civilization and measuring wealth.

I’m reading The Rights of Indians and Tribes (4th Ed.) by Stephen L. Pevar.  It’s incredible to read chapter 1 and see, in brief, the hypocritical and genocidal patterns of the US Federal Government between 1789 and the present.  It seems like, time and time again, the native populations in America were labeled as one group of uncivilized, needy people.  Act after Act was passed by Congress in the efforts to “improve” the economic development of tribes which was really just a fancy way of saying “ethnic cleansing”.  The cycle began with the settlers’ push westward, greedy for land and safety from Indian attacks.  It induced action to be taken against tribes which was justified by the settlers’ mentality that their Christian, “modernized” ways were superior and that they were doing the Indians a favor.  Any governmental actions were completely two-faced, though, since their underlying motives were – until recent history – to undermine tribal systems and assimilate Indians into non-Indian culture.  (I’m definitely picturing Uncle Sam with a Hitler mustache these days.)

I still can’t get over this two-facedness.  And I think part of why I feel that way is the inherent irony of the circumstances: Settlers thought they were modern and that Indians were the uncivilized ones.

[Those powdered wigs definitely don’t shout “civilized and modern” anymore.  Nor does slavery.  Or taming horses to pull carts when you can just drive a car.]

Yet it’s not just the materialistic things – it’s the values.  These settlers imposed their civilized ways on native cultures, and modern society continues to hold biases.  If it doesn’t align with “modern thinking”, it’s radical and unacceptable.  Like traditional medicine.  Or nomadic lifestyles when we’ve developed agricultural techniques.

It’s just so ironic, that “native ways of life” are outdated – that assimilation would bring wealth to native communities.  It’s so ironic because I think it’s the complete opposite.  All you have to do is look at the health of the planet and you can see that it’s health has declined aggressively over the last century.  And what has also changed over the last century?  “Civilization”.

Civilized – 1. having advanced agricultural and social development; 2. refined in tastes.

To be “civilized” is to be advanced.  Or, by the second definition, kind of arrogant and picky.  But what is advancement?  I think it has come full-circle.

For the last couple of centuries, we’ve seen dramatic advancements in technology.  We’ve been able to learn and manipulate things we couldn’t have imagined just generations before.  But how does this gain of knowledge help us in the long run?  Certainly it has increased our laziness, thereby causing higher energy usages that deplete resources and consequently harm the planet – our forever home.  Certainly it has increased our life expectancies when not ailed by obesity or diabetes or cancer, for example, but that has increased our population and shed light on the possibility of a carrying capacity to the planet – our forever home.  Certainly it has made the quality of life better in some arenas, but it has also caused new problems and threats to our lives as a side effect.  How are those advancements?

The Paleo Diet.  All of the health advancements we’ve been allegedly making, yet people are reverting back to traditional diets, avoiding manufactured foods, and seeking more natural herbal remedies.  They have been thinking more of what we are and the origin of our medical advancements and rediscovering ancient knowledge.

Many are longing for simpler lives.  The communication systems we have are impressive, but stressing.  We are so interconnected it becomes dangerous.  It’s not uncommon for those in “civilized lifestyles” to long for something less, something more like “what it used to be”.  Or, as Miranda Lambert sings, for the time “before everything was automatic”.

Since the practices of the Indians have been widely replaced by the practices of “modern civilization”, America has lost nearly all of its topsoil.  It’s polluted and ravished by pesticides and other chemicals.  Bison populations were obliterated (intentionally), and other animals that have thrived for as long as humanity knows are suddenly finding themselves scarce and suffering.  No more “three sisters” planting – now everything is mono-crop, industrial-size, motorized, artificial…And, just like with the Dawes Act, all anyone can do is take more, more, more, more, and more…and think they’re entitled to the rest.

What is civilization?  Modern civilization hardly seems civilized to me.  It’s destroying this land and it was brought here by people who accused other cultures of being “uncivilized”, the same other cultures who lived here for thousands of years in peace with the planet.

Being civilized should encompass acknowledging that advancements are only made if a part of that advancement is preservation of the planet.  Because, seriously, can you imagine living in a world without it?  It sounds stupid to try to imagine it because you can’t.  Yet people are living like that, taking what they want as they can because they feel entitled to do so.  Not obligated to respect and pass up opportunities that are wrong.

And what is wealth?  Because I don’t think it’s having all of these silly, materialistic things.  I think it’s knowledge, wisdom gained by experience, giving and thus receiving respect, and – most importantly – finding happiness in next to nothing.  They always say you can never be happy with someone else until you’re happy alone, and I think that’s true of any kind of wealth.

Oh, just my rant for the day.

Taken for Granted.

ImageI’ve been reading One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  The story focuses on an extended family and surrounding people living rather isolated and somewhat primitive in Colombia.  The patriarch of the family is transfixed with the ideas of science and invention.  In fact, he founds his own village, Macondo, on an island so he can spend his life entertaining his curiosities.  What’s particularly interesting about this man and his village, though, is the fact that the both are so isolated in only the familiar and with little contact to the outside.  For example, some gypsies bring in a large piece of ice to the village as a “demonstration” – not of science, but of magic.  The man is transfixed by this enormous diamond and pays for him and his sons to touch it.  Because he sees things in one light and one light only.

I’m still reading the book, but that was the gist of what I’ve gotten from summaries of it and what I’ve read so far.  But what really stuck out to me was that ice scenario.  I started thinking about the life that family had, isolated in one of the last regions to be explored.  In fact, Colombia is still heavily avoided, perhaps due more to violence than environmental concern such as the Amazon in Brazil.

But…ice.

I see ice every morning during this time of year.  There’s ice on my windows, ice hanging from my eaves, and ice on the sidewalks.  We go to the restaurant and we’re served water with ice.  We buy bags of ice for coolers to pack samples in the lab.  We have ice for injuries whenever we need it.

But, ice.

There are people in this world who have lived their whole lives without ever seeing, feeling, tasting, knowing ice.  They might know steam and not recognize it as water.  If they saw ice, they surely wouldn’t first guess water, would they?  Could they say ‘diamonds’ if they knew diamonds?  And how could you ever explain that feeling of such coldness?  So cold, it seems boiling hot if you have only ever known boiling hot.

I’m not just thinking about the materialistic things we take for granted in our daily lives, like heat and air-conditioning.  I’m not just talking about the people we take for granted in our daily lives, like friends and family.  I’m talking about the science we have come to know and how it has changed our lives as we’ve learned to manipulate it.

Medication.  Transportation.  Entertainment.  Those are some of the big ones.

But even something as simple as ice.  Phase change.  Think of how many things we have that rely on phase change: cooking, engines, pumps,…a lot of little things that make up much bigger things.  Science, knowledge….the ability to share that information – it can so easily be taken for granted.

How different would your life be if you lived in a place where no one knew ice?