Sunday, April 29, 2007

Wade Davis: Cultural Conservation Rights

Anthropologist Wade Davis has made the argument that cultural conservation should be a right, and that rapid cultural change, and accompanying feelings of loss and alienation, are partly the cause for some of the more violent forms of "instability" in the world at present. Davis made the case specifically for maintaining indigenous cultures, adding a little twist to the notion of cultural extinction, as in the following passage from an article in the Taipei Times titled "Vanishing Cultures":

Davis says that in every case, indigenous people are being driven to extinction by identifiable forces. "And that's actually a very optimistic observation because it suggests that if human beings are the agents of cultural destruction, we can be the facilitators of cultural survival."

The article adds, "Davis fears that the continued reluctance of governments to make culture a fundamental part of their policy is leading to a less stable world":

"When people lose the comfort of tradition and feel these kinds of pressures of intense change that can provoke a sense of disappointment, disaffection, alienation, you get very strange movements emerging that can be very dangerous. Al-Qaeda is one of these kinds of fantasy movements that invoke a world of Islam that never existed but has to be presumed to have existed for those who are trying to rationalize the humiliation of all these years of chaos in the Middle East. Maintaining the integrity of culture is not an act of sentimentality; it's not an act of nostalgia, its much more than an act of human rights. It's about maintaining the integrity of civilization itself," he said.

Davis was also critical of the failure of academic anthropologists to engage the wider public on issues of vital contemporary importance.

He cites, for example, in the immediate wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the US, a meeting of 4,000 anthropologists from the American Anthropological Association was held in Washington DC where the primary topic of discussion was the attack on the Twin Towers.

"The entire gathering earned a single line in the Washington Post, in the gossip section, that basically said 'the nut cases are in town,'" he said. "And who is more remiss: the government for not having the ability to listen to the one profession that could have explained what was going on or the profession for not having the ability to communicate effectively with the world at large?"

He made these comments while on a visit to Taipei, Taiwan, to promote his televised series for National Geographic. You can read more by visiting the original article at:

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