‘matters of consequence’


This chapter is about domestication’s affect on children. Livingston begins by recapitulating the problem presented in the first half of the book: a domesticate loses the multiple senses of self and loses connection to the wild. The domesticate thus fails to mature–pets, cattle, hens, even humans: ‘If one measure of growing up is the achievement of group, multispecies community and planetary self-consciousness, then’ we fail too, alongside our domesticated animals.(120) He digs deeper, using Paul Shepard‘s Nature And Madness as a lens with which to view the problem in psychoanalytic terms. ‘Although Shepard’s theory is confined to individual human development, I suspect that the stage of bonding to “Nature”–to the entire multispecies community–is common to most mammals and birds.'(122)

The bonding begins young. He refers to the unique, pioneering work of Edith Cobb, who ‘set out to show that human “genius” … is rooted in “the child’s perceptual world of the natural world” … as it is served by the experience of non-human Nature.'(129) That was nearly twenty years ago. Much academic and popular work relating children to nature has been done since then. (For example, the David Suzuki Foundation maintains that ‘children who connect with nature grow into adults who care about protecting it.’) Exposed to birds as a child, many years later Livingston anticipates the annual migratory return of the wood thrush, and in the thrush he celebrates not only ‘my self’ but also a reconnection to his youth, to ‘the time during which the thrush became an inseparable part of the whole organism that is one’s multispecies, community self.'(131) However, we ‘grow up’ and

we are conditioned not merely to be “civilized” (qualitatively separate from and superior to Nature) but also actually to be proud of that lonely ecopathological condition. Nature is kid’s stuff, we say. They will outgrow it; after all, we did. We adults are concerned with “matters of consequence,” as the Little Prince’s businessman put it.(132)

He quotes R. D. Laing. It bears repeating:

As adults we have forgotten most of our childhood, not only its contents but its flavour…. [The] capacity even to see, hear, touch, taste and smell is so shrouded in the veils of mystification that an intensive discipline of un-learning is necessary for anyone before one can begin to experience the world afresh, with innocence, truth and love.(133)

Livingston adds:

In a time of hands-on computer training for grade schoolers, there will be more future adults to unlearn. Since keyboards do not dirty those exploratory little fingers or soil those designer running shoes, and since monitors display matters of consequence, we are now able to cause our children to bypass altogether the muddy, uncivilized propensities of the halcyon middle age of childhood.(133)

He gets bitterer as he goes on. He observes that ‘children, like all domesticates may thus be seen as the artifacts of high-tech civilization…. Nintendo, ergo sum.'(133-134) In the last pages of the chapter, Livingston describes what Richard Louv would term in 2005 ‘nature deficit disorder‘. Human children can suffer acute or chronic malnutrition of the wild, similar to poor diet. ‘Nature is complex and multispecific. The human environment is essentially simple and monospecific…. The overwhelming presence is that of ourselves and our fabrications.'(135) He quotes R. D. Laing again: ‘Human beings seem to have an almost unlimited capacity to deceive themselves, and to deceive themselves into taking their own lies for truth.'(136) Can we resist deceiving ourselves, resist ‘a synthetic diet in which ideology is substituted for experience’ for our children’s sake?(136)

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