Monday, July 27, 2009

Library Unit 3: Culturist Propensities

I would just like to add from the getgo, that when I am talking about the arrogance of the West, I am most certainly not excluding myself. And I also think that it is important to make a distinction that is not made in this paper. Included in that arrogance is all of Western culture, not just those of us with pasty beige skin. Because this is really less about race, than it is about culture and our arrogant assumption that because we have digital watches, we are the sum of civilization. It is about people who live in different subsistence paradigms. It is about people who live in different social constructs. It is about recognizing - All of Us recognizing, that different, does not mean inferior. I don't care what color your skin, or your place on the economic spectrum. I don't even care about your education or intelligence.

We are, all of us, guilty to some degree or another.

“Rangers By Birth”
Will Hurd
Cultural Survival Quarterly 30.2 Summer, 2006

Will describes an awfully untenable situation, that I was happy to read has subsequently been resolved – at least in part by his work. The tribal peoples who live in and around the Omo National Park, by Will's account, have managed a wonderful balance of man and nature. This is evidenced by the belief of many that this is a wilderness, when it is actually the home of an estimated 50,000 people. And there is evidence of people much like these, living on these lands and with a similar balance for about 5,000 years.

Yet Westerners believed that there was some need to interfere withthese peoples and “manage” the lands of the Omo National Parkmore carefully. The African Parks Foundation, funded in part by theWalton Family Foundation – the same Walton family that owns WalMartand Sam's Club and other wealthy individuals, signed a 25 year leaseon the park in 2005 – threatening to displace the estimated 50,000Mursi, Suri, Nyangatom, Dizi and Me'en tribesmen who reside in thepark.

Yet these are people who understand the land, understand the ecology and their garden. They are horticulturists who practice eco friendly slash and burn gardening. They are herdsmen, who are careful not to allow their cattle to interfere with the ecosystem. They are also remarkably adept trackers and sometime (though rarely) hunters. They know where and how to travel this land safely and with very little risk from some of their less “polite” neighbors, such as crocodiles and water buffalo.

To be perfectly honest, this article made me bloody damned angry. I am sick of this idiotic notion that Westerners have, that when something is actually functional, we should stick our noses in and try to “fix” it. Yet where there are egregious human rights violations taking place, or even genocides, we can't seem to do anything, except maybe to protect our “interests” in the area. Which is always the exploitation of local natural resources, the proceeds from which do little or nothing for the local indigenous populations, instead usually lining the pockets of a few.

So to make ourselves feel good, we try to kick functional populations who are living in harmony with their environment, off the lands that they and people like them have inhabited for thousands of years. Because somehow we know better than these people who have lived here for so very long. Somehow we have the answers for “protecting” the diverse animal populations and vast array of plant life that is in parts simply an aspect of the ecosystem, a source of food, a source of building materials, fibers for ropes and clothing, a pollen source for domestic bees, food for cattle and also the pharmacy of the people who live there. And that is just a simplified list - I am quite certain that volumes could be written about the balance these people have achieved with their environment.

And this is not just the story of these peoples. This is the story of indigenous populations the world over. Populations that Westerners too often believe that we need to “help,” when they need nothing of the sort. We assume that because a people lives differently than we do, more primitively than we do, that they are somehow inferior – lacking some critical component of Civilization.

I have recently been told by someone that dark skinned people are somehow less moral than us white Westerners, because it takes cooperation and a certain moral fiber to live in our colder climates, than it does to live in these tropical and subtropical climes. That is the fundamental underpinning of Western thinking, though the more diversity oriented among us would cringe at the racism and culturalism stated so boldly – so openly. Yet that thinking is what drives many of the very Westerners who would cringe at hearing it stated so succinctly.

It is that thinking that causes supposed conservationists to decide that they, as “enlightened” Westerners can do it better than these people who have lived on those lands for centuries, if not Millenia. We don't like to put it in those blatant terms, but what else can we call this absolute height of arrogance and hubris? We. We who have managed to cause more damage to this planet, in the last 150 years, than was ever caused this planet since the mass extinction of the dinosaurs millions of years ago. We Westerners deciding that we can somehow do it better? We have a word for that – the same word that would be used to describe that bald statement I ran into the other day; Racism.


Cath@VWXYNot? said...

I have recently been told by someone that dark skinned people are somehow less moral than us white Westerners, because it takes cooperation and a certain moral fiber to live in our colder climates, than it does to live in these tropical and subtropical climes.

Um, WHAT??!! How on Earth can you even begin to hold a constructive dialogue with someone who thinks like that?!

I'm really enjoying this series of posts BTW, keep up the good work!

DuWayne Brayton said...

I don't believe that the person in question was interested in constructive dialogue. He was more interested in pushing his views about the "science" of evolutionary psychology and eugenics.

If you think they've been good so far, wait until I get to menstruation!!! Who'd have thought your period could be such interesting fun?

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

Ooh, not me! I'm on the edge of my seat ;)

RPS77 said...

To be fair, non-western cultures are quite capable of causing environmental damage - the idea that they are all "in balance with the natural world" isn't always true. Still, your larger point is pretty accurate - since western civilization has caused more large scale damage than any other, lecturing other people about how to live in balance with the rest of the natural world comes across like someone who has just burned down half the buildings in the neighborhood with a flamethrower lecturing others about the dangers of playing with matches.

Jason Thibeault said...

I remember that argument, DuWayne, but can't remember where I saw it. Greg's, probably. Got a link to point us back to? It was a pretty galling argument, to which I could have added nothing but invective.

DuWayne Brayton said...

I am not going to link that, because it would simply piss people off without good reason. And actually, if you are thinking of the discussion from quite a ways back, you are mistaken - same person, different thread - but yes, at Gregs.

DuWayne Brayton said...

RPS77 -

I know - I was just rather pissed when I was putting it together and didn't really make that clear.

Anonymous said...

"The arrogance of the West"- I would guess that statement indicates that ethnocentrism exist specifically only in countries founded by Western European settlement and immigration,although I believe that ethnocentrism is not limited by any geographical boundaries. Ethnocentrism exist is China,Russia,Spain,France,America, India,Africa,etc..

That a majority of nations believe their nations culture to be intrinsically “better” or superior to other nations and cultures is nothing new. Civil wars and tribal wars in Africa are partially birthed by tribal ethnocentrism.

America is not unique in its ethnocentrism, its just one member out of many members in the ethnocentrism global club.