October 26, 2005

Becoming Native To This Place

Wes Jackson started Becoming Native To This Place by asking why the Quiviran natives of central Kansas were able to support about fifteen thousand more people than the same area seems to be capable of today. His accusation is that, like the conquistadors, the modern inhabitants of America are too interested in economic gain and arbitrary goals to see the riches of the land around us and pay attention to them.

He illustrates the blinkered war between the materialist scientific worldview and traditional forms of knowledge about the landscape by describing in turns Lysenko’s purge of experimental rigor from Soviet genetics and the tendency of western science ever since to discount the experience and wisdom of native populations. He suggests that when the two philosophies are at war with each other, valuable perspectives are lost.

It seems to be society’s sense of perspective that troubles him the most. The idea that we should run the world and its living systems, or the idea that we can fully understand them, is described as the root cause of destructive behavior. He keeps asking us to let go of the belief that we can know enough and instead trust in modeling superbly engineered natural systems to the best of our ability.

The standard for usefulness in a crop plant or an animal by this measure would then be not solely its productivity at some arbitrary level of human care, but how well that plant or animal could fend for itself under local conditions. The standard for usefulness in agriculture would be, as in nature, how much material could be retained within the system without waste.

Finding fault with ecologists who save their love for the small land areas that are still wild and economists who assume a marketplace of perfect knowledge, Jackson urges readers to take the leap of faith into a society defined from the bottom up by a focus on “right livelihood.”

The shortsighted imperatives of a society that has many products but little culture need to be abandoned to create the next stage in human societies. While he recognizes that there’s no going back to the time of our ancestors, Jackson asks that readers provide the right settings for strong communities and a sustainable, localized agriculture and trust that this will work better than conquest and extraction.

Posted by natasha at October 26, 2005 12:30 AM | Agriculture | Technorati links |

My guess would be that modern Kansas supports at least several million more people than the original peoples did, because the product is exported. Judging from the mound-building and trading societies of the Mississippi Valley, this export-import idea goes back quite a way.

And I'm guessing that a mush-headed beginning is followed by equally squalid second and third acts. Pulleeze! We can do better than that!

Posted by: serial catowner at October 29, 2005 06:25 AM