Monday, April 30, 2007
The myth of the noble savage
One of the more interesting myths to seep into American culture is the myth of the noble savage. In this myth, Native Americans prior to the coming of white people were noble and dignified and lived in harmony with nature. James Finimore Cooper was an early propagator of this myth, and throughout the 19th century it alternated with the myth of the Native American as bloodthirsty savage until finally, after the last Indian was moved to a reservation, it became the predominant myth regarding Native Americans.
Over the past 40 years the Greenies in the environmental movement siezed upon this myth and used it as an anti-technology screed. See, they say. It isn't necessary to have all these nasty dirty machines, you can live a noble life just fine in harmony with nature.
The only problem is: It simply isn't true.
"Native Americans lived in harmony with nature"... bah. What a bunch of drivel. Native Americans drove the proto-horse and mammoths of the Americas into extinction. Using only stone adzes and pottery bowls Native Americans turned the Rio Salado valley into a salt-ridden desert that took hundreds years to recover to the point where agriculture was possible again (the Hohokum culture disintegrated once no longer able to raise enough food for survival). The Anastazi did much the same over in New Mexico. Native American cultures were continually at war against each other, to the point where, when they had a common enemy, they refused to unite and drive said common enemy into the sea, indeed the only way that Spanish could defeat the Aztecs with the few thousand men at their disposal was by enlisting the neighboring tribes to go to war with the Aztecs at the same time. As for technology, the Native Americans eagerly embraced as much technology as they were capable of absorbing given their lack of education, rapidly adopting the horse and stirrup to the point where when American settlers encountered the Plains Indians they assumed that the Plains Indians had always been nomadic tribesmen (they had previously been sedentary agriculturalists), embracing whiskey and wool blankets to the point where they were used to destroy Native American cultures by giving them smallpox-infected blankets and all the whiskey they could drink, and Native Americans could never get enough guns.
All in all, the only difference between the Native Americans and us is that they didn't have a Scientific Revolution. If they'd had the capability, they would have despoiled the Earth just as much as we're doing. If you really believe that nonsense about Native Americans being such "stewards" of the Earth, I suggest you go to any Native American reservation. There's enough trash and junk lying around to make that stereotypical TV Indian cry. The backside of the Hopi mesas has centuries of trash just piled up where they just shove their trash off the edge of the mesa. The Navaho stripped all the grass covering off their reservation by running so many sheep that they turned high plains grassland into utter desolate desert. Some of this is just poverty, of course -- impoverished people generally aren't concerned about making their homes look nice, they're concerned about survival. But the same was true 500 years ago before the "White Man" came on the scene too.
Too many people have bought too much Greenie propaganda. The fact of the matter is that technological civilization is the only civilization, ever, in human history, that has ever given even one thought to ecology and preservation. Technological civilization is the only civilization, ever, in human history, that has ever had any understanding of the impact of human behavior upon the planet, or the luxury in terms of economic resources to actually start reducing some of those impacts. And furthermore, technological civilization is the only civilization, ever, in human history, that has ever made any attempts to restore that which human behavior has despoiled.
The only way we could go back to living the way the pre-contact Native Americans lived would be to kill off 99% of the world's population, none of whom would go lightly and all of whom would swiftly destroy all the trees and topsoil on their way down (see: Haiti). We'd also kill off all technology at the same time, and it'd never come back -- there simply are no longer the easily-exploitable resources that allowed the Industrial Revolution. We'd live as ignorant tribesmen with no knowledge of anything other than what's immediately necessary for survival in our short, nasty, and brutish lives -- forever. No more art. No more science. No more literature. All of that requires resources and leisure time which would no longer exist. All there would be would be survival. Just survival. Forever.
- Badtux the Socio-Technology Penguin
Labels: culture, economy, environment, technology
Posted by: BadTux / 4/30/2007 10:33:00 AM
interesting...so you are saying there is no way out of this mess we've gotten ourselves into?
well the mayan calendar says that will happen 2012
time to buy a boat - eh noah?
# posted by azgoddess : 30/4/07 2:02 PM
Very thoughtful post...and while you are still trying to move too. I guess Fang slept long enough for you to be able to write. Go Fang! You haven't been brutal to the cat anymore have you?
# posted by sumo : 30/4/07 3:31 PM
[but don't talk about that!]
a very modest list of:
Available before Greece
Some people get it.
Oh blah di
# posted by Martin Langeland : 30/4/07 6:57 PM
Hey, you remebered brutish!
# posted by nunya : 30/4/07 8:50 PM
i have offered more than once to take people out to a place in the superstitions where my own ancestors (the ones they wax all poetic about living in harmony with nature and stuff) hunted buffalo by driving entire herds off a cliff. there are still mounded bones down in the arroyo. although if you begin to catalogue the forest of the colorado plateau you will find a much higher concentration of food bearing trees than would be expected to naturally occur. so, pretty much like every other civilization, they lived both because of and in spite of the environment.
# posted by The Minstrel Boy : 30/4/07 9:24 PM
Indeed, people are people. Period. The only perfect man got crucified for his troubles. People who push myths that some group of people were somehow more "noble" or "dignified" than some other group are full of it.
- Badtux the "People are people" Penguin
# posted by BadTux : 30/4/07 9:58 PM
I nominate myself to be in the 1%. (I still have fantasies about the hunter and gatherer life.)
# posted by Karlo : 2/5/07 6:10 AM
- Name: BadTux
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