Politics Foreign Affairs Culture

First You Change the Language…

Today, we have to fight to be able to see and to name reality

The nature writer Robert Macfarlane observes a change in our language:

The same summer I was on Lewis, a new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary was published. A sharp-eyed reader noticed that there had been a culling of words concerning nature. Under pressure, Oxford University Press revealed a list of the entries it no longer felt to be relevant to a modern-day childhood. The deletions included acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture and willow. The words taking their places in the new edition included attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player and voice-mail. As I had been entranced by the language preserved in the prose‑poem of the “Peat Glossary”, so I was dismayed by the language that had fallen (been pushed) from the dictionary. For blackberry, read Blackberry.

The English poet Malcolm Guite composed a poem about this phenomenon; listen to him read it here.

The frequent commenter Thursday, who sent in the item, says to compare this with what Henrich et al. (authors of the WEIRD paper) have to say:

The WEIRD mind also appears to be unique in terms of how it comes to understand and interact with the natural world. Studies show that Western urban children grow up so closed off in man-made environments that their brains never form a deep or complex connection to the natural world. While studying children from the U.S., researchers have suggested a developmental timeline for what is called “folkbiological reasoning.” These studies posit that it is not until children are around 7 years old that they stop projecting human qualities onto animals and begin to understand that humans are one animal among many. Compared to Yucatec Maya communities in Mexico, however, Western urban children appear to be developmentally delayed in this regard. Children who grow up constantly interacting with the natural world are much less likely to anthropomorphize other living things into late childhood.

Given that people living in WEIRD societies don’t routinely encounter or interact with animals other than humans or pets, it’s not surprising that they end up with a rather cartoonish understanding of the natural world. “Indeed,” the report concluded, “studying the cognitive development of folkbiology in urban children would seem the equivalent of studying ‘normal’ physical growth in malnourished children.”

Thursday adds:

I suspect this has a lot to do with why, as Josef Pieper says, our artists have forgotten how to see. As Pieper says in The Four Cardinal Virtues: “Silence . . . is the absolute prerequisite to all perception of reality” and, because of the way we live now, we have never learned to patiently observe the natural world.

This makes me think that one of the most radical challenges facing traditionalists today — a challenge that will only grow more stark — is remembering, or relearning, how to see. The Benedict Option will be in part about fighting for reality against the Matrix.



Want to join the conversation?

Subscribe for as little as $5/mo to start commenting on Rod’s blog.

Join Now