Tuesday, June 24, 2008

warped historical perspective part 1

how long must a way of life be practiced in order for it to become a tradition?

what makes me ask this question at this time?

a combination of things -
I'm currently rereading the Dune Chronicles which places a huge emphasis on tradition and adaptation.
Do we follow ways of being by rote - by being culturally programmed?
or is there the possibility of a greater freedom of vision and adaptation?
what are the potential outcomes of these differing views?

I am going to attempt to put into words some of my thoughts about the subject...thoughts which are constantly evolving, which should clue you in a little bit on which 'side' of this discussion i currently reside.

As a species, traditions definitely can have a positive function.
They pass down information, ways of dealing with the world and our interconnections
with each other.
They work marvelously on a local and regional basis, most likely being originally created in accord with a balanced relationship with the local biome.
examples...how to plant crops to grow with the regional climate, how to relate to the local flora and fauna in order to MAINTAIN a symbiotic relationship which ensures the proliferation and continuation of a sustainable living system.
When tradition flourishes in this regard, it could be considered to be of evolutionary advantage.

There are a few areas where tradition runs into trouble though, where it becomes a process of devolution.
One instance is when it becomes steeped in abstract thought - thought and belief not rooted in the physical world.
In these instances, human concepts tend to over-rule symbiotic relationships, and Taker relationships (to use a Daniel Quinn term)evolve with the biome.
These type of relationships tend to be rooted in a psychology that is akin to parasitism and mimic the activity of cancer cells.
Gluttony and Greed tend to dominate this way of being and inevitably lead to deeper problems such as famine, plague and the like.

This way of being also has a tendency to want to enforce itself on a universal basis rather than existing in a regional form, ignoring local biomes and symbiotic relationships in preference to 'easily controlled' (not really) monoculture.
Whn one believes that things should be similar everywhere, not only are they creating a psychologically and physically violent culture, they are at war with existence and evolution itself.
Evolution has a tendency towards diversification, not homogenization.
The less diversity there is, the less likely the system is capable of adaptation to change, and change is the one and only constant.

Now, do not think that i am all for an 'anything goes' attitude. There are certain cultural values and traditions which reinforce evolutionary advantageous traits.
it matters not whether they are physical , mental, spiritual or emotional, all of these things are of great importance.
to deny any one attribute of our existence is to handicap ourselves.

Many times I have come across people claiming that their way of life is a tradition which cannot be questioned even though that 'tradition' lacks longevity.
This is where i notice an extremely warped sense of time and history.

I am going to use a local example from where i currently live - one that could easily put my physical wellbeing in danger if it was spoken within earshot of a group of members of this 'tradition'.
Ranching. specifically in the Escalante Canyons area.
There was an immense uproar from locals back in 1996 when Bill Clinton passed an act that created the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and declared that millions of acres of wilderness in Southern Utah were to be protected.
People in the local town of Escalante even hung effigies in the street and vandalized cars of 'greenies' during this period.
I myself have even met with the blank wall of attempting to say hello to a rancher while filling up next to him at a local gas station. why? probably because i had my National Park Service Volunteer hat in my back window.
These ranchers claim that their traditional way of life is being attacked by outsiders.
Yes, some outsiders have changed the way the land is dealt with in this area, but with good reason, a reason that should not be ignored, and by many of the ranchers doing so, they prove that their relationship to this landscape is decidedly not in balance or sacred, but rather that of the Taker variety.
There are still grazing easements in the Monument, and for part of the year, the ranchers are allowed to let their cattle graze in some of the canyons and flats of the monument.
Any hiker which has traversed any of the areas where these easements exist can tell you that it has a devastating effect.
Droppings are everywhere, making water that is naturally rather clean and in many cases safe to drink straight from the creeks undrinkable without filtration do to Giardia introduced by the cattle droppings. And that is just one aspect.
The cattle also tear the heck out of the cryptobiotic soil crust, the lifeblood of desert soil- a lichen, fungus, algae symbiotic relationship which holds the soil together, absorbs moisture during the brief and rare rains, and puts nitrogen into the soil. One step on this crust will kill it and it takes many years to recover. older crust can take up to 100 years to reach the growth level it was at.

Other problems exist with the destruction of young plant life, such as Cottonwood trees. Cattle have been eating all of the young shoots of the next generation of trees, so there is a complete generation of them missing in many locations.
They also will not eat sage, so sage stands are growing wider and grasses are disappearing.
a good book to read about some of these problems as well as the feel of the Escalante Canyons is Singing Stone by Thomas Fleischner.

While the ranchers would consider their way of life 'traditional', it is important to realize that white folks have only been settled in this region for a bit over a hundred years (200 tops).
When viewed in terms of human history, that hundred years or so is just a very small blip in time.
The ranching way of life is an IMPORTED way of being which is not based or developed in balance with the local biome.
This area was once heavily occupied by aboriginals, usually referred to as Anasazi.
Chert chippings and work stations abound in this area, and my home is less than a quarter mile from the Anasazi State Park, where there is a 36 room collection of ruins on display.
The Anasazi did NOT ranch. They were hunters and gatherers and possibly did a small amount of farming.
Boulder is lucky enough to be the first town downstream from Boulder Mountain, which makes for a decent water supply for being in the high desert. There are many irrigation channels (small man made streams) which bring water into town and onto ranches.
I've noticed that many do not practice the type of water conservation that should be practiced due to this supply of water.

If we are to survive and thrive as a species which is in balance with our surroundings, we must evolve our understanding of tradition and cultural programming.

to be continued...