New Paper on Relationship Between Pleasure and Violence

New Paper on Relationship Between Pleasure and Violence
James W. Prescott, Ph.D. (2005): Prevention Or Therapy And The Politics of Trust: Inspiring a New Human Agenda.

This is a reprint of an article published in: Psychotherapy and Politics International (2005) 3(3):194-211, Copyright 2005. Copyright John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. (last modified Saturday, 31-Dec-2005 21:12:48 CET). at:

by Dr. Susan Block
1/2/2006 - 5:06:52 PM

My favorite, developmental neuropsychologist, Dr. James Prescott (former Health Scientist Administrator of the Developmental Behavioral Biology Program, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development) has just finished a new article “Prevention or Therapy and The Politics of Trust: Inspiring a New Human Agenda,” published in Psychotherapy and Politics. It is a very important paper that examines the relationship between violence and mother-infant bonding, sexuality and religion.

My first encounter with Dr. Prescott’s work occurred when someone who heard me give a talk on Ethical Hedonism sent me an extraordinary article published in “The Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists” way back in the old hippie-swinger days of November 1975. I wasn’t sent this article until 1992, and even though it was almost 20 years later, it blew me away with its timeliness. It was called “Body Pleasure and the Origins of Violence.” Its basic underlying theory was something that I already knew in my bones: pleasure fosters peace. Put in Prescott’s terms of somatosensory pleasure deprivation: “Our brains have a built-in reciprocal relationship between pleasure and violence. When the pleasure systems of the brain are activated, they inhibit the neural systems that mediate violence.”

Using considerable, in-depth research on non-human primate as well as formal, systematic studies of 49 different non-industrialized human cultures (ie., the Zuni Indians and Trobriand Islanders) and more informal analyses of modern cultures, Prescott clearly and convincingly demonstrates how the deprivation of physical sensory pleasure—especially in the early stages of life—is a root cause of physical violence. Prescott’s theories, along with the bonobo chimpanzees, my own bonobo-style marriage and other bonobo friends and lovers, inspired me write The 10 Commandments of Pleasure where I quote Dr. Prescott’s work.

Now it’s over 30 years after that seminal article was published, but most of what Prescott wrote back in 1975 could easily have been written now. As he concluded then, “the data clearly indicates that punitive-repressive attitudes toward extramarital sex are also linked with physical violence, personal crime, and the practice of slavery…Available data clearly indicates that the rigid values of monogamy, chastity, and virginity help produce physical violence.Societies which value monogamy emphasize military glory and worship aggressive gods.”

These conclusions can’t help but bring to mind modern American society which greatly values monogamy, a cornerstone of “Family Values.” And here we are, up to our monogamous necks in military aggression! How does the one seem to lead to the other? Prescott’s new piece on “The Politics of Trust” fleshes out his theories with more data, including the Canela tribe of South America, and with recent research on bonobos.

As Prescott wrote me personally, accompanying his announcement of the new article’s publication, he feels it “will not be well received as it lays accountability for the pathological violence of homo sapiens to the monotheistic religions, sexual puritanism and failure to form the foundation in brain structure and function for affectional bonding behaviors.”

Unfortunately, he’s probably right. There’s plenty of interest and tax money for conducting specious research on whether pornography causes violence (and they never do find that it does, no matter how hard they try). But there’s barely an open ear to how monotheism and monogamy, coupled with lack of sufficient physical maternal-infant bonding and pleasure deprivation in childhood and adolescence, might play a part in making our culture as violent and militaristic as it is today.

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