Michel Odent. The Scientification of Love. Free Association Books, 2001.
If one approaches this book with the right attitude, it will be a stimulating and encouraging read–though maybe it’s not one I’d recommend for everyone. Odent, who is French, is an obstetrician who has pioneered humane childbirth practices. He’s philosophically aware, up-to-date in the scientific literature, and deeply committed to thinking through the implications of what he has been learning from his experiences of childbirth for our broader culture. What he’s not is an engaging writer. It’s not that his writing is overly-technical nor that his ideas are unclearly stated. But he is concise to an extreme, and this book is essentially a fairly disjointed series of short reports.
Nonetheless, the content is important–and for more than people directly involved in the various aspects of childbirth. Odent, essentially, is presenting the case that the scientific evidence is becoming more clear (though still too often ignored and even repressed) that human beings are naturally loving–and that treating others as if love is not central to all aspects of life has devastating consequences across the board in our world.
Specifically, he discusses the importance of immediate close human contact with newborns as a key to increasing the likelihood that the child will be able to thrive as a human being. He shows how we have powerful physiological as well as psychological bases for recognizing the importance of this contact.
The implications of Odent’s argument, which he does not spell out, point strongly in the direction that human beings are born with a strong need for and ability to connect with other human beings–that is, our basic instinct is toward love and we must be socialized (against the grain of our natural inclinations) to be detached, autonomous, and even violent.
This is an important contribution (even if not self-consciously expressed in this way) to a pacifist anthropology.