Tuesday, February 27, 2007


In a comment a few days ago, anne said “I think some people are born mean and some have meanness thrust upon them.… I once had a cat that was born mean. We got it as a kitten and treated it kindly, but it was just nasty from day one, deliberately aggressive. We were all glad when it up and disappeared one day.”

You might be right, anne. It could be that some humans are just born bad because of messed-up hormones or something. On the other hand, here’s the difference between your born-mean kitty and a born-mean baby girl. Baby Girl comes with a humongous brain for learning. Why? Because we humans are born dumb as mud. Your kitty came born with a bushel-load of instincts – automatic operating instructions. Your kitty is born running. Very little education needed, and it can take care of itself in the big wide world.

This is why most animal babies are on their own in weeks or months, whereas Baby Girl can be camped out on your doorstep til she’s forty. She comes as dumb as a doorknob, and it takes years to get her packed with operating instructions.

So the thing is, you have years to pack Baby Girl with instructions that can override her hormones. But does Baby Girl listen to you? Sometimes. However, she also watches you (and others) for clues about how to behave.

Here’s what animals get that we don’t: Female rats are scared of everything – including baby rats. But when they’re injected with the hormones estrogen and oxytocin* these rats go into full-blown baby-being-born mode. They suddenly begin to build nests. They grab any baby they can find and plop it into the new nest. They wash the babies. They defend the babies against all would-be intruders. And even though they have no milk, these females settle down next to the babies in baby-nursing posture (Moberg 2003: 67).

Know anybody born knowing how to build a house? (Or even a rat’s nest?) No. We are born dumb as mud. We have to learn everything.

And if Baby Girl never ever sees anyone killing a homeless dude, and she is taught how to go to the gym and tickle her messed-up hormones by playing racquetball, then my guess is she won’t ever kill any homeless dudes.
*Oxytocin is the hormone that helps females in all species bond with their babies.
The info comes from Moberg, Kerstin Uvnas, The Oxytocin Factor: Tapping the Hormone of Calm, Love, and Healing (Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books Group [Da Capo Press], 2003)
Thnx to steveFE for the foto


Paxton said...

Baby Girl is born with two things animals don't have: a brain for learning (which makes role models *incredibly* important) and a soul/spirit/whatchmacallit.

The brain gives humans an intellectual consciousness/sentience that animals don't have.

But humans have a moral consciousness, too -- that's the soul/spirit/thingy. I know that you believe some things are Right and some things are Wrong, because you admirably and valiantly speak out against all the Wrong you see in the world. I think everyone has that moral consciousness.

I don't really know what I am saying here, or why I'm saying it. =P I guess I just want to make sure we remember that kids benefit from moral instruction as well as intellectual instruction.

But then...when I think of it, you are talking about moral instruction after all. "You have years to pack Baby Girl with instructions that can override her hormones" -- essentially saying, teach your children to stop doing bad things and do good things instead.

Sooo, yeah...keep up the good work. ^_^ I'm just rambling 'cuz I'm tired.

Anne Johnson said...

Thank you for the lovely post. I've been too busy this week to visit. I'm glad I got here today.

I should write some posts about overcoming a mean biological mother as part of a goddess-worshipping programme.