until the postwar occupation, and some families bathe together now if they have a big enough tub. Nonetheless, so far as I can determine, Asian societies have always drawn a bright line between fooling around with babies and toddlers and having sex with your kids. If Westerners can’t fathom that elementary distinction, well, whose problem is that?

Dark Matter of the Mind
by Daniel L. Everett
Kindle Location 2688-2698

These points of group attachment are strengthened during the children’s maturation through other natural experiences of community life as the children learn their language, the configuration of their village and to sleep on the ground or on rough, uneven wooden platforms made from branches or saplings. As with other children of traditional societies, Pirahã young people experience the biological aspects of life with far less buffering than Western children. They remember these experiences, consciously or unconsciously, even though these apperceptions are not linguistic.

Pirahã children observe their parents’ physical activities in ways that children from more buffered societies do not (though often similar to the surrounding cultures just mentioned). They regularly see and hear their parents and other members of the village engage in sex (though Pirahã adults are modest by most standards, there is still only so much privacy available in a world without walls and locked doors), eliminate bodily waste, bathe, die, suffer severe pain without medication, and so on. 8 They know that their parents are like them. A small toddler will walk up to its mother while she is talking, making a basket, or spinning cotton and pull her breast out of the top of her dress (Pirahã women use only one dress design for all), and nurse— its mother’s body is its own in this respect. This access to the mother’s body is a form of entitlement and strong attachment.

Kindle Location 2736-2745

Sexual behavior is another behavior distinguishing Pirahãs from most middle-class Westerners early on. A young Pirahã girl of about five years came up to me once many years ago as I was working and made crude sexual gestures, holding her genitalia and thrusting them at me repeatedly, laughing hysterically the whole time. The people who saw this behavior gave no sign that they were bothered. Just child behavior, like picking your nose or farting. Not worth commenting about.

But the lesson is not that a child acted in a way that a Western adult might find vulgar. Rather, the lesson, as I looked into this, is that Pirahã children learn a lot more about sex early on, by observation, than most American children. Moreover, their acquisition of carnal knowledge early on is not limited to observation. A man once introduced me to a nine- or ten-year-old girl and presented her as his wife. “But just to play,” he quickly added. Pirahã young people begin to engage sexually, though apparently not in full intercourse, from early on. Touching and being touched seem to be common for Pirahã boys and girls from about seven years of age on. They are all sexually active by puberty, with older men and women frequently initiating younger girls and boys, respectively. There is no evidence that the children then or as adults find this pedophilia the least bit traumatic.

Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes
by Daniel L. Everett
pp. 82-84

Sex and marriage also involve no ritual that I can see. Although Pirahãs are reluctant to discuss their own intimate sexual details, they have done so in general terms on occasion. They refer to cunnilingus and fellatio as “licking like dogs,” though this comparison to animal behavior is not intended to denigrate the act at all. They consider animals good examples of how to live. Sexual intercourse is described as eating the other. “I ate him” or “I ate her” means “I had sexual intercourse with him or her.” The Pirahãs quite enjoy sex and allude to it or talk about others’ sexual activity freely.

Sex is not limited to spouses, though that is the norm for married men and women. Unmarried Pirahãs have sex as they wish. To have sex with someone else’s spouse is frowned upon and can be risky, but it happens. If the couple is married to each other, they will just walk off in the forest a ways to have sex. The same is true if neither member of the couple is married. If one or both members of the couple are married to someone else, however, they will usually leave the village for a few days. If they return and remain together, the old partners are thereby divorced and the new couple is married. First marriages are recognized simply by cohabitation. If they do not choose to remain together, then the cuckolded spouses may or may not choose to allow them back. Whatever happens, there is no further mention of it or complaint about it, at least not openly, once the couple has returned. However, while the lovers are absent from the village, their spouses search for them, wail, and complain loudly to everyone. Sometimes the spouses left behind asked me to take them in my motorboat to search for the missing partners, but I never did. […]

During the dance, a Pirahã woman asked me, “Do you only lie on top of one woman? Or do you want to lie on others?”
“I just lie on one. I don’t want others.”
“He doesn’t want other women,” she announced.
“Does Keren like other men?”
“No, she just wants me,” I responded as a good Christian husband.

Sexual relations are relatively free between unmarried individuals and even between individuals married to other partners during village dancing and singing, usually during full moons. Aggression is observed from time to time, from mild to severe (Keren witnessed a gang rape of a young unmarried girl by most of the village men). But aggression is never condoned and it is very rare.

p. 88

The Pirahãs all seem to be intimate friends, no matter what village they come from. Pirahãs talk as though they know every other Pirahã extremely well. I suspect that this may be related to their physical connections. Given the lack of stigma attached to and the relative frequency of divorce, promiscuousness associated with dancing and singing, and post- and prepubescent sexual experimentation, it isn’t far off the mark to conjecture that many Pirahãs have had sex with a high percentage of the other Pirahãs. This alone means that their relationships will be based on an intimacy unfamiliar to larger societies (the community that sleeps together stays together?). Imagine if you’d had sex with a sizable percentage of the residents of your neighborhood and that this fact was judged by the entire society as neither good nor bad, just a fact about life— like saying you’ve tasted many kinds of food.

pp. 102-105

Again, couples initiate cohabitation and procreation without ceremony. If they are unattached at the time, they simply begin to live together in the same house. If they are married, they first disappear from the village for two to four days, while their former spouses call for and search for them. Upon their return, they begin a new household or, if it was just a “fling,” return to their previous spouses. There is almost never any retaliation from the cuckolded spouses against those with whom their spouses have affairs. Relations between men and women and boys and girls, whether married or not, are always cordial and often marked by light to heavy flirting.

Sexually it is the same. So long as children are not forced or hurt, there is no prohibition against their participating in sex with adults. I remember once talking to Xisaoxoi, a Pirahã man in his late thirties, when a nine- or ten-year-old girl was standing beside him. As we talked, she rubbed her hands sensually over his chest and back and rubbed his crotch area through his thin, worn nylon shorts. Both were enjoying themselves.

“What’s she doing?” I asked superfluously.
“Oh, she’s just playing. We play together. When she’s big she will be my wife” was his nonchalant reply— and, indeed, after the girl went through puberty, they were married.

Marriage itself among the Pirahãs, like marriage in all cultures, comes with sets of mores that are enforced in different ways. People often ask me, for example, how the Pirahãs deal with infidelity in marriage. So how would this couple, the relatively old man and the young girl, deal with infidelity? They would deal with it like other Pirahãs, in what I take to be a very civilized fashion.

The solution or response to infidelity can even be humorous. One morning I walked over to my friend Kóhoibiíihíai’s home to ask him to teach me more of his language. As I approached his hut, everything looked pretty normal. His wife, Xíbaihóíxoi, was sitting up and he was lying down with his head in her lap.

“Hey, can you help me learn Pirahã words today?” I inquired.

He started to raise his head to answer. Then I noticed that Xíbaihóíxoi was holding him by the hair of his head. As he tried to raise his head, she jerked his head back by the hair, picked up a stick at her side and started whacking him irregularly on the top of his head, occasionally hitting him in the face. He laughed hard, but not too hard, because she jerked his hair every time he moved.

“My wife won’t let me go anywhere,” he said, giggling.

His wife was smirking but the grin disappeared right away and she struck him harder. Some of those whacks looked pretty painful to me. Kóhoi wasn’t in the best position to talk, so I left and found Xahoábisi, another good language teacher. He could work with me, he said.

As we walked back to my house together, I asked, “So what is going on with Kóhoibiíihíai? Xíbaihóíxoi is holding down his head and hitting him with a stick.”
“Oh, he was playing with another woman last night,” Xahoábisi chortled. “So this morning his woman is mad at him. He can’t go anywhere today.”

The fact that Kóhoi, a strong man and a fearless hunter, would lie like that all day and allow his wife to whack him at will (three hours later I revisited them and they were in the same position) was clearly partly voluntary penance. But it was partly a culturally prescribed remedy. I have since seen other men endure the same treatment.

By the next day, all seemed well. I didn’t hear of Kóhoi playing around with women again for quite a while after that. A nifty way to solve marital problems, I thought. It doesn’t always work, of course. There are divorces (without ceremony) among the Pirahãs. But this form of punishment for straying is effective. The woman can express her anger tangibly and the husband can show her he is sorry by letting her bang away on his head at will for a day. It is important to note that this involves no shouting or overt anger. The giggling, smirking, and laughter are all necessary components of the process, since anger is the cardinal sin among the Pirahãs. Female infidelity is also fairly common. When this happens the man looks for his wife. He may say something mean or threatening to the male who cuckolded him. But violence against anyone, children or adults, is unacceptable to the Pirahãs.

Other observations of Pirahã sexuality were a bit more shocking to my Christian sensibilities, especially when they involved clashes between our culture and Pirahã values. One afternoon during our second family stay among the Pirahãs, I walked out of the back room of our split-wood and thatched-roof home on the Maici into the central area of the house, which had no walls and in practice belonged more to the Pirahãs than to us. Shannon was staring at two Pirahã men lying on the floor in front of her. They were laughing, with their shorts pulled down around their ankles, each grabbing the other’s genitals and slapping each other on the back, rolling about the floor. Shannon grinned at me when I walked in. As a product of sexophobic American culture, I was shocked. “Hey, don’t do that in front of my daughter!” I yelled indignantly.

They stopped giggling and looked up at me. “Don’t do what?”
“That, what you’re doing, grabbing each other by the penis.”
“Oh,” they said, looking rather puzzled. “He doesn’t like to see us have fun with each other.” They pulled their pants up and, ever adaptable to new circumstances, changed the subject and asked me if I had any candy.

I never really needed to tell Shannon or her siblings much about human reproduction, death, or other biological processes. They got a pretty good idea of all that from watching the Pirahãs.

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind
by Julian Jaynes
pp. 465-470

From Mating to “Sex”

The third example I would consider here is the affect of mating. It is similar in some respects to other affects but in other ways quite distinct. Animal studies show that mating, contrary to what the popular mind thinks, is not a necessary drive that builds up like hunger or thirst (although it seems so because of consciousness), but an elaborate behavior pattern waiting to be triggered off by very specific stimuli. Mating in most animals is thus confined to certain appropriate times of the year or day as well as to certain appropriate sets of stimuli as in another’s behavior, or pheromones, light conditions, privacy, security, and many other variables. These include the enormous variety of extremely complicated courtship procedures that for rather subtle evolutionary advantages seem in many animals almost designed to prevent mating rather than to encourage it, as one might expect from an oversimplified idea of the workings of natural selection. Among the anthropoid apes, in contrast to other primates, mating is so rare in the natural habitat as to have baffled early ethologists as to how these most human-like species reproduced at all. So too perhaps with bicameral man.

But when human beings can be conscious about their mating behavior, can reminisce about it in the past and imagine it in the future, we are in a very different world, indeed, one that seems more familiar to us. Try to imagine what your “sexual life” would be if you could not fantasize about sex.

What is the evidence for this change? Scholars of the ancient world, I think, would agree that the murals and sculptures of what I’m calling the bicameral world, that is, before 1000B.C., are chaste; depictions with sexual references are scarcely existent, although there are exceptions. The modest, innocent murals from bicameral Thera now on the second floor of the National Museum in Athens are good examples.

But with the coming of consciousness, particularly in Greece, where the evidence is most clear, the remains of these early Greek societies are anything but chaste. 25 Beginning with seventh century B.C. vase paintings, with the depictions of ithyphallic satyrs, new, semidivine beings, sex seems indeed a prominent concern. And I mean to use the word concern, for it does not at first seem to be simply pornographic excitement. For example, on one island in the Aegean, Delos, is a temple of huge phallic erections.

Boundary stones all over Attica were in the form of what are called herms: square stone posts about four feet high, topped with a sculptured head usually of Hermes and, at the appropriate height, the only other sculptured feature of the post, a penile erection. Not only were these herms not laughter-producing, as they certainly would be to children of today, they were regarded as serious and important, since in Plato’s Symposium “the mutilation of the herms” by the drunken general Alcibiades, in which he evidently knocked off these protuberances with his sword around the city of Athens, is regarded as a sacrilege.

Erect phalli of stone or other material have been found in large numbers in the course of excavations. There were amulets of phalli. Vase paintings show naked female dancers swinging a phallus in a Dionysian cult. One inscription describes the measures to be taken even in times of war to make sure that the phallus procession should be led safely into the city. Colonies were obliged to send phalli to Athens for the great Dionysian festivals. Even Aristotle refers to phallic farces or satyr plays which generally followed the ritual performances of the great tragedies.

If this were all, we might be able to agree with older Victorian interpretations that this phallicism was merely an objective fertility rite. But the evidence from actual sexual behavior following the advent of conscious fantasy speaks otherwise. Brothels, supposedly instituted by Solon, were everywhere and of every kind by the fourth century B.C. Vase paintings depict every possible sexual behavior from masturbation to bestiality to human threesomes, as well as homosexuality in every possible form.

The latter indeed began only at this time, due, I suggest, in part to the new human ability to fantasize. Homosexuality is utterly absent from the Homeric poems. This is contrary to what some recent Freudian interpretations and even classical references of this period (particularly after its proscription by Plato in The Laws as being contrary to physis, or nature), seeking authorization for homosexuality in Homer, having projected into the strong bonding between Achilles and Patroclus.

And again I would have you consider the problem twenty-five hundred years ago, when human beings were first conscious and could first fantasize about sex, of how they learned to control sexual behavior to achieve a stable society. Particularly because erectile tissue in the male is more prominent than in the female, and that feedback from even partial erections would promote the continuance of sexual fantasy (a process called recruitment), we might expect that this was much more of a male problem than a female one. Perhaps the social customs that came into being for such control resulted in the greater social separation of the sexes (which was certainly obvious by the time of Plato) as well as an enhanced male dominance. We can think of modern orthodox Muslim societies in this respect, in which an exposed female ankle or lock of hair is punishable by law.

I certainly will admit that there are large vacant places in the evidence for what I am saying. And of course there are other affects, like anger becoming our hatred, or more positive ones like excitement with the magical touch of consciousness becoming joy, or affiliation consciousized into love. I have chosen anxiety, guilt, and sex as the most socially important. Readers of a Freudian persuasion will note that their theorizing could begin here. I hope that these hypotheses can provide historians more competent than myself with a new way of looking at this extremely important period of human history, when so much of what we regard as modern psychology and personality was being formed for the first time.

Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness
ed. by Marcel Kuijsten
Chapter 1 – Julian Jaynes: Introducing His Life and Thought
by William R. Woodward & June F. Tower
Kindle Location 1064-1079

Jaynes gave an overview of the “consequences of consciousness.” Here he seems to have been developing the feeling side of consciousness in its evolution during the first millennium b.c. He reminded his audience of the historical origins of shame in human and animal experience:

Think of primary school, toilet accidents. Think how painful it was. … If you say to a dog, “bad dog,” he wonders what he did wrong. He puts his tail between his legs and crawls off. It is such a biological part of us that we are ashamed to admit it. … Guilt is the consciousness of shame over time. 58

For Jaynes, the Bible remains our best source on ideas of sin. He lectured that “sin is an awful word for it,” but “the whole Hebrew Bible is talking about the importance of guilt.” He asked rhetorically “how do you get rid of guilt?” and then answered that “it is very interesting to remember what Paul makes of the crucifixion of Jesus: Jesus was taking away the sins of the world.”

After shame and guilt, he went on to the consequences of consciousness in “mating and sex, which is one of the interesting things to us.” Theoretically, that is. Julian hastened to point out that “if you go back to the bicameral world, all the art is extremely chaste. … Then if you go to the Greek world that begins around 700 b.c., it is anything but. You have never seen anything so dirty. … There were brothels at this time. It happens in the Etruscans. You find these very gross sexual scenes. So I am saying that sex is a very different thing than it was before.” What is the significance of all this lewdness appearing in human history? “You can imagine what your own sex life would be if you could not fantasize about it. This is consciousness coming in and influencing our behavior, and our physiology. Here we have consciousness, and guilt, and sex, and anxiety.” 59

The Julian Jaynes Collection
ed. by Marcel Kuijsten
Chapter 14 – Imagination and the Dance of the Self
pp. 209-212

It is similar with love, although there are differences. It is a little more difficult to talk about. We have affiliation responses in animals (or imprinting, which I have studied) where animals have a very powerful impulse to stay together. But this becomes our complicated kind of love when we can imagine the loved person and go back and forth in our imagination about them.

Similarly — and interestingly — with sex. If you look at the comparative psychology of sexual behavior in animals, it is very clear that this is not an open kind of behavior that happens any time or anything like that. It is cued ethologically into certain kinds of stimuli. So you have to have just the right kind of situation in order for animals to mate.

This is a problem that happens in every zoo: as soon as they get new animals, they want to mate them and have progeny. It is a tremendous problem, because you don’t know ethologically what those tiny cues are — they might be temperature or darkness or whatnot. For human beings it might be moonlight and roses [laughs], but it is this kind of thing that you find evolved into animal behavior.

I tend to think that in bicameral times mating was very similar to what it is in animals in that sense. It was cued into moonlight and roses shall I say, and not otherwise. Therefore it was not a problem in a way. Now, when human beings become conscious, have imagination, and can fantasize about sex, it becomes what we mean in quotes “sex.” Which I think is a problem in the sense that it does not ever quite fit into our conscious society. We go back and forward in history from having a free sex age and then a clamping down of Ms. Grundy 2 and Queen Victoria and so on. It goes back and forth because sex to us is tremendously more important than it was to bicameral man because we can fantasize about it.

Now similarly as I mentioned with the Oedipus story and the idea of guilt, we should be able to go back into history and find evidence for this. The evidence that I found for this — and I should be studying it in different cultures — is again in Greece. If you talk to Greek art historians and you ask them to compare, for example, Greek vase painting of the conscious era with the vase painting or other kinds of painting that went on in what I call the bicameral period — either in Minoan art in Crete or the famous murals that were found in Thera — they will all tell you that there is a big distinction. The older art is chaste, there is nothing about sex in it. But then you come to the vase paintings of Greece. We often think of Greece in terms of Plato and Aristotle and so on, and we do not realize that sex was something very different. For example, they have all of these satyrs with penile erections on their vases and odd things like that. Another example are things called herms. Most people have not heard of them. All the boundary stones of the city were stones about four feet in height called herms. They are called herms, by us anyway, because they were just posts that very often they had a sculpture of Hermes at the top — but sometimes of other people. Then at the appropriate place — the body was just a column — there was a penile erection. I do not think we would find Athens back in these early conscious times very congenial.

These were all over the city of Athens. They were at the boundary stones everywhere. If you think of them being around nowadays you can imagine children giggling and so on. It is enough to make you realize that these people, even at this time, the time of Plato and Aristotle, were very different than we are. And if you read Plato you can find that one of the great crimes of Alcibiades — the Greek general that comes into several of the dialogues — is this terrible, frightful night when he got drunk and went and mutilated the herms. You can imagine what he was knocking off. This is hard for us to realize, because it again makes this point that these people are still not like us even though they are conscious. Because they are new to these emotions. I do not mean to intimate that Greek life was sexually free all over the place because I don’t think that was the case. If you read Kenneth Dover’s 3 classic work about Greek homosexuality, for example, you see it is very different from the gay liberation movement that we can find going on in our country right now. It is a very tame kind of thing.

I don’t think we really understand what is going on. There is the evidence, it is there in vase paintings, it is there in Greek times, but there is something we still do not fully understand about it. But it is different from the bicameral period. We have a different kind of human nature here, and it is against this that we look at where the self can come from.

Chapter 27 – Baltimore Radio Interview: Interview by Robert Lopez
pp. 447-448

Jaynes: Yes indeed. And it happens with other emotions. Fear becomes anxiety. At the same time we have a huge change in sexual behavior. If you try to sit down and imagine what your sexual life would be like if you couldn’t fantasize about it. It’s a hard thing to do, and you probably would think it would be much less, and I suspect it would be. If we go back to bicameral times, and look at all the artwork, wherever we look, there is nothing sexual about it. There is no pornography or anything even reminiscent of that at all. It’s what classicists call chaste. But when we come into the first conscious period, for example in Greece from 700 b.c . up to 200 or 100 b.c . — the sexual life in Greece is difficult to describe because we are taught of great, noble Perician Athens and we don’t think of the sexual symbols … phalli of all kinds were just simply everywhere. This has been well documented now but it’s not something that’s presented to schoolchildren.

Lopez: You mean then that the erotic pottery that we see in ancient Greece was a result of new found consciousness and the resulting new found fascination with sex?

Jaynes: The ability to fantasize about sex immediately brought it in as a major concern. There is something I don’t understand about it… these phalli or erections were on statues everywhere. They were on the boundary stones called herms around the city of Athens. And yet they weren’t unusual to these people as it certainly would be in Baltimore today if you had these things all around the streets. It seems that sex had a religious quality, which is curious. There were a lot of very odd and different kinds of things that were happening.

Chapter 32 – Consciousness and the Voices of the Mind: University of New Hampshire Discussion
pp. 508-510

By affect I mean biologically, genetically organized emotions, such that we share with all mammals, and which have a genetically based way of arousing them and then getting rid of their byproducts. But then these become something — and we really don’t have the terminology for it, so I’m going to call them feelings right now, and by that I mean conscious feelings. We have shame, for example. It is very important and powerful — if you remember your childhood, and the importance of fitting yourself into the group without being humiliated. This becomes guilt when you have consciousness operating on it over time. Guilt is the fear of shame. We also see the emergence of anxiety, which is built on the affect of fear.

Then you have the same thing happening with sex. I think mating was pretty perfunctory back in the bicameral period, just as it is with most of the primates. It isn’t an obvious thing in any of the anthropoid apes — like the orangutans, the gorillas, the gibbons, and the chimpanzees. It is not all that obvious. And I think it was the same thing in the bicameral time — there is nothing really “sexy,” if I may use that adjective — in the bicameral paintings and sculptures. But just after this period, beginning in 700 b.c ., the Greek world is a pornographic world if ever there was one. It’s astonishing what happens. [At museums] most of these vases are not upstairs where children can see them, they are usually kept downstairs. At the same time this isn’t just a matter of artifacts; it is a part of their behavior. There is evidence of brothels beginning here, homosexuality perhaps begins at this same time, and we have various kinds of laws to regulate these things. It is something we don’t understand though, because it isn’t quite like our sexuality — it has a religious basis. It is very strange and odd, this almost religious basis. You have the tragedies, like the Oedipus plays, put on as a trilogy, and it was always followed by a phallic farce, for example. This seems extraordinary to us, because it destroys the whole beauty of these plays.

All that was going on in Greece, and was going in with the Etruscans — who didn’t leave much writing, but they left us enough so that we have a pattern and know that there was group sex going on and things like that. We don’t find it so much among the Hebrews I think because the Hebrews — who in some places were monotheistic and in other places were not — had a very powerful God saying “thou shalt not” and so on — follow the law. At least we don’t have evidence for those behaviors.

So we have for the first time increases in sexual behavior and the emergence of guilt and anxiety. Think of that: anxiety, sex, and guilt — if anybody wants to be a Freudian, this is where it begins [laughs]. Because then you had to have psychological mechanisms of controlling this. I mentioned something about repression — that’s one of the things that comes into play here — but all these methods of forgiveness and the whole concept of sin begins at this time.

Gods, Voices, the the Bicameral Mind
ed. by Marcel Kuijsten
Introduction
p. 9

The birth of consciousness ushered in profound changes for human civilization. In what Jaynes terms the “cognitive explosion,” we see the sudden beginnings of philosophy, science, history, and theater. We also observe the gradual transition from polytheism to monotheism. Consciousness operating on human emotions caused shame to become guilt, fear to become anxiety, anger to become hatred, and mating behavior to give rise to sexual fantasy. Through the spatialization of time, people could, for the first time, think about their lives on a continuum and contemplate their own death.

Chapter 12 – The Origin of Consciousness, Gains and Losses: Walker Percy vs. Julian Jaynes
by Laura Mooneyham White

pp. 174-175

This sort of “regression from a stressful human existence to a peaceable animal existence” 58 also includes a reversion to a bestial sexuality, as women present rearward for intercourse with the disinterestedness of simple physical need. Heavy sodium, among other things, drastically reduces the frequency of a woman’s estrus, so that hormonal urges and, in consequence, mating, become far less common. Sexual activity becomes emotionless and casual, as casual as in the sexual practices of the higher primates. As Jaynes has noted in a 1982 essay on the effect of consciousness on emotions, such mating, “in contrast to ourselves, is casual and almost minimal, with observations of mating in gibbons, chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas in the wild being extremely rare.” 59 Jaynes forecasts the emotionless participation in sex we see in Percy’s drugged and regressive characters, for Jaynes connects the erotic with the conscious capacity to narrate, to tell ourselves a story about our presence in time. Narration makes fantasy possible. Preconscious humans were not obsessed by sexuality, Jaynes argues: “All classicists will agree with this, that all Mycenean and Minoan art, in particular before 1000 B.C., is what seems to us as severely chaste”; “… tomb and wall paintings, sculpture and the writings of bicameral civilizations rarely if ever have any sexual references.” 60 But after the advent of human consciousness, the erotic begins to make its claim upon human attention: “About 700 B.C., Greek and Etruscan art is rampant with sexual references, very definitely demonstrating that sexual feelings were a new and profound concern in human development in these regions. We can perhaps appreciate this change in ourselves if we try to imagine what our sexual lives would be like if we could not fantasize about sexual behavior.” 61

The sexually abused and sodium-dosed children at Belle Ame Academy in Percy’s novel have lost that capacity to narrate about themselves and have therefore lost all sense of shame, all sense of what should be either morally perverse or erotically exciting. As Tom More surveys the six photographs which document the sexual abuse at Belle Ame, he is struck by the demeanor of the children’s faces. One child being subjected to fellatio by an adult male seems in countenance merely “agreeable and incurious.” 62 In another picture, a young girl is being penetrated by the chief villain, Van Dorn; she “is gazing at the camera, almost dutifully, like a cheerleader in a yearbook photo, as if to signify that all is well” 63 Another photograph is a group shot of junior-high age boys witnessing an act of cunnilingus: “Two or three, instead of paying attention to the tableau, are mugging a bit for the camera, as if they were bored, yet withal polite.” 64 Another child in yet another appalling picture seems to have a “demure, even prissy expression.” 65 What is remarkable about these photographs is how eloquently they testify to the needfulness of consciousness for the emotions of guilt, shame, or desire. Percy and Jaynes concur that without consciousness, sex is a mildly entertaining physical activity, either at best or worst.

Chapter 16 – Vico and Jaynes: Neurocultural and Cognitive Operations in the Origin of Consciousness
by Robert E. Haskell
pp. 270-271

As noted earlier, there are many differences between Vico and Jaynes that cannot be developed here. The following, however, seems noteworthy. In Vico’s “anthropological” description of the first men, he is systematic throughout his New Science in imagining the early sexual appetites, not only of the first males but also of the first females. In fact, it is basically only in this context that he describes the first females. The first men, he says, “must be supposed to have gone off into bestial wandering … [in] the great forests of the earth Jaynes, become “conscious about their mating behavior, can reminisce about it in the past and imagine it in the future, we are in a very different world, indeed, one that seems more familiar to us” ( OC : 466). Vico can be read as saying the same thing; in describing the sexuality of the first men Vico uses the phrase: “the impulse of the bodily motion of lust” ( NS : 1098, my italics), implying a kind of Jaynesian bicameral sexuality not enhanced by consciousness.

The second line of research supporting Jaynes’s claim is as follows. Scholars of ancient history would agree, says Jaynes, that the murals and sculptures during what he calls the bicameral age, that is, before 1000 B.C., are chaste. Though there are exceptions, depictions with sexual references prior to this time are nearly non-existent. After 1000 B.C., there seems to be a veritable explosion of visual depictions of sexuality: ithyphallic satyrs, large stone phalli, naked female dancers, and later, brothels, apparently instituted by Solon of Athens in the fifth century B.C. Such rampant sexuality had to be controlled. According to Vico it was “frightful superstition” (ibid.) and fear of the gods that lead to control. Jaynes speculates that one way was to separate the sexes socially, which has been observed in many preliterate societies. Since males have more visible erectile tissue than females, something had to be done to inhibit the stimulation of sexual imagination (fantasy). Jaynes cites the example of the orthodox Muslim societies in which to expose female ankles or hair is a punishable offence.29

[Note 29: It is interesting to note that both Vico and Jaynes seem to assume a hyper-sexuality on the part of males, not females. Is this an example of Vico’s “conceit of scholars,” or more specifically, the conceit of male scholars? To the contrary, Mary Jane Sherfey (1996), a physician, has suggested that in early history the female sexual appetite was stronger than the male and therefore had to be controlled by the male in order to create and maintain social order.]

* * *

Bonus material:

At the very bottom is an interview with Marcel Kuijsten who is responsible for reviving Jaynesian scholarship. The other links are about Julian Jaynes view on (egoic-)consciousness and the self, in explaining what he means by analog ‘I’, metaphor ‘me’, metaphier, metaphrand, paraphier, parphrand, spatialization, excerption, narratization, conciliation (or compatibilization, consillience), etc. Even after all these years studying Jaynesian thought, I still struggle to keep it all straight, but it’s worth trying to understand.

Also interesting is the relationship of Jaynes’ view and that of Tor Norretranders, Benjamin Libet, Friedrich Nietzsche, and David Hume. Further connections can be made to Eastern philosophy and religion, specifically Buddehism. Some claim that Hume probably developed his bundle theory from what he learned of Buddhism from returning missionaries.

Julian Jaynes on consciousness and language: Part 1
Julian Jaynes on how metaphors generate consciousness (Part II)
by Elena Maslova-Levin

Language and Consciousness according to Julian Jaynes
Consciousness according to Julian Jaynes
by Yosuke Yanase

Jaynes’s Notion of Consciousness as Self-Referential
by Michael R Finch

Metaphors and Mental Models: The Key to Understanding
by Patrick O’Shaughnessy

Am I in Charge of me or is my Brain: Julian Jaynes Edition PART 2
by Yours Truly

A contribution in three parts to the 100th aniversary of Gotthard Günther
Topic of Part 2: “Negativsprache” (negative language)
by Eberhard von Goldammer

Building Consciousness Back Up To Size – Norretranders, Libet and Free Will
by ignosympathnoramus

What are the dissimilarities between Julian Jaynes’ “analog I” and Nietzsche’s “synthetic I”?
by Sadri Mokni

“Lack of the historical sense is the traditional defect in all philosophers.”

The Crisis of Identity

“Besides real diseases we are subject to many that are only imaginary, for which the physicians have invented imaginary cures; these have then several names, and so have the drugs that are proper to them.”
~Jonathan Swift, 1726
Gulliver’s Travels

“The alarming increase in Insanity, as might naturally be expected, has incited many persons to an investigation of this disease.”
~John Haslam, 1809
On Madness and Melancholy: Including Practical Remarks on those Diseases

“Cancer, like insanity, seems to increase with the progress of civilization.”
~Stanislas Tanchou, 1843
Paper presented to the Paris Medical Society

I’ve been following Scott Preston over at his blog, Chrysalis. He has been writing on the same set of issues for a long time now, longer than I’ve been reading his blog. He reads widely and so draws on many sources, most of which I’m not familiar with, part of the reason I appreciate the work he does to pull together such informed pieces. A recent post, A Brief History of Our Disintegration, would give you a good sense of his intellectual project, although the word ‘intellectual’ sounds rather paltry for what he is exploring: “Around the end of the 19th century (called the fin de siecle period), something uncanny began to emerge in the functioning of the modern mind, also called the “perspectival” or “the mental-rational structure of consciousness” (Jean Gebser). As usual, it first became evident in the arts — a portent of things to come, but most especially as a disintegration of the personality and character structure of Modern Man and mental-rational consciousness.”

That time period has been an interest of mine as well. There are two books that come to mind that I’ve mentioned before: Tom Lutz’s American Nervousness, 1903 and Jackson Lear’s Rebirth of a Nation (for a discussion of the latter, see: Juvenile Delinquents and Emasculated Males). Both talk about that turn-of-the-century crisis, the psychological projections and physical manifestations, the social movements and political actions. A major concern was neurasthenia which, according to the dominant economic paradigm, meant a deficit of ‘nervous energy’ or ‘nerve force’, the reserves of which if not reinvested wisely and instead wasted would lead to physical and psychological bankruptcy, and so one became spent. (The term ‘neurasthenia’ was first used in 1829 and popularized by George Miller Beard in 1869, the same period when the related medical condition of ‘nostalgia’ became a more common diagnosis, although ‘nostalgia’ was first referred to in the 17th century (Swiss doctor Johannes Hofer coined the term, also using it interchangeably with nosomania and philopatridomania — see: Michael S. Roth, Memory, Trauma, and History; David Lowenthal, The Past Is a Foreign Country; Thomas Dodman, What Nostalgia Was; Susan J. Matt, Homesickness; Linda Marilyn Austin, Nostalgia in Transition, 1780-1917; Svetlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia; Gary S. Meltzer, Euripides and the Poetics of Nostalgia; see The Disease of Nostalgia). Today, we might speak of ‘neurasthenia’ as stress and, even earlier, they had other ways of talking about it — as Bryan Kozlowski explained in The Jane Austen Diet, p. 231: “A multitude of Regency terms like “flutterings,” “fidgets,” “agitations,” “vexations,” and, above all, “nerves” are the historical equivalents to what we would now recognize as physiological stress.” It was the stress of falling into history, a new sense of time, linear progression that made the past a lost world — from Stranded in the Present, Peter Fritzsche wrote:

“On that August day on the way to Mainz, Boisseree reported on of the startling consequences of the French Revolution. This was that more and more people began to visualize history as a process that affected their lives in knowable, comprehensible ways, connected them to strangers on a market boat, and thus allowed them to offer their own versions and opinions to a wider public. The emerging historical consciousness was not restricted to an elite, or a small literate stratum, but was the shared cultural good of ordinary travelers, soldiers, and artisans. In many ways history had become a mass medium connecting people and their stories all over Europe and beyond. Moreover, the drama of history was construed in such a way as to put emphasis on displacement, whether because customary business routines had been upset by the unexpected demands of headquartered Prussian troops, as the innkeepers protested, or because so many demobilized soldiers were on the move as they returned home or pressed on to seek their fortune, or because restrictive legislation against Jews and other religious minorities had been lifted, which would explain the keen interest of “the black-bearded Jew” in Napoleon and of Boisseree in the Jew. History was not simply unsettlement, though. The exchange of opinion “in the front cabin” and “in the back” hinted at the contested nature of well-defined political visions: the role of the French, of Jacobins, of Napoleon. The travelers were describing a world knocked off the feet of tradition and reworked and rearranged by various ideological protagonists and conspirators (Napoleon, Talleyrand, Blucher) who sought to create new social communities. Journeying together to Mainz, Boisseree and his companions were bound together by their common understanding of moving toward a world that was new and strange, a place more dangerous and more wonderful than the one they left behind.”

That excitement was mixed with the feeling of being spent, the reserves having been fully tapped. This was mixed up with sexuality in what Theodore Dreiser called the ‘spermatic economy’ in the management of libido as psychic energy, a modernization of Galenic thought (by the way, the catalogue for Sears, Roebuck and Company offered an electrical device to replenish nerve force that came with a genital attachment). Obsession with sexuality was used to reinforce gender roles in how neurasthenic patients were treated in following the practice of Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell, in that men were recommended to become more active (the ‘West cure’) and women more passive (the ‘rest cure’), although some women “used neurasthenia to challenge the status quo, rather than enforce it. They argued that traditional gender roles were causing women’s neurasthenia, and that housework was wasting their nervous energy. If they were allowed to do more useful work, they said, they’d be reinvesting and replenishing their energies, much as men were thought to do out in the wilderness” (Julie Beck, ‘Americanitis’: The Disease of Living Too Fast). That feminist-style argument, as I recall, came up in advertisements for the Bernarr Macfadden’s fitness protocol in the early-1900s, encouraging (presumably middle class) women to give up housework for exercise and so regain their vitality. Macfadden was also an advocate of living a fully sensuous life, going as far as free love.

Besides the gender wars, there was the ever-present bourgeois bigotry. Neurasthenia is the most civilized of the diseases of civilization since, in its original American conception, it was perceived as only afflicting middle-to-upper class whites, especially WASPs — as Lutz says that, “if you were lower class, and you weren’t educated and you weren’t Anglo Saxon, you wouldn’t get neurasthenic because you just didn’t have what it took to be damaged by modernity” (Julie Beck, ‘Americanitis’: The Disease of Living Too Fast) and so, according to Lutz’s book, people would make “claims to sickness as claims to privilege.” This class bias goes back even earlier to Robert Burton’s melancholia with its element of what later would be understood as the Cartesian anxiety of mind-body dualism, a common ailment of the intellectual elite (mind-body dualism goes back to the Axial Age; see Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind). The class bias was different for nostalgia, as written about by Svetlana Boym in The Future of Nostalgia (p. 5):

“For Robert Burton, melancholia, far from being a mere physical or psychological condition, had a philosophical dimension. The melancholic saw the world as a theater ruled by capricious fate and demonic play. Often mistaken for a mere misanthrope, the melancholic was in fact a utopian dreamer who had higher hopes for humanity. In this respect, melancholia was an affect and an ailment of intellectuals, a Hamletian doubt, a side effect of critical reason; in melancholia, thinking and feeling, spirit and matter, soul and body were perpetually in conflict. Unlike melancholia, which was regarded as an ailment of monks and philosophers, nostalgia was a more “democratic” disease that threatened to affect soldiers and sailors displaced far from home as well as many country people who began to move to the cities. Nostalgia was not merely an individual anxiety but a public threat that revealed the contradictions of modernity and acquired a greater importance.”

Like diabetes, melancholia and neuraesthenia was first seen among the elite, and so it was taken as demonstrating one’s elite nature. Prior to neurasthenic diagnoses but in the post-revolutionary era, a similar phenomenon went by other names. This is explored by Bryan Kozlowski in one chapter of The Jane Austen Diet (p. 232-233):

“Yet the idea that this was acceptable—nay, encouraged—behavior was rampant throughout the late 18th century. Ever since Jane was young, stress itself was viewed as the right and prerogative of the rich and well-off. The more stress you felt, the more you demonstrated to the world how truly delicate and sensitive your wealthy, softly pampered body actually was. The common catchword for this was having a heightened sensibility—one of the most fashionable afflictions in England at the time. Mainly affecting the “nerves,” a Regency woman who caught the sensibility but “disdains to be strong minded,” wrote a cultural observer in 1799, “she trembles at every breeze, faints at every peril and yields to every assailant.” Austen knew real-life strutters of this sensibility, writing about one acquaintance who rather enjoys “her spasms and nervousness and the consequence they give her.” It’s the same “sensibility” Marianne wallows in throughout the novel that bears its name, “feeding and encouraging” her anxiety “as a duty.” Readers of the era would have found nothing out of the ordinary in Marianne’s high-strung embrace of stress.”

This condition was considered a sign of progress, but over time it came to be seen by some as the greatest threat to civilization, in either case offering much material for fictionalized portrayals that were popular. Being sick in this fashion was proof that one was a modern individual, an exemplar of advanced civilization, if coming at immense cost —Julie Beck explains (‘Americanitis’: The Disease of Living Too Fast):

“The nature of this sickness was vague and all-encompassing. In his book Neurasthenic Nation, David Schuster, an associate professor of history at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, outlines some of the possible symptoms of neurasthenia: headaches, muscle pain, weight loss, irritability, anxiety, impotence, depression, “a lack of ambition,” and both insomnia and lethargy. It was a bit of a grab bag of a diagnosis, a catch-all for nearly any kind of discomfort or unhappiness.

“This vagueness meant that the diagnosis was likely given to people suffering from a variety of mental and physical illnesses, as well as some people with no clinical conditions by modern standards, who were just dissatisfied or full of ennui. “It was really largely a quality-of-life issue,” Schuster says. “If you were feeling good and healthy, you were not neurasthenic, but if for some reason you were feeling run down, then you were neurasthenic.””

I’d point out how neurasthenia was seen as primarily caused by intellectual activity, as it became a descriptor of a common experience among the burgeoning middle class of often well-educated professionals and office workers. This relates to Weston A. Price’s work in the 1930s, as modern dietary changes first hit this demographic since they had the means to afford eating a fully industrialized Standard American Diet (SAD), long before others (within decades, though, SAD-caused malnourishment would wreck the health at all levels of society). What this meant, in particular, was a diet high in processed carbs and sugar that coincided, because of Upton Sinclair’s 1904 The Jungle: Muckraking the Meat-Packing Industry,  with the early-1900s decreased consumption of meat and saturated fats. As Price demonstrated, this was a vast change from the traditional diet found all over the world, including in rural Europe (and presumably in rural America, with most Americans not urbanized until the turn of last century), that always included significant amounts of nutritious animal foods loaded up with fat-soluble vitamins, not to mention lots of healthy fats and cholesterol.

Prior to talk of neurasthenia, the exhaustion model of health portrayed as waste and depletion took hold in Europe centuries earlier (e.g., anti-masturbation panics) and had its roots in humor theory of bodily fluids. It has long been understood that food, specifically macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein, & fat), affect mood and behavior — see the early literature on melancholy. During feudalism food laws were used as a means of social control, such that in one case meat was prohibited prior to Carnival because of its energizing effect that it was thought could lead to rowdiness or even revolt (Ken Albala & Trudy Eden, Food and Faith in Christian Culture).

There does seem to be a connection between an increase of intellectual activity with an increase of carbohydrates and sugar, this connection first appearing during the early colonial era that set the stage for the Enlightenment. It was the agricultural mind taken to a whole new level. Indeed, a steady flow of glucose is one way to fuel extended periods of brain work, such as reading and writing for hours on end and late into the night — the reason college students to this day will down sugary drinks while studying. Because of trade networks, Enlightenment thinkers were buzzing on the suddenly much more available simple carbs and sugar, with an added boost from caffeine and nicotine. The modern intellectual mind was drugged-up right from the beginning, and over time it took its toll. Such dietary highs inevitably lead to ever greater crashes of mood and health. Interestingly, Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell who advocated the ‘rest cure’ and ‘West cure’ in treating neurasthenia and other ailments additionally used a “meat-rich diet” for his patients (Ann Stiles, Go rest, young man). Other doctors of that era were even more direct in using specifically low-carb diets for various health conditions, often for obesity which was also a focus of Dr. Mitchell.

* * *

“It cannot be denied that civilization, in its progress, is rife with causes which over-excite individuals, and result in the loss of mental equilibrium.”
~Edward Jarvis, 1843
“What shall we do with the Insane?”
The North American Review, Volume 56, Issue 118

“Have we lived too fast?”
~Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell, 1871
Wear and Tear, or Hints for the Overworked

It goes far beyond diet or any other single factor. There has been a diversity of stressors that continued to amass over the centuries of tumultuous change. The exhaustion of modern man (and typically the focus has been on men) has been building up for generations upon generations before it came to feel like a world-shaking crisis with the new industrialized world. The lens of neurasthenia was an attempt to grapple with what had changed, but the focus was too narrow. With the plague of neurasthenia, the atomization of commericialized man and woman couldn’t hold together. And so there was a temptation toward nationalistic projects, including wars, to revitalize the ailing soul and to suture the gash of social division and disarray. But this further wrenched out of alignment the traditional order that had once held society together, and what was lost mostly went without recognition. The individual was brought into the foreground of public thought, a lone protagonist in a social Darwinian world. In this melodramatic narrative of struggle and self-assertion, many individuals didn’t fare so well and everything else suffered in the wake.

Tom Lutz writes that, “By 1903, neurasthenic language and representations of neurasthenia were everywhere: in magazine articles, fiction, poetry, medical journals and books, in scholarly journals and newspaper articles, in political rhetoric and religious discourse, and in advertisements for spas, cures, nostrums, and myriad other products in newspapers, magazines and mail-order catalogs” (American Nervousness, 1903, p. 2).

There was a sense of moral decline that was hard to grasp, although some people like Weston A. Price tried to dig down into concrete explanations of what had so gone wrong, the social and psychological changes observable during mass urbanization and industrialization. He was far from alone in his inquiries, having built on the prior observations of doctors, anthropologists, and missionaries. Other doctors and scientists were looking into the influences of diet in the mid-1800s and, by the 1880s, scientists were exploring a variety of biological theories. Their inability to pinpoint the cause maybe had more to do with their lack of a needed framework, as they touched upon numerous facets of biological functioning:

“Not surprisingly, laboratory experiments designed to uncover physiological changes in the nerve cell were inconclusive. European research on neurasthenics reported such findings as loss of elasticity of blood vessels,’ thickening of the cell wall, changes in the shape of nerve cells,’6 or nerve cells that never advanced beyond an embryonic state.’ Another theory held that an overtaxed organism cannot keep up with metabolic requirements, leading to inadequate cell nutrition and waste excretion. The weakened cells cannot develop properly, while the resulting build-up of waste products effectively poisons the cells (so-called “autointoxication”).’ This theory was especially attractive because it seemed to explain the extreme diversity of neurasthenic symptoms: weakened or poisoned cells might affect the functioning of any organ in the body. Furthermore, “autointoxicants” could have a stimulatory effect, helping to account for the increased sensitivity and overexcitability characteristic of neurasthenics.'” (Laura Goering, “Russian Nervousness”: Neurasthenia and National Identity in Nineteenth-Century Russia)

This early scientific research could not lessen the mercurial sense of unease, as neurasthenia was from its inception a broad category that captured some greater shift in public mood, even as it so powerfully shaped the individual’s health. For all the effort, there were as many theories about neurasthenia as there were symptoms. Deeper insight was required. “[I]f a human being is a multiformity of mind, body, soul, and spirit,” writes Preston, “you don’t achieve wholeness or fulfillment by amputating or suppressing one or more of these aspects, but only by an effective integration of the four aspects.” But integration is easier said than done.

The modern human hasn’t been suffering from mere psychic wear and tear for the individual body itself has been showing the signs of sickness, as the diseases of civilization have become harder and harder to ignore. On a societal level of human health, I’ve previously shared passages from Lears (see here) — he discusses the vitalist impulse that was the response to the turmoil, and vitalism often was explored in terms of physical health as the most apparent manifestation, although social and spiritual health were just as often spoken of in the same breath. The whole person was under assault by an accumulation of stressors and the increasingly isolated individual didn’t have the resources to fight them off.

By the way, this was far from being limited to America. Europeans picked up the discussion of neurasthenia and took it in other directions, often with less optimism about progress, but also some thinkers emphasizing social interpretations with specific blame on hyper-individualism (Laura Goering, “Russian Nervousness”: Neurasthenia and National Identity in Nineteenth-Century Russia). Thoughts on neurasthenia became mixed up with earlier speculations on nostalgia and romanticized notions of rural life. More important, Russian thinkers in particular understood that the problems of modernity weren’t limited to the upper classes, instead extending across entire populations, as a result of how societies had been turned on their heads during that fractious century of revolutions.

In looking around, I came across some other interesting stuff. From 1901 Nervous and Mental Diseases by Archibald Church and Frederick Peterson, the authors in the chapter on “Mental Disease” are keen to further the description, categorization, and labeling of ‘insanity’. And I noted their concern with physiological asymmetry, something shared later with Price, among many others going back to the prior century.

Maybe asymmetry was not only indicative of developmental issues but also symbolic of a deeper imbalance. The attempts of phrenological analysis about psychiatric, criminal, and anti-social behavior were off-base; and, despite the bigotry and proto-genetic determinism among racists using these kinds of ideas, there is a simple truth about health in relationship to physiological development, most easily observed in bone structure, but it would take many generations to understand the deeper scientific causes, along with nutrition (e.g., Price’s discovery of vitamin K2, what he called Acivator X) including parasites, toxins, and epigenetics. Churchland and Peterson did acknowledge that this went beyond mere individual or even familial issues: “It is probable that the intemperate use of alcohol and drugs, the spreading of syphilis, and the overstimulation in many directions of modern civilization have determined an increase difficult to estimate, but nevertheless palpable, of insanity in the present century as compared with past centuries.”

Also, there is the 1902 The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease: Volume 29 edited by William G. Spiller. There is much discussion in there about how anxiety was observed, diagnosed, and treated at the time. Some of the case studies make for a fascinating read —– check out: “Report of a Case of Epilepsy Presenting as Symptoms Night Terrors, Inipellant Ideas, Complicated Automatisms, with Subsequent Development of Convulsive Motor Seizures and Psychical Aberration” by W. K. Walker. This reminds me of the case that influenced Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, Daniel Paul Schreber’s 1903 Memoirs of My Nervous Illness.

Talk about “a disintegration of the personality and character structure of Modern Man and mental-rational consciousness,” as Scott Preston put it. He goes on to say that, “The individual is not a natural thing. There is an incoherency in “Margaret Thatcher’s view of things when she infamously declared “there is no such thing as society” — that she saw only individuals and families, that is to say, atoms and molecules.” Her saying that really did capture the mood of the society she denied existing. Even the family was shrunk down to the ‘nuclear’. To state there is no society is to declare that there is also no extended family, no kinship, no community, that there is no larger human reality of any kind. Ironically in this pseudo-libertarian sentiment, there is nothing holding the family together other than government laws imposing strict control of marriage and parenting where common finances lock two individuals together under the rule of capitalist realism (the only larger realities involved are inhuman systems) — compared to high trust societies such as Nordic countries where the definition and practice of family life is less legalistic (Nordic Theory of Love and Individualism).

* * *

“It is easy, as we can see, for a barbarian to be healthy; for a civilized man the task is hard. The desire for a powerful and uninhibited ego may seem to us intelligible, but, as is shown by the times we live in, it is the profoundest sense antagonistic to civilization.”
~Sigmund Freud, 1938
An Outline of Psychoanalysis

“Consciousness is a very recent acquisition of nature, and it is still in an “experimental” state. It is frail, menaced by specific dangers, and easily injured.”
~Carl Jung, 1961
Man and His Symbols
Part 1: Approaching the Unconscious
The importance of dreams

The individual consumer-citizen as a legal member of a family unit has to be created and then controlled, as it is a rather unstable atomized identity. “The idea of the “individual”,” Preston says, “has become an unsustainable metaphor and moral ideal when the actual reality is “21st century schizoid man” — a being who, far from being individual, is falling to pieces and riven with self-contradiction, duplicity, and cognitive dissonance, as reflects life in “the New Normal” of double-talk, double-think, double-standard, and double-bind.” That is partly the reason for the heavy focus on the body, an attempt to make concrete the individual in order to hold together the splintered self — great analysis of this can be found in Lewis Hyde’s Trickster Makes This World: “an unalterable fact about the body is linked to a place in the social order, and in both cases, to accept the link is to be caught in a kind of trap. Before anyone can be snared in this trap, an equation must be made between the body and the world (my skin color is my place as a Hispanic; menstruation is my place as a woman)” (see one of my posts about it: Lock Without a Key). Along with increasing authoritarianism, there was increasing medicalization and rationalization — to try to make sense of what was senseless.

A specific example of a change can be found in Dr. Frederick Hollick (1818-1900) who was a popular writer and speaker on medicine and health — his “links were to the free-thinking tradition, not to Christianity” (Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, Rewriting Sex). With the influence of Mesmerism and animal magnetism, he studied and wrote about what more scientifically-sounding was variously called electrotherapeutics, galvanism, and electro-galvanism. Hollick was an English follower of the Scottish industrialist and socialist Robert Dale Owen who he literally followed to the United States where Owen started the utopian community New Harmony, a Southern Indiana village bought from the utopian German Harmonists and then filled with brilliant and innovative minds but lacking in practical know-how about running a self-sustaining community (Abraham Lincoln, later becoming a friend to the Owen family, recalled as a boy seeing the boat full of books heading to New Harmony).

“As had Owen before him, Hollick argued for the positive value of sexual feeling. Not only was it neither immoral nor injurious, it was the basis for morality and society. […] In many ways, Hollick was a sexual enthusiast” (Horowitz). These were the social circles of Abraham Lincoln, as he personally knew free-love advocates; that is why early Republicans were often referred to as ‘Red Republicans’, the ‘Red’ indicating radicalism as it still does to this day. Hollick wasn’t the first to be a sexual advocate nor, of course would he be the last — preceding him was Sarah Grimke (1837, Equality of the Sexes) and Charles Knowlton (1839, The Private Companion of Young Married People), Hollick having been “a student of Knowlton’s work” (Debran Rowland, The Boundaries of Her Body); and following him were two more well known figures, the previously mentioned Bernarr Macfadden (1868-1955) who was the first major health and fitness guru, and Wilhelm Reich (1897–1957) who was the less respectable member of the trinity formed with Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Sexuality became a symbolic issue of politics and health, partly because of increasing scientific knowledge but also because increasing marketization of products such as birth control (with public discussion of contraceptives happening in the late 1700s and advances in contraceptive production in the early 1800s), the latter being quite significant as it meant individuals could control pregnancy and this is particularly relevant to women. It should be noted that Hollick promoted the ideal of female sexual autonomy, that sex should be assented to and enjoyed by both partners.

This growing concern with sexuality began with the growing middle class in the decades following the American Revolution. Among much else, it was related to the post-revolutionary focus on parenting and the perceived need for raising republican citizens — this formed an audience far beyond radical libertinism and free-love. Expert advice was needed for the new bourgeouis family life, as part of the ‘civilizing process’ that increasingly took hold at that time with not only sexual manuals but also parenting guides, health pamphlets, books of manners, cookbooks, diet books, etc — cut off from the roots of traditional community and kinship, the modern individual no longer trusted inherited wisdom and so needed to be taught how to live, how to behave and relate (Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process, & Society of Individuals; Bruce Mazlish, Civilization and Its Contents; Keith Thomas, In Pursuit of Civility; Stephen Mennell, The American Civilizing Process; Cas Wouters, Informalization; Jonathan Fletcher, Violence and Civilization; François Dépelteau & ‎T. Landini, Norbert Elias and Social Theory; Rob Watts, States of Violence and the Civilising Process; Pieter Spierenburg, Violence and Punishment; Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature; Eric Dunning & Chris Rojek, Sport and Leisure in the Civilizing Process; D. E. Thiery, Polluting the Sacred; Helmut Kuzmics, Roland Axtmann, Authority, State and National Character; Mary Fulbrook, Un-Civilizing Processes?; John Zerzan, Against Civilization; Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization; Dennis Smith, Norbert Elias and Modern Social Theory; Stejpan Mestrovic, The Barbarian Temperament; Thomas Salumets, Norbert Elias and Human Interdependencies). Along with the rise of the science, this situation promoted the role of the public intellectual that Hollick effectively took advantage of and, after the failure of Owen’s utopian experiment, he went on the lecture circuit which brought on legal cases in the unsuccessful attempt to silence him, the kind of persecution that Reich also later endured.

To put it in perspective, this Antebellum era of public debate and public education on sexuality coincided with other changes. Following the revolutionary era feminism (e.g., Mary Wollstonecraft), the ‘First Wave’ of organized feminists emerged generations later with the Seneca meeting in 1848 and, in that movement, there was a strong abolitionist impulse. This was part of the rise of ideological -isms in the North that so concerned the Southern aristocrats who wanted to maintain their hierarchical control of the entire country, the control they were quickly losing with the shift of power in the Federal government. A few years before that in 1844, a more effective condom was developed using vulcanized rubber, although condoms had been on the market since the previous decade; also in the 1840s, the vaginal sponge became available. Interestingly, many feminists were as against the contraceptives as they were against abortions. These were far from being mere practical issues as politics imbued every aspect and some feminists worried about how this might lessen the role of women and motherhood in society, if sexuality was divorced from pregnancy.

This was at a time when the abortion rate was sky-rocketing, indicating most women held other views. “Yet we also know that thousands of women were attending lectures in these years, lectures dealing, in part, with fertility control. And rates of abortion were escalating rapidly, especially, according to historian James Mohr, the rate for married women. Mohr estimates that in the period 1800-1830, perhaps one out of every twenty-five to thirty pregnancies was aborted. Between 1850 and 1860, he estimates, the ratio may have been one out of every five or six pregnancies. At mid-century, more than two hundred full-time abortionists reported worked in New York City” (Rickie Solinger, Pregnancy and Power, p. 61). In the unGodly and unChurched period of early America (“We forgot.”), organized religion was weak and “premarital sex was typical, many marriages following after pregnancy, but some people simply lived in sin. Single parents and ‘bastards’ were common” (A Vast Experiment). Early Americans, by today’s standards, were not good Christians — visiting Europeans often saw them as uncouth heathens and quite dangerous at that, such as the common American practice of toting around guns and knives, ever ready for a fight, whereas carrying weapons had been made illegal in England. In The Churching of America, Roger Finke and Rodney Stark write (pp. 25-26):

“Americans are burdened with more nostalgic illusions about the colonial era than about any other period in their history. Our conceptions of the time are dominated by a few powerful illustrations of Pilgrim scenes that most people over forty stared at year after year on classroom walls: the baptism of Pocahontas, the Pilgrims walking through the woods to church, and the first Thanksgiving. Had these classroom walls also been graced with colonial scenes of drunken revelry and barroom brawling, of women in risque ball-gowns, of gamblers and rakes, a better balance might have been struck. For the fact is that there never were all that many Puritans, even in New England, and non-Puritan behavior abounded. From 1761 through 1800 a third (33.7%) of all first births in New England occurred after less than nine months of marriage (D. S. Smith, 1985), despite harsh laws against fornication. Granted, some of these early births were simply premature and do not necessarily show that premarital intercourse had occurred, but offsetting this is the likelihood that not all women who engaged in premarital intercourse would have become pregnant. In any case, single women in New England during the colonial period were more likely to be sexually active than to belong to a church-in 1776 only about one out of five New Englanders had a religious affiliation. The lack of affiliation does not necessarily mean that most were irreligious (although some clearly were), but it does mean that their faith lacked public expression and organized influence.”

Though marriage remained important as an ideal in American culture, what changed was that procreative control became increasingly available — with fewer accidental pregnancies and more abortions, a powerful motivation for marriage disappeared. Unsurprisingly, at the same time, there was increasing worries about the breakdown of community and family, concerns that would turn into moral panic at various points. Antebellum America was in turmoil. This was concretely exemplified by the dropping birth rate that was already noticeable by mid-century (Timothy Crumrin, “Her Daily Concern:” Women’s Health Issues in Early 19th-Century Indiana) and was nearly halved from 1800 to 1900 (Debran Rowland, The Boundaries of Her Body). “The late 19th century and early 20th saw a huge increase in the country’s population (nearly 200 percent between 1860 and 1910) mostly due to immigration, and that population was becoming ever more urban as people moved to cities to seek their fortunes—including women, more of whom were getting college educations and jobs outside the home” (Julie Beck, ‘Americanitis’: The Disease of Living Too Fast). It was a period of crisis, not all that different from our present crisis, including the fear about low birth rate of native-born white Americans, especially the endangered species of WASPs, being overtaken by the supposed dirty hordes of blacks, ethnics, and immigrants.

The promotion of birth control was considered a genuine threat to American society, maybe to all of Western Civilization. It was most directly a threat to traditional gender roles. Women could better control when they got pregnant, a decisive factor in the phenomenon of  larger numbers of women entering college and the workforce. And with an epidemic of neurasthenia, this dilemma was worsened by the crippling effeminacy that neutered masculine potency. Was modern man, specifically the white ruling elite, up for the task of carrying on Western Civilization?

“Indeed, civilization’s demands on men’s nerve force had left their bodies positively effeminate. According to Beard, neurasthenics had the organization of “women more than men.” They possessed ” a muscular system comparatively small and feeble.” Their dainty frames and feeble musculature lacked the masculine vigor and nervous reserves of even their most recent forefathers. “It is much less than a century ago, that a man who could not [drink] many bottles of wine was thought of as effeminate—but a fraction of a man.” No more. With their dwindling reserves of nerve force, civilized men were becoming increasingly susceptible to the weakest stimulants until now, “like babes, we find no safe retreat, save in chocolate and milk and water.” Sex was as debilitating as alcohol for neurasthenics. For most men, sex in moderation was a tonic. Yet civilized neurasthenics could become ill if they attempted intercourse even once every three months. As Beard put it, “there is not force enough left in them to reproduce the species or go through the process of reproducing the species.” Lacking even the force “to reproduce the species,” their manhood was clearly in jeopardy.” (Gail Bederman, Manliness and Civilization, pp. 87-88)

This led to a backlash that began before the Civil War with the early obscenity laws and abortion laws, but went into high gear with the 1873 Comstock laws that effectively shut down the free market of both ideas and products related to sexuality, including sex toys. This made it near impossible for most women to learn about birth control or obtain contraceptives and abortifacients. There was a felt need to restore order and that meant white male order of the WASP middle-to-upper classes, especially with the end of slavery, mass immigration of ethnics, urbanization and industrialization. The crisis wasn’t only ideological or political. The entire world had been falling apart for centuries with the ending of feudalism and the ancien regime, the last remnants of it in America being maintained through slavery. Motherhood being the backbone of civilization, it was believed that women’s sexuality had to be controlled and, unlike so much else that was out of control, it actually could be controlled through enforcement of laws.

Outlawing abortions is a particularly interesting example of social control. Even with laws in place, abortions remained commonly practiced by local doctors, even in many rural areas (American Christianity: History, Politics, & Social Issues). Corey Robin argues that the strategy hasn’t been to deny women’s agency but to assert their subordination (Denying the Agency of the Subordinate Class). This is why abortion laws were designed to target male doctors, although they rarely did, and not their female patients. Everything comes down to agency or its lack or loss, but our entire sense of agency is out of accord with our own human nature. We seek to control what is outside of us for our own sense of self is out of control. The legalistic worldview is inherently authoritarian, at the heart of what Julian Jaynes proposes as the post-bicameral project of consciousness, the contained self. But the container is weak and keeps leaking all over the place.

* * *

“It is clear that if it goes on with the same ruthless speed for the next half century . . . the sane people will be in a minority at no very distant day.”
~Henry Maudsley, 1877
“The Alleged Increase of Insanity”
Journal of Mental Science, Volume 23, Issue 101

“If this increase was real, we have argued, then we are now in the midst of an epidemic of insanity so insidious that most people are even unaware of its existence.”
~Edwin Fuller Torrey & Judy Miller, 2001
The Invisible Plague: The Rise of Mental Illness from 1750 to the Present

To bring it back to the original inspiration, Scott Preston wrote: “Quite obviously, our picture of the human being as an indivisible unit or monad of existence was quite wrong-headed, and is not adequate for the generation and re-generation of whole human beings. Our self-portrait or self-understanding of “human nature” was deficient and serves now only to produce and reproduce human caricatures. Many of us now understand that the authentic process of individuation hasn’t much in common at all with individualism and the supremacy of the self-interest.” The failure we face is that of identify, of our way of being in the world. As with neurasthenia in the past, we are now in a crisis of anxiety and depression, along with yet another moral panic about the declining white race. So, we get the likes of Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and Jordan Peterson. We failed to resolve past conflicts and so they keep re-emerging.

“In retrospect, the omens of an impending crisis and disintegration of the individual were rather obvious,” Preston points out. “So, what we face today as “the crisis of identity” and the cognitive dissonance of “the New Normal” is not something really new — it’s an intensification of that disintegrative process that has been underway for over four generations now. It has now become acute. This is the paradox. The idea of the “individual” has become an unsustainable metaphor and moral ideal when the actual reality is “21st century schizoid man” — a being who, far from being individual, is falling to pieces and riven with self-contradiction, duplicity, and cognitive dissonance, as reflects life in “the New Normal” of double-talk, double-think, double-standard, and double-bind.” We never were individuals. It was just a story we told ourselves, but there are others that could be told. Scott Preston offers an alternative narrative, that of individuation.

* * *

I found some potentially interesting books while skimming material on Google Books, in my researching Frederick Hollick and other info. Among the titles below, I’ll share some text from one of them because it offers a good summary about sexuality at the time, specifically women’s sexuality. Obviously, it went far beyond sexuality itself, and going by my own theorizing I’d say it is yet another example of symbolic conflation, considering its direct relationship to abortion.

The Boundaries of Her Body: The Troubling History of Women’s Rights in America
by Debran Rowland
pp. 34

WOMEN AND THE WOMB: The Emerging Birth Control Debate

The twentieth century dawned in America on a falling white birth rate. In 1800, an average of seven children were born to each “American-born white wife,” historians report. 29 By 1900, that number had fallen to roughly half. 30 Though there may have been several factors, some historians suggest that this decline—occurring as it did among young white women—may have been due to the use of contraceptives or abstinence,though few talked openly about it. 31

“In spite of all the rhetoric against birth control,the birthrate plummeted in the late nineteenth century in America and Western Europe (as it had in France the century before); family size was halved by the time of World War I,” notes Shari Thurer in The Myth of Motherhood. 32

As issues go, the “plummeting birthrate” among whites was a powder keg, sparking outcry as the “failure”of the privileged class to have children was contrasted with the “failure” of poor immigrants and minorities to control the number of children they were having. Criticism was loud and rampant. “The upper classes started the trend, and by the 1880s the swarms of ragged children produced by the poor were regarded by the bourgeoisie, so Emile Zola’s novels inform us, as evidence of the lower order’s ignorance and brutality,” Thurer notes. 33

But the seeds of this then-still nearly invisible movement had been planted much earlier. In the late 1700s, British political theorists began disseminating information on contraceptives as concerns of overpopulation grew among some classes. 34 Despite the separation of an ocean, by the 1820s, this information was “seeping” into the United States.

“Before the introduction of the Comstock laws, contraceptive devices were openly advertised in newspapers, tabloids, pamphlets, and health magazines,” Yalom notes.“Condoms had become increasing popular since the 1830s, when vulcanized rubber (the invention of Charles Goodyear) began to replace the earlier sheepskin models.” 35 Vaginal sponges also grew in popularity during the 1840s, as women traded letters and advice on contraceptives. 36 Of course, prosecutions under the Comstock Act went a long way toward chilling public discussion.

Though Margaret Sanger’s is often the first name associated with the dissemination of information on contraceptives in the early United States, in fact, a woman named Sarah Grimke preceded her by several decades. In 1837, Grimke published the Letters on the Equality of the Sexes, a pamphlet containing advice about sex, physiology, and the prevention of pregnancy. 37

Two years later, Charles Knowlton published The Private Companion of Young Married People, becoming the first physician in America to do so. 38 Near this time, Frederick Hollick, a student of Knowlton’s work, “popularized” the rhythm method and douching. And by the 1850s, a variety of material was being published providing men and women with information on the prevention of pregnancy. And the advances weren’t limited to paper.

“In 1846,a diaphragm-like article called The Wife’s Protector was patented in the United States,” according to Marilyn Yalom. 39 “By the 1850s dozens of patents for rubber pessaries ‘inflated to hold them in place’ were listed in the U.S. Patent Office records,” Janet Farrell Brodie reports in Contraception and Abortion in 19 th Century America. 40 And, although many of these early devices were often more medical than prophylactic, by 1864 advertisements had begun to appear for “an India-rubber contrivance”similar in function and concept to the diaphragms of today. 41

“[B]y the 1860s and 1870s, a wide assortment of pessaries (vaginal rubber caps) could be purchased at two to six dollars each,”says Yalom. 42 And by 1860, following publication of James Ashton’s Book of Nature, the five most popular ways of avoiding pregnancy—“withdrawal, and the rhythm methods”—had become part of the public discussion. 43 But this early contraceptives movement in America would prove a victim of its own success. The openness and frank talk that characterized it would run afoul of the burgeoning “purity movement.”

“During the second half of the nineteenth century,American and European purity activists, determined to control other people’s sexuality, railed against male vice, prostitution, the spread of venereal disease, and the risks run by a chaste wife in the arms of a dissolute husband,” says Yalom. “They agitated against the availability of contraception under the assumption that such devices, because of their association with prostitution, would sully the home.” 44

Anthony Comstock, a “fanatical figure,” some historians suggest, was a charismatic “purist,” who, along with others in the movement, “acted like medieval Christiansengaged in a holy war,”Yalom says. 45 It was a successful crusade. “Comstock’s dogged efforts resulted in the 1873 law passed by Congress that barred use of the postal system for the distribution of any ‘article or thing designed or intended for the prevention of contraception or procuring of abortion’,”Yalom notes.

Comstock’s zeal would also lead to his appointment as a special agent of the United States Post Office with the authority to track and destroy “illegal” mailing,i.e.,mail deemed to be “obscene”or in violation of the Comstock Act.Until his death in 1915, Comstock is said to have been energetic in his pursuit of offenders,among them Dr. Edward Bliss Foote, whose articles on contraceptive devices and methods were widely published. 46 Foote was indicted in January of 1876 for dissemination of contraceptive information. He was tried, found guilty, and fined $3,000. Though donations of more than $300 were made to help defray costs,Foote was reportedly more cautious after the trial. 47 That “caution”spread to others, some historians suggest.

Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America
By Carroll Smith-Rosenberg

Riotous Flesh: Women, Physiology, and the Solitary Vice in Nineteenth-Century America
by April R. Haynes

The Boundaries of Her Body: The Troubling History of Women’s Rights in America
by Debran Rowland

Rereading Sex: Battles Over Sexual Knowledge and Suppression in Nineteenth-century America
by Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz

Rewriting Sex: Sexual Knowledge in Antebellum America, A Brief History with Documents
by Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz

Imperiled Innocents: Anthony Comstock and Family Reproduction in Victorian America
by Nicola Kay Beisel

Against Obscenity: Reform and the Politics of Womanhood in America, 1873–1935
by Leigh Ann Wheeler

Purity in Print: Book Censorship in America from the Gilded Age to the Computer Age
by Paul S. Boyer

American Sexual Histories
edited by Elizabeth Reis

Wash and Be Healed: The Water-Cure Movement and Women’s Health
by Susan Cayleff

From Eve to Evolution: Darwin, Science, and Women’s Rights in Gilded Age America
by Kimberly A. Hamlin

Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917
by Gail Bederman

One Nation Under Stress: The Trouble with Stress as an Idea
by Dana Becker

* * *

8/18/19 – Looking back at this piece, I realize there is so much that could be added to it. And it already is long. It’s a topic that would require writing a book to do it justice. And it is such a fascinating area of study with lines of thought going in numerous directions. But I’ll limit myself by adding only a few thoughts that point toward some of those other directions.

The topic of this post goes back to the Renaissance (Western Individuality Before the Enlightenment Age) and even earlier to the Axial Age (Hunger for Connection), a thread that can be traced back through history following the collapse of what Julian Jaynes called bicameral civilization in the Bronze Age. At the beginning of modernity, the psychic tension erupted in many ways that were increasingly dramatic and sometimes disturbing, from revolution to media panics (Technological Fears and Media Panics). I see all of this as having to do with the isolating and anxiety-inducing effects of hyper-individualism. The rigid egoic boundaries required by our social order are simply tiresome (Music and Dance on the Mind), as Julian Jaynes conjectured:

“Another advantage of schizophrenia, perhaps evolutionary, is tirelessness. While a few schizophrenics complain of generalized fatigue, particularly in the early stages of the illness, most patients do not. In fact, they show less fatigue than normal persons and are capable of tremendous feats of endurance. They are not fatigued by examinations lasting many hours. They may move about day and night, or work endlessly without any sign of being tired. Catatonics may hold an awkward position for days that the reader could not hold for more than a few minutes. This suggests that much fatigue is a product of the subjective conscious mind, and that bicameral man, building the pyramids of Egypt, the ziggurats of Sumer, or the gigantic temples at Teotihuacan with only hand labor, could do so far more easily than could conscious self-reflective men.”

On the Facebook page for Jaynes’ The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Luciano Imoto made the same basic point in speaking about hyper-individualism. He stated that, “In my point of view the constant use of memory (and the hippocampus) to sustain a fictitious identity of “self/I” could be deleterious to the brain´s health at long range (considering that the brain consumes about 20 percent of the body’s energy).” I’m sure others have made similar observations. This strain on the psyche has been building up for a long time, but it became particularly apparent in the 19th century, to such an extent it was deemed necessary to build special institutions to house and care for the broken and deficient humans who couldn’t handle modern life or else couldn’t appropriately conform to the ever more oppressive social norms (Mark Jackson, The Borderland of Imbecility). As radical as some consider Jaynes to be, insights like this were hardly new — in 1867, Henry Maudsley offered insight laced with bigotry, from The Physiology and Pathology of Mind:

“There are general causes, such as the state of civilization in a country, the form of its government and its religion, the occupation, habits, and condition of its inhabitants, which are not without influence in determining the pro portion of mental diseases amongst them. Reliable statistical data respecting the prevalence of insanity in different countries are not yet to be had ; even the question whether it has increased with the progress of civilization has not been positively settled. Travellers are certainly agreed that it is a rare disease amongst barbarous people, while, in the different civilized nations of the world, there is, so far as can be ascertained, an average of about one insane person in five hundred inhabitants. Theoretical considerations would lead to the expectation of an increased liability to mental disorder with an increase in the complexity of the mental organization: as there are a greater liability to disease, and the possibility of many more diseases, in a complex organism like the human body, where there are many kinds of tissues and an orderly subordination of parts, than in a simple organism with less differentiation of tissue and less complexity of structure; so in the complex mental organization, with its manifold, special, and complex relations with the external, which a state of civilization implies, there is plainly the favourable occasion of many derangements. The feverish activity of life, the eager interests, the numerous passions, and the great strain of mental work incident to the multiplied industries and eager competition of an active civilization, can scarcely fail, one may suppose, to augment the liability to mental disease. On the other hand, it may be presumed that mental sufferings will be as rare in an infant state of society as they are in the infancy of the individual. That degenerate nervous function in young children is displayed, not in mental disorder, but in convulsions; that animals very seldom suffer from insanity; that insanity is of comparatively rare occurrence among savages; all these are circumstances that arise from one and the same fact—a want of development of the mental organization. There seems, therefore, good reason to believe that, with the progress of mental development through the ages, there is, as is the case with other forms of organic development, a correlative degeneration going on, and that an increase of insanity is a penalty which an increase of our present civilization necessarily pays. […]

“If we admit such an increase of insanity with our present civilization, we shall be at no loss to indicate causes for it. Some would no doubt easily find in over-population the prolific parent of this as of numerous other ills to mankind. In the fierce and active struggle for existence which there necessarily is where the claimants are many and the supplies are limited, and where the competition therefore is severe, the weakest must suffer, and some of them, breaking down into madness, fall by the wayside. As it is the distinctly manifested aim of mental development to bring man into more intimate, special, and complex relations with the rest of nature by means of patient investigations of physical laws, and a corresponding internal adaptation to external relations, it is no marvel, it appears indeed inevitable, that those who, either from inherited weakness or some other debilitating causes, have been rendered unequal to the struggle of life, should be ruthlessly crushed out as abortive beings in nature. They are the waste thrown up by the silent but strong current of progress; they are the weak crushed out by the strong in the mortal struggle for development; they are examples of decaying reason thrown off by vigorous mental growth, the energy of which they testify. Everywhere and always “to be weak is to be miserable.”

As civilization became complex, so did the human mind in having to adapt to it and sometimes that hit a breaking point in individuals; or else what was previously considered normal behavior was now judged unacceptable, the latter explanation favored by Michel Foucault and Thomas Szasz (also see Bruce Levine’s article, Societies With Little Coercion Have Little Mental Illness). Whatever the explanation, something that once was severely abnormal had become normalized and, as it happened with insidious gradualism, few noticed and would accept what had changed “Living amid an ongoing epidemic that nobody notices is surreal. It is like viewing a mighty river that has risen slowly over two centuries, imperceptibly claiming the surrounding land, millimeter by millimeter. . . . Humans adapt remarkably well to a disaster as long as the disaster occurs over a long period of time” (E. Fuller Torrey & Judy Miller, Invisible Plague; also see Torrey’s Schizophrenia and Civilization); “At the end of the seventeenth century, insanity was of little significance and was little discussed. At the end of the eighteenth century, it was perceived as probably increasing and was of some concern. At the end of the nineteenth century, it was perceived as an epidemic and was a major concern. And at the end of the twentieth century, insanity was simply accepted as part of the fabric of life. It is a remarkable history.” All of the changes were mostly happening over generations and centuries, which left little if any living memory from when the changes began. Many thinkers like Torrey and Miller would be useful for fleshing this out, but here is a small sampling of authors and their books: Harold D. Foster’s What Really Causes Schizophrenia, Andrew Scull’s Madness in Civilization, Alain Ehrenberg’s Weariness of the Self, etc; and I shouldn’t ignore the growing field of Jaynesian scholarship such as found in the books put out by the Julian Jaynes Society.

Besides social stress and societal complexity, there was much else that was changing. For example, increasing concentrated urbanization and close proximity with other species meant ever more spread of infectious diseases and parasites (consider toxoplasma gondii from domesticated cats; see E. Fuller Torrey’s Beasts of Earth). Also, the 18th century saw the beginnings of industrialization with the related rise of toxins (Dan Olmsted & Mark Blaxill, The Age of Autism: Mercury, Medicine, and a Man-Made Epidemic). That worsened over the following century. Industrialization also transformed the Western diet. Sugar, having been introduced in the early colonial era, now was affordable and available to the general population. And wheat, once hard to grow and limited to the rich, also was becoming a widespread ingredient with new milling methods allowing highly refined white flour which made white bread popular (in the mid-1800s, Stanislas Tanchou did a statistical analysis that correlated the rate of grain consumption with the rate of cancer; and he observed that cancer, like insanity, spread along with civilization). For the first time in history, most Westerners were eating a very high-carb diet. This diet is addictive for a number of reasons and it was combined with the introduction of addictive stimulants. As I argue, this profoundly altered neurocognitive functioning and behavior (The Agricultural Mind, “Yes, tea banished the fairies.”, Autism and the Upper Crust, & Diets and SystemsDiets and Systems).

This represents an ongoing project for me. And I’m in good company.

 

The Agricultural Mind

Let me make an argument about individualism, rigid egoic boundaries, and hence Jaynesian consciousness. But I’ll come at it from a less typical angle. I’ve been reading much about diet, nutrition, and health. There are significant links between what we eat and so much else: gut health, hormonal regulation, immune system, and neurocognitive functioning. There are multiple pathways, one of which is direct, connecting the gut and the brain. The gut is sometimes called the second brain, but in evolutionary terms it is the first brain. To demonstrate one example of a connection, many are beginning to refer to Alzheimer’s as type 3 diabetes, and dietary interventions have reversed symptoms in clinical studies. Also, microbes and parasites have been shown to influence our neurocognition and psychology, even altering personality traits and behavior (e.g., toxoplasma gondii).

One possibility to consider is the role of exorphins that are addictive and can be blocked in the same way as opioids. Exorphin, in fact, means external morphine-like substance, in the way that endorphin means indwelling morphine-like substance. Exorphins are found in milk and wheat. Milk, in particular, stands out. Even though exorphins are found in other foods, it’s been argued that they are insignificant because they theoretically can’t pass through the gut barrier, much less the blood-brain barrier. Yet exorphins have been measured elsewhere in the human body. One explanation is gut permeability that can be caused by many factors such as stress but also by milk. The purpose of milk is to get nutrients into the calf and this is done by widening the space in gut surface to allow more nutrients through the protective barrier. Exorphins get in as well and create a pleasurable experience to motivate the calf to drink more. Along with exorphins, grains and dairy also contain dopaminergic peptides, and dopamine is the other major addictive substance. It feels good to consume dairy as with wheat, whether you’re a calf or a human, and so one wants more.

Addiction, of food or drugs or anything else, is a powerful force. And it is complex in what it affects, not only physiologically and psychologically but also on a social level. Johann Hari offers a great analysis in Chasing the Scream. He makes the case that addiction is largely about isolation and that the addict is the ultimate individual. It stands out to me that addiction and addictive substances have increased over civilization. Growing of poppies, sugar, etc came later on in civilization, as did the production of beer and wine (by the way, alcohol releases endorphins, sugar causes a serotonin high, and both activate the hedonic pathway). Also, grain and dairy were slow to catch on, as a large part of the diet. Until recent centuries, most populations remained dependent on animal foods, including wild game. Americans, for example, ate large amounts of meat, butter, and lard from the colonial era through the 19th century (see Nina Teicholz, The Big Fat Surprise; passage quoted in full at Malnourished Americans). In 1900, Americans on average were only getting 10% of carbs as part of their diet and sugar was minimal.

Something else to consider is that low-carb diets can alter how the body and brain functions. That is even more true if combined with intermittent fasting and restricted eating times that would have been more common in the past. Taken together, earlier humans would have spent more time in ketosis (fat-burning mode, as opposed to glucose-burning) which dramatically affects human biology. The further one goes back in history the greater amount of time people probably spent in ketosis. One difference with ketosis is cravings and food addictions disappear. It’s a non-addictive or maybe even anti-addictive state of mind. Many hunter-gatherer tribes can go days without eating and it doesn’t appear to bother them, and that is typical of ketosis. This was also observed of Mongol warriors who could ride and fight for days on end without tiring or needing to stop for food. What is also different about hunter-gatherers and similar traditional societies is how communal they are or were and how more expansive their identities in belonging to a group. Anthropological research shows how hunter-gatherers often have a sense of personal space that extends into the environment around them. What if that isn’t merely cultural but something to do with how their bodies and brains operate? Maybe diet even plays a role. Hold that thought for a moment.

Now go back to the two staples of the modern diet, grains and dairy. Besides exorphins and dopaminergic substances, they also have high levels of glutamate, as part of gluten and casein respectively. Dr. Katherine Reid is a biochemist whose daughter was diagnosed with autism and it was severe. She went into research mode and experimented with supplementation and then diet. Many things seemed to help, but the greatest result came from restriction of glutamate, a difficult challenge as it is a common food additive (see her TED talk here and another talk here or, for a short and informal video, look here). This requires going on a largely whole foods diet, that is to say eliminating processed foods. But when dealing with a serious issue, it is worth the effort. Dr. Reid’s daughter showed immense improvement to such a degree that she was kicked out of the special needs school. After being on this diet for a while, she socialized and communicated normally like any other child, something she was previously incapable of. Keep in mind that glutamate is necessary as a foundational neurotransmitter in modulating communication between the gut and brain. But typically we only get small amounts of it, as opposed to the large doses found in the modern diet. In response to the TED Talk given by Reid, Georgia Ede commented that it’s, “Unclear if glutamate is main culprit, b/c a) little glutamate crosses blood-brain barrier; b) anything that triggers inflammation/oxidation (i.e. refined carbs) spikes brain glutamate production.” Either way, glutamate plays a powerful role in brain functioning. And no matter the exact line of causation, industrially processed foods in the modern diet would be involved.

Glutamate is also implicated in schizophrenia: “The most intriguing evidence came when the researchers gave germ-free mice fecal transplants from the schizophrenic patients. They found that “the mice behaved in a way that is reminiscent of the behavior of people with schizophrenia,” said Julio Licinio, who co-led the new work with Wong, his research partner and spouse. Mice given fecal transplants from healthy controls behaved normally. “The brains of the animals given microbes from patients with schizophrenia also showed changes in glutamate, a neurotransmitter that is thought to be dysregulated in schizophrenia,” he added. The discovery shows how altering the gut can influence an animals behavior” (Roni Dengler, Researchers Find Further Evidence That Schizophrenia is Connected to Our Guts; reporting on Peng Zheng et al, The gut microbiome from patients with schizophrenia modulates the glutamate-glutamine-GABA cycle and schizophrenia-relevant behaviors in mice, Science Advances journal). And glutamate is involved in other conditions as well, such as in relation to GABA: “But how do microbes in the gut affect [epileptic] seizures that occur in the brain? Researchers found that the microbe-mediated effects of the Ketogenic Diet decreased levels of enzymes required to produce the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate. In turn, this increased the relative abundance of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA. Taken together, these results show that the microbe-mediated effects of the Ketogenic Diet have a direct effect on neural activity, further strengthening support for the emerging concept of the ‘gut-brain’ axis.” (Jason Bush, Important Ketogenic Diet Benefit is Dependent on the Gut Microbiome). Glutamate is one neurotransmitter among many that can be affected in a similar manner; e.g., serotonin is also produced in the gut.

That reminds me of propionate, a short chain fatty acid. It is another substance normally taken in at a low level. Certain foods, including grains and dairy, contain it. The problem is that, as a useful preservative, it has been generously added to the food supply. Research on rodents shows injecting them with propionate causes autistic-like behaviors. And other rodent studies show how this stunts learning ability and causes repetitive behavior (both related to the autistic demand for the familiar), as too much propionate entrenches mental patterns through the mechanism that gut microbes use to communicate to the brain how to return to a needed food source. A recent study shows that propionate not only alters brain functioning but brain development (L.S. Abdelli et al, Propionic Acid Induces Gliosis and Neuro-inflammation through Modulation of PTEN/AKT Pathway in Autism Spectrum Disorder). As reported by Suhtling Wong-Vienneau at University of Central Florida, “when fetal-derived neural stem cells are exposed to high levels of Propionic Acid (PPA), an additive commonly found in processed foods, it decreases neuron development” (Processed Foods May Hold Key to Rise in Autism). This study “is the first to discover the molecular link between elevated levels of PPA, proliferation of glial cells, disturbed neural circuitry and autism.” The impact is profound and permanent — Pedersen offers the details:

“In the lab, the scientists discovered that exposing neural stem cells to excessive PPA damages brain cells in several ways: First, the acid disrupts the natural balance between brain cells by reducing the number of neurons and over-producing glial cells. And although glial cells help develop and protect neuron function, too many glia cells disturb connectivity between neurons. They also cause inflammation, which has been noted in the brains of autistic children. In addition, excessive amounts of the acid shorten and damage pathways that neurons use to communicate with the rest of the body. This combination of reduced neurons and damaged pathways hinder the brain’s ability to communicate, resulting in behaviors that are often found in children with autism, including repetitive behavior, mobility issues and inability to interact with others.”

So, the autistic brain develops according to higher levels of propionate and maybe becomes accustomed to it. A state of dysfunction becomes what feels normal. Propionate causes inflammation and, as Dr. Ede points out, “anything that triggers inflammation/oxidation (i.e. refined carbs) spikes brain glutamate production”. High levels of propionate and glutamate become part of the state of mind the autistic becomes identified with. It all links together. Autistics, along with cravings for for foods containing propionate (and glutamate), tend to have larger populations of a particular gut microbe that produces propionate. In killing microbes, this might be why antibiotics can help with autism. But in the case of depression, gut issues are associated instead with the lack of certain microbes that produce butyrate, another important substance that also is found in certain foods (Mireia Valles-Colomer et al, The neuroactive potential of the human gut microbiota in quality of life and depression). Depending on the specific gut dysbiosis, diverse neurocognitive conditions can result. And in affecting the microbiome, changes in autism can be achieved through a ketogenic diet, reducing the microbiome (similar to an antibiotic) — this presumably takes care of the problematic microbes and readjusts the gut from dysbiosis to a healthier balance. Also, ketosis would reduce the inflammation that is associated with glutamate production.

As with propionate, exorphins injected into rats will likewise elicit autistic-like behaviors. By two different pathways, the body produces exorphins and propionate from the consumption of grains and dairy, the former from the breakdown of proteins and the latter produced by gut bacteria in the breakdown of some grains and refined carbohydrates (combined with the propionate used as a food additive; added to other foods as well and also, at least in rodents, artificial sweeteners increase propionate levels). This is part of the explanation for why many autistics have responded well to low-carb ketosis, specifically paleo diets that restrict both wheat and dairy, but ketones themselves play a role in using the same transporters as propionate and so block their buildup in cells and, of course, ketones offer a different energy source for cells as a replacement for glucose which alters how cells function, specifically neurocognitive functioning and its attendant psychological effects.

There are some other factors to consider as well. With agriculture came a diet high in starchy carbohydrates and sugar. This inevitably leads to increased metabolic syndrome, including diabetes. And diabetes in pregnant women is associated with autism and attention deficit disorder in children. “Maternal diabetes, if not well treated, which means hyperglycemia in utero, that increases uterine inflammation, oxidative stress and hypoxia and may alter gene expression,” explained Anny H. Xiang. “This can disrupt fetal brain development, increasing the risk for neural behavior disorders, such as autism” (Maternal HbA1c influences autism risk in offspring). The increase of diabetes, not mere increase of diagnosis, could explain the greater prevalence of autism over time. Grain surpluses only became available in the 1800s, around the time when refined flour and sugar began to become common. It wasn’t until the following century that carbohydrates finally overtook animal foods as the mainstay of the diet, specifically in terms of what is most regularly eaten throughout the day in both meals and snacks — a constant influx of glucose into the system.

A further contributing factor in modern agriculture is that of pesticides, also associated with autism. Consider DDE, a product of DDT, which has been banned for decades but apparently it is still lingering in the environment. “The odds of autism among children were increased, by 32 percent, in mothers whose DDE levels were high (high was, comparatively, 75th percentile or greater),” one study found (Aditi Vyas & Richa Kalra, Long lingering pesticides may increase risk for autism: Study). “Researchers also found,” the article reports, “that the odds of having children on the autism spectrum who also had an intellectual disability were increased more than two-fold when the mother’s DDE levels were high.” A different study showed a broader effect in terms of 11 pesticides still in use:

“They found a 10 percent or more increase in rates of autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, in children whose mothers lived during pregnancy within about a mile and a quarter of a highly sprayed area. The rates varied depending on the specific pesticide sprayed, and glyphosate was associated with a 16 percent increase. Rates of autism spectrum disorders combined with intellectual disability increased by even more, about 30 percent. Exposure after birth, in the first year of life, showed the most dramatic impact, with rates of ASD with intellectual disability increasing by 50 percent on average for children who lived within the mile-and-a-quarter range. Those who lived near glyphosate spraying showed the most increased risk, at 60 percent” (Nicole Ferox, It’s Personal: Pesticide Exposures Come at a Cost).

It is an onslaught taxing our bodies and minds. And the consequences are worsening with each generation. What stands out to me about autism, in particular, is how isolating it is. The repetitive behavior and focus on objects resonates with extreme addiction. As with other conditions influenced by diet (shizophrenia, ADHD, etc), both autism and addiction block normal human relating in creating an obsessive mindset that, in the most most extreme forms, blocks out all else. I wonder if all of us moderns are simply expressing milder varieties of this biological and neurological phenomenon. And this might be the underpinning of our hyper-individualistic society, with the earliest precursors showing up in the Axial Age following what Julian Jaynes hypothesized as the breakdown of the much more other-oriented bicameral mind. What if our egoic consciousness with its rigid psychological boundaries is the result of our food system, as part of the civilizational project of mass agriculture?

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Mongolian Diet and Fasting:

For anyone who is curious to learn more, the original point of interest for me was a quote by Jack Weatherford in his book Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World: “The Chinese noted with surprise and disgust the ability of the Mongol warriors to survive on little food and water for long periods; according to one, the entire army could camp without a single puff of smoke since they needed no fires to cook. Compared to the Jurched soldiers, the Mongols were much healthier and stronger. The Mongols consumed a steady diet of meat, milk, yogurt, and other diary products, and they fought men who lived on gruel made from various grains. The grain diet of the peasant warriors stunted their bones, rotted their teeth, and left them weak and prone to disease. In contrast, the poorest Mongol soldier ate mostly protein, thereby giving him strong teeth and bones. Unlike the Jurched soldiers, who were dependent on a heavy carbohydrate diet, the Mongols could more easily go a day or two without food.” By the way, that biography was written by an anthropologist who lived among and studied the Mongols for years. It is about the historical Mongols, but filtered through the direct experience of still existing Mongol people who have maintained a traditional diet and lifestyle longer than most other populations. It isn’t only that their diet was ketogenic because of being low-carb but also because it involved fasting.

From Mongolia Volume 1 The Tangut Country, and the Solitudes of Northernin (1876), Nikolaĭ Mikhaĭlovich Przhevalʹskiĭ writes in the second note on p. 65 under the section Calendar and Year-Cycle: “On the New Year’s Day, or White Feast of the Mongols, see ‘Marco Polo’, 2nd ed. i. p. 376-378, and ii. p. 543. The monthly fetival days, properly for the Lamas days of fasting and worship, seem to differ locally. See note in same work, i. p. 224, and on the Year-cycle, i. p. 435.” This is alluded to in another text, in describing that such things as fasting were the norm of that time: “It is well known that both medieval European and traditional Mongolian cultures emphasized the importance of eating and drinking. In premodern societies these activities played a much more significant role in social intercourse as well as in religious rituals (e.g., in sacrificing and fasting) than nowadays” (Antti Ruotsala, Europeans and Mongols in the middle of the thirteenth century, 2001). A science journalist trained in biology, Dyna Rochmyaningsih, also mentions this: “As a spiritual practice, fasting has been employed by many religious groups since ancient times. Historically, ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Babylonians, and Mongolians believed that fasting was a healthy ritual that could detoxify the body and purify the mind” (Fasting and the Human Mind).

Mongol shamans and priests fasted, no different than in so many other religions, but so did other Mongols — more from Przhevalʹskiĭ’s 1876 account showing the standard feast and fast cycle of many traditional ketogenic diets: “The gluttony of this people exceeds all description. A Mongol will eat more than ten pounds of meat at one sitting, but some have been known to devour an average-sized sheep in twenty-four hours! On a journey, when provisions are economized, a leg of mutton is the ordinary daily ration for one man, and although he can live for days without food, yet, when once he gets it, he will eat enough for seven” (see more quoted material in Diet of Mongolia). Fasting was also noted of earlier Mongols, such as Genghis Khan: “In the spring of 2011, Jenghis Khan summoned his fighting forces […] For three days he fasted, neither eating nor drinking, but holding converse with the gods. On the fourth day the Khakan emerged from his tent and announced to the exultant multitude that Heaven had bestowed on him the boon of victory” (Michael Prawdin, The Mongol Empire, 1967). Even before he became Khan, this was his practice as was common among the Mongols, such that it became a communal ritual for the warriors:

“When he was still known as Temujin, without tribe and seeking to retake his kidnapped wife, Genghis Khan went to Burkhan Khaldun to pray. He stripped off his weapons, belt, and hat – the symbols of a man’s power and stature – and bowed to the sun, sky, and mountain, first offering thanks for their constancy and for the people and circumstances that sustained his life. Then, he prayed and fasted, contemplating his situation and formulating a strategy. It was only after days in prayer that he descended from the mountain with a clear purpose and plan that would result in his first victory in battle. When he was elected Khan of Khans, he again retreated into the mountains to seek blessing and guidance. Before every campaign against neighboring tribes and kingdoms, he would spend days in Burhkhan Khandun, fasting and praying. By then, the people of his tribe had joined in on his ritual at the foot of the mountain, waiting his return” (Dr. Hyun Jin Preston Moon, Genghis Khan and His Personal Standard of Leadership).

As an interesting side note, the Mongol population have been studied to some extent in one area of relevance. In Down’s Anomaly (1976), Smith et al writes that, “The initial decrease in the fasting blood sugar was greater than that usually considered normal and the return to fasting blood sugar level was slow. The results suggested increased sensitivity to insulin. Benda reported the initial drop in fating blood sugar to be normal but the absolute blood sugar level after 2 hours was lower for mongols than for controls.” That is probably the result of a traditional low-carb diet that had been maintained continuously since before history. For some further context, I noticed some discusion about the Mongolian keto diet (Reddit, r/keto, TIL that Ghenghis Khan and his Mongol Army ate a mostly keto based diet, consisting of lots of milk and cheese. The Mongols were specially adapted genetically to digest the lactase in milk and this made them easier to feed.) that was inspired by the scientific documentary “The Evolution of Us” (presently available on Netflix and elsewhere).

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3/30/19 – An additional comment: I briefly mentioned sugar, that it causes a serotonin high and activates the hedonic pathway. I also noted that it was late in civilization when sources of sugar were cultivated and, I could add, even later when sugar became cheap enough to be common. Even into the 1800s, sugar was minimal and still often considered more as medicine than food.

To extend this thought, it isn’t only sugar in general but specific forms of it. Fructose, in particular, has become widespread because of United States government subsidizing corn agriculture which has created a greater corn yield that humans can consume. So, what doesn’t get fed to animals or turned into ethanol, mostly is made into high fructose corn syrup and then added into almost every processed food and beverage imaginable.

Fructose is not like other sugars. This was important for early hominid survival and so shaped human evolution. It might have played a role in fasting and feasting. In 100 Million Years of Food, Stephen Le writes that, “Many hypotheses regarding the function of uric acid have been proposed. One suggestion is that uric acid helped our primate ancestors store fat, particularly after eating fruit. It’s true that consumption of fructose induces production of uric acid, and uric acid accentuates the fat-accumulating effects of fructose. Our ancestors, when they stumbled on fruiting trees, could gorge until their fat stores were pleasantly plump and then survive for a few weeks until the next bounty of fruit was available” (p. 42).

That makes sense to me, but he goes on to argue against this possible explanation. “The problem with this theory is that it does not explain why only primates have this peculiar trait of triggering fat storage via uric acid. After all, bears, squirrels, and other mammals store fat without using uric acid as a trigger.” This is where Le’s knowledge is lacking for he never discusses ketosis that has been centrally important for humans unlike other animals. If uric acid increases fat production, that would be helpful for fattening up for the next starvation period when the body returned to ketosis. So, it would be a regular switching back and forth between formation of uric acid that stores fat and formation of ketones that burns fat.

That is fine and dandy under natural conditions. Excess fructose, however, is a whole other matter. It has been strongly associated with metabolic syndrome. One pathway of causation is that increased production of uric acid. This can lead to gout but other things as well. It’s a mixed bag. “While it’s true that higher levels of uric acid have been found to protect against brain damage from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis, high uric acid unfortunately increases the risk of brain stroke and poor brain function” (p. 43).

The potential side effects of uric acid overdose are related to other problems I’ve discussed in relation to the agricultural mind. “A recent study also observed that high uric acid levels are associated with greater excitement-seeking and impulsivity, which the researchers noted may be linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)” (p. 43). The problems of sugar go far beyond mere physical disease. It’s one more factor in the drastic transformation of the human mind.

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4/2/19 – More info: There are certain animal fats, the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, that are essential to human health. These were abundant in the hunter-gatherer diet. But over the history of agriculture, they have become less common.

This is associated with psychiatric disorders and general neurocognitive problems, including those already mentioned above in the post. Agriculture and industrialization have replaced these healthy oils with overly processed oils that are high in linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acids. LA interferes with the body’s use of omega-3 fatty acids.

The loss of healthy animal fats in the diet might be directly related to numerous conditions. “Children who lack DHA are more likely to have increased rates of neurological disorders, in particular attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and autism” (Maria Cross, Why babies need animal fat).

“Biggest dietary change in the last 60 years has been avoidance of animal fat. Coincides with a huge uptick in autism incidence. The human brain is 60 percent fat by weight. Much more investigation needed on correspondence between autism and prenatal/child ingestion of dietary fat.”
~ Brad Lemley

The Brain Needs Animal Fat
by Georgia Ede

Maternal Dietary Fat Intake in Association With Autism Spectrum Disorders
by Kristen Lyall et al

“Maternal intake of fish, a key source of fatty acids, has been investigated in association with child neurodevelopmental outcomes in several studies. […]

“Though speculative at this time, the inverse association seen for those in the highest quartiles of intake of ω-6 fatty acids could be due to biological effects of these fatty acids on brain development. PUFAs have been shown to be important in retinal and brain development in utero (37) and to play roles in signal transduction and gene expression and as components of cell membranes (38, 39). Maternal stores of fatty acids in adipose tissue are utilized by the fetus toward the end of pregnancy and are necessary for the first 2 months of life in a crucial period of development (37). The complex effects of fatty acids on inflammatory markers and immune responses could also mediate an association between PUFA and ASD. Activation of the maternal immune system and maternal immune aberrations have been previously associated with autism (5, 40, 41), and findings suggest that increased interleukin-6 could influence fetal brain development and increase risk of autism and other neuropsychiatric conditions (42–44). Although results for effects of ω-6 intake on interleukin-6 levels are inconsistent (45, 46), maternal immune factors potentially could be affected by PUFA intake (47). […]

“Our results provide preliminary evidence that increased maternal intake of ω-6 fatty acids could reduce risk of offspring ASD and that very low intakes of ω-3 fatty acids and linoleic acid could increase risk.”

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6/13/19 – About the bicameral mind, I saw some other evidence for it in relationship to fasting. In the following quote, it is described that after ten days of fasting ancient humans would experience spirits. One thing for certain is that one can be fully in ketosis in three days. This would be true even if it wasn’t total fasting, as the caloric restriction would achieve the same end.

The author, Michael Carr, doesn’t think fasting was the cause of the spirit visions, but he doesn’t explain the reason(s) for his doubt. There is a long history of fasting used to achieve this intended outcome. If fasting was ineffective for this purpose, why has nearly every known traditional society for millennia used such methods? These people knew what they were doing.

By the way, imbibing alcohol after the fast would really knock someone into an altered state. The body becomes even more sensitive to alcohol when in ketogenic state during fasting. Combine this altered state with ritual, setting, cultural expectation, and archaic authorization. I don’t have any doubt that spirit visions could easily be induced.

Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness
ed. by Marcel Kuijsten
Kindle Location 5699-5718

Chapter 13
The Shi ‘Corpse/ Personator’ Ceremony in Early China
by Michael Carr

“”Ritual Fasts and Spirit Visions in the Liji” 37 examined how the “Record of Rites” describes zhai 齋 ‘ritual fasting’ that supposedly resulted in seeing and hearing the dead. This text describes preparations for an ancestral sacrifice that included divination for a suitable day, ablution, contemplation, and a fasting ritual with seven days of sanzhai 散 齋 ‘relaxed fasting; vegetarian diet; abstinence (esp. from sex, meat, or wine)’ followed by three days of zhizhai 致 齋 ‘strict fasting; diet of grains (esp. gruel) and water’.

“Devoted fasting is inside; relaxed fasting is outside. During fast-days, one thinks about their [the ancestor’s] lifestyle, their jokes, their aspirations, their pleasures, and their affections. [After] fasting three days, then one sees those [spirits] for whom one fasted. On the day of the sacrifice, when one enters the temple, apparently one must see them at the spirit-tablet. When one returns to go out the door [after making sacrifices], solemnly one must hear sounds of their appearance. When one goes out the door and listens, emotionally one must hear sounds of their sighing breath. 38

“This context unequivocally uses biyou 必 有 ‘must be/ have; necessarily/ certainly have’ to describe events within the ancestral temple; the faster 必 有 見 “must have sight of, must see” and 必 有 聞 “must have hearing of, must hear” the deceased parent. Did 10 days of ritual fasting and mournful meditation necessarily cause visions or hallucinations? Perhaps the explanation is extreme or total fasting, except that several Liji passages specifically warn against any excessive fasts that could harm the faster’s health or sense perceptions. 39 Perhaps the explanation is inebriation from drinking sacrificial jiu 酒 ‘( millet) wine; alcohol’ after a 10-day fast. Based on measurements of bronze vessels and another Liji passage describing a shi personator drinking nine cups of wine, 40 York University professor of religious studies Jordan Paper   calculates an alcohol equivalence of “between 5 and 8 bar shots of eighty-proof liquor.” 41 On the other hand, perhaps the best explanation is the bicameral hypothesis, which provides a far wider-reaching rationale for Chinese ritual hallucinations and personation of the dead.”

* * *

7/16/19 – One common explanation for autism is the extreme male brain theory. A recent study may have come up with supporting evidence (Christian Jarrett, Autistic boys and girls found to have “hypermasculinised” faces – supporting the Extreme Male Brain theory). Autistics, including females, tend to have hypermasculinised. This might be caused by greater exposure to testosterone in the womb.

This made my mind immediately wonder how this relates. Changes in diets alter hormonal functioning. Endocrinology, the study of hormones, has been a major part of the diet debate going back to European researchers from earlier last century (as discussed by Gary Taubes). Diet affects hormones and hormones in turn affect diet. But I had something more specific in mind.

What about propionate and glutamate? What might their relationship be to testosterone? In a brief search, I couldn’t find anything about propionate. But I did find some studies related to glutamate. There is an impact on the endocrine system, although these studies weren’t looking at the results in terms of autism specifically or neurocognitive development in general. It points to some possibilities, though.

One could extrapolate from one of these studies that increased glutamate in the pregnant mother’s diet could alter what testosterone does to the developing fetus, in that testosterone increases the toxicity of glutamate which might not be a problem under normal conditions of lower glutamate levels. This would be further exacerbated during breastfeeding and later on when the child began eating the same glutamate-rich diet as the mother.

Testosterone increases neurotoxicity of glutamate in vitro and ischemia-reperfusion injury in an animal model
by Shao-Hua Yang et al

Effect of Monosodium Glutamate on Some Endocrine Functions
by Yonetani Shinobu and Matsuzawa Yoshimasa

Western Individuality Before the Enlightenment Age

The Culture Wars of the Late Renaissance: Skeptics, Libertines, and Opera
by Edward Muir
Introduction
pp. 5-7

One of the most disturbing sources of late-Renaissance anxiety was the collapse of the traditional hierarchic notion of the human self. Ancient and medieval thought depicted reason as governing the lower faculties of the will, the passions, and the body. Renaissance thought did not so much promote “individualism” as it cut away the intellectual props that presented humanity as the embodiment of a single divine idea, thereby forcing a desperate search for identity in many. John Martin has argued that during the Renaissance, individuals formed their sense of selfhood through a difficult negotiation between inner promptings and outer social roles. Individuals during the Renaissance looked both inward for emotional sustenance and outward for social assurance, and the friction between the inner and outer selves could sharpen anxieties 2 The fragmentation of the self seems to have been especially acute in Venice, where the collapse of aristocratic marriage structures led to the formation of what Virginia Cox has called the single self, most clearly manifest in the works of several women writers who argued for the moral and intellectual equality of women with men.’ As a consequence of the fragmented understanding of the self, such thinkers as Montaigne became obsessed with what was then the new concept of human psychology, a term in fact coined in this period.4 A crucial problem in the new psychology was to define the relation between the body and the soul, in particular to determine whether the soul died with the body or was immortal. With its tradition of Averroist readings of Aristotle, some members of the philosophy faculty at the University of Padua recurrently questioned the Christian doctrine of the immortality of the soul as unsound philosophically. Other hierarchies of the human self came into question. Once reason was dethroned, the passions were given a higher value, so that the heart could be understood as a greater force than the mind in determining human conduct. duct. When the body itself slipped out of its long-despised position, the sexual drives of the lower body were liberated and thinkers were allowed to consider sex, independent of its role in reproduction, a worthy manifestation of nature. The Paduan philosopher Cesare Cremonini’s personal motto, “Intus ut libet, foris ut moris est,” does not quite translate to “If it feels good, do it;” but it comes very close. The collapse of the hierarchies of human psychology even altered the understanding of the human senses. The sense of sight lost its primacy as the superior faculty, the source of “enlightenment”; the Venetian theorists of opera gave that place in the hierarchy to the sense of hearing, the faculty that most directly channeled sensory impressions to the heart and passions.

Historical and Philosophical Issues in the Conservation of Cultural Heritage
edited by Nicholas Price, M. Kirby Talley, and Alessandra Melucco Vaccaro
Reading 5: “The History of Art as a Humanistic Discipline”
by Erwin Panofsky
pp. 83-85

Nine days before his death Immanuel Kant was visited by his physician. Old, ill and nearly blind, he rose from his chair and stood trembling with weakness and muttering unintelligible words. Finally his faithful companion realized that he would not sit down again until the visitor had taken a seat. This he did, and Kant then permitted himself to be helped to his chair and, after having regained some of his strength, said, ‘Das Gefühl für Humanität hat mich noch nicht verlassen’—’The sense of humanity has not yet left me’. The two men were moved almost to tears. For, though the word Humanität had come, in the eighteenth century, to mean little more than politeness and civility, it had, for Kant, a much deeper significance, which the circumstances of the moment served to emphasize: man’s proud and tragic consciousness of self-approved and self-imposed principles, contrasting with his utter subjection to illness, decay and all that implied in the word ‘mortality.’

Historically the word humanitas has had two clearly distinguishable meanings, the first arising from a contrast between man and what is less than man; the second between man and what is more. In the first case humanitas means a value, in the second a limitation.

The concept of humanitas as a value was formulated in the circle around the younger Scipio, with Cicero as its belated, yet most explicit spokesman. It meant the quality which distinguishes man, not only from animals, but also, and even more so, from him who belongs to the species homo without deserving the name of homo humanus; from the barbarian or vulgarian who lacks pietas and παιδεια- that is, respect for moral values and that gracious blend of learning and urbanity which we can only circumscribe by the discredited word “culture.”

In the Middle Ages this concept was displaced by the consideration of humanity as being opposed to divinity rather than to animality or barbarism. The qualities commonly associated with it were therefore those of frailty and transience: humanitas fragilis, humanitas caduca.

Thus the Renaissance conception of humanitas had a two-fold aspect from the outset. The new interest in the human being was based both on a revival of the classical antithesis between humanitas and barbartias, or feritas, and on a survival of the mediaeval antithesis between humanitas and divinitas. When Marsilio Ficino defines man as a “rational soul participating in the intellect of God, but operating in a body,” he defines him as the one being that is both autonomous and finite. And Pico’s famous ‘speech’ ‘On the Dignity of Man’ is anything but a document of paganism. Pico says that God placed man in the center of the universe so that he might be conscious of where he stands, and therefore free to decide ‘where to turn.’ He does not say that man is the center of the universe, not even in the sense commonly attributed to the classical phrase, “man the measure of all things.”

It is from this ambivalent conception of humanitas that humanism was born. It is not so much a movement as an attitude which can be defined as the conviction of the dignity of man, based on both the insistence on human values (rationality and freedom) and the acceptance of human limitations (fallibility and frailty); from this two postulates result responsibility and tolerance.

Small wonder that this attitude has been attacked from two opposite camps whose common aversion to the ideas of responsibility and tolerance has recently aligned them in a united front. Entrenched in one of these camps are those who deny human values: the determinists, whether they believe in divine, physical or social predestination, the authoritarians, and those “insectolatrists” who profess the all-importance of the hive, whether the hive be called group, class, nation or race. In the other camp are those who deny human limitations in favor of some sort of intellectual or political libertinism, such as aestheticists, vitalists, intuitionists and hero-worshipers. From the point of view of determinism, the humanist is either a lost soul or an ideologist. From the point of view of authoritarianism, he is either a heretic or a revolutionary (or a counterrevolutionary). From the point of view of “insectolatry,” he is a useless individualist. And from the point of view of libertinism he is a timid bourgeois.

Erasmus of Rotterdam, the humanist par excellence, is a typical case in point. The church suspected and ultimately rejected the writings of this man who had said: “Perhaps the spirit of Christ is more largely diffused than we think, and there are many in the community of saints who are not in our calendar.” The adventurer Uhich von Hutten despised his ironical skepticism and his unheroic love of tranquillity. And Luther, who insisted that “no man has power to think anything good or evil, but everything occurs in him by absolute necessity,” was incensed by a belief which manifested itself in the famous phrase; “What is the use of man as a totality [that is, of man endowed with both a body and a soul], if God would work in him as a sculptor works in clay, and might just as well work in stone?”

Food and Faith in Christian Culture
edited by Ken Albala and Trudy Eden
Chapter 3: “The Food Police”
Sumptuary Prohibitions On Food In The Reformation
by Johanna B. Moyer
pp. 80-83

Protestants too employed a disease model to explain the dangers of luxury consumption. Luxury damaged the body politic leading to “most incurable sickness of the universal body” (33). Protestant authors also employed Galenic humor theory, arguing that “continuous superfluous expense” unbalanced the humors leading to fever and illness (191). However, Protestants used this model less often than Catholic authors who attacked luxury. Moreover, those Protestants who did employ the Galenic model used it in a different manner than their Catholic counterparts.

Protestants also drew parallels between the damage caused by luxury to the human body and the damage excess inflicted on the French nation. Rather than a disease metaphor, however, many Protestant authors saw luxury more as a “wound” to the body politic. For Protestants the danger of luxury was not only the buildup of humors within the body politic of France but the constant “bleeding out” of humor from the body politic in the form of cash to pay for imported luxuries. The flow of cash mimicked the flow of blood from a wound in the body. Most Protestants did not see luxury foodstuffs as the problem, indeed most saw food in moderation as healthy for the body. Even luxury apparel could be healthy for the body politic in moderation, if it was domestically produced and consumed. Such luxuries circulated the “blood” of the body politic creating employment and feeding the lower orders. 72 De La Noue made this distinction clear. He dismissed the need to individually discuss the damage done by each kind of luxury that was rampant in France in his time as being as pointless “as those who have invented auricular confession have divided mortal and venal sins into infinity of roots and branches.” Rather, he argued, the damage done by luxury was in its “entire bulk” to the patrimonies of those who purchased luxuries and to the kingdom of France (116). For the Protestants, luxury did not pose an internal threat to the body and salvation of the individual. Rather, the use of luxury posed an external threat to the group, to the body politic of France.

The Reformation And Sumptuary Legislation

Catholics, as we have seen, called for antiluxury regulations on food and banqueting, hoping to curb overeating and the damage done by gluttony to the body politic. Although some Protestants also wanted to restrict food and banqueting, more often French Protestants called for restrictions on clothing and foreign luxuries. These differing views of luxury during and after the French Wars of Religion not only give insight into the theological differences between these two branches of Christianity but also provides insight into the larger pattern of the sumptuary regulation of food in Europe in this period. Sumptuary restrictions were one means by which Catholics and Protestants enforced their theology in the post-Reformation era.

Although Catholicism is often correctly cast as the branch of Reformation Christianity that gave the individual the least control over their salvation, it was also true that the individual Catholic’s path to salvation depended heavily on ascetic practices. The responsibility for following these practices fell on the individual believer. Sumptuary laws on food in Catholic areas reinforced this responsibility by emphasizing what foods should and should not be eaten and mirrored the central theological practice of fasting for the atonement of sin. Perhaps the historiographical cliché that it was only Protestantism which gave the individual believer control of his or her salvation needs to be qualified. The arithmetical piety of Catholicism ultimately placed the onus on the individual to atone for each sin. Moreover, sumptuary legislation tried to steer the Catholic believer away from the more serious sins that were associated with overeating, including gluttony, lust, anger, and pride.

Catholic theology meshed nicely with the revival of Galenism that swept through Europe in this period. Galenists preached that meat eating, overeating, and the imbalance in humors which accompanied these practices, led to behavioral changes, including an increased sex drive and increased aggression. These physical problems mirrored the spiritual problems that luxury caused, including fornication and violence. This is why so many authors blamed the French nobility for the luxury problem in France. Nobles were seen not only as more likely to bear the expense of overeating but also as more prone to violence. 73

Galenism also meshed nicely with Catholicism because it was a very physical religion in which the control of the physical body figured prominently in the believer’s path to salvation. Not surprisingly, by the seventeenth century, Protestants gravitated away from Galenism toward the chemical view of the body offered by Paracelsus. 74 Catholic sumptuary law embodied a Galenic view of the body where sin and disease were equated and therefore pushed regulations that advocated each person’s control of his or her own body.

Protestant legislators, conversely, were not interested in the individual diner. Sumptuary legislation in Protestant areas ran the gamut from control of communal displays of eating, in places like Switzerland and Germany, to little or no concern with restrictions on luxury foods, as in England. For Protestants, it was the communal role of food and luxury use that was important. Hence the laws in Protestant areas targeted food in the context of weddings, baptisms, and even funerals. The English did not even bother to enact sumptuary restrictions on food after their break with Catholicism. The French Protestants who wrote on luxury glossed over the deleterious effects of meat eating, even proclaiming it to be healthful for the body while producing diatribes against the evils of imported luxury apparel. The use of Galenism in the French Reformed treatises suggests that Protestants too were concerned with a “body,” but it was not the individual body of the believer that worried Protestant legislators. Sumptuary restrictions were designed to safeguard the mystical body of believers, or the “Elect” in the language of Calvinism. French Protestants used the Galenic model of the body to discuss the damage that luxury did to the body of believers in France, but ultimately to safeguard the economic welfare of all French subjects. The Calvinists of Switzerland used sumptuary legislation on food to protect those predestined for salvation from the dangerous eating practices of members of the community whose overeating suggested they might not be saved.

Ultimately, sumptuary regulations in the Reformation spoke to the Christian practice of fasting. Fasting served very different functions in Protestants and Catholic theology. Raymond Mentzer has suggested that Protestants “modified” the Catholic practice of fasting during the Reformation. The major reformers, including Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, all rejected fasting as a path to salvation. 75 For Protestants, fasting was a “liturgical rite,” part of the cycle of worship and a practice that served to “bind the community.” Fasting was often a response to adversity, as during the French Wars of Religion. For Catholics, fasting was an individual act, just as sumptuary legislation in Catholic areas targeted individual diners. However, for Protestants, fasting was a communal act, “calling attention to the body of believers.” 76 The symbolic nature of fasting, Mentzer argues, reflected Protestant rejection of transubstantiation. Catholics continued to believe that God was physically present in the host, but Protestants believed His was only a spiritual presence. When Catholics took Communion, they fasted to cleanse their own bodies so as to receive the real, physical body of Christ. Protestants, on the other hand, fasted as spiritual preparation because it was their spirits that connected with the spirit of Christ in the Eucharist. 77

“…some deeper area of the being.”

Alec Nevala-Lee shares a passage from Colin Wilson’s Mysteries (see Magic and the art of will). It elicits many thoughts, but I want to focus on the two main related aspects: the self and the will.

The main thing Wilson is talking about is hyper-individualism — the falseness and superficiality, constraint and limitation of anxiety-driven ‘consciousness’, the conscious personality of the ego-self. This is what denies the bundled self and the extended self, the vaster sense of being that challenges the socio-psychological structure of the modern mind. We defend our thick boundaries with great care for fear of what might get in, but this locks us in a prison cell of our own making. In not allowing ourselves to be affected, we make ourselves ineffective or at best only partly effective toward paltry ends. It’s not only a matter of doing “something really well” for we don’t really know what we want to do, as we’ve become disconnected from deeper impulses and broader experience.

For about as long as I can remember, the notion of ‘free will’ has never made sense to me. It isn’t a philosophical disagreement. Rather, in my own experience and in my observation of others, it simply offers no compelling explanation or valid meaning, much less deep insight. It intuitively makes no sense, which is to say it can only make sense if we never carefully think about it with probing awareness and open-minded inquiry. To the degree there is a ‘will’ is to the degree it is inseparable from the self. That is to say the self never wills anything for the self is and can only be known through the process of willing, which is simply to say through impulse and action. We are what we do, but we never know why we do what we do. We are who we are and we don’t know how to be otherwise.

There is no way to step back from the self in order to objectively see and act upon the self. That would require yet another self. The attempt to impose a will upon the self would lead to an infinite regress of selves. That would be a pointless preoccupation, although as entertainments go it is popular these days. A more worthy activity and maybe a greater achievement is stop trying to contain ourselves and instead to align with a greater sense of self. Will wills itself. And the only freedom that the will possesses is to be itself. That is what some might consider purpose or telos, one’s reason for being or rather one’s reason in being.

No freedom exists in isolation. To believe otherwise is a trap. The precise trap involved is addiction, which is the will driven by compulsion. After all, the addict is the ultimate individual, so disconnected within a repeating pattern of behavior as to be unable to affect or be affected. Complete autonomy is impotence. The only freedom is in relationship, both to the larger world and the larger sense of self. It is in the ‘other’ that we know ourselves. We can only be free in not trying to impose freedom, in not struggling to control and manipulate. True will, if we are to speak of such a thing, is the opposite of willfulness. We are only free to the extent we don’t think in the explicit terms of freedom. It is not a thought in the mind but a way of being in the world.

We know that the conscious will is connected to the narrow, conscious part of the personality. One of the paradoxes observed by [Pierre] Janet is that as the hysteric becomes increasingly obsessed with anxiety—and the need to exert his will—he also becomes increasingly ineffective. The narrower and more obsessive the consciousness, the weaker the will. Every one of us is familiar with the phenomenon. The more we become racked with anxiety to do something well, the more we are likely to botch it. It is [Viktor] Frankl’s “law of reversed effort.” If you want to do something really well, you have to get into the “right mood.” And the right mood involves a sense of relaxation, of feeling “wide open” instead of narrow and enclosed…

As William James remarked, we all have a lifelong habit of “inferiority to our full self.” We are all hysterics; it is the endemic disease of the human race, which clearly implies that, outside our “everyday personality,” there is a wider “self” that possesses greater powers than the everyday self. And this is not the Freudian subconscious. Like the “wider self” of Janet’s patients, it is as conscious as the “contracted self.” We are, in fact, partially aware of this “other self.” When a man “unwinds” by pouring himself a drink and kicking off his shoes, he is adopting an elementary method of relaxing into the other self. When an overworked housewife decides to buy herself a new hat, she is doing the same thing. But we seldom relax far enough; habit—and anxiety—are too strong…Magic is the art and science of using the will. Not the ordinary will of the contracted ego but the “true will” that seems to spring from some deeper area of the being.

Colin WilsonMysteries

Delirium of Hyper-Individualism

Individualism is a strange thing. For anyone who has spent much time meditating, it’s obvious that there is no there there. It slips through one’s grasp like an ancient philosopher trying to study aether. The individual self is the modernization of the soul. Like the ghost in the machine and the god in the gaps, it is a theological belief defined by its absence in the world. It’s a social construct, a statement that is easily misunderstood.

In modern society, individualism has been raised up to an entire ideological worldview. It is all-encompassing, having infiltrated nearly every aspect of our social lives and become internalized as a cognitive frame. Traditional societies didn’t have this obsession with an idealized self as isolated and autonomous. Go back far enough and the records seem to show societies that didn’t even have a concept, much less an experience, of individuality.

Yet for all its dominance, the ideology of individualism is superficial. It doesn’t explain much of our social order and personal behavior. We don’t act as if we actually believe in it. It’s a convenient fiction that we so easily disregard when inconvenient, as if it isn’t all that important after all. In our most direct experience, individuality simply makes no sense. We are social creatures through and through. We don’t know how to be anything else, no matter what stories we tell ourselves.

The ultimate value of this individualistic ideology is, ironically, as social control and social justification.

The wealthy, the powerful and privileged, even the mere middle class to a lesser degree — they get to be individuals when everything goes right. They get all the credit and all the benefits. All of society serves them because they deserve it. But when anything goes wrong, they hire lawyers who threaten anyone who challenges them or they settle out of court, they use their crony connections and regulatory capture to avoid consequences, they declare bankruptcy when one of their business ventures fail, and they endlessly scapegoat those far below them in the social hierarchy.

The profits and benefits are privatized while the costs are externalized. This is socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor, with the middle class getting some combination of the two. This is why democratic rhetoric justifies plutocracy while authoritarianism keeps the masses in line. This stark reality is hidden behind the utopian ideal of individualism with its claims of meritocracy and a just world.

The fact of the matter is that no individual ever became successful. Let’s do an experiment. Take an individual baby, let’s say the little white male baby of wealthy parents with their superior genetics. Now leave that baby in the woods to raise himself into adulthood and bootstrap himself into a self-made man. I wonder how well that would work for his survival and future prospects. If privilege and power, if opportunity and resources, if social capital and collective inheritance, if public goods and the commons have no major role to play such that the individual is solely responsible to himself, we should expect great things from this self-raised wild baby.

But if it turns out that hyper-individualism is total bullshit, we should instead expect that baby to die of exposure and starvation or become the the prey of a predator feeding its own baby without any concerns for individuality. Even simply leaving a baby untouched and neglected in an orphanage will cause failure to thrive and death. Without social support, our very will to live disappears. Social science research has proven the immense social and environmental influences on humans. For a long time now there has been no real debate about this social reality of our shared humanity.

So why does this false belief and false idol persist? What horrible result do we fear if we were ever to be honest with ourselves? I get that the ruling elite are ruled by their own egotistic pride and narcissism. I get that the comfortable classes are attached to their comforting lies. But why do the rest of us go along with their self-serving delusions? It is the strangest thing in the world for a society to deny it is a society.

“illusion of a completed, unitary self”

The Voices Within:
The History and Science of How We Talk to Ourselves
by Charles Fernyhough
Kindle Locations 3337-3342

And we are all fragmented. There is no unitary self. We are all in pieces, struggling to create the illusion of a coherent “me” from moment to moment. We are all more or less dissociated. Our selves are constantly constructed and reconstructed in ways that often work well, but often break down. Stuff happens, and the center cannot hold. Some of us have more fragmentation going on, because of those things that have happened; those people face a tougher challenge of pulling it all together. But no one ever slots in the last piece and makes it whole. As human beings, we seem to want that illusion of a completed, unitary self, but getting there is hard work. And anyway, we never get there.

Kindle Locations 3357-3362

This is not an uncommon story among people whose voices go away. Someone is there, and then they’re not there anymore. I was reminded of what I had been told about the initial onset of voice-hearing: how it can be like dialing into a transmission that has always been present. “Once you hear the voices,” wrote Mark Vonnegut of his experiences, “you realise they’ve always been there. It’s just a matter of being tuned to them.” If you can tune in to something, then perhaps you can also tune out.

Kindle Locations 3568-3570

It is also important to bear in mind that for many voice-hearers the distinction between voices and thoughts is not always clear-cut. In our survey, a third of the sample reported either a combination of auditory and thought-like voices, or experiences that fell somewhere between auditory voices and thoughts.

* * *

Charles Fernyhough recommends the best books on Streams of Consciousness
from Five Books

Charles Fernyhough Listens in on Thought Itself in ‘The Voices Within’
by Raymond Tallis, WSJ (read here)

Neuroscience: Listening in on yourself
by Douwe Draaisma, Nature

The Song Of The Psyche
by Megan Sherman, Huffington Post

Choral Singing and Self-Identity

I haven’t previously given any thought to choral singing. I’ve never been much of a singer, not even in private. My desire to sing in public with a group of others is next to non-existent. So, it never occurred to me what might be the social experience and psychological result of being in a choir.

It appears something odd goes on in such a situation. Maybe it’s not odd, but it has come to seem odd to us moderns. This kind of group activity has become uncommon. In our hyper-individualistic society, we forget how much we are social animals. Our individualism is dependent on highly unusual conditions that wouldn’t have existed for most of civilization.

I was reminded a while back of this social aspect when reading about Galen in the Roman Empire. Individualism is not the normal state or, one might argue, the healthy state of humanity. It is rather difficult to create individuals and, even then, our individuality is superficial and tenuous. Humans so quickly lump themselves into groups.

This evidence about choral singing makes me wonder about earlier societies. What role did music play, specifically group singing (along with dancing and ritual), in creating particular kinds of cultures and social identities? And how might that have related to pre-literate memory systems that rooted people in a concrete sense of the world, such as Aboriginal songlines?

I’ve been meaning to write about Lynne Kelly’s book, Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies. This is part of my long term focus on what sometimes is called the bicameral mind and the issue of its breakdown. Maybe choral singing touches upon the bicameral mind.

* * *

It’s better together: The psychological benefits of singing in a choir
by N.A. Stewart & A.J. Lonsdale, Psychology of Music

Previous research has suggested that singing in a choir might be beneficial for an individual’s psychological well-being. However, it is unclear whether this effect is unique to choral singing, and little is known about the factors that could be responsible for it. To address this, the present study compared choral singing to two other relevant leisure activities, solo singing and playing a team sport, using measures of self-reported well-being, entitativity, need fulfilment and motivation. Questionnaire data from 375 participants indicated that choral singers and team sport players reported significantly higher psychological well-being than solo singers. Choral singers also reported that they considered their choirs to be a more coherent or ‘meaningful’ social group than team sport players considered their teams. Together these findings might be interpreted to suggest that membership of a group may be a more important influence on the psychological well-being experienced by choral singers than singing. These findings may have practical implications for the use of choral singing as an intervention for improving psychological well-being.

More Evidence of the Psychological Benefits of Choral Singing
by Tom Jacobs, Pacific Standard

The synchronistic physical activity of choristers appears to create an unusually strong bond, giving members the emotionally satisfying experience of temporarily “disappearing” into a meaningful, coherent body. […]

The first finding was that choral singers and team sports players “reported significantly higher levels of well-being than solo singers.” While this difference was found on only one of the three measures of well-being, it does suggest that activities “pursued as part of a group” are associated with greater self-reported well-being.

Second, they found choral singers appear to “experience a greater sense of being part of a meaningful, or ‘real’ group, than team sports players.” This perception, which is known as “entitativity,” significantly predicted participants’ scores on all three measures of well-being. […]

The researchers suspect this feeling arises naturally from choral singers’ “non-conscious mimicry of others’ actions.” This form of physical synchrony “has been shown to lead to self-other merging,” they noted, “which may encourage choral singers to adopt a ‘we perspective’ rather than an egocentric perspective.”

Not surprisingly, choral singers experienced the lowest autonomy of the three groups. Given that autonomy can be very satisfying, this may explain why overall life-satisfaction scores were similar for choral singers (who reported little autonomy but strong bonding), and sports team members (who experienced moderate levels of both bonding and autonomy).

“How awful for you! By the looks of it, you’ve developed a soul.”

From the boundless green ocean behind the Wall, a wild tidal surge of roots, flowers, twigs, leaves was rolling toward me, standing on its hind legs, and had it flowed over me I would have been transformed from a person—from the finest and most precise of mechanisms—into . . .

But, happily, between me and this wild, green ocean was the glass of the Wall. Oh, the great, divinely bounding wisdom of walls and barriers! They may just be the greatest of all inventions. Mankind ceased to be wild beast when it built its first wall. Mankind ceased to be savage when we built the Green Wall, when we isolated our perfect, machined world, by means of the Wall, from the irrational, chaotic world of the trees, birds, animals . . .

That is from We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (pp. 82-83). It’s a strange novel, an early example of a futuristic dystopia. The author finished writing it in the 1921, but couldn’t get it published in Russia. An English translation was published years later.

In the above quote, the description is of the Green Wall that encloses the society called One State. It is an entirely independent and self-sustaining city-state, outside of which its citizens do not venture. The government is authoritarian and social control is absolute. The collective is everything, such that people have no sense of individuality and have no souls. They don’t even dream, not normally, for to do so is considered a symptom of mental illness.

There was a global war that killed most of the human population. The citizens of One State are aware that human society used to be different. They have no experience of freedom, neither social freedom nor free will. But they have a historical memory of what freedom once meant and, of course, it is seen as having been a bad thing and the source of unhappiness.

Like Julian Jayne’s theory of bicameralism, these people are able to maintain a complex society without an internalized sense of self. The loci of identity is completely outside. But unlike bicameralism, there are no command voices telling them what to do. The society is so ordered that few moments of the day are not occupied by scheduled activity. Even sex is determined by the system of authority. Mathematical order is everything, including how citizens are named.

What fascinated me about the novel is when the protagonist, D-503, gains a soul. It is an imagining of what this experience would be like, to gain a sense of individuality and interiority, for long dormant imagination to be awakened. Having a self means the ability to imagine other selves, to empathize with what others are thinking and feeling, to be able to enter into the world of another.

If bicameral societies did exist, this would have been similar to how they came to an end. A bicameral society would have required a tightly ordered society where the social reality was ever-present and all-consuming. For that to breakdown would have been traumatic. It would have felt like madness.

* * *

We
by Yevgeny Zamyatin
pp. 79-81

With effort, a kind of spiral torque, I finally tore my eyes away from the glass below my feet—and suddenly the golden letters “MEDICINE” splashed in front of me . . . Why had he led me here and not to the Operation Room, and why had he spared me? But, at that moment, I wasn’t thinking of these things: with one leap over the steps, the door solidly banged behind me and I exhaled. Yes: it was as though I hadn’t breathed since dawn, as though my heart hadn’t struck a single beat—and it was only now that I exhaled for the first time, only now that the floodgates of my chest opened . . .

There were two of them: one was shortish, with cinder-block legs, and his eyes, like horns, tossed up the patients; the other one was skinny and sparkling with scissor-lips and a blade for a nose . . . I had met him before.

I flung myself at him as though he were kin, straight into the blade, and said something about being an insomniac, the dreams, the shadows, the yellow world. The scissor-lips flashed and smiled. How awful for you! By the looks of it, you’ve developed a soul.

A soul? That strange, ancient, long-forgotten word. We sometimes said “heart and soul,” “soulful,” “lost souls,” but a “soul”

“This is . . . this is very grave,” I babbled.

“It’s incurable,” incised the scissors.

“But . . . what specifically is at the source of all this? I can’t even begin . . . to imagine.”

“Well, you see . . . it is as if you . . . you’re a mathematician, right?”

“Yes.”

“Well, take, for instance, a plane, a surface, like this mirror here. And on this surface—here, look—are you and I, and we are squinting at the sun, and see the blue electrical spark in that tube. And watch—the shadow of an aero is flashing past. But it is only on this surface for just a second. Now imagine that some heat source causes this impenetrable surface to suddenly grow soft, and nothing slides across it anymore but everything penetrates inside it, into that mirror world, which we used to look into as curious children—children aren’t all that silly, I assure you. The plane has now become a volume, a body, a world, and that which is inside the mirror is inside you: the sun, the whirlwind from the aero’s propeller, your trembling lips, and someone else’s trembling lips. So you see: a cold mirror reflects and rejects but this absorbs every footprint, forever. One day you see a barely noticeable wrinkle on someone’s face—and then it is forever inside you; one day you hear a droplet falling in the silence—and you can hear it again now . . .”

“Yes, yes, exactly . . .” I grabbed his hand. I could hear the faucet in the sink slowly dripping its droplets in the silence. And I knew that they would be inside me forever. But still, why—all of a sudden—a soul? I never had one—never had one—and then suddenly . . . Why doesn’t anyone else have one, but me?

I squeezed harder on the skinny hand: I was terrified to let go of this lifeline.

“Why? And why don’t we have feathers or wings but just scapulas, the foundation of wings? It’s because we don’t need wings anymore—we have the aero; wings would only be extraneous. Wings are for flying, but we don’t need to get anywhere: we have landed, we have found what we were seeking. Isn’t that so?”

I nodded my head in dismay. He looked at me, laughed sharply, javelinishly. The other one, hearing this, stumpily stamped through from out of his office, tossed the skinny doctor up with his hornlike eyes, and then tossed me up, too.

“What’s the problem? What, a soul? A soul, you say? Damn it! We’ll soon get as far as cholera. I told you”—the skinny one was horn-tossed again—“I told you, we must, everyone’s imagination— everyone’s imagination must be . . . excised. The only answer is surgery, surgery alone . . .”

He struggled to put on some enormous X-ray glasses, and walked around for a long time looking through my skull bone at my brain, and making notes in a notebook.

“Extraordinary, extraordinarily curious! Listen to me, would you agree . . . to be preserved in alcohol? This would be, for the One State, an extraordinarily . . . this would aid us in averting an epidemic . . . If you, of course, don’t have any particular reasons not . . .”

“You see,” the other one said, “cipher D-503 is the Builder of the Integral, and I am certain that this would interfere . . .”

“Ah,” he mumbled and lumped off to his cabinet.

And then we were two. A paper-hand lightly, tenderly lay on my hand. A face in profile bent toward me and he whispered: “I’ll tell you a secret—it isn’t only you. My colleague is talking about an epidemic for good reason. Think about it; perhaps you yourself have noticed something similar in someone else—something very similar, very close to . . .” He looked at me intently. What is he hinting at—at whom? It can’t be that—

“Listen . . .” I leapt from my chair. But he had already loudly begun to talk about something else: “. . . And for the insomnia, and your dreams, I can give you one recommendation: walk more. Like, for instance, tomorrow morning, go for a walk . . . to the Ancient House, for example.”

He punctured me again with his eyes and smiled thinly. And it seemed to me: I could clearly and distinctly see something wrapped up in the fine fabric of his smile—a word—a letter—a name, a particular name . . . Or is this again that same imagination?

I was only barely able to wait while he wrote out my certification of illness for today and tomorrow, then I shook his hand once more and ran outside.

My heart was light, quick, like an aero, and carrying, carrying me upward. I knew: tomorrow held some sort of joy. But what would it be?

 

Views of the Self

A Rant: The Brief Discussion of the Birth of An Error
by Skepoet2

Collectivism vs. Individualism is the primary and fundamental misreading of human self-formation out of the Enlightenment and picking sides in that dumb-ass binary has been the primary driver of bad politics left and right for the last 250 years.

The Culture Wars of the Late Renaissance: Skeptics, Libertines, and Opera
by Edward Muir
Kindle Locations 80-95

One of the most disturbing sources of late-Renaissance anxiety was the collapse of the traditional hierarchic notion of the human self. Ancient and medieval thought depicted reason as governing the lower faculties of the will, the passions, sions, and the body. Renaissance thought did not so much promote “individualism” as it cut away the intellectual props that presented humanity as the embodiment of a single divine vine idea, thereby forcing a desperate search for identity in many. John Martin has argued that during the Renaissance, individuals formed their sense of selfhood through a difficult negotiation between inner promptings and outer social roles. Individuals during the Renaissance looked both inward for emotional sustenance and outward for social assurance, and the friction between the inner and outer selves could sharpen anxieties 2 The fragmentation of the self seems to have been especially acute in Venice, where the collapse of aristocratic marriage structures led to the formation of what Virginia Cox has called the single self, most clearly manifest in the works of several women writers who argued for the moral and intellectual equality of women with men.’ As a consequence quence of the fragmented understanding of the self, such thinkers as Montaigne became obsessed with what was then the new concept of human psychology, a term in fact coined in this period.4 A crucial problem in the new psychology was to define the relation between the body and the soul, in particular ticular to determine whether the soul died with the body or was immortal. With its tradition of Averroist readings of Aristotle, some members of the philosophy faculty at the University of Padua recurrently questioned the Christian tian doctrine of the immortality of the soul as unsound philosophically. Other hierarchies of the human self came into question. Once reason was dethroned, the passions were given a higher value, so that the heart could be understood as a greater force than the mind in determining human conduct. duct. When the body itself slipped out of its long-despised position, the sexual drives of the lower body were liberated and thinkers were allowed to consider sex, independent of its role in reproduction, a worthy manifestation of nature. The Paduan philosopher Cesare Cremonini’s personal motto, “Intus ut libet, foris ut moris est,” does not quite translate to “If it feels good, do it;” but it comes very close. The collapse of the hierarchies of human psychology even altered the understanding derstanding of the human senses. The sense of sight lost its primacy as the superior faculty, the source of “enlightenment”; the Venetian theorists of opera gave that place in the hierarchy to the sense of hearing, the faculty that most directly channeled sensory impressions to the heart and passions.

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
by Neil Postman

That does not say much unless one connects it to the more important idea that form will determine the nature of content. For those readers who may believe that this idea is too “McLuhanesque” for their taste, I offer Karl Marx from The German Ideology. “Is the Iliad possible,” he asks rhetorically, “when the printing press and even printing machines exist? Is it not inevitable that with the emergence of the press, the singing and the telling and the muse cease; that is, the conditions necessary for epic poetry disappear?”

Meta-Theory
by bcooney

When I read Jaynes’s book for the first time last year I was struck by the opportunities his theory affords for marrying materialism to psychology, linguistics, and philosophy. The idea that mentality is dependent on social relations, that power structures in society are related to the structure of mentality and language, and the idea that we can only understand mentality historically and socially are all ideas that appeal to me as a historical materialist.

Consciousness: Breakdown Or Breakthrough?
by ignosympathnoramus

The “Alpha version” of consciousness involved memory having authority over the man, instead of the man having authority over his memory. Bicameral man could remember some powerful admonishment from his father, but he could not recall it at will. He experienced this recollection as an external event; namely a visitation from either his father or a god. It was a sort of third-person-perspective group-think where communication was not intentional or conscious but, just like our “blush response,” unconscious and betraying of our deepest being. You can see this in the older versions of the Iliad, where, for instance, we do not learn about Achilles’ suicidal impulse by his internal feelings, thoughts, or his speaking, but instead, by the empathic understanding of his friend. Do you have to “think” in order to empathize, or does it just come on its own, in a rush of feeling? Well, that used to be consciousness. Think about it, whether you watch your friend blush or you blush yourself, the experience is remarkably similar, and seems to be nearly third-person in orientation. What you are recognizing in your friend’s blush the Greeks would have recognized as possession by a god, but it is important to notice that you have no more control over it than the Greeks did. They all used the same name for the same god (emotion) and this led to a relatively stable way of viewing human volition, that is, until it came into contact with other cultures with other “gods.” When this happens, you either have war, or you have conversion. That is, unless you can develop an operating system better than Alpha. We have done so, but at the cost of making us all homeless or orphaned. How ironic that in the modern world the biggest problem is that there are entirely too many individuals in the world, and yet their biggest problem is somehow having too few people to give each individual the support and family-type-structure that humans need to feel secure and thrive. We simply don’t have a shared themis that would allow each of us to view the other as “another self,” to use Aristotle’s phrase, or if we do, we realize that “another self” means “another broken and lost orphan like me.” It is in the nature of self-consciousness to not trust yourself, to remain skeptical, to resist immediate impulse. You cannot order your Will if you simply trust it and cave to every inclination. However, this paranoia is hardly conducive to social trust or to loving another as if he were “another self,” for that would only amount to him being another system of forces that we have to interpret, organize or buffer ourselves from. How much easier it is to empathize and care about your fellow citizens when they are not individuals, but vehicles for the very same muses, daimons, and gods that animate you! The matter is rather a bit worse that this, though. Each child discovers and secures his “inner self” by the discovery of his ability to lie, which further undermines social trust!

Marx’s theory of human nature
by Wikipedia

Marx’s theory of human nature has an important place in his critique of capitalism, his conception of communism, and his ‘materialist conception of history’. Karl Marx, however, does not refer to “human nature” as such, but to Gattungswesen, which is generally translated as ‘species-being’ or ‘species-essence’. What Marx meant by this is that humans are capable of making or shaping their own nature to some extent. According to a note from the young Marx in the Manuscripts of 1844, the term is derived from Ludwig Feuerbach’s philosophy, in which it refers both to the nature of each human and of humanity as a whole.[1] However, in the sixth Thesis on Feuerbach (1845), Marx criticizes the traditional conception of “human nature” as “species” which incarnates itself in each individual, on behalf of a conception of human nature as formed by the totality of “social relations”. Thus, the whole of human nature is not understood, as in classical idealist philosophy, as permanent and universal: the species-being is always determined in a specific social and historical formation, with some aspects being biological.

The strange case of my personal marxism (archive 2012)
by Skepoet2

It is the production capacity within a community that allows a community to exist, but communities are more than their productive capacities and subjectivities are different from subjects. Therefore, it is best to think of the schema we have given societies in terms of integrated wholes, and societies are produced by their histories both ecological and cultural. The separation of ecological and the cultural are what Ken Wilber would call “right-hand” and “left-hand” distinctions: or, the empirical experience of what is outside of us but limits us–the subject here being collective–is and what is within us that limits us.

THE KOSMOS TRILOGY VOL. II: EXCERPT A
AN INTEGRAL AGE AT THE LEADING EDGE
by Ken Wilber

One of the easiest ways to get a sense of the important ideas that Marx was advancing is to look at more recent research (such as Lenski’s) on the relation of techno-economic modes of production (foraging, horticultural, herding, maritime, agrarian, industrial, informational) to cultural practices such as slavery, bride price, warfare, patrifocality, matrifocality, gender of prevailing deities, and so on. With frightening uniformity, similar techno-economic modes have similar probabilities of those cultural practices (showing just how strongly the particular probability waves are tetra-meshed).

For example, over 90% of societies that have female-only deities are horticultural societies. 97% of herding societies, on the other hand, are strongly patriarchal. 37% of foraging tribes have bride price, but 86% of advanced horticultural do. 58% of known foraging tribes engaged in frequent or intermittent warfare, but an astonishing 100% of simple horticultural did so.

The existence of slavery is perhaps most telling. Around 10% of foraging tribes have slavery, but 83% of advanced horticultural do. The only societal type to completely outlaw slavery was patriarchal industrial societies, 0% of which sanction slavery.

Who’s correct about human nature, the left or the right?
by Ed Rooksby

So what, if anything, is human nature? Marx provides a much richer account. He is often said to have argued that there is no such thing as human nature. This is not true. Though he did think that human behaviour was deeply informed by social environment, this is not to say that human nature does not exist. In fact it is our capacity to adapt and transform in terms of social practices and behaviours that makes us distinctive as a species and in which our specifically human nature is to be located.

For Marx, we are essentially creative and producing beings. It is not just that we produce for our means of survival, it is also that we engage in creative and productive activity over and above what is strictly necessary for survival and find fulfilment in this activity. This activity is inherently social – most of what we produce is produced collectively in some sense or another. In opposition to the individualist basis of liberal thought, then, we are fundamentally social creatures.

Indeed, for Marx, human consciousness and thus our very notion of individual identity is collectively generated. We become consciously aware of ourselves as a discrete entity only through language – and language is inherently inter-subjective; it is a social practice. What we think – including what we think about ourselves – is governed by what we do and what we do is always done socially and collectively. It is for this reason that Marx refers to our “species-being” – what we are can only be understood properly in social terms because what we are is a property and function of the human species as a whole.

Marx, then, has a fairly expansive view of human nature – it is in our nature to be creatively adaptable and for our understanding of what is normal in terms of behaviour to be shaped by the social relations around us. This is not to say that any social system is as preferable as any other. We are best able to flourish in conditions that allow us to express our sociability and creativity.

Marx’s Critique of Religion
by Cris Campbell

Alienated consciousness makes sense only in contrast to un-alienated consciousness. Marx’s conception of the latter, though somewhat vague, derives from his understanding of primitive communism. It is here that Marx’s debt to anthropology is most clear. In foraging or “primitive” societies, people are whole – they are un-alienated because resources are freely available and work directly transforms those resources into useable goods. This directness and immediateness – with no interventions or distortions between the resource, work, and result – makes for creative, fulfilled, and unified people. Society is, as a consequence, tightly bound. There are no class divisions which pit one person or group against another. Because social relations are always reflected back into people’s lives, unified societies make for unified individuals. People are not alienated they have direct, productive, and creative relationships with resources, work, things, and others. This communalism is, for Marx, most conducive to human happiness and well-being.

This unity is shattered when people begin claiming ownership of resources. Private property introduces division into formerly unified societies and classes develop. When this occurs people are no longer free to appropriate and produce as they please. Creativity and fulfillment is crushed when labor is separated from life and becomes an isolated commodity. Humans who labor for something other than their needs, or for someone else, become alienated from resources, work, things, and others. When these divided social relations are reflected back into peoples’ lives, the result is discord and disharmony. People, in other words, feel alienated. As economies develop and become more complex, life becomes progressively more specialized and splintered. The alienation becomes so intense that something is required to sooth it; otherwise, life becomes unbearable.

It is at this point (which anthropologists recognize as the Neolithic transition) that religion arises. But religion is not, Marx asserts, merely a soothing palliative – it also masks the economically and socially stratified conditions that cause alienation:

“Precisely as a consequence of man’s loss of spontaneous self-activity, religion arises as a compensatory mechanism for explaining what alienated man cannot explain and for promising him elsewhere what he cannot achieve here. Thus because man does not create himself through his productive labor, he supposes that he is created by a power beyond. Because man lacks power, he attributes power to something beyond himself. Like all forms of man’s self-alienation, religion displaces reality with illusion. The reason is that man, the alienated being, requires an ideology that will simultaneously conceal his situation from him and confer upon it significance. Religion is man’s oblique and doomed effort at humanization, a search for divine meaning in the face of human meaninglessness.”

Related posts from my blog:

Facing Shared Trauma and Seeking Hope

Society: Precarious or Persistent?

Plowing the Furrows of the Mind

Démos, The People

Making Gods, Making Individuals

On Being Strange

To Put the Rat Back in the Rat Park

Rationalizing the Rat Race, Imagining the Rat Park