From: Chris Taylor (email@example.com)
Date: Thu 18 Mar 2004 - 13:32:53 GMT
Hiya. I'm going to keep trying to post this, but I have exceeded that
mysterious length thingy I think (what *is* the limit? Dr Edmonds?);
gonna split it in two so people can not read *both* halves :)
> I worked with boys who were either removed from their homes or at-risk
> of being removed. Every family I worked with had some sexual
> dysfunction - although I don't know of any rapes - there was a lot of
> sexual abuse. I've done some trainings, a bit of reading and a lot of
> agonizing about this issue. The kids are young, likeable and
> sympathetic and at the same time they are at risk for becoming really
> scary adults. What goes wrong? Here are a few pieces that I am trying
> to fit together:
I'm going to offer some ideas, but they may sound a little silly and
this is a very serious area, so please don't take it as a lack of sincerity.
> Children who are molested *before* the age of 12 often become withdrawn
> and avoid sex through their teenage years. If they are molested *after*
> the age of 12 they act out and are likely to abuse other children. In
> terms of interventions, if you find kids doing "inappropriate" sexual
> stuff before 10 - 12, you just tell them to knock it off and they
> usually will. After the age of 10 - 12 you need more aggressive
> interventions, and the older they get, the less chance of success you
> have. Even hardcore programs (I went to a training run by a residential
> treatment facility for offenders) have a very high (95%+) recidivism
> rate after 18. Unless there is some magic therapy out there that no one
> has discovered, then it looks like it becomes hardwired. To me this
> suggests that there is a sort of "sexual imprinting" window that opens
> at around the age of 12 and closes by 18. It gives us some plasticity
> in sexual bonding but it can also go horribly wrong. Teenagers who have
> difficulty forming relationships with appropriate peer sexual partners,
> usually boys with poor self-image/poor social skills, seek out younger
> girls/siblings who are less intimidating. There is a good bit of
> research that substantiates this as a significant risk factor for later
> incest. Maybe they get "imprinted" on young children. Jeffrey Dahmer
> played with animal corpses during this window and it may have been just
> bad timing which "made" him what he was.
> But I think that there is more than that. Not everyone with strange
> childhood sexual experiences ends up a sexual predator. They may
> develop some strange fantasies or fetishes, but they don't hurt people.
> I don't think it is only a matter of "what makes a sexual predator"? I
> think another question is "what do most people have that *stops* them
> from hurting others? There are situational factors which loosen these
> controls (like drugs/alcohol and stress (esp. loss of significant
First I'd just note that I agree about different windows of development
(again, EP stand up!). I also think context is overwhelmingly important. If the weather is so hard to predict, how can we ever know how a person will turn out! Anyway (I confess I put this para in at the end!)...
I think the root of all of this is empathy with the other. The thing I
said was going to sound silly is that I think we do fully model other
people in our heads, and that if they are sufficiently sophisticated
models we can genuinely 'feel their pain' because the models are made
from the same fundamental mental stuff; i.e. internal, submemetic
This is why (for e.g.) I don't believe in altruism -- people give to
avoid the bad feeling that comes from not giving -- but that isn't
'guilt', it's avoidance of (~simulated) pain 'leaking out' from what was intended to be a reference model but has become a little life (the key being that it;'s not that different from your own mind, just smaller and not in charge (but cf. multiple personality)). Funny how all the charity ads on UK telly seem to go for that full on now -- feel *this* person's pain. Note though that the model is made of stuff from your own head, that you have experienced -- a little boy from Britain would have a hard time 'feeling the pain of' (say) a little boy that survived the Rwandan massacres.
Sociopaths, for whatever reason, don't have the facility to do this
modelling. Non-'autistic' Asperger's people give us the clue here (and
the prevalence of male sufferers is either a clue to X-linkage, or
another real opening for EP to do some explaining as long as we can stop
pretending that gender roles in caves were so clear cut, especially
considering that likely as not most of our food was scavenged,
incidentally giving rise to another very believable big brain
hypothesis). Anyway point is that borderline autists (and we all work
with people like this) are unable to really understand the other, so
they spend effort learning action-reaction pairs to get through life,
and get a solitary hobby. But I think it comes from a simple dysfunction
that reduces their processing power to the point where they just can't
support that sort of process, so they don't understand others, it is
hard work being 'normal' around them (deploying learned reactions like
an alien), therefore no fun to do.
For the abused, there are two aspects: First, attempting to model an
unpredictable abuser uses up all their 'spare' brain (iyswim), often
resulting in someone who is very sharp and witty, and knows people well,
but has little success in life and cannot study (a consequence of
childhood study coming about 15th on the list of important things).
These people are often simultaneously blinkered and dreamers -- they
want out, they want life to be better, but they have a brain focused on
predicting the behaviour of an unpredictable person and so find real
planning difficult because they never did it; an effect that persists
because their immensely flexible mind is optimised for one task.
There are exceptions where people can 'escape to study' (not usually in
the classic physical abuse situation). They often end up in a mathsy
subject because that is the ultimate in predictability -- a welcome
change from home (or whatever), but these are not classic beaten at home
kids, something different has happened.
The second (more contentious) aspect involves why victims victimise:
This is right out there, but is a logical comclusion from my ideas that
I have now come to terms with. So, building on before:
1) We model others as a predictive tool; importantly, if the model is
good, we can even feel simulated emotion from them ("ooh such-and-such
would really *hate* this"). It's a fundamental human thing (stand up
EP), and possibly the reason we have such a big brain in the first place
cos there's nothing like a good arms race to generate puzzling stuff.
2) The abused model their abusers to try to predict their behaviour, as
(possibly the only) part of (what passes for) a defence mechanism.
The synthesis can only lead to one place -- if you model an abuser, and
you are then presented with the 'stimuli to abuse' that triggered your
abuser's abuse, can the bahaviours that are there in your head to serve
the original purpose of modelling be independent enough of that original
context (I'd argue yes) to 'seize the reins' and *make you into an
abuser* -- like some tragic hero you take a little of the poison for a
good reason (to know it), but the poison grows in you and takes over.
You 'merge' with the person you know, effectively, and the line blurs.
We are passive reacting creatures, no matter how 'real' it feels -- we
are nothing more than the sum of our experiences, and their
interactions. Key is the model is made of the same kind of stuff as you
-- all just patterns in the environment in your head.
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