Bodley, John H. Victims of Progress
Mountain View: 1990
The most powerful cultures have always assumed a natural right to exploit the world’s resources wherever they find them, regardless of the prior claims of indigenous populations. Arguing for efficiency and survival of the fittest, early colonialists elevated this “right” to the level of an ethical and legal principle that could be invoked to justify the elimination of nay cultures that were not making “effective” use of their resources.
Members of the expanding culture rationalized as “natural” evolutionary processes that eliminated groups considered to be either culturally or racially inferior. They thought this “selection” process was so natural and “inevitable” that nothing could prevent it....
Development writers with tractors and chemicals to sell have expressed more ethnocentrism in their treatment of traditional economic systems than for any other aspect of tribal culture. These writers automatically assume that tribal economies must be unproductive and technologically inadequate and therefore consistently disregard the abundant evidence to the contrary. It has long been fashionable to attack the supposed inefficiency of shifting cultivation and pastoral nomadism and the precariousness of subsistence economies in general.
But it could be argued that it is industrial subsistence techniques that are inefficient and precarious. Mono-crop agriculture, with its hybrid grains and dependence on chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and costly machinery, is extremely expensive in terms of energy demands and is highly unstable because of its susceptibility to disease, insects, and the depletion of critical minerals and fuels. The complexity of the food distribution system in industrial society also makes it vulnerable to collapse because of the breakdowns in the long chain from producer to consumer. In contrast, tribal systems are highly productive in terms of energy flow and are ecologically much stabler, while they enjoy efficient and reliable food distribution systems....
Peoples who have already chosen their major cultural patterns and who have spent generations tailoring them to local conditions are probably not even concerned that another culture might be superior to theirs. Indeed it can perhaps be assumed that people in any autonomous, self-reliant culture would prefer to be left alone. Left to their own devices, tribal peoples are unlikely to volunteer for civilization or acculturation.
After the initial depopulation suffered by most tribal peoples during their engulfment by frontiers of national expansion, most tribal populations began to experience rapid growth. Authorities generally attribute this growth to the introduction of modern medicine and new health measures and the termination of intertribal warfare, which lowered mortality rates, as well as to new technology, which increased food production. Certainly all of these factors played a part, but merely lowering mortality rates would not have produced the rapid population growth that most tribal areas have experienced if traditional birth-spacing mechanisms had not been eliminated at the same time. Regardless of which factors were most important, it is clear that all of the natural and cultural checks on population growth have suddenly been pushed aside by culture change, while tribal lands have been steadily reduced and consumption levels have risen. In many tribal areas, environmental deterioration due to overuse of resources has set in, and in other areas such deterioration is imminent as resources continue to dwindle relative to the expanding population and increased use. Of course, population and increased use. Of course, population expansion by tribal peoples may have positive political consequences, because where tribals can retain or regain their status as local majorities they may being a more favorable position to defend their resources against intruders.