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Germany is never so happy as when she is pregnant with war.
May 3, 2011 5:08 AM   Subscribe

"In the course of researching my book The Emotional Life of Nations, I discovered that just before and during wars the nation was regularly depicted as a Dangerous Woman. I collected thousands of magazine covers and political cartoons before wars to see if there were any visual patterns that could predict the moods that led to war, and routinely found images of dangerous, bloodthirsty women."

Sociologist, political psychologist, and founder of The Institute for Psychohistory (no not that one) Lloyd deMause has written eight books and 90 articles on the link between warfare and parenting practices. With thousands of references to psychological and anthropological studies, deMause makes the case that outbursts of nationalist violence are reenactments of childhood experiences common to large groups.

His book The Origins of War In Child Abuse is available as a ten-part, free audiobook; read by Stefan Molyneux.

As a bonus, deMause's essay on the childhood origins of Palestinian terrorism, If I Blow Myself Up and Become a Martyr, I'll Finally Be Loved, is also available.

More psychohistorical works, deMause's and otherwise, can be found at The Institute for Psychohistory's website. Of note are the short essays The Childhood Origins of the Holocaust and Heads and Tails: Money as a Poison Container.
posted by clarknova (151 comments total) 60 users marked this as a favorite

 
Caveat: This post is not about Molyneux or his show, about which I know practically nothing. Nor is it about libertarianism and all the baggage that goes along with that.
posted by clarknova at 5:09 AM on May 3, 2011


Sounds fascinating, but:

visual patterns that could predict the moods that led to war, and routinely found images of dangerous, bloodthirsty women.

this thread is useless without links to these pictures.
posted by DU at 5:11 AM on May 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


@DU Some chapters of the book, including pictures are available online at the (very old school) website for The Institute for Psychohistory".
posted by pharm at 5:16 AM on May 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd never even heard of "psychohistory."
posted by zennie at 5:18 AM on May 3, 2011


Daddy didn't get me a pony, ergo Hitler.

Right.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:19 AM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hmmm. It's too early and I'm too fuzzy-headed right now to understand how this ties together with Haneke's The White Ribbon. But I'm wondering now if he was working off of some established research while making that film. Does anyone know?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 5:20 AM on May 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


this thread is useless without links to these pictures.

My apoligies. The book text is available as a PDF on the audiobook page, and also on the institute's website. The images are at the top of the first chapter.
posted by clarknova at 5:21 AM on May 3, 2011


(@DU IOW, follow the links in the post & you shall find what you seek...)

Is Asimov the source for the term Psychohistory, or did he lift it from an existing academic field of study?
posted by pharm at 5:21 AM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


It is a singular coincidence.
posted by clarknova at 5:25 AM on May 3, 2011


I have heard of psychohistory and my opinion (which is worth literally nothing) is that it is a huge pile of "woo". I'd recommend a read of the wiki article for a brief rundown of it. It strikes me as the sort of thing that someone might make up if they wanted to publish a book in the realms of social science but sociology was too hard.
posted by longbaugh at 5:26 AM on May 3, 2011


Daddy didn't get me a pony, ergo Hitler.

From The Childhood Origins of the Holocaust, this paragraph on the child-rearing of Hitler's contemporaries in southern Austria:
Since the child’s “real” nature was considered sinful, their free will had to be broken, and beating was the main way to accomplish this. Psychohistorian Aurel Ende’s extensive analysis of German autobiographies was entitled simply “Battering and Neglect” because, as he put it, there was “no bright side” to report about the universal German practice of beating children into obedience. Beating, said one German doctor, must begin early, even in infancy, and “consistently repeated until the child calms down or falls asleep…[for then] one is master of the child forever. From now on a glance, a word, a single threatening gesture, is sufficient to rule the child.” German parents were often described as being in a “righteous rage” during the beatings while they “hammered obedience” into them, and the children often lost consciousness. Schools were beating factories: “At school we were beaten until our skin smoked.” Hitler's father routinely battered him into unconsciousness. Children regularly had to be dragged violently to school screaming, they were so afraid of the daily batterings that were inflicted there, and childhood suicides were frequent in reaction to beatings or such practices as “cold water bathing” that was often practiced to “harden” them. Childhood suicides in Germany were over three times higher than in other European countries.
That's some pony he didn't get, eh?
posted by clarknova at 5:31 AM on May 3, 2011 [70 favorites]


This ambivalent aspect of money can be easily seen in the words with which we describe it. The German word Geld and the English word "guilt" come from the same source - Geld in Old German meant "sacrifice," and has the same source as vergeltung, "revenge." Similarly, gift in German means "poison" in English.

All that is missing is a chalkboard and this would be a perfect example of Glenn Beck logic.
posted by three blind mice at 5:47 AM on May 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


Do you think that the children were literally "beaten until [their] skin smoked", clarknova? Bit of exaggeration there, maybe?
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:48 AM on May 3, 2011


That was the most thorough and perceptive bit of debunking I have ever read.
posted by clarknova at 5:51 AM on May 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


And that was the most spirited, convincing defense that I've ever read. Thanks for playing!
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:54 AM on May 3, 2011


Ahem, correlation != causation. It's a nice story, but like many theories in psychotherapy there doesn't seem to be much "there" there in terms of giving us something that can help us make reliable predictions of behavior.
posted by moonbiter at 5:57 AM on May 3, 2011


...Nor is it about libertarianism and all the baggage that goes along with that.

I dunno, but looking at major historical and social events through the lens of individual experience seems fundamentally libertarian to me.

Trying to combine history with psychology requires one to ignore-or be ignorant of-the huge differences in the units of analysis of the fields. Sort of like inappropriately applying the rational actor of microeconomics to things like sociology.

*cough* Ayn Rand *cough*
posted by graphnerd at 5:59 AM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I realize I may well be (probably am) feeding a troll, but since I also know quite a few people who sincerely hold the belief that child abuse only exists when parents are found guilty in a court of law for it...
"Beating the Devil Out of Them: Corporal Punishment in American Children" and Trained Up to Death, quote: "What if the boy didn’t stop? Would you spank him forever, or would you stop when it bordered on abuse, in which case the child would win?" On February 6, seven-year-old Lydia Schatz was murdered by her parents. Her eleven-year-old sister Zariah was hospitalized for kidney failure, among other injuries. Both girls had repeatedly been beaten with quarter-inch plastic plumbing supply line, a punishment instrument recommended by Michael and Debi Pearl of No Greater Joy ministries. If it continues to happen now, and was documented as happening in Germany, then I do believe that "beaten until their skin smoked" is what is generally known in literary circles as a "metaphor". As someone raised by American evangelicals who occasionally tried to beat the crap... sorry, "Satan"... out of me, I would say the metaphor is quite apt. Sometimes metaphors put across an urgency and boundary-crossing that facts cannot. (And yes, sometimes emotional triggers are used to manipulate in less savory ways. It all depends on context. The context here is facts gleaned from autobiographies.)
posted by fraula at 6:04 AM on May 3, 2011 [12 favorites]


Wasn't there a fpp some time ago (can't find it now) wherein the pre-WW2 German equivalent of Dr Spock recommended all sorts of insane, bad, evil child rearing practices? And the supposition was that children who grew up under this regime didn't have too much trouble becoming "Hilter's Willing Executioners"?
posted by sandking at 6:13 AM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


looking at major historical and social events through the lens of individual experience seems fundamentally libertarian to me.

I don't think that's a fair description of what's going on here. What's a better explanation for why the NYT is printed in English? Because larger historical forces such as the Battle of Hastings and the British Empire etc etc the history of language? Or because the majority of individuals in the target demographic read English?

Similarly for wars. It may turn out that the majority (in power, anyway) of a certain era had certain common experiences that predispose them to react to events in thus and such a way. Or, to reply to moonbiter: I've never found traditional historical narratives to be all the powerful a predictor either. Maybe it's time to try something new.
posted by DU at 6:14 AM on May 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


And that was the most spirited, convincing defense that I've ever read. Thanks for playing!

Your response to a ten-sentence summary of a systematic survey was to pick out one quotation in the summary, denounce it as hyperbole, and declare victory over the entire field. I don't know how much spirit I can muster to answer you, really.

I dunno, but looking at major historical and social events through the lens of individual experience seems fundamentally libertarian to me.

Point taken, but I only meant that this post isn't about the reader of the audiobook, who seems to be some kind of public figure in libertarian circles.

...I also know quite a few people who sincerely hold the belief that child abuse only exists when parents are found guilty in a court of law for it...

That's the horror I faced when I read a small chuck of the psychohistorical cannon: severe child abuse is extremely common, and in some cultures practically ubiquitous. When we went to war in 2002 I gave some books to depressed friends and family. Despite the uplifting final message (raising children with love and understanding reduces the chances of war in future, and the overall historical trend is relentlessly progressive) most couldn't finish them because the supporting details were just too awful.
posted by clarknova at 6:14 AM on May 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


Ahem, correlation != causation. It's a nice story, but like many theories in psychotherapy there doesn't seem to be much "there" there in terms of giving us something that can help us make reliable predictions of behavior.

Actually, I find this to be a lot better than most psychology I've read. I've only recently received the guided learning and introduction to the primary sources necessary to understand modern psychology/psychotherapy (although I've never heard of psychohistory). It's been useful to understand psychology as being like Newtonian physics equations. Newton's laws only describe behavior, like gravity causing a body to accelerate, but it doesn't describe the actual functioning of gravity because no one knows how gravity works yet. Psychotherapy is like that with the brain. There isn't an "ego" in the brain, there are most likely biological parts that serve this purpose (or something) but it is something that describes repeatable behavior. At the very least, psychology predicts that children who are abused by their parents will incorporate the abuse into their personal psychology and will incur psychological harm resulting in depression, abusing behaviors, etc etc etc. This is common sense to many readers but this article should remind us that this wasn't always accepted knowledge. Psychology predicted this phenomenon accurately unless you believe that parenting has no effect on a child at all.

The problem with psychology is that, like professional academic philosophy, it requires a large knowledge base and working knowledge of the history of the field to get anything useful from it. It's also the sort of field that a little knowledge is dangerous in as the Dunning-Kruger effect kicks in early. There is an awful lot "there" but you have to work for it.
posted by fuq at 6:35 AM on May 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


raising children with love and understanding reduces the chances of war in future

While raising children with love and understanding is a good thing, to frame the issue of why wars start solely in psychological terms seems to me to medicalize war --- to turn it into a social sickness comprised of millions of individual cases of misplaced or warped aggression --- while dangerously ignoring the concrete problems which are ever war's handmaidens, i.e., the scarcity of valuable resources. I'm sure there's a lot of fucked up psychology driving the Hutu tsutsi conflict, but one of the big reasons Uganda and Rwanda got sucked into the Eastern Congo was because there was a fuckload of diamonds there. When there's two groups of people in a given area and only enough fresh water to comfortably supply one of them, I don't think either of the groups have to beat their kids for there to be a war.
posted by Diablevert at 6:37 AM on May 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


What's a better explanation for why the NYT is printed in English? Because larger historical forces such as the Battle of Hastings and the British Empire etc etc the history of language? Or because the majority of individuals in the target demographic read English?

Not to focus on an analogy and ignore the larger point, but the former explanation is historical and the latter is sociological. Neither focuses on individuals' motivations or emotional states... Which is what psychohistory is trying to do.

My argument is that I find the idea that there can be a definable, objective connection between emotional lives and socioeconomic/historical trends and events dubious.

Of course, there probably is some relationship between them, just as there is a relationship between quantum mechanics, chemistry, biology, etc. But you're not going to get very far if you try to explain the behavior of a cat by talking about quarks.
posted by graphnerd at 6:40 AM on May 3, 2011


...or what diablevert said.
posted by graphnerd at 6:43 AM on May 3, 2011


My argument is that I find the idea that there can be a definable, objective connection between emotional lives and socioeconomic/historical trends and events dubious.

I find it impossible to believe that emotional lives of individuals do not contribute to socioeconomic/historical trends/events. Since history and maintainance of social and economic structures are maintained by the actions of individuals, it makes sense to study individuals in the context of their psychosocial decision-making.

Do you think that individuals participate in history?
posted by fuq at 6:52 AM on May 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


My argument is that I find the idea that there can be a definable, objective connection between emotional lives and socioeconomic/historical trends and events dubious.

The existence of advertising and propaganda would seem to contradict this view.
posted by localroger at 6:54 AM on May 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


At the very least, psychology predicts that children who are abused by their parents will incorporate the abuse into their personal psychology and will incur psychological harm resulting in depression, abusing behaviors, etc etc etc.

Does it predict it or simply observe it?
posted by empath at 6:57 AM on May 3, 2011


If I infer correctly, the hypothesis seems to be that when the common psychology of a society results in violence accepted toward children, those children become adults who are conditioned to accept the idea of war. But the supporting ideas are kind of a mishmash.
posted by zennie at 6:58 AM on May 3, 2011


Report: U.S. May Have Been Abused During Formative Years
posted by Jpfed at 7:00 AM on May 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


fuq,

If you look at what I said, I do acknowledge that individuals are a part of history. But my point is that explaining history by talking about individuals isn't going to accomplish much of anything at all.

localroger,

That's an excellent point.
posted by graphnerd at 7:03 AM on May 3, 2011


Among professional historians, "psychohistory" is kind of like that swinger phase your parents went through in the '70s. It's not okay to talk about it, everyone wants to pretend it never happened, and if the subject comes up the best response is to stammer awkwardly for a bit.

This guy sounds like a crank.
posted by nasreddin at 7:10 AM on May 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


Also, looking at his footnotes, he's definitely an amateur--you can tell from the ratio of books published by university presses to books published by trade or marginal presses, which in his case is very low. (And just look at how many of his cites are to his own fucking journal, which is desperately shady, compared to any other journal.) He also doesn't cite practically any of the major recent scholarship on Holocaust-era Germany. In short: likely crank.
posted by nasreddin at 7:17 AM on May 3, 2011 [9 favorites]


But my point is that explaining history by talking about individuals isn't going to accomplish much of anything at all.

Sure, but he isn't talking about the psychology of individuals, he's talking about the psychological commonalities among mass groups. You can take issue with the idea that there are any such psychological commonalities on a meaningful scale, but I don't think it's quite as silly as trying to predict the Holocaust by looking at Hitler-the-individual's personal psychology.

Certainly I don't think very many people would deny the existence of discernable population-level psychological effects among people who experienced, say, the bombing of Hiroshima or the Stasi surveillance state. Why shouldn't we expect to see such effects among a population which experienced institutionalized severe child abuse?

The more dubious claim is that the mechanics of such mass psychological effects are simple enough to enough to draw a causal line from institutionalized child abuse to war and that the first will reliably and repeatably cause the second. At that point, yes, he starts to sound like a crank.
posted by enn at 7:18 AM on May 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


This guy makes Noam Chomsky look like an intellectual.
posted by joannemullen at 7:19 AM on May 3, 2011


When there's two groups of people in a given area and only enough fresh water to comfortably supply one of them, I don't think either of the groups have to beat their kids for there to be a war.
posted by Diablevert at 8:37 on May 3 [+] [!]


I don't think there's enough data to really know; hasn't essentially every culture ever beaten their kids?
posted by Jpfed at 7:19 AM on May 3, 2011


am i to believe that nobody here has read Erich Fromm? i come out of the University of Puerto Rico and had to read him on my freshman year. But just by reading the post, i immediately thought of Friedrich Nietzsche and this seems like a continuation of work by Michel Foucault as his Madness and Civilization and of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's Capitalism and Schizophrenia. and that's just scratching the surface without mentioning the work by Karl Jung and all people influenced by his work.

just to say, there's a long tradition in Germany and France of "reading" and analyzing history thru the theorical framework of psychology and psychotherapy.
posted by liza at 7:22 AM on May 3, 2011 [10 favorites]


I don't think there's enough data to really know; hasn't essentially every culture ever beaten their kids?

Yes.
posted by empath at 7:25 AM on May 3, 2011


Consider two possibilities:

1. Outbursts of nationalist violence are reenactments of childhood experiences common to large groups.

2. An individual author's theories of psychohistory are driven by the author's own childhood experiences, as are the reactions of individuals to those theories.

I am willing to entertain data, but my null hypothesis is #2. Of course, I would say that.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 7:26 AM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm half-tempted to dig further into this stuff, just for kicks, but frankly I don't really think it's worth it. Here's a selection from the first paragraph of "The Killer Motherland":
Even the most popular movies before wars featured dangerous women, from The Wizard of Oz with its killing witches before WWII to All About Eve before the Korean War, Cleopatra before Vietnam, Fatal Attraction and Thelma and Louise before the Persian Gulf War and Laura [sp] Croft and Kill Bill at the start of the Iraqi War.
It's an... ah... original thinker that lumps The Wizard of Oz and All About Eve together, and Lara Croft dates back to 1996. Glancing over the rest of it (citing a Spy magazine cover as an image of a killer woman? Hitler's mother as Medusa?), I don't see it getting much better. I think that we can all agree that child abuse and war are bad and we should work at stopping both, mmmkay, but it'll take a bit more to link the two than this woo-woo stuff.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:27 AM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


but the former explanation is historical and the latter is sociological. Neither focuses on individuals' motivations or emotional states... Which is what psychohistory is trying to do.

But only en masse. I.e. WWII didn't happen because Hitler was abused, WWII happened because a significant fraction of German kids were abused, Hitler included.
posted by DU at 7:29 AM on May 3, 2011


I noticed, when I lived in the South (working simultaneously on degrees in law and divinity and working with various poverty action groups as a legal intern type), a large correlation between whether a parent belong to an infant-baptizing church or a non-infant-baptizing church, and whether that parent was likely to beat their child or not. The infant-baptizing churches taught children became members of the Body of Christ at birth (and many explicitly taught against even spankings), whereas the non-infant-baptizing churches were more likely to talk about the dangers of childhood as a time the devil could get into your child. The socioeconomic backgrounds and outcomes of the two groups were fairly significantly different; crime rates for children raised in the two groups were quite different as well. While I realize a lot of that has to do with the history of the groups, etc., and that choices of discipline method and socioeconomics are all tied up in complicated ways, I did often wonder what effect the teachings of the churches had on the differing rates of child abuse, and in turn if any independent effect on adulthood could be teased out of that. It would be an interesting dissertation for someone earning a Ph.D. in sociology.

Even if the only causative discovery was "Churches that teach children are inherently valuable, not inherently dangerous, lead to less child abuse," well, that seems worthwhile. But I find it hard to believe that what we believe about children and childhood, and how we treat children as a result, doesn't matter.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:39 AM on May 3, 2011 [11 favorites]


And why did all those germans get beaten? Maybe because the parents, who had a very hard life since they lost the previous war, felt it was acceptable to expose their children to a hard life too? Their broken spirits had no empathy with the loving minds of the children. The children needed to be prepared for a hard mean world. And all that rage, boiling inside, had to go somewhere. So they beat the satan out of their children, was it because of war, or the cause of war?

I think the link between child abuse and war hardly needs to be defined, as they could be considered two different manifestations of the same problem, the breakdown of empathy.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 7:44 AM on May 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


WWII happened because a significant fraction of German kids were abused, Hitler included.

Except that Hitler was not German; he was Austrian.

Austria was never part of Germany before the Anschluss. When Hitler was born in 1889, Austria was still the better half of the Austria-Hungarian empire. Thus Der Fürher grew up in a country that was culturally and historically a Central European country (i.e., mostly Catholic) whereas Germany has the culture and traditions of Lutheran Northern Europe.

But there could be something to your logic though. It is a felony to strike a child in Sweden, for any reason, and Sweden hasn't been in a war for about 300 years.
posted by three blind mice at 7:50 AM on May 3, 2011


about 300 years

It's more like 200, and the likelier, non-woo-woo-just-so-story explanation for that is that they were soundly defeated by Russia several times in a row and it was driven home to them that they were a deeply minor European power whose best option was to maintain neutrality in conflicts.
posted by nasreddin at 7:54 AM on May 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's certainly an interesting explanation, but I think ideas such as that embodied in the phrase "Emotional life of nations" are premised upon metaphors which may not be apt despite seeming intuitively plausible. This is a ubiquitous provblem: for example, we talk about people being hard-wired to do or feel this or that despite the fact that the comparison of the brain to a silicon circuit is very possibly entirely misconceived and misleading.
posted by clockzero at 7:54 AM on May 3, 2011


Austria was never part of Germany before the Anschluss.

The book and article linked in the FPP makes clear that Germany and Austria as a whole were much worse than the rest of Europe, and that of the two it was the worst in Austria. The essay on terrorism and child abuse in Palestine also makes precisely your point about Sweden's anti-striking laws and anti-militarist culture.
posted by clarknova at 7:56 AM on May 3, 2011


the likelier, non-woo-woo-just-so-story explanation for that is that they were soundly defeated by Russia several times in a row and it was driven home to them that they were a deeply minor European power whose best option was to maintain neutrality in conflicts.

That's really beside the point, though. They understand that any military action against more powerful neighbors would be national suicide. So did Germany before WWII. They'd just been soundly defeated by all the same powers twenty years prior.
That starting a war against nations whose combined power was far superior to that of Germany and Austria was suicidal was obvious to anyone not caught up in the war trance. Early on, the slogan of the Hitler Youth was “We were born to die for Germany,” and Hitler promised that “ten million German youth would experience sacrificial deaths” under his leadership. He often considered suicide himself, saying “Germans do not deserve to live” at the end of the war, and finally issuing orders to destroy Germany as he killed himself. Ultimately, shit-babies deserve death — no more, but also no less, since even in death they fantasied that they were returning to the bosom of their mothers, to their Motherland.
So why is Sweden not opting for suicide whereas Germany did? One answer is that they don't have high rates of depression, mania, and other suicide-linked mental problems that are also linked to abusive parenting.
posted by clarknova at 8:11 AM on May 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


This guy makes Noam Chomsky look like an intellectual.

Looks like Chomsky has been cited over 73,000 times on the first page of google scholar alone; academics don't seem to share your opinion.
posted by ersatz at 8:13 AM on May 3, 2011 [14 favorites]


That's really beside the point, though. They understand that any military action against more powerful neighbors would be national suicide. So did Germany before WWII. They'd just been soundly defeated by all the same powers twenty years prior.

Horseshit. Germany was an enormous, wealthy, modernized industrial power with strong revanchist tendencies in its political classes. Sweden was a tiny, raw-materials-export based local bit player which had the revanchist tendencies (which were very active in the 18thc) driven out of it by successive humiliating defeats. I would recommend reading any generalist history of European politics 1700-2000 or so, it would clear up a lot of the reasons why this guy is a crank.

Clarknova, are you personally involved in any this "psychohistory" business? You seem to be policing this thread pretty heavily.
posted by nasreddin at 8:16 AM on May 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


So why is Sweden not opting for suicide whereas Germany did? One answer is that they don't have high rates of depression, mania, and other suicide-linked mental problems that are also linked to abusive parenting.

Do people still think manic depression is related to child abuse?
posted by empath at 8:16 AM on May 3, 2011


Sweden was a tiny, raw-materials-export based local bit player which had the revanchist tendencies (which were very active in the 18thc) driven out of it by successive humiliating defeats

To put it another way: revanchism happens when there is one big defeat and, generally, a long history of successful warfare (as in Germany after WWI). Every additional defeat delegitimizes the revanchist position further and makes it less likely that the country will get involved in offensive wars.
posted by nasreddin at 8:21 AM on May 3, 2011


Psychohistory, qu'est-ce que c'est?
posted by emelenjr at 8:29 AM on May 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Do people still think manic depression is related to child abuse?

Do legitimate medical professionals believe there's a link between manic-depression and child abuse? Maybe not. But clinical depression and other mental illnesses whose sufferes also have high rates of suicide? Why, yes.
posted by clarknova at 8:33 AM on May 3, 2011


One answer is that they don't have high rates of depression, mania, and other suicide-linked mental problems that are also linked to abusive parenting.

This is rather vague. Perhaps it is simply my ignorance, but I am struggling to think of a mental problem which has not been linked to either suicide or abusive parenting. Althizimer's? Also, does anyone know of a link anywhere that discusses the historical suicide rates among the countries of northern Europe? It was my layperson's impresion that a the Scandinavian countries had higher rates of suicide and depression because it's so goddamn dark for three fourths of the year. But I don't know enough about them, nor how they might have changed over the relevant historical periods nor how they would compare today.
posted by Diablevert at 9:11 AM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Excellent post, thanks clarknova.

On the same topic, recommending the brilliant book, Soul Murder: The Effects of Childhood Abuse and Deprivation Leonard Shengold,

I've heard Defying Hitler: A Memoir, by Samuel Haffner is also good.
posted by nickyskye at 9:15 AM on May 3, 2011


Seriously, we are always at war. And you can always find images of dangerous women. And every generation suffers child abuse to some extent. These are patterns?
posted by Xoebe at 9:17 AM on May 3, 2011


Childhood discipline must certainly affect the later role of boys as soldiers. As Wellington observed: "The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton."
posted by binturong at 9:31 AM on May 3, 2011


Alice Miller, the Polish-Swiss psychologist, also published a lot of work on this topic. I don't see why it should be described as woo-woo. Societies certainly do vary a great deal in their childrearing practices, and it seems likely rather than otherwise that these variations are linked in complex ways to other features of the society. In particular I think tolerance of violence towards children is linked to other types of violence within society, including warfare and capital punishment. It seems perverse to insist there is no variance, or that what variance exists has no consequences.
posted by communicator at 9:38 AM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


just to say, there's a long tradition in Germany and France of "reading" and analyzing history thru the theorical framework of psychology and psychotherapy.

You're right, but I don't think this guy is part of it. On the other hand, his work is much less opaque than Lacan or his descendants.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:00 AM on May 3, 2011


The link here seems incredibly logical and intuitive. It makes me think of Dostoyevsky's tale of the horse and the courier: Dostoevsky witnessed a government courier beating a peasant carriage driver. In turn, the peasant viscously beat the lead horse with the whip. "Here every blow dealt at the animal leaped out of the blow dealt at the man."
posted by Skwirl at 10:12 AM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


The link here seems incredibly logical and intuitive

...but unfortunately real history rarely is.
posted by nasreddin at 10:13 AM on May 3, 2011


I can see the logic being used, which essentially amounts to the thought that abused children are more likely to have poor impulse control and resort to violence when placed in a highly stressful situation.

Basically if you grew up in a situation where might meant right you are conditioned to look for win-lose situation as you mature rather than look for win-win solutions to problems. The problem is that he seems to be taking a generality and applying it to specific circumstances.

Ergo Hitler was abused and thus when he was placed in a position of power he continued the cycle of abuse by focusing on military solutions to diplomatic/economic/social problems. Furthermore the typical proscriptions against violence were diminished and inhumane conduct could result in gaining the favor of the elite. Combined with a rhetoric and propaganda that made fellow humans as subhuman (untermensch - jews, slavs, deviants, communists) and glorified victimizing them you can see a breakdown of the societal prohibitions against heinous behavior.

I'm not sure that child abuse is a causation but I think many people are curious as to why and how humans can get swept up in genocide when for the most part they seem normal during most circumstances. Is it merely that given the opportunity a percentage of the population will engage in brutality or does our upbringing prime us to engage in such behavior?
posted by vuron at 10:54 AM on May 3, 2011


up the thread, empath asked me if psychology predicts or observes tthe damage to children and the modification to thier psyches. It predicts it. We can know that psychology is making a predictive statement because our government will remove children from abusive situations based on the predicted and verifiable effecdt on children. For those that do not believe that psychology has predictive capability, why should we take steps to remove children from abusive situations?
posted by fuq at 11:00 AM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is it merely that given the opportunity
I always figured it was more a matter of the 'First they came for the communists,' sort of kidney, and the sheer, if short-sighted, relief that it isn't you the mobs are hunting.
posted by LD Feral at 11:00 AM on May 3, 2011


Well you'd remove an abused child for a variety of reasons beyond the potential future psychological impact. At a minimum removing someone from an abusive situation reduces the potential for physical trauma and furthermore a key role of the police (and other social services) is to protect those that cannot protect themselves.

That being said I think it's been clear from decades of research that abuse begets abuse and that the trauma of abuse have severe psychological impact for years if not generations to come.

The question at hand is more macro-scale though and much harder to prove causation, i.e. Does widespread childhood abuse lend itself to enhanced societal aggression (warlike behavior). I'm just not certain it's possible to isolate enough of the possible confounding variables to suggest that childhood abuse is a causal factor in warlike behavior on a macroscale.
posted by vuron at 11:15 AM on May 3, 2011


I'm just not certain it's possible to isolate enough of the possible confounding variables to suggest that childhood abuse is a causal factor in warlike behavior on a macroscale.
posted by vuron at 2:15 PM on May 3


Jared Diamond has suggested to use something called "Natural Experiments". That is, look at individual European countries and compare rates between them of child abuse by some objective metric, then compare rates of societal violence by some objective metric, and look for patterns. That's a simple explanation, but gets the concept across, I'm not sure exactly how the experiment in this case would be designed. But certainly seems like it would be possible.
posted by stbalbach at 11:38 AM on May 3, 2011


Jared Diamond has suggested to use something called "Natural Experiments". That is, look at individual European countries and compare rates between them of child abuse by some objective metric, then compare rates of societal violence by some objective metric, and look for patterns.

But but did the child abuse cause the societal violence? Or did the societal violence lead to the abuse?

Ahem, correlation != causation. It's a nice story, but like many theories in psychotherapy there doesn't seem to be much "there" there in terms of giving us something that can help us make reliable predictions of behavior.


Since we don't get to experiment on humans these days, where are you going to find the kind of theories that you're looking for?
posted by Obscure Reference at 11:55 AM on May 3, 2011


It's a nice story, but like many theories in psychotherapy there doesn't seem to be much "there" there in terms of giving us something that can help us make reliable predictions of behavior.

Maybe there does not seem much " there" because it's a fairly new area and not many people are looking at it.
posted by c13 at 12:17 PM on May 3, 2011


Since we don't get to experiment on humans these days, where are you going to find the kind of theories that you're looking for?

Perhaps we can't, and history and psychology will simply have to remain separate fields, united only in literature.
posted by Diablevert at 12:20 PM on May 3, 2011


Maybe there does not seem much " there" because it's a fairly new area and not many people are looking at it.

It's not a new area. Erik Erikson's Young Man Luther (1958), historiographically speaking, is considered to be the beginning of psychohistory as a methodology. It then produced a bunch of work in the '60s and '70s, until people realized it was a bunch of trendy, handwavy bullshit, and stopped writing it.
posted by nasreddin at 12:49 PM on May 3, 2011


(One of the very rare occasions when that's proven to be enough, har har.)
posted by nasreddin at 12:51 PM on May 3, 2011


Here's a pretty old attack on psychohistory (I don't really agree with her views on a lot of things, but this essay is more or less on point). Incidentally, the Wiki page on psychohistory seems to have been written by DeMause himself and then edited by his critics--I've never heard his name mentioned in these kinds of discussions, although it's possible that it's just because this is very far from the work I do.
posted by nasreddin at 1:08 PM on May 3, 2011


Whether it's considered a bullshit handwavey thing or might have some real merit, I have to say that my hippie self really likes the idea that if we could somehow adjust factors in our society and culture in ways which create healthy egos, that maybe we could finally move beyond war and other such awful things.

I'm sure it's impossible to really examine and prove on any real level, but I love that concept. Seems like something worth working toward even if this particular application of studying the concept through historical record may be a bit sketchy.
posted by hippybear at 1:19 PM on May 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm just in it for the lurid descriptions of children frightened to death by Bogeyman dummies.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 1:22 PM on May 3, 2011


" It predicts it. We can know that psychology is making a predictive statement because our government will remove children from abusive situations based on the predicted and verifiable effecdt on children."

The issue is more complex then that, however, for a lot of reasons. The effect is different on different children. A big developmental psych question is why do some abused children grow up to be abusive themselves, but some do not? And in that case, part of the answer lies in inherent temperament.

Resilience is also an issue. Some children are more resilient than others, due to many factors. Again, a question that developmental psychologists are still answering.

Then there is the complicating factor that people who have certain mental illnesses are more likely to be abusive. If their children then have those illnesses, what is due to the abuse? What is genetic?

These are all things that are being studied currently and there are by no means any single answers like "yes, abusing a child will make them violent" or "yes, abusing a child will make them less empathetic". There are tendencies and risks and percentages and huge research questions.

Either way, it is inhumane to allow a child to be tortured on a regular basis, regardless of the impact it will have on his future mental health.

Not only that, but children are often removed by the government in situations where there is no psychological reasoning or other justification for that removal (basically, because the family is poor). Using government removal as proof of anything is not a great idea.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:26 PM on May 3, 2011


"That is, look at individual European countries and compare rates between them of child abuse by some objective metric, then compare rates of societal violence by some objective metric, and look for patterns. "

What about minority ethnic groups within those countries? Cultural differences in reporting of abuse ("objective metric", ha)? Severity of abuse vs. frequency of abuse? Use of tactics like humiliation or shaming vs physical punishment? Community policing and involvement vs isolation? Rural vs urban?

What a hack that Jared Diamond is sometimes.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:31 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


"A bunch of trendy, handwavy bullshit" can be applied to a lot of things in social sciences. Most of them, indeed, from a chem major prespective. So describing phsychohistory in such terms is neither here, nor there.
And 50 odd years for a discipline is really not all that much.
posted by c13 at 1:37 PM on May 3, 2011


There's a lot of evidence that violence begets violence. Children who are abused are more likely than children who are not abused to become violent adults and societies with high levels of physical harshness towards children are more warlike (Sparta, anyone?).

How does violence beget violence? In part, by modeling, in part because being constantly stressed reduces your ability to plan for the future, control impulses and think clearly.

That said, it's overly simplistic because most victims of violence *do not* pass it on to the next generation. But it's certainly the case that traumatized societies can repeat terrible patterns for a long time, just like traumatized families can. I write a lot about this in my book about empathy Born for Love: since our stress systems are modulated socially, we're at risk for becoming callous if we don't get early affection and this can spread.
posted by Maias at 1:52 PM on May 3, 2011


And 50 odd years for a discipline is really not all that much.

It's huge for a historical discipline. The lifecycle of a methodology, from trendiness to broad acceptance to reabsorption/rejection, is roughly 20-30 years. (Nowadays even less.)
posted by nasreddin at 2:00 PM on May 3, 2011


my hippie self really likes the idea that if we could somehow adjust factors in our society and culture in ways which create healthy egos, that maybe we could finally move beyond war and other such awful things.

Not to belabor a point, and not to attack you personally, hb, but I truly feel that thinking like that is dangerous. War isn't a disease, it's a tactic, a method of obtaining a goal: control of a given territory and it's resources. It can be quite a successful tactic; the greatest empires and cultures of the world --- the ones we remember, the ones that lasted --- were the ones that warred best. This idea that if we could only get our minds right there'd be no war anymore presupposes that war doesn't do anything, that it serves no purpose, and that's just not true. Now war is often a bad method of achieving those goals --- a method that fails, that costs the warmonger more than the victim ---- but that's not the same as saying that it has no purpose.

I mean, yes, I think there's such a thing as culture, and yes, I think it's quite likely that culture can influence the likelihood of a particular response to a threat or an incentive. But the idea that you can change culture and eliminate war is I think insidious, because it breaks the connection between the culture and the conditions in which it finds itself --- and it's a lot easier to keep track of conditions, to observe and monitor them and maybe try and figure out what will become a flashpoint. Some well timed tax cuts and a few new constituencies drawn up and maybe all of North American would have been singing God Save The Queen last Friday.
posted by Diablevert at 2:24 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, you guys must have pretty short attention spans then. Think of quantum mechanics, for example. About 100 years old, way, way many more people working on it than there are historians, and still it's such a slow going. How can you guys accomplish anything in 20-30 years studying a phenomenon that is orders of magnitude more complex?
Besides, what exactly is the problem with psychohistory as such? Is history not made by people to whom psychology applies? Did Hitler's personal hangups and little demons had absolutely no effect on the decisions he made? Who were the people that designed gas chambers? deMause may be full of shit, but I really haven't seen anything all that much more coherent coming out of mainstream either. (as an amateur, of course). And, given such short lifecycles, it is obvious that the mainstream ideas are not much better.
posted by c13 at 2:26 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I guess government removal isn't a good example of predictive psychology. I think there's also a conflict between applied psychology and academic psychology. I think it's like the difference between physics and engineering - academic perspectives on psychology wouldn't see it as predictive or even very scientific because of the impossibility of running a proper experiement. I was in this camp for a long time until I got schooled about psychology and how social workers must use it predictively to make judgement calls about situations such as when an intervention is appropriate. This is what I mean about psychology being predictive. CPS interventions is just something that came to mind and not all government removals are negative.

Anyway sometimes I get concerned when people want to write off psychology, yeah there's exceptions to psychological observations but they are the exceptions.

Anyhow, I think Im starting to see why psychohistory hasn't come up in any of my classes.
posted by fuq at 2:32 PM on May 3, 2011


War isn't a disease, it's a tactic, a method of obtaining a goal: control of a given territory and it's resources.

Really? Always? It would be interesting to see how you would apply it to origins of WWI, or Vietnam war, for example. Your theory should also explain how such things as rape and torture help gaining territory and resources.
posted by c13 at 2:33 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, you guys must have pretty short attention spans then. Think of quantum mechanics, for example. About 100 years old, way, way many more people working on it than there are historians, and still it's such a slow going. How can you guys accomplish anything in 20-30 years studying a phenomenon that is orders of magnitude more complex?

20-30 is more than enough time for a methodology to prove itself as useful or not-useful. What I meant by "reabsorption" is that successful methodologies effectively become part of any historian's toolbox, but they no longer look like the One True answer to everything, and you acquire ways to contextualize them and understand their relative usefulness in different situations. Unsuccessful methodologies (for instance, psychohistory or George Sarton-style history of science-as-the-genius-of-great-men) fall out of use.

Besides, what exactly is the problem with psychohistory as such? Is history not made by people to whom psychology applies? Did Hitler's personal hangups and little demons had absolutely no effect on the decisions he made? Who were the people that designed gas chambers?


Historians work with sources, not people. Even the most supposedly intimate sources we have--diaries and letters, not to mention oral history--are bound up with tropes, goals, and influences that don't necessarily have an internal origin. Therefore, it's impossible for historians to claim the kind of controlled access to their subjects' minds that you need to do rigorous psychology. Otherwise, it's just a series of presumptuous just-so stories.

deMause may be full of shit, but I really haven't seen anything all that much more coherent coming out of mainstream either. (as an amateur, of course). And, given such short lifecycles, it is obvious that the mainstream ideas are not much better.

Well, what kinds of academic history have you read recently? It's hard to evaluate what you mean by "all that much more coherent."
posted by nasreddin at 2:49 PM on May 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


Sounds rather Freudian.
posted by delmoi at 3:11 PM on May 3, 2011


A good bit of what Adam Curtis talks about is Freudian or apparently psychohistorical on a cultural level. How does he feed into all this?
posted by hippybear at 3:22 PM on May 3, 2011


it's impossible for historians to claim the kind of controlled access to their subjects' minds that you need to do rigorous psychology. Otherwise, it's just a series of presumptuous just-so stories.

Well, mainstream historians are not trained in psychology to begin with. My point is, a cross-disciplinary study sounds very appealing.

Most recent academic work? "Third Reich at war" by Evans.(have no clue how academic it is)
Lots of footnotes, citations, sources and statistic. But as usual pretty scant on how and why's, the most interesting part, in my opinion.
posted by c13 at 3:39 PM on May 3, 2011


Think of quantum mechanics, for example. About 100 years old, way, way many more people working on it than there are historians, and still it's such a slow going. How can you guys accomplish anything in 20-30 years studying a phenomenon that is orders of magnitude more complex?

Do you know what was achieved in QM in the first 30 years of the discipline? If you don't, you should probably check on wikipedia and rethink what you just said.
posted by empath at 3:43 PM on May 3, 2011


Adam Curtis focuses on how propaganda has been used to manipulate and control people. The propaganda techniques invented by Edward Bernays and which are the primary focus of The Century of the Self are completely grounded in Freud's theories. While one can find a lot to argue about with Freud, it's clear some of his insights were quite useful as the success of Bernays and the art he invented has shown.

I haven't seem much about it before (I'm more of a computer then a people guy) but psychohistory just appears to be an attempt to do propaganda backwards, instead of starting with people doing X and exposing them to Y to make them do Z, starting with people doing Z and asking what influence Y makes them different from people doing X.

While it's obvious that this is going to be a very slippery enterprise prone to overinterpretation and immune to solid proofs, I think it's very unreasonable to suggest that it has no value whatsoever and is nothing but "hand waving woo." As I pointed out above the fact that propagand and advertising, based on the same principles, work well enough that people spend billions of dollars on them would seem to suggest that there are valid influences worthy of study.
posted by localroger at 3:43 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


delmoi: "Sounds rather Freudian."

"The Phallic Presidency" The Clinton Scandals and the Yugoslav War as Purity Crusades by Lloyd deMause

It does have its uses.

deMause is continuing the line of thought that Freud started in Moses and Montheism, Future of an Illusion, and Civilization and its Discontents. The problem is that psychoanalytic thought has been discredited in popular and political culture, largely because its attempts to update itself haven't been that successful and it has no scientific metapsychology to compete with DBT or Zoloft.

I like Bion's theory of knowing and truth as extensions to Freud's insights.

Violence breeds violence. If you are looking for a mechanism, try projective-introjection and trauma theory. Beyond that, is there a "national psyche" to be analyzed? If so, what frameworks would be most useful?

Richard Hofstadter made a splash with Paranoid Style back when Freudianism was still reputable. Lakoff and the cognitive metaphor guys have some useful frameworks (authoritarian daddy, nurturing mommy) but they don't seem to get us far.

If there is an American Psyche, I think its central problem is splitting and dissociation with all the related dynamics of projection, introjection, paranoia and delusionality. We are dangerously close to becoming the People of the Lie, or at least that's where the psycho-historical battle seems to be happening.


Shrinking History On Freud and the Failure of Psychohistory.
posted by psyche7 at 3:50 PM on May 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, mainstream historians are not trained in psychology to begin with. My point is, a cross-disciplinary study sounds very appealing.

Look, if you don't know anything about how academic history is written, you're in no position to evaluate how appealing cross-disciplinary studies are. I know that sounds dismissive, but it's roughly what it must sound like to a chemist when someone says "why don't chemists study, like, homeopathy and crystals, man? Didn't you hear that water has memory?"

Most recent academic work? "Third Reich at war" by Evans.(have no clue how academic it is)
Lots of footnotes, citations, sources and statistic. But as usual pretty scant on how and why's, the most interesting part, in my opinion.


Military history tends to be very, very History Channel and is extremely marginal in the academic context. Something like Amir Weiner's Making Sense of War or Joshua Sanborn's Drafting the Russian Nation (I'm drawing on my field here) is about as close as you're gonna get. Part of it is that military history has a very fantasy-football-esque reputation as something dudes are into because it's got guns and shit in it; there have been efforts to resuscitate it as a legitimate academic discipline, but they've been pretty intermittently successful and the result isn't nearly as engaging as TANKS SHOOTING TANKS VOLUME 9! WITH HITLER!.
posted by nasreddin at 3:53 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


It would be interesting to see how you would apply it to origins of WWI, or Vietnam war, for example.

WWI was fought over the bones of the decaying Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires. Thier control over the territories in their possession was weakening and the residents therein were attempting to eliminate the existing empires and rule them themselves --- Princip was a Serbian nationalist, who wanted there to be a country called Serbia ruled by Serbs, and assasinated one of the Imperial family to further that goal.

The surrounding Great Powers, always hungry for more territory, were also aware of the decline of those empires and it was in their interest to make sure that whatever happenned with the territory, the new powers were friendly to them. Germany, in particular, was a brand-new country then, economically and technologically quite as advanced as rivals Great Britain and France but considerably weaker than them in terms of sphere of influence --- success in WWI would have enabled them to control central Europe and made them much, much more powerful. At the end of the war, the two decaying empires were destroyed and the winners established control over huge, huge swaths of not only Europe but the Middle East and North Africa --- in many cases they established client states with puppet monarchies, but it was certainly a net gain for them. Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq --- these were the chips that got raked in.

The Vietnam war was initiated by Communist revolutionaries attempting to overthrow the first the Japanese and later the French and establish self-rule.

Your theory should also explain how such things as rape and torture help gaining territory and resources.

I've never contended that any particular soldier might not be a bastard for being a bastard's sake. But if I'm going to put on my armchair evolutionary psychologist hat --- which I shouldn't, it's really not very fetching and I look silly in it --- I would point out that forcing captured women to have the kids of the conquering force, can, over a few generations, go a long way toward eliminating the conquered culture as a unique entity. Toture is more useful as prop to tyranny --- Nero's, Torquemada's, Saddam Hussein's --- than to fighting a war.

Look, I do believe that the cultivation of certain emotional states in an individual can aid in the successful prosecution of a war --- such as the cultivation of hatred and fear of the enemy. But I don't think it needs much prompting to hate and fear people who are killing you, your family, and your friends. Many years ago, I read two books by Peter Taylor on Northern Ireland, Loyalists and Provos. One thing that struck me, reading them both, was that it was the same thing that drove people into becoming paras on both sides: Seeing their friends and family killed. Walking down the street with that fear in the back of their minds, and you can grow to hate, to think anything justified in the name of striking back. That's always going to be in us to be tapped into.
posted by Diablevert at 4:02 PM on May 3, 2011


Do you know what was achieved in QM in the first 30 years of the discipline? If you don't, you should probably check on wikipedia and rethink what you just said.

Wikipedia has a viable alternative to Copenhagen interpretation!? I'll go look it up when I get a chance.
posted by c13 at 4:05 PM on May 3, 2011


There are certainly psychologists who study the psychology of morality, the psychology of politics/political beliefs, the psychology of propaganda, etc. You might be interested in that, c13.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:07 PM on May 3, 2011


I'm sure childhood experiences have something to do with wars, but more in a holistic sense, and I was hoping this was about some mad female archetype expressing itself through popular culture. Oh well at least Emotional nations reminded me of Hetalia.
posted by yoHighness at 4:07 PM on May 3, 2011


Wikipedia has a viable alternative to Copenhagen interpretation!?

Quantum mechanics is a lot more than babble about multiple universes.
posted by empath at 4:12 PM on May 3, 2011


peace research institutes
posted by yoHighness at 4:13 PM on May 3, 2011


The timeline is here.

I don't think you can make a case that QM really existed until Planck theorized that light was quantized. After that, it's one discovery and measurable, testable prediction (and nobel prize) after another, almost all of which had practical consequences.

Psychohistory has produced what, exactly, besides books?
posted by empath at 4:20 PM on May 3, 2011


(which isn't to say that producing books is worthless, I love bean-plating about history as much as anybody, but please, let's not kid ourselves that this is science).
posted by empath at 4:21 PM on May 3, 2011


But I don't think it needs much prompting to hate and fear people who are killing you, your family, and your friends

Well, and you'd be wrong, at least according to Grossman and his
"On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society". It's full of such interesting facts as that In World War Two, only 15-20 percent of the soldiers fired at the enemy. For example.

Empath, dude, I'm not comparing psychohistory and QM. And I'm definitely not claiming that the latter has made more progress than the latter. Read what I said.
posted by c13 at 4:27 PM on May 3, 2011


The other thing this reminded me of, a little tangentially, is from Hope Chest (mentioned previously on MeFi) where he points out that Victorians shot themselves in the heart to commit suicide whereas moderns shoot themselves in the head. "I wonder if there are traceable trends in suicide styles at work here. It seems apt that Victorians should shoot themselves in the heart, whereas we post-sentimental post-moderns go straight for the gray matter. ... Maybe the same was true of the heart in 1904; then the main site of pain moved north to the head during WWI."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:43 PM on May 3, 2011


Look, if you don't know anything about how academic history is written, you're in no position to evaluate how appealing cross-disciplinary studies are.

First of all, no offence taken.
Secondly, why? I am not all that interested in academic history or how it works. I'm more interested in how history is made by people. Not just someone like Hitler, but the dude that drove the train full of Jews to the camp. I'm sure psychology is involved there somewhere. I mean, we do have original propaganda posters stashed in some archive, no?

You state that you guys work only with sources. Maybe it's enough to answer the questions you have. However it is possible to ask questions for which sources are not enough. It may be no longer HISTORY, but what of it?
posted by c13 at 4:45 PM on May 3, 2011


As people's references in this thread show, the test case of mass psychology, mass armies and mass civilian mobilization for warfare only really applies to Western Europe in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries. In other periods, warfare was decided on by elites and waged by relatively small armies, so whether the mass of the population supported war was besides the point. Furthermore, I wouldn't expect the elites to have been abused as children. Their decision to go to war could as easily arise from a sense of entitlement and privilege (as well as ideology, material ambition and greed).

I don't see how DeMause's argument applies to the USA's war-making in the early twenty-first century. The Iraq and Afghan wars don't fit his theory and more fall into line with the alternative pattern I've described here. Otherwise we would have to suppose that there is a vast hidden epidemic of child abuse in the United States.

(for what it's worth, I'm American)
posted by bad grammar at 4:51 PM on May 3, 2011


Secondly, why? I am not all that interested in academic history or how it works. I'm more interested in how history is made by people. Not just someone like Hitler, but the dude that drove the train full of Jews to the camp. I'm sure psychology is involved there somewhere. I mean, we do have original propaganda posters stashed in some archive, no?

Well, those are the questions that academic history is engaged in answering, and the kinds of sources that it increasingly uses. If you're interested, I would hunt around online for graduate reading lists in modern German history, and then follow the footnotes. University presses are a safe bet (although Cambridge and Oxford have wider umbrellas, which isn't necessarily a good thing).

As far as popular history is concerned, it's my impression that hacks like Stephen Ambrose will cobble together whatever crap will sell, which isn't really conducive to subtlety or methodological innovation. If all you're reading is stuff from trade presses, I can see why you'd be frustrated by the lack of "how"s and "why"s.


You state that you guys work only with sources. Maybe it's enough to answer the questions you have. However it is possible to ask questions for which sources are not enough. It may be no longer HISTORY, but what of it?

I'm not sure what you have in mind. Historians tend to have a pretty capacious definition of "sources" (anything from the period in question, from chairs to newspapers to music, can potentially count). If you're not working with stuff from the period in question, then what kind of knowledge are you producing?
posted by nasreddin at 4:58 PM on May 3, 2011


Oh, I forgot to say: when reading academic history, stick with stuff written after 1994 or so. Don't ask me to justify this, but it's been my experience that in almost any field (I've seen) the work as a whole gets a lot richer, better, and more interesting after that point.
posted by nasreddin at 5:13 PM on May 3, 2011


What I have in mind? Well, I'm reading the linked book right now, so here's an example from chapter five:

"As one observer of the Serbian-Croatian civil war notes: “I’m trying to figure out why neighbors should start killing each other. So I say I can’t tell Serbs and Croats apart. ‘What makes you think you’re so different?’ The man I’m talking to takes a cigarette pack out of his khaki jacket. ‘See this. These are Serbian cigarettes. Over there they smoke Croatian cigarettes.’ “But they’re both cigarettes, right?’ ‘You foreigners don’t understand anything.’ He shrugs and begins cleaning his Zastovo machine pistol….The two planes of consciousness—the political and the personal—just can’t confront each other. So they float around in his head.”33"

Now then, there is a citation. I'll live it up to you to evaluate the quality. What interests me is what is going on inside that guy's head, because in addition to "tropes, goals and influences that don't have internal origins", history is made by people that are like that.
How did he come to differentiate people according to a cigarette brand? Was he normal at first, and turned into a sociopath by the fall of the Soviet block, or is there something in his upbringing? Is that something that an academic historian can shed light on?
posted by c13 at 5:26 PM on May 3, 2011


As far as reading lists, heh, I appreciate the offer, but I' looking at board exam and a residency...
posted by c13 at 5:30 PM on May 3, 2011


Sure. Yugoslav history is its own little field, and I haven't read anything in it, but there's plenty of work nowadays on consumption and public life in the Soviet bloc. Kristin Roth-Ey has a book coming out about Soviet television--she talks, for instance, about how the popularity of Bollywood movies in the Caucasus and Central Asia helped people feel connected to a broader Asian world beyond the Cold War framework. Generally, though, historians--like psychologists--tend to shy away from characterizations like "normal." It's not in any way more "normal" to differentiate between people on the basis of whether they prefer NASCAR or Formula 1, but we do it anyway.
posted by nasreddin at 5:34 PM on May 3, 2011


What? You would not classify someone that kills people that smoke a particular brand of cigarettes as abnormal? I'm pretty sure a psychiatrist would. DSM criteria are all based on a normal distribution.

Heh, I remember all those indian movies that started coming out in late 80's. Every damn one of them was in two parts. My dad was a big fan...
posted by c13 at 5:45 PM on May 3, 2011


Overall, I guess I'm not so much disagreing with you that what people like deMais do is not history, I just don't think pure hitory is their point.
Not sure what they themselves claim..
posted by c13 at 5:49 PM on May 3, 2011


"Normal" is time- and place-dependent, is my point. In civil-war conditions, it's not abnormal to kill someone just because their license plate has the wrong characters on it. But that's a totally separate discussion. If you're looking for books about gee-whiz-aren't-those-folks-weird-how'd-they-get-that-way, you're probably not going to find answers. If you're looking for books about how specific cultures and societies change over time--which probably includes the answers you're really looking for--academic history is your best bet.
posted by nasreddin at 5:51 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Overall, I guess I'm not so much disagreing with you that what people like deMais do is not history, I just don't think pure hitory is their point.
Not sure what they themselves claim..

There's no such thing as "pure history." History is a mongrel discipline that routinely draws on all sorts of other fields. It's just that deMause is still riding a train that went off the rails decades ago.
posted by nasreddin at 5:55 PM on May 3, 2011


"Normal" is time- and place-dependent, is my point. In civil-war conditions, it's not abnormal to kill someone just because their license plate has the wrong characters on it.

And mine that it is not. If you read the "On killing" book I mentioned above, it cites numerous studies done by the military that until Vietnam , the " normal" for soldiers was not to fire or to fire into anything but the enemy, even when receiving fire themselves. He also descibes a process by which psychopathy develops that makes license plates and cigarettes important. It acts on all levels, from individual to national.
posted by c13 at 6:14 PM on May 3, 2011


Whilst I think the concept of "psycho-history" has a kind of value, in that the value thinking about psychological states and their interplay with events and facts can provide insight, I feel that it:

a) never gathered enough proper researchers to reach a kind of academic critical mass.

b) has, as nasreddin outlines, been hijacked by - admittedly some interesting but also - some fairly fruity people writing and publishing extra-discipline, as it were. The discipline in this case being primarily history, and to a lesser degree modern psychology.

c) In this respect, it's often underpinned by what in my opinion is a largely ahistorical and highly problematic assumption, namely: what is psychological trauma to us, is the same to a Huguenot, or whatever.

This is really, really very problematic. Nasreddin talks about why historians are leery of ascribing psychological motivations on historical actors; this is because it's unknown, and unknowable. What is Jealously to me, is not Jealously to Cicero, or Saladin, or a Byzantine, or a Victorian and so on. I literally cannot know what or how an historical person thought, we can only guess, and historians are very tentative about guessing.

This is not to say that historians shy away from ever speculating on the emotions or motivations of the peoples they study - they do it all the time, but almost always with strong qualifiers and rigorous, specific evidence.

So in this respect, I suppose I feel that historians already incorporate the most valuable aspects of psychohistory - being the disciplinary magpies that they are - which leaves the people branding themselves with the label the ones who engage with the most problematic or controversial parts, which naturally possess a more ambiguous merit.

So, the concept is valuable, but the outsider status is both somewhat of a construction, and also deserved in my opinion.
posted by smoke at 7:21 PM on May 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I would tend to agree, but with some modifications: the problem is not with psychohistory itself, but in the fact that it hasn't gathered enough proper researchers and as a consequences has been hijacked with fruity people. (if you guys say so, I don't know enough). But why that would be a reason to dismiss it altogether is beyond me.
An outsider discipline? Sure.
As for point C, why the assumption that psych trauma, especially one occuring early in development would be different some hundred years ago? Psychology uses primates, separated from humans by millions of years of evolution as models for human behavior. They are pretty rigorous as far as " soft sciences" go.
posted by c13 at 8:16 PM on May 3, 2011


c13, we're talking about psychology here based primarily on Freudian theory - which is about as far from those primate tests (which, to my limited knowledge fall more in the cognitive development spectrum than psychology) as you can get.
posted by smoke at 8:52 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ok, falling asleep, so I can't finish reading through the thread to see if someone's brought it up yet, but I've seen the idea a few times that there must be some difference in the German people pre-WW2 to lead to the Holocaust. Like this:

I'm not sure that child abuse is a causation but I think many people are curious as to why and how humans can get swept up in genocide when for the most part they seem normal during most circumstances. Is it merely that given the opportunity a percentage of the population will engage in brutality or does our upbringing prime us to engage in such behavior?

And I'd like to remind people that the field of psychology is pretty convinced it has answered this question, through controlled, repeatable experimentation. I'm talking about Stanley Milgram's obedience studies, which were explicitly designed to investigate if Nazi war criminals acted as they did because they shared Hitler's goals, or if they were just following orders. What they found was that an astounding percentage (60-80%) of random Americans were willing to inflict large amounts of pain on other humans, just at the urging of an authority figure (a guy in lab coat).

This happens to be my personal favorite psychology experiment. It's worth doing some reading about, and if you can find the video of the later repeated experiments, it's downright shocking. (In later experiments, they actually had people fake screams and begging the subject to stop because they have a weak heart, and even then, people continued administering the electric shocks to them. And apparently someone replicated it with actual shocks administered to a puppy withing view of the subject and 20 of 26 didn't stop.)

Anyway, the point of all this is that while it is natural and human to seek some societal abnormality that led to WWII and the holocaust, it isn't really very likely or honest to say that we are somehow different than the perpetrators. You only need a few people to give orders and the vast majority of the human race will follow along, no matter how much they may personally be against what they are doing.
posted by threeturtles at 9:19 PM on May 3, 2011


Furthermore, I wouldn't expect the elites to have been abused as children.

Child abuse cuts across all class lines. Children of the nobility were often abused as much as any peasant child. Often more so.

Even children of nobility were beaten daily. Louis XIII was “beaten mercilessly on waking in the morning. He was beaten on the buttocks by his nurse with a birch or a switch. His father whipped him himself when in a rage.”


Héroard's diary of little Louis XIII showed that despite over a dozen nurses and caretakers being assigned to provide for his needs, he was regularly malnourished, even close to death. Even princesses as late as the eighteenth century were regularly reported to be "naked and dying of hunger."

Although occasionally very high boy/girl ratios are found in birth registers [Feuchere's ratio of 162/100 for French nobility in the late middle ages being the highest I have encountered]. more often the birth ratio ranges in the 110-120 area, while the census figures range higher. so that both differential infanticide and later filicide combine to produce the overall imbalance reflected in the raw census figures.

Not only was England in the seventeenth century ahead of the rest of Europe in child care, but it was more particularly the English middle class, from which so many American mothers were drawn, which first achieved these historically new attitudes toward children. At a time when the English nobility still sent their children out to wetnurse, numbers of brave English middle-class mothers, particularly Puritan mothers, who were encouraged to pray with and watch closely over their children, began for the first time in history to face the enormous anxieties of actually relating with empathy to the emotional needs of the infant at their breast.


Most of the refutations I see in this thread are knee-jerk: the issues they raise formally addressed by the material they haven't read.

I also notice that many criticisms of Psychohistory, formal and otherwise, tend to be ad-hominem; either trivializations of the framework or of certain rhetorical eccentricities of its founder. As I read I see the introduction to Shrinking History is full of this, with vague promises to substantivley address methodology later on. I hope it lives up to that promise.

Much of the criticism seems to parallel popular refutations of Freud. Critics focus on his obsession with sex, cocaine use, his problems with women, and his phallic cigar. Somehow this is sufficient to discredit early psychology. Never do you hear it denied that there actually is an unconscious, or that it has some kind of structure, or that people hide desires from themselves, or that people project those disowned feelings onto others, or even that therapy is useful is resolving internal conflict and its problems. As with deMause and psychohisoty, many aren't even aware of what the real contributions are.



...the problem is not with psychohistory itself, but in the fact that it hasn't gathered enough proper researchers and as a consequences has been hijacked with fruity people. (if you guys say so, I don't know enough).

That's my experience. I unsubscribed from the psychohistory mailing list because deMause was the only reasonable person on it.
posted by clarknova at 9:20 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Smoke, where did you see Freud?
Why would you base your arguments on a fairly outdated theory? Furthermore, I'm preplexed by your last sentence. Are you saying there is no developmental psychology?
posted by c13 at 9:25 PM on May 3, 2011


Much of the criticism seems to parallel popular refutations of Freud

Hey, that's not at all the parallel every single other "practitioner" of psychohistory draws! ...Oh wait.

No, actually. The comparison with Freud is a good one. Freud is now recognized by psychologists (and, thankfully, increasingly humanities people as well) as a falsificationist crank who arrived at some valuable insights despite having a body of work that is now almost completely made up of scientifically worthless obscurantist dross. The key there is that ideas about the unconscious were taken up by other people in the profession, vigorously tried out in practice, and found to be useful, albeit in a modified form. If Freud had remained a lone genius, his work would be a fine specimen of scholarly German prose in the idealist-philosophical tradition, but essentially nothing more. That is more or less the situation with deMause, except he's not even all that good of a writer.


Most of the refutations I see in this thread are knee-jerk: the issues they raise formally addressed by the material they haven't read.


Every one of the articles I glanced at follows the same robotic just-so story pattern, just barely stitched together with quotes from 30-year-old syntheses. Thankfully the standard of historiographical argument has never included having to refute true believers.
posted by nasreddin at 9:49 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


And I'd like to remind people that the field of psychology is pretty convinced it has answered this question, through controlled, repeatable experimentation. I'm talking about Stanley Milgram's obedience studies, which were explicitly designed to investigate if Nazi war criminals acted as they did because they shared Hitler's goals, or if they were just following orders. What they found was that an astounding percentage (60-80%) of random Americans were willing to inflict large amounts of pain on other humans, just at the urging of an authority figure (a guy in lab coat).

True, but to add a caveat: Milgram didn't control for the parenting styles experienced by his subjects. What he found was that given sufficient authoritarian license and instruction, a group of random American volunteers would reproduce the behaviors of the American penal system. Could he get his "gaurds" to march his "prisoners" half-naked through snow and rain, shove them into simulated gas chambers, and work themselves to death? That's a question not answered by the experiment. While a dramatic demonstration of the way people socialize to brutality, it doesn't say anything universal about degree, or about human nature. Just the population he was drawing from.

Americans of Milgram's generation were already socialized to violence and brutality, right in their own homes. I'm reminded of this television program, produced within five years of Miligram's study, which makes shockingly explicit the degree to which domestic battery was considered normal by the public at that time.
posted by clarknova at 9:59 PM on May 3, 2011


Remember this?
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 10:29 PM on May 3, 2011


I don't remember that at all. What context should I remember that from, Hatecraft?
posted by hippybear at 10:41 PM on May 3, 2011


You'd have to read the link...
posted by c13 at 10:42 PM on May 3, 2011


The link has no context. It's just a picture.

Or does this tie into one of the FPP links somehow?

I'm confused.
posted by hippybear at 10:48 PM on May 3, 2011


7th post in this thread leads to the whole book.
posted by c13 at 10:55 PM on May 3, 2011


The comparison with Freud is a good one. Freud is now recognized by psychologists (and, thankfully, increasingly humanities people as well) as a falsificationist crank... Thankfully the standard of historiographical argument has never included having to refute true believers.

Well if they're all the true believers of falsificationist cranks you won't have to do much but skim a few articles to refute them!

There the parallel breaks down, though. deMause's work isn't based on a folio of case studies he personally conducted, but on thousands of academic studies, historiographical writings, and popular journalism. His books are a real pleasure to read. He's one of the few historical writers I've seen that religiously uses APA-format footnotes instead of shitty MLA endnotes.

Remember this?

Here's a good one printed during the Afghanistan runup. If you're familiar with group fantasy analysis it's rich in the symbolism.

Let's make the rest of the thread about political cartoons.
posted by clarknova at 11:02 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't remember that at all. What context should I remember that from, Hatecraft?

It was a popular email-forward from after the September 11th attacks which would be an example of "the nation depicted as a dangerous woman" just prior to war.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 11:09 PM on May 3, 2011


Critics focus on his obsession with sex, cocaine use, his problems with women, and his phallic cigar.

See, most of the psychologist criticisms of Freud that I have personally read focus on his lack of evidence, absence of academic rigor, and faslification/twisting of case studies to meet his hypotheses.

Smoke, where did you see Freud?
Why would you base your arguments on a fairly outdated theory? Furthermore, I'm preplexed by your last sentence. Are you saying there is no developmental psychology?


Many of the people writing about psychohistory are taking their psychological cues from work that originated with Freud and psychoanalysis in general, which is widely discredited nowadays.

To answer your second point, tests involving primates all fit into the neuropsychiatry/cognitive development/development psychology spectrum of academia - which have very little to do with psychohistory because it's rooted in almost the exact opposite of that, namely: Freudian theories.
posted by smoke at 11:13 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Extensive studies show in Japan, for instance, mothers today not only still commonly masturbate their children but also often have sex with their sons while the father is out having sex with other women, the mothers promising them they can have intercourse with them in return for good grades.68"

Wut? Do we have anyone from Japan here that can chime in?
posted by c13 at 11:14 PM on May 3, 2011


Smoke, you probably know more about psychohistory, but at least from readind deMause, I don't see where Freud fits in. deMause talks about dissociation and formation of multiple personalities as a defence mechanism against child abuse. Dissociation was first descibed by Janet, and then much later by Hilgard. Neither Freud nor Janet considered dissociation as a defence mechanism.
posted by c13 at 11:24 PM on May 3, 2011


He's one of the few historical writers I've seen that religiously uses APA-format footnotes instead of shitty MLA endnotes.

That's, um...kinda scraping the bottom of the barrel as far as apologias go. Anyway, the professional standard is Chicago style, so you must not read a lot of history.
posted by nasreddin at 11:38 PM on May 3, 2011


To answer your second point, tests involving primates all fit into the neuropsychiatry/cognitive development/development psychology spectrum of academia - which have very little to do with psychohistory because it's rooted in almost the exact opposite of that, namely: Freudian theories.

If you'd gotten to chapter three of the FPP you'd have seen neuropsychiatry aplenty. I know it's hard, but they're not long chapters.


Wut? Do we have anyone from Japan here that can chime in?

Until then you could follow the citation. I can see from your quotation it's footnote 68.


Are we still knee-jerking here or have I made my point yet?
posted by clarknova at 12:15 AM on May 4, 2011


I would like something more than a citation from his own journal.
posted by c13 at 12:22 AM on May 4, 2011


Are we still knee-jerking here or have I made my point yet?

Dude, you seem to be a little too attached to this guy. You might want to take a step back.
posted by nasreddin at 12:31 AM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've come across this site before, and it set all my crank alarms off- which are only confirmed by a re-reading. nasreddin already discussed the issues with deMause's approach to history- and when it comes to the other side of it, one thing I noticed right off the bat is that when one reads more deeply into his stuff, it very quickly becomes clear that the primary influence on the "psycho" half of "psychohistory" here appears to be Freud. I probably don't need to get into just how discredited (and rightly so) the vast majority of Freudian theory is here, but suffice it to say that this does not inspire any confidence in deMause's "psychohistory" at all. And, as mentioned, he repeatedly cites his own journal. I can't put it any better than nasreddin did, above- it's desperately shady.

I think the crackpot alarm first really rang for me when I read this article, "The Universality of Incest." (I should warn any would-be readers that the whole article is pretty upsetting to read, whether one takes it as truth or crackpottery- definite trigger warning material.) The basic premise is questionable to begin with, at least when it's taken as far as deMause does- I should say that the last thing I want to do here is downplay the prevalence of child sexual abuse, which I think is far more common than most people imagine, but... well, to give an idea of just how universal he assumes it to be, deMause essentially claims that 80 percent of German children have been sexually molested, based on a conveniently unpublished study that he calls "the most careful European study to date". I don't think even the highest estimates of the prevalence of child sexual abuse I've seen from reputable sources have come anywhere close to that. At any rate, to me the article at least borders on racist/ethnocentric, and arguably crosses the line outright- there's a very noticeable change in the way it's written when it starts talking about non-Western cultures, as we are suddenly bombarded with lurid details and descriptions of sexual abuse that we were spared when it was talking about Europe and America. Not to mention that his sourcing proves to be more than a bit questionable in places- the part on India relies fairly heavily on a book written by one Katherine Mayo in 1927 called "Mother India." This, apparently, was a fairly infamous polemic against Indian self-rule, a detail that goes entirely unmentioned- Mayo is simply called "a reliable observer". Indeed, the entire section on India cites her often. Japan is presented as a place where incest is a ubiquitous, mainstream practice, and it is claimed (among many other shocking things, which are generalized as applicable to the whole of modern Japanese society without any sort of doubt or qualification) that "the researchers found that Japanese mothers and sons often sleep in the same bed and have sex together, although the exact incidence in the population was not investigated." The source for this claim proves to be... deMause's own journal, which is frequently cited throughout the entire section. Between the sweeping generalizations, the often questionable sources, and the plentiful lurid descriptions that are not found when it talks about the West, I found the entire thing to have a very uncomfortable "look at the non-Western savages and their twisted sexual practices" feel to it, and I have a feeling it offers about as accurate a picture of reality as that woeful genre of writing always does. And there's lots of incredibly dubious Freudian explanations for all of this, which are treated as uncontroversial fact- to offer just one example, when it discusses Chinese foot-binding: "Like other fetishists, the Chinese were so afraid of the vagina as a dangerous, castrating organ that they could only feel erotic toward the woman's foot - mainly her big toe."

Also on that topic, I have to mention this gem from "The Emotional Life of Nations" (found here): "War is overwhelmingly a homosexual perversion, since men leave their female partners and go abroad and stick things into other men's bodies." I... don't think there's anything I can add to that, really, other than that the only way it could come off any crazier would be if deMause started talking about the cubical nature of time in the next passage. (To say nothing of the homophobia- and actually, deMause did cite Charles Socarides at one point in that incest article...) Seriously, in reading his site again, I fast discovered that there were so many examples of crackpottery, bad research, and dubious Freudian theories throughout deMause's writings that I could hardly pick one to focus on in writing this post. I mean, just one random example from later on in "The Emotional Life of Nations"- he claims that "the earliest civilizations uniformly worshipped vampire godesses", and names Shiva as an example of such. (Careful research, there.) Leaving that particular howler aside (and most of the actual goddesses he names don't really fit the argument, either), the "uniformly" there makes for a pretty radical claim which he offers no support for at all. That passage is just one of many, many examples I could point to on that page alone. deMause, in short, appears to me to be a complete crackpot.

What's sort of depressing about all of this is that I don't think some of the basic ideas are necessarily as unsound as the execution here is- I mean, I think there could very well be something to the theory that German child-rearing practices were one contributing factor towards why Nazism was what it was, and why so many Germans found it appealing. How much of a contributing factor they were is probably impossible to determine (and obviously that was far from being the only factor there), but I don't think the basic theory is nuts at all, though nasreddin's discussion of the way psychohistory failed as a discipline indicates to me that even if there is something there, it's most likely an essentially hopeless task to get at it.
posted by a louis wain cat at 12:39 AM on May 4, 2011 [12 favorites]


I've already spent way too much time in this thread, but let me just say: my fellow historians may be clannish, elitist, and professionally-deformed, but they never ignore a workable new idea, for the simple reason that workable new ideas is how you write a standout dissertation and stake out your way to tenure. This is why we (grad students) spend months digging around in the literatures of areas we have nothing to do with--so we can find some shiny new theory, bring it back to our field, and reap the benefits. Psychohistory has now not only gone out of fashion, it's chronologically hit the point at which it becomes cool to try to bring it back into professional use. The fact that no one has managed to do so is a pretty important sign.

And of course I haven't mentioned the most glaring thing about deMause's pieces: he doesn't do any primary source research. He never cites an archive, never digs around in any body of published primary sources more substantial than an undergraduate sourcebook, never discusses the reliability of different source bases. There are a handful of historians (notably Elizabeth Eisenstein) who can kind of get away with something like that, but even Eisenstein has been heavily criticized and is not considered a reliable scholar today.
posted by nasreddin at 12:43 AM on May 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


And just for fun, I decided to look at the citations for this piece. Fully 1/8 of them are to his own work. In a typical history monograph, you'd find maybe 3 citations to the author's previous work. More than once a chapter--it begins to look pretty shady (and it's certainly poor form). But 20 times in a single chapter? The guy is either a narcissist or a crank or both.
posted by nasreddin at 12:56 AM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


To say nothing of the homophobia- and actually, deMause did cite Charles Socarides at one point in that incest article...

He actually cites some praise from him on his bio page.

If you have access to the NYRB, here's an essay by Lawrence Stone on DeMause from back when he was in his trendy-cutting-edge glory days...in 1974. It doesn't appear that any of his ideas have grown or evolved at all in 40 years, except they've gotten more weakly-researched and more inbred from isolation. It all looks a bit tragic.
posted by nasreddin at 1:10 AM on May 4, 2011


This is not an accurate description of what "the field of psychology" thinks. For one, it's a broad field and people disagree. Two, many people in the field are still studying the psychology of morality as well as the psychology of bigotry, the psychology of violence, etc. No one (or three) studies is ever going to answer a question that big. Not to mention the huge problem with extrapolating from well-fed Americans in the 50s in a laboratory to Germans in the 30s and 40s in wartime.

"And I'd like to remind people that the field of psychology is pretty convinced it has answered this question, through controlled, repeatable experimentation. I'm talking about Stanley Milgram's obedience studies, which were explicitly designed to investigate if Nazi war criminals acted as they did because they shared Hitler's goals, or if they were just following orders. What they found was that an astounding percentage (60-80%) of random Americans were willing to inflict large amounts of pain on other humans, just at the urging of an authority figure (a guy in lab coat). "
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:01 AM on May 4, 2011


Are we still knee-jerking here or have I made my point yet?

Your point being that Japanese mothers are "commonly" incestuous sex abusers? Come on, dude, that's twelve kinds of what the fuck and as racist as all get-out. And wrong. If you put a claim like that in the paper here (Australia) you'd be prosecuted for racial vilification.

Dude's crazy. I'm sorry he's got some ideas you like, but the reason why he's such an outsider is because his work is not academic.
posted by smoke at 3:23 AM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


"War is overwhelmingly a homosexual perversion, since men leave their female partners and go abroad and stick things into other men's bodies."

Maybe deMause is a satirist.
posted by fuq at 4:45 AM on May 4, 2011


c13 - "On Killing" has been roundly criticised in recent years after accusations that the statistics that it used as a basis (collected by SLA Marshall) were essentially made up of whole cloth.

For military history you could do worse than John Keegan (although he is so desperate to prove Von Clausewitz wrong in a "History of Warfare" that he comes across very poorly - his ideas still have much merit). "Faces of Battle" is a particularly good book about the psychology of soldiers in war. He has been accused of shoddy fact-checking in some of his writing but overall I'd not hesitate in recommending his work otherwise.
posted by longbaugh at 5:24 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


"War is overwhelmingly a homosexual perversion, since men leave their female partners and go abroad and stick things into other men's bodies."

Apparently this jackass isn't aware that war almost invariably entails sexual violence against women.
posted by clockzero at 8:16 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I responded privately to a query about "On Killing" via MeMail a little while ago but since it's kind of pertinent I'll reproduce it here, I hope that's okay.

The statistics that Grossman references in "On Killing" were gathered by SLA Marshall for his book "Men Against Fire" which had been written with the conclusion already in mind and used sloppy methodology to collect the data.

Colonel David Hackworth was one of the foremost critics of the gathered statistics which he writes about briefly in "About Face". Hackworth did have what appears to be a strong personal dislike of Marshall which developed after a brief honeymoon period when serving alongside Marshall in Vietnam. It's not entirely clear as to whether Hackworth's enmity at Marshall is what caused his criticism but that doesn't invalidate his claim either.

Prof. Roger J. Spiller also criticises Marshall's methodology in the article "SLA Marshall and the Ratio of Fire" which you can find here -

The link here has information about both Hackworth's and Spiller's criticism of Marshall

There is evidence enough over the years from numerous sources that not every man in a unit will use their weapon and this holds true for pretty much any period that involves firearms onwards*. Mostly those men will fetch ammo, reload weapons, collect and treat wounded etc (actions that are no less brave than those engaging the enemy) but the figure of ~75% is not, imo, grounded in reality. In an infantry section of 8-12 men if 3/4 were not performing their function it would be simple for an enemy unit to overrun them. Peer pressure and survival instinct alone would encourage the men to open fire and since it is extremely clear as to whether bullets are close and heading towards you and whether they are simply aimless I absolutely believe that directed, aimed fire was used.

Finally, the figures collated were (iirc) gathered solely from line US Army infantry units** and did not include Marines, Paratroops or other "elite" units. Nobody asked the British, Russians, Germans, Japanese etc what their ratio of fire was. Without any data about ther nationalities/training methods you are left with statistics that are not only questionable but also have no "control" group to compare with. British troops used the same method of training (i.e. a bullseye rather than the modern "man-shaped" target) as US troops of the era and yet we have no statistics showing whether British troops did or did not directly fire at the enemy in a similar ratio. This omission means we do not know the actual "reason" behind any statistic, regardless of it's validity.

There are certainly other critics but Hackworth and Spiller are the main ones. The theory about replacements not bonding and therefore not working as part of a team below are my own personal theories and are based almost entirely upon anecdote and experience. Grains of salt may be required as a result.

*Standing in a phalanx or shield wall you don't have much choice about engaging the enemy - it's only with the introduction of firearms that you could realistically "pretend" to attack another person without it being immediately obvious to the men either side of you.

**US Army Infantry operated a "replacement" system during WWII and I suspect that the line infantry units had a high number of replacements who had not bonded with the old hands. I believe that they therefore did not have sufficient familiarity with the way in which the section moved and worked and as a result were less willing to risk themselves to enemy fire. Risking oneself for one's "Band of Brothers" only comes from experience and given that this unit bonding never took place in line US Army Infantry units further taints the evidence imo.

Some info about the replacement system here
posted by longbaugh at 8:56 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


*Standing in a phalanx or shield wall you don't have much choice about engaging the enemy - it's only with the introduction of firearms that you could realistically "pretend" to attack another person without it being immediately obvious to the men either side of you.

Not just firearms--smokeless powder, fire-at-will orders, and ideally automatic weapons. Warfare in the 18thc was based on a volley system, where you wouldn't really be aiming at anyone in particular and where your main goal would be just to fire your weapon on command and shuffle back (depending on the type of drill used) to reload. I have heard that only a single-digit percentage of bullets would actually have hit anyone.
posted by nasreddin at 9:04 AM on May 4, 2011


Volley-firing is actually an excellent example of depersonalising war. When you are firing into a mass of enemy you are not specifically aiming at any one individual and it's considerably easier to justify your actions retrospectively when you don't know who hit what. To this day artillery units are the least likely to be affected by PTSD as a result of killing someone as they are simply killing a map reference.
posted by longbaugh at 9:25 AM on May 4, 2011


I have heard that only a single-digit percentage of bullets would actually have hit anyone.

This would vary considerably based on the type of weapon and the range. Pike & shot formations from the late 1580's using muskets will have very low levels of accuracy compared to Napoleonic formations based purely on the quality and standardisation of weapon manufacturing. Accurate shooting range was around 50-100yds at most from 1400 through to the introduction of rifled weapons.

It wasn't unheard of for men with particularly well made weapons and uncommon skill to exceed this (La Longue Carabine aside, there were men who could accurately shoot over 400yds with black powder smoothbores during the American War of Independence) but they are the exceptions to the rule. Training and live fire exercises in the late 16thC were extremely rare with most men firing 3-5 live rounds before being packed off for war.

Napoleonic tactics would be similar and consist of slightly staggered ranks in box formation who would fire one or two volleys before closing for hand-to-hand combat with fixed bayonet (replacing the earlier pike). The front rank reloading whilst the second rank opened fire and then vice versa. British drill of the era allowd maybe two volleys per minute per rank but frankly after the initial volley you'd be firing into a cloud of white smoke. Compare this to skirmishers like the 95th Rifles (later the Prince Consort's Own Rifles) who could all shoot accurately up to 200-300yds and used small unit tactics to harass the enemies flanks.

I'll admit my knowledge of black powder weapons is sketchy at best and that most of this of from general reading rather than training in or personal use of them. I'm currently reading about pike and shot tactics during the the Dutch War of Independence (1568-1609) and the creation of a standing British Army over the latter part of that period. It's quite fascinating and you can see tactical doctrine evolve as new military technology is adopted over the next four centuries. This technology in turn affects the men who use it significantly but that's probably for another more appropriate post.
posted by longbaugh at 9:59 AM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Wow, longbaugh, thanks for the links. I'm looking through them right now. Very interesting...
posted by c13 at 10:55 AM on May 4, 2011


Don't thank me - I'm an enthused amateur at best! There are probably many more people on MeFi who have a better grounding in this sort of thing. I just have a trick memory is all :)
posted by longbaugh at 11:35 AM on May 4, 2011


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