"Noble Savage" myth covers up "truth"
By David Deming | edmondsun.com
Left: Francis Bacon author of The New Atlantis. Right: A detail from Benjamin West's The Death of General Wolfe; West's idealised depiction of this American Indian is in the tradition of the "Noble savage"
The late Joseph Campbell maintained that civilizations are not based on science, but on myth. “Aspiration,” Campbell explained, “is the motivator, builder and transformer of civilization.” Our technological society has been built on Francis Bacon’s myth of the New Atlantis.
Competing with Bacon’s vision of a scientific society based on intelligence, knowledge and innovation, is an older, more persistent fable: the Noble Savage. The Noble Savage is not a person, but an idea. It is cultural primitivism, the belief of people living in complex and evolved societies that the simple and primitive life is better. The Noble Savage is the myth that man can live in harmony with nature, that technology is destructive and that we would all be happier in a more primitive state.
Before Christ lived, the Noble Savage was known to the Hebrews as the Garden of Eden. The Greeks called it the lost Golden Age. In all the ages of the world, otherwise intelligent and learned persons have fallen swoon to the strange appeal of cultural primitivism. In the 16th century, French writer Michel de Montaigne described Americans Indians as so morally pure they had no words in their languages for lying, treachery, avarice and envy. And Montaigne portrayed the primitive life as so idyllic that American Indians did not have to work, but could spend the whole day dancing.
In 1755, Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued that what appeared to be human progress was in fact decay. The best condition for human beings to live in, according to Rousseau, was the “pure state of nature” in which savages existed. When men lived as hunters and gatherers, they were “free, healthy, honest and happy.” The downfall of man occurred when people started to live in cities, acquire private property and practice agriculture and metallurgy. The acquisition of private property resulted in inequality, aroused the vice of envy and led to perpetual conflict and unceasing warfare.
According to Rousseau, civilization itself was the scourge of humanity. Rousseau went so far as to make the astonishing claim that the source of all human misery was what he termed our “faculty of improvement,” or the use of our minds to improve the human condition.
Since Rousseau wrote, more than 250 years of archeological and ethnographic research have shown that most of the imaginative conceptions associated with the Noble Savage are simply wrong. Archeologist Steven A. Leblanc wrote that “warfare in the past was pervasive and deadly.” Conflict between bands of hunter-gatherers was universal and intense, and the practices of cannibalism and infanticide were common.
Before the Industrial Revolution disease and poverty were endemic, even in civilized societies. In 18th century Europe half of all children died before their 10th birthday, and life expectancy at birth was only 25 years.
Neither did pre-industrial civilizations live in a state of ecological harmony with their environment. Their exploitation of nature was often destructive. The Mediterranean islands colonized by the ancient Greeks were transformed into barren rock by overgrazing and deforestation. The Bay of Troy, described in Homer’s Iliad, has been filled in by sediment eroded from surrounding hillsides destabilized by unsustainable agricultural practices.
All of this would be of academic interest only, were it not the case that the modern environmental movement and many of our public policies are based implicitly on the myth of the Noble Savage. The fountainhead of modern environmentalism is Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.” The first sentence in “Silent Spring” invoked the Noble Savage by claiming “there was once a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings.”
But the town Carson described did not exist, and her polemic, “Silent Spring,” introduced us to environmental alarmism based on junk science. As the years passed, Carson was elevated to sainthood and the template laid for endless spasms of hysterical fear-mongering, from the population bomb, to nuclear winter, the Alar scare and global warming.
The truth is that human beings have not, cannot, and never will live in harmony with nature. Our prosperity and health depend on technology driven by energy. We exercise our intelligence to command nature, and were admonished by Francis Bacon to exercise our dominion with “sound reason and true religion.”
When we are told that our primary energy source, oil, is “making us sick,” or that we are “addicted” to oil, these are only the latest examples of otherwise rational persons descending into gibberish after swooning to the lure of the Noble Savage. This ignorant exultation of the primitive can only lead us back to the ages when human lives were “nasty, brutish and short.”
David Deming is a geologist and associate professor of Arts and Sciences at the University of Oklahoma.
Article from: http://www.edmondsun.com/opinion/local_story_333222711.html?keyword=topstory
Rousseau and the noble savage myth
Before the Fall - Evidence for a Golden Age
The New Age or the Aquarian Age & World Government
The First Eden - Part One
Sukhavati - Place of Bliss: A Mythic Journey with Joseph Campbell (Video)
Latest News from our Front Page
Obama Administration Likely to Block New Redskins Stadium
The Obama administration will likely block Washington, D.C., authorities from building a new stadium for the NFLâ€™s Washington Redskins because of objections to the teamâ€™s name.
The National Park Service (NPS) owns the land under the 54-year-old Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, a venue two miles east of the Capitol that hosted the Redskins from 1961 to 1996. Some city leaders ...
Safe spaces, white tears and getting kicked out of a women's group - by two men
Lately I've been kicked out of a couple of groups I belong to, for daring to question received wisdom or refusing to go along with the rules of identity politics.
For instance, I was thrown out my university women's group -- by two men! -- for questioning an article on Jezebel about "cultural appropriation."
They explained that the group was supposed to ...
Ghost rider in the sky: Scientists use lasers to project movie onto clouds
A green ghost rider appeared in the sky over the British city of Nottingham when scientists started testing a newly developed projecting device which allows the beaming of moving images directly onto clouds for the first time ever.
The image of a galloping horse rider was projected onto the clouds from a distance of 50 meters by a special laser-based projection ...
Chinaâ€™s stock market is crashing, and the Chinese are trying to do the exact same thing America did in 1929
â€˜While European attention is focused on Greece, China is having a serious market meltdown.
After exploding earlier in the year because of deregulation, Chinaâ€™s benchmark Shanghai Composite has collapsed a crazy 29% since the highs of early June. Chinaâ€™s other stock markets have had similarly steep falls.
Bloomberg notes that the crisis is closely mirroring the 1929 Wall Street crash, which led ...
Oregon Is First State to Charge Drivers for Each Mile They Drive
When he's not riding his bicycle, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat, said he's driving a fuel-efficient hybrid, and that's a problem, because it means he's not paying his "fair share" for highway maintenance.
Blumenauer says that's why he signed up for OReGO, the nation's first program to charge drivers based on the number of miles they drive.
The program launched on ...
|More News » |