Thursday, June 11, 2020


“Cavalli-Sforza”, father and son, provide an elaboration to the theory that cultures develop from child-raising practices — which then justify the approach to child-raising.  (The book is “The Great Human Diasporas: The History of Diversity and Evolution.”)  He suggests that certain areas have certain styles: that northern Italy tends to be strict, almost like the rigid English systems, while the the southern Italy parents are more lenient, focused on affection and well-being.  These correspond with the proposal that authoritarian strict governments are like Victorian families run by patriarchs and liberal tolerant governments are like loving fathers who want what is best for everyone.

That seems pretty obvious.  But Cavalli-Sforza adds a new category, a family whose parents teach them to find a new life, to leave the nest either by a new path (possibly college or a new occupation) or by emigrating to a new place.  This struck a chord with me, partly because there are mom’s on the rez who would ask me to reinforce their desire for their children, esp. boys, to “get out of this hole.”  Some did, and some came back. Others stayed and as their moms feared, became alcoholic or were killed in car crashes.  Luckily, some who stayed did well and have raised happy families.

The authoritarian v. liberal distinction never really helped me much, though politically the metaphor may be useful. In my family my father was a sporadic dominator, more often gone, and my mother, who was picking up college where she had left off in the Depression, was taking classes with Korean War veterans, with much emphasis on opening up, finding new ways, and so on.  

The third child-raising principle, based on leaving the nest, scattering, was explicit in my case.  My mother told me that she would make sure I graduated from college but then I was never to come back.  So I didn’t. Until I had to, which made her very angry.  She refused to let me come back to regroup until I asked for help from others.  Then she was jealous.  One brother had to come back because of a concussion and never left until she died.

Not long ago I called my other brother.  He left and stayed gone.  I hadn’t talked to him for a long time.  His wife answered and when I asked if he were “around,” she told me he had died two years earlier.  Even alive he wanted no contact.  He always said he hated Portland and my father, but never said why.  This is not really assimilated yet.  She had told no other relatives and though I sent them emails, no one responded.  We had scattered very far.  They have concluded that there's something wrong with me.

Then it occurred to me that mine is a “scattering” family.  My great-grandfather brought his family from Scotland to South Dakota, my grandfather took his family to Manitoba and then Oregon.  My mother’s ancestors came on the Oregon Trail and settled in Washington, then Roseburg, OR, and my mother was very pleased to escape Roseburg for the big city, Portland.  She signed for both my brothers to join the Marines on high school graduation.  Emigration is the embodiment of child-raising that pictures a better place somewhere else, an escape.

At the same time the five of us had such a passionate attachment to the actual house where we lived, even though it was too small, that we made no real effort to leave through childhood.  After that a new version of “leaving” developed:  the neighborhood changed.  It left us.  The working men and women Kaiser brought up from the rural south moved into N and NE Portland as their families expanded.  it was obvious because they were Black.

The original parents remembered how hard it was where they came from, but their accounts were rosy enough that eventually their children began moving back, but there was an interval when the nabe went, as my mother put it, “Get-Toe.” She wanted to move to a nice teacher’s retirement highrise.   By that time my father had died and my concussed brother had no place else to go.  I don’t report these facts as memoir, but as examples, unemotional.

Carvalli-Sforza is interested in the parallel evolving patterns of genetics, language, and all the other mutations that are powered by time.  He takes a very complex and generous view of “culture”.

P.210  “One part of cultural transmission takes place from parents to children and as such resembles genetic transmission.  Theoretical study demonstrates that the evolutionary consequences of this sort of transmission is similar to that found in biology.”  . . .

“Our parents’ teachings are naturally subject to review as a result of subsequent cultural influences.  There is, however, a mechanism that renders some areas of parental teaching particularly effective: humans’ greater sensitivity to certain influences during the early years of life.  There are critical periods in psychological development during which cultural influences leave indelible traces; if this influence is missing at the crucial moment, an individual may never develop correctly in the way determined during that phase.  This mechanism, known as imprinting, is especially strong in animals.”

Once I attended a church discussion group meant to respond to people’s dissatisfaction with the choices of music.  This was a UU congregation consolidating people who left various forms of Christianity.  So consistently that it was almost funny, people made strong cases for the kind of music they had just left.  To be fair, they left because of ideas and restrictions — not music — but the Baptists wanted gospel, the Catholics wanted their kind of music, and so on.  It wasn’t conscious and wasn’t described that way, but it was there.

Some denominations like their clergy to be assigned to place they know and possibly came from, so that the cultural expectations are in sync.  Others will move their clergy every three years to keep them from becoming attached and making deals.  This is hard on families.  I found it miserable.  Once I had an ability to stay in one place, I’ve reverted to twenty years attachment to a house.  But once again, the village is changing around me.  I was entertained that the mafia bigshots used to laundering money complain they have been seriously undermined by the Internet and the exposure of their methods.

Now “culture” has produced a clear choice between a monster dictator who promises safety and order and a kind man who kisses children’s heads.  If I weren’t so old, I’d move to New Zealand where the President is a lively and intelligent young woman.

No comments: