I read sentences like the following, from an article in today's Morning Call about the trend known as "holistic parenting": "By the time she was pregnant with her first child, she had quit smoking, become a vegetarian and wanted to impart a natural lifestyle to her children. Holistic Moms Network, she says, is about information and choices." Well, no it isn't. If you impart a lifestyle to your kids, you have taken a major step towards limiting their choices. You have brainwashed them, indoctrinating them into a certain way of looking at life; that indoctrination then becomes a key component of the many forces that conspire to drive their behavior as they grow. The supposedly open-minded and "empowering" holistic approach to parenting is just the same old parental tyranny, now served on whole-grain bread.
If you think about it, the distinction between you and un-you is hardly as neat and clean as we've been led to believe (or have unthinkingly assumed). There is air around us; where we "end," the air begins, and then stretches on until the next person. There is nothing magical about air; it is a physical substance composed of molecules. Therefore, in a very literal way, we are all interconnected—not a nation of 300 million human organisms, really, but a single organism with 300 million (seemingly) discrete parts. The air also goes to Europe, and Asia, and Tikrit. And, of course, there are also dogs, and cats, and trees, and bugs large and small, and other things to which we are, again quite literally, connected. Thus the nature vs. nurture argument may be a false dichotomy to begin with. Nature and nurture—man/woman vs. his/her environment—may just be different-looking variants of the same phenomenon.
Thought, too, is a physical process...isn't it? After all, if thought isn't physical—driven by or relying upon electrons and chemicals—then what is it? Accordingly, as a physical process, it is subject to the laws of chemistry and physics. (Have you seen those recent experiments where they insert probes into volunteers' heads and stimulate certain parts of the brain with tiny jolts of electricity, producing instantaneous changes of mood? Sudden bursts of laughter or tears? Kind of opens one's eyes about the mechanism behind all this.) In chemistry and physics, things happen for a reason—they happen because of something that happened previously. Nothing "just happens" without reason. If you have a thought or a feeling—an impulse to kiss or to kill—it is because something else caused that thought, feeling or impulse to take place. Whether or not you're aware of it. You may not know the reason; I'd argue that you seldom know the reason. But it's there.
We have wants and needs, preferences and distastes. We hate pistachio ice cream, so we're not going to "choose" it (unless, perhaps, someone has a gun to our head, in which case it can't be said that we're really choosing to order the pistachio. What was the alternative?) Is it not reasonable to assume that there are thousands or millions of similar predispositions—quieter, subtler, even invisible—that also drive behavior? So then where's the "choice"? When was the last time you heard someone say, "Yes, I'm a total klutz and I hate the outdoors and the cold...so I think I'll go skiing this weekend"? ...
Consider this part of an ongoing series. Feedback eagerly sought. Oh and hey, if it angers you to read this kind of stuff, cut me some slack, please. I can't help but think this way; I have no choice.
Monday, February 12, 2007