The late David Maybury -Lewis was a founder of "Cultural Survival". He also tried to share his understanding of what is taking place in a book and television series called "Millennium – Tribal Wisdom and the Modern World". (Viking 1992)
Contrasting of the changes necessary to produce modern life with the Ways of former times in the West and with other peoples, and mindful of the existence of contradictions in all our lives, he says:
"Yet the dynamism that we sometimes disparage has transformed the world, and it is intimately related to the triumph of individualism. The glorification of the individual, this focus on the dignity and rights of the individual, this severing of the obligations to kin and community that support and constrain the individual in traditional societies, all this was the sociological equivalent of splitting the atom. It unleashed the human energy and creativity that enabled people to make extraordinary technical advances and to accumulate undreamed-of wealth."
"The very impersonality that traditional societies find weird or downright immoral in our arrangements was a condition of our material success. It is difficult, in fact, to see how else we could have gone beyond the limited range encompassed by the networks of traditional societies, transcended the parochialism of the Middle Ages, and expanded our horizons to encompass the huge political and economic systems of the twentieth system."
Difficult, perhaps, but not impossible – Question – what was happening in China and elsewhere during this same time? And in pre-invasion America? There were experiments in life underway which may have produced quite different answers. And in Australia and the Pacific…
What would have happened if British authorities – seeking a place for their surplus populate – had engaged with First Peoples with genuine acts of exchange of things of real value?
It is not by accident that some thinkers, possibly in seeking to avoid modern Western life being condemned completely after the horrors of mass destruction the 20th century (and its treatment of other people from the Crusades through the "New World" and to the present day) promote the view that modernity is incomplete.
It has to be incomplete because – like a vast South Sea Bubble – it refused to enter into real dialogue with the peoples of the countries it took for its own.
And the European notion of exclusive sovereignty (on that level of magnifications) and exclusive ownership "private property" (at a lower level) – both of which provide the means of ‘disowning’ the rights of others – may be one of the most immoral of Western arrangements.
Fashioning forms of representation which are ‘one sided’ – not negotiated between peoples – results in the promotion of world views which (unconsciously) reproduce the cultural projects at work in other parts of these ‘dynamic’ societies.
Charles Darwin, the master conceptual craftsperson and myth-maker, ‘naturalises’ competition between individuals within a species; ‘naturalises’ the neolithic practices of ‘artificial selection’; and sits comfortably with the new generation of gentlemen of science on the rise, vis-a-vis the former elite, fashioning life’s image to suit themselves – with metaphors which have us "looking up" to men who obtain their livelihood from the exploitation of other peoples living countries.
Edward Said has explained the relationship between cultural and imperialism. To live off shares in railways, for example, with a ‘clear conscious’, requires a less than adequate representation of the lives of other peoples – as First Peoples with connections to country – through whose country the railway is to run.
Adequate representations of other peoples lives – which are considered adequate by those people themselves as the only true judges of such matters – would stand in the way of ‘progress’. The same tired scripts are still being used today in the 21st century in the mad scramble to benefit from ‘undreamed-of wealth’.
Enough splitting of the social atom – time for some real life fusion.
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