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The Human Robot 

Understanding the Emotional Effects of Industrialism


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THIS EDITION of The Human Robot began as a birthday gift for my mother, Evelyn Saunders, who was eighty years old on March 20, 1991. She was no longer able to read when she received it—indeed, as I write this she has passed away—but perhaps before she died she had a lucid moment in which she was able to hold it in her hands and know that her faith in me was justified. I don't think that she ever quite grasped the concept of the book. After some conversations she and I had about environmental pollution in 1986, she privately (and very dubiously) asked my wife, Anita Brown, "Will there be a lot of smog in the book?" 

The Human Robot began in Mexico in 1973. I was then married to Virginia Christine Jolly, mother of Faera, then two years old. Chrissie struck up an acquaintance with Dr. James Clark Moloney, an elderly psychiatrist, who was our neighbor at La Giralda apartments in Guadalajara. Dr. Moloney introduced us to the concepts of the human robot. Human robots are people who have become machines, as a result of their conditioning from infancy on. Most of the horrors of modern time can be traced to their roots in the ways in which we abuse our children. 

We read all his books, some of them in manuscript and unpublished to this day, including his final work, On Curves and Straight Lines—The Manufacture of Human Robots. I can fairly say that the experience changed my life. I promised Dr. Moloney that I would try my best to bring his ideas to a greater audience. He warned us about the negative consequences of stirring the bitter mess of the mass psyche, but he ardently hoped that I would succeed where he had failed. 

During the years that followed, many of Dr. Moloney's ideas about bottle-feeding, strict toilet training and sexual repression became quite commonplace in the media. I myself used them whenever possible in my magazine articles. I believe that the first serious discussion of children ever to appear in Playboy was a brief review of Dr. Moloney's discoveries I inserted into "The Female Ego," an examination of NOW-style feminism, that appeared in 1978. 

While many other observers have since agreed on the essential facts, to the point where these ideas are perhaps a little familiar, even boring, Moloney was virtually alone in placing the blame for the introduction of these practices on industrialism, describing in gruesome detail the collaboration between early psychologists and businessmen.

Do the following things to children, they said, and you will get obedient workers. 

Breast-feeding had to be curtailed from years to months. Infants were not to be allowed to sleep in the same beds with their parents, but were to be separated from their mothers as early as possible and, if possible, raised by strangers. In order to free their mothers to enter the factory, children had to be pushed to talk, walk and to control their bowel movements.

These recommendations were translated into Victorian morality, first embraced by the emerging middle class and later inflicted on whole populations. It was believed that sexual repression would increase worker reliability. In pre-industrial economies, most rural people worked three to four days a week, at most, except during planting and harvest times. They had plenty of time to make love and their basic ideas about sex were positive and even orgiastic. Before the 17th Century, for example, women were viewed as moved by torrents of uncontrollable sexuality. As the factory system spread, their image changed to cold and puritanical and ungiving. Country people were at first unwilling to give the factory more time, even when they moved into the cities. 

In agricultural society, to have many children was a sign of wealth and fertility. They were not more mouths to feed, but more arms to help in the harvest. In the emerging industrial society, population growth was at first favored, but when child labor laws began to forbid the employment of children, and employers were required by law, contract and custom to be concerned about the welfare of their workers, children became liabilities rather than assets. More than that, the burden of responsibility had to be shifted to the parents. It was their own fault that they had all these children. They should have controlled themselves. Therefore the rich had no obligation to help the poor. 

Enforcing this code, meant suppressing all normal forms of erotic expression. Many non-industrial societies frowned upon masturbation by adults, homosexuality and anal and oral intercourse because they tended to inhibit population growth. In industrial society, however, these activities were forbidden because all energy was to be channeled into productivity. All pleasures had to be earned and purchased. 

The results have been quite gruesome, but if you don't examine the social costs, the outcome has been profitable beyond anyone's expectations at the beginning.

Denying the breast leads to oral fixations such as alcoholism, smoking and overeating. Abusive toilet training is reflected in constipation, compulsive neatness, miserliness. Keeping children in cribs and nurseries increases anxiety. All these distortions increase consumption as well as submissiveness to authority. 

Almost all therapists and emotional support group systems agree that forgiving your parents is a crucial step in giving up neurotic patterns. This becomes easier when you see them as ignorant and trusting victims of social and economic forces beyond their ability to perceive or comprehend. The Human Robot is a work in progress, not a finished book, but even at its present stage of development it is a document that may change your life for the better, as Dr. Moloney and his books changed mine.