Once again, a confluence of articles in the newspapers and magazines I read regularly, combined with events occurring in my classes, has led me blogward. It continues to amaze me that the focus required to produce an essay or two per week seems to generate spontaneous couplings of information, and some interesting partnerships.
Friday night I taught my first-ever class in visual anthropology. I started off showing a few short films from the Faces of Culture series, and introduced concepts like cultural relativism and ethnocentrism. Now, I’m a jaded old fart who’s known about all this stuff for the last fifty years, but my students were essentially unaware that in addition to introducing smallpox and other diseases to the Americas (about which they already knew), the colonialist impulse had wiped out the entire population of Tasmania, and is still in the process of eliminating most surviving small-scale economies. So the number of people on earth who maintain close, day-to-day contact with the mother planet is dwindling as I write. And while colonialism per se has largely disappeared, the ethnocentric impulse that fostered it is alive and well. Latent imperialists, especially in the United States, are still trying to convince others that we know what’s best for them, and that our values and ways of life are far preferable to theirs. Of course, the big difference now is that some of the “others” are fighting back—in ways completely anathema to those very values and ways of life.
It’s perhaps ironic, but probably inevitable, that a book describing in such minute detail how long the effects of our technological juggernaut will last also makes use of high-tech web-based materials to augment the message. I guess it’s not called the “web” for nothing; the metaphor becomes richer the more we connect information, ideas, and everyday events, and our dependence on our technologies grows with every connection we make.
Photo: This was taken in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, in 2003; it serves as a reminder of the impermanence of human presence--especially in light of Weisman's book--but also that some cultures do not want their "footprint" to be permanent. The ancestral Puebloans who built this place meant for it to fall away when they had gone.