Sunday, July 27, 2014

Why Pets Instead of Children?

  If the financial success of  Harvard dropout Mark Zuckerberg tells us nothing it unquestioningly reveals that people --especially Americans-- are perhaps lonelier than ever before in our history, that we are starved for human contact, even on the superficial level of Facebook, but that the exchanges must be on our terms, with like-minded people of our own choosing, and that the news and conversations we allow into our mental universes should  be be as sweet, evanescent and insubstantial as a sip of soda pop. People being people this does not always happen, and there are plenty of horrible things appearing on Facebook daily, but they are just as quickly filtered out. There are some very intense and strong opinions being voiced, but usually in a chorus, because that is the way it works--people speak in groups in most of the social media, and not so much as individuals unless it is to quickly agree or disagree with a click of a button.  People do not seem to want to have much direct or prolonged contact with others in the real, nitty gritty world unless they are armed with the right makeup, clothing, physique, car, and conversational gambits, all prepared before we walk out the door.

     This is not universally true, or I would not be writing this. One can indeed have a prolonged and stimulating exchange of ideas on the internet, and people have discussions, or arguments, which can go on for months.  Where people are thinking and writing and arguing, learning can always take place. But the communications of choice for most people, especially for the least educated (which is unfortunately the majority) are very brief and transitory. They are counted up by the end of the day, or the hour, by anonymous people somewhere who count opinions, and sometimes they make politicians nervous, and sometimes not. But they are not usually real conversations.

     Is it connected to the breakup of families and small social communities? Of course. But the depersonalizaton is also accompanied by a stark, naked fear of other people on a fundamental level. People do not want to have close relationships even with their own relatives. It seems that the connections people are capable of having with one another are becoming weaker. They seem to be mostly based on a synchronicity of tastes and opinions and the ability individuals have to gratify each other's physical and emotional needs, and that when life's circumstances change--when people get sick, or suffer a loss, or lose their income, or even their confidence, connections erode.  When people see themselves primarily as isolated individuals in a hostile universe with a duty to satisfy themselves first, and laws become merely duties we fulfill for the sake of social stability (read: being left in peace) we will perhaps love our parents out of habit, and our sexual partners out of loyalty or some irrational instinct, but genuine, long term  friendships with the give and take of real intimacy will be increasingly rare,and the door has been opened to a psychological isolation which has led people in recent decades to increasingly commit more and more unspeakable crimes. (Especially within families--the people most threatening to one's own egotistical nature are those we are close to, especially those we love.)

     A baby is born needing--everyone who has been present at the birth of a child knows that. What a materialist will tell you is that the baby wants food and warmth. What a mother will tell you is that the baby wants her, and that she is, in fact, the best person in that instant to provide both food and warmth.  But how does she know this?  Instinct, the materialist will say. Mother cats have it. But a human mother knows more than a cat (who allows her kittens to wander off as soon as they grow up, and whose kittens do in fact become either rivals or potential mates once adulthood is reached.)  A human mother knows, not because she has thought about it, but because she loves. Loving and knowing are very closely related. In her book In Defense of Mothering child psychoanalyst Selma Fraiberg points out that a child who is raised by his mother hands-on (as opposed to a stranger) develops his intelligence much more readily because when that being he loves and needs most in the whole world (who is in fact his whole world) leaves the room she no longer (in his mind) exists, and when she  comes back into the room and is present again, and his all-consuming yearning for her presence is satisfied,he begins to develop a concept of "mother".

     We are not a patched-together collection of sensations, drives, and appetites dominated by self-interest and administrated by a calculating intelligence. We may have sensations, drives, appetites, and an intelligence, but that is not precisely what we are.  We are  beings who can know and love, and those two abilities are intertwined. We have all the intensity of feeling animals possess, but we also have something else they do not, and that is the capacity for love, which is best exemplified in our capacity to make sacrifices for the beloved. Human mothers know this without even thinking it, when left to their own devices. Love in the human sense necessarily involves the ability to give, most nobly, to give oneself.  This is perhaps a very simplistic way of describing that man has been made in the image of God, who is love.

     But as we know, we are in a fallen state, and that giving involves, as does every other aspect of life, pain. Part of that pain lies in letting another person into our own private universe, to which original sin condemned us, our own little kingdom of one. This world we live in right now, especially in America, seems bent on enclosing us  even further into our own little boxes, and it is always tempting, especially if we are given the illusion that we aren't really alone, and that various ways we communicate electronically are sufficient. But the more selective we can be, the more control we have over the communications we allow into our world, the less contact we are really having with other people. It seems that people spend most of their lives engineering environments which are conducive to egotism and isolation.  Acquiring things is one of the ways we feel less alone, less reduced, and they provide a nice anesthetic for the psychological pain caused by our constant restlessness. (Restlessness because every false comfort and reassurance inevitably fails, so we have to move on to anther one)

     People are still having children and getting married, because, for now, we grew up in a society with traditions. But traditions will not be adhered to by people who are turning inward and away from others. And you can do that in a crowded room, or an arena, under the right circumstances. People now would really rather love animals. Domesticated animals, especially dogs, love their owners unconditionally, and humans need that, or at least the illusion of that. But they want an unconditional love that demands nothing. Children are not like that. That is why narcissists, for example, can love babies, but when their children reach a certain age and begin to develop separate identities, they feel threatened and begin a life long attempt to dominate and control their children "for their own good", as they often put it. The most threatening thing to a human who lives in the kind of jungle we have created is another human. Perhaps the culmination of the American pioneer spirit will someday be seen to be the pockets of survivalists who dot our Western landscape, mistaking isolation for self-sufficiency and xenophobia for dignity.

    God always breaks through all barriers. And he will break through our self-imposed walls, internal and external, and he will do it relentlessly and repeatedly; he will do it with other people, with sickness, suffering, war, pain, earthquakes, and even joy and beauty. The letters of the name ADAM represent, in Greek, the four corners of the globe: According to Augustine, "Adam is thus scattered throughout the globe. Set in one place, he fell and, as it were, broken small, he has filled the whole world....But the Divine Mercy gathered up the fragments from every side, forged them in the fire of love and welded into one what had been broken." (On Psalm 195) The outside will always find a way of getting in. I read a spiritual book a while ago on suffering and finding God's will, and the author recommended that during a period of suffering and confusion it is a good thing simply to "wait and see what happens," We shouldn't forget that our God is not a Watchmaker, he is a personal God and this is a very personal universe. Attempts to secure and design one's own life within a completely  safe enclosure, even will always fail.   Political isolationism  or not, children from Latin America are pouring over our borders. The same happens on a personal level in any life we try to live without any meaningful reference to the rest of humanity.

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