My life is adorned with children. Some are my relatives but most are the offspring of friends and acquaintances. I find these young ones amazingly beautiful, creative and smart. Disregarding implausible explanations such as alien presences among us or unlikely mutations, my guess is that this is simply the direct result of two full human generations of good prenatal and childhood nutrition. Rather than being unusual, this is normal; this is how people are supposed to be.
When agriculture was invented, about twenty to thirty thousand years ago, people became tethered to the land in a way that had not been so when they were hunter-gatherers. Drought, floods, earthquakes. storms and fires had little effect on nomadic hunter-gatherers: if things were bad in one spot, they migrated to another spot, dealt with the native inhabitants well or poorly, killing them and taking their women, or being killed and having their women taken, but in any event, the survivors had enough to eat. The average height of men in Paleolithic France was five feet ten inches, with strong, well-formed bones. The women had an easy time of it in childbirth, and the children were well-nourished, with strong straight teeth. People (by whatever definition) died at an average of thirty-five years, and the population was small, which likely has less to do with starvation and disease and more to do with living in a society that thrived on vengeance, incessant low-grade warfare and simple, bone-mean, red-handed murder. About half the population died violent deaths. The breeding survivors, after five million years of this attrition, were the smartest, the nastiest, the most ruthless and cunning, and their offspring were progressively more so, until in short order, the only foe worthy of the emerging proto-human was another one. War, in short, made us human. Or at least, it eliminated all the other contenders.
Converting Able the hunter-gatherer into an agrarian Cain was hard and slow, but eventually the fratricidal brother won out. The population of the world increased to a steady half-billion or so, and there it remained until the beginning of the industrial revolution. The average height of men dropped by six inches or more, and people still died at what we now consider an early age, except now the cause was malnutrition, famine, plague and pestilence. Of course they kept on murdering each other, and getting better at it, because that is what people do.
My parents, and their parents before them, and their parents, all the way back to the Neolithic revolution, endured periods of severe deprivation, attested by seasonal growth-arrest lines in the bones of children and an endemic, high incidence of dental disease. Women were chronically malnourished, and in consequence pelvic inlet depth decreased, making childbirth not only more difficult, but a great deal more dangerous. In addition, at least half of all these hard-won babies died before they were five years old. During the Depression, my grandmother scrounged milk for her children and students, and often the only food they had was a pint of milk a day. Two of her three daughters died before reaching puberty. The surviving daughter, my mother, went temporarily night-blind from malnutrition. At the beginning of World War Two, the requirement for enlistment in the Armed Services was that you had to weigh at least 110 pounds, be able to see out of both eyes, have at least half your teeth, not have flat feet, and be able to satisfy the most basic standard of literacy, that is, to be able to write your own name and recognize it when you saw it. This last was soon discarded, as too many otherwise suitable recruits were unable to do so. These were the children of poverty and starvation.
At the close of World War Two, the United States emerged as the only intact economy in the world. We had food in abundance, and manufacturing power to spare. Pelvic inlet depth has gone up steadily since 1980, children in all post-industrial nations are routinely taller than their parents, and life expectancy is twice that of my great-great grandparents time. I never went hungry, and the next generation of Americans never went hungry, and now the emerging third generation is unlike any we've seen for thirty thousand years: humans as they were meant to be. It's about time.
(June 30, 2012)
"Mood Indigo" (1930) music by Duke Ellington & Barney Bigard, lyrics by Irving Mills. The term "indigo children" originated with parapsychologist and self-described synesthete and psychic Nancy Ann Tappe, who developed the concept in the 1970s. Tappe published the book "Understanding Your Life Through Color" in 1982, describing the concept, stating that during the mid 1960s she began noticing that many children were being born with "indigo" auras (in other publications Tappe has said the color indigo came from the "life colors" of the children which she acquired through her synesthesia). The idea was later popularized in the 1998 book "The Indigo Children: The New Kids Have Arrived," written by husband and wife self-help lecturers Lee Caroll and Jan Tober.
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