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Malinowski Revisited and Reich’s Children of the Future

Editor’s Note

In many of his writings, Dr. William Reich suggests that Malinowski’s anthropological and sociological studies affirm Reich’s psychological and social theories. For example, in The Function of Orgasm, Reich says:

Malinowski’s principle work,The Sexual Life of Savages, appeared in 1929. This book contained a profusion of material which made it quite clear that sexual repression was of a sociological and not of a biological origin. Malinowski himself did not discuss this question in his book, but the material spoke for itself. In my essay “Der Einbruch der Sexual-moral” (“The Invasions of Compulsory Sex-Morality,”  2nd edition, 1934/1971), I attempted to demonstrate the sociological origin of sexual negation on the basis of available ethnological material. I shall summarize what is important for the present discussion.

The Trobriander children are not familiar with sexual repression and sexual secrecy. The sexual life of Trobriander children develops naturally, freely, and without interference through all stages of life with full sexual gratification. The children engage in sexual activity in keeping with their age. In spite of this, or, rather, precisely for this reason, the Trobriander society, in the third decade of this century, was ignorant of any  sexual perversions, functional mental illnesses, psychoneuroses, sexual murder; they had no word for theft. In their society, homosexuality and masturbation were looked upon as incomplete and unnatural means of sexual gratification, as a proof that the capacity to experience normal gratification is hampered. The strict, compulsion-neurotic toilet training which saps the civilization of the white faces is unknown to the Trobriander child. Hence, the Trobriander is spontaneously clean, orderly, naturally social, intelligent, and industrious. Non-compulsive, voluntary monogamous marriage, which can be dissolved at any time without difficulties, prevails as the social form of sexual life. There is no promiscuity.

The latest issue of Annals of The Institute for Orgonomic Science (December, 2011) includes Dr. Morton Herskowitz’s article, “Malinowski Revisited and Reich’s Children of the Future.”

Dr. Herskowitz has granted us permission to publish this article in our journal, and we thank him and the editor of the Annals for this permission.

Here is the article:

“ … societal customs and laws that hobble individuals not only sentence them to lives of frustration and desperation, but also deplete the stock of available human talent. "

Anna Quindlen

In the teens of the 1900’s and the early twenties Bronislaw Malinowski conducted research into the structure of society in the Trobriand Islands and its cultural effects. The Trobriands are a group of islands off the New Guinea coast. Malinowski chose to study these islands because of long-standing reports from mariners of "wild" sexual goings-on in that place.

Malinowski was a student of psychoanalysis who had reservations about some analytic concepts, particularly the theory of the universality of the Oedipus complex. He assumed that there was no place better to examine these questions than in a society that reportedly varied so widely from our own. He reported his findings in several books, the most widely known a book he called The Sexual Life of Savages. [ What follows represents life among the Trobriand islanders as observed by Malinowski. It must be remembered that missionaries and globalization have effected some changes since then. ]

The publication of the book occasioned hearty acclaim in some sectors of the anthropological community and spirited rebuke from the psychoanalytic brotherhood. The contest goes on to this time, though more quietly.

Dr. Morton Herskowitz

Malinowski expressed unhappiness with the book’s reception. He spoke of regrets that most of the discussion centered on the sexy aspects of the book rather than his emphasis on the functional relationship between the structure of a society and its cultural and behavioral consequences.

What Malinowski Found:

Trobriand society is matrilineal, that is, inheritance is through the female line; the clan is a female product. Sexual intercourse is thought to play no part in conception of children. Birth results from the spirit of a dead female who has long rested in some afterlife island and who now wishes to live again. It enters the mother’s body, carried from the afterlife island via sea water. The only concession to sex in the process is that the hole must be opened, but sea water or exposure to a constant drip can accomplish this. The male is an accessory to this process in that sexual intercourse after the seed is planted can maintain its growth; this is why children can sometimes resemble their father.

The father’s role is to provide the heavy work and to care for the child. The father is the sweet nourisher of the child, the role our ideal mother plays. He also, along with his brothers, is a donor of supplies and gifts to his sisters’ daughters.

Children of the Trobriands are breast-fed for four or five years. A fascinating aspect of child-rearing is that children are never given orders. They are addressed as equals. There are discussions, but never commands. Even the chief of the village participates in this behavior toward children. Children from the ages of four or five to preadolescence have their own community. They make their own rules, travel as a group to places of retreat. And they have very active sexual lives.

There is an abundance of sexual activities which could be characterized as Trobriand children’s play. There is some evidence that in the latter years of childhood the play may extend to the introduction of the penis into the vagina. In adolescence what was formerly play becomes more seriously erotic and is attended by sexual attractions. Adolescents typically spend most time adolescents’ hunts occupied by several groups of couples. Apparently the sexual activities are not communal, and the sexual couplings are conducted in privacy.

The fact that the birth of a child has no relationship to male-female sexual coupling is "proven" to the Trobrianders by the fact that in adolescence when there is superabundant sexual activity in the adolescent hut there are very few pregnancies. Those pregnancies that occur are attributed to some aberrant behavior in the girl’s past for which she is viewed as immoral.

A possible explanation for the rarity of childbirth in adolescence is the fact that there is such intense sexual activity in the hut that the uterus is in an over stimulated state – not the best condition for implantation of a fertilized ovum.

Social status in the Trobriand village depends on several factors. First there is heredity. The closer to the chief’s family, the higher the rank. Next there is wealth. The family that raises more food and has more possessions gains status. Finally there is magic. There are formulaic recitations for overcoming all types of adversity. Some members of the community have memorized more of these recitations than others; this gives them power. People in trouble go to them to purchase the magic, which helps to overcome the difficulty, whether it is a matter of health, a social problem, an enemy who has cast a spell, etc.

There is an exaggerated aversion to excreta and bad odors in Trobriand society. Carrying off a child’s excreta are reasons for the child’s eternal gratitude to parents. Urinating or defecating in the brush is always done privately. Sodomy is repulsive. Alimentary gases are never released in public.

Even though the penis cover barely conceals the genitals it must never be moved minutely. Skirts must not reveal genitals in the wind or in movement.

Homosexuality, bestiality, oral or anal sex, exhibitionism and masturbation are reproved. Sex is forbidden in war, overseas sailing, gardening, pregnancy, and lactation. Sex must be performed in private, except on the very few sexual holidays. There must be no sex within the clan. In the time of Malinowski’s visit the sexual holidays were only a memory. There is an abundance of sexual jokes, except in the presence of persons of higher rank.

The mother’s clan is the child’s. The mother’s brother’s village is the child’s village.

Marriages in the Trobriands are usually between couples who were one another’s favorites in the adolescent hut. The exceptions are in the high-caste families where infant betrothals are arranged to keep wealth within the family. The persons assigned in these relationships never go to the adolescent huts. If either party breaks this rule the arrangement may be annulled.

Married persons live in the husband’s parents’ hut at first. There is little sex in this "honeymoon" period. Husband and wife sleep in the same bunk, but don’t remove their garments. In a period that may last for more than a year the wife makes herself unattractive by darkening her face, etc.

In a culture that shows latitude in so many sexual areas it is interesting to note that to talk factually about sex (humor is an exception) is a gross breach of good behavior. It can even lead to murder or suicide on rare occasions. One does not even mention that a man’s wife is pretty. The grossest insult is to "copulate with your wife." A married couple never shows tenderness in public. When Malinowski suggested that a man offer physical support to his seriously limping wife, the couple was sorely embarrassed. Marriages are generally congenial and caring.

Malinowski’s tent was next door to a rare quarreling couple. He writes, " … it almost made me forget that I was among savages and not back in civilization." Marriage is very easily dissolved in these circumstances.

Breach of marital fidelity is condemned, as with us. Marriage puts the males in the wife’s family in perpetual tribute (food and gifts) to her family. The ideal marriage is to an only sister of many brothers.
Reich was clearly impressed with Malinowski’s research; both by the functional relationship of how a matrilineal core determined so much of the culture and character of that society and by the sexual practices which differed so markedly from our own.

It is unfortunate that aside from the fact that quarreling within a marriage was regarded as deviant from the norm there is a paucity of information on the character of the members of Trobriand society. There are several features of the society which are most interesting from an orgonomic view. To quote Malinowski, "magic, the attempt of man to govern the forces of nature directly by means of a special lore, is all-pervading and all-important in the Trobriands." What is significant is that though there is a mystical element here, as in the organized religions, the power is available to members of the community rather than ascribed to a divinity.

The other characteristics which command our attention are the free play of childhood and adolescent sexuality and the respect paid to children by adults. Reich assumed that sexual freedom and respectful regard of children would be attributes of the society of "Children of the Future" (2).

"Children of the Future" implies a world of the future, which is different from our own. It infers an existence closer to the natural order, freer of emotional armoring and consequently from "lives of quiet desperation.”

Reich did not anticipate that in that "future" children would live lives of angelic perfection. In a letter to A.S. Neill he wrote, "I would like to grant every healthy child of the future the right to have a fit, whooping cough, an occasional accident and similar innocent neurotic happenings. By all means don’t have them perfect! What counts is the foundation and not the surface."

In another letter to A.S. Neill, Reich wrote, "Would you be willing to sound a warning about the difficulties of ‘self-regulation’ in education to all you can reach? It is very necessary to kill a new false religion of easy-going heavens before it is too late."

In answer, Neill writes (concerning his daughter Zoe), "Damned annoying all the same to find how strong a hold the other side gets on a kid. Ena (his wife) and I counter-act all the time of course" (3).

In a world of "Children of the Future" it is obvious that there is an implication of "adults of the future." "Children of the Future" cannot eventuate without the guidance of parents and communities free of the emotional plague, sentient to the values generated by their own natural core. This must be a long, long time coming. A time of countless questions.

One takes note of the fact that in an existing society in which there is already a heady degree of self- regulation in childhood and little interference with the natural flow of sexual energy in childhood and adolescence, in adulthood there is supreme regard for magic as the way of dealing with adversity and it is taboo for unmarried men and women to share a meal. The cultural pathology trumps nature.

In a recent survey of Samoa (4), a society with many similarities to the Trobriands in Malinowski’s time, it is noted that there is a change in the economy, which is now based on money, with the father holding economic power in the family. The family structure has shifted from matrilineal or bi-lineal to patrilineal, patriarchal and authoritarian. "Fathers now have much more power and are abusing it – raping daughters and sons, physically abusing wives and children. Families are exceptionally strict in their discipline. Shame is a major issue."

Within recent decades Samoa had the highest adolescent suicide rate in the world.

In the times when American Indian tribes were self-governing, there were ceremonies performed honoring the spirits of the buffalos they slaughtered for food. In some tribes the bodies governing the passage of new laws instituted an invariable consideration. They asked, "How will the execution of this law affect the seventh generation?"

Today our Native Americans have gained a reputation for their high level of alcoholism, for their ownership of gambling casinos and for their facility in traversing the high beams of skyscrapers in construction.

In the contest between the striving to regain what nature implies vs. what the armored culture decrees, nature is often the loser. Over concern with baubles is an easy distraction. To the Central American Indians, the Spanish conquerors on horseback seemed superior specimens; therefore their values were adopted. Truth does not march on in a straight, ascending line.

Aside from the perils of cultural distortion the vagaries of Nature can be chancy inhibitors. Species die off constantly because of acute changes in the environment. There is no guarantee that our species will continue until the day that we reach a far greater perfection. We could succumb in the great battle for the last waterhole.

Despite the musings on the negative possibilities that face the "children and adults of the future," there is a lively hope in current reality. Since the time that Reich dreamed of relatively unarmored humans there has arisen a host of scientists who investigate how the earliest armoring is created in the   relationship between mother and newborn. They do not make their own observations with "armoring" in mind. Some of them may even be unaware of Reich’s work in this area. They simply seek to gain more intimate knowledge of mother-infant relationships. And in their studies they provide the evidence for how the earliest armoring is produced.

These scientists study how, when mothers avoid the child’s gaze, the infant turns away, the eyes lose their light, and the infant sometimes may ultimately vomit. They portray a breast-feeding mother with unerect nipples who makes no attempt to aid her baby to find her nipple while she reads her book.

The earliest armoring is the deepest. It represents an expectation that life will not be fulfilling, that there is no purpose in seeking to connect with others.

Reich once stated that he was building unfinished structures. Others would come to fill in the doors and windows. The new group of researchers in neonatology is satisfying that function. They are providing the hard, scientific knowledge with which to instruct mothers.

Given the inestimable advantage of improved mothering in the earliest years there is no doubt that  armored humans and the emotional plague will continue to provide funding for [studies of 7] armoring in growing organisms into the indefinite future.

The insights of Reich, Brazelton (5), Bowlby (6), Harlow (7)’ Kennell and Klaus (8), Stem (9) – and there are many others – represent a revolutionary beginning for the "Children of the Future." Perhaps by the time there is scientific correction of all the missteps of human existence we will have arrived as a neo- species in the hominid family.

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1. Malinowski, B.: The Sexual Life of Savages, New York, NY, Harcourt Brace Publishers, 1929.

2. Reich, W.: Children of the Future: On the Prevention of Sexual Pathology, New York, NY, Farrar,
Straus & Giroux, 1983.

3. Placzek, B.R. (ed.): Record of a Friendship: the Correspondence of Wilhelm Reich and A.S. Neill, London, UK, Victor Gollancz, 1982.

4. McDade, T. W.: "Status Incongruity in Samoan Youth: A Biocultural Analysis of Culture Change, Stress, and Immune Function,"Medical Anthropology Quarterly, Vol. 16,
No.1, 2002, pages 123-150.

5. Brazelton, T. B.: Touchpoints: Your Child‘s Emotional and Behavioral Development, Reading, MA,
Addison-Wesley, 1992.

6. Bowlby, 1.: Attachment and Loss. Vol. L Attachment: New York, NY, Basic Books, 1969 and Vol. II, Separation, New York, NY, Basic Books, 1973.

7. Harlow, H.: Learning to Love, New York, NY, Aronson, 1974.

8. Kennell, J. H., and Klaus, M.H.: "Bonding: Recent Observations that Alter Perinatal Care," Pediatrics in Review, Vol. 19, No.1, 1998, pages 4-12.

9. Stem, D.: The Interpersonal World of the Infant: A View from Psychoanalysis and Developmental Psychology, New York, NY, Basic Books, 1985

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