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Flaying the outfield - The Ex-Communicator

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November 8th, 2009

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11:33 am - Flaying the outfield
A year or so ago I read Collapse by Jared Diamond. In that book he compares examples of sustainable and unsustainable societies. An example of an unsustainable society is the Viking settlement in Greenland. A key term in that book is 'mining'. He calls it mining if a culture is just stripping out an unreplenished resource. For instance the Vikings stripped the peat from southern Greenland, much faster than it could be replaced (they called it 'flaying the outfield'). Then it was all gone and they died.

The first section of the book is about modern Montana. I found it a bit less interesting than the rest so I skimmed it. However I remember him saying that capitalism has been in Montana much less time (about a quarter of the time) that the Vikings were in Greenland. And we consider Greenland a failed experiment. That comes to mind a lot when we read these National Geographic articles and see the pictures of the prairies being abandoned again.

This is the place where assumptions about the land proved to be wrong. The homesteaders believed rain followed the plough. In the grasslands of western Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas, they learned better. And so for almost a century we’ve watched stranded towns and houses fall one by one like autumn leaves in the chill of October.

What is so tragic is that this land only fell to the plough because of the systematic destruction of the existing ecology. Millions of buffalo were left to rot. At the end of Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, this is the most traumatic page in a book of misery and devastation. The prairie wolves gorge on the corpses and then starve to death. I'm wondering if the world is our outfield, and we are flaying it. Genocide slavery and destruction brought capitalism to the land, and I don't think we can hold onto it.

Though sometimes I think this is just me. I have heard it said 'as people grow old they project their own physical decline onto their culture'. And so I think perhaps it is my own mortality I sense approaching me. In this article George Monbiot says the opposite, that older people such as Clive James reject the truth about climate change, because it reminds them of their own mortality. I feel the opposite.

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[User Picture]
Date:November 8th, 2009 11:47 pm (UTC)
Look at it this way - climate change scientists are going against popular opinion

I wonder if most people are really influenced by public opinion in general? Or whether they're more influenced by the prevailing public opinion within their own peer group? If you're on the political left then the overwhelming public opinion within your peer group will be in favour of believing in climate change. If you're on the political right then public opinion within your peer group will be equally strong against believing. Being on the political left myself I've certainly encountered hostility for not accepting climate change as being equivalent to Revealed Truth!

And I suspect that these days people are less exposed to ideas coming from outside their own political camp. Partly thanks to the internet and cable TV news it's now possible to get all of one's news from sources that one agrees with ideologically. In Australia if you're on the right you can get all of your news with a massive right-wing bias from Fox News, and if you're on the left you can get all your news with an equally overwhelming left-wing bias from the ABC (our equivalent of the BBC). If you're a Christian you can get your news from the Christian cable TV station. You can join online groups where you can be assured that anyone who dissents will be hounded out. So political ideology has become more strongly reinforcing than ever before.

It's now frighteningly easy to avoid political opinions that conflict with one's own.

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