“The Myriad of cultures of the world are not failed attempts at modernity, let alone failed attempts to be us; they are unique expressions of the human imagination and heart, unique answers to a fundamental question: What does it mean to be human and alive?” Wade Davis
It is interesting to think that each human being on this planet can share their own unique view to answer that question: What does it mean to be human and alive? Each one, is able to have their own imagination to share their ideas, their thoughts, and their experiences.
In order to give all the context, it is relevant to share the rest of the statement of above comments that the anthropologist Wade Davis wrote in his book “The Wayfinders: why ancient wisdom matters in the modern world (the book comprises the 2009 Massey lecturers “The Wayfinders”, bradcast in November 2009):
“What does it mean to be human and alive? When asked this question, the cultures of the world respond in 7,000 different voices, and these collectively comprise our human repertoire for dealing with all the challenges that will confront us as species over the next 2,500 generations, even as we continue this never-ending journey”
I have chosen to share my ideas about the openness to the many cultures of the world, because as a planet, the main impact on it, is coming from the western view of life, and as we are aware, it is failing us, it is failing the planet Earth. The current social and environmental issues of the planet are mainly driven by the western view of life.
When I talk about openness to cultures in this essay, I am talking about all cultures of the world. I would like to share my ideas about the term “ethnosphere”. We are most aware about the term “biosphere”, the “worldwide sum of all ecosystems”, “the biological web of life”, but it is also very relevant to our times, to recognize the importance of the “ethnosphere”, term coined by Wade Davis, term which is not well known by most of the population on earth, especially those living with a western view of life:
…” You might think of this social web of life as an “ethnosphere”, a term perhaps best defined as the sum total of all thoughts and intuitions, myths and belief, ideas and inspirations brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness. The ethnosphere is humanity’s greatest legacy. It is the product of our dreams, the embodiment of our hopes, the symbol of all we are and all that we, as wildly inquisitive and astonishingly adaptive species, have created.”
“The ethnosphere is the entirety of all cultures’ ways of thinking, ways of being, and ways of orienting oneself on the Earth”
For me it is imperative that we are also aware about the ethnosphere of the planet earth, just as we are aware of the biosphere. The voice that is having a greater impact on the planet today, is the voice of the western culture, a way of thinking that is sinking humanity.
If we want to really flourish as humanity in the planet earth, apart from taking care about the biosphere, we also need to take care about the ethnosphere. Well, we need to think first to focus on and take care about the ethnosphere, if we do this, we will change our approach to live in harmony with the planet earth, with the biosphere.
As every action we do outside us, it needs first to come from an inside thought, from an inside feeling. I consider embracing the ethnosphere, part of the cognitive shifts that I have been sharing in previous essays, as drivers to break away from anthropocentrism in order to embrace a Planet Earth Mindset, everything happens in the mind first to make a real change in the outside world.
I can have a long discussion about why we have arrived to current conditions in today’s world, about having one view of living on the planet that have been accepted by most of people on the planet. Or perhaps, accepted by the people with decisions that have impacted negatively the planet.
However, it will take me a long time to discuss this. But I have already shared some insights about the main reasons in my previous essays, like the scientific reductionism, the view of humans as separate from nature, human beings as the most important entity in the universe. Paraphrasing my comment in the “Gaia paradigm” essay: “We now know that today, most of humanity has developed an anthropocentrism way of thinking, just see the current state of the planet earth.”
There are thousands of cultures that have lived on the planet for many thousands of years that have a different view from the current anthropocentrism way of thinking, it is our responsibility to learn from them and to share their knowledge to the rest of the world, at least starting with our family and friends. Why is it important to learn from other cultures? I can share some insights of the many that Wade Davis has shared:
“What matters is the potency of a belief, the manner in which a conviction plays out in the day-to-day lives of a people, for in a very real sense this determines the ecological footprint of a culture, the impact that any society has on its environment.
A child raised to believe that a mountain is the abode of a protective spirit will be a profoundly different human being from a youth brought up to believe that a mountain is an inert mass of rock ready to be mined.
A Kwakwakaʼwakw (one of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast) boy raised to revere the coastal forests as the realm of the divine will be a different person from a Canadian child taught to believe that such forests are designed to be logged.
The full measure of a culture embraces both the actions of a people and the quality of their aspirations, the nature of the metaphors that propel them onward.”
Many cultures during the history of humanity have been impacted negatively by the current prominent dominant view of life. How? the answer lies on colonialism, conquests, racism, chauvinism, bigotry, fascism, nationalism and many other forms of intolerance and discrimination against groups of people whose cultures have been perceived inferior or an obstacle to the dominant groups of people representing power in political or economic spheres.
One representative example across the history of humankind is the Indigenous land dispossession.
What would be happened today if the native indigenous groups of America had not been conquered or colonized?
What would be happened today if the 80 million of indigenous that were alive across all continent of America when Christopher Columbus arrived to the Caribbean in 1492 didn’t suffered any negative impact, and their descendants, with their culture, continue living today?
What would be happened today if all Aboriginal peoples of Australia didn’t suffer any negative impact when James Cook arrived to Australia in 1770, and their descendants, with their culture, continue living today?
What would be happened today if all natives of Africa wouldn’t had been colonized by any European empires of the time, and their descendants, with their culture, continue living today?
We can continue asking this kind of question for all aboriginal people of Polynesia, South East Asia and for all natives of many places in the world that across history have been conquered, colonized and their culture eliminated, as their survivors, which were considerable reduced by numbers, were “educated” to be part of the dominant force of the western view of life.
I understand history and don’t want to question the background of the course of that history. This is just an exercise of imagination. If conquest, colonialism, and any other form of intolerance or discrimination wouldn’t had happened in history, could we have a more influence today in our daily lives by the many other cultures of the world other than the western view of life?
However, no everything is negative, there are still cultures that have survived to the negative impact of the dominant forces of the last centuries. There are still thousands of cultures alive today across the world that we can learn from. I can share many examples, but I would like to share one that is closer to my roots in Colombia.
The Kogis, Arhuacos, Wiwa and Kankuamo are indigenous groups that are descendants from the Tairona, a civilization that lived during the Spanish conquest time in the north of Colombia. These indigenous groups, as a culture and civilization are alive today, they and their ancestors survived the conquest, the colonization and multiple wars between paramilitaries, drug dealers and other militia groups. I already shared some information about them in my article “A Planet Earth Mindset”, but would like to share some other insights.
This is an insight shared by Wade Davis, which is the joint declaration issued by the Kogi, the Wiva and the Arahuaco in 2004 at the height of the violence in the region:
“Who will pay the universal mother for the air we breathe, the water that flows, the light of the sun? Everything that exists has a spirit that is sacred and must be respected. Our law is the law of origins, the law of life. We invite all the Younger Brothers to be guardians of life. We affirm our promise to the Mother. And issue a call for solidarity and unity for all peoples and all nations.”
There are plenty of reports in the media that shows how indigenous people can show us the way to take care of our planet, one of this is “Indigenous people are Earth’s greatest champions. Listen to us — and watch biodiversity thrive”, published by The Guardian in February 2023.
For me, living with a planet earth mindset implies to consider all voices of the cultures of our planet. Human nature is not a single voice, it is the voice of all cultures of the planet Earth that have lived since the origins of humanity. It is our greatest responsibility to give space to those voices that can not be heard because of the noise of the dominant voice of our time.
Wade Davis also mention that “‘we in the West, with our way of thinking of the natural world, we are not the norm — we’re the anomaly.”
I will finish this essay with the words of Margaret Mead that was highlighted by Wade Davis and his insights on that:
“Before she died, anthropologist Margaret Mead, spoke of her singular fear that, as we drift toward a more homogenous world, we are laying the foundations of a blandly amorphous and singularly generic modern culture that will have no rivals. The entire imagination of humanity, she feared, might be confined within the limits of a single intellectual and spiritual modality. Her nightmare was the possibility that we might wake up one day and not even remember what had been lost.
Our species has been around for some 200,000 years. The Neolithic Revolution, which gave us agriculture, and with its surplus, hierarchy, specialization, and sedentary life, occurred only ten to twelve thousand years ago. Modern industrial society as we know it is scarcely 300 years old. This shallow history should not suggest to any of us that we have all the answers for all of the challenges that will confront us as a species in the coming millennia.
The goal is not to freeze people in time. One cannot make a rainforest park of the mind. Cultures are not museums pieces; they are communities of real people with real need. The question, as Hugh Brody has written, is not the traditional versus the modern, but the right of free people to choose the components of their lives. The point is not to deny access, but rather to ensure that all people are able to benefit from the genius of modernity on their own terms, and without that engagement demanding the death of their ethnicity.”
I recommend to read the book “The Wayfinders — Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World, by Wade Davis. You can see there many more examples of insights of cultures around the world that have lived for many thousands of years and that are alive today, which have been living in harmony with nature.
“Embracing the Ethnosphere for a flourishing planet” is one of the cognitive shifts I am presenting as part of a Planet Earth Mindset.