Sunday, December 15, 2019

Poles Apart

Could looking at much less elaborated ways of living, and unsnarling the complications raised by our intensely overwound culture reveal something about our encounter with global warming which seems to have escaped us so far?

This writer has been reading ethnographies, ethnographies of the Ju/wasi, (some refer to them as the San) the world’s oldest people (that is, people descended directly from the original human inhabitants of  Earth), who once occupied almost all of East Africa, and more recently the Kalahari Desert; and ethnographies of the inhabitants of Zanskar, one of the world’s most inaccessible people living poles apart in the high Himalayas.

Uncomplicated living in Zanskar
 Why read about people living distantly from our supremely dominant global, “civilized” cultures in the great cities of London, Washington, Rome, Paris, Berlin, and other Great Capitals of the Western World? What can they possibly teach us that we don’t already know, and that we don’t need to know? What is to be learned there? And why does this writer keep gnawing away at the question: Why is it that Western Culture (and that includes coal-burning countries like China) seems hell-bent on destroying the home in which it lives?

What would it take for the dominant global culture to reverse itself 180 degrees? And what kinds of reversal are we talking about? And how can anyone refer to a dominant global culture monolithically, when it includes kids who “get it?” Are those kids a separate culture?  Why does it matter? If we are talking about the clash of fundamental ideas of being in the world, why do we talk about the proponents of those ideas in the same breath?

The Ju/wasi have inhabited Botswana for a known period of 60,000 years. Their oral cultural memory of the skies of 58,000 B .C. tell them where to look for constellations which the unschooled eye cannot possibly find (because over a geological time period, far beyond the scope of human time, the skies shift infinitesimally slowly). Gift exchanging is a huge part of their daily lives, a practice which guarantees that no individuals can ever amass great wealth to the imporverishment of others. They lived happily this way for 60,000 years.

Ju/Wasi building a fire from scratch
If the human race had lived an existence as uncomplicated as the Ju/Wasi have, the climate of this planet might still have been able to cradle human existence in a more benevolent way. 

Zanskar Buddhist monastery
The Buddhist inhabitants of Zanskar weave the fabric which becomes their one suit of clothes, which they patch, and re-sew over a lifetime. At 16,000 feet, well above the tree line, the inhabitants mostly subsist on a diet of barley and peas, wild and  cultivated; some onions, radishes, cucumbers and potatoes (grown in tiny kitchen gardens) and their yaks give them yak butter.  Of these they make tea (served with butter); tsampa (barley flour moistened and kneaded with water to make cakes, often eaten cold); and chang, a drink made of fermented barley which makes the drinker warm and quite happy. To guard their animals from wolves, they occasionally sleep outdoors in temperatures of minus 40 degrees. To plant grains above the snow line, they build piles of soil which they spread over the snow in early Spring. The darkness of that earth forces the snow to melt allowing them to plant their grains early enough to harvest them before the first freeze. In other words, they make use of the very feed back loop that’s now over heating our Earth such that, as polar ice melts exposing the dark sea to sunlight, it further warms an already overheating planet. They live happily this way and have lived happily for as long as they have inhabited their kingdom.

If the human race had lived an existence as simple as the Zanskaris, the climate of this planet might still have been able to cradle our existence in a more benevolent way.

What does all this suggest?

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