Thursday, July 11, 2013

Paul Shepard on civilized immaturity

From his 1982 book Nature and Madness:

“In the civilized world the roles of authority—family heads and others in power—were filled increasingly with individuals in a sense incomplete, who would in turn select and coach underlings flawed like themselves.”

“In such societies—and I include ours—certain infantile qualities might work better: fear of separation, fantasies of omnipotence, oral preoccupation, tremors of helplessness, and bodily incompetence and dependence.”

“For the small child, a kind of bimodality of cognition is normal, a part of the beginnings of classifying and making categories, an essential step in the adult capacity to make abstractions. The world at first is an either/or place. . . . Getting stuck in the binary view strands the adult in a universe torn by a myriad of oppositions and conflicts.”

“Perhaps society and the individual are more vulnerable to an arrested development fixed on masculinity, rather than on femininity . . . . The physical domination of all societies by men can mislead the immature minded into thinking that patriarchal values and ideas are synonymous with universal power.”

“Thus, the difference between the psychological world of the adult and the child in the villages was not as great as that between adults and children among the ancestral hunters. This is not what one expects from the traditional view of history.  But history itself, an idea accounting for a made world, was invented by villagers as a result of five thousand years of strife and struggle to hold environment and self together. As a simplistic, linear, literal account of events and powers as unpredictable as parental anger, history is a juvenile idea.”

“These anxieties [caused by civilization] would elicit a certain satisfaction in repetitive and exhaustive routines reminiscent of the swayings of an autistic child or the rhythmic to-and-fro of the captive bear or elephant in the zoo.”

“The only society more frightful than one run by children, as in Golding’s Lord of the Flies, might be one run by childish adults.”

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