Nature: Western Attitudes Since Ancient Times was an interesting read that offered many interesting insights into the subtleties of Western culture’s relationship with nature. Stylistically the book was different than earlier readings which have been narratives. This book took more of an expository approach, almost making it feel like a text-book. Yet overall, author, Peter Croates had much to offer.
One chapter that particularly caught my interest was chapter 5, The World Beyond Europe. It covered several topics, collectively they address the post-Colombian interaction of European culture with the New World. The chapter dealt initially with relationship between capitalism and nature. Specifically in terms of how the two constructs seem to exist in opposition to each other, yet are inextricably tied. For example, cities like New York exist as a byproduct of the financial successes capitalism has produces in the U.S., yet fundamentally the city, and other like it, rely on raw natural resources which they are totally detached from, both physically and psychological. These cities are emblems of capitalism whose existence depends on the over exploitation of natural resources near and far. The waste produced by this model of living are ignored, and the basis’ of its existence are slowly depleting.
This economic model has been a primary mechanism in boosting the U.S. to one of, if not, the most powerful countries in the world. Yet the economic wealth American’s have now could not have reach had there not been an initial vast store of economically viable natural resources to fuel growth. These two constructs, capitalism and nature, interacted in areas outside of Europe to produce a model of living based on an insatiable appetite for natural resources which are limited.
The wastes produced by capitalism have not gone unnoticed though. Environmental groups such as EarthFirst! have sighted American Indians as a lost bastion of indigenous environmentally knowledge. This eco-indian perspective has resulted in much archeological attention, and has produced insight counter to EarthFirst!, and other environmentalist groups’, hypothesis. Actually current evidence indicates that many of populations of American Indians, which was highly diverse, practiced many techniques which had much environmental impact. For example, burning down forests to create more grass land, and thus more grazing animals to hunt has been indicated through archeological evidence. Interestingly, there is also much evidence indicating large American Indian states which have collapsed due to environmental problems such as soil degradation. Books such as Dirt: The Erosion of Civilization by David Montgomery and The Ecological Indian by Shepard Krech both cover these issues.
To me these insight were very profound, offering a broader perspective into the course of human history. Looking from an ecological stand-point, books like Gun, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond offer a more insightful look into human history. This is not to take an environmental deterministic stand-point, but to merge environmental conditions into out understanding of human history. Interweaving environmental factors which have aided and/or have been harmful to certain cultures in certain geographic region, is imperative if we are to understand the future course of Western Civilization.
Questions that come to mind include:
What are some examples of the ecological Indian being depicted in pop-culture?
What is problematic about taking an environmentally deterministic stand-point when looking at human history?
Is human existence inherently going to be at odds/detrimental with our surrounding environment?