White wash

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Diamond J. 1997. Guns, Germs and Steel: The fates of human societies. Norton. New York, United States. Chapters 4,5,6 and 8.

CBC was on point this afternoon, while I was listening to vinyl cafe stories about Tofino’s wharf, beach combing and pallets that washed ashore on the eastern edge of the pacific after the Tsunami that reaped havoc on the Japanese coast. The plummeting blue whale populations stories… Its all about the stories. It seems like coastal communities are bearing witness and feeling the impacts of climate change in a way that we cannot comprehend. We are spoiled here on the interior of BC because of our cozy nook in between he rockies and Pacific Northwest with the only signs of global warming being the shortening winters, even now, my only experience with changes in weather and catastrophes has only been the slight aftershock of an earthquake that measured 3.6 on the richter scale that I slept through. I feel spoiled. My main issue these days is the my perpetual overheating due to the lack of cold winter I have been experiencing here in Kamloops.

The sun was beating down hard in mid January and the snow was melting at a rate that I have never seen before, I was thinking to myself after reading Diamonds chapter on the haves and have nots that the primary victims of the apparent “progress” of the world were the indigenous and non white populations. Is global warming a direct result of progress? Is this the type of society I want to bring my children up in? working 5 days a week to earn my keep sounds awful, no wonder the “indigenous” were so reluctant to adopt farming. I found myself exceedingly irritated by the ignorance of diamonds statement on Page 154 “Naturally, I don’t subscribe to the obvious fallacy that every society promptly adopts every innovation that would be useful for it.” I found myself thinking “how the fuck do you know what would be useful for them” and got quite the laugh when he started to question the edibility of the mushrooms his new guinean Foré companion picked and was told to “shut up”. I felt a strange comfort in that because although this guy apparently knows a lot of “facts” about the development of societies, he was scared to even eat a mushroom and throughout the book he kept talking about the fertile crescent as if it was the greatest thing to ever happen to humanity, even though it bred diseases that the scared white people used to take over entire continents and eventually lead to the warming of the globe due to the unrestrained growth of a poison way of life, needless to say, I’m a little sore about the subject. When Lyn mentioned in class that Hunter and Gatherers only needed to forage for 2.5 days a week whereas food producing societies had to work for 5 days a week it got me thinking that we were tricked into working for a system that systematically restricts the freedom of people by forcing wage slavery upon them. If we were hunter gatherers we would have much more time for innovation and true progress. I personally think Diamond delusional speaks about the advent of food production as something advanced but I see it as a method by which humans have exploited the land to the point that its starting to burn not only the land but the indigenous people of the world, again. Its all about the story and how many believe it. I found this book speaking about the narrative of building empires from a single side of the coin. I believe, however that this story isn’t over and the fact that our society has been lagging in progression for the past 100 years due to our obsession with murder of not only our fellow humans but our planet as well has some truly inspirational lessons to be learned and dreams to be dreamt:

  1. If we can kick our addiction to oil and cars what would we do with our roads? -Imagine if we planted crops in place of our roads
  2. If we can maintain this era of peace with each other Imagine an era of peace with the land?-sure the human population has exploded and the inevitable population decline is on the horizon, but if we can control ourselves would we be able to transition from a species extinction event to a species explosion event?

I feel like Diamond has dreadfully failed to tell the story of indigenous people, although there are a lot of “facts” in the book, there is a distinct lack of “soul”. lots of great insightful information but talk about boring and repetitive in presentation.

This reminds me of a story one of my elders told me once:

There once was a white guy and a horse near a river bank setting up camp during the time of the colonials. a village of indigenous people were just up the river and they smelled him so they sent a couple of warriors to investigate the stink. When they came to the ridge that the white guy was they called in a spirit to investigate the guy so the spirit went down the hill and touched the white guy on the shoulder, he didn’t notice but the horse could see the spirit and started neighing and pulling on its ropes and the white guy screamed at the horse to shut up. The spirit returned to the indigenous warriors and said that the white guy didn’t feel it so the warriors put more energy into the spirit and sent it down to talk to the white guy at the river but when the spirit got there the white guy didn’t notice the spirit at all, but the horse started kicking and freaking out. The spirit returned to the indigenous warriors and told them that the white guy doesn’t have a spirit, and he was carrying a book that had a cross on it. The white guy was a priest.

Was Diamond just another white guy without a spirit?





3 thoughts on “White wash

  1. Hey there,
    Overall, I really like your post here. I enjoy and respect your views as they challenge my own “white washed” ones. I will have to disagree with you on a few points though.
    I don’t think Diamond talks of the Fertile Crescent as the greatest thing in the world. I feel he speaks very indifferently about whether agriculture is positive or negative in society. Instead he points out the factors that made agriculture such a viable option in the Fertile Crescent and the consequences that follow once an agricultural society is developed (i.e. disease, population booms etc.).
    I also think you fail to address a critical point in your comparison of hunter-gatherers to agricultural societies. You say, “If we were hunter gatherers we would have much more time for innovation and true progress”. Let’s say that hunter-gatherers only foraged 2.5 days a week. Those 2.5 days are spent solely on foraging. How much time was devoted to other things for example tool, weapon and shelter building/ repair etc. The point I’m trying to get at is that with hunting and gathering we may have more free time but we would all be generalists. We would spend our 2.5 plus days working for our survival and then we would have our free time to work towards innovation if we choose. Whereas in an agricultural society we have people who work to provide the food and have very little free time. These people produce a food surplus, which in turn allow us to feed others for specialization. These specialists can now spend their time solely working on innovations and progress but have very little free time after that. Many of our innovations today have come from these specialists. Think of our society today. We have a few farmers who work their butts off and provide for the rest of the country/ continent. We also have scientists who at the same time are working their butts off trying to produce better cars/ batteries. We also have political science professors who devote their time to analyzing and criticizing government policy in an effort to progress our society. Can you provide an example of a hunter-gatherer society where we are able to achieve such specialization? Finally, I assume the innovation you are talking about is greener sustainable societies and the reason that we have not sufficiently progressed is a result of our current economics based society and government policy rather than because of our form of food production.
    One final disagreement, you say, “if we can control ourselves would we be able to transition from a species extinction event to a species explosion event?” What type of control will allow us to increase the carrying capacity of the world to lead to a population explosion and avoid the decline so many predict? The only way I see to cause another population explosion is to further exploit the land and only delay (but not stop) the population decline that is coming.
    This comment seems negative and I apologize for that. Believe me or not I do appreciate your blog post. I very much like and agree with you statement, “it got me thinking that we were tricked into working for a system that systematically restricts the freedom of people by forcing wage slavery upon them”. Currently, we are all slaves to the big corporations that run the world and it is going to be a long and difficult road to change this. Reverting back to a more hunter-gatherer society would certainly give us back some power. However, recognize that going back means sacrificing other parts of our societies. To go back would require a sever population decline and we would be giving up a large chunk of the specialization, and therefore knowledge that we have required. Therefore, the decision we make depends on our values. I think I can guess what you value and which side you err on and frankly I tend to agree with you.
    Look forward to seeing more.


    1. Thanks for the comment, So there are a couple of questions you asked so ill just answer them to the best of my ability.
      For the question:
      Can you provide an example of a hunter-gatherer society where we are able to achieve such specialization?
      First of all, I come from a hunter-gatherer society, and although you may not see it, nor have had the chance to see it due to white washing, we did have our specializations. We had doctors who used plant and animal part to treat diseases and symptoms but the doctors weren’t only symptom treaters, they were also councillors teachers and mentors to those interested in the art. We also had hunters who, you guessed it, hunted. Our women generally acted as lawyers, who settled disputes between people if they weren’t able to settle it themselves. We also had engineers who built our homes, maintained our gardens and build nets and traps for the hunters to use. Although hunter gatherers didn’t practice agriculture in a manner of dominance, they did practice agriculture in a manner of harmony. The abundance of north america didn’t just happen, it was directed by practices such as burning forest rotationally and harvesting the mushrooms and fresh growth, taking care of the rivers so that they were capable of producing massive runs of oilcan, salmon etc. We were treated like savages and belittled for our practices, but we simply didn’t speak the same language and were exploited by the diseases brought over as a result of the dirty practices colonials brought with them. In my eyes colonizers are the savages and the indigenous are the civilized. “What type of control will allow us to increase the carrying capacity of the world to lead to a population explosion and avoid the decline so many predict?” I would propose that, although white people are great at perfecting technology, they lack the morals and values that would restrict the exploitation of the land in the ways we are baring witness to today, the ethnocentrism that “civilized” people brought with them came with a tangible lack of social advancement that permitted my people to think of us as a part of nature rather than nature as a thing that can be taken without consequence. If you ask me, we are on the verge of seeing the consequences of our actions, and only when the colonizers can humble themselves and admit that, although they know how to exploit, they don’t know possess the culture that permits them to live with different things- like black people, asian people, red people, nature… the list goes on. Just like an old man told me once when I asked him if natives would use a chainsaw, he simply said “yeah I would use a chainsaw, but I wouldn’t cut down the whole forest”.


      1. That’s interesting, I didn’t know there was so much specialization in First Nations culture. The first part of your comment reminds of Chomsky’s book “Hope and Prospercts”. In the book he talks about the Egyptians and Incas and how they had such advanced technology for their time. But once they were conquered that technology and knowledge was lost forever. For example, I don’t think we’ll ever know how to build a pyramid without machines again. When these people were defeated more than lives when lost. This makes me think that, perhaps the best societies and the smartest peoples have already been lost because they were not as advanced in one aspect of life, war. Imagine if the engineers from Egypt that built the pyramids had another 2,000 years When I learn more about First Nations pre-European settlement it saddens me as I feel the same happened here. There was an undeniable knowledge of sustainability that has since been lost simply because they didn’t have guns.


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