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Becoming Native to Our Places^ It seems to be a characteristic of life that no matter what the level of organization, the juvenile stage is characterized by an excess of potential energy and an inefficiency in use of that energy. This seems to be as true of the early stages of an ecosystem as of a teenager. But we have seldom considered a corollary—that an excess of potential energy can generate a juvenile condition. The industrial revolution really hit its stride after World War II. It was only then that we became a truly affluent society. The Depression and the war contributed to making us a disciplined people, but after the war economic growth and invention really took off. We came to believe that comfort and security were the solutions to the human condition. But what this excess of potential energy has yielded us, beyond the throughput of goods, is a decrease in our maturity. Our culture is now like a time machine running backward. National polls frequently show that when the issues are framed as value questions, the public will give what in my view is the responsible answer. Then they'll vote otherwise. We saw this during the Reagan and Bush years. Environment gets a high 5 88 Becoming Native to This Place rating because it is the right answer, but people want government to do it without raising taxes or having a national discussion about getting rid of the automobile. It is reminiscent of a child who can give the answer the parents want and then goes on and does what he or she wants to do. This is not what Madison and the founding fathers expected . They believed the maturity of people's judgment would expand. Worried about corruption, they assumed that eventually our judgment would be larger, more diverse, and therefore more stable. Instead, we have gone the other way. We have become a more juvenile culture. We have become a childish "me, me, me" culture with fifteen-second attention spans. The global village that television was supposed to bring is less a village then a playground. We'd rather gossip about President Clinton's sex life than talk about the issues. And so few of the issues are really being dealt with. We seem satisfied to keep tossing around that vague term "environment" without talking about our relationship with nature. The destruction of wilderness is not even a secondary consideration. Community destruction is scarcely mentioned. Destruction of our agricultural communities may as well go unnoticed, little is done about it. Widespread if not universal child neglect is less discussed than "the economy." Nearly all of the suggestions for change are off the mark. We educate kids to take tests. We make the assumption that better organized education will be better education. But what of the content? Teachers don't even know how to talk about community responsibility. Little attempt is made to pass on our cultural inheritance, and our moral and religious traditions are ne- Becoming Native to Our Places 89 glected except in the shallow "family values" arguments. In our universities there is good reason to believe that the Declaration of Independence would not be passed by university professors if it were brought to a vote today. Unlike those who signed that document, most modern scholars are less servants of the people. A necessary part of our intelligence is on the line as the oral tradition becomes less and less important. There was a time throughout our land when it was common for stories to be told and retold, a most valuable exercise, for the story retold is the story reexamined over and over again at different levels of intellectual and emotional growth. Huck Finn read at the fifth-grade level is different from Huck Finn read in high school or college or as a young parent or grandparent. That is true with almost any story. But "news" as displayed on television appears once only, unlike the story in the oral tradition with its many levels of meaning. Entire neighborhoods are more accessible to the world than their members are to one another. Is this part of our nature? It is always easier to think of a better way to produce food or a consumer item than to think of how to avoid using that food or that gadget wastefully We waste, I believe, largely because of our fallen condition. We employ human cleverness to make the earth yield an unbounded technological...


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MARC Record
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