Children: little animals

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As Thing 2 gets older and we attribute more humanity to her actions I wonder how much we really do anthropomorphize babies. Of course it’s not strictly anthropomorphism since she is human (her nickname these days is beast. She’s prone to roaring, growling and roughness), but attributing rational emotions, thoughts and feelings to a distinctly irrational creature. I find myself saying things like, she likes this, she wants that, she means this, when in reality I do not know any such thing to be the case. Certainly she has animalistic urges, she is hungry, tired, curious, happy, and she is at the age where she has learned some good mimicry of gestures and even sounds, but she is still very undeveloped as a human and I wonder what the technical difference between her psyche and that of an intelligent animal is at this point. When people assert wishes and traits to pets they are deemed to be anthropomorphising them. I certainly am guilty of this myself. When we rehomed our dogs I attributed analogues of human feelings to them when they really had their own alien animal inclinations. I wonder if the same is true of babies? While babies are tiny people in training, they are not at all rational and much closer to animals than a rational person. Of course babies grow into slightly more rational little people and eventually into adults, whereas animals do not.

So is it accurate to attribute rational human emotions to babies or even children? I don’t think it is, but within reason. Since we are (hopefully) raising children to be functional adults, teaching them our mores and morals, we come to expect them to behave in certain ways. Of course I think (as someone who does not get out much and admittedly lives in a bubble of intelligent educated person privilege), that adults can, and often do, lack higher rational capacity as well. People act without considered thought, often on impulse and urges.

Of course it’s natural to want to frame things in terms and feelings we can understand. Bring people in from otherness and align them with our internal monologue. Give meaning to their actions. I would do this because of that, thus they are like me. I understand and empathize. All that is why we attribute more complex thought and rationalization to immature instinct and impulse driven small people. There’s no harm in assigning them desires and feelings, though there is harm in assuming they can make rational connections and understand our actions.  Which is why punishment is pointless before a certain age.

It’s so natural that Thing 1 does it in relation to Thing 2. We often hear her saying “Her wants this (we are stuck on proper nouns of late)”, “Her says this!”  So Thing 1 is either doing a very good job mimicking us (not unreasonable, though I find Thing 1 attributing thoughts and feelings to Thing 2 much more frequently than we do), or is expressing a more rational expressive empathy with her little sister.  Meanwhile Thing 2 is still a small sociopath…

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