Breaking Down the Walls of Silence

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  • Allowing Human Nature To Work Successfully

    A very candid conversation with Jean Liedloff
    Author of The Continuum Concept

    Originally published in the Fall/1998 issue of Touch The Future

    Interview by Michael Mendizza

    How did you happen to find yourself in South America living with a community of Stone Age Indians? Tell me the story.

    On my first trip abroad, as a good American girl from New York, I first went to France then to Italy where I was introduced to a blond, blue-eyed Count called Eurico. He was so successful with the girls that he had become extremely conceited. I would not have anything to do with him — except for the fact that he was soon leaving to look for diamonds in the South American jungle and had fascinating stories to tell about his adventures. As he was saying good-bye to his friends he suddenly turned and asked me, "Why don't you come to the jungle with us?" Even though I found him terribly arrogant the thought of the jungle was thrilling, so I immediately said yes. We had just twenty minutes before the train left, so we rushed to my hotel, threw a few things into a suitcase, rushed across this huge piazza, and jumped on the train which was already pulling out of the station. It was very dramatic.

    It all sounds rather exotic, given your prim and proper background.

    I guess that being prudish was a crude form of idealism. But five and a half months in the jungle that first trip had its effect and I came out a very different girl.

    It was quite an experience for a sheltered Manhattanite, hiking through the jungle, meeting snakes and scorpions, sleeping in a hammock. Even though there were jaguars and crocodiles, the worst for me were the things that made you itch. Of course diamonds were the object — technically speaking. For me the attraction was the word "jungle." There was a kind of rightness that one missed in New York. That was what I was unconsciously seeking.

    The jungle represented something you felt was missing from your New York background. Can you reach back and help me understand this?

    As a child I was attracted to Tarzan and everything that had to do with jungles. It seemed to me — and this is in retrospect — that there was something primal, something right about it.

    Tarzan represented a pure being, somehow before the fall. It was not the diamonds I came home talking about, it was the Indians and how they lived, what kind of lives they had and what the children were like.

    I was so drawn by this first experience that I made four more expeditions and on these we went into unexplored regions. The people we encountered were living in the Stone Age.

    I suppose I was looking for what I found and shouldn't have been so surprised when I found it, which wasn't until the fourth expedition. It was then I realized that I had unlearned a great many assumptions that I had about human nature.

    It became clear that we have made a terrible mistake about what human nature is. We are under the misapprehension that we're born bad, or in the official words of the Church of England, innately depraved, and that is simply not true.

    Let's go back. You said that you started to have a series of insights.

    I was taking my assumptions apart, thinking, "gosh, if this isn't true then that isn't true." I was living for more than two years with these Indians, looking straight at them and not really seeing them, because I was so blinded by preconceptions. I didn't even notice that, amazingly, the children never fought. They played together all day unsupervised, all ages, from crawling, to walking to adolescence. Not only did they not fight, they never even argued. This is not at all what we have been taught human nature is — boys will be boys. So I thought well maybe, boys won't be boys.

    It was a long time before I began to notice what was before my eyes. One thinks, "Well, these are savages. They wear red paint and feather loin cloths, so they're not people." But they're exactly the same species as we are, except they are behaving the way we all evolved to behave. We, on the other hand, are mistreated as infants and children, treated inappropriately for our species.

    As a result, we keep re-creating an anti-social population. Nobody's born rotten. You just don't have bad kids. It's not true. There is no such thing. But we can make them bad.

    Ironically, the reason it's possible to make these profoundly social animals bad or anti-social is because we are so social. Our parents, our tribesman, our authority figures, clearly expect us to be bad or anti-social or greedy or selfish or dirty or destructive or self-destructive. Our social nature is such that we tend to meet the expectations of our elders. Whenever this reversal took place and our elders stopped expecting us to be social and expected us to be anti-social, just to put it in gross terms, that's when the real fall took place. And we're paying for it dearly.

    Just imagine the neurotic and psychopathic people that we have become. Why do we have a 50% divorce rate? Why do we have so many police? It's not just Americans, it's the whole of Western civilization laboring under a misapprehension of what human nature truly is. That's what I learned from my experiences.

    One of my later partners, a Belgian, when he saw the little Indian boys running around with their bows and arrows, whooping and jumping, used to say as a joke: they were playing Indians. The fact is, no matter how roughly and wildly they played, it was never antagonistic. Very rarely did they have accidents and there was no supervision by adults.

    Children, three, four and five years old would carry babies around all day. No one was saying, "Sit here and you can hold the baby while you're sitting down," or, "Watch out." Very small children are trusted to take care of infants because, five minutes ago they were babies themselves. They just know how to take care of babies.

    Here we are, great big grown-up louts in our twenties or thirties reading books about how to take care of babies. I'd be embarrassed to admit to the Indians that our women don't know how to take care of their children until they read instructions written in a book by a man, a man they've never met. The Indians wouldn't have any respect for me. If you were there, you wouldn't either.

    In the jungle every man, every woman, every child knows how to take care of babies. I don't mean to be disrespectful to our experts. They may be able to distinguish a measle from a mump, which is very useful if you have one or the other. But that doesn't, for one minute, give them deep knowledge of correct human behavior.

    Researchers faithfully try to document what is normal. Nobody I know really wants a normal child. Just look at normal. It includes what's called the terrible twos, which are sort of wild, bossy tantrum-prone con-men. Luckily they're small otherwise we'd really be in trouble. And we've got God knows what kinds of drudgery and alienation for children and parents.

    We use the word normal as though it were a synonym for natural, which it is not. Normal is how we think children must be. This includes things like three month colic, where babies are constantly vomiting. They call it spitting up so it doesn't sound like a real illness, but it is an illness. It's painful. This happens even when babies are drinking their mother's milk. They're throwing up. There are contractions and a lot of pain.

    How can we believe that we alone evolved over millions of years without being able to digest our own mother's milk? Why are normal babies so stressed that they can't keep their food down?

    The babies I saw in the jungle never had indigestion unless they were ill with a fever. Babies never threw up. They were not wriggling and struggling and arching and flexing and squeaking like ours do normally.

    Are there other examples of the difference between natural and normal?

    We oppose the baby from the start, coached by experts and the society around us, not by our own feelings. We wage a war of wills: the baby is hungry and cries and we say no, it's got to be four hours between feedings.

    Studies show that the butter fat content of mammalian milk indicates that it is the human baby's nature to nurse approximately every twenty minutes... and obviously the baby is supposed to be in the mother's arms where the milk is available.

    When the baby is first born things are stuck up its nose and down its throat to clear them. Then it's weighed and measured, which isn't doing it any good at this very sensitive moment. For what, the Bureau of Statistics?

    What the baby needs is to be in its mothers arms, and the mother even more so needs to have the baby in her arms to share this beautiful moment of falling in love, which is exquisitely choreographed by hormones.

    Even if logically, we aren't interested in this total stranger who we just caused pain, who isn't very cute at that stage anyway, it is our nature to fall madly in love with it and to put it's life above our own.

    If you were exhausted after giving birth you could say, "Oh well forget it. Just drop that little stranger in the river. Or just leave it there for a minute. I'll be back later," at which time the wolves might have gobbled it up.

    It's very important to have this great moment of falling in love, known as bonding. It's built in because it has to be for our survival. It has to have been there for us to have become the successful species we are, successful meaning that we survived.

    Today normal is adversarial. The baby arrives and has an innate expectation that it will be among trustworthy allies. That's not what happens. From the baby's point of view he or she feels like "they're not on my side."

    "Whatever I want, they say no. I want to be with my mother. I want to be close. I want to be safe. I want to be with someone alive, who's breathing and warm and smells right and feels right and who touches me and helps me feel my own flesh appropriately, not a lifeless box with a lifeless cloth. I don't want to hear myself screaming in my own ears, and hear other people screaming around me and get no response. When I scream I expect something to happen. Not just to scream but because I'm waiting. I'm expecting something and it doesn't come and I scream until I'm exhausted."

    So normal is adversarial. I hope people realize that what they're doing with all the love in their hearts, and I have no doubt of that, is adversarial.

    When you're following the advice of the doctors or the experts or your mother-in-law, your mother or your sister or whomever; when you are feeding the baby on a schedule, denying it physical contact, not allowing it to sleep with you and be with you, twenty-four hours a day, not less, then you're being adversarial.

    It's perfectly clear that the millions of babies, who are crying at this very moment, want unanimously to be next to a live body. Do you really think they're all wrong? Theirs is the voice of nature. This is the clear, pure voice of nature, without intellectual interference.

    The baby knows what it needs, and the minute you put it down, it cries. It's letting you know. It's signaling you perfectly clearly, "don't put me down!" And we have built into us equally, without a dictionary, the knowledge of what it means when the baby goes "waa, waa, waa." We know it means, "pick me up. Don't put me down. Don't leave me!"

    Until very recently doctors routinely performed operations on babies without anesthesia. The baby screams but the trained professionals deny it feels pain! How can mothers deny their own innate wisdom? How can we have drifted so far off?

    It's easy to see how this normal but unnatural behavior perpetuates itself. When a baby girl is born and her mother doesn't answer her cries, she feels that she has no power to signal and summon help. Unfortunately, human nature is such that she cannot blame the parent. So she feels she's not good enough, not lovable enough, "I haven't done the right thing. I'm not worth responding to." This is universally the reaction of babies. They feel that they haven't got it right or they're not good enough because they're so social, ironically. They believe in the authority of their elders, their parents. If parents don't come, they feel that their instinct — to cry — wasn't right. They don't know anything else, and it doesn't work.

    As they grow older and look under blades of grass to see what's growing, or cutting up worms, or tasting things, and they hear, "don't do that, no don't do that, bad, naughty." Their faith in their own instincts are constantly undermined. "Don't touch that, you'll hurt yourself." "Don't get up on that, you'll fall." If babies were allowed to trust and develop their innate wisdom and intelligence they wouldn't fall into the swimming pool. They wouldn't dream of it.

    Let's talk about trust. How could we have gotten to this place where when the baby's screaming we deny our natural innate tendencies to respond and pick it up? Both in the medical field and as mothers?

    Our faith in our own instincts is undermined right from birth. The first job we have on Earth, which is dictated innately, is that of an explorer. We go around sniffing and tasting and touching and looking at everything. And people say, "Don't touch, it's dirty," "Don't touch that; be careful, you'll hurt yourself," "Don't do that, you'll break it!" — all of which constantly undermines our feeling of competence, our trust in our instincts.

    When you get to school people say, "sit still, fold your hands, don't talk to your neighbor."

    Whatever children are doing — is learning. They're learning like little sponges, all the time. But they're told, "Stop it because this is worthless. What is important is this. Pay attention. 'A' is for apple." Everything else is undermined and pronounced worthless. "A" isn't even for apple. It could be for aardvark, it could be for God knows what, anything you like. But they arbitrarily tell you that "A" is for apple. Nothing else counts. And they persist. All your authority figures tell you that your nature, which is to explore, is worthless. If they don't teach you, it's not learning.

    I've recently come to the startling but obvious conclusion that learning occurs naturally, but teaching isn't natural at all. I can't remember ever seeing any of the people I'm talking about, who live so successfully, teaching. The little ones are learning from the older children or from the adults, but nobody's teaching.

    They're learning on their own initiative, which is so powerful. You don't have to augment it. In fact you can't really augment it. There's no way you can make a child learn better than he would if he or she wants to.

    By the time we have our first child, we're so conditioned not to believe our innate feelings that we have total strangers in the hospital tell us what to do and we don't know any better. It's tragic. We have an exquisitely evolved innate knowledge of how to do things. Mothers know that the baby should not be taken away at birth but they have been so conditioned to believe in an authority and not themselves, that they deny their own wisdom.

    We've described normal. Let's contrast it with examples of what you would consider natural.

    Natural means that babies are never left physically alone. Not at birth, not ever. The idea of isolating a baby and letting it cry is wrong. When you think about it, during the time we evolved, which covers millions of years, we have always been held by somebody. As pre-humans, as hunter-gatherers, through the beginning of agriculture, we were never left alone. And if we had been, we might have been gobbled up by crocodiles or bears or wolves.

    Babies need to be in the arms of their mothers, certainly for the first few days, or weeks. Not very long afterwards babies are handed around to others. And everybody loves to take care of babies. Children love to take care of babies. This is a powerful impulse which we recognize by giving them dolls to play with. Small children love to play with dolls and they love to take care of babies. In fact they're extremely good at it. They haven't learned how to do it wrong the way we have. They instinctively do it right.

    How did you see this illustrated in the jungle?

    I remember one little girl, three or four years old, sitting in a hammock, swinging back and forth with a great chubby baby in her arms all day, except when she took the baby to the mother to nurse. She was singing, yeoquanta, yeoquanta, yeoquanta, the Indian word for baby. If she wasn't sitting in the hammock she'd be running around with the baby and doing something else, not paying attention to the baby but doing something else and carrying the baby with her.

    This results in a rich experience for the infant in arms. It's getting a feel for the pace and the activities and the way things are and the sounds and the sights and the temperature changes and all the different things that compose the life around it

    It's an important phase, what I call the in-arms phase, before it starts crawling, when a baby cannot discharge its own excess energy. I'm not talking about any New Age thing called energy, I'm talking about the physical energy, the difference between being dead or alive. If you broke your leg skiing, had it in a cast and couldn't move, you'd get pretty twitchy and irritable after awhile just because you couldn't discharge your excess energy. That's what I'm talking about.

    A baby whose energy is not being discharged for it by the person carrying him, is in that twitchy, irritable state. This is a principal contributor to the stress that produces colic, the indigestion, the arching and the flexing. When a baby moves and kicks in this kind of spastic way you can see that it is uncomfortable. It's trying to expel this uncomfortable energy.

    Babies in the jungle, in Bali and other such places are carried around by active persons, discharging the energy field for both of them. Their muscle tone is soft, they're not tense. They don't make squeaking sounds. They make soft sounds because there's no tension in the throat.

    The idea that babies are fragile is also simply not true. They're incredibly un-fragile. The more action there is, the more jumping around and leaping about and seeing things, the better the baby likes it. We see this when we have a baby sitting on our knee and it starts doing giddy-up actions.

    What a baby really needs is an active person, active not simply with baby care, which I don't think is a legitimate activity, but doing something else. Doing grown-up work, just lugging the baby along so the baby can be in the middle, to watch and learn.

    In your book you wrote about a child being right near a hole, or a pit, but the adults had no fear that it would fall. Can we develop that theme.

    We act as though human nature were something to be afraid of; to constrain, modify or fight; to subdue and overcome. Somehow we have gotten away from believing that we evolved in a way that works. We believe that our nature has to be modified, opposed and controlled from the very beginning.

    Our nature, like that of every other animal, works fine the way it is. But we do not trust human nature. We distrust it in infants, in children, and in ourselves.

    I saw a beautiful example in the Yequana village of Wanania. I witnessed a man named Tududu inventing the playpen. Here he was in the Stone Age and like a good Flintstone he invented the playpen. He went out and cut logs and brought them back and started to construct this thing. He lashed two square frames together over some poles and made a Flintstone playpen. Then he took his son, Cananasiniawana, who was about one year old, who had just started to walk the week before, and plunked him into it. Proudly the father stood back admiring his handiwork. Cananasiniawana just looked around and saw that he was trapped and let out a huge scream of protest. He was horrified. He screamed and his father didn't for one minute think, "He'll get used to it," which is what we would do. The father didn't justify or rationalize: "What does he know? He's only one year old. He'll be safer this way," and blah, blah. His father heard the child's screams of horror and realized instantly that he had made a mistake, that his invention was not suitable for a child. Then and there he broke the thing up and threw it away — the wood was green and couldn't even be used for firewood. This is the trust I'm speaking of — the difference between us and them. We wouldn't consider the child's view at all. We'd say he doesn't know it, but this is his or her best interests; he'll get used to it.

    These Stone Age mothers and fathers know the voice of nature when they hear it. And they respond to it. Nobody in that village would have done any different. They respect the voice of nature. A baby doesn't have any other voice.

    The baby near the pit, do you know who that was?

    It was the same family. They had dug a pit to get mud to make the walls of their house. Into the pit they had thrown branches and sharp sticks. It had rained and was partly filled with water. Cananasiniawana was taking his first, clumsy steps. He would go to the edge of the pit and sit down and then stand up and fall on his bottom, but he would never fall into the pit. Whenever he fell it would be the other way.

    Puppy dogs and kittens don't appear to be falling somewhere on purpose, but they don't fall into the fire do they? They don't fall into the pool do they? We trust puppies and kittens not to burn themselves up in fires but we don't trust our own children.

    We pride ourselves on being so intelligent and yet we feel that we are the only species whose children are so stupid that they're going to throw themselves into fire, out of windows and into swimming pools.

    We are the only animal that doesn't follow it's mother, how can this be? Because we keep showing our children we expect them to run away. Whereas people in the jungle have their children follow them around like other animals.

    The point is trust. We are paying a terrible price when we do not trust our human nature, which works beautifully when we do. When we don't trust it, our expectations are inappropriate for ourselves and our children.

    First we tell them how bad they are and then tell them to be good. What we're really saying is that they should pretend to be good. If you thought someone was good you wouldn't need to tell them would you? The neighbors are coming to tea or we're going to kindergarten and you say to the child, "Now be good."

    It means pretend to be good because we know what you really are: bad. The message goes straight to the heart of the child, to his feeling, where his self confidence is being formed. What is formed is a feeling that I've got to learn to hide what I am. I'm bad. I'm antisocial, but I'd better try to look good to get by. This is an uncomfortable and very inefficient way to behave.

    There's an interesting example, an American baby called Donovan, who was on a trip that I took to Bali a couple of years ago. This baby was just a year old. He was crawling along the edge of the hotel swimming pool and Lisa, his mother, like most good loving American mothers, was constantly next to him, putting a hand out as though he were going to fall into the pool.

    And I said, look, let's just do this if you can bear it. Let Donovan manage the pool himself and don't be near him. We'll all watch him out of the corners of our eyes and he will get the impression that he's on his own. Let's just see what happens. Bravely she did it.

    Donovan backed toward the edge of the pool and put one chubby little leg in. He couldn't get the other down so he pulled that one up and then he'd put the other one in and he wriggled around. He couldn't really get much of himself into the pool but he was trying all these different things which is exactly how children learn to be agile and competent when left on their own.

    At a certain point he saw a little wall which was slightly submerged, dividing the shallow part from the deeper part. He lowered himself onto it and crawled along by himself, something his mother would never have allowed, and he got to the middle where there was a fountain.

    He pulled himself up and began playing with the water, near the top. He was having a great time and was extremely competent. Lisa was in the deep part of the pool, out of sight. As far as he was concerned, nobody was watching him; he was doing all this on his own. Suddenly Lisa appeared about three feet away. He took one look at her and started to cry and regressed to the helpless infant that she'd always treated him as. "I can't do anything. Help me, mommy." You could see him regress into the helplessness that his mother kept him in because of her lack of trust.

    Does this lack of basic trust permeate our entire culture?

    In the broadest terms we have lost trust in our own essential nature. We don't just mistrust children, we mistrust ourselves. We mistrust human nature itself. The reason I'm always talking about babies and children is because this is where the mistrust first manifests itself, where it is formed. But I'm talking about all human beings. I'm talking about society as it is.

    Society is unpleasant, dangerous, unhappy, alienated, and unstable because in childhood our nature — being confident, joyous and loving — has been undermined and we simply live the way we are expected to. What we believe is what we make our experience into. And what we believe is what we have been taught to believe by our parents and our experiences.

    Let's go on to non-adversarial childhood. Help me understand what you mean.

    I'm always working with clients on themselves and very often we work on their relationship with children — how they can deal with them as well as trying to repair their own feelings about themselves. It's important to do both. What I invite them to do is something I call non-adversarial child care. It's difficult for even the most loving parents to stop being adversarial.

    When first told that they are adversarial, a parent will say, "Oh no I'm not. I adore my child. I'd do anything for him. I spend all my time doing things for him. I cook and wash for him and spend all my time following him around." But what they're doing is following them around all day adversarial, saying don't do this and don't do that. That's not an ally, that's an adversary.

    That's someone who's opposing. They say, "Well you've got to teach them discipline." Well no, you don't have to teach them discipline it turns out. All you have to do is expect them to behave socially and they do.

    If they have been treated with respect from birth, if they've been carried around and slept with every night and handed around to other people, but always been in physical contact, been in the middle of the action, in the middle of life, without being paid attention to, they don't need attention. In fact they don't want attention. They want to be able to pay attention to you. They want to be your satellite. They don't want the parents to be their satellite.

    We think we're good parents if we wait on the children. Bring them their ice-cream and put on their clothes for them and carry things for them. I've got a couple of rules. One is never do anything for a child that it can possibly do for itself, even if it takes a while longer. Because every time you do something, not only do you give the child the message that it's inefficient or incompetent, but you're actually preventing it from learning; from having faith in its own ability to accomplish and figure things out. Let them figure it out. If it gets up onto a sofa or a chair and it can't figure out how to get down, leave it there until it can. It will try one leg and try another, it will figure it out. Or you might eventually give it the next step, helping with one step but not the whole thing. Give the child the message from the very beginning that you expect it to figure things out for itself.

    Don't be centered on the child all the time. It gives the child the feeling that you don't know what to do because you're constantly saying, "Would you like mommy to do that or would you prefer daddy do that?" It drives children mad.

    What they really want is to feel calm inside knowing that their parents know what they're doing "without asking me, because I'm just a baby. I don't want to have to tell you. I want you to know what to do. And then I want to watch what you do and see you working and see you talking to other people and see you doing the different things that you do so that I can take it in. This is my way of learning.

    "And then when I'm ready, I will imitate you because this is my natural impulse. You don't have to tell me 'Now you do this, and you do that.' Just leave me alone and I will start helping you. You'll see."

    The simple principle I came to understand is that what happened to us — the negative experiences that we had in infancy and childhood — are no less traumatic than the positive experiences that we expected to or should have had and didn't. The residue of those bad experiences and missed good experiences is in the form of beliefs: that we can never do anything right, or we're not lovable. Or we have to take care of everyone. These beliefs are instilled in us in infancy, before we're able to judge anything. We cannot look in the mirror and say, "Well I'm a nice little girl. I've got all my fingers and toes and I'm a sweet little thing. I'm intelligent and charming and I got a little pink party dress and I'm just fine." We can't do that. We can only get our feeling of worth about ourselves and everything else from our authority figures. And this is what children do. They take the authority of these people and believe it. Whatever it is. This becomes the basic feeling we have about self and also about the relationship between self and other.

    How can we empower children and then later adults to trust their nature?

    We don't need to empower children to trust their nature. The tendency to trust is there. We simply need to allow them to do so.

    Another rule is never do anything to a child that will make him feel badly about himself. But we do this all the time. We do it with words and we do it with looks.

    There are two ways we treat our children. One is the punishing/blaming: "You are very bad, go stand in the corner or I'll spank you." The other is permissive: "That's perfectly all right darling, if you want to walk on mothers face she doesn't mind." We don't know any other way. The more correct way is what I call information. If you thoroughly understand that children are innately social, then you understand that what they want is information. You don't have to be angry to tell them what's needed. You just let them know. The idea is not to blame, and not to praise, because both are insulting. Expect children to do the right thing. You then are being a clear model and there's no conflict. It's the way nature designed us to behave.

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  • Peter Breggin

    Peter Breggin
    Peter Roger Breggin (born May 11, 1936) is an American psychiatrist and critic of biological psychiatry and psychiatric medication. In his books, he advocates replacing psychiatry's use of drugs and electroconvulsive therapy with humanistic and caring psychotherapy, education, and broader human services. Breggin is the author of Toxic Psychiatry, Talking Back to Prozac, Talking Back to Ritalin, The Ritalin Fact Book, and The Heart of Being Helpful. His most recent book, Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry, deals with medication spellbinding (in which patients who are doing worse after treatment fail to see that they are doing worse or recognize why), the adverse effects of drugs and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), the hazards of diagnosing and medicating children, the psychopharmaceutical complex, and guidelines for psychotherapy and counseling.

    His webiste:

    Source: Wikipedia


    • Breggin, P.R. (2008). Medication Madness: A Psychiatrist Exposes the Dangers of Mood-Altering Medications. New York: St. Martin's Press.
    • Breggin, P.R. (2008). Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry: Drugs, Electroshock and the Psychopharmaceutical Complex, Second Edition. New York: Springer Publishing Company.
    • Breggin, P.R. and Cohen, D. (2007). Your Drug May Be Your Problem: How and Why to Stop Taking Psychiatric Medications, Second Edition. Cambridge: Perseus Books.
    • Breggin, P.R. Breggin, G.R., and Bemak, F. (Editors) (2002). Dimensions of Empathic Therapy. New York: Springer Publishing Company.
    • Breggin, P.R. (2002). The Ritalin Fact Book: What Your Doctor Won't Tell You. Cambridge: Perseus Books.
    • Breggin, P.R. (2001). The Anti-Depressant Fact Book: What Your Doctor Won't Tell You About Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa, and Luvox. Cambridge: Perseus Books.
    • Breggin, P.R. (2001). Talking Back to Ritalin: What Doctors Aren't Telling You About Stimulants and ADHD. Revised. Cambridge: Perseus Books.
    • Breggin, P.R. (2000). Reclaiming Our Children: A Healing Solution for a Nation in Crisis. Cambridge: Perseus Books.
    • Breggin, P.R. and Ginger, G.R. (1998). The war against children of color. Psychiatry Targets Inner City Youth. Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press.
    • Breggin, P.R. (1997). The Heart of Being Helpful: Empathy and the Creation of a Healing Presence. New York: Spinger Publishing Company.
    • Breggin, P.R. (1992). Beyond Conflict: From Self-Help and Psychotherapy to Peacemaking. New York: St. Martin's Press.
    • Breggin, P.R. and Breggin, G. R. (1994). Talking Back To Prozac: What Doctors Aren't Telling You About Today's Most Controversial Drug. New York: St. Martin's Press.
    • Breggin, P.R. (1991). Toxic Psychiatry: Why Therapy, Empathy and Love Must Replace the Drugs, Electroshock, and Biochemical Theories of the "New Psychiatry" New York: St. Martin's Press
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  • Daniel Mackler

    Daniel Mackler is a filmmaker and musician in New York City. He also worked for ten years as a psychotherapist in New York, though ended his therapy practice on March 1st, 2010. His writings focus on the causes, consequences, and radical significance of childhood trauma. He sees childhood trauma as ranging from the extreme, which is common, to the mild, which is so much MORE common that few even notice it at all, much less call them by its proper name. He views the norm in our culture as being highly traumatized, and he views the average, and even above-average, childhood as being extremely traumatic – and the average parent as lacking both awareness of this and deep empathy for the child.

    He sees our world growing more pathological, confused, polluted, overpopulated, and disturbed by the day – and he feels that to stand by and say nothing while we destroy our planet is irresponsible and even criminal.  Yet Daniel writes with great hope – both for individual healing and for the collective healing of our world.  He seeks to offer a new perspective – on relationships, on enlightenment, on celibacy, on the pathology of the family system, and on the future of our species.

    His website:

    As of May 2014, Daniel has put all his documentaries on Youtube, free to watch.

    Take These Broken Wings

    Daniel MacklerTake These Broken Wings, a feature-length documentary film by director and psychotherapist Daniel Mackler, shows that people can recover fully from schizophrenia without psychiatric medication.  According to most of the mental health field, and of course the pharmaceutical industry, this is not possible. How little they know – or want to know!  The film centers on the lives of two women – heroes of mine – who both recovered from severe schizophrenia. The film traces the roots of their schizophrenia to childhood trauma and details their successful psychotherapy with gifted clinicians.

    The first woman is Joanne Greenberg (fully recovered for fifty years), the bestselling author of I Never Promised You A Rose Garden.  The second is Catherine Penney (fully recovered for thirty years), a mental health nurse in California whose healing tale was chronicled by her therapist, Daniel Dorman, MD, in the book Dante’s Cure: A Journey Out of Madness.

    Their accounts are interwoven with interviews with giants in the field of schizophrenia recovery.  These include Peter Breggin, MD (author, Toxic Psychiatry), Robert Whitaker (journalist, author, Mad in America), and Bertram Karon, PhD (author, Psychotherapy of Schizophrenia:  Treatment of Choice).  Also featured throughout the film are over 100 interview clips of strangers filmed in New York City’s Washington Square Park who share their points of view on schizophrenia.

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  • Preying on predators, not preying for their forgiveness

    Andrew Vachss, A Lawyer Who Represents Children Exclusively


    Andrew Vachss (rhymes with ax), doesn't talk from the point of view from hypothesis or theory. A warrior, he has exposed child abuse for 30 years. In 1969, he traveled to Biafra during its genocidal civil war to try to set up a payment system for foreign aid. Since then, he's been, amongst other occupations, a federal investigator in sexually transmitted diseases, a labor organizer, a director of a maximum security prison for "aggressive-violent" youth, and since 1976, a lawyer who represents children exclusively. In 1993, Vachss helped hasten The National Child Protective Act which formed a database to track child abusers who move from state to state. He is now lending support to the C.A.R.E. (Child Abuse Reform and Enforcement) Act, which promotes the improvement of information on, and protections against, child sexual abuse. He has published 14 novels.


    If every human was as driven, focused, and articulate as Andrew Vachss, the world in a generation would, quite literally and pragmatically, become a better place. As trite and as unfocused as the rallying cry of "save the children" may seem as it streams out of a politician's mouth, one gets the diametrically opposite impression when Mr. Vachss talks about "Today's victim is tomorrow's predator" and how children are truly the key to a sustained civilization. What I first approached as an informative exercise and historical context of child abuse also turned into discussions on political leverage and law, the nature of serial killers, the nuances of the death penalty, and the United States' hapless war on drugs.

    Special thanks go out to Vanessa of Fat Wreck Chords for not only raising this to my attention but also her selfless conviction, and to Lou Bank at Ten Angry Pitbulls for making this interview possible and take place without a hitch.

    Todd: In layman's terms, what is the legal definition of incest and what is the most prevalent penalty for it?

    Vachss: Well, the actual definition of incest is sexual contact between people who are related within a certain degree of consanguinity - blood or marriage. However, its definition isn't popularly understood, so when people think of incest they think of first cousins having consensual sex in Kentucky in a shack. They don't think in terms of a parent and a small child but the law does cover that. Although, in my opinion, it didn't contemplate such coverage when it was first passed. If you look at the incest laws, they're quite ancient.

    Todd: Is there a historic precedence for incest.

    Vachss: A precedence supporting it?

    Todd: Yes.

    Vachss: No. In fact, quite the contrary. Where it came from was through observation of nature and humans observed that inbreeding was a dangerous thing. So, even people in the earliest forms of animal husbandry understood that inbreeding was guaranteed at some point to produce genetic defectives. Now, if you're talking about the Egyptian kings, for example, that intermarried. Sure, it happens. There's no question. There were people in ancient times, and Nazis today who believe that the way you keep a race or a species or a bloodline pure, you don't mix it with outside blood. Ipso facto, you're going to have people having sex with their own kids.

    Todd: I was thinking that the historical precedence for the United States would be having the vestige of British rule, which is a monarchy and had a lot of incest in to keep their bloodlines.

    Vachss: That privilege was always reserved for royalty. Look, royalty's always reserved to itself every hideous style or privilege - to torture people that don't agree.

    Todd: What is the legal definition of rape?

    Vachss: Sex by force. However, it's important to understand that force is implied in certain cases even though no physical violence is used. So, for example, if a child is too young to consent, or if a person is impaired by mental illness or if a person is intoxicated, drugged - all of those would be rape, even if the person did not require physical violence be used to accomplish their end.

    Todd: What I want to deal with is the CARE Act. Why is there a legal difference between incest and rape and what are the different penalties?

    Vachss: The reason is that it's an anomaly that's hung over. If you stopped any fifty people in the street, I don't believe you'd find one who would understand that, for example, a father having sex with his six-year-old daughter could be called incest. So, it's simply an anachronism in terms of law not having caught up to society. There's no legal justification for it. There's good reason for an incest prohibition but an incest prohibition is a societal message. For example, there is a law against adultery. How many people do you think go to jail for it?

    Todd: Very few.

    Vachss: OK. Never, in my life, have I heard of anybody going to jail for adultery. But, because of the sort of religious underpinning of the country, that law stays on the books as a way of expressing a view. So, it's fine to have a law in the book that expresses the view that first cousins shouldn't interbreed, but in reality, I've never heard of anybody going to jail for what amounts to adult-consensual incest.

    Todd: Would there be probation or anything?

    Vachss: Oh yeah, I've seen people prosecuted for it, but, again, it's such an after-the-fact thing that nobody expects it to alter the conduct of the party. I've personally been in numerous cases where there's been incest babies, but all of those involved children being sexually accessed, not adults. First of all, the FBI does not break out incest as an index crime. We've attempted to run Bureau of Justice statistics and we don't see any statistics being kept on incest.

    Todd: Even though there aren't statistical numbers, how widespread would incest and child abuse to be?

    Vachss: You mean adult incest? Or you mean sexual activity within a family with a child as a victim? Those are really different things to me.

    Todd: The second one.

    Vachss: First of all, that doesn't get broken out as incest, but in terms of the numbers of children who have been sexually abused each year, obviously they're monstrously significant numbers or you wouldn't have every single state legislating against it. That's not really debatable. What's debatable here is why any human being should get special dispensation from the law for having the good taste to have sex with his own child as opposed to a neighbor's child. And that, if you examine it historically, as you seem to be interested in doing, stems from property rights.

    Todd: That's what I was trying to figure out.

    Vachss: Sure. Because, look, I have the legal right to burn down my own house. I can't burn down yours. Well, apparently, I have some degree of legal right to have sex with my own kid but not with yours. If you look at the radical disparity in penalty, I think that's true.

    Todd: Oprah Winfrey was helpful in passing the National Child Protection Act.

    Vachss: I don't think it could have been passed without her. I think it justifiably deserves to be called the Oprah Bill, as many do, because without her financing it just couldn't have happened as quickly. Most of these efforts, and even that effort, take years.

    Todd: Am I correct in remembering that it passed the House 416 to 0.

    Vachss: I don't believe there was any opposition.

    Todd: My question would be, what would be the opposition to it?

    Vachss: Who would oppose the CARE Act would be very quiet about it. I think there are people who certainly wouldn't want it passed. Certainly, no American thinks any politician is exempt from any form of hideous conduct but I can't see them committing political suicide and standing up on the floor of Congress and saying, "Yeah, I believe people who fuck their own babies should be appealed," and that's, in effect, what they'd be saying.

    Todd: What are the largest hurdles for the CARE Act right now? What are the stipulations that people are bugged about?

    Vachss: None. Let me be fair. There are, "child advocates" who take the position that since, theoretically, if the federal legislation was passed and State X didn't adopt a version, it could lose a percentage of its Child Abuse, Prevention, and Treatment Act funding since that funding is going for [in facetious voice] "the children and I don't want do anything that could possibly negatively impact the children." Bleah. And there area few prosecutors who treat their discretion as some sort of sacred thing and anything that interferes with their discretion, they're opposed to. They don't care what it could be. It could be three strikes, it could be anything. There will always be prosecutors opposed because they want to be the ones who make that decision. But if you leave that aside, the problem with the CARE Act is its lack of constituency.

    Todd: Meaning lack of people trying to push it through?

    Vachss: No, no. Let me ask you a question.

    Todd: Sure.

    Vachss: Why is the NRA so powerful?

    Todd: Lobbying?

    Vachss: Nope. Don't agree.

    Todd: Lots of members?

    Vachss: Don't agree.

    Todd: One focus?

    Vachss: Yes and that makes them a deliverable block of votes. Take the gun issue. The people on the other side of the gun issue - they haven't got any focus. They don't want people to own handguns but they also want whales protected, they don't want people to smoke cigarettes. The list is a smorgasbord. Therefore, they're unfeared by most politicians. There is no single issue constituency for children in this country because any jackass - NAMBLA bills itself as a child advocacy organization - so, it's a self-awarded title that means nothing. There is no group that could say, "Mr. Senator, here's the deal. If you vote for this act, we're going to have a million people supporting you, voting for you, raising money for you, advocating for you, and if you don't, we don't care if your opponent is Satan, those million votes will go to him." Which is the NRA's position. The NRA is unconcerned about minutia like taxes, the environment, war, poverty, famine, disease, you see?

    Todd: Or specifically who runs the country, as long as they support the NRA.

    Vachss: They don't care. That's exactly right. Beelzebub could be running.

    Todd: And it would be, "Nice halo of flies, guy."

    Vachss: Sure. So, as a result, they're taken deadly seriously. Whereas the people who are "concerned about children," have never formed that focused constituency because, you know what, they spend all of their time either fighting over grants, among each other, fighting over territory, or demanding that they be the spokesperson. In this country, there is not a child protective lobby.

    Todd: Interesting.

    Vachss: I dare you to find one.

    Todd: I was doing a lot of searching for one, specifically, and I found little to no information... changing gears, does this fit into the dynamics of abuse? Those who are abusing want to cover their tracks. Those who are abused are scared or ashamed and can't find the vent for the abuse, and those who aren't directly in the cycle don't want to hear about it because it's really ugly stuff.

    Vachss: Except for the latter, I agree with you. I think there are plenty of people who have some concern about this issue but they have never - just by nature of the political temperament of that kind of person, they're not fanatics and it the squeaky hinge that gets the oil. See, the NRA's bankrupt. It's not their lobby. It's not their money. It's the deliverable block of votes and I don't know any group - for kids, you see - that can promise that. The Mormons can promise that in Utah. Hell, there's places in this country where the Klan can promise it, but I don't know any place where children can promise it and if you look at any organization involving kids, each of them is setting themselves up as the only game in town. There has never been a coalition. No one's ever willing to say, "I'll drop my personal issues on this long enough to get yours passed and then you can help me with mine."

    Todd: Has Oprah tried, since she was successful with the National Child Protection Act, to step into this arena?

    Vachss: It's not a question of stepping into the arena. It was much more Oprah's money than it was anything else that was done. The only time she spoke of this is when I was on television with her. And that was several times, sure, but it was really me talking about her saying, "Yeah." I'm not saying she wasn't supportive, but you if have looked at Oprah's shows the last year or so or two years, or three years even, they are not exactly what you'd call issue-oriented. And her constituency... if there was legislation about makeovers, I think maybe... She can get, certainly, I don't know, people to write letters, but she's not going to get anybody, that I can see, to be obsessed about the passage of a particular piece of legislation. It's not a referendum system. If it was a referendum system that we had nationally, I believe we could get it passed. I absolutely do.

    Todd: Is there any way a grassroots effort can bring this up on a referendum?

    Vachss: Not federally, no. There's no legislative process where there can be a national referendum. You're talking about something as big as a plebiscite. My goodness, if you look at the history of the ERA, a struggle that you think couldn't be lost...

    Todd: Is still going on, full throttle...

    Vachss: Yeah. Also, you've got to remember, for politicians, you have to offer them some inducement other than "It's the right thing to do."

    Todd: Correct. I think, "It's the right thing to do and we can do it on your term. It can be finished and your name can be on that bill."

    Vachss: That's right. The good part about it is the bill really appeals to those who want to see it as an anti-crime measure. "Let's make child molesters do more time" kind of thing. And those who see it as a child protective measure. And it has no tax consequences, so you don't have that handicap. But the fact that something's beneficial or valuable or even righteous has never been enough, in and of itself, to move Congress.

    Todd: I think the family values platform is really, really nice to say but it's really vague at the same time.

    Vachss: Let me tell you something. Family values is beyond vague. Remember, I've been doing this a long time and I can't tell you how many times I've stood up in court and had some defense attorney talk about the need to keep the family united even though daddy's been raping his daughter.

    Todd: Right. So biological dysfunction is better than anything else.

    Vachss: That's exactly right. Abberational biology, the hell with behavior. I did one TV show - I don't remember which - this is probably not the one that got me audited but pretty close. No, it was later on in my career. It was when Reagan was in the White House when I first got audited. Someone asked me about family values, and I said "Who's the biggest spokesperson for family values?" And they said, "Dan Quayle." And I said, "If I was Dan Quayle, I would be for family values, too, because if it wasn't for his family, he'd be flipping burgers." It's family values in the sense of how much money does your family make that it values. Look, the law schools are full of people who are there because of their family. We're probably in the third or fourth generation of politicians now that are all connected. Udall's son is in Congress, you see. How many generations of Kennedy? Yeah, family values, that's nice. Certainly, John Gotti could have something to say about family values.

    Todd: He runs a tight operation.

    Vachss: Also, the right to define is the right to control. So, let's say you and I agree that communism is bad, if we agree to that, all we have to do is say "This guy's a communist," and we wouldn't have any more dispute.

    Todd: And then we could have a trial, and it'll be all right.

    Vachss: Sure. But when it comes to something like family values, it's way too nebulous - I mean, I really consider it a family value that somebody who sexually assaults his own child is drummed out of the human race. I don't mean killed but we don't consider him one of us.

    Todd: Why wouldn't you want to kill molesters?

    Vachss: I'm not in favor of capital punishment for a number of reasons.

    Todd: Is it just by the mechanisms that it takes so long in the appeals process and it creates some kind of celebrities?

    Vachss: Or that. You're very well read or else we think alike. All of that's true, plus, let's face it, there's the ever-looming prospect of a fatal mistake. But it does, absolutely, make celebrities out of the worst degenerates. It does cost more to kill somebody than it does to incarcerate them for life. That whole argument about "Why keep them locked up for life?" is bullshit. It's created an entire industry that shouldn't exist.

    Todd: By your own experiences, do you know how child molesters get treated in prison by other inmates?

    Vachss: Let me tell you the truth instead of what you've heard. How you get treated in prison depends on your size, your coldness, and your connections. I have been in prisons where people with the most reprehensible crimes you can imagine, everybody treats well. People with high-status crimes are hurt and abused and even killed. Because in there, it's very much a jungle mentality and if you bring power to the game, nobody's really concerned about the status of your crime. Now, it's true that if you fit the standard predatory pedophile definition and you're sort of a weak, ineffectual shrinking person, you're going to prison and people are going to take advantage of that but it's not because you're a child molester. That's an engrafted-on excuse.

    Todd: You don't have a dynamic personality, that type of thing.

    Vachss: Well, you could be good with your hands. That could be enough. Let me give you an example. Do you know who Albert DeSalvo is?

    Todd: No, I don't.

    Vachss: He was otherwise known as The Boston Strangler. How come he was never in protective custody? I mean, this is the guy who raped, tortured, and killed, what, fifteen grandmothers. You might check Albert DeSalvo's record and find out that he was also the light heavyweight boxing champion of Europe when he was in army. Albert was a bad guy. Albert could hurt you.

    Todd: Interesting. I've always wanted to know about that.

    Vachss: People have this idea that there's this cool prison subculture where the convicts shun...

    Todd: That there's a morality...

    Vachss: Forty years ago, sure, no question because forty years ago, the lowest thing you could be was not a child molester, it was an informant. People go into prison now, bragging about the other people they brought with them, for god's sakes. I mean, the people who are in protective custody are there because of specific hostility towards them, not because of their crime. And anyway, child molesters can easily be isolated in prison because all they have to do is opt for one of these treatment programs. There's separate housing, separate wing. If you look at the history of people killed in prison, look at prison stabbings, take a state, and you will see that it's Aryan Brotherhood against black Muslims, the Nazi Lowriders against the skinheads. It'll be about territory, it will be about a debt, it'll be about a sexual assault, but about a crime? No.

    Todd: You've said that true anger and hatred can be effective tools against abuse. Does this go against the current trend towards forgiveness or do you think that forgiveness by itself is faulty?

    Vachss: I think forgiveness by itself - let's face it - any doctrine which teaches forgiveness is probably written by perpetrators.

    Todd: Well, yeah, I was thinking of the Bible.

    Vachss: Let's just be honest about it - with forgiveness - that it is an individual choice and that the right belongs to the wronged, not society, but to the person actually wronged. Telling people that you can not heal unless you forgive is a pernicious, destructive lie because so many people say, "I can't forgive what they did to me so I'm doomed. I'll never heal." As if you had the obligation not only to be abused but to forgive the abuser. There's nothing about that dynamic that's psychologically correct. Nothing. In a way, it's supporting - I'm the therapist and I'm telling you - "Yeah, look Todd, I did these horrible things to you but you have to forgive them." So who am I advocating for there? Who's side am I on?

    Todd: You're advocating for the person who abused.

    Vachss: That's exactly right. That may have some religious validity, although I consider that an oxymoron, but I don't see where it has any therapeutic validity. And I'm not saying that everybody has to go kill their abuser or even everybody has to sue their abuser or even everyone has to simply stop any contact with their abuser, but the idea that they have to some how forgive the person that hurt them, for them to heal, it's just a lie, it's just not true. The healthiest people I know are people who say, "I hate them for what they did and I'm going to get even. The way I'm going to get even is I'm going to protect other children."

    Todd: Excellent.

    Vachss: That has been the single-most healing thing. You would not believe the volume of mail I get from people who read the books, who kind of identify with Burke's unrelenting hatred. And the result is, "Does this mean that I'm not crazy, because that's the way I feel."

    Todd: Shifting just a little bit again, do you think child abuse and incest haven't reached the main focus in the American conscious due to its impossibility of being televised on national TV? I'm thinking along the lines of the women who got mobbed in Central Park, where there are fourteen videos capturing that...

    Vachss: There are plenty of videos of children being abused.

    Todd: Has it been nationally syndicated?

    Vachss: Of course not. Those are videos for commercial sale. They're deliberately made for product. There's no question about that. I think the reason is, first of all, child abuse is an amorphous term, second of all, people operate off of religious belief as opposed to fact, so people say, "I believe there's an epidemic of false allegation." And other people will say, "I believe that no child ever lied about sexual abuse." Those are belief systems. They're not facts. I don't believe this country will ever come to grips with child abuse until they make the obvious, simple connection between today's victim and tomorrow's predator. As long as they believe a Ted Bundy or a John Wayne Gacy is a biogenetic mistake as opposed to a beast that was built and a monster that was made, they'll continue to blithely walk around, saying, "I'm against child abuse," whatever that means. Then there's also the people, who, for example, spanking freaks. "Oh, it's all right to spank children." "Oh, it's the correct thing." "Oh, it's biblically...," you know. Of course, I see these same people posting to boards that are all about spanking but they're spanking between adults and purely for erotic purposes. [facetiously] But, ahh, there's no connection, I'm sure. Never mind that pictures of children being "disciplined" are the hot topic. They're sold and traded all the time. That's not because people are connoisseurs of, you know, correcting children. I don't think America's going to do anything except of that of perceived self-interest. I think it is America's self-interest to really ruthlessly and relentlessly battle child abuse because the ones that are not protected, the ones that are not safe, some percentage of them will turn on us. Most of them will not. Most of them will turn on themselves. But if you don't think the societal cost in mental health services and drug addiction services and alcoholism services is not killing us... and where does that come from?

    Todd: It comes from the very beginning, from the seed of it.

    Vachss: Of course. The cost of early intervention in child abuse is like a dollar compared to a hundred thousand dollars for intervention in even juvenile violence, never mind adult violence.

    Todd: I was trying to parallel this in my mind the other day. I thought it a little weird that there's a long-time, incredibly expensive, dubious war on drugs and there's not even a battalion devoted to child's rights.

    Vachss: Amen. The war on drugs, Nancy Reagan has poisoned and ruined this country. Not only is the war absolutely futile - or if it's a war, we're all POWs, but it's poisoned pain management in this country to where people are dying in extraordinary pain because doctors don't want them to be drug addicts.

    Todd: There's a stigma attached to it.

    Vachss: To the doctor, not to the poor person who's in freakin' pain, but those decisions - doctors are more afraid of the DEA than they are the IRS. There has never been a war on drugs. It's silly. You've got to understand, it's just a question of privilege because there was also a war on booze, remember? The money from Prohibition financed organized crime right to this day. And if you don't think that the war on drugs isn't financing organized crime, you're absolutely crazy. If we had the money that we spent on this utterly futility... I don't care if people want to be dope fiends. I care what they do to get their drugs.

    Todd: And how they treat other people.

    Vachss: If you want to go in your house and shoot up, good for you. I don't give a damn. I really don't. But the cost of drug enforcement and the damage done by addicts and the cost of treating addicts, it's going to bankrupt this country. If we didn't have this bullshit, we could probably fund every single social program in the world times ten. We could feed Ethiopia. But, in this country, there's kids - we don't want kids to be dope fiends, that's very nice - as if there's really pushers hanging around school yards trying to get kids. What a canard. What nonsense.

    Todd: I grew up in a very small town and I got into trouble quite a bit. It was a very weird dynamic. The powers that be say, "Don't do anything destructive." And it was little things like skateboarding, but they wouldn't make a skate park. They wouldn't give you something to do, only say "Don't do it and just stand on the corner of the street and stare at something." They didn't provide any activity or anything that was really a viable alternative to a young mind.

    Vachss: They could do it. The money is certainly there. The money has been squandered on absolute, utter nonsense. It would be fine with me if we had an actual war on drugs. If you want to have a war, I've been in a war and I know what a war is. This isn't one.

    Todd: It kind of reminds me of the tactics of the Vietnam war. It's a completely shifting battleground. Battles are fought over non-sequential hills that are overtaken as soon as the forces are pulled out, and you still haven't engaged your enemy directly.

    Vachss: The enemy was undefeatable because the territory couldn't be occupied. If United States had "won" that war, what would we be doing? Would we have 175,000 troops in Vietnam now?

    Todd: No. I think we'd have cheaper motor scooters, that's about it.

    Vachss: The whole trade balance is utter hypocrisy. You can't expect a country to protect its own children when they get on their knees and say, "Oh God, we must have trade with China, ehh, don't worry about the human rights thing."

    Todd: I was curious about the current condition of The Domino Theory. Have they said, "This isn't good any more"?

    Vachss: I think they must have said that because ask the Russians about Afghanistan. The whole idea was to crank up a war machine. It was to do anything about stopping the spread of godless communism in southeast Asia. You ask yourself why they didn't attack Cuba, if that was their rationale. If the rationale was that this is a fascist government that's controlling the people and, you know, no freedom in this, no freedom in that, why don't they just... Cuba's just sitting over there. And it's another example of American hypocrisy, which is why people don't respect it. I have friends who are Mexican. They say to me, "What the fuck is this? If I'm a Cubano and I make it to the shore, everybody wants to give me a kiss and a job. But when I try to go across the goddamn Rio Grande, they want to shoot me. The rationale is that the Cubans are fleeing oppression. Have you been in Chiapas lately? Mexico's a booming, wonderful democracy because they make Volkswagens?

    Todd: Mexico's been controlled by the same party since 1929.

    Vachss: And by force.

    Todd: If somebody else wins, they just kill them.

    Vachss: They've done it and they've killed them in the street. So, when people flee that, and I would flee that, I wouldn't want to be there. Nah, they get turned back. But if they're Cuban, OK. That's one reason why when people talk about the Hispanic vote in this country, they're idiots. They don't realize that the Mexicans and Cubans are not exactly pals because of the disparity in their treatment by this government. It comes down to what? Deliverable block of votes. The same way Puerto Ricans have been a viable force of New York politics since, my god, the thirties.

    Todd: I think there were more Puerto Ricans in New York than Puerto Rico at one time.

    Vachss: Certainly than in San Juan, no question. That's because a politician, Envito Mark Antonio, long, long time ago got through legislation that Puerto Ricans could vote as Americans. I mean, it's not a state. Any time there's political power, children, by definition, never are going to have political power. What they're going to have is "spokespersons." There is no other group on the face of this earth - I don't care if they're mass murderers - that don't have one of their own as spokespersons.

    Todd: Concerning child protection laws, how would you rate America in the grand scheme of the world?

    Vachss: We're at the high end as to the law. Let me distinguish between law and law enforcement. We're not where the Scandinavian countries are, for example, which prohibit so-called corporal punishment.

    Todd: But we're no where near Thailand.

    Vachss: Australia's coming up strong. Australia's going to pass laws that are appropriate but I would definitely say America's at the high end in terms of a legislative scheme when it comes to kids. However, our legislative scheme does permit you to kill kids, right? You can be under twenty-one and be executed in the United States. And you can be thirteen and tried as an adult in the United States.

    Todd: I think it's getting lower and lower, too.

    Vachss: No, no. Every state has a different law but they all have one provision or another by which they can make a child into an adult. In New York, for example, at sixteen you are an adult. There's no judicial process involved. You shoot a guy on your sixteenth birthday, you're an adult. But on your fifteenth birthday, they would have to get permission to treat you as an adult. And they would have no trouble doing that because we have this theory that a thirteen-year-old, obviously couldn't sign a contract, couldn't drive a car, couldn't vote, couldn't drink, but, by virtue of the maturing experience of having killed other human beings, they are old enough for criminal justice purposes.

    Todd: Maybe we should just fire guns at people, to get them smarter and instantaneously growing up.

    Vachss: I can tell you that having guns fired at you makes you smart for a very brief period of time. It does make you smart for the moment.

    Todd: It makes your legs smart, too.

    Vachss: The people who are not smart don't have a continued experience of being shot at. Did you know that the United States has not signed a U.N. convention on the rights of the child?

    Todd: Really?

    Vachss: Because it prohibits the death penalty. [facetiously] We're not going to do that because the death penalty has been proved to be such a potent weapon against crime. We kill more than everybody else but we seem to have more murders than everybody else. Duh.

    Todd: And I don't think it's because of drugs.

    Vachss: No. It's not because of drugs. It really has a reason. I mean, look, there are a lot of murders that are just, you know, stupid murders, but the sociopathic murders that scare us the most, those people are not born bad. They're just not. There's no isolateable, chromosome or gene or combination that produces murderers.

    Todd: Do you think that some people are born evil?

    Vachss: No, but certainly there are people whose triggers are set differently. On the other hand, lots of those people never grow up to be vicious criminals. There are checks and balances. We're all different in that respect, but born evil - evil's a choice. To be evil, you have to volitionally chose conduct.

    Todd: Right, or be exposed to that conduct and not know the difference.

    Vachss: Nope, you still have to imitate it before you could be called evil. You could be exposed to it endlessly but doesn't mean that you copy it.

    Todd: That's true. I was thinking about that the other day, too. About if you had a serial killer and he had a twin brother or she had a twin sister, what was the difference between the two? One's successful, or definitely not out killing other people, what is that trigger, what is that margin?

    Vachss: Remember, too, that some of these twin studies are badly flawed because they say, "Look, there were two twins and they both turned out to be bad, which says something about genetics." And then you say, "Geez, were they separated at birth or were they raised in the same home? If they were raised in the same household, what are you saying?" I, personally, have had families in my caseload that literally, third and forth generation, every goddamn one of them, was a rapist, a murder, a thief, an arsonist, everything you could think of, not because their strain of genes was bad but because their intra-familiar culture was...

    Todd: ...systematic, repeated abuse.

    Vachss: You have a choice. Look at any juvenile prison. You see a kid come in there. He looks around. He figures it out almost immediately. There's predators and there's prey. The way you can tell the prey is they're forced into sex acts, for example. So if I force somebody into a sex act, therefore, I put myself on a different side of the fence. It's a lot of adaptive, survival-driven behavior that's pretty damn ugly.

    Todd: What can you tell me that can make our readers angry? You've said, "Informed, inactive people are just as useless as ignorant people."

    Vachss: That's right.

    Todd: Can you give me some information that could, possibly, drive people into action.

    Vachss: Yeah. The information is, you've been hosed. You don't know that there is a law that permits special, more lenient treatment of people who rape their own kids.

    Todd: So if you can raise them, you can raze them.

    Vachss: The ownership of kids to that extent - people don't know this - in people's minds, incest is much older. When people think of incest, they think of a seventeen-year-old girl and her stepfather. They haven't been told the truth, and more importantly, you know I think it would make people really angry if they understood, that government priorities as such, that monsters continued to be made, beasts continued to be built, and all government will offer them is a eulogy at their funeral when the grown victim turns predator. Because all this three strikes stuff, all this "let's lock them up and throw away the key," I mean, that's just so much after the fact.

    Todd: That's when the curtain's falling instead of the first act.

    Vachss: Sure. What you said before is true. A politician will not support something that won't bear fruit within his term of office and when you're talking about intervening in child abuse, so as to protect one generation removed, no politician wants to touch that.

    Todd: No self interest in that.

    Vachss: No, because he can't. With the exception of a Strom Thurman, who's going to be around to say, "I can take credit for it."?

    Todd: Just for my own curiosity, do you know any famous people that have been convicted as pedophiles or have been up for incest charges?

    Vachss: Are you serious?

    Todd: Yeah.

    Vachss: OK. Roman Polanski. He's sitting in France. An exiled hero to the Hollywood community, but in fact, he was convicted of sex with a twelve-year-old girl and decided to not hang around and go to jail. So there's this great campaign to get poor Roman back into this country. There's been all kinds of people convicted of having sex with their own child but I don't know about famous people. What I would say is there aren't a whole lot of rich and famous people in jail for anything.

    Todd: You could probably crash a plane into my house and they'd probably arrest me for providing a bumpy landing.

    Vachss: I think that people acknowledge that there's truth to the fact the criminal justice system's not exactly your basic, level playing field.

    Todd: I got the impression, doing research on you ? why are people trying to kill you? Or why is there such a secrecy around you?

    Vachss: I don't know that either of those things are true. Certainly, I've had my share of stupid threats over the years and in the course of my work as an investigator and other things, yeah, you're in violent places, violent things happen. I had a law office in New York City for many years and a day didn't go by without some degenerate simply using the phone lines or using the fax machines for his or her own entertainment. When I practiced law full time, that was just something I had to bear. I don't now because I've switched to sort of a different type of work. I still do court room work but they're selective shots not open to business to everybody. My home address has never been public and never would be. I don't know why anybody would make their home address public, to be honest with you.

    Todd: No way. ON a much smaller scale, I help operate a small magazine. I want to keep the two - home and work - separate. I want to go home and not have to answer the phone.

    Vachss: That's right. I don't think that's unique. I take precautions because I teach people to take themselves seriously and I intend to take myself seriously. In other words, I'm proud that I'm on the enemies list of the International Pedophile Liberation Front but I don't dismiss people who send me pictures of myself with my face covered by a cross hair or people who send funeral cards or even people who call up and say, "You're dead." Are they far more likely than not freakish little windbags? Yes. Sure. I pity the fool who would find my house and break into it, unless somebody has a real affection for pitbulls.

    Todd: I get the feeling, and I really appreciate this, is that you're not solely there for child's rights because child's rights is a good thing and a wholesome thing to do, but you're going after the predators themselves.

    Vachss: I've never pretended that I've got any great, special, unique love for children. That's not me. I hate the people who prey on them, but I'm doing it as a pragmatic warrior. I think the greatest threat to this country's long-term existence is not communism and it's not cocaine. It is that no society can survive if we let too much of it prey on its own young. We just won't survive. The quality of our lives, everything that we hate about our lives is somehow connected to sociopathy and sociopathy is nothing more than ambulatory humans with no sense of empathy. They feel only about their own feelings. They care only about their own pain. And I'm not saying they're all serial killers. Some are selling used cars, some are on Capitol Hill but they're all pernicious to us because they're not of us and the only way you get that is when the socialization process is skewed. When a baby's born, it has no empathy. It just has its own needs.

    Todd: It's just receptive.

    Vachss: Sure. What else could an infant do? But they learn empathy through socialization. If they get sodomy instead of socialization, some percentage of them are going to get very, very dangerous. And it's not a question of a moral obligation, although it is one, it's pragmatism. We just can't keep building this thing to critical mass.

    Todd: That's very interesting. In my line of work, I deal with a lot of racism: counter and pro and I'm always looking for something that's more elemental than skin color or creed.

    Vachss: I know more about that than almost anybody because when I hear the term African American, my hair on the back of my neck stands up because I was in the middle, as you probably know, of a genocidal tribal war in Africa.

    Todd: In Biafra, right.

    Vachss: Black people, African people, people - you can't even call it a country because it's a war zone not a country - trying to exterminate one another. And if you think that's unique, check Rwanda.

    Todd: The Tutsis versus the Hutus.

    Vachss: What's happening is that racism isn't the problem, it's tribalism that's the problem.

    Todd: My brother was in Bosnia and he said that the Croats and the Serbs hate one another. They live across a river and have hated one another forever...

    Vachss: ...And try to wipe each other out. And the Serbs and Croats are, ethnically, highly different. I mean, they're both Caucasian. The reality to racism is that even if each race lives separately, we have proven that that won't bring peace and harmony.

    Todd: Definitely not. It'll just give them time to sharpen their weapons.

    Vachss: What happens with racism is that it's become a great source for profiteers because you can explain to any inbred moron that the reason his life is so terrible is because of somebody else, and he'll buy it because he's not very smart but he'll not only buy it, but he'll act on it. If you look - and, actually, that's what my new book is about - the fusion between the extreme left and the extreme right on these issues because if you look really closely at the current Nazi dynamic, you'll notice something really different about their recruiting. You've got young people, say skinheads, right, who are Greek, are Italian.

    Todd: I've known Jewish skinheads.

    Vachss: Well, that's a psychiatric disturbance. There have always been Jews in the Nazi party and they're just sick humans. But there are people of an ethnicity that's not Aryan, so what they've done to increase recruitment - because they were never about racism, they were about power - is that they say, "Oh, you guys are welcome. You guys are perfectly qualified to be Aryan." Well, Hitler would be spinning in his grave - "Greeks? Are you kidding me? Fucking gypsies? Italians? Mediterraneans? Spaniards?" Look at the Nazi Lowriders. They're Latino. They don't really have any sense of all of this, but it's always been a fact. When I was a kid, when the cops would bust teenagers, the real dark-skinned Puerto Rican kids would only speak Spanish because they didn't want to be mistaken for black, see? Racism's horseshit in this country anyway. For example, if you have a black girlfriend, you're somewhat suspect, but if you have an Asian girlfriend, she's exotic. Racism really isn't an issue because the profiteers at the top of the pyramid are not racist any more than the people at the top of a drug cartel are dope fiends or any more than the people who are running huge kiddie porn rings are pedophiles. They're profiteers.

    Todd: They're just dealing in a different material than Microsoft is.

    Vachss: Sure.

    Todd: Is that what your book, Dead and Gone, is about?

    Vachss: Dead and Gone, the truth is if you look at the one area where the extreme left and the extreme right don't have any dispute with each other is about how children can be used. I mean, Allen Ginsburg, you know who he is, is a member of NAMBLA. Well, I mean he's also a Jew and probably you'd think that the extreme rightists would hate him, and yet when it comes to using children for their own fun, there is no dispute. It's like a Moebius Strip. They're not really separate. I'll give you another example. There's one thing that absolutely unites the extreme left and the extreme right - and although they don't speak to each other, they're united about one thing: fear of registration.

    Todd: Can you explain that?

    Vachss: Sure. If you look at any of the gun people, what they're always talking about is they don't want to be registered because the government's keeping lists.

    Todd: A database.

    Vachss: Right. And they're going to move on them some day. Well, it's the exact same thing with the anarchists who are allegedly the extreme left. See? Actually, it's not a line, it really is a spinning continuum and there's points where they intersect. If you scratch a severe enough liberal, you'll always see a fascist. This is very important because you don't combat ideology, you don't combat skin color, you combat conduct and we tend not to look at conduct. We tend to look at trappings: color, things like that.

    Todd: Boxes to put things in.

    Vachss: Sure, because that makes it simple and that makes it convenient. So when it's put against child abuse, when you ask them to define it, you're going to get different definitions from different people.

    Todd: That's helpful.

    Vachss: Take a dozen people, and ask "Define child abuse." And they won't be able to do it and fair enough. That's the fault of our lawmakers who have not been really clear. Child abuse cases, which might be tried in family court, can be any kind of horrible - I've been in homicide cases that were prosecuted as child abuse but there's other people who have been accused for child abuse for slapping their kids.

    Todd: Has there ever been child abuse cases for just mental abuse?

    Vachss: Oh yeah, and I would never precede mental abuse with the word "just," because it's probably the most damaging of all.

    Todd: Right, because scars can heal.

    Vachss: That's right and the other thing is that it doesn't change you as much. The most common - in the people who have studied serial killers - what they're shocked about is what's so prevalent isn't sexual abuse, not even physical abuse, but emotional abuse. Unless the child - and there's a critical period in which this can happen - bonds he becomes that hypothetical lone wolf, that sociopath. You can't bond when what you're told, "I, the adult, won't bond with you. I won't accept you. You're a worthless piece of crap. I'm sorry I ever gave birth to you. You're fat, you're dumb, you're ugly, you're stupid. You're not mine. I'm ashamed of you." On and on and on. Those detachment disorders have caused more dangerous people than physical abuse or sexual abuse. When I wrote about emotional abuse for Parade, I got 6,500 plus letters. We were staggered. This one absolutely hit a nerve, so many people saying, "Thank you, Jesus, for finally recognizing that my pain's just as much as somebody who's suffered from being beaten or being raped.

    Todd: A word lashing is even worse that a belt lashing.

    Vachss: It's worse when it's systematic. Any kind of kind of outburst in the world can be cured.

    Todd: Can you give me some contact information so people can find out more about the stuff we've been talking about today?

    Vachss: The best one: That one, if you ever click on "resources" there, you can spend several hours. It's not like, "Here's some hot links" crap. It's really thorough. It's brilliantly indexed. I had a lot of people work on it. That's the best one-stop shop. If they just want the CARE Act, it's Read more »
  • A.S. Neill

    A.S. Neill
    Alexander Sutherland Neill (17 October 1883 - 23 September 1973) was a Scottish progressive educator, author and founder of Summerhill school, which remains open and continues to follow his educational philosophy to this day. He is best known as an advocate of personal freedom for children.

    Neill believed that the happiness of the child should be the paramount consideration in decisions about the child's upbringing, and that this happiness grew from a sense of personal freedom. He felt that deprivation of this sense of freedom during childhood, and the consequent unhappiness experienced by the repressed child, was responsible for many of the psychological disorders of adulthood.

    The main focus of educational interest and research at that time was the question of how best to produce obedient soldiers who would uncritically follow orders in battle, so Neill's ideas, which tried to help children achieve self-determination and encouraged critical thinking rather than blind obedience, were seen as backward, radical, or at best, controversial.

    Many of Neill's ideas are widely accepted today, although there are still many more "traditional" thinkers within the educational establishment who regard Neill's ideas as threatening the existing social order, and therefore controversial.

    In 1921 Neill founded Summerhill School to demonstrate his educational theories in practice. These included a belief that children learn better when they are not compelled to attend lessons. The school is also managed democratically, with regular meetings to determine school rules. Pupils have equal voting rights with school staff.

    Neill's Summerhill School experience demonstrated that, free from the coercion of traditional schools, students tended to respond by developing self-motivation, rather than self-indulgence. Externally imposed discipline, Neill felt, actually prevented internal, self-discipline from developing. He therefore considered that children who attended Summerhill were likely to emerge with better-developed critical thinking skills and greater self-discipline than children educated in compulsion-based schools.

    These tendencies were perhaps all the more remarkable considering that the children accepted by Summerhill were often from problematic backgrounds, where parental conflict or neglect had resulted in children arriving in a particularly unhappy state of mind. The therapeutic value of Summerhill's environment was demonstrated by the improvement of many children who had been rejected by conventional schools, yet flourished at Summerhill.

    Strongly influenced by the contemporary work of Sigmund Freud and Wilhelm Reich, Neill was opposed to sexual repression and the imposition of the strict Victorian values of his childhood era. He stated clearly that to be anti-sex was to be anti-life. Naturally, these views made him unpopular with many establishment figures of the time.

    Source: Wikipedia

    The Summerhill School has their own website:


    • A Dominie’s Log (1915)
    • A Dominie Dismissed (1916)
    • Booming of Bunkie (1919)
    • Carroty Broon (1920)
    • A Dominie in Doubt (1920)
    • A Dominie Abroad (1922)
    • A Dominie’s Five (1924)
    • The Problem Child (1926)
    • The Problem Parent (1932)
    • Is Scotland Educated? (1936)
    • That Dreadful School (1937)
    • The Last Man Alive (1938)
    • The Problem Teacher (1939)
    • Hearts Not Heads in the School (1945)
    • The Problem Family (1949)
    • The Free Child (1953)
    • Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Child Rearing (Preface by Erich Fromm (1960)
    • Freedom, Not License! (1966)
    • Talking of Summerhill (1967)
    • Children's Rights: Toward the Liberation of the Child (with Leila Berg, Paul Adams, Nan Berger, Michael Duane, and Robert Ollendorff) (1971)
    • Neill, Neill, Orange Peel! (1972)

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