The Ethnosphere and Its Degradation: Concepts by Wade Davis
Wade Davis’ concept of the Ethnosphere refers to the accumulation of culture and knowledge held by the diversity of people living around the world. This legacy that humanity leaves is not limited to the science or technology of a people, but includes every facet of their lives from their dreams and legends to their hunting techniques and rituals. He equates the Ethnosphere to the biosphere, which is the network of living organisms that inhabit our planet. Our Ethnosphere too exists in a complex network and is similarly threatened by western expansionism and globalization. As our society becomes more technologically advanced more and more cultures are being pushed to the side to make way for progress. Old ways are being lost forever and with it the advanced knowledge of other ways in which humanity can exist.
I believe cultural preservation is vital and can liken it to the seed banks that are kept of domestic crops to maintain their genetic health. This genetic diversity held in the bank can be the answer to the many challenges that will arise and threaten the production of these plants, such as a new type of pest (a field of cloned plants stands little chance of survival in such a case). Similarly our Ethnosphere is a bank of lifestyles that hold the answers to a vast array of challenges that face mankind. Davis mentions one story from the Quaalude people of the Amazon in which they prepare a hallucinogenic tea that requires a unique combination of plants to properly activate the active compounds. What is so special about this story is that these people were able to combine these specific plants in a forest of thousands of species to get the desired affect. These people have an advanced knowledge of the world that may be much more functional than first appears. By destroying these cultures, we are forever losing the knowledge we cumulatively hold. I think it is critically important that we preserve as much cultural diversity as we can to safeguard the knowledge held within these cultures. Furthermore I believe these cultures have an inherent right to exist and any act that deliberately destroys such cultures is a violation of basic human rights.
However, cultural deterioration is often not deliberate, but a seemingly unavoidable result of globalization. Sometimes absolute preservation is impossible and in such cases I think assimilation must occur to ensure that the threatened cultures can survive in the modern world. The story of the Inuit man (a must hear, watch video posted below) that Davis mentioned comes to mind when I think of the concept of assimilation. This man ventured into the frozen Arctic armed only with his shit-knife when the Canadian government threatened relocation and stands as a prime example of the value held within these cultures. His indigenous knowledge allowed him to survive in this desolate landscape with nothing more than himself. I think there is a lot to learn from this rugged minimalism in a society where most cannot survive the day without their cell phone. However, while he may have been able to live as he wished, he also separated himself from his people and could no longer pass on his way of life. With no assimilation of these cultures into the modern world they are at risk of being brushed aside. The difficulty of the issue is being a part of a global society without losing the personal identity held within such cultures. To do this, we as outsiders must be accepting of the differences of other people and welcome them with open arms.