Are Babies Born Selfish and Power-Seeking?

Is it an evolutionary necessity that all babies are born selfish and power-seeking?


Is it possible for the young to survive in the world without a “me
first” attitude and a need to create their own power dyads that places
them at the center of attention at the power core?
If children require selfishness and power
to survive, where then, does one draw the line between spoiling the
child and creating the independent adult?

At what age — or during which milestone — must the cord be forever
cut to avoid the result of the ordinary, meandering, narcissistic,
tepid, adult?

If
the correction from selfishness and power-seeking is never healed in
childhood — what becomes of the adult — and how can the rest of us
avoid be punished for the child abuse perpetuated on babies that
wrongly place them, and others like them, at the center of an inhuman
universe where they can do no wrong while the sun rises and sets on
their shrugging shoulders?

13 comments

  • No they are not born selfish they are born vulnerable. As they grow older and acquire skills and develop their own sense of wants and needs we can then encourage them bit by bit to be self reliant. When they have learnt to do “a” then you can move onto “B” and perhaps “C” as well.
    Leading them and showing them by example – and practising what you preach is the best way forward – it takes a lot of commitment – but can be very rewarding.

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  • Hi Nicola –
    I guess I was hoping for a more evolutionary discussion here: Babies are certainly vulnerable and is that why they cry and misbehave when not given proper attention and prefer the protection of one parent over the other?
    If that might be so, then taking the next step in language and calling those identifiers selfish and power-seeking brings a new context to the innate behavior of babies before they can communicate. They look like their parents. They use laughter and their helplessness to control those stronger and more powerful than they are — it’s an amazing feat to evolutionarily trick people into viewing you as vulnerable, especially when they are, in fact, being controlled by your cries and calls.

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  • You are correct about the way they control your life/lives – is this behaviour limited to humans or is it cross species ?

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  • Hi Nicola!
    That’s what I’m trying to figure out. I know in Baboon tribes if the male leader is replaced, the new dominant male will kill all the other baboon infants he did not father in order to protect the order of his new dominance.
    It’s as if male baboons know the young are there to inherit the roles of the establishment despite their vulnerability and ineptitude if foraging for themselves… and if you want to maintain your own selfish power base, you need to kill all non-related comers and foreigners.

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  • I am sure there are other animal groups where the young males are expelled – trying to trawl through memories of natural history programs.
    One is also reminded of the story of Herod – killing all the male children so he could eliminate Jesus.
    And the last paragraph could also point towards the Holocaust.

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  • Nicola –
    Yes, those examples are quite telling and important! Are we learning from the animal kingdom or did the animals learn from us?
    You’re right that the destruction of others appears to be an inborn, involuntary, response and not a learned one. It takes a certain amount of human bravery to want to propagate your DNA into the future while realizing those around you are trying to do the same, selfish, thing to retain power and influence.
    So, I think, babies are born selfish and power-seeking and while infanticide is frowned upon in the darkest terms across the history of humanity, the rationale behind the act of repressing future competition is quite an intimidating concept to comprehend.

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  • I suspect we learnt it as animals and developed it in our own particular way.
    Your second paragraph triggers all kinds of thoughts and debates about population numbers and religious, ethnic and racial phenomena.
    Is the Catholic ban on contraception more aimed at producing more Catholics ( than protestants) for instance. It is said by some of the political scaremongers in this country that because of the Muslim family size that in *X* number of years there will be more Muslims in the UK than *English * people.
    I must admit I never looked at my ability to produce children at the drop of a hat in that light before!
    Is it the babies that are selfish and power seeking – or is it the parents producing them?

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  • Excellent analysis, Nicola!
    Any religion relies on its members to propagate in order to auto-indoctrinate new members. Bringing Catholicism to “The South” is vital in keeping that belief rich and alive and one begins to wonder when the power structure in the Vatican will shift to reflect the faces of those members:
    http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0405/p01s03-wogi.html
    Mormonism, 7th Day Aventism and other fundamentalist religions all encourage populating the world with children to increase their power core.
    Parents are definitely selfish and power-seeking and they prove it by bringing children into a world that doesn’t need more mouths to feed — but they do it because they are driven to it even though they realize the open mouths they are feeding will one day be bent on replacing them in the power structure.
    It appears, from an evolutionary viewpoint, that even though we know our children are able to plot and thwart against us, we cannot deny the animal urge to reproduce against our better intentions.

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  • Shwhew!
    I was in “server maintenance” heck for about an hour. My comment wouldn’t post. I’m glad everything seems to be working again.

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  • Pingback: The Moral Code of Babies: Hardwiring Good and Evil « Panopticonic

  • This is a good and thought provoking question. From an evolutionary perspective the behaviour of a baby must be considered a successful adaption to circumstances as it has guaranteed the perpetuation of the human species. Evolution, of course, is a meta-theory that looks beyond the individual to that of the group itself. A baby is essentially a bundle of instincts that need to be met by other individuals living within its environment. Dr Richard Alpert (of Ram Dass fame), as the professor of psychology at Harvard – referred to the behaviour of baby’s as being that of
    ‘ambulatory variables’. The baby is unaware of the fact that it possesses needs, or of the fact that those living around it meet those needs – the baby lacks a sense of ‘self’ to which it can relate all its needs and satisfactions – therefore I would consider it unlikely that the baby is being selfish. There is no sense of ‘self’ because the brain is immature and under-developed.

    The baby is governed by instincts at a very primitive – spine-led – level. As the baby grows, its ability to think and feel develops to the point where it becomes ‘aware’ of itself, its needs, and others around it, but this understanding can not be projected upon a baby itself. Although adult humans develop far beyond the level of a baby, the baby appears to represent a very early stage in human evolution where pure instinct dominated the human species. Adult humans may have evolved beyond this point, but human babies have not – why? – because what they do ‘works’ and there is no need to change it. The apparent ‘selfish’ behaviour of a baby is in fact an adult perspective. Human adults develop and learn to ‘compromise’ their needs and desires within society, whereas a baby does not. A baby does not compromise simply because it has no concept of ‘compromise’, or the ‘need’ to compromise, these things are learnt over-time, but are not born inside a baby in a fully functioning manner. If a baby was born able to compromise, it might well effect the survival rate of human off-spring and endanger the species. Adult humans are genetically programmed to respond to a baby’s cry. This conditioning occurs in an uncompromising manner – but the baby is completely unaware of what it is doing, and what effect it is having on those around it.

    Of course, although the cares of a baby are dealt with, there is also in operation an implicit acculturation process whereby the child’s needs are being met with conditions. The first condition is that the baby stops crying – this is linked directly to giving the baby what it wants, when it wants it. The second condition develops over-time as the baby begins to develop and become more aware. This is when its needs are satisfied providing it behaves or responds in certain socially acceptable ways. Eventually this will involve negative reinforcement to mould behaviour, but all this happens much later on. The ‘power’ in the situation is most definitely in the hands of the adults and not the baby – which remains incredibly vulnerable on all fronts. Any ‘power’ perspective a child later develops stems entirely from the adults that raise it. As it stands, as a baby has no sense of self, and does not have any concept of ‘self’ and ‘other’, negative reinforcement is pointless as it appears to a baby as just another instinct that needs to be satisfied and has no behavioural modification content whatsoever. The baby’s behaviour appears selfish because it is at odds to that behaviour expected of grown adults – but only adults know this.

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