Talk:Psychohistory

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Before placing critiques here...[edit]

note that Wikipedia is no soapbox. If a new editor feels tempted to soapbox here, please see these excerpts from an archived flaming discussion, originally posted in Wikipedia, that gives the picture of this controversial topic.

This talk page is only for discussions to improve the Psychohistory article. If anybody wants to discuss Psychohistory issues unrelated to the improvement of the page, please do it in the above-linked forum.

Cesar Tort 02:07, 27 January 2008 (UTC)

Criticism[edit]

A vaguely worded claim that "critics " have called PH a pseudoscience is not good enough to establish this. Who are they? The site linked to in the citation looks like its self published and not a good source. I have removed this sentence. Can we find a substantial source who has said this. Lumos3 (talk) 21:36, 1 July 2008 (UTC) "/* Criticism */ Removed unsubstantiated vague claim

Archived talk[edit]

When I recently archived the whole talk page, I forgot the statement in tag template: "The factual accuracy of this section is disputed. Please see the relevant discussion on the talk page.(June 2008)." Instead of placing the discussion back, I'll rather remove the sentence "Jacques Barzun has called it 'pseudo-historical'"[20] since I cannot see it in the link (or perhaps it's about Freud, not deMause?). Also, I'll make some changes like removing an unsourced phrase so that the tag may be removed. If these sections are placed back, the tag should be added as well. —Cesar Tort 19:42, 28 July 2008 (UTC)

More on Erikson (and also on criticisms)[edit]

I was surprised by how little coverage this article gave to Erik H. Erikson, given the importance of his biographies of Martin Luther and Mahatma Gandhi to the development of psychohistory. Also, I wonder whether this article could say more about how academic historians sometimes criticise psychohistory for not taking enough cognizance of social or economic factors in influencing historical processes? ACEOREVIVED (talk) 21:12, 14 August 2009 (UTC)

Historical modes[edit]

I think the scheme of psychogenic modes is based more on a preconceived idea of linear progress than any real knowledge of the past. Let me first state that I don’t believe in the noble savage. But I am aware that typical hunter-gatherers are (or where) free from many of the evils which have plagued civilisations since the inventing of writing: arranged marriage, prostitution, slavery and economical injustice. Other evils exist (existed) in a far less extent: rape, infectious diseases and starvation. On the other hand violence is (where) many times more common than in the 20th century Western World. However, violence between humans has never been a part of everyday life for hunter-gatherers. As Jared Diamond has pointed out it would not be possible for a band to survive under such circumstances. I am also aware that in most hunter-gatherer societies women has (had) the same social status as men. In such societies people do (did) make a difference between “women's work” and “men's work” but “women's work” is (was) considered as valuable as “men's”.

I don't think hunter-gatherers are (where) unable to feel non-sexual love for their children for evolutionary reasons. First, according to the British Archaeologist Ted Oakes the human brain has not evolved in the last 100,000 years. As such there are not types of emotions in humans today which did not exist in our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Secondly, we have to take into account the circumstances under which hunter-gatherers raise (raised) their children. In a people of nomads who don't have any bests of burden women has to carry their children until they could keep the adults' pace. This would limit the number of surviving children to at most one every four years. Also, hunter-gatherers have (had) hard to feed small children – especially during wearing – resulting in a high level of mortality among infants and toddlers. Under such circumstances anything increasing children's chances of reaching adulthood would be an evolutionary advantage. Personally, I think that hunter-gatherers are (where) relatively good parents: loving and not so very oppressive towards the wants of their children. Infanticide would most likely be limited to unwanted children and those without parents since they would not have much chance of reaching adulthood anyway. However I am aware that there are (where) enormous differences between different tribes ranging from reluctance to even warn children about dangers to parenting so oppressive that some children where driven to suicide. Yet I don't think the tribes with the most oppressive parenting would have been long-lived since they would not have had enough surviving children. That is the prime reason why I imagine hunter-gatherers as relatively good parents.

Contrary to popular belief the development of agriculture lead to a considerable decrease in the quality of life. Being dependant on a low number of plant and animal species as food meant that starvation become much more prevalent. At least in Eurasia new infectious diseases evolved resulting in epidemics becoming much more prevalent and deadly. On the other hand being domiciled meant that women no longer had to carry their children around and could those have a child every year. So despite a drastic increase in mortality populations started to grow. Since women no longer had the same status as men there was now at least one more motif for men to commit rape other than unsatisfied lust: the need to disprove one's own feeling of being inferior to women. Of cause this would have lead to a marked increase in the prevalence of rape. When agricultural societies grew to become larger than a thousand people formal political leadership become necessary. Often this political leadership came to be inherited within a family. Also, societies of more than a thousand people would have enough resources to develop social stratification and even slavery. With inherited political leadership and different social classes there where for the first time reasons for parents to arrange marriage for their children. This leads to much less sexual and emotional sanctification resulting in both a marked increase in rape within marriage as well as the invention of prostitution. In some societies the elite begun to practice arranged polygyny. In order to control the sexual behaviour of their female family members leading men frequently introduced severe forms of genital mutilation such as infibulation and castration (often involving penis removal). This would have further increased the frequency of sexual dissatisfaction as well as mental traumas. With unhappy parents raising even more unhappy children the quality of parenting may well have decreased until a considerable part of the worst parents would have died childless due to inability to take care of their children. (This would have stopped natural population growth as well as prevented further decrease in the quality of parenting.) Such a process could explain the evidence of terrible parenting found among old civilisations and historically attested chiefdoms. The may seem ancient to us but they are in fact closer to us in time then they were to their hunter-gatherer ancestors. The very low quality of life in such societies may also explain the existence of religions such as Buddhism which teach that everything is suffering and which goal is detachment from the world.

The ancient Greeks and Romans may well have been among the peoples less affected by the decrease in quality of parenting due to the development of agriculture. Both peoples where monogamous and underwent a period of republic during which the political leadership was not hereditary. Genital mutilation appear to have been rare in both peoples resulting in much lover rates of sexual dissatisfaction and mental traumas. The ancient Greeks where the most open-minded people of their time meaning that they took fewer things for granted. I don't know how open-minded the Romans where but they where more sexually liberated than other peoples of the times. The Romans also allowed women more personal freedom than other contemporary civilisations except possibly Egypt. But the Greeks and Romans typically abandoned unwanted children. However, they tried to assure the survival of their wanted ones. If less successful parents did their best to imitate more successful ones this would have lead to gradually better parenting. I don't know how the Greeks treated their children but there is historical evidence that the Romans treated their wanted children quite well. The early Christian church condemned the abandonment of children. This may have lead to attempts to apply this rather good parenting to all children at least in southern Europe. But since there where now many more unwanted children the introduction of Christianity may as well have been a decrease in the quality of parenting, I really don't know.

During the early Middle Ages fosterage was most likely due to sheer necessity. The parent ether where too poor to provide for their children or had died from them (typically from violence or infectious diseases). Yet bloodlines where considered to important that proper adoption would had been rare and maybe not even allowed. I don't think monks and nuns had the resources to take care of any significant part of the society's children. I don't know how common pederasty was but it might have been mainly due to desperate need for sex. After all, both sexual attraction towards children and homosexual emotions are unusual in humans. The most common form of rape of girls would have been caused by too arranged marriage implemented at a too early age. (Think young girls forced to have sexual intercourse with adult men shortly after menarche.) I have seen no sign that rape of unmarried girls would have even been socially acceptable. Later during the Middle Ages it was definitely not socially acceptable and was even banned by Mediaeval kings. About swaddling I think it was invented for the convenience of parents and that the medical benefits where almost completely imaginary. To the extent wet nursing existed in Middle Age Europe it was probably due to necessity rather than anything else. Not until well into the Renaissance did upper-class women start to use wet-nurses and nannies for their own comfort. This would have lead to worse parenting since unrelated people are more likely to treat children badly than the children's own parents. Also, the labour conditions for these would have caused even more child neglect but this could have been a more regional problem.

Mediaeval clergymen may well have contributed to worsening parenting methods in a more indirect way. These peoples where denied any sex (socially forced celibacy) and had severe restrictions on food (ban on meats and regular fastening). Also, their typically strict schedules gave no time for sports, dancing or party games which would have been enjoyed by most others not too busy about their own survival. Being denied so many of the joys of life they tried to rationalize their dull lifestyle. Some things – especially sex – where imagined to not have to be fun and should not be. Others where imagined to be intrinsically evil. Even humour and laugher where labelled as evil probably out of fear of being ridiculed. Yet people seemed to really enjoy all those things. From this the clergymen drew the wrongful conclusion that humans where born evil. This religiously motivated idea was taught in sermons and slowly worked its way trough the population. I think this could explain much of the moralizing that still exists in the Western World today.

What Alice Miller called “poisonous pedagogy” was created by people which prime goal was to make children useful to their parents. Ignorant of the very existence of any differences in interest between parents and children they had no idea that their goal conflicted with what is the best for the children. They did not only believe that humans where born evil but where also psychologically highly ignorant causing them to jump to conclusion based on external behaviour. I know that scientific research about the human mind – evolutionary psychology, sociobiology and cognitive science – started about 1900 and did not gain momentum until after the World War II. Yet they could have tried to find out peoples thoughts and emotions by a combination of theory of mind and honest communication. Instead it never occurred to them that they might have been wrong and as such they never realised that they had been talking through their hats. Furthermore, I strongly suspect that the so-called “poisonous pedagogy” was codified and popularised by people which had no experience of childrearing themselves (upper-class men with so little contact with their own children that they may not even had known each other). Anyway, the result was a type of parenting which had no basis in any real knowledge of the human mind. If it was followed closely it would be far more harmful than helpful. I can’t help perceiving this type of parenting as ruthless but this is just mine opinion.

The more recent improvement in parenting methods can be explained by people getting more open-minded and tolerant in general. This process begun with the Age of Discovery making it possible for Europeans to have much of positive contact with other peoples. This caused a first increase in open-mindedness which lead to the development of modern science. The habit of questioning established dogmas introduced by early scientists gave rise to the fantastic idea that the society can be changed for the better. This thought gave birth to the idea of Human Rights. Since its first formulation in the late 17th century it has been gradually expanded, a process that continues to this day. As people become better at telling “is” apart from “ought to be” they become more tolerant towards their children’s natural tendencies and limited mental capabilities. The decline in arranged marriage and the increased use of contraceptives to plan parenthood also contributed. At the same time parents where gradually freed from the social pressure to break their children – yes, I really mean “break” since they where treated no better than dogs – and taken seemingly rational decisions over their heads. This allowed the parents to show what warm emotions they had for their children in ways which the children had a fair chance to understand such as soft speech and soft touch. Through positive feedback this process accelerated leading to each generation being treated better as children than the previous one. Psychoanalytics may well have extrapolated these relatively recent trend millennia into the past without having any empirical basis for such long trends. However, psychodynamic theory have never had much basis in empirical evidence anyway. I don’t deny that psychoanalysis can have a positive effect on certain mental problems. But using it to treat all mental problems other than mental retardation would be as primitive as using intentional bleeding to treat everything other than fractures. (If we are to believe David Geoffrey Chandler this was exactly what physicians did two centuries ago.) I may be accused for limiting myself too much to the Western World. However, it is not my fault but the Psychohistorians and it is them I am doing my best to criticise.

2009-12-15 Lena Synnerholm, Märsta, Sweden.

When I read that the discussion page was not intended for discussing psychohistory in itself I had already devoted about a week to writing so I could not just drop the project. Also, I have come up with a few of things more to criticise. The expressions used in the description of “Intrusive parenting” are very strange to me. First, we have the expression “trying to stop children's growth” which is quite incomprehensible to me. A child who survives to the age of 20 inevitably grows up but this process may be more or less disturbed leading to acquired mental problems. The other strange expression is “controlled their minds, their insides, their anger and the lives they led”. To me it seems like the author thought that parents could shape their children to become anything they wanted! Naturally, parents can do little about their children's physical appearance and health. In a similar way adults can't determine children's physical needs or abilities. Unfortunately, this has not stopped people ignorant of individual differences in capacity and self-perceived bodily functions from trying. I also want to point out that 40 – 50 percent of a child's personality is genetically determined and thus unchangeable. Furthermore, children are more or less psychologically affected by everything they experience. (This is why identical twins always develop unique personalities even if they grow up together.) To control everything a child perceives would be a truly superhuman feast. Does the author really think that parents can shape their children as they want or have I misunderstood something?

I have noted that pubescent girls typically don’t want to have sex. This may very well be an universal human phenomenon that originally evolved to prevent girls from getting pregnant before they where large enough to give birth safely. However, such a tendency only makes sense in a society where consensual sex is the norm. In a society where rape of children where the norm it would make more sense to sexually mature later. What I mean is that menace should have happened around the age of 17 instead of around the age of twelve. It has been scientifically shown that humans are rarely sexually attracted to the people they spent the first six years with. Such an anti-incest instinct only makes sense in a society where you can typically choose your sexual partner yourself. The enormous mental suffering that rape inflict on individual women also shows that it was not the norm amongst our hunter-gatherer ancestors. If forced sex had been the norm such an universal human reaction would not have evolved at all. In fact the modern science of evolutionary psychology contradicts the idea of very bad parenting being the original human condition. If we define “bad” as “harmful” then evolutionally psychology makes it patently absurd. Suppose that our hunter-gatherer ancestors typically treated their children in a certain way then our minds would adopt to handle that way of treatment. Maybe our minds would even need it in order to develop properly. The opposite is also true, if we have an universal human mental trait which requires a certain treatment during upbringing this means that among our pre-agricultural ancestors this treatment was the norm. For example, a child who does not feel loved during its first three years of its life will be unable to form close relationships as adult. Yet close relationships – erotic relations and close friendship – exist in all known human societies. Why evolve a capability which can only properly develop under uncommon circumstances? This shows that hunter-gatherer parents typically where able to show non-sexual love for their infants and toddlers in ways they could understand. Such arguments have convinced me that “early infanticidal childrearing” is not a correct description of humanity’s original condition. But his is only one of the many historical errors I see in Psychohistory.

2010-05-14 Lena Synnerholm, Märsta, Sweden.

Methodology[edit]

I wonder to what extent the Psychohistorians use the methods of historography. Psychoanalytics have a long record of drawing premature conclusions which they refuse to accept any empirical evidence against. Many people with inborn mental aberrations have had their lives destroyed by treatment based on misconceptions about past experiences. Please note that inborn mental differences are individual and not determined by which group you belong to. To the extent Psychohistorians don't work like historians they spread misconceptions about mental problems and their causes. Something people with the mental problems in question may suffer badly from.

2010-02-05 Lena Synnerholm, Märsta, Sweden.

Lena you should get an account an edit, you seem to know more on the subject than any of us, its free. --Ishmaelblues (talk) 00:23, 7 February 2010 (UTC)
No, this person should stay well away from the article. So far, this Lena has had nothing to add except massive space-wasting OR, PoV and Freud-war objections. When she has *an actual relevant source* to cite or quote from, a contribution will be welcome. Pfistermeister (talk) 02:36, 7 February 2010 (UTC)

I seriously wonder to what extant these Psychohistorians use the normal methods of historography. This is because I worry about the consequences of not following them to the best of one’s ability. My criticism of psychoanalytics is toward them as a group rather than Sigmund Freud specifically. I think Sigmund have caused more harm by setting a bad example than though his discredited ideas.

2010-05-16 Lena Synnerholm, Märsta, Sweden.

Problems[edit]

1. The emphasis on Lloyd deMause is so massive that one might be forgiven for thinking that there is no other contemporary psychohistorian worth mentioning.

2. One would expect an encycopledia article on a topic like this to state as clearly as possible key underlying assumptions. ('Men - and a few women - make history?' 'Parenting is key to history'?) It should also have something about the various schools of thought within the subject.

3. There ought to be some acknowledgement that other areas of history, especially social history, are also concerned with the history of the family though they don't share the preocupation with physically destructive parenting apparent in the table 'psychogenic modes'. Norvo (talk) 04:35, 10 August 2010 (UTC)

yes these are great points! Ishmaelblues (talk) 04:12, 11 August 2010 (UTC)

Clarity[edit]

So, is psychohistory a taking of modern concepts and projecting them into the past? How is this kind of projection justified? When were the concepts of "family", "childhood" and "abuse" the way we understand them even formulated into concepts? If something we would call "abuse" today is the norm in a society, does it make sense to call it abuse?

The positions of this psychohistory seem to be really vague. Answering some of these questions might clarify it some. Is the projection of modern ideas into the past something they do as a part of their technique, or do they claim these ideas have existed at all times? Other historians are very careful not to project present into the past as it is not objective, so how do psychohistorians justify doing this? Would they say the concept of Wikipedia existed in the stone age, though it was just latent and not yet brought out into the light? Are we dealing with Platonic ideals here? What in history changes and what is stagnant for them?

Can any of these questions be answered? It would make the article a lot more interesting and clear up some confusion. --DanielCD (talk) 15:43, 29 December 2010 (UTC)

What an idiotic load of blather! You might as well ask if it's 'justified' or 'valid' to use the concept of 'volcanoes' in discussing the destruction of Pompeii 'because ancient Romans had no concept of "vulcanology"'. Pathetic! Pfistermeister (talk) 02:35, 30 December 2010 (UTC)
Steady on. There's no need to be rude. Norvo (talk) 05:39, 23 January 2011 (UTC)
My question appears to have gone over some heads. If ppl want to believe the Ancient Greeks had mopeds and cell phones who am I to contradict them. Concrete objects like "volcanoes" are not the same as abstractions, and the understanding of abstractions can change significantly over time and space. If this wasn't the case, there would be no cultural differences in the world. The idea of the nuclear family would not have been understood before 150 years ago or so, yet people talk as if people have lived like Ozzie and Harriet for millenia past. At the very least, failure to address it is one of the reasons psychohistory is seen as a pseudoscience. Terms used today can have connotations that they wouldn't have had in the past. Without addressing this, psychohistory is like Biblical literalism, you can literally make up anything you want by twisting the meaning of the words and taking them out of context, with unintended connotations, etc. --DanielCD (talk) 19:52, 6 May 2011 (UTC)

Definition of psychohistory[edit]

I think we need to make a crucial and clear distinction in the introduction and definition. Is psychohistory a study of the psychological aspects of historical events and changes in the world and in society? And/or is it also/either a study of a patient's psychological history (ie. childhood, family, abuse?)? The two seem to not be clearly demarcated in the intro though both have been mentioned. The relationship and difference between these two aspects of the study must be clarified. ''FellowScientist'' (talk) 06:57, 7 May 2011 (UTC)

I second that! --DanielCD (talk) 23:34, 7 May 2011 (UTC)
And I 'third' that! See my comments above under 'Problems'. Moreover, in psychohistory are the 'patients' (to use FellowScientist's apt term) individual 'great men' (plus the occasional 'great woman') or are the 'patients' vague entities like whole societies or, even more mind-bogglingly, whole eras in history, whole stages of human development, or what? Then we also need to know whether psychohistory is wedded to psychoanalyis. The article is at present riddled with unacknowledged problems, fanciful speculation, unstated assumptions and the like. It is singularly uninformative, too. Norvo (talk) 02:32, 14 May 2011 (UTC)

Alice Miller[edit]

I would think there'd be a more blatant mention of Alice Miller. — Preceding unsigned comment added by 173.238.60.206 (talk) 19:59, 25 May 2012 (UTC)

  • Agreed (though a bit late ;)) I'll see if I write a bit about her in the near future.Lisiduna (talk) 21:03, 30 December 2013 (UTC)

Moral disengagement[edit]

There was this sentence is the introduction :

"In recent times the relationship between psychology and history has been explored using the study of moral disengagement. The internet history blog Historical Underbelly looks at some of the ways in which the mechanisms of moral disengagement appear to be evident in numerous stages throughout history.[1]"

Moral disengagement seems to refer to a theory distinct from psychohistory, therefore it has nothing to do in the introduction of this article. Maybe it could go into "See also" section, or something else. In the meantime, I simply deleted it. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Goutte de pluie (talkcontribs) 04:27, 7 November 2012 (UTC)

I don't see that this is demonstrated at all. Why should moral disengagement (which is a branch of social psychology) and psychohistory be of necessity mutually exclusive? You're basically saying that psychohistory equals x because that's what you understand to be true and that anything that doesn't equal x isn't psychohistory. Try doing the same with history, eg. 'to understand history is to know that anyone who ever started a war was totally justified in every way, and anyone who says otherwise is not a true historian.' That's a logical fallacy, and so is saying that 'I don't understand or like this so therefore it can't be true psychohistory.' Ites76 (talk) 06:22, 26 February 2013 (UTC)

Thorough review of the article[edit]

I have just finished translating this wiki into Dutch, and got very familiar with the text while spending many hours on it. I found several points for improvement and already applied these in the Dutch version. Now I'm amending the English text accordingly (and will continue later this week - not completely ready yet). My main effort is to take away bias toward DeMause, and change the order of paragraphs to make the reading more logical. Please have a critical look and check my English (although most changes are just removal or replacements) Lisiduna (talk) 21:01, 30 December 2013 (UTC)

Ready! Lisiduna (talk) 19:19, 3 January 2014 (UTC)

ethnology is a branch of anthropology.[edit]

ethnology is a branch of anthropology, but article seems to imply that they are somehow separate. 76.19.63.222 (talk) 13:24, 9 February 2014 (UTC) Michael Christian

  1. ^ http://historicalunderbelly.wordpress.com/manufacturing-scapegoats-moral-disengagement-in-history/