Posted by: salamandercandy | May 8, 2006

Children of Nature

Should we control nature? The question is certainly more complicated than that. It’s sort of like asking if a parent should control a child. Obviously, a parent can’t completely control everything the child does. But that doesn’t mean the parent should not try at all to raise the child, because at the same time, the parent is going to be able to exert some influence over the child. In the same way, it’s impossible to completely control nature (at least at anything like our current technology level), but it’s irresponsible to throw up our hands and not try to do anything to shape our environment.

There are problems with this metaphor, and any environmentalists reading this may groan in agony at my arrogant, anthropocentric viewpoint. “Humans are like a parent and nature is like a child? If anything it’s the other way around! We didn’t create nature, it created us!” Okay, but instead of abandoning the metaphor, let’s reverse it like they suggested. After all, children also have limited but significant control over parents. They manipulate them in many ways, influencing what they buy, what they eat for dinner, what TV shows they watch, where they go on vacation, etc. Children don’t have to earn money, because they can direct the money the parent earns towards their own interests. Sound like the nature/human relationship? We don’t have to use the sun’s energy to make carbohydrates if the wheat will do it for us.

So, then, along this metaphor, we’ll re-frame the original question: should children control their parents?

That’s funny. There must be thousands of books out there about how or whether parents should try to shape their children, but probably very little about how or whether children should try to shape their parents. Whatever is out there is probably mostly either whimsical or else scary propaganda from some extremely opinionated organization, trying to get kids to turn their parents into Nazis or something. Why don’t such books exist? Well, for one thing, children don’t read advice books as much as adults do. Also, adults don’t like to think about children having influence over them, and adults are generally the ones who write books. Not only that, but adults clearly (at least from our society’s point of view) don’t need to be taken care of by children; adults can fend for themselves. Perhaps the child’s welfare depends on how much control he or she has over the family lifestyle, but we generally frame this in terms of what responsibilities parents have, not what responsibilities children have. In fact, legally, minors don’t really have any responsibilities; it’s their parent’s job to make them behave correctly. This legal view is not entirely logical, for the reasons I discuss above: children are not powerless puppets.

If one were to write a book on the subject of how children should or should not try to control their parents, what would it say? In some cases, it would be in the child’s best interest to yield to parental wisdom – when deciding, for example, whether to have a plate of Snickers bars or a plate of broccoli casserole for supper. In some cases, though, the child is right and the parent is wrong; such cases may be especially common with technological issues, the child’s social life, etc. How does this help us with our relation to nature? For some things “nature knows best,” but for some things we do? How can we figure out which is which?

What happens to the parent-child relationship eventually? Well, clearly, the child learns how to do the things the parent does (earn money, clean the house, cook meals, pay taxes, etc). When the child has learned to do these things for him-or-herself, s/he doesn’t need the parent anymore and leaves. In the cases of some children, this is completely and literally true: the child never has contact with the parents again, and survives just fine. Is this our species’ fate? Do we learn how to do all the things nature does for us (produce oxygen, keep the temperature just right, clean the water, make food, block out the ultraviolet light, keep the number of irritating pest species at a relatively low level, etc.), and then let the natural processes that do these things die, since we no longer need them?

What about the children that maintain contact with their parents, though? Don’t they have it better off? Sure, they can survive without their parents, but they’re able to survive much more easily if they can constantly tap into that that source of wisdom. Not to mention that their life is much more fulfilling and happy if they can maintain that close relationship.

I suppose it’s also worth considering the child whose parents die while he or she is still young and hasn’t learned all the survival skills yet. Such a child is doomed, if there is no one else to raise the child. Are we still at that state? How can we tell?

Perhaps what this thought teaches is that destroying natural processes wouldn’t necessarily be a disaster; we could develop the technology to replicate them and do okay (but we might not be at that stage yet…). However, life is much more easy, happy, and fulfilling if you keep the parents around.


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