Ania Lian and the Fatalistic View

John W Norder (jwn@UMICH.EDU)
Thu, 2 Mar 1995 19:24:38 -0500

I cannot disagree with Ania's statement that as human's we modify our
environment in ways which provide for our comfort and needs. However,
Ania's view of human nature is one of fatalism that seems to me to be
common among anthropologists. As humans we have done and will always do
the following because that is the way we are. There can only be
destruction at the cost of our betterment, and this does not apply to all
of us, since those select few who have that 'edge' are more likely to climb
to the top of that ladder at the expense of others. As biological
organisms tied into the greater world ecosystem, we can never escape the
need to survive at the fatal cost of our neighbors and to ourselves once
we reach the top of that ladder.

'Natural' and 'harmony' are both terms which are subjective, just as the
fatalistic view is subjective since it limits the flexibility of human
nature by imposing the inescapability of history upon it. Perhaps a
better term for these would be 'responsibility'? I am sure this would
also be subject to interpretation since there is the problem of what and
who would should be responsible for. The high diversity of ecological,
environmental and humanistic organizations give us plenty of evidence for
the diversity of where the burden of our responsibility could lie.

In our profession, it seems that many have given up on trying to find
that spark in human nature which might be given over 'altruistic'
behavior, another subjective term. Human nature has been reduced to
concepts of survival and destruction, with the latter being brought to
the fore the most often. Survival does not necessarily equate with
gratuitous destruction of the landscape. Our changes do create the
future, but not in an inescapably fatal way. Humans can and do interfere
in what some interpret as the natural order. Ania points out that we
also interact as part of that natural order. However, the views raised
by the infamous 'Declaration' posted by Robert Johnson suggest a caution
on the part of that interaction. They view 'nature' as being sacred.
Something which is not to be tampered with. They also include humans in
that classification of 'nature'. Humans are natural creatures in their
view which exist within a framework that they define as being one of
conservatorship and preservation rather than one of destruction and
deconstruction. It is an optimistic view, not a 'dogmatic' one. To turn
things around, the fatalistic view could also be considered 'dogmatic' in
its limited, but 'scientifically' informed way.

Humans can certainly influence the environment, but the question is, to
what extent? and at whose expense?

Mitakuye Oyasin,

John Norder
University of Michigan
Department of Anthropology

On Wed, 1 Mar 1995, Ania Lian wrote:

> If we agree that humans are part of enviroment, then we cannot deny humans
> the right to influence the enviroment, just like we cannot deny the
> asteroid the right to hit the Earth, or elephants to eat all the greenery
> in Africa.
> These very changes in all levels of enviroment create the future and
> created the world and us the way we are. There is no TRUTH as there is no
> principle of harmony. Harmony is subjective. If one accepts the the
> disappearance of dinosauruses was a part of harmony then disapearance of
> all humans (if ever) should also be regraded as part of this harmony.
> Simply, if we agree that we should not intervene in "the natural order" of
> things, WHO SAYS that what humans do IS NOT within this natural order.
> ".. destruction, western, colonization.." only "God" knows where we would
> be today had it not been for colonization, in Saranghetti?? or maybe in
> the Babel tower? destruction did not start with "the Western civilization"
> but it's a part of the"natural order": some things appear some other
> disapear...
> Btw: *indigenous people* of Western hemisphere??????????? How could they
> be *indigenous* to the western hemisphere? Do they belong to a specie that
> anthropologist have no clue about so far? They mean that they ALWAYS WERE
> THERE?? There, this is a great chance to all the anthropologists to work on
> this western hemisphere *indigenous* people and as for the rest of us, we
> not indigenous, we excuse ourselves for having colonised the Eastern
> hemisphere.
> What a dogmatic mail this was on educational networks. I think the members
> of the organisation which issued that c..p should go home and rethink at
> least their argumentats.
> ania lian