Blog 13) ‘Why Prima worked’

‘Why Prima works’


 “And these children that you spit on

As they try to change their worlds

Are immune to your consultations

They’re quite aware of what they’re going through”

 David Bowie

 It’s instructive, in the context of the Prima concept, to look at the traditional ways in which the Western world has attempted to effect great moral and social macro reforms: beginning with the ‘Axial Age’, the first great efforts were directed at transforming the individual via moral and ethical exhortation, within a particular faith tradition. Such religious approaches (which continue to be employed to this day) clearly imply a model of the human organism which incorporates the following assumption: each human being can exercise a faculty called ‘the Will’. For the last two thousand years, this has generally been regard as virtually all-powerful in the determining of human behaviour. (As Shakespeare has Caesar say; “The cause is in my will.”)

Within this worldview, it made sense for religious leaders to baldly specify the particular ways in which they believed that people should behave and then simply exhort them to exercise their ‘Will’. The belief was that if people had the ‘moral fibre’, ethical courage, or whatever else was believed necessary to motivate an exertion of the Will, then human behaviour could be transformed in the desired direction. Since about 1850, Western science and philosophy has systematically undermined and deconstructed this belief.

I think that the current view of our philosophical-scientific community can be summarised as follows: in matters of everyday habit, our behaviour is almost entirely determined by our genes and conditioning. So, even if our habitual patterns of behaviour have very negative consequences (such as smoking or excessive drinking), they cannot be changed by a ‘single act of will’. On the other hand, breaking such bad habits, and other ‘long-pondered decisions’, such as committing suicide, getting divorced or changing job, require a long process of analysing relevant information and mobilising our relevant mental and emotional resources. Even when the decision emerges, it will still be deeply influenced by genetic and early-environmental factors.

In other words, the more or less mythical conception of the power of the will which prevailed among religious authorities was not a viable force for progressive social change: telling people that they ought to behave better, when their early conditioning causes them to behave in contrary ways, is not an effective strategy. This is a fairly well-established, scientific fact. This, of course, has not prevented religious spokespeople from frequently and continually repeating the traditional moral exhortations of organised religion, not only from the pulpit, but also via every form of modern mass communications.

The second great tradition of progressive social change had its roots in the Scientific Revolution of the 1600s. By the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, several major philosophers and social theorists were proposing that social transformation could be achieved by manipulating or working in harmony with some great ‘macro-social system’, which underlay social life and determined human behaviour. Let’s call this the Marxist-Behaviouralist-Structuralist tradition. As we now know, there were two major theoretical lacunae in all of these schools of thought: firstly, a complete ignorance of the powerful influence which biological evolution continues to have over human behaviour. Secondly, the complete absence of both an effective social psychology and a science of individual human development.

And, of course, it is precisely the possession of these vital pieces of theoretical kit that has enabled the Prima concept to emerge. Unlike the religious traditions, it does not simply ask people to contradict their genetic and environmental conditioning and expect them (in some magical way) to respond positively. Unlike the ‘Macro-Structuralist’ tradition it does not assume that the human self is a product of the social system and that, consequently, the individual self can be transformed (even in adults) by major ‘re-structurings’ of the ‘system’. Instead Prima draws its inspiration from the science of human development.

This science has established that human personality, temperament and character emerge from the combined influence of individual genes plus the quality of the environment of the foetus and infant from six months prior to birth to around five years of age. The genes have a ‘built-in expectation’ that the infant’s environment will contain, not only its immediate, care-giving parents, but also up to 150 other infants and adults, with whom the infant will interact intensively and many of whom it will bond with. Consequently, Prima concerns itself, not with mythical and mistaken theories of the origins of human behaviour, but with the actual micro-processes and group interactions which science indicates are the principle causes of life-long patterns of behaviour.

We can conclude that our way forward as a species lies not in subjecting people to moralistic lectures, nor in futile utopian efforts to rigidly control the social system, but rather in practical efforts to create the optimal environment for our children at the start of life. If you want to positively transform social life – change people not the system! If you want to change people, save your moralistic breath and radically improve the quality of their early lives!