25 January 2009


I wonder whether we are all headed to a Truman Show artificial reality in what some are calling a "post-human" world.

Seems the latest edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary has recently perturbed three groups of Brits: Christians, naturalists, and historians. One thing it has done is to drop all references related to nature.

This reminds me of the discussion and controversy surrounding the publishing of E. D. Hirsch's Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know (1987), which included as an appendix 500 facts (I believe) that Americans should know to be "literate" culturally, so as to be able to take part in public dialogue. (Later, Hirsch would publish dictionaries of cultural literacy.) We in education at that time (I was working on an MEd in secondary social studies while teaching high school) were strongly skeptical of his pedagogical recommendation to simply teach cultural facts. The teaching of facts is not effective pedagogy. But now I wonder how young people are to absorb sufficient cultural background, or cultural literacy, for continuing social cohesion. This, it seems, has not been resolved, and today does not appear to be on anyone's agenda. That a dictionary drops references to nature is not encouraging.

In a related matter, I ran across an article in Australian Psychiatry (2007, vol. 15 Supplement) in which the researchers studied people in New South Wales, Australia, in terms of their psychological stress induced by the persistent drought there. The researchers were applying the new (since 2003) psychiatric term solastalgia: the earth-related mental illness where people's mental wellbeing is threatened by the severing of "healthy" links between themselves and their home and territory. Geographers call this a loss of sense of place or placelessness. In the U.S. data relate that Americans get out into nature less; e.g. there are decreasing numbers of hunting and fishing licenses issued each year.

The connections I am making between a British dictionary that drops vocabulary reflecting the natural environment (flowers and landscape terms), and the loss of cultural literacy in America, and the great changes that both our local and global environments are going through is that we are headed toward increasing experience of solastalgia. In these times, it seems to me, we need greater emphasis on solidifying our experience of where we live, the localities in which we are embedded, our sense of local places.

I know many people revere the beauty, even sacredness, of nature, etc. Perhaps we, and many other adults who understand, will someday become docents to reintroduce younger people to their natural environment. Perhaps we are the reserve cadre of wise old ones--who feel "at home" in the world--who shall one day help to combat the widespread lived experience and pathology of solastalgia. It will be therapy for those missing the nurturance of their "mother"--Mother Nature. Nature is not only beautiful (and sacred), it is needed for human mental health.

1 comment:

Daniel said...

i want to help in that effort of bringing back the reality of nature. we have created so many distractions through society that we have forgotten how to simply sit still and watch the wind in the leaves. thank you for sharing so many of your intelligent thoughts. i didn’t pay much attention in high school but now i am all ears. thank you,
natalie smith