Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hello Everyone!

I'm Nina, and I've been generously invited to contribute to trog-a-log blog. I'm an illustration student, a lover of the outdoors and hope to be a farmer one day as well. I'm passionate about many things, but especially environmental issues. I have many things I want to blog about, so let's just dive right in!

I've just bought the book The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World by Wade Davis. The premise is that, while plants and animals are becoming extinct at an alarming rate, even more shocking is the rate of extinction of human cultures: of the 7,000 languages spoken in the world today, fully 50% of them will disappear within our lifetimes. I've just read the first chapter, and it's got me thinking a lot about the nature of progress. Here is a quote from Wade Davis:
Evolution suggested change through time, and this, together with the Victorian cult of improvement, implied a progression in the affairs of human beings, a ladder to success that rose from the primitive of the civilized, from the tribal village of Africa to London and the splendour of the Strand. The cultures of the world came to be seen as a living museum in which individual societies represented evolutionary moments captured and mired in time, each one a stage in the imagined ascent to civilization.

Wade Davis is describing anthropology in the 19th century, the wake of Darwinism, but have we progressed far beyond this view? We still refer to "progress" as if it is something linear which can be measured in terms of technological advancement or economic growth. We often refer to countries as being "developed" or "undeveloped". Implicit in that is the assumption that our Western model of progress is the end point of a defined and linear course that other people should aspire to. Particular features of our society, such as capitalism, industrialization, involvement in the global market and technological advancement are taken mostly as givens, and people expect them to continue on into the future, much the same way as they are now, despite the looming environmental and oil crises.

History, as has been taught to most of us in schools, re-affirms this notion of linear progression: People began as hunter-gatherers, then came agriculture, the civilizations of Mesopotamia, the Greeks, the Romans, the Europeans, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and so on. This is certainly valuable history for anybody living in a western culture to learn. I wonder, though, whether it also creates an illusion of "progress" as something orderly, linear, and arriving at the inevitable result that is our modern society. In reality, we still share our world with countless other cultures, including hunter-gathers, nomadic peoples and a host of agricultural societies very different from our own. How do they fit into our scheme of progress? And is our current model equipped to deal with the challenges we presently face?

I'm really eager to read further into The Wayfinders, and I'll share my insights as I go along. For now, I will finish with another quote from Wade Davis:
We share a sacred endowment, a common history written in our bones. It follows, as these lectures will suggest, that the myriad of cultures of the world are not failed attempts at modernity, let alone failed attempts to be us. They are unique expressions of the human imagination and heart, unique answers to a fundamental question: What does it mean to be human and alive?

No comments:

Post a Comment