Monday, October 10, 2016

Ecologists or Economizers?

"I think this fool is probably lost."
--Wind In His Hair (Dances With Wolves)

Review of institutions that guided American Indian societies challenges claims that our Native American predecessors were guided by a unique environmental ethic that allowed them to operate as the 'pioneer ecologists of this country.' Instead, they, like all people, established economic institutions that governed resource use in response to abundance or scarcity.

Property rights, clear cutting forests, and production incentives exemplify societal institutions that governed economic activity. Truly communal property was scant. 'Tragedy of the commons' situations arose when economic institutions did not govern behavior (as they did for subsequent colonists).

Quoting the work of historian Louis S, Warren, the article notes:

"To claim that the Indians lived without affecting nature is akin to saying that they lived without touching anything, that they were a people without history. Indians often manipulated their local environments, and while they usually had far less impact on their environments than European colonists would, the idea of 'preserving' land in some kind of wilderness state would have struck them as impractical and absurd. More often than not, Indians profoundly shaped the ecosystems around them."

To that I might add that perhaps production technology was the primary distinguishing feature.

Like all people, our Native American predecessors were economizers.

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