Natives Aff


Survival of Native culture solves human extinction—it’s key to every other impact



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Survival of Native culture solves human extinction—it’s key to every other impact

WEATHERFORD 1994 (Jack, Anthropologist, Savages and Civilization: Who Will Survive?, pp. 287-291)

Today we have no local and regional civilizations. The world now stands united in a single, global civilization. Collapse in one part could trigger a chain reaction that may well sweep away cities across the globe. Will the fate of Yaxchilán be the fate of all cities, of all civilization? Are they doomed to rise, flourish, and then fall back into the earth from which they came? Whether we take an optimistic view or a pessimistic one, it seems clear that we stand now at the conclusion of a great age of human history. This ten-thousand-year episode seems to be coming to an end, winding down. For now, it appears that civilization has won out over all other ways of life. Civilized people have defeated the tribal people of the world who have been killed or scattered. But just at the moment when victory seems in the air for civilization, just at the moment when it has defeated all external foes and made itself master of the world, without any competing system to rival it, civilization seems to be in worse danger than ever before. No longer in fear of enemies from outside, civilization seems more vulnerable than ever to enemies from within. It has become a victim of its own success. In its quest for dominance, civilization chewed up the forest, leeched the soil, stripped the plains, clogged the rivers, mined the mountains, polluted the oceans, and fouled the air. In the process of progress, civilization destroyed one species of plant and animal after another. Propelled by the gospel of agriculture, civilization moved forcefully across the globe, but it soon began to die of exhaustion, leaving millions of humans to starve. Some of the oldest places in the agricultural world became some of the first to collapse. Just as it seems to have completed its victory over tribal people, the nation-state has begun to dissolve. Breaking apart into ethnic chunks and cultural enclaves, the number of states has multiplied in the twentieth century to the point that the concept of a nation-state itself starts to deteriorate. The nation-state absorbed the remaining tribal people but has proven incapable of incorporating them fully into the national society as equal members. The state swallowed them up but could not digest them. The state could destroy the old languages and cultures, and it easily divided and even relocated whole nations. But the state proved far less effective at incorporating the detribalized people into the new national culture. Even though the state expanded across the frontier, it could not make the frontier disappear. The frontier moved into the urban areas with the detribalized masses of defeated nations, emancipated slaves, and exploited laborers. After ten thousand years of struggle, humans may have been left with a Pyrrhic victory whose cost may be much greater than its benefits. Now that the victory has been won, we stoop under the burdensome costs and damages to a world that we may not be able to heal or repair. Unable to cope with the rapidly changing natural, social, and cultural environment that civilization made, we see the collapse of the social institutions of the city and the state that brought us this far. The cities and institutions of civilization have now become social dinosaurs. Even though we may look back with pride over the last ten thousand years of evolution and cite the massive number of humans and the ability of human society and the city to feed and care for all of them, one major fluctuation in the world might easily end all of that. The civilization we have built stretches like a delicate and fragile membrane on this Earth. It will not require anything as dramatic as a collision with a giant asteroid to destroy civilization. Civilization seems perfectly capable of creating its own Armageddon. During the twentieth century, civilization experience a number of major scares, a series of warning shots. Civilization proved capable of waging world war on itself. Toward that end, we developed nuclear energy and came close to provoking a nuclear holocaust, and we may well do so yet. When we survived World War I, then World War II, and finally the nuclear threat of the Cold War, we felt safe. When catastrophe did not follow the warning, we felt relief, as though the danger had passed, but danger still approaches us. Civilization experienced several “super plagues” ranging from the devastating world influenza epidemic early in the century to AIDS at the close of the century. These may be only weak harbingers of the epidemics and plagues to come. Even as life expectancy in most countries has continued to climb throughout the twentieth century, diseases from cancer to syphilis have grown stronger and more deadly. If war or new plagues do not bring down civilization, it might easily collapse as a result of environmental degradation and the disruption of productive agricultural lands. If the great collapse comes, it might well come from something that we do not yet suspect. Perhaps war, disease, famine, and environmental degradation will be only parts of the process and not the causes. Today all of us are unquestionably part of a global society, but that common membership does not produce cultural uniformity around the globe. The challenge now facing us is to live in harmony without living in uniformity, to be united by some forces such as worldwide commerce, pop culture, and communications, but to remain peacefully different in other areas such as religion and ethnicity. We need to share some values such as a commitment to fundamental human rights and basic rules of interaction, but we can be wildly different in other areas such as life-styles, spirituality, musical tastes, and community life. We need to find a way for all of us to walk in two worlds at once, to be part of the world culture, without sacrificing the cultural heritage of our own families and traditions. At the same time we need to find ways to allow other people to walk in two worlds, or perhaps even to walk in four or five worlds at once. We cannot go backwards in history and change one hour or one moment, but we do have the power to change the present and thus alter the future. The first step in that process should come by respecting the mutual right of all people to survive with dignity and to control their own destinies without surrendering their cultures. The aborigines of Australia, the Tibetans of China, the Lacandon of Mexico, the Tuareg of Mali, the Aleuts of Alaska, the Ainu of Japan, the Maori of New Zealand, the Aymara of Bolivia, and the millions of other ethnic groups around the world deserve the same human rights and cultural dignity as suburbanites in Los Angeles, bureaucrats in London, bankers in Paris, reporters in Atlanta, marketing executives in Vancouver, artists in Berlin, surfers in Sydney, or industrialists in Tokyo. In recent centuries, Western civilization has played the leading role on the stage of human history. We should not mistake this one act for the whole drama of human history, nor should we assume that the present act is the final one just because it is before us at the moment. Much came before us, and much remains yet to be enacted. We must recognize the value of all people not merely out of nostalgic sentiment for the oppressed or merely to keep them like exhibits in a nature park. We must recognize their rights and value because we may need the combined knowledge of all cultures if we are to overcome the problems that now threaten to overwhelm us. At first glance, the Aleuts who hunt seals on isolated islands in the Bering Sea may seem like unimportant actors on the world stage of today, but their ancestors once played a vital role in human survival of the Ice Age. The Quechua woman sitting in the dusty market of Cochamba may seem backward and insignificant, but her ancestors led the way into an agricultural revolution from which we still benefit. Because we do not know the problems that lie ahead of us, we do not know which set of human skills or which cultural perspective we will need. The coming age of human history threatens to be one of cultural conflicts between and within countries, conflicts that rip cities apart. If we continue down the same path that we now tread, the problems visible today in Tibet or Mexico may seem trifling compared with the conflicts yet to come. If we cannot change our course, then our civilization too may become as dead as the stones of Yaxchilán, and one day the descendants of some alien civilization will stare at our ruined cities and wonder why we disappeared.




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