Tatik, An Indigenous Anthropology in the West – Part 1: The Founding Myth of the Eco Society
Published 29th September 2009 - 11 comments - 2514 views -
Copenhaguen, September, 2009
Dear Professor Loitik,
I hope this letter finds you well. I arrived at my fieldwork site at a time when the natives are undergoing the most exciting of times. There is much anticipation towards an event called COP 15 that will take place here in December, which they believe will be a turning point in their history. Whilst it will be a challenge to try to understand a society’s way of life just when they are trying to change how it has been for centuries, they are so excited that they talk about it all the time making the ethnographer’s task easier!
Why do I say centuries rather than millennium, you may ask? Although my preliminary research indicated that they have existed for millennium, the natives here talk about a more recent episode in their history as their founding myth. They call it the “Industrial Revolution”, which took place in the late part of the 18th Century. This revolution drastically transformed their means of economic production. Before it, they used manual and animal power (much in the same way we do in Montik) to produce their food, utensils, etc. After that revolution, it all became mechanical. The invention of a “steam engine” fueled by coal is thought to be the pivot of the changes, as it made it possible that something which used to take days to be produced could e produced by the hundreds in one day or a few hours. That lowered prices and enabled more people to have access to food and goods. I was not able to detect any religious content to this myth, although it is perceived as so significant to all.
After great enthusiasm for the industrial revolutionary changes, the natives tell me that negative impacts started being felt. The artisans’ mode of production was displaced and they were all forced to become factory “workers”, a kind of people who are defined strictly according to their economic activity. As far as I can tell, being a worker does not coincide with any religion or caste status. These workers started being exploited and many died. That went on until something called “Marxism” came up (I am yet to understand what exactly this is all about, but it seems to be some kind of doctrine, again not religious) to correct the excesses of changes. According to the natives I interviewed, Marxism took decades to be implemented, but was effective in the end. At least in Copenhaguen it seems there are no more exploited workers.
Once that was overcome, however, another major problem presented itself to the natives (note how these people tend to organize their social life around problems and finding solutions to those problems…they have many expressions for these: catastrophe, pandemics, disaster, crisis, etc). The new problem caused by the industrial revolution was “environmental”. Because no one was being exploited anymore and everyone was having access to food and goods, too many people survived and overbearing pressure started being placed on the natural resources available in order to feed them (some say “greed” also played a role in that, I still need to understand that). In any case, it became clear that the industrial society demanded too much water, forests and minerals. Renewable resources had no time to recover and non-renewables were being depleted, therefore the rivers died, forests became deserts and competition for minerals caused wars.
Also, in order to transform these natural resources into energy some invisible particles that they call “CO2” were being launched into the air, causing pollution and heating up the atmosphere. Pollution is a kind of distortion form a natural state caused by humans. It is curious to observe that while the original excitement over the industrial revolution was over being able to change the natural state of things, that now the thinking is reversed. Maybe they miss the way things were before? All I know is that these big decisions that will take place at the end of the year at COP 15 have to do with handling these environmental problems and creating a “sustainable” mode of livelihood that does not destroy the environment, that is: an Eco Society.
The natives have a specific group of people called “scientists” who dedicate themselves to the study these changes. They diagnose and recommend how to cure the society’s problems. They blame these CO2 particles for causing a range of terrible disasters such as floods, sea level rise, melting of glaciers, desertification etc. Some scientists go as far as to say that the whole of humanity will perish off the earth because the world will become impossible for humans to inhabit. They recommend lowering CO2 emissions or becoming “carbon neutral”. Many people respond ecstatically to these scientists, many of them adopt these recommendations eagerly, even when they cost a lot of money and take up time and effort. I have not yet met any scientists, but by the way people talk of them, I imagine them to be a kind of prophets or priests, possibly with religious connotation (although they strongly deny it). At least, it is clear that they have a special role to play in this new society they want to create.
Tomorrow I will attend a preparatory conference on climate change, the main concern of the uprising Eco Society, that will be attended by students, journalists and even some scientists. I hope to be able to gather more information about this society and how it intends to change itself. If it all goes well, in three months time I will be able to participate in the COP 15 event and witness this historical event where important decisions will be made.
I will write to you as often as I can, so you can keep up with my discoveries and guide me with your wise insights.
Best regards to all at Montik,
Who is Tatik?
Tatik is a fictional character based on the idea that an indigenous anthropologist, from the imaginary village of Montik, has come to Copanhaguen to do research for her Phd on Civilized Societies without knowing much about Western culture, in the same way Western anthropologists do regularly in Developing Countries for what they call Primitive Societies. Tatik’s studies are supervised by Professor Loitik.
About the author
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