Autism and Societal Individualism

0383-rockArt“The highest concern of all the mythologies, ceremonials, ethical systems, and social organizations of the agriculturally based societies has been that of suppressing the manifestations of individualism; and this has been generally achieved by compelling or persuading people to identify themselves not with their own interests, intuitions, or modes of experience, but with the archetypes of behavior and systems of sentiment developed and maintained in the public domain.”  (Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God:  Primitive Mythology (New York:  Penguin Books, 1959), p. 240.)

I know nothing about, yet am fascinated by, the differences in child-rearing practices of matrifocal aboriginal societies and modern parents.  Some matrifocal aboriginal societies are hunters, some herders, some agriculturally based.  Campbell notes agricultural communities with a focus on raising children with a social emphasis.  Hrdy describes how in matrilineal/matrilocal hunter gatherer societies children are taught to exhibit theory of mind.  I’m wondering what the nuances are between those societies and herder and later societies, and the differences between emphasis on social mind vs. individualism in matrifocal and patrifocal contexts.

Just as there is an evolution of society, beginning with hunter/gatherers moving toward agriculture around 10,000 B.C., followed by the emergence of towns and cities, I’m estimating, as Campbell suggests, that there is an evolution in emphasis on individualism accompanied by changes in child-rearing practices.  If we go back 2,000 to 4,000 generations, were parents using techniques that did more than just socialize the children and integrate them into the band or tribe?  Did they also individuate them enough to be independent social beings capable of theory of mind, or an ability to exercise compassion, and at the same time teach them to be more focused on the group than on the individual?

There is a paradox I’m trying to tease out here having to do with raising a child when we as a species were still largely lodged in primary process, the way an unconscious or dream self thinks, featuring one time, one place and difficulty imagining something’s opposite without focusing on the thing itself.  I’ve hypothesized that contemporary autistics are revealing forebear features, particularly brains not yet lateralized for speech.  I’m figuring that our evolutionary forebears, raising children naturally inclined toward primary process, were engaged in specific relational interventions that would propel them into a shared reality.

Animals across our planet successfully relate to each other while in primary process.  How exactly did we relate to each other during our primary process, prelateralized-brain evolution?  How did we prevent our children from careening off into autistic spaces featuring primary process but little ability to socialize?  How did we socialize our children before the development of postagricultural encouragement of individualism?

An answer to this question, I believe, offers guidance on how we can raise children with autistic tendencies, children of mothers with high testosterone, and possibly high estrogen.  This is the hypothetical prototypical matrifocal mother’s hormonal constellation.

I suspect this has something to do with band or tribal creation of constant access to shared tribal consciousness space featuring dance, song, performance and joint experience.  This may have something to do with Campbell’s observation of how agricultural societies raise their children to ally with shared priorities.

Modern times manifest an obsession with individuality.  Perhaps the increase in the numbers of those with autism is a direct response to a diminution in shared consciousness activities.

Proceed to author’s FREE book download on this subject (The book is called Evolution, Autism and Social Change). 10 minute introductory video here.

on 02/17/10 in featured, Society | No Comments | Read More

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