Question Conventional Wisdom


Rapidly melting Arctic ice means less access to food and the inability to nurture offspring. The emaciated and possibly near-death female bear shown on the left is in stark contrast to the one on the right. The bear on the right is healthy and able to nurture young; she is still relatively untouched by the forces of civilization.

In the context of this photo, the one who is civilized (or changed/affected by civilization) is the one who has seen their life dramatically altered thanks to the human desire to burn massive amounts of fossil fuels despite knowing how harmful CO2 is to the environment. And yes, we’ve known how harmful CO2 is since at least the 1970’s.

According to conventional wisdom, the more civilized you are, the better off you are. Those who are uncivilized, or less civilized, are considered to be the less fortunate, those to be pitied. This is what we’re taught, but is this actually true? Has civilization been a net loss or gain for the natural world and human societies?

This is how Christopher Columbus described the Taino people he encountered after his initial “discovery” of the Americas:

…. They are an affectionate people, free from avarice and agreeable to everything. I certify to Your Highnesses that in all the world I do not believe there is a better people or a better country. They love their neighbors as themselves, and they have the softest and gentlest voices and are always smiling…

Keep in mind that these people and their society were defacto considered barbarous and backwards. Yet they were described by Columbus and others as living in a state of near-bliss. They certainly don’t sound like the average person in either today’s very civilized society, or the so-called civilized society of 16th century Europe, do they?

Civilization as we know it has been marketed as the only logical way to live, but we sometimes forget that it has historically been introduced to human populations at the tip of a sword or at the barrel of a gun. The choice, if we can call it that, is almost always the same: conform or die. For non-human animals, the civilization process is even worse because their presence is often a hindrance to human expansion – either a hindrance or of no concern at all. Those animals that are deemed useful to humans are domesticated. The rest are of little concern. More in this in forthcoming posts.

Conventional wisdom is killing the planet. We must begin to look more critically at concepts and assumptions we usually take for granted. Conventional wisdom must be challenged if we plan on saving what’s left of the natural world.

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