Saturday, December 20, 2014


Oppositional Defiance Disorder, which was originally defined to describe kids who defy any kind of authority, is now being applied to adults who are being defiant.  Of course, that’s pejorative, implying that the disobedient are simply not yet adult, unreconciled to the kinds of compromises every adult must make.  And it also carries the diagnostic stigma that one is “crazy.”  

I have two cats, both female, womb-mates, now aging.  The yellow one is mellow, a cuddler, a sleeper, a treat-eater, rather stupid.  The tortoise shell is a living example of ODD.  When she was little, she ignored her own name unless I threw a slipper at her to get her attention.  I thought she was deaf.  I’m saying that ODD must have some kind of physical basis.  Maybe it is more of a failure to be domesticated than it is immaturity or psychosis.

Here’s a story about the genetic basis of domestication in cats.

I’ll summarize:   Thirteen genes changed as cats became domestic.  They include changes in the genes controlling memory, fear-conditioning, and stimulus-reward (operant conditioning).  Five genes influence development by neural crest cells, which affect skull shape and coat color, but they also have impact on the whole body.  (A round head that fits into a human hand is appealing.  Temperament in cats is often related to coat color.  Also, the fourth-leg on the gender chromosome X carries a color which is why tri-colored cats are always female.)

Some genes were changed by diet, esp. an adaptation that dropped whatever it is that processes fats in hyper-carnivorous diets and maybe added lactose-tolerance to adult cats, parallel to the same adaptation in humans using dairy sources as food.  But also a dulling of sense of smell, in contrast to dogs.  It seems associated with the disinclination to hunt.  Why eat a mouse if you don't have to?

“Even though the smoking gun genome is found in the DNA of cats, scientists are also considering how it may apply to the domestication of a host of other mammals including dogs, cows, pigs and even humans. The reason for comparisons, particularly to humans, and their furry pets is that the structure of cat chromosomes more closely resembles that of homo sapiens — even more so than dog's DNA.” 

Crackers and Squibs

Having raised a series of bobcats, I can attest to both the similarities and the radical difference between wild and domesticated cats, especially after adolescence when the bobcats left if they could, looking for their own place in the world.  In general, the bobcat kits were far more ODD.   They just didn't care about humans that much.  But even the bobcats were not alike.  The littermates “Rufus” and “Gimpy” were as different from each other in temperament as my present Mellow Yellow and ODD Tortie domestics.

Colonel Przewalski's never-domesticated horses.  is one among many recent articles exploring the genetic basis of domesticated horses.  Of course, you’ll remember that ALL American horses are feral, domestics gone wild, so their genome needs to be compared with those of Asian wild horses like Colonel Przewalski’s plus DNA from ancient bones.  This article suggests that feral and domestic horse genomes prove to have many sources as shown in matrilineal lines, but comparisons with early horse genes do turn up the evidence of change in the direction of domestic usefulness.

The race horse veterinarian, Sid Gustafson, points out that horses are pack animals, like wolves, but cats are not.  If an animal has the genes for participation in a society, a group, then they are more easily domesticated because they let the humans become their herd and are reciprocated by inclusion in the human “family.”  A pack trip integrates both horses and people.
Sid Gustafson family trip

Roy Rappaport defines survival as relating to the individual as well as being for the group, and the balance between the two -- individual versus group -- may sacrifice one or other.  Individuals die in wars for the sake of survival by groups.  Sometimes individuals may destroy whole groups, as Hitler attempted.  His justification for extinguishing a “race/religion” was supposedly genetic, but the real problem was that he himself didn’t belong.  He was a killer in search of ingratiation with the German people by inventing a common enemy and then eliminating it.  The old triangulation strategy.

So for an individual trying to solve a relationship that interferes with either the survival of themselves as individuals or the survival of the larger group, it is in a sense a problem of domestication, "who ya gonna throw in with."  Strategy by affiliation.  Mammals (so undoubtedly humans as well) have at least some basis in their genomes for belonging to a specific group which develops in response to a specific environment, but also is shaped by life history.

Then, given the nature of the particular infant, the success of maturation depends on the interface with the parents and larger culture.  Terry Brazelton, the pediatrician, has insights into this.  If baby and culture are a pretty good match and if people are sensible about adjusting strategies, things turn out very well.  But a quiet baby will have trouble with a hyperactive overachieving mother, and a vigorous, seeking baby will struggle with a passive or confining mother.

I propose that an oppositionally defiant child was probably misfitted as an infant -- forced to be on a schedule that wasn't in sync with the baby or ignored when needs were pressing.  (I don't just blame Mom.  She may have been as trapped by culture as the baby.)  The lesson such a baby may have learned is that you have to take care of yourself as you can, maybe by making a big fuss and maybe by hiding.  Sometimes everything was fine until there was a distressing change and since babies can’t really understand the causes, they can only do the freeze, flight, fight things that are hard-wired into mammals as a matter of survival.  But clumsily, since they are babies and without consciousness or memory.

At about age three or four, children try to help and comfort others, esp. their parents.  They try to be parents themselves and in cases where the parents are more like children than the children, they sometimes really do help.  I’ve never forgotten the woman who had passed out and whose toddler had brought her a blanket and a glass of water, then settled down beside her to keep vigil.  I’m sure it is a tableau that repeats.  Someone must have done that for the child.  But many people will try to parent their parents through their whole lives.  Of course, teenagers think their parents are incompetent anyway.  And humans try to parent their domestic animals.  Parenting per se is a spectrum of behavior, not one thing.

Being stubborn in defense of vulnerability is a moral sort of defiance.

There has been a lot of cultural fuss about the death of the Big Papa in the Sky, God.  In a good seminary or divinity school, equal attention is paid to the nature of human beings.  This is religious anthropology and it soon becomes obvious that human and “god” are reciprocal concepts.  It also becomes obvious that “god” concepts get captured into the service of hierarchical authorities who claim privilege in their relationship with this constructed idea.  One who is ODD is defined as an heretic and may even risk being burned at the stake.  

The commodified, internationally controlling corporations of our present society have made a religion of patriotism, product loyalty, and strategic ignorance as the price of survival.  Posing as parental, they grind up individuals.  Like tanks they threaten to crush the defiant for the good of the whole.  The man who stands in front of the tank is acting out moral ODD.  Most analysts of obstinacy neglect the moral dimension.

What practical things could a defiant person do to survive as an individual, perhaps in service to the survival of the group?  Here are some early ideas, pretty general.

1.  Find or create a niche where the individual is protected.  (Monasteries?)
2.  Assume a disguise.  (Guy Fawkes masks)
3.  Make yourself exceedingly valuable with a major skill.
4.  Go to an edge and live in solitude. (Me)
5.  Find a powerful protector.
6.  Make an enduring record that will survive. (Arts)
7,  Make common cause with many others.
8,  Protect the even more vulnerable -- maybe not human, maybe the planet.
9.  Good health.
10.  Know stuff, including skills.
11.  Focus.  
12.  Analyze yourself bravely but not mercilessly.

This is a confused post because I am still confused.  Why is ODD -- Oppositional Defiance considered "aggressive"?  If it is resistance to authority figures, why isn't it the authority figures who are the aggressors?  It seems the word "disorder" is a tip-off to authoritarian motivation, esp. cops, but it triggers something like "obsessive control syndrome" which justifies the use of suppressing violence even to the point of death.  THAT's aggressive.

No comments: