The school somehow tied into something much larger. And this to me was related to the difficulty people had in understanding it and accepting its validity as an educational institution.
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This in turn had to do with another puzzle for me. At every turn, we see that the school arouses intense passions in people that are not typical of the intensity encountered by other schools. To be sure, there are often parents who are irritated with their schools and are worked up about this or that aspect of the programs. But the kinds of passions that are consistently aroused in Sudbury Valley tap much deeper wellsprings of anger than you would associate with any other new or established public or private school. Is the trailblazing work of Alice Miller related to these passions? In the school, we talk about the virtues of a community based on mutual respect, and we conjure up images of people living together in peace.
Then we come home and we look at Nature documentaries on TV, and we see violence in every aspect of Nature.
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All of Nature appears brutal. Every time we look at the screen, we see one animal tearing another apart. Why even imagine that any new method of childrearing, or education, or organizing society, can break through the biological inevitability of violence? What was it about this book that moved me? What was it that I found so touching?
It felt like a harbinger of something — but of what? Let me start with my understanding of evolution. The way the world is set up, in order to ensure the long-term survival of the Earth, there has to be some kind of metastable equilibrium between all the entities that make up the planet. But on a planetary scale, change is slow. And as novelties are introduced, the rest of the world adjusts to them. In order for various species to survive, there has to be a kind of harmony among them that enables them not to constantly eliminate each other, or fundamentally disturb each other.
That harmony is what Aboriginal thinkers always talk about, and what biologists and evolutionists study. Within this planetary metastable equilibrium, there are all kinds of different forces at work, including those that involve the need all living things have for certain essentials such as food, water, and shelter. Evolution provides species, from the simplest to the most complex, with the mechanisms necessary to enable them to exist and to go on living.
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The way the world is set up, different living things keep alive basically by preying on each other. A certain amount of inorganic material ends up being absorbed into the lifestream of the planet, but most life is sustained by the exchange of organic substances between species, by the consumption of live or dead matter. The way this state of affairs reaches equilibrium in the planetary order of things is that the instincts and drives of individual animals are designed so that only their real needs are satisfied through predation; but once satisfied, they are shut down by a feedback mechanism.
In this manner, the mutual destruction of life does not end up destroying the overall balance of Nature. I want to digress briefly to discuss the anthropomorphizing that frequently colors our view of the world. We tend to introduce moral values into non-human situations, based on our own experience. What we observe is processed by our minds in the context of our world view. So when we see an animal bleeding, we equate it to our own bleeding.
When a flower is clipped, there are also all kinds of changes that occur. If we had ears that heard as screams the events caused in the surroundings by a flower being clipped, then we would say that every person who clips a flower is being violent. I see predators as no different really than herbiverous animals. Thus, for Nature to go on functioning in metastable equilibrium, then — to introduce a pure but apt anthropomorphism — there has to be a kind of mutual respect among the different species.
Basically, living things allow each other their space. Then, and only then, the species impinges on another species just enough to keep itself going and then the mutual respect returns. There is no underlying desire to destroy. There is basically indifference except when satisfying their essential needs. Fear and stress enter the picture when animals encounter a situation, outside the normal ups and downs of life, that terrorizes them and mobilizes in them a series of internal physiological and psychological reactions that are completely at variance with, and even inimical to, the stability and the everyday maintenance of the organism.
Wherever it may first enter, the introduction of the factor of fear is an extremely important new step in evolution.
Fear not only upsets the whole physiological and psychological order of things, but also makes the animal do things that it would never do in ordinary situations. Everything becomes focussed on removing what is perceived to be the cause of the fear. An organism cannot go through life without satisfying all of its normal drives and instincts.
But an organism can go through life without ever undergoing a single stress reaction. The world could have easily existed without fear and the stress reaction. I can understand that animals and plants, in order to maintain themselves in their constant interaction with predators, have to contain systems within themselves that cope with them. But, at some point, a line is crossed. Fear and stress are extraneous factors that are unnecessary for the maintenance of biological equilibrium. The key to all of the different problems that I talked about in Part I is fear, and the effects that fear has on the organism.
One of the most important things that distinguishes humans from other species is a well developed sense of self-awareness. This has momentous consequences. Now, the fear reaction introduces an equilibrium-destroying set of responses from the animal. Thus, an animal in fear will lose its inner sense of balance with other species, and will strike out to kill, just to rid itself of what it fears. This is why you find terrified animals killing more than they ever want to eat, by striking out and destroying wantonly everything around them.
Human beings, because they are self-aware, are not only aware of their drives, but they are also aware of when they are afraid. Human beings are very, very conscious of their fear. They feel it. They feel the changes that overcome them due to fear. They feel and know that they want to get rid of fear.
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Humans look for the sources of their anxiety and fear, and worry about them, and become preoccupied with them. This concern shows itself in many areas.
In every religious tradition, supernatural forces play the exact same roles as physical forces do in Western secular science: they are used to explain natural phenomena. In addition to wanting to understand the world just because the mind by nature seeks to create working models of the world, people also wanted to understand the world in order to be able to figure out how to rid themselves of unpredictable and unexpected phenomena that made them afraid: storms, fire, lightning, floods, droughts, the disappearance of prey, infertility, and natural disasters of all kinds.
And in order to figure out a way to rid themselves of these awesome fears, people sought to create mechanisms that would remove what they perceived to be their causes.
This realization helped me understand a phenomenon that hitherto mystified me. What is so idyllic about life in these tribes? Daily existence among these tribes is full of violence and brutality. Where are the warm, peaceful, loving adults who grow up from their wonderful way of childrearing?
Banishing Fear Itself
It misses a big piece of the picture. In the absence of fear, the natural instincts of humans, and the natural instincts of all species, are fundamentally in balance with each other. They have to be. Otherwise the world would have self-destructed ages ago. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed. I am so confused.
First Name Last Name. Friend's Email Address. Your Name. Your Email Address. Become a supporter and enjoy The Good Men Project ad free. Speak these words over the cause of your fear. God is our hiding place. For David, this meant sitting in a cave praying trained warriors bypassed his route. It absolutely works. God can only be our rock if we let him. Trust him to deliver you from every fear coming against the truth not only in his ability, but his desire to deliver you.
Yup, still my favorite Psalm. God has made it possible for you to know Him and experience an amazing change in your own life. Discover how you can find peace with God.
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