Blogs > Stone Age Brain | Rick Shenkman > Is Western society responsible for violence and environmental degradation?

Apr 3, 2015

Is Western society responsible for violence and environmental degradation?

tags: violence,environmental destruction

This is what we hear all the time.  It's implicit in the leftwing indictment of the West that was made in the Sixties and which you still encounter in certain circles today.  But it rests on a false premise conjured up by Descartes that man in nature is free and peaceful.  Would that it were true!

Here's Michael Shermer, the science writer (who holds a PhD in the history of science).  This is from his 2004 book, The Science of Good and Evil:

When it comes to how humans treat other humans and the environment, the Beautiful People have never existed except in myth. Humans are neither Beautiful People nor Ugly People, in the same way that we are neither moral nor immoral in some absolute categorical sense. Humans are only doing what any species does to survive; but we do it with a twist (and a vengeance)—instead of our environment shaping us through natural selection, we are shaping our environment through artificial selection. 

In a fascinating 1996 study, for example, University of Michigan ecologist Bobbi Low used the data from the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample to test the hypothesis that we can solve our ecological problems by returning to the mythological Beautiful People’s attitudes of reverence for (rather than exploitation of) the natural world, and by opting for long-term group-oriented values (rather than short-term individual values).  Her analysis of 186 hunting-fishing-gathering (HFG) societies around the world showed that their use of the environment is driven by ecological constraints and not by attitudes, such as sacred prohibitions, and that their relatively low environmental impact is the result of low population density, inefficient technology, and the lack of profitable markets, not from conscious efforts at conservation. Low also showed that in 32 percent of HFG societies, not only were they not practicing conservation, environmental degradation was severe; again, it was limited only by the time and technology to finish the job of destruction and extinction. 

Extending the analysis of the BPM to other areas of human culture, UCLA anthropologist Robert Edgerton surveyed the anthropological record and found clear evidence of drug addiction, abuse of women and children, bodily mutilation, economic exploitation of the group by political leaders, suicide, and mental illness in indigenous preindustrial peoples, groups not contaminated by Western values (allegedly the source of such “sick” behavior).

comments powered by Disqus