September 15, 2013

"Researchers long viewed infanticide and similar acts of maternal skulduggery as pathological, a result of the mother's being under extreme stress..."

".... it made little genetic sense for a mother to destroy her young, and maternal nurturing was assumed to be a hard-wired affair. More recently, scientists have accrued abundant evidence that 'bad' mothering is common in nature and that it is often a centerpiece of the reproductive game plan... [P]andas, for example, often practice  'a postnatal form of family planning, giving birth to what may be thought of as an heir and a spare, and then, when the heir fares well, walking away from the spare with nary a fare-thee-well.'"

From a CSM article titled "Baby elephant cries for 5 hours. Is Mom rejection unusual?"

44 comments:

Gabriel Hanna said...

Hunter-gatherer peoples the world over routinely practiced infanticide. In order to be able to collect food, a mother needs at least one hand. So she can only have one infant at a time, the others must be old enough to walk. So she can't babies closer together than couple of years. They don't have birth control and while she could try to practice abstinence, she won't be allowed to.

Similarly, people on small islands did too, since they can only support so many.

Nature sucks. Lots of horrible things are "natural".

Darrell said...

The Leftist Death Cult announces their next agenda. Figures.

Robert Cook said...

"Agenda." Is that what the kids are calling "albums" these days? Is the Leftist Death Cult a heavy metal band? Pop metal? Death metal? Black metal? Hair metal? Punk? Funk? Skunk? Pop? Hip Hop? Hardcore? Grindcore? Noise?

C'mon, Darrell...you seem hip to the latest in what's happening...let us in on this arcane new trip...don't keep it to yourself!

cyrus83 said...

Nature is a brutal place and the game is all about survival. From a Darwinian perspective, having more offspring than can be taken care of is a means of selecting the best and discarding the rest.

It's interesting that even in the wild, adoption appears to take place. That does not appear to be in line with a survival calculus, it's curious what the benefit would be to the adopting animal.

Paco Wové said...

Bullshit science reporting as usual. That most female animals view investment in offspring to be just that, an investment, has been known for decades. Like any investment, you protect it when it is in your interests to do so (most of the time) and you cut your losses when necessary.

Paco Wové said...

I'm sure ST will be along shortly to explain why this is all the fault of bitchy American women.

Annie said...

Yes, and many times, other females will adopt the abandoned infants. Particularly humans.

Bruce Hayden said...

Gabriel - not sure if abstinence is the best policy anyway. Problem was that traditionally, the most likely time for a kid to die is in their first two years - precisely the time that she would optimally have been gestating the next one, if there were a good chance that the previous one didn't make it, which was not uncommon until very recently. Plus, lactation apparently does reduce fertility in humans, at least a bit (though my SO can attest from personal experience that that fertility doesn't disappear completely at that time).

I think that maybe part of the heir and spare strategy is that it also allows for more rapid increase of the species (and the parents' genetic heritage) in times of plenty. In at least some of these species, the parent or parents bring back or feed the new brood what they can, but maybe preferably to the stronger one or ones. In times of plenty, more of the "spares" survive, and in times of less, then only the heir survives. It is becoming more evident that fratricide is not uncommon among a number of species - but this isn't something that is readily available to our species, given our typically singular births.

EDH said...

"I brought you into this world, I can take you out!"

n.n said...

Life as a commodity. Neither intrinsic value nor individual dignity are natural phenomena. Each quality must be chosen by enlightened individuals. Not all animals have advanced sufficiently to accept those articles of faith.

Unfortunately, a large minority of humans have also failed to mature, which may be the result of natural or nurtural corruption, or, perhaps, the plan of a select minority. Evolutionary fitness is not a requirement of a species as a whole, but of sufficient mass of men, women, and their offspring.

Bruce Hayden said...

Let me add something to my theory in my previous post, which is that an even more effective contraceptive in human females than lactation is apparently starvation. BMI drops too far, and human females tend to quit menstrating. We see this in female atheletes, but I think that the accepted theory is that it was an evolutionary tactic to prevent pregnancy when the female did not have the physical resources and reserves to carrry a baby to term - and evolutionarily, that woud most likely been in times of starvation.

Point here is that with the spare being a bun in the oven, this is only applicable when times and conditions are such that pregnancy is less likely to take enough resources from the mother that her life is endangered (and, if things get really bad for her, then there is probably a higher likelyhood of miscarriage anyway). Thus, the spare as a bun in the oven strategy is probably mostly limited to times when there is a decent chance that the female will have sufficient resources available to survive the pregnancy and have a healthy baby.

Edward Lunny said...

We are better than animals, as a whole at least. We are no longer "cavemen".
Infanticide and it's simulacrum, abortion less the "timing", is a serious social flaw. Creating excuses for the behaviour is nearly as despicable.

Gabriel Hanna said...

@cyrus83: That does not appear to be in line with a survival calculus, it's curious what the benefit would be to the adopting animal.

Not every behavior is an optimal adaptation--if it were, evolution would stop with an organism perfectly adapted to its environment.

An animal that adopts might be thought of as running its normal "mother" program without having the ability to tell its not her own offspring--but if it's a relative's offspring she is improving her fitness by taking care of it.

Our family just saw an IMAX movie about Kenya--a baby elephant was lost and thirsty. He tried to drink from an adult female's water hole, and she drove him away.

Nature sucks. It's not a model for civilized people.

Mountain Maven said...

We like to think than only man is fallen and nature lives in some kind of perfect state.

"Romans 8:18-23 “For the creation waits with eager longing to be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God…creation cries [groans] inwardly for adoption, to be set free.”

Bruce Hayden said...

Not every behavior is an optimal adaptation--if it were, evolution would stop with an organism perfectly adapted to its environment.

And, the problem is that the environment changes over time, and those animals most perfectly adapted to such often have the hardest time adopting to the new environment. We have evidence, and even seen, numerous instances where the dominant species or variant has failed to survive, and its less evolved, less preeminent cousin has survived. What happened to the saber tooth tigers dire wolves, wooly mammoths, etc on this continent? Their environments changed, in the case of the predators, their primary prey disappeared, and then so did they. In the case of the dire wolves, their smaller cousins, the gray wolves survived quite well until they were faced with humans with firearms (and even now, here in MT, are recovering nicely). Dire wolves also apparently hunted in bigger packs, again optimized for larger prey.

I think that one way to view this is that the more evolved a species is to fill an ecological niche, the more fragile it becomes and susceptible to changes in that environment that limits or eliminates that niche. Much easier to survive long term in many cases if the species has not moved as far in specialization in exploiting that niche. And, easier to survive if the species has enough genetic diversity to quickly adapt when their environment changes.

One worry that I have long had is that we, humans, may be moving too far down the road to specialization. Not that we aren't specialized, because we are quite specialized, but are becoming even more so. Luckily, for the species, a lot of genetic diversity has remained in the third world, but that is disappearing. For example, maybe our biggest strength is our brain, which allows us to perform feats that are far beyond our other capabilities. But, that comes with the cost of extending maturation well beyond gestation, as well as widening of female hips towards the point where mobility is impaired But, safe C sections would seemingly allow this trait to continue to grow - which is fine as long as we can safely do C sections.

Inga said...

Yeah those bitchy American cave women.
------------------------------
I think that the maternal instinct was to keep at least one of the offspring alive. If having another would take sustenance from the existing thriving child, the choice was probably made to abandon or kill the newborn. Even later in more modern times farm families would send away a child or two or three, or sell a few (not in Europe, that I heard of) in order for the other's in the family to survive.

My mother was sent away as a 9 year old child in eastern Europe to become a kitchen maid for a wealthy family in the city. Her father was ill and her mother struggled to feed the family, during the depression years. She understood her mother's motives and never held it against her, she was simply one too many mouths to feed. Her paltry wages were sent home to her family. She never lived at home again. Of course my siblings and I could not fathom this and disliked our maternal grandmother.

Also abortion was not uncommon in eastern Europe after the first WW and especially after the second WW. Many women were raped by the victors and were starving, aborting the child was accepted and understood by most.

n.n said...

Gabriel Hanna:

Evolution is a chaotic process. That's all that it is. It engenders neither positive nor negative progress. The principles of evolution are sources and sinks which influence its flow, much like morality, ethics, etc. However, unlike the latter, the former is established by the natural order, while the latter is a choice expressed by consciousness or freewill.

The assumed material difference between humans and lower forms of life is attributed to the degrees of freedom exhibited by each conscious respectively. Human beings have been observed to be capable of expressing a greater independence and influence of their environment, which varies throughout our evolution from conception to death.

As for nature sucks, it provides an incontrovertible model which we can selectively follow. However, ultimately, it is the arbiter of people's destinies, civilized or otherwise. It establishes that resources are finitely available and accessible. It establishes a bound to human influence of their environment and to conscious expression generally. It guarantees a conception and death duality.

That said, between conception and death, we do have an opportunity to make choices. Civilized behavior, that is a conscious decision to respect individual dignity, to recognize an intrinsic (i.e. unearned) value of human life, is a choice. The reward of civilized behavior is that we, together and individually, enjoy an optimal liberty (i.e. degrees of freedom), security, and quality of life.

Let's hope that we make better choices and succeed to delay the historical cycles of dysfunctional convergence.

SOJO said...

The researchers aren't mothers, apparently. They article implies that 'genetic sense' A. exists and B. has a human rationale. Why would it? Maybe there is no game plan when someone or some thing is a 'bad mother' - a very rigid human phrase as it is.

Kirk Parker said...

Gabriel,

Where we lived in Africa--among farmers, not hunter-gathers, and not on a small island--there were still cultural memories of a time when twins were considered "one real person and one imposter".

Darrell said...

The most stupid thing the Leftist Death Cult tried to do is to get us to believe that the Leftist Death Cult does not exist.

Gabriel Hanna said...

@Bruce Hayden:And, the problem is that the environment changes over time, and those animals most perfectly adapted to such often have the hardest time adopting to the new environment.

Sure, the physical environment changes faster than most species's gene frequencies do--which is why you almost never see anything that is completely optimized for its environment.

But "environment" also includes competitors within and without the species. It does no good to be perfectly adapted to the environment and sexually unattractive. It does a lot of good to be the tallest tree in the forest, until all the other trees catch up, and then all the trees in the forest are just wasting all that wood and plumbing.

Gabriel Hanna said...

@n. n.Evolution is a chaotic process....

I don't understand what you intend by this. Evolution, given enough time, moves from equilibrium to equilibrium and to me that seems like the opposite of chaotic.

It engenders neither positive nor negative progress.

But that's not true. I suppose if you mean like "moral" progress, or whatever it was Victorians meant when they said "higher" vs "lower" animals, but there is a positive-negative axis--toward being better adapted to the environment and away from being better adapted.

A population over time does exhibit progress in this sense. They couldn't have ever been far away from the target or they wouldn't have left any progeny, and the target is always moving so they never completely reach it.

But you can see "progress" in that species show orderly changes over time. Modern horses are not more "advanced" or "higher" than Eohippus--Eohippus was a good enough horse for its day and so is Equus, but each is living in a very different environment. Nonetheless, if you lay the fossils out you do see progress in the sense of orderly changes as time moves on.

Inga said...

Yeah all those war ravaged women were leftists!

Robert Cook said...

"The most stupid thing the Leftist Death Cult tried to do is to get us to believe that the Leftist Death Cult does not exist."

They must exist, right? You said they just announced their next "agenda." I'm still not sure if that refers to an album or a tour. Maybe it's like a rave or Burning Man.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Gabriel Hanna,

But you can see "progress" in that species show orderly changes over time. Modern horses are not more "advanced" or "higher" than Eohippus--Eohippus was a good enough horse for its day and so is Equus, but each is living in a very different environment. Nonetheless, if you lay the fossils out you do see progress in the sense of orderly changes as time moves on.

Actually, one of the best of Stephen Jay Gould's essays was on the evolution of the horse. Its point was that we see "progress" in that evolution because so few of the bifurcations of the evolutionary path for the horse survived until the present. No one tells a tale of evolutionary progress for beetles, because there are a gazillion species of beetles. You can tell it for horses only because most of the "sidelines" on the path to Equus are extinct, so it looks like one long path of improvement, where it's actually a handful of species surviving in the same habitat where many species with different strategies evolved in many different directions.

Gabriel Hanna said...

@Michelle Dulak: Its point was that we see "progress" in that evolution because so few of the bifurcations of the evolutionary path for the horse survived until the present.

Of course that's what happened!. If the bifurcations had never happened, then we'd see "progress" because all the horses that didn't do well in their environment didn't survive to reproduce their inherited traits!

You're actually supporting what I said, you're not contradicting it. That's all that evolutionary "progress" is--the differential survival of organisms in response to their environment changes the distribution of inherited traits in a population over time.

And the end result is that when you lay out Equus' ancestral species in a line, you see a "progression" of traits, in the sense of orderly changes, just like you would if you did the same with any of Equus' relatives that aren't around today.

If you had one fossil of every horse ever, you would see that each is very similar to its immediate relatives, but you would ALSO see diverging trends of orderly "progression" in different lineages. You also would not be able to talk about different "species" of horses in anything other than an arbitrary way, like how we decide if a man is "bald" or not.

It's because only a tiny percentage of organisms fossilize that we can say that horses now are a different species from horses in the past--but that's only for our convenience that we call them different species. If we had all the intermediates you couldn't find anywhere to draw a line.

Peter said...

Sophie's choice?

Peter said...

Nomadic cultures will leave their old or sick behind, even when doing so means certain death for those left behind.

They do so because they cannot afford to do otherwise. And why would infanticide be different?

And apparently our bodies don't either- far more twins are conceived than are born because the weaker twin is sacrificed in utero (look up "vanishing twin"; e.g., http://humupd.oxfordjournals.org/content/4/2/177.full.pdf+html )

It's not that we're different, it's just that we can afford more. We're rich enough so that we can (usually) afford not to make these hard choices. So we don't.

Yet. The ever-increasing cost of medical care, and the ever-increasing availability of costly procedures that produce only modest benefits will surely result in rationing.

ed thomas said...

Bad mothering is not a new notion. Scientists were never needed to observe it; farmers were much better placed. At the very least there seems to be a multi-variety of instincts at work. It is more noticeable in nature at large that reproduction is as grand a scale as possible. What of the anomalous (yet much much more frequent historically) mothers of four and more? Of course the selfish-mom hypothesis fits nicely as an explanation for modern patterns of family. Funny that, how every 'new' fact spewed out by the 'scientists' somehow reinforces and/or explains the way we currently live. It's great how we're learning to accord our behaviour with the true and enlightened behaviour suited to our terribly evolved and sophisticated species.

Scugger said...

Would wish to give birth and raise a child if you were confined to a cage or a zoo? Elephants in the wild roam dozens of miles a day across vast terratories. Perhaps keeping an elephant "caged" drives them to insanity and that infanticide arises out of compassion that their offspring not have to experience the hellish life being confined to a zoo or cage.

Scugger said...

Do we really expect animals kept in a cage or a zoo to demostrate behavior that is "normal"? Elephants travel dozens of miles in herds every day in the wild. Elephants may consider living in a zoo pure torture. Would a human wish to raise children confined to a cage with a viewing public? Perhaps the elephant considered it an act of mercy to spare her child a life of cruelty that she herself can barely endure.
This can be applied to Orca whales. In captivity their dorsal fins fall over on themselves, something not seen in the wild. I dont object to eating livestock but perhaps animals should observed in the wild rather than enduring a life in a cage.

Stephen Dubay said...

Untill very recently in human history, infant mortality was so high that there was much ore danger of the tribe dying out than having too many kids. there is a tribe in africa today (that I cannot thing of it name) where this is still a problem today. I would bet money that any kid born was seen as a lifeline for the tribe. My guess is that infant mortality was almost a non event.

Peggy Coffey said...

My mother should never have had children. She had no maternal instinct whatsoever. We were born and then ignored and my grandmother tried to raise us while she tried to figure out what was wrong with our mother. I never heard anything but I hate you from her, so maternal instinct in not present in all humans.

jr565 said...

"You can tell it for horses only because most of the "sidelines" on the path to Equus are extinct, so it looks like one long path of improvement, where it's actually a handful of species surviving in the same habitat where many species with different strategies evolved in many different directions."

Can you actually tell it then, if what we think is an evolutionary progression is actually us looking at in incomplete record and connecting the dots in a way that make it seems like evolutionary progress.

jr565 said...

If you had one fossil of every horse ever, you would see that each is very similar to its immediate relatives, but you would ALSO see diverging trends of orderly "progression" in different lineages.


We have chimpanzees, and orangutans and humans all existing now. So in a million years if they find fossils of a chimpanzee and a orangutan and a human and each fossil is one year older than the previous one what does that tell us about evolution? Is there any real progression there or are we simply comparing animals with similarities that we note, and assuming patterns that aren't really in evidence, except that we connected the dots in a way to show that there was?

jr565 said...

You're actually supporting what I said, you're not contradicting it. That's all that evolutionary "progress" is--the differential survival of organisms in response to their environment changes the distribution of inherited traits in a population over time.

We have the graph of man evolving from his earliest days to modern man. But what if we took a chimpanzee from a million years ago, an ape from 500,000 years ago and a human from 250,000 years ago and used them as our chart to show mans progression. Would that really show mans progression or would it show one chimp from a million years ago, an ape from 500,000 years ago and a human from 250,000 years ago. Is there any progression going on there at all or are we just taking things that have superficial similarities which exist at a point in time and comparing them to things with superficial simiarities which exist at another point in time (separated by millions of years) and calling that progression?

jr565 said...

Peter wrote:
Nomadic cultures will leave their old or sick behind, even when doing so means certain death for those left behind.

They do so because they cannot afford to do otherwise. And why would infanticide be different?

If you want to argue utilitarianism, then you could make an excuse for the nazis exterminating the Jews using that same logic. The master race was trying to weed out the feeble and cripple and so removed them the same way nomadic cultures left behind their old people.
Utilitarianism in fact can excuse any and all forms of barbarism.
Generally though we say that the Nazis were wrong.

jr565 said...

Inga wrote:
Yeah all those war ravaged women were leftists!
Lefties can't be involved in wars? Tell that to the Khmer Rouge, the communists and the nazis (yeah I said it).
There were no women in those cultures? There were no wars in those cultures?

Carl said...

Infanticide is pathological, and we have always rightly shunned (if not exterminated) mothers who practiced it. Not because of some higher ethical code, but because it represents a serious screw-up in timing. You clearly bred -- hence, attempted to commit the tribe to supporting an infant -- when it was not appropriate. You are too stupid/careless/promiscuous A danger to our collective well-being.

It's no different than a male leader who leads the tribe into a disastrous war that they lose. He is rightly shunned, if not destroyed, not because he's done something bad in the abstract, but because he undertook a risky venture at the wrong time.

(I do hope nobody asserts that copulating is far less a choice than fighting. If we are a slave to our id drives in the former respect, I fail to see how the same pathetic defense cannot be offered in the latter.)

It's generally a mistake to see "progress" in evolution, I think. Ramification, yes. Over time nature evolves more and more forms to fill more and more curious little niches, invents more ways to try to gain advantage. But progresss? Archaeobacteria were just as well-adapted to their environment as we are too ours. Considering our relative numbers, they are as entitled to view our development as devolution as we are to view it as evolution.

Eric Jablow said...

In Greece and Rome, it was common for parents to abandon their sickly children and expose them on mountaintops. One criticism Greek authors made of the Jews was they cared for all their children. It wasn't efficient for them to care.

UrbanBard said...

Is there a Leftist Death cult? Sure.

There is a long history of totalitarian states, such as the "Inca" of Peru or the "Ur" of Mesopotamia. Each of these totalitarian societies were quite fragile. They over specialized in subduing the surrounding primitives. Thus, the Inca civilization, numbering in the millions, could be conquered by 400 Spaniards.

Europe had a series of Christian Socialists, such as Cathars, the levelers and Anabaptists. We have had many Utopian novels written by such as Thomas More, Tommaso Campanella and others.

What makes each of these movements, including the Marxists, a death cult is that they are murderous. They attempt to stamp out individuality, Self ownership, self selected marriage and private property, but this, in the end, kills them.

The Social Democrats, of today, may not know that their destination is the grave. Or that their failed economies and societies will lead back toward barbarism as they give up capitalism and freedom. But, frankly, they don't give a damn.

Each time, Humanity climbs back out of the poverty which they create. Then, with prosperity, a new death cult arises.

http://robertlstephens.com/essays/shafarevich/001SocialistPhenomenon.html

Anthony said...

Australian aborigines, until not too long ago, did this too. But they were more efficient than most cultures - they ate the baby to be sacrificed. Why feed 10 pounds of perfectly good meat to the dingos?

Mark Trade said...

Sounds like an argument for the state to facilitate destructive female reproductive choices--they're going to do it anyway!

But when a guy does it... oh nooo, stupid man.

Diana Davis said...

They don't have birth control and while she could try to practice abstinence, she won't be allowed to.
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