[Back to Newsletter E6]
Repression of Eros
Eros is the love of God incarnate in the world continually seeking new and more satisfying syntheses of all the manifestations of experience, which constitute the universe. On the human level Eros seeks primarily more luminating patterns of understanding and more loving forms of community. Eros is at the heart of the motivational system of every person. It is the divine spark within. It can and should be trusted. Eros knows what we most want and need. Unfortunately the child rearing and pedagogical practices of our society are based on a profound mistrust of the Eros of children. We want children to cease to act from their own motivations. We do not want them to pursue those activities and relationships that most excite them, that they are most curious about, and that they most desire. We want children to relinquish any uniqueness in their ways of seeing. They should come to share uncritically the views, the loves, the hatreds, the prejudices and the vendettas of their society.
Those attacks on children that are aimed at suppressing their Eros by alienating them from their own motivations and ways of seeing have sometimes been referred to as "breaking the child." The cruel and violent practices often employed in breaking horses do, in fact, provide an apt metaphor for an egregious set of child rearing practices. If "breaking a child," cannot be accomplished by beatings or humiliations, it must attempted subterfuge. More recently the degree of suppression that is needed for the normal functioning of our schools is accomplished with drugs. We give them ritalin because we are no longer permitted to beat them. Always, of course, it is done in the name of the well-being of children. Often it is called therapy. But in reality the suppression of Eros is profoundly damaging to emotional and interpersonal health.
The central reservoir of desire in human beings is not, in its natural state, as Freud portrayed it in his concept of the Id — an antisocial monster bent only on the basest kinds of pleasure, and willing to destroy the social fabric if it gets in the way. It is important to correct this negative image of what human beings most want because it serves as the justification for all the life-hating pedagogical practices that are regularly forced on children. In so far as the most powerful life forces within children come to resemble Freud's Id, it is because these forces have been twisted through repression and fear.
Children do not need to be broken. From the moment of birth, children seek loving, bonded relationships. Children are naturally social. They want to please adults, and to imitate those that they admire. More than anything they want to belong. Children are naturally curious. They are full of questions — they want to know everything. They do not need to be broken in order to become either socialized or interested in learning. Breaking children, in fact, produces antisocial impulses and crushes the natural curiosity, which should be a primary motivation for learning. A society that requires the breaking of children in order to survive is not a society worth preserving. Even horses do not need to be broken
Sex is only one of the many forms that Eros takes. However, in our society sex has a special significance because the most powerful attacks on the Eros of children are generally aimed at the body and it's desires. The myth of the sexless child is used to justify the alienation of children from their own sexual interests and feelings. Any act on the child's part that challenges this myth is cause for concern and is responded to in a punishing manner. Children are only begrudgingly allowed to masturbate, are seldom allowed to run naked, are shamed if they expresses too much interest in the bodies of other people, are humiliated should sexual interest become attached to those of the same sex, and are verbally and at time physically attacked should they involve themselves in sex play with other children. And should a child exhibit that most horrifying of all possible manifestations of Eros — a sexualized interest in an adult — that is taken as proof that he or she has been abused. The cumulative effect of this is that children learn to experience the body as a place of dangerous, shameful, and dirty impulses. This is the normal way of raising children in our society. This is the way good parents and teachers do it.
When the natural Eros of children is crushed by their caregivers, children feel rage. The erotic impulses refuse to go away, even though their expression is forbidden. These impulses fester outside the range of verbal consciousness and then merge with the rage created by the repression Finally, these combined energies reemerge, organized around metaphors of sexualized rage: the club, the battering ram, the sword, the gun, the loud and powerful airplane or car , the missile, and the bomb. This rage must be displaced — it must be directed away from the parents, teachers and caregivers who are responsible for the repression. It is too difficult to live without the approval and support of the people one loves. Certainly one does not want to destroy them. So the sexualized rage is redirected toward enemies. Any group that we can learn to see as less than human will serve as the needed scapegoat. The repression of Eros in children ultimately leads to the creation of violent, empty citizens who are alienated from their real needs and wishes and who are all to willing to persecute and even kill enemies of various kinds. A society based on the repression of Eros requires enemies.
It is not primarily within the exceptional and the abnormal patterns in this society that we must seek the seeds of violence. Rather, violence is initiated, sustained and fostered by the normal and accepted practices with regard to how we raise our children and treat one another. Naturally any society is loath to permit any serious questioning it's own most fundamental assumptions about the good life. But this is what is needed if we are to become less violent. Specifically we must reassess the deep rooted assumption that civilized life requires repression. We must examine our fear of Eros and all the harmful child rearing and pedagogical practices that grow out of this fear.
Read more about this in: