Monday, 30 June 2014

Strangers in our own Land

On 14th June at 4.42pm a man in Wakefield felt an impulse to shout at his 9 year old son. With superhuman restraint he managed to wrestle the impulse to the floor and strangle it summarily. There is no record of what ensued. He did this because, the day before, he had read a newspaper article which cited a study recently completed by scientists at the Institute of Psychology at the Sheffield Hallam University. The study had averred that shouting at our children was, at best, useless and, at worst, harmful.

And so, a scientific study and a man’s fear of it, or deference towards it came between his instinct and his child. His child had suddenly become a strange and unfathomable object to him. No longer did he trust himself to know how to treat this precious and fragile object which had unaccountably been placed in his care. It was as if a gulf had opened up between this fleshly being which had issued from his and his wife’s loins, and himself. Thus, the plainly human has been superseded by the scientific. Somehow our humanity has been displaced by a new dispensation. Many will applaud this and call it progress. For them science and its discoveries moves inexorably forwards bringing our lives and our dealings with each other closer and closer to perfection.

This is the case, not only in our relations with the children in our families but also those in the classroom. A teacher of foreign languages who recognizes in his pupils the same cognitive apparatus with which he is endowed, and who believes, therefore, that his pupils will absorb language because their whole make-up is predisposed to absorb human language, being human, may be cruelly disappointed. Scientific studies ponderously put all these instinctual suppositions aside and replace them with disconnected constructs which dispense with the basal mental coherences which the teacher had been assuming in his pupils. Once again, the teacher is made to feel that the children before him belong to a species different to his own. Suddenly he finds himself confronted by a classroom of aliens.

And then we turn to sexual relations. Some would say “Vive la diffĂ©rence!" and “Women are from Venus and Men are from Mars” certainly, but both are citizens of the same solar system. Both, last time I checked, belong to homo sapiens, can’t do without each other, and form part of a whole. If you wanted to parade homo sapiens before a Martian you would surely present him with a male and a female alongside each other. What does this mean? It means that, in spite of neuroscientific studies which regale me with tales of how differently my wife’s brain is wired to mine, she is not unapproachable (might it even be said she may occasionally welcome my approaches? You’d have to ask her) and I do instinctively know how to interact with her successfully without constantly consulting a sheaf of (possibly contradicting) scientific studies appended to my belt loop.

We find ourselves strangers in our own land and wonder how it happened. We are alienated, emasculated and tremulous, our trust in our humanity displaced by something less than our humanity, something bloodless and equivocating. It has carried off the extraordinary achievement of making us afraid of ourselves.

You may deduce from what I say that I find no use for the scientific. That is not the case. Science can live happily alongside and do great service to our humanity. However, we forget at our peril that we are humans first and scientists second.

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