Let's Prehend
A Manual of Human Ecology and Culture Design

CULTURAL NEOTENY, CUNY, Roots of Our Helplessness

How does it happen that in personal life, people are driven to be as alienated as they can afford to be? Census statistics show that the proportion of households with only a single person is increasing - about 48% in New York City.

In work life, people strive to deny intrinsic values such as satisfaction and friendship, for the sake of abstract rewards such as money and power as explained in WORK, p.284. Security is nefariously denied to them, presumably to secure and enforce their conformity and insure their artificial contribution to the economy.

In family life, people are driven away from tribe, friends, family and loved ones, by the relentless compulsion to the abstract life, CAL. Perhaps our OOPs heritage has selected the most obnoxious people to grace our land, p.233. On a personal level, the pre and post natal culture continues to brutalize the citizenry as explained by *Pierce and others.

In ecological life, the environment of the earth is degraded to support flagrant consumption and exploitation, driven by GE and the ICErs.

In political and economic life, the bounty of the earth is squandered, often with a negative contribution to the quality of life, while half of God's children are enslaved, impoverished and terrorized so that a minority can live in a frenzy of freedom and prosperity as explained in ENHANCEMENT OF INVESTMENT, p.298.

The educational system continues to prepare children for the noisy desperation of life in modern abstract culture, as explained in EDUCATION, p.142.

Let's revert to psycho-historical myth for a theory to explain these cultural disasters. Let's borrow the term "neoteny" from the biologists, and apply it to culture. Neoteny, in biology, refers to that mechanism of evolution by which the organism evolves by retaining earlier developmental stages into later life. A common example is the newt as a neotenic lizard, or the human as a neotenic ape. Notice that humans have very little hair, like infant primates. Human brains keep growing in the fashion of an infant fetus, but well beyond birth. In science fiction, writers instinctively portray the future human as babyish, with small delicate bodies and large bald heads, a neotenic fantasy. This same evolutionary mechanism might apply to culture as well as zoology. Let's call it CUltural NeotenY, CUNY - the evolution of culture by extending infantile, even prenatal, conditions and lifestyles into adult life.

Common everyday activities can be seen as more or less neotenic. The automobile is a most popular womb. The rider rocks, enclosed, protected, warmed, and soothed with hi-fi heartbeat. The fact that fifty thousand people die each year in auto accidents roughly measures the vulnerability associated with the neoteny.

The home, of course, is the classic womb, each year more comfortable with TV remote, air conditioning, and maybe even a waterbed. An extreme addition is the hot tub and the isolation tank, all expressions of a return to the womb. New technology offers `virtual reality' home theater for those who would like to `go out'. Electronics creeps into every corner of modern households offering intelligence that the resident cannot understand or repair, even if they can afford it.

Not to say that neotenic experiences are all pathological. After all, living in a warm house, taking a warm bath and making love have neotenic components that may be considered healthy.

On the cultural level, the majority of middle-class ELBYs strive to become ever more dependent and passive in relation to their physical support systems, like helpless infants or fetuses. `Independence' comes to mean having enough money to be totally dependent on others, people whom you can pay to take care of every wish and whim, as the mother takes care of the helpless infant. Just as the modern neotenics need more complex machinery and elaborate utilities to support strange life styles, so they are increasingly unable to maintain, repair, or do without the modern umbilicus.

Most of public education promotes neoteny by striving to keep the children immobile and passive, confined to the classwomb. The implicit lesson of instruction is that work has no use and no meaning. The age-grouped classroom system serves to enhance self-centered competitiveness, but it contributes little to mature integration by identification and imitation of elders. Another lesson from school is obsequiousness and deviousness. Misbehavior, fostered by the child's defensive position, is a pathetic attempt to preserve integrity, reintegrate through sensory validation, or participate in active response-ability. Neotenic education is a preparation for neotenic life: passive, dependent, helpless and obsequious participation in the urban womb, blended with hostility sufficient to maintain the status quo.

Similarly, the oldsters, who might be imposed upon to act the role of elders, instead are obliged to regress toward infancy and to die in isolated depression.

Consciousness itself strives madly to conform to the consensual trance.[ "Consensual trance" is a favorite term of *Gurdieff and followers.] Modes of dress and STYLE move toward elegant and expensive `marginal variations', deficient in production or creation. Fashion replaces individuality with status imaging PUSS. Mental life becomes more private as interpersonal communication is replaced by mass media. As interpersonal relations become more adversarial, privacy is preferred and secrecy is needed for protection. The media that ties the system together actually promotes a prenatal mindlessness in which thought is dissociated from interaction with other people or things. Consciousness becomes a series of disembodied dreams as the TV rocks us in the womb of artificial sensation.

The HIGHRISE city itself is a neotenic monster: It is a huge womb shared by millions of single-cell-like creatures with elaborate and insecure umbilical cords bringing energy, water, and supplies, and removing wastes and garbage.

As the culture progresses, people become increasingly dependent upon such systems and increasingly insecure because of the inherent fragility of their support systems. Imagine what would happen to the city if a natural disaster or a truckers strike disrupted food deliveries. This individual fragility is considered to be personal rather than cultural as frantic and depressed people seek solace in drugs, therapy and spas. GRIDLOCK worsens as people commute as far as the technology and economy allows, making a neotenic virtue of necessity.

Cultural neoteny may help explain the pathology of modern abstract culture, MAC. Healing alternatives include the reconstruction of interpersonal process, the reconstruction of organic social life, rebuilding a fabric of real productive and creative activities, and moving forward to replace the onslaught of cultural neoteny. That is the task of human ecology and culture design.

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