Ancient Pollution

Kenneth Gauck (C558382@MIZZOU1.MISSOURI.EDU)
Thu, 29 Sep 1994 09:48:01 CDT

We may just be describing this glass as half full and half empty. If
you mean to say that human existence is mostly nasty, brutish and short;
that every social, economic, and political system lays the seeds of its all;
own fall that history is essentially a succession of struggles between
individuals, groups, classes, interests, etc...; I think your points are
valid and internally consistent.

My approach, on the other hand, assumes that reason governs human
behavior, that culture is an adaptation to circumstances, that human
activity is an attempt to solve problems, and that phenomena have
functions. That the ancients produced pollution in their metallurgical
activities I interpret as meaning they desired the use of metals even to the
cost of dirtying their nest. Maybe they didn't realize how widely they
were polluting, maybe they thought the wide distribution was part of
the beauty of it (the solution to pollution is dilution). They made a
choice and I am not going to second guess them.

While it is valid to say cultures do not make choices, they do get
labeled as bad or good (which is in itself wrong since historians and
anthropologists are not appointed judges) on the basis of choices made
by groups or individuals based on a particular culture. What I have seen
crop up repeatedly in this discussion, especially toward the beginning,
is the notion that some societies (mostly complex, urban, and western)
are good and that others (mostly simple and non-European) are bad. Of
course if one is pessimistic, and labels every society by its prominent
defects, I could get the impression that the societies under discussion
are inferior to other mentioned. Finally for those who do believe they
are quite capable of rendering judgments on whole civilizations far
away, or long past they should, then, feel comfortable embracing these
behaviors in Cortez, who found sodomy, human sacrifice and idol worship to
be sufficient justification for the overthrow the Aztec empire. History,
society, and culture should be studied in a value-neutral environment.

Regarding the very high estimates of population in the Roman empire,
I did choose the highest estimates I had seen, not the best (and
probably should have pointed that out) to demonstrate the point I was
making about pollution being a function of population. By estimating
high, I allowed for a significant amount of pollution in antiquity.
Your numbers are much closer to my favorite sources, give or take a
a million here or there.

Kenneth Gauck