Many people in the world have to struggle just to survive, or in any case to make ends meet. It’s a continuum, I suppose, as many of us for whom this is not really the case still face stress and fear about the future. But some of us have more breathing room than others. Imagine if everything you had grown up to believe and value was facing extinction: your language, livelihood and culture, everything that for you made your life have meaning, resided only in you and your family, maybe a handful of others. This is the case for the remaining members of various tribes in South America, whose existence and way of life have been under attack for centuries, as was the case too with all the native peoples of the Americas. Our way of life is erasing them from the planet.
We should value diversity of culture and way of life much more. The narrative that supports this destruction is familiar: this is just progress, there is no other choice, dams must be built to give people power, forests must be logged, and those whose subsistence depends on these lands must simply adapt to a modern way of life. This is so short-sighted. We don’t understand what we are destroying. We have learned enough to value, to a degree, “endangered species”; somehow we are vaguely aware that we don’t want to live in a world entirely without grizzly bears, even though they are dangerous, or buffalo or cougars or bison or eagles. Should we not then give even greater value to a species of human being, even if genetically similar, but with a language that will be lost forever, and a way of living that is wild and precious and maybe, just maybe, there is even something to be learned from those coming from a completely different cultural background? Because most of the rest of the world comes from a basically European industrialist model. It is not that our way is bad and that the way of life is somehow more virtuous or pure, but that without them we have no way of seeing ourselves or measuring ourselves. We lose our perspective and ultimately, our humanity.
There is one organization, at least, that shares my view on this and is fighting a difficult battle to preserve the integrity of these peoples lives: http://amazonwatch.org/
I think that at least those of us whose lives are not immediately in jeopardy need to care more and speak up more, and I do think this is happening. It needs to continue. We especially need to speak up when it comes to irreversible acts, things that cannot be undone, including the loss of tribes and natural areas. There is a wily, manipulative concept coming into discourse that goes something like, “But what is natural, anyway?” This way of wishful thinking, rationalizing our destructive path, tries to somehow imply that everything is natural, even the chemicals that we create, because we humans are natural and we just created what we created from natural materials. It’s just a mental game, and it avoids the understanding of just how different what is truly untouched by human hands is, for example, the difference between an old growth forest and a planted forest. Yes, I want human beings to be involved in planting trees to cover clearcuts, and I do think we can do better to approximate nature’s design, but I do not believe we are to the point yet where we fully understand what came here before us, whether we believe it was created by a Universal Intelligence, Divine Accident, or Pure Accident.