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                        Technology and Human Responsibility
    Issue #141                                                January 28, 2003
                     A Publication of The Nature Institute
               Editor:  Stephen L. Talbott (stevet@netfuture.org)
                      On the Web: http://www.netfuture.org/
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    Hold a Blossom to the Light (Stephen L. Talbott)
       Amazonian tribes, technology, and the tragedy of progress
    About this newsletter
                           HOLD A BLOSSOM TO THE LIGHT
            Amazonian Tribes, Technology, and the Tragedy of Progress
                                Stephen L. Talbott
       Notes concerning One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the
       Amazon Rain Forest, by Wade Davis (New York: Simon and Schuster,
       1996).  Paperback, 537 pages, $16.
    While traveling through the Ecuadorian Amazon as an ethnobotanist, Wade
    Davis spent some time with the Waorani, known earlier as the Auca Indians.
    Among the last peoples of the Amazon to be contacted by outsiders, the
    Auca had made headlines around the world when, in January, 1956, they
    speared and killed five American missionaries -- this despite the
    missionaries' practice of dropping gifts from an airplane before their
    disastrous attempt at personal contact.  The incident was only one in a
    series of unfortunate exchanges between the Auca and those who intruded
    upon their territory.  According to Davis, "as late as 1957 there had
    never been a peaceful contact between the Auca and the outside world".
    A couple of decades later, during his stay with the Waorani, Davis
    accompanied a young warrior named Tomo on a hunting excursion.  Highly
    skilled with a blowgun, Tomo had already, at the age of five, been able to
    blow a dart through a hanging fruit at thirty paces.  As an adult, he
    could "drive a dart clear through a squirrel at forty feet, knock a
    hummingbird out of the air, and hit a monkey in the canopy 120 feet above
    the forest floor".
    After selecting a short blowgun (just over six feet long), Tomo led Davis
    and a companion into the jungle.  As Davis tells the story, suddenly
       Tomo froze, dropped into an attack crouch, and slipped away from us,
       moving silently and steadily through a thicket of heliconia until
       stopping at the base of an enormous tree sixty feet from the trail.  In
       a single gesture he had withdrawn a dart, notched its tip, deftly spun
       the kapok fiber around the base, and placed it in the mouth of the
       blowgun that now hovered motionless above his head.  His cheeks
       suddenly puffed out with tremendous pressure, which was released in an
       instant.  A moment later he was lunging through the vegetation,
       laughing and shouting.  By the time we caught up, he held a rufous mot
       mot in his hand.  The bird was still alive.  Tomo had managed to reach
       it before the poison took effect.  He dropped the frightened creature
       into his basket and placed the dart conspicuously in the notch of a
       tree so that all would know an animal had been taken.
    The use of the blowgun is a highly developed art.  The Waorani routinely
    poison the tips of their darts with potent toxins they extract from
    plants.  They notch the darts using the razor-sharp teeth of a piranha
    jaw, thereby ensuring that the poisonous tip will break off in the flesh
    of the prey even if the rest of the dart is swatted away.  As for the gun
    itself, its volume is less than a tenth the capacity of the lungs, so "it
    is not force but control that counts, judging the distance to the prey,
    the angle of ascent, the proper trajectory".  Up to a point, a longer
    blowgun produces a higher velocity in the dart, but beyond that point
    resistance in the gun takes over.  "Finding that perfect balance, the
    right length, is what they're always looking for".
    On Reading One's Environment
    The skills involved in Tomo's hunting success were those many of us in a
    more technological culture might envy.  But for Tomo himself the envy
    seemed to run in the opposite direction.  "Though a gifted hunter with a
    dart, Tomo confessed that he, like most Waorani, preferred shotguns".
    An odd preference, you might think, considering that most of the shotguns
    available to the Waorani were "miserable weapons:  single-shot
    breechloaders cursed with weak firing springs that rarely lasted a year".
    A small box of shells cost what three blowguns did -- the equivalent of a
    week's work (if work was to be had).  A four-day journey was required
    simply to make the purchase.  Once obtained, the shotgun might be useful
    for large terrestrial animals at close range (assuming it didn't misfire),
    "but for birds and monkeys and anything that lived in the canopy, the
    blowgun was by far the superior weapon".  So what was the appeal of the
       The Waorani affection for shotguns had little to do with efficiency.
       It was the intrinsic attraction of the object itself, the clicking
       mechanisms, the polished stock, the power of the explosion.  As one
       Waorani hunter explained, "It makes such a beautiful noise".
    In this regard, are we not all Waorani?  It's just that, as we tire of one
    shiny object, we need another -- preferably a more "sophisticated" one, or
    at least a different one.  Walk into any high-tech emporium, from Radio
    Shack to The Sharper Image, and (if you are at all like me) you will
    experience on every hand "the intrinsic attraction of the object itself"
    -- exactly the sort of attraction that makes a Waorani hunter prefer a
    shotgun with its "cool" clicking mechanisms to the blowgun that has become
    such an intimate and accustomed part of himself.
    This suggests what I think is largely true:  the history of technology is
    a history of walking away from ourselves.  We abandon old skills and ways
    of being.  This is not in itself a bad thing.  Every individual's life is
    an endless journey from what he has been to what he is becoming.  We are
    continually leaving ourselves behind, and necessarily so.  That's what it
    means to grow.  It is the same with cultures.
    The problem, it seems to me, lies in a profound shift of emphasis --
    a shift that was not necessary.  The issue here, however, is difficult
    to grasp within an already technologized culture.
    In mastering the blowgun, Tomo learned stealth and many physical skills.
    He learned great care, whether in preparing his poisons or notching his
    dart or avoiding what we like to call "collateral damage".  He learned
    patience and well-focused attention.  But above all, he learned to read
    his environment through a resonant inner connection with it:  only by
    understanding the ways of the forest, the character and likely movements
    of his prey, the meanings carried upon the ceaseless symphony of sounds
    enlivening the jungle -- only so could he find success in the hunt using a
    weapon such as the blowgun.
    The crucial point (it will emerge more clearly in what follows) is that
    Tomo's reading of his environment was thoroughly qualitative.  He had
    to understand what it was like to be a certain animal.  He needed to
    recognize the characteristic gestures of its movement -- and, indeed,
    of all its behaviors -- to know it from the inside, so to speak.
    The decisive detail for a particular hunt, whatever it turned out to be,
    was very likely available to Tomo without reflection or calculation,
    because it was implicit in the larger, expressive pattern that he grasped
    as a unified whole.  Such "inner resonance" with one's surroundings is
    profound, subtle, and revelatory, a prerequisite (though not the only
    prerequisite) for any full understanding of the world.
    The shift of emphasis I am concerned about is the sacrifice of this
    qualitative attention to one's environment in favor of a strictly
    analytical and technical understanding.  It's the difference between
    receiving "information" about something and being open to the thing
    itself -- which also means being open to that part of ourselves through
    which the other can speak.  It means overcoming, in the moment of
    knowing, the barrier between self and other.  We can recognize the
    world's qualities only by discovering them within ourselves, for to
    experience the quality of a thing is necessarily to experience it, to
    find its shape and movement and significance reproduced within ourselves.
    This is what I mean by "resonance".
    The Powers of Recognition
    The ability to read nature in this qualitative sense, to know its
    phenomena from the inside, is not restricted to "primitive" cultures.
    While we may not know how to reconcile this ability with the canonized
    procedures of science, we do often recognize it as a mark of scientific
    genius.  The primary subject of Davis' book, the legendary Harvard
    ethnobotanist, Richard Evans Schultes, exemplified this sort of genius.
    Schultes stood apart in his field.  As Davis relates it, "even the most
    highly trained botanists are humbled by the immense diversity of the
    Amazonian forests":
       Confronted with the unknown, they collect specimens and do their best
       to identify a plant to family or genus.  Only later, in the comfort of
       the herbarium and invariably with the assistance of a colleague
       specializing in that particular group of plants, will they figure out
       the species and obtain a complete determination.
    With Schultes, who collected more than 25,000 plants in Columbia between
    1941 and 1953, and who was the first to record entire genera previously
    unknown to science, along with hundreds of species, it was different.  "He
    possessed what scientists call the taxonomic eye" -- an immediate ability
    to detect significant variation within an overall pattern.  He
    occasionally demonstrated his powers of attention to such variation in
    striking ways:
       He was once in a small plane that took off from a dirt runway, brushed
       against the canopy of the forest, and very nearly crashed.  A colleague
       who was with him recalled years later that throughout the entire
       episode Schultes had sat calmly by a window, oblivious to the screams
       of the terrified passengers.  It turned out that he had spotted a tree,
       a new species of Cecropia, and had scarcely noticed the crisis.
    What all this meant, Davis comments, is that Schultes
       could resolve botanical problems in the moment, write descriptions in
       the field, realign species and genera just by holding a blossom to the
       light.  In the entire history of Amazonian botany, only a handful of
       scientists have possessed this talent.
    "...just by holding a blossom to the light".  This is the essence of
    qualitative knowledge.  It's the difference between going laboriously
    through a set of analytical keys to identify a plant or, based on
    direct and intimate familiarity with the plant world, immediately
    recognizing the distinctive character of the plant and its relations to
    other plants.  In order to appreciate a little about what this means,
    think of how you would identify a face in a crowd when all you had was a
    list of discrete features, and compare that to recognizing an old friend.
    The recognition is instantaneous, or nearly so, a single act drawing on
    the qualities of an entire image, without analysis.  And in that image
    you may read a great deal about the kind of experience your friend has
    just been through and how he is relating to those around him.
    We in fact exercise such powers of recognition all the time; without them
    there would be no science.  Yet a science that long ago disavowed any
    concern with the qualities of things has steadily pushed our acts of
    recognition to the periphery.  Mention these mundane, daily human
    performances in certain scientific contexts and you will soon hear the
    muttered epithet, "mystical".  In addition, our technologies, with their
    emphasis on automatically transferable information, persistently train us
    in the disregard of subtle qualities.  The steps in identifying a plant
    analytically via a key are easily taught through a program.  What Schultes
    learned to see when he held a flower to the light is not.  The program
    yields clean, unambiguous, yes-or-no answers -- and little else.  The kind
    of understanding Schultes employed when studying a blossom enabled him to
    re-imagine and re-organize the relations upon which programmatic keys are
    Puzzling Knowledge
    The tribes of the Amazon present numerous riddles that are surely related
    to the difference between a qualitative and analytic understanding.
    There is a plant called yagé whose bark contains the beta-carbolines,
    harmine and harmaline.  By combining yagé with various other plants,
    the shamans of the northwest Amazon long ago learned to concoct potent
    psychoactive drinks.  Investigating two of the auxiliary plants employed
    in these concoctions, Schultes noted that they contained tryptamines,
    "powerful psychoactive compounds [writes Davis] that when smoked or
    snuffed induce a very rapid, intense intoxication of short duration
    marked by astonishing visual imagery".  (Neither Schultes nor Davis was
    loath to verify such effects for himself.)
    The problem is that, taken orally (the Indians drank these potions),
    the tryptamines have no effect; they are denatured by an enzyme in the
    human gut.  But, as it turns out, the beta-carbolines in yagé inhibit
    exactly this enzyme.  So when yagé is combined with one of the admixture
    plants, the combination produces dramatic hallucinogenic effects.
       What astonished Schultes was less the raw effect of the drugs -- by
       this time, after all, he was becoming accustomed to having his
       consciousness awash in color -- than the underlying intellectual
       question that the elaboration of these complex preparations posed.  The
       Amazonian flora contains literally tens of thousands of species.  How
       had the Indians learned to identify and combine in this sophisticated
       manner these morphologically dissimilar plants that possessed such
       unique and complementary chemical properties?  The standard scientific
       explanation was trial and error -- a reasonable term that may well
       account for certain innovations -- but at another level, as Schultes
       came to realize on spending more time in the forest, it is a euphemism
       which disguises the fact that ethnobotanists have very little idea how
       Indians originally made their discoveries.
       The problem with trial and error is that the elaboration of the
       preparations often involves procedures that are either exceedingly
       complex or yield products of little or no obvious value.  Yagé is an
       inedible, nondescript liana that seldom flowers.  True, its bark is
       bitter, often a clue to medicinal properties, but it is no more so
       than a hundred other forest vines.  An infusion of the bark causes
       vomiting and severe diarrhea, conditions that would discourage further
       experimentation.  Yet not only did the Indians persist but they became
       so adept at manipulating the various ingredients that individual shamans
       developed dozens of recipes, each yielding potions of various strengths
       and nuances to be used for special ceremonial and ritual purposes.
    Another example was the preparation of dart poison, known as "curare":
       The bark is rasped and placed in a funnel-shaped leaf suspended between
       two spears.  Cold water is percolated through, and the drippings
       collect in a ceramic pot.  The dark fluid is slowly heated and brought
       to a frothy boil, then cooled and later reheated until a thick viscous
       scum gradually forms on the surface.  This scum is removed and applied
       to the tips of darts or arrows, which are then carefully dried over the
       fire.  The procedure itself is mundane.  What is unusual is that one
       can drink the poison without being harmed.  To be effective it must
       enter the blood.  The realization on the part of the Indians that this
       orally inactive substance, derived from a small number of forest
       plants, could kill when administered into the muscle was profound and,
       like so many of their discoveries, difficult to explain by the concept
       of trial and error alone.
    Perhaps the trial-and-error hypothesis simply reflects a long habit of
    ignoring the knowledge potentials of an attention to the qualities of
    our environment.  Such attention on the Indians' part could be quite
    remarkable.  They recognized many different kinds of yagé plants, all of
    which, so far as Schultes could tell, were referable to a single species.
    The distinguishing criteria made no sense botanically, and yet "the
    Indians could readily differentiate their varieties on sight, even from
    a considerable distance in the forest.  What's more, individuals from
    different tribes, separated by large expanses of forest, identified
    these same varieties with amazing consistency".
    Much the same was true of yoco, a caffeine-containing stimulant.
    Schultes collected fourteen different types by the Indians' reckoning,
    "not one of which could be determined based on the rules of his own
    science".  Schultes, as Davis reports it, was learning that
       in unveiling the indigenous knowledge, his task was not merely to
       identify new sources of wealth but rather to understand a new vision of
       life itself, a profoundly different way of living in a forest.
    Seeking a New Balance
    It is a long way from the mechanics of information processing to the
    pursuit of a new vision -- a new manner of seeing.  But what I am
    suggesting is that we urgently need to combine this pursuit of a new,
    qualitative manner of seeing with our more technical ambitions if we are
    to counter the unhealthy one-sidedness of the latter.  The meeting of the
    two different ways of knowing proves undeniably fruitful, even in strictly
    scientific terms.  Look at what has been gained through the contact of
    botany and medicine with native plant wisdom.  To take just one example:
    curare, the dart poison, led western medicine to d-tubocurarine, a potent
    muscle relaxant.  When administered during surgery, it greatly reduced the
    required levels of anesthesia.  D-tubocurarine, Davis notes, ended up
    saving far more human lives than curare had ever taken.
    More broadly, native wisdom has presented us with sounder images of the
    whole organism in its relation to health and disease:
       For the Waorani, as for many indigenous peoples, good or bad health
       results not from the presence or absence of pathogens alone but from
       the proper or improper balance of the individual.  Health is harmony, a
       coherent state of equilibrium between the physical and spiritual
       components of the individual.  Sickness is disruption, imbalance, and
       the manifestation of malevolent forces in the flesh.
    Slowly, sometimes reluctantly, our own medicine has been coming to terms
    with this awareness that illness and health are matters of harmony,
    balance, equilibrium.  The projection of our fears upon "deadly"
    microorganisms as the sole and uncontested causes of disease will
    eventually be recognized as a latter-day echo of our ancestors'
    preoccupation with evil spirits.  When, by contrast, we turn toward the
    organism as a whole, we will have to reckon with the fact that its harmony
    or disharmony cannot be read from instruments.  True diagnosis requires
    nothing less than the kind of highly developed scientific art and
    qualitative vision that Schultes demonstrated with his plants.
    Not many seem to recognize that in the age of digital technologies, our
    ability to read the qualities of our surroundings, detecting what is toxic
    and what is healing in them, what is in balance and what is out of
    balance, is even more crucial than it was for Tomo.  That is, the reading
    requires a greater, more self-conscious effort on our part precisely
    because our machines seem to make the effort irrelevant and futile; and
    because the penalty for neglecting our responsibility is that the inhuman
    inertia of the machines will dictate our future.
    It is not easy, after all, to read a collection of people sitting in front
    of monitors.  Tomo, we can imagine, might need to make a quick, accurate
    assessment as to whether a group of warriors encountered in the forest was
    a peaceful hunting expedition or a raiding party.  But how are we to gauge
    the friendliness of that roomful of programmers or data-entry clerks?  Are
    they preying upon the larger society, or serving it?  Are they working for
    the next Enron, or moving in a very different direction?  Yet we must
    learn to read these things.  The fact is that our social future will be
    determined by the human qualities of the activities being mediated through
    hundreds of millions of programmed devices, and by our ability consciously
    to resonate with and thereby to recognize these qualities.
    Unfortunately, the devices themselves serve primarily to conceal -- and
    in some ways to nullify -- the qualitative dimensions of our activities.
    This is why, in a typical computer-based work group, the art of
    communication and openness to the other tends to give way to the mere
    manipulation of technical information.  The scheduling of activities is
    tightly programmed.  The budgeting and allocation of resources fall more
    or less automatically out of a spreadsheet.  But the question remains:
    what do these databases and programs and numbers mean for the workers
    involved, for the surrounding community, for the global economy?  What do
    we want them to mean -- or do our wants matter any longer?
    To read the significance of our activities rather than being lulled by the
    blank expressions of our machines -- this is the skill and art demanded of
    us today.  The skill and art are hardly new, however; it's just that our
    fascination with the technical aspects of our jobs encourages a much too
    narrow focus.  Yet it is not that difficult, amid all the email exchange
    and programmed organization, to make an occasional inquiry of one's
    neighbor in the next cubicle:  "How are you doing?"  "How do you feel
    about your work?"  "Do you think the product we're working on will help to
    heal our society or instead debilitate it?"
    If what all the employees in a large corporation actually sensed,
    qualitatively, about their own work and the company's endeavors were a
    matter of common inquiry and group reflection, could the business avoid
    going through a revolutionary transformation?  Could it any longer be the
    same business?  If, as a society, we cultivated anything like Tomo's
    attentive openness to the expressive qualities of his environment, surely
    the transformation I refer to would be commonplace rather than
    revolutionary.  And the sudden surprise of an Enron would be next to
    But why bother when the program seems to be the only real work?  When
    the next email and next report and next milestone demand attention,
    and the software can be trusted to "take care" of the larger issues of
    coordination?  Our own functioning becomes comfortingly undemanding on
    the qualitative and expressive level, with all the challenges reduced
    to merely technical ones.  But if the qualitative and expressive level
    is where we discover both the noxious and healing properties of our
    environment, it is also where we discover the meaning of our work and
    the ethical nuances of our relations with each other.  It is no surprise
    when, having replaced this level with the programmatic automatisms
    of information processing, we find organizations running badly off
    the tracks.
    The Thrill of Cutting Down Trees
    None of this is to say that we could get by in today's world without the
    newer technologies.  But it is to say that we cannot get by without
    recognizing the disciplines we must work ever harder to develop in order
    to invest the ubiquitous programming with our own purposes.  And we also
    need to realize when our preoccupation with technology is just plain
    In 1975, when the flood of goods from outside was threatening the Waorani
    way of life, the local missionaries tried to stem the tide.  But when they
    restricted the flow of radios, T-shirts, sunglasses, and baseball hats,
    the Waorani simply expanded their contacts with nearby oil exploration
    camps and tourists.  Going so far as to clear an airstrip at one location,
    "they invented rituals, imitated the activities of an oil camp, and sang
    songs to the helicopters, with the hope that they would unleash a rain of
    Eventually the missionaries realized the hopelessness of the situation.
    One of them, Jim Yost, remarked to Davis,
       As romantics we idealize a past we never experienced and deny those who
       knew that past from changing.  We forget perhaps the most disturbing
       lesson of anthropology.  As Levi-Strauss said, "The people for whom the
       term cultural relativism was invented, have rejected it".  (p. 290)
    The "cultural relativism" Levi-Strauss was referring to includes the
    notion that every culture has its own distinctive values worth preserving.
    Surely this is true.  Yet so also is his point that the members of the
    culture itself may prefer change to preservation.  We can hardly preserve
    them against their will, whether by dictating their values to them or
    artificially isolating them.
    Davis hones the issue to a fine sharpness when he quotes Yost as saying,
       Nothing thrills the Waorani more than killing game and cutting down big
       trees.  It's what so many people don't understand who haven't lived in
       the forest.  You don't have to conserve what you don't have the power
       to destroy.  Harming the forest is an impossible concept for them.
    When Davis interjects, "They don't know what it means to destroy", Yost
    goes on:
       They have no capacity to understand.  In a world of such abundance, the
       word "scarcity" has no meaning.  It's what makes them most vulnerable.
       It's the same with their culture.  When you've lived in complete
       isolation, how can you understand what it means to lose a culture?
       It's not until it is almost gone and when people become educated that
       they realize what's being lost.  By then the attractions of the new way
       are overpowering, and the only people who want the old ways are the
       ones who never lived it.
    You can easily imagine that a similar sense of the indestructible
    abundance of natural resources must have seized the early European
    settlers of the American West.  And in a rather different way, the
    inexhaustible supply of computing power now invites the impoverishment of
    our cultural mores and institutions through their transfer to the shallow
    and much-too-automatic pathways of silicon.
    Historically, there appears to be an element of tragedy in all this.  We
    stumble along in ignorance and, by the time we realize the subtle ways our
    actions have caught up with us, the damage and loss are already
    But one function of tragedy is to shock us into wakefulness.  With this
    wakefulness comes a new ability to stand back and look at ourselves
    critically in the very moment of acting.  And with this awareness in turn
    comes greater moral responsibility.  Surely by the time of the settling of
    the American West there was much less innocence in the relations between
    settler and environment than there was for the Waorani.  And it would be
    hard to excuse as innocent at all the widespread narcosis evident in the
    way we have yielded so passively to mass media and digital technologies
    today, allowing them to cut us off from vital openness toward the full-
    fleshed qualities of our human and natural contexts.  We, after all, have
    as examples the Waorani and many other cultures, not to mention a
    reasonably objective knowledge of our own history.  The Waorani had none
    of this.
    Don't Bemoan the Loss of Old Skills
    All growth has a tragic element.  Something is lost.  Catastrophe is a
    prime agent of maturation.  Unwelcome as it may sound, the Waorani had
    no choice but to "grow up".  What enables one to say this is that every
    culture has no choice but to grow up.  Our own fascination with digital
    technologies is no less naive, and no less a blind toying with cultural
    catastrophe, than was the Waorani fascination with shotguns and radios.
    The difference between us and the Waorani of several decades ago is that,
    given our history with such things, we ought to know better.
    On one way of viewing this history, it confronts us with a succession of
    tools giving us an opportunity to develop an ever-expanding array of
    skills and capacities.  Increasingly, however, the peculiar challenge of
    our tools is that they invite us to ignore the matter of skills and
    capacities.  Disastrously, they are advertised as labor-saving devices,
    and the main selling point lies in what we no longer need to do, not in
    the new skills we must develop if we truly want to master the new tools.
    Bemoaning the loss of old skills is probably not the most productive way
    to critique the new technologies.  The greater need is to recognize that,
    precisely because of the labor-saving capabilities of our high-tech tools,
    the art of mastery demands greater skills and more arduous discipline
    than ever before.  Think of the retail clerk, nearly all of whose former
    responsibilities in engaging the customer and providing feedback for the
    operation of the business are now taken over by computers.  This clerk
    is as fully detached from an earlier set of skills as was Tomo with a
    shotgun in his hands.  So we have a choice:  simply to accept that the
    human being in this case is now little more than a "dumb assistant" to
    "intelligent machinery", or else to tackle the huge task of re-visioning
    employees' jobs, and the business itself, along more humane lines.
    The challenge in all this -- if we accept it -- puts us into continual
    tension with the machines surrounding us.  It is a tension that Tomo
    could scarcely have noted with his blowgun.
    But if we do accept the challenge, then I'm convinced we will not really
    find ourselves abandoning the older skills -- not, at least, in the sense
    that counts.  A qualitative and sensitive openness to our environment
    today -- the kind of openness where we move beyond technical information
    about people and things to a qualitative meeting with them, learning to
    recognize their characteristic expressions and gestures, learning what
    it is like to be in that other place, what are the poisonous and the
    curative elements in our surroundings -- this is not so much a negation
    of Tomo's skills as an extension of them.  And in cultivating these
    skills we will find not only that our relations to the technologized
    world become healthier, but so also our relations to the natural world
    that sustains us.
    The preceding notes are drawn from a relatively few pages of Wade Davis'
    large, sprawling work.  The book primarily concerns Schultes and his many
    years of travel throughout the Amazon basin -- and also the later travels
    of the author and another student of Schultes, Tim Plowman.  There's a
    great deal about the numerous psychotropic plants used by the natives
    (Schultes, with his unparalleled knowledge of these plants, garnered some
    notoriety during the psychedelic revolution in this country), about the
    critical quest for rubber by the Allies during World War II (in which
    Schultes played a central role), and about the culture of the native
    Americans and their grievous mistreatment by the colonists.  All in all a
    highly stimulating book, well written and worth reading.
    Related articles:
    ** "Love and Detachment: How We Can Reconnect with Nature", in In
       Context #8 (Fall, 2002).  Most of us have an experience of being
       cut off from nature.  What are the implications of this for the world?
    ** "Ecological Conversation: Wildness, Anthropocentrism, and Deep
       Ecology", in NF #127.  We needn't choose between a strict, hands-off
       stance toward nature and a domineering, prediction-and-control stance.
       We can, instead, converse with her.
    ** "Technology, Alienation, and Freedom", in NF #134.  Our detachment from
       an objectified world has not only resulted in ecological disasters on
       an unprecedented scale, but has also made possible the free
       responsibility on which the future of the world depends.
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    Steve Talbott :: NetFuture #141 :: January 28, 2003
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