Lessons from Universal Aspects of American Indian Cultures
January 6, 2012
The current occupants of the American continent, despite their best efforts, are harder on their surrounding ecosystems than the indigenous cultures which previously lived there. American Indian cultures seem to have worked with their varying environments, where modern culture works over its environment.
American Indian culture established a (now) rare harmony with their biological world, out of a desire to ensure both their own survival, as well as that of their surrounding ecosystems. In 2012, we must become aware of the fact that human harmony with the environment is a necessary element of the survival of both humanity, and that environment.
The Extinction of American Megafauna
All hominids on Earth originate from Africa. Like waves crashing on a beach, hominids have spent the past few million years colonizing the fertile latitudinal stripe between western Europe and eastern Asia, and then retreating back into Africa. Our hominid ancestors have repeated this process many, many times. This crashing tide of hominids caused the ecosystems of this green belt, and in Africa, to become relatively immunized against the improving hunting tactics of humans.
The weaker hunting tactics of relatively earlier hominids served the surrounding ecosystems like the dead and weakened viruses injected into the human body in a typical inoculation. These ecosystems were able to evolve with humans, step by step, and therefore survive. Simply put, our prey learned to fear us. ”See human, run,” was the survivors’ strategy.
Almost all species of megafauna on the American continent were hunted to extinction by humans using hunting tactics sharpened by incubation in Africa and Eurasia. The ecological damage inflicted by the first human Americans upon their environment is congruent to the damage done to American Indians by western settlers.
Saber toothed tigers existed in the Americas. Wooly rhinoceros lived there as well. It would have been a safari to rival the best in Africa, but the problem was that none of these American large animals had evolved alongside humans. They were not inoculated to the rising, unforgiving tide of hominid bodies, so they did not survive.
American mistakes, made 12,000 years ago
The earliest American humans must have experienced a huge temporary windfall. They enjoyed wealth like none had in their known history. The earliest Americans had plenty of food to eat, based only on hunting and gathering, and had time to devote to other tasks, unrelated to survival. This initial flash of wealth was likely quite enjoyable for the individually participating humans. They must have thought they were pretty clever. On the individual level, this wealth lasted a very long time – longer than the enjoyers of that wealth lived. But in the scale of geologic time, this wealth was a flash in the pan.
Shortly after the arrival of humans in the Americas, human population exploded, which caused most species of megafauna to go extinct, which in turn collapsed a significant fraction of the food chain. Unprecedented wealth and population growth was followed by unprecedented population contraction and economic loss.
Many of the unifying aspects the cultures of American Indians exists in response to these especially dramatic bubbles and collapses of their food supply. The responding American cultures arose from the rubble of a functional apocalypse. Naomi Klein’s shock doctrine was in full effect, on a continental scale, long before she coined the term. The catastrophic collapse of the American food supply shaped the cultures of later American humans, and caused those cultures to live in harmony with the environment or perish with it.
Humans here made decisions to increase their own immediate personal wealth at the expense of their surrounding ecosystem. This destroyed their society, their culture, and the ecosystems which they inhabited.
Today we stand on the cusp of repeating these mistakes, except with far worse consequences, and on a global scale. We are the architects of what is already a mass extinction on par with the meteor that caused the end of the dinosaur era.
Today in 2012, individuals increase their own personal wealth at the expense of the environment and ecosystem, which is stealing, by definition. We colonize our future to enrich the present, and it cannot physically continue.
The wealth of American Indian hunter gatherer society was both enormous, and stored in their environment. They lived on the interest created by this wealth, and in relative harmony with their surrounding ecosystems.
The strategy of modern western colonization is to simply withdraw from this environmentally stored wealth as fast as possible, and then also consume that wealth as fast as possible. With the western strategy, there will eventually remain neither a lump sum, nor interest to pay living expenses, and at this future moment, dramatic lifestyle changes must occur.
American Indian cultures respected the environment for a reason. Without this respect, both the human and the environment will perish. As a global society, we must re-adopt the wisdom behind this ancient respect for the environment, and a willingness to dramatically change our lifestyles to soften the eventual societal landing at the new, future normal.
At both the individual and societal level, our lifestyles will be forced into dramatic change by the unsustainable depletion of the environmental wealth of our world. To both ensure the survival of our species and surrounding ecosystems, we must be willing to change our lifestyles, or we will be forced to do so by reality. We humans must again store the wealth of our world in our environment, and live in harmony with it, or we both will perish.
by Carl Rittenhouse Larson