Bringing up Baby
THE CONTINUUM CONCEPT Jean Liedloff Duckworth. £3.95 Dec. 75
From the first page of her narrative i t is clear that Jean Liedloff is no ordinary woman. Her story began in Florence where as a young woman she joined two Italian explorers on their way to the Amazonas jungle in Venezuela to look for diamonds. They did in fact find diamonds, but once in the jungle, diamonds became more or less a sidetrack for Jean. I t was the jungle environment and in particular the way that primitive man — in this instance Yequana Indians — had adapted to i t that caught her attention and made her determined to get her ideas down in writing. What had struck her forcibly was how the Yequana brought up their children.
This in fact is what her book is about - child care as i t should be practised. And she calls her story The Continuum Concept, because according to her observations stoneage Amerindians have never lost what she considers an aeons-old primaeval ability to raise their children so that they become responsible, integrated human beings. We, on the other hand, have severed our links with the continuum and have imposed instead our own selfish rationalisations as to how children should come into the world and from then on how they should be cared for. No wonder, says Jean, that we develop into alienated less contented human beings.
One of her early chapters describes what she terms the 'in-arms'
experience. The Amerindian infant is never left on its own — an isolate in a world i t cannot yet comprehend. I t is held in someone's arms all the time, whether those of its own mother or of a temporary surrogate, and despite the hurly burly of a primitive woman's existence, always feels itself close to the pleasant warmth and comfort of human flesh and blood. That phase passes to the crawling phase and here lies the paradox; having been so much a part of its mother and her associates for all its worldly life, the crawling infant has by now acquired a natural sense of security and can be left by its mother in safety with other children. By the time i t toddles the infant has acquired some independence, but with sufficient built-in caution, and the mother does not panic should i t play near fire, pick up sharp knives O T go near water. And, remarks Liedloff, accidents are very rare.
She then contrasts our own way of bringing up children. The modern child is born in the sterile world of the hospital and almost without exception is plucked immediately from its mother and put to sleep alone in a cot, and all too rarely does the mother actually breast-feed her child. Then, so that we adults can be 'free' of our children when we want, we train them from an early age to go to sleep by themselves and have their meals at times imposed by us.
We would like to think that our way of bringing up children makes them secure in themselves and independant, but Liedloff contends that we in fact achieve the opposite, and that many of our deep-rooted psychological hang-ups stem from our feeling of isolation as infants. She may well be right, but she does rather weaken her case by giving her own sketchy analysis of how upbringing causes each of the major misfit types — from homosexuals to drug takers. Also for the cynical readers of today, there is perhaps too much eulogy for the Indians, and a blind spot for their defects. Can they really be so perfect in bringing up their children, and do they as adults not suffer some of the psychological problems that afflict us? Nevertheless Jean Liedloff's thesis is enjoyable to read,
i f a little repetitive, and on the whole i t makes a great deal of common sense. I t would be an excellent beginning i f all maternity hospitals as well as mothers and mothers-tobe had access to it , and could bring some of its essential credos to life in our own selfish and materialistic world. Peter Bunyard
The Conservation Game PLANTS AND ENVIRONMENT Third Edition by R. F. Daubenmire. John Wiley & Sons Ltd. THE CONSERVATION ALTERNATIVE by R.F. Dasmann. John Wiley &c Sons Inc.
Without plants there would be no life, or environmentalists to worry about its degradation or destruction. Plants are the essential energy gate, processing endless sun energy into streams of endless life. Our science and technology have enabled us to ransack the relatively simple physical universe — but at the level of the cell we hit a wall of miasmic complexity and diversity. Transistors, for example, might seem pretty clever, but photosynthesis does so much more, and plants reproduce themselves! Ecology is therefore a humbling science to the technocrat, and a reassuring one to those who believe the human condition is basically that of a clever animal in a magic, green world. A good ecology textbook should enable us to see this, coolly disentangling the major strands — light, heat, moisture, other living things, soil and so on — explaining and then carefully replacing them in the throbbing change and continuity of life.
Daubenmire's book does this admirably: a lifetime observing and investigating plants shows clearly. And despite the complexity of his subject, his book reads easily in the main. At times he does use compressed, information-saturated language — but i t is not jargon, and my advice to anyone put off temporarily would be 'keep reading!'. Daubenmire opens up the wonderland all around us, transforming a walk even at the edge of concrete deserts into a fascinating lesson on plant life. We see how light-loving and shade-tolerant trees battle in