slash and burn

Steven Den Beste pokes holes in the idea that "noble savages" used to live "in harmony with nature" - and provides a few salient examples. Another example is the famed feather cloaks of Hawai'i - bird species such as the mamo have been driven to extinction from harvesting of feathers, for cloaks such as the one worn by King Kamehameha I which has an estimated 450,000 feathers culled from over 80,000 individual birds (admittedly, the cloak is spectacular, I've only seen pictures).

The main flaw in the reasoning of those who romanticize such aboriginal cultures is the assumption that human societies sprung from the earth fully-formed. In fact, apart from a localized area in Africa, all human cultures on the planet are immigrants. And all have left a trail of ecosystem devastation, since human socities, regardless of their technological achievement, are fundamentally creative. I may be wrong, but I believe only certain Native American tribes really found a balance between their needs and saw themselves as part of the ecosystem rather than astride it.

It is desirable to try and limit such damage, but there will always be a burden imposed upon nature by human activity. It can be reduced, but never eliminated. And technology and conservation must be applied in sync to achieve that goal, if we are to preserve the Commons that ultimately nourish our civilizations.

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