“You, who are on the road, Must have a code That you can live by. And so become yourself Because the past is just a goodbye.”
— Opening lyrics of “Teach Your Children”, written by Graham Nash.
Organizers of Woodstock 50 have canceled the event scheduled for this weekend that was intended to commemorate the 1969 concert on a scale commensurate with the original. There were mounting difficulties in putting together the 2019 concert, and at the end of July the organizers threw in the towel. Instead there are small scale events scheduled for the weekend that have been organized by the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts near the site of the 1969 concert, and there are also some informal events happening at the original site.
It’s just as well Woodstock 50 fell through the cracks, because these continuing reboots of past successes have become tiresome and shallow scavenging for meaning grafted Frankenstein-like onto the present, as if clinging to the past would revive only the good times. For the promoters of such events and movies and television shows like them, there is profit to be made borrowing on memories. And since people continue paying for these popular culture revivals, there is no reason for promoters and Hollywood producers to stop digging up old things, slapping a modern sheen on them, and charging admission to the public for the dubious enjoyment of reliving the old days.
A protester holds up a sign at the March for Our Lives demonstration in Washington, D.C., in March 2018. Photo by Flickr user Lorie Shaull.
Let the past be past. “Why seek ye the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5). Let the past be its own thing. For the important things that face everyone today and in the future, it appears children are taking the lead, while adults around them are either in denial or slogging along, many of them disheartened and looking in the wrong directions for answers. In the last couple of years, youngsters have marched in protest against legislators who drag their feet in addressing gun violence, and have struck from school and marched in protest against legislators’ unwillingness to effectively tackle climate change.
Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg is now on a sailboat crossing the Atlantic Ocean in order to attend the United Nations Climate Change Summit in New York City next month. She started striking from her school in Sweden last August, founding the Youth Strike for Climate movement, and she has attracted so much attention to the cause since then that earlier this year three Norwegian parliament members nominated her for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. If she wins, she would join 2014 winner Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan as the second teenage activist to win the Prize.
Greta Thunberg with her sign outside the Swedish parliament building in August 2018. The sign reads “School Strike for Climate”. Photo by Anders Hellberg.
More importantly, she will gain international validation for the cause, an essential step in repudiating and ultimately sidelining the hateful antagonism of skeevy jackasses such as British businessman Arron Banks, who tweeted to Ms. Thunberg as she set off on her Atlantic cruise “Freak yachting accidents do happen in August.” He later claimed his vile suggestion was “a joke.” Ha ha. It was a joke like the 2016 campaign trail hint from the skeevy jackass now occupying the Oval Office was a joke when he floated the idea of “Second Amendment people” assassinating his Democratic Party rival. Ha ha.
Make no mistake about it – when Greta Thunberg arrives in this country, the Oval Office Blowhard will heap scorn, derision, and personal insults on her simply for defying the power of entrenched interests in the fossil fuel industry, and his morally bankrupt cult followers will cheer him on because he will frame his invective as salvos in another battlefront of the culture war against politically correct liberals. Never mind that she is a mere child. Never mind that what she has taken upon herself is simply bringing to everyone’s belated attention the scientific fact that our house is on fire and we have to do something about dousing the flames now, not stand around arguing about it as the fire engulfs us. For bearing that unwelcome news, they will heap abuse upon her, and not reflect for even a moment on what they are teaching the children of the world.
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young performed at Woodstock in 1969, but “Teach Your Children” was not in their set list even though Graham Nash had written the song earlier, while he was still part of the British group, The Hollies. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young included the song on their 1970 album Déjà Vu. Here the San Francisco Community Music Center Children’s Chorus sings the song for Mr. Nash and attendees at a Climate One conference in 2013.
Editor’s note: This post has been delayed one day on account of dismally slow internet service, most likely caused by the service provider’s defective equipment. Thanks, Ajit Pai, Chairman of the FCC, for continuing to safeguard the interests of monopolistic corporations while disregarding those of ordinary citizens!
Waiting through an outbreak of severe weather can be nerve wracking if you’re one of the millions of Americans living in substandard housing. Related to withstanding severe weather events, substandard housing means no basement or a weak foundation, poorly engineered roofing, shoddy workmanship overall, bad drainage around the structure, easily shattered windows, and any number of other problems large and small generally not present in the well built housing of the upper classes. Should something bad happen to a substandard structure due to severe weather, the people living there often do not have the resources to recover from it.
Severe weather affects everyone, rich and poor, but what is usually overlooked is how the poor disproportionately suffer the adverse effects of it both coming and going. To know that should a tornado, a hurricane, a derecho, a hailstorm, ice storm, or flood deal even a glancing blow to the place you live causes many anxious days, first in watching the weather forecast and then during the day or days of the event. There’s personal safety, of course, and the possibility of unaffordable emergency medical attention, and then the possibility of damage to the structure and the unaffordability of repairs, if it is repairable. The last thing any person living in a structure without a safe, reinforced room or basement wants to hear is the freight train roar of an approaching tornado, and to have children to protect must make even imagining such a scenario unbearable.
Hurricane, Bahamas, an 1898 painting by Winslow Homer (1836-1910).
All things are relative, and while comparatively few people in the United States have to exist in notoriously unsafe conditions like those in a Brazilian favela, there are still far too many in this rich country who live a hair’s breadth away from personal and financial disaster, a ruin which can befall them in a few unfortunate moments with the caprice of bad weather. As severe weather outbreaks become more frequent and as the population continues to increase, the possibilities for deaths, injuries, and property damage will also increase, all of which burden poor people more than others (yes, even death, because of the costs to survivors).
In the 1978 BBC television production of dramatist Dennis Potter’sPennies from Heaven, Bob Hoskins as sheet music salesman Arthur Parker encounters a busker called The Accordion Man, played by Kenneth Colley, who in return for Arthur treating him to a meal treats Arthur to a rendition of the song “Pennies from Heaven” (lip synched to a 1937 recording by Arthur Tracy).
Insurance companies’ business model currently has them paying out after disaster strikes (contesting the payout all the way, and digging in their heels where they can), while offering little incentive for builders and developers to proof structures against disaster. Eventually, as expenses incurred by natural disasters mount to insupportable levels, insurance companies will have to come around to a more preventive strategy of offering lower premiums for stronger structures, something easier for them and builders and developers to cooperate on for wealthier homeowners. Where government can step in to protect poor people is to enforce insurance policy standards for their housing, rather than continuing to allow the corruption and slapdash oversight which currently riddles the market. Meantime, as always you’re on your own out there, particularly if you’re not rich, and you have to look out for yourself to stay safe. Good luck.
“Believe we’re gliding down the highway When in fact we’re slip slidin’ away.”
— from “Slip Slidin’ Away”, a 1977 song by Paul Simon.
Recently the Virginia House of Delegatesrefused to vote on ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), defeating it perhaps for good. If Virginia had voted in favor of the Amendment, that would have been the 38th and deciding vote among the states, and then the measure would have returned to the United States Congress for reconsideration of whether the time limit for ratification should be extended.
The State Seal of Virginia. On February 21, on the grounds of the state capitol in Richmond, Virginia, two pro-ERA activists posed as the figures depicted in the seal, and one was arrested.
The Equal Rights Amendment is meant to constitutionally protect women’s rights and should be a common sense addition to the country’s legal framework, but anti-abortion activists and those who cling to traditional gender roles have long suspected the amendment would be used as grounds for protecting abortion rights of pregnant women besides guaranteeing women’s rights when they are at odds with men’s long standing privileges, and consequently they have done everything in their power, high and low, to defeat the amendment.
Meanwhile, in an official ceremony for a high school in Wisconsin, female cheerleaders were given “joke” awards for their physical attributes, such as largest breasts or butt, or skinniest body. When some parents and faculty objected to singling out emotionally immature girls this way, the cheerleaders’ coach, Patti Uttech, expressed dismay that “politically correct” people couldn’t understand how the awards were all in good fun. Last year another Wisconsin high school made national news after people became aware that a photographer posing a group of boys for a prom picture had encouraged them to raise their arms in what can only be viewed as a Nazi salute, and almost all the boys appeared to comply with enthusiasm.
Then there’s Goodloe Sutton, 80-year-old owner and editor of The Democrat-Reporter, a weekly newspaper in Linden, Alabama, who in a February 14 editorial railed against Democrats he supposed were plotting to raise taxes in Alabama, and called for the Ku Klux Klan to raid the homes of Democratic legislators in Washington, D.C.. He added even more hateful remarks when asked later for elaboration by other journalists from Alabama and elsewhere once his editorial became notorious. In 2019, Mr. Sutton’s beliefs and attitudes are more in tune with those from the year of his birth, 1939.
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel perform “Slip Slidin’ Away” in the September 1981 Concert in Central Park in New York City.
Did those beliefs and attitudes ever go away in the intervening years? Perhaps partially, although mainly they went underground. Now with encouragement from the current resident of the Oval Office, ignorant and hateful talk is bubbling back to the surface across the land, and here and there action has followed. In the current environment, it will only get worse. The Ku Klux Klan of 1939 is resurrected by a bitter old man with a newspaper in Alabama. The Nazi Party of 1930s and 40s Germany is evoked by laughing schoolboys in Wisconsin. Again in Wisconsin, a high school cheerleaders’ coach hands out awards that would not have been out of place in 1950s America, though even then most people might have deemed them in questionable taste given the age of the recipients. And in Virginia an amendment to the United States Constitution goes down in flames because even in 2019 there are people – not all of them men – who cannot step away from controlling all women as if it were their right.
Animal shelters in Germany are imposing a ban on pet adoptions this Christmas in hopes of discouraging the poorly thought out and whimsical decision to give a pet as a gift. Animal shelters in Germany and in other countries celebrating Christmas have always had to cope with a surge in animal drop-offs after the holidays, as families come to grips with the realization their decision was poorly thought out and whimsical. As always, it is the animals who suffer. Don’t add to the problem this Christmas by giving a pet as a gift. A pet is not a gift to be returned after the novelty wears off, but a living being deserving of and requiring commitment to his or her care.
Perhaps animal shelters in other countries will follow the excellent example set by the German shelters. Unfortunately there are still pet shops and breeders who will sell animals to nearly anyone who has the money. It’s more likely that the kind of person who visits an animal shelter to adopt a pet is not the kind of person who is as cavalier about that pet’s well-being as someone who purchases an animal from a pet shop or breeder and considers the creature a commodity or toy. Animal shelters often charge to adopt a pet as well, but in their case the fee is not for profit but to help offset costs of running the shelter, and as a hurdle, however low, to impulse adoptions.
Child with Cat, a painting by Otto Scholderer (1834-1902).
In a better world, there would be no pet shops and breeders selling animals. In a better world, the necessity for animal shelters would dwindle because responsible people would take care of the first priority in pet adoption and have their pet spayed or neutered. But until a better world comes into being, reconsider giving a pet as a Christmas gift and consider instead making a financial donation to an animal shelter. The youngster whose heart is set on adopting a pet can, with the help of an adult in the family, volunteer a few hours a week at an animal shelter to help with the care, feeding, and socialization of the animals. Once the youngster gets a real grasp on the commitment required, then it may be time to consider adoption as a responsible and giving way to bring a new member into the family, not as the equivalent of a toy under the tree on Christmas morning, without needs or feelings.
Since 1968, when the New England Journal of Medicine editors precipitously and unfairly saddled adverse reactions of some people to Monosodium glutamate (MSG) with the name Chinese Restaurant Syndrome, MSG has been stigmatized as a food additive that is apart from and somehow unhealthier than other food additives. The first person to report symptoms to the Journal was a Chinese-American doctor, Robert Ho Man Kwok, who complained of numbness at the back of his neck, general weakness, and heart palpitations after eating at a Chinese restaurant. On this slim testimony and that of several others, the Journal coined the phrase Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.
A type of kelp known as Dasima in Korea, and Kombu in Japan, is a key ingredient in Dashi, a broth from which Japanese professor Kikunae Ikeda identified the quality of umami in 1908 that led him to the discovery and production of MSG. Photo by freddy an.
Use of MSG is not limited to Chinese cookery, however, and it can be found in many processed American foods such as Doritos, which millions of Americans appear to consume regularly without complaint. It would be interesting to see if more people would attest to adverse reactions to eating Doritos if they were made aware the product contained MSG. It is listed among the ingredients on the package, and using its most recognizable name, too, rather than one of the many names that can hide its presence, such as autolyzed yeast.
This is not to say no one can have a real adverse or allergic reaction to MSG. But for just about any ingredient in food there are some people who react badly to ingesting it. The main thing to remember is that in scientific studies of MSG, as opposed to the purely anecdotal stories that appeared to satisfy the editors of the New England Journal of Medicine in 1968, no one has found that MSG is any more dangerous than any of a multitude of other food additives. If it were as dangerous as some people appear to believe it is, not only would the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) likely take it off its generally recognized as safe (GRAS) list, but thousands or even millions of Asians and Asian-Americans would be suffering every day from its effects.
Yet Asian chefs and home cooks continue to add MSG to their meals. They are either perverse in their determination to eat the possibly unwholesome ingredient, or they are unconvinced by the nearly hysterical denunciations of it coming from some people in North America and Europe. Given the ubiquity of MSG in highly processed foods that Americans eat and enjoy every day, any real or imagined adverse reaction to it could just as easily be called American Junk Food Syndrome. There is already one name for that, which is Obesity. American food processors discovered around the time of World War II that MSG was a useful flavor booster for otherwise bland or even flavorless foods like canned vegetables and corn snacks. MSG by itself does not encourage obesity, but its overuse in helping to make some rather unpalatable and non nutritious foods delicious does contribute to obesity.
Shavings of Katsuobushi, a preserved and fermented skipjack tuna used in Dashi, the umami broth from which Professor Ikeda first isolated MSG. Photo by Sakurai Midori.
At the same time as food scientists and agribusinesses were discovering how to make cheaply made, highly profitable junk food flavorful, they were also inadvertently taking the flavor out of healthful foods by manipulating them to improve qualities like pest resistance, standing up to shipping, or tolerating being confined on factory farms, all at the expense of flavor and nutrition. Those practices yielded bland, watery supermarket produce, and meats needing seasoning and breading and all sorts of treatments in order to taste like much of anything. It’s not all that mysterious why shoppers, particularly poor ones who can’t afford to seek out higher quality ingredients, turn to highly processed, highly flavorful foods, even at the cost of poor nutrition and cumulative destructive effects on their health.
In this country, people like to blame the victim. After all, free enterprise and free choice means people don’t have to eat junk, doesn’t it? It’s also useful to have an Other to blame, as in Chinese Restaurant Syndrome. The sensible thing would be to teach children in schools about moderation in all things, including sprinkling additives on their food. A little bit of MSG on already healthful food gives an umami flavor boost and has not been shown to do harm to the great majority of people who eat it that way. MSG put on every unwholesome, processed food cannot be healthy since the bad effects of poor quality food combine with excessive amounts of this otherwise relatively harmless additive. Enormous amounts of any additive are probably not healthy, not just MSG. School administrators could stress in the curriculum healthful eating instead of allowing vending machines full of snacks, sodas, and sugary fruit drinks in the hallways. In the case of young people at least, free enterprise and free choice should take a back seat to learning healthy habits.
The title of this post is taken from the Ogden Nash poem “Reflections on Ice-Breaking”. Mr. Nash was writing about parties for adults, and he concluded the poem with the lines “But liquor/Is quicker.” For children at Halloween, the first lines about candy are the only ones that matter. After a bout of shepherding their children around the neighborhood for trick or treating, parents are more apt to grasp the last lines.
The association of candy with Halloween is relatively recent, and is wholly artificial in origin. Candy makers and sellers gravitated toward the holiday in the early twentieth century as a way to increase sales in the long lull between Easter and Christmas, and by the post World War II era modern Halloween traditions were pretty firmly in place. Children still might get some healthier treats like fruit in their treat bags or baskets, but after numerous tampering scares factory wrapped candies became the predominant treat, much to the relief of children everywhere.
Friandises, the French term for goodies. Photo from French Wikipedia by Ficelle.
Because of ongoing fears about tampering and because of related worries over children interacting with strangers, the Halloween trick or treat excursions of mid and late twentieth century America have most likely peaked and are now on the wane, probably to the relief of parents everywhere. People don’t know their neighbors as well as they used to, and the whole ritual has become an unnecessary risk. Children still enjoy dressing up in costumes, and of course the idea of an enormous haul of candy still exerts a sirens’ pull on them. Like Christmas and its excesses, Halloween has become a time for parents to set and teach limits, if they are inclined. It’s difficult to do when the greater society constantly tugs in the other direction.
While the children are celebrating with restraint, willingly or not, their parents might take a moment to remember the candies they enjoyed as children. One candy, Necco wafers, may be no more after this year. The company that made them and other treats shut down earlier in the year, and its unclear whether the new owners will continue production of any of them. The New England Confectionery Company (NECCO) had been in business since 1901, after consolidating the operations of two other candy companies. Its flagship candy, Necco wafers, had been in production since before the Civil War.
That’s Charlie Brown in the sheet with too many holes, and Lucy in the witch costume, in the 1966 television special It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.
Like a lot of candies,candy corn for instance, Necco wafers arouse strong feelings either for or against them. Perhaps it’s because our opinions about candies are mostly formed in childhood that we develop lifelong allegiances or antipathies to them. The parents who affectionately remember candies their children find revolting may be likewise turned off by all the gummies and other newly popular treats. Though he likely didn’t have Halloween in mind when he wrote “Reflections on Ice-Breaking”, Ogden Nash managed to put it all in perspective anyway, and in only seven words.
Many folks may remember that as children they were admonished by their elders not to sit too close to the television because they would strain their eyes. If a child was a reader, a parent or other elder would express concern that the reading light wasn’t bright enough. If a child read in bed after lights out, then a concerned elder would issue a warning of punishment for staying up too late, in addition to concern about eye strain. Of course, this scenario is dated because children today may be reading from a backlit screen instead of a paper book. New technology, same worries about eye strain.
View from a street in Toronto, Canada, into a building where a woman looks at her laptop computer and smartphone. Photo by Tim Gouw.
Asthenopia is the medical term for eye strain, and in a chronic case the condition can be a concern worthy of a visit to a doctor. With the prevalence of computer, tablet, and smartphone use now, adults are as apt to have asthenopia as children who don’t heed their parents’ warnings. Few people admit to reading from their smartphone or tablet in bed after dark, but most probably do it, because for one thing it’s an easy way to read without disrupting a partner’s sleep, even if it may disrupt their own sleep habits. Looking for hours at a time into a relatively bright light from a foot or two away, or perhaps mere inches, is a sure path to eye strain.
Other than changing behavior, the solution starts with turning down the brightness on all those screens, including the television. Most devices now come with sensors that detect room brightness and adjust the device brightness accordingly. A darkened room will require less brightness from the device in order for the user to comfortably view the screen. Find that control and use it. Next, devices made specifically for reading at close range, such as smartphones and tablets, may have a “Reader” mode in the display settings. Find that and turn it on. Some internet browsers also come equipped with a “Reader” mode.
Finally, if those native adjustments are insufficient to tone down the blue part of the spectrum, which is the part most responsible for causing eye strain, then seek out a third party application for computers, smartphones, and tablets that will shift the color temperature from blue to red, with many degrees in between. Such applications have timers built in order to shift the color temperature gradually as day moves to night, and vice versa. They take some getting used to, but after a day or two the warmer color temperature will feel natural and less noticeable. Your eyes will sense the difference, though, since they will no longer be asthenopic, a word which is such a strain to pronounce it’s just as well you no longer have to deal with it.
“Many a tear has to fall, But it’s all in the game; All in the wonderful game That we know as love.” — The opening lines of the song “It’s All in the Game”, music written by Charles Gates Dawes in 1911, and lyrics written by Carl Sigman in 1951.
Charles Gates Dawes was vice president of the Calvin Coolidge administration between 1925 and 1929, and before that he had a multi-faceted career as a lawyer, banker, soldier, and diplomat. He was also an avid amateur musician who wrote a song in 1911 that he called “Melody in A Major”, a song that Carl Sigman, a qualified lawyer himself, would write lyrics for in 1951 and rename “It’s All in the Game”. The singer Tommy Edwards was one of many performers who recorded “It’s All in the Game” in 1951 and in the years since, but it was his 1958 rendition that reached number one on the record charts and has become the most familiar to listeners. Two other interesting items to note about Mr. Dawes before moving along: He was a descendant of William Dawes, the man who made the midnight ride with Paul Revere in 1775, and he shared the Nobel Peace Prize for 1925 for his work rearranging the German reparations payments for World War I which had been crippling its economy.
Roses, an 1890 painting by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890).
“It’s All in the Game” outlined the ups and downs of courtship, and as such would seem to have no bearing on Father’s Day. When we were growing up, we generally caught mere glimpses of the affection shared between our parents. Some people may have seen frequent displays of fondness, others none at all. Seeing our fathers as authority figures, probably the last thing that would have popped into our heads was the understanding that these were men who were seen quite differently, at least at one time, by their partners in marriage. For most of us, the idea would have been difficult to reconcile with the fellow we knew. Later in life, having grown up and gotten a more rounded view of things, we might learn to perceive the side of him our mother knew, and thus understand better why she married him, even though he may have been an ogre or a gent, or most likely a little bit of both and a lot in between. Then if our parents lived long enough while we attained greater maturity, we might get the opportunity to understand them better as people rather than merely as the totems of varying degrees of nurturing and authority we looked up to as children, and realize that the first lines of “It’s All in the Game” embrace us well.
Tommy Edwards sings his 1958 rendition of “It’s All in the Game.” The photo is from the set of the 1973 George Lucas filmAmerican Graffiti, a story about coming of age in the early 1960s.
Instant replay started in 1963 as a way of enhancing television viewing of sports contests when the initial action might have been too quick for sports fans watching at home to catch, or if they had been called away from the television momentarily. In the 1980s the National Football League (NFL), always the most technocratic of the major sports organizations, adapted the technology of instant replay to the sidelines of games, where referees could review controversial plays and possibly overturn the call on the field. It seemed like a good idea at the time because fans had always enjoyed second guessing the calls of officials in all sports, and since fans had access to instant replay and the ability to validate their second guessing, it seemed only natural and right to make the technology available to officials in order to set things right on the field.
30 or more years and many thousands of humdrum hours later, has all the insistence on exactitude done anything to improve sports over what it was before the intrusion of technology? The officials are given the opportunity to rectify calls, but at the cost of slowing athletic contests down to a crawl and boring the casual viewer to the point of changing the channel or not attending a game in person ever again. Some percentage of viewers, perhaps a minority (it’s hard to say, since statistics aren’t available), are satisfied that the official calls are correct, and everyone else could not care less. Meanwhile, the progression appears to be for adoption of instant replay in the officiating of more sports.
In a 2012 minor league baseball game, Jeff Isom, then the manager of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, argues with an umpire over a close call. He was later thrown out of the game. Photo by Wisconsin Timber Rattlers team photographer.
“I Wish”, by Stevie Wonder, from his 1976 album Songs in the Key of Life, is about his childhood in the 1950s and early ’60s.
Video technology is a useful tool in areas that really matter in people’s lives, such as the interactions between police and citizens, but it’s overuse for trivialities like sports shows a lack of perspective in our society. Most people are casual fans and do not live and breathe on the outcome of an official’s call in a sporting contest that ultimately means nothing in their lives. For the sake of satisfying the fanatic interest of a minority of die-hard enthusiasts, the major sports leagues are choking off the interest of casual fans. The leagues seem to understand this, but are determined to milk as much merchandising income from their devout followers as possible and that means keeping them happy at the expense of losing peripheral fans. Major League Baseball (MLB), the most traditional of the sports leagues, must have known this when it discarded almost all daytime playoff games a generation ago, and with that decision discarded cultivating the interest of youngsters who couldn’t stay up until midnight to watch a game stretched out to three or four hours. Arguing with parents about bedtimes has for many young sports fans replaced arguing about the minutiae of the games with their peers.
“To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour.”
— William Blake (1757-1827), Auguries of Innocence
Biophilia – love of life – is a term popularized by the American biologist and naturalist Edward O. Wilson in his research and books of the last two decades of the twentieth century. Mr. Wilson was interested in how humans appear to require some connection with nature no matter how much the modern world tends to divorce them from that connection. City dwellers in particular may be live amidst steel and concrete structures to such an extent that they never step on grass in the course of an average day, but they still will find comfort at home in tending a few houseplants and a pet or two. Mr. Wilson proposed that the need to maintain a connection with nature was so pervasive in humans that it went beyond culture to genetics, and was therefore innate and undeniable. Humans may pretend to be above nature and separate from it, but their genetics and behavior said otherwise.
Looking north at Central Park from the top of Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan. 2009 photo by Piotr Kruczek.
Scientific research since then has confirmed Mr. Wilson’s hypothesis, some of it confirming common sense notions such as how hospital patients with window views of trees and greenery appeared to recover faster than ones with a view of the building next door. The idea of biophilia itself appeals to common sense, but science needs to quantify things, and that’s for the best because there have after all been other notions in the past which seemed common sense, such as the Sun revolving around the Earth. Lately there has been a resurgence in belief that the Earth is flat, though it’s hard to tell just how seriously Flat Earthers expect to be taken by everyone else, or even by themselves.
Everyday proof of biophilia, however, seems so commonplace that it is hard to refute. Still, there are people who live for making their environment as sterile and devoid of nature as possible, and it seems there are more of them now than ever. Children especially seem to have withdrawn from nature both on their own and because of their parents’ protective instincts. Children now spend an inordinate amount of their time in front of screens, and much of the remainder of their time is structured education or play. They are seldom left on their own to scratch around in the dirt in their backyards and observe the ants at work, as Edward O. Wilson himself did for countless hours as a youngster and, indeed, as an adult, since his specialty as a biologist has been myrmecology, the study of ants.
A western part of the 843 acres of Central Park in New York City. Recent appraisals of the value of Central Park’s 1 and 1/4 square miles of prime real estate in the middle of Manhattan are well over $500 billion. May biophilia influence New Yorkers for generations to come so that they continue to prize Central Park for its connection to nature rather than its speculative value in dollars. Photo by Ad Meskens.
The steep drop in hands-on discovery of nature among the latest generation does not bode well for future conservation measures when those children grow up and start making their own decisions. Reading about a tree in a book can take a person only so far without the furtherance of education granted by resting under the shade of a tree on a hot day. Even the tactile act of reading a paper book, its pages made from trees, gives the senses a greater depth and breadth of perception than reading from an electronic screen. We are animals, with the senses of animals, and we engage the world through those senses every bit as much as we engage it with our brains, even when we are cut off from nature. But with a lack of input from our senses our decisions about the natural world are likely ill-informed, and much as we might try to help conserve animals, plants, and resources, we are not doing as much as we could because they are not part of our everyday world. How can you love the natural world which supports you if you cut yourself off from it and avoid embracing it with not only your intelligence, but with all your senses so that you can feel it as well as know it, and understand thereby you are a part of it and not separate from it?