I received an email from Jon Gluckman, who follows this blog, suggesting that there is another interpretation of human developmental stages and political milieu, one that suggests that Right Wing orientations and perhaps fascism have their origin in the maturationally delayed.

My interpretation of the power of neoteny to impact culture holds to the view that the prolongation of infant features into the adult of our species can be observed to be influencing society as aboriginal aspects emerge in contemporary times.  I describe the horizontalization of society, with female frames of reference and bonobo-like qualities.  Horizontalization is fanning out from its source among young people, the Internet.  In other words, many features of the very young, including playfulness, curiosity, affection and sociality, are becoming primary features of current society, particularly when examined from the view of the new communications technologies.

One could also view contemporary trends to withhold information, engage in secrecy, offer reverence to the leader, engage in systemic selfish behavior and associate only with those who are like you as traits exhibited by children, traits which many adults also exhibit.  That being the case, the neoteny premise of a horizontal society being one featuring the traits of young children could be viewed as a theory picking and choosing which child traits are to be emphasized.

Freud first proposed that developmental stages exposed to trauma result in the exhibition of features of the traumatized developmental stage in the adult of our species.  This is not a neotenic prolongation of infant features into the adult, but a lifting and placing of features of a child stage, a stage accompanied by a disturbing experience with accompanying repressed grief/rage/fear emotions, into the adult.  Instead of bridging childhood strengths such as creativity, affection and curiosity into adulthood, trauma shuts off childhood virtues, leaving instead an adult seeking a childhood featuring creativity, affection and curiosity.

I remember studies conducted to determine the common experiences among adults that were passionate followers of the Nazi Party.  Nazi males were often severely beaten as children.  A Right Wing politic may exhibit adults acting like children, but I would suggest that the children they are acting like are deeply wounded.

A childhood featuring joy harvests a different selection of feelings and experiences than a childhood frequently presented with the awful.  Different adults result.  This insight may perhaps have preceded language.  It’s so integral to how we understand how the world works.  Understanding what exactly a human being is outside of trauma, inside a world that feels secure, contributes to an understanding of evolution as a process that is informed by maturation.

I consider myself a pragmatist.  I make decisions based upon the information I receive.  I change strategies for achieving goals based upon changing information.  Though I am a human featuring creativity, I often devote my ability to make things up to form what seems like useful models of how the world works.  A traumatized person, one featuring creativity, often is not pragmatic.  That person forms conclusions based upon information stored at the time the trauma occurred.  Current information is often ignored, or only information that matches the feelings or conclusions that accompanied the old experiences are paid attention to.  The traumatized person develops models of experience based upon personal ancient times.

Understanding the power of imagination and creativity to inform experience based upon what happened in the past is integral to understanding a model based upon maturation rates and timing to explain biological and social evolution.  Imagination is driven by emotion.  The conclusions we draw based upon experience impact the kind of child we manifest as adults.

To understand neoteny, it is important, perhaps essential, that we understand that we are, by nature, joy-filled creatures.  To understand evolution, it is useful that we feel young.


This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 19th, 2010 at 8:57 am and is filed under Biology, Ontogeny, Society, Unconscious. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
2 Comments so far

  1. Jon Gluckman on February 10, 2010 10:31 pm

    Sorry: I hadn’t realized you responded to my earlier message or posting here. La Barre’s point, as I understood it, was that neoteny is the cause of blind allegiance to authority–that it trumped reason and evidence of the senses. Obviously a “good” childhood (non-punitive, encouraging of self-development, etc.) will not lead as readily to replacing trust in familial (i.e., paternal) authority with secular or religious cultish devotion. But that is declining in America: the fundamentalists are in the ascendant and the political center has shifted far to the right. I don’t think the Internet is a sufficient countervaling force: the reactionaries have not been slow to take advantage of new technologies: Osama may be operating out of a cave but James Dobson is not.

    Perhaps my concern is that your theorizing goes into speculative areas that either have no interest for me or appear too attenuated and value-laden to keep the “scientific” aspect consistent. Is not the basic function of neoteny in humans to create docile cannon fodder? If it also stimulates creativity, the products of such playfulness are quickly seized and exploited by the patriarchs to aid in enforcing docility. I am trying to disenchant myself about “the Enlightenment” and a view of human nature that depends on special pleading to be valid. It seems to me that historical conditions opened a window to the development of a middle class and cosmopolitan culture, and they may just as easily close it. Progressive or “liberal” values are on the run in America, chased by neotenized rightwing shock troops of the cynical patriarchy: I’d like to think things will improve but it’s difficult to conceive of the mechanism for change.

    All of which is not to gainsay your ideas about hormones and heterochronicity: they are brilliant and ought to be published more widely than online (is that an absurdity in 2010?). And I recognize the fruitfulness of pursuing a single abstract structure through every sort of intellectual context; I do it, too, with an eye to irony. Have you noticed how many relationships within and among people fit the pattern of a protection racket? That’s my latest hobbyhorse, and I am going to rock on it until it collapses (it’s bound to).

  2. Andrew on February 10, 2010 10:57 pm

    Jon, there are times that what you’re saying and how you’re saying it feels right and paces my experience exactly. It is the view of most of my leftest colleagues. It’s when I take a longer, larger view, and don’t personally feel so helpless in the face of the forces you are describing, that I take the side of neoteny’s innocence as a profound power in its own right.

    Granted, the influence of those that don’t respect of revere the integrative force of cooperation do inflict an astonishing psychic and physical toll upon society. Nevertheless, the music I keep hearing, is the music of an egalitarian upswing. I really like that music. My attention to it is “value laden”. I choose to trust when evidence suggests that trusting is a foolish act.

    The videos I’ve been working on start appearing on this site in about three weeks. I’m curious what you’ll think.

    Thank you, Jon.

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