Cultural Extinction

At any given time, I have about a dozen books on my shelf waiting for the right time to be read. So it was with “The Wayfinders-Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World,” by Wade Davis, which had been waiting patiently for about three years. Once I’d read the first few pages, I gulped this book like it was a life-giving elixir.

way finder book coverDavis begins by sharing his view of the world. And believe me, from his life experiences as a National Geographic explorer, writer and anthropologist, he is well versed in world. “Together the myriad of cultures makes up an intellectual and spiritual web of life that envelopes the planet and is every bit as important to the well being of the planet as is the biological web of life we know as the biosphere.” Davis calls this social web of life an ethnosphere — the “sum total of our thoughts and intuitions, myths and beliefs.” This ethnosphere is the core of our adaptive nature and our legacy.  And, the truth is we are facing the loss of half of humanity’s social, cultural and intellectual legacy, as the extinction of human cultures is picking up pace.

Excellently written and thought provoking, this book is essentially a compilation of Davis’ series of Massey Lectures. Davis shares his extensive knowledge of a good many diverse populations with whom he developed relationships. First, the Polynesians, spreading their cultural realm to hundreds of islands throughout the Pacific with their amazing art of navigation. Who knew Thor Hyderdahl’s “Kon Tiki” was full of bunk! Peoples of the Anaconda is a perfect example of a large and diverse civilization whose existence is woven into the very fabric of its physical location–along the Amazon River. The Aborigines of Australia, with their ritual ‘dreaming,’ evolved a deep, timeless relationship with their world. “What does it mean that though out history “dynamic living people have been driven out of existence by identifiable and overwhelming external forces?” Davis asks.

With a perfect blend of science and human insights, Davis makes  powerful observations. In the chapter on Sacred Geography he states, “…I would like to reflect on this particular attitude of ours, this manner in which we have reduced our planet to a commodity, a raw resource to be consumed at our whim.”  The modern world…”is certainly not the true and only pulse of history. It is merely a constellation, of beliefs, conviction, paradigm, that represent one way of doing things…”

For some reason I thought of this song when I was writing this blog. In the vast oceans, we are but ripples and waves. But, as that, we part of the whole. We are past, present, and the future–if we don’t fuck it up.

“I’m a wave upon the ocean, I’m a little ripple on the sea. Don’t get no crazy notion, you know you’re very much like me.” Shivas Headband

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