Ming the Mechanic
The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Saturday, February 17, 2007day link 

 Body pleasure and the origins of violence
picture I have long held the view that one can gauge the sanity of a society by looking at its prevalent attitudes towards sex, and towards women and children. That is, the more repressive and controlling it is about anything that relates to sex, the more violent and perverted the society behaves.

I should note that I don't mean it in the way that crusaders for morals and family values do, but pretty much the opposite. Campaigns for 'protecting the children' are usually exactly the opposite of what they claim to be, and are intended both to take away the rights of children, and to thwart nature into a perverse religious ideal of how things are supposed to be. If the prevalent view is that 'children' are anybody under 18, and that they have no right to an opinion, and that they need to be sheltered from sex and nudity and bad words, and that male children should be circumcised, and parents need to guard the chastity of their children, and sex education should be replaced with chastity pledges, etc. - then I say we're talking about a violent and oppressive society that tends to bring people up to be equally neurotic and violent control freaks. And if the prevalent view is that bare breasts are evil, and that women have no right to choose whether they'll have a baby or not, and they have no rights to freely choose who to have sexual relations with or not, such as when prostitution is illegal, for example, or when certain kinds of sex are illegal - we're again talking about a society that tends towards violence.

In general I would expect people to be most happy and sane, individually and collectively, in countries where sex is a normal and healthy activity, and nobody's trying to stop it. Countries where people are free to say the words they like to say, where the age of consent is low, where they're free to watch porn movies, walk around naked, be sex workers, etc. Which is pretty much how it works out, as you'll find countries like Denmark and the Netherlands at the top of most studies of happiness, and towards the bottom in terms of violence.

But I hadn't seen any official studies that linked these things together. I.e. attitude towards sex related to how violent a society is. So I'm happy to run into the paper Body pleasure and the origins of violence, by James W. Prescott. It appeared in 1975 in The Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists, of all places. Thanks, Erik, for mentioning it. That is a fabulous article, and it is exactly what I'm talking about.
"A neuropsychologist contends that the greatest threat to world peace comes from those nations which have the most depriving environments for their children and which are most repressive of sexual affection and female sexuality."
Yes, indeed. And, as he says:
As a developmental neuropsychologist I have devoted a great deal of study to the peculiar relationship between violence and pleasure. I am now convinced that the deprivation of physical sensory pleasure is the principal root cause of violence. Laboratory experiments with animals show that pleasure and violence have a reciprocal relationship, that is, the presence of one inhibits the other. A raging, violent animal will abruptly calm down when electrodes stimulate the pleasure centers of its brain. Likewise, stimulating the violence centers in the brain can terminate the animal's sensual pleasure and peaceful behavior. When the brain's pleasure circuits are 'on,' the violence circuits are 'off,' and vice versa. Among human beings, a pleasure-prone personality rarely displays violence or aggressive behaviors, and a violent personality has little ability to tolerate, experience, or enjoy sensuously pleasing activities. As either violence or pleasure goes up, the other goes down.
It shouldn't be such a big surprise. Seems kind of obvious. Deprive people of pleasure, and violence increases. Because pleasure is an awfully important thing. It is not everything, but to a large degree our lives is a quest for pleasure, in all its senses. Meaning, we're trying to do good, feel good, arrange things in the best possible way, be happy and fulfilled. And pleasure is nature's way of saying you're doing the right thing. And pain it its way of saying that you aren't. And violence is in principle what one might resort to when one is stopped from pursuing one's path of happiness.

Now, as to children:
The reciprocal relationship of pleasure and violence is highly significant because certain sensory experiences during the formative periods of development will create a neuropsychological predisposition for either violence-seeking or pleasure-seeking behaviors later in life. I am convinced that various abnormal social and emotional behaviors resulting from what psychologists call 'maternal-social' deprivation, that is, a lack of tender, loving care, are caused by a unique type of sensory deprivation, somatosensory deprivation. Derived from the Greek word for 'body,' the term refers to the sensations of touch and body movement which differ from the senses of light, hearing, smell and taste. I believe that the deprivation of body touch, contact, and movement are the basic causes of a number of emotional disturbances which include depressive and autistic behaviors, hyperactivity, sexual aberration, drug abuse, violence, and aggression.
Now think about the many religious people who think that the Bible tells them that they're supposed to beat their children, and it is good for them. I have too many times accidentally turned on the TV in the US on some evangelic channel and seen a mother with tears in her eyes describe how she's doing her Christian duty by spanking her child, even though she thinks it is hard, and the preacher telling her to keep going, as she's doing the right thing. OK, maybe I've only seen that 3 or 4 times, but that was 3 or 4 times too much. There's no excuse for violence against children. And those would be the same parents who now would drag their children to chastity camps, filling their little heads with strange, perverted ideas.
Certain variables which reflect physical affection (such as fondling, caressing, and playing with infants) were related to other variables which measure crime and violence (frequency of theft, killing, etc.). The important relationships are displayed in the tables. The percent figures reflect the relationships among the variables, for example, high affection/low violence plus low affection/high violence. This procedure is followed for all tables.

Societies ranking high or low on the Infant Physical Affection Scale were examined for degree of violence. The results (Table 1) clearly indicated that those societies which give their infants the greatest amount of physical affection were characterized by low theft, low infant physical pain, low religious activity, and negligible or absent killing, mutilating, or torturing of the enemy. These data directly confirm that the deprivation of body pleasure during infancy is significantly linked to a high rate of crime and violence.

Some societies physically punish their infants as a matter of discipline, while others do not. We can determine whether this punishment reflects a general concern for the infant's welfare by matching it against child nurturant care. The results (Table 2) indicate that societies which inflict pain and discomfort upon their infants tend to neglect them as well. These data provide no support for the prescription from Proverbs (23: 13-14): "Withhold not chastisement from a boy; if you beat him with the rod, he will not die. Beat him with the rod, and you will save him from the nether world."
He follows up with some charts categorizing different societies as to how high or low physical affection towards infants relate to high or low degrees of physical violence amongst adults. Which makes a pretty clear case for the correlation. There are other factors, like, the beneficial effects of high infant physical affection can be negated by the repression of physical pleasure (premarital sex) later in life. And vice versa, low infant physical affection would be counteracted by liberal attitudes towards physical pleasure later in life.

And, as to premarital or extramarital sex:
I also examined the influence of extramarital sex taboos upon crime and violence. The data clearly indicates that punitive-repressive attitudes toward extramarital sex are also linked with physical violence, personal crime, and the practice of slavery. Societies which value monogamy emphasize military glory and worship aggressive gods.

These cross-cultural data support the view of psychologists and sociologists who feel that sexual and psychological needs not being fulfilled within a marriage should be met outside of it, without destroying the primacy of the marriage relationship.

Premarital sexual freedom for young people can help reduce violence in a society, and the physical pleasure that youth obtains from sex can offset a lack of physical affection during infancy. Other research also indicates that societies which punish premarital sex are likely to engage in wife purchasing, to worship a high god in human morality, and to practice slavery.
Lots of other aspects in this. Like, rape.
It is my belief that rape has its origins in the deprivation of physical affection in parent-child relationships and adult sexual relationships; and in a religious value system that considers pain and body deprivation moral and physical pleasure immoral. Rape maintains man's dominance over woman and supports the perpetuation of patriarchal values in our society.
And notice the way many young men, in the U.S. particularly, talk about women. You know, "whores" and "bitches". I have certainly done no scientific study, but I find it shocking how many male teenagers have a rape-oriented attitude towards women. That they're just worthless whores who're asking for it. Many men can't talk about attractive women without including a putdown. And this sort of strange dynamic of desiring something that you at the same time are putting down, or that you hate, that's not a healthy thing. That's where, at the ultimately end of the scale, you find serial killers who kill prostitutes, because they're ashamed of themselves, and, almost invariably, because they were mistreated as children by strict, typically religious parents.

So, any positive place this can go?
If we accept the theory that the lack of sufficient somatosensory pleasure is a principal cause of violence, we can work toward promoting pleasure and encouraging affectionate interpersonal relationships as a means of combatting aggression. We should give high priority to body pleasure in the context of meaningful human relationships. Such body pleasure is very different from promiscuity, which reflects a basic inability to experience pleasure. If a sexual relationship is not pleasurable, the individual looks for another partner. A continuing failure to find sexual satisfaction leads to a continuing search for new partners, that is, to promiscuous behavior. Affectionately shared physical pleasure, on the other hand, tends to stabilize a relationship and eliminate the search. However, a variety of sexual experiences seems to be normal in cultures which permit its expression, and this may be important for optimizing pleasure and affection in sexual relationships.

Available data clearly indicate that the rigid values of monogamy, chastity, and virginity help produce physical violence. The denial of female sexuality must give way to an acceptance and respect for it, and men must share with women the responsibility for giving affection and care to infants and children. As the father assumes a more equal role with the mother in child-rearing and becomes more affectionate toward his children, certain changes must follow in our socioeconomic system. A corporate structure which tends to separate either parent from the family by travel, extended meetings, or overtime work weakens the parent-child relationship and harms family stability. To develop a peaceful society, we must put more emphasis on human relationships.
Yep, but there would be a long way to go for certain societies. Like, well, the United States, and most of the Middle East, the most violent and aggressive countries you can find.

But it's a long way, and there isn't necessarily signs of progress. Just today, this news item. The superior court in Alabama has upheld the ban on sex toys. That is, it is illegal to sell vibrators, becaues it is considered obscene to suggest that people might pleasure themselves. But semi-automatic assault riffles, and plenty of ammo, you can of course find that in plenty of local stores.
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