Babies Are Us

We’ve Made Them, So You  
May Love Them Wholesale

Who knew? Anyone would be flabbergasted by what used to be prescribed to calm fussy babies just a century ago. Hint: it wasn’t milk and honey. More: there’s a lot of sense in taking newborns seriously when they’re under stress. The payoff: happier adults. Plus, when people tell you that you’ve got to see the baby, that their baby is a doll, run, run and never look back. The fact is, the Industrial Revolution forced a new approach to early childhood and even today, we don’t know much what to do about it.
In the 1800s, drugs now considered scourges of our times were readily available, from heroin to cocaine to absinthe. That’s why people would pour opium and alcohol-infused syrup down the throat of five-day-old infants. More than a century, and many conflicting advising later, there’s new research in favor of calming babies as soon as they start crying. And about those extremely lifelike dolls, and the people who love them, we’re not sure which ones are creepier, but we’d rather sleep with the lights on if they were around.
As it turns out, there’s a lot to be learned by just studying our social mores towards the little ones. Too much attention and we’re a bunch of smotherers. Too much leeway, and someone will call Child Protection. Too blatant a role-playing, well, we’ll leave you to your dolls. Since children are no longer expected to shoulder the family’s responsibilities, not at an early age and most likely never, there’s still some befuddlement as to how best to nurse and nurture them, until they’re strong enough to turn their backs on us, and walk away.

The remarkable advances in chemical research of the 1800s had an immediate impact on the well being of hospital patients, war combatants, and the upper strata of society, those who had the availability and wherewithal to even acknowledge physical pain. Whereas to everybody else, the preferred pain reliever was alcohol, the lucky chosen would get high, or higher.
Of course, soon enough, such social distinctions became pure, obsolete semantics, and urban citizens of all walks were being catered to by the emergent pharmaceutical companies that would trying to push their new chemical concoctions. Or at least, had their parents try them on you even before you had a sense of yourself. And there was a certain instinctive consensus that babies shouldn’t be making too much noise anyway.
So, while friends were sending cocaine-filled syringes to soldiers in the war trenches, back home concerned Moms were dripping Stickney and Poor’s Pure Paregoric syrup, with “forty-six percent alcohol, and one and three-sixteenth grains of opium per ounce” to their active infants, from five-day olds all the way to a full teaspoon to young adults.
Who’s to say that it was so off kilter for people of that time to ‘go crazy’ with the highly processed, and considerably purer, versions of substances with which we’ve been already getting high for thousands of years? Is not that the contemporary so-called ‘war on drugs’ has been such a success.

That there is a new found understanding that ‘babies shouldn’t be making too much noise’ (or being too quiet, for that matter), considering their developmental stage and vulnerability, at this day and age, is almost soothing. Many a social scientist has been feeling vindicated that the latest behavioral research findings has confirmed what they’d already observed in the field.
Many self-destructive behaviors such as drug abuse, inability to establish effective relationships or succeed professionally have been connected with continuous exposure to stressful situations at an early age. Early adversity is how neuroscientist and professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School Charles Nelson calls it.
According to the recent study, hunger or just the feeling of a wet diaper can trigger a reaction in babies akin to the perception of a threat. In response, the body pumps up adrenaline, breathing and heartbeat accelerate, and the flow of oxygen to the muscles increases. As blood pressure rises, the poor thing cries murder. All goes away, though, if help comes quickly.
The body lessens its hormone stress production and the brain relax. With the cycle of stress and quick relief repeating itself throughout childhood, the brain ‘learns’ to build safety networks that will be of use later in life to withstand struggles and be able to solve the complex problems that are part of growing up and being alive.
The problem is when all the crying fails to bring relief and comfort to the baby. Even if the poor little bundle gets exhausted and withdraws or even falls asleep, it doesn’t mean the stress went away. It simply remains at unnaturally higher levels, for future similar situations. That’s when the unresolved conflict is said to internalize itself and become part of the adult’s inner life.
What neuro and social scientists alike are concerned about is the fact that this vicious cycle of constant activation of the stress reaction may hinder healthy development of cognitive abilities, thought processing and memory formation, even resulting in a potentially diminished IQ. Now, please make that baby be quiet before we all lose our minds.

The technology that’s making possible for anyone to order a beautiful lifelike, sexy companion or two to spend their lonely nights, is now also in high demand to provide all sorts of inanimate friends and sons and daughters to a growing number of, we assume, equally lonely people. Make that disturbingly lonely people.
Babies. People are ordering babies to walk around with them, not so much like overgrown toddlers, playing with their dolls, but more like adults playing with our minds. In fact, these newborn-like are so accurately sculpted out of soft rubber and real human hair and, well, do we need to keep going? that the effect, at least on others, is borderline repulsive.
But that feeling of uneasiness is less a result of the technological stage we’re at now, of which the Japanese seem to be at the forefront lines, and much more out of utter incomprehension as the why anyone would want to have a lookalike, albeit preternaturally lookalike, instead of the real thing.
Oh, that’s right, the real thing cries, and wails, and stinks sometimes and needs constant feeding, that’s why. Or maybe. We’re treading on new, almost uncharted territory here, so we’re not really sure. As we said, the Japanese has been developing this for robots which, within a few years, will be able to fool us not just by the way they look but also by how they’ll speak to us.
The thought sends chills down our spine, but then we’re kind of skittish that way. Sci-fi literature has been imaging these replicants walking among us for years now and if it hasn’t completely happened yet, it’s just because scientific development is running late lately. But it’ll get there, sometime within most of our lifetimes.
We’re not completely sold on the idea we’ll like it when, and if, it does happen. The scary part of this ‘Reborn Babies,’ then, is not about their inevitability. Is the fact that it all boils down to human solitude and the desire to connect and to belong to some sort of semblance of social network, even if you have to build it from scratch out of a few pounds of plastic and little else.

In Riddley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner,’ the movie based on Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ novel, the J.F. Sebastian character, a ‘genetic designer,’ has one of the best quotes in a tale that’s as full of them as it is of scientific invention and the anticipation of a world dominated by human-like beings, capable of more compassion than the humans who created them.
“I MAKE friends. They’re toys. My friends are toys. I make them,” he unwittingly reveals to a Replicant herself. The mechanical being that’s in front of him, equal and often superior to Sebastian’s own physical abilities, seems as amused by the little robots that come to greet him at the door, as we in the audience, breathing fast and adrenaline pumping, are too.
In real life, when one of the owners of a collection of dozens of Reborn Dolls explains, rather matter-of-fact, her list of newlyborns, premmies, toddlers, one for each time of the day, or for a different mood, presumably, it all seems not just way more blasé, but also much less poetic. In real life, people has already lost the ability to distinguish between a manufactured being and a naturally born one.
Or not. We may be letting ourselves be carried away by the notion that the striking future that Blade Runner anticipated, with its flying cars and intelligent non-human beings, may be already among us, but in a disappointingly banal way. Who knew that reality would be infinitely more grotesque and garish than what our imagination actually envisioned on stories and tales?
In the movies, the image of the baby closes one of the masterpieces of the sci-fi genre, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 – A Space Oddissey, as a promise of renewal and hope. In real life, the image of a lifelike baby, being cradle in the arms of someone oh so happy to show the world her kid, only elicits the kind of WTF reactions, or even worse, the adrenaline-fueled, Get that Thing the Hell Away From Me.

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