Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Brazilian Man's Burden

Last week we all briefly looked at those strange pictures of living stone-age tribe members deep in the Brazilian jungle.

Now Danny Rabinowitz is here to put the story right. The photographers in the helicopters are colonial intruders intent on destroying the way of life of the wise natives, and the natives, by shooting their arrows at the helicopters, are engaging in a piercing critique of modernity.
Thus their existence in the forest could be something else than an expression of passivity. It could well be an active survival strategy, a conscious choice to withdraw from a threatening reality of violence, disease, subjugation and humiliation. The arrows fired at the helicopter, which could have been seen as an instinctive, boorish response to an unfamiliar entity, should perhaps be read by us as a piercing critique of modernity.
Codswallop, as they say in Yiddish. While the argument about noble savages vs. benighted primitives has been going on for at least 500 years, Rabinowitz's statement is simply ridiculous. The tribesmen are ignorant of the modern world, and don't have the slightest way of evaluating it so as to make a choice that their way of life is superior. The Unabomber, leaving civilisation to go off and live in the forest while sending off the occasional bomb back to civilization - he had the tools to make his choices, and make them he did. But these poor people? Do you think if they were given the choice between living in dugouts and surviving on berries, or enjoying the comforts most modern city dwellers have, including a life expectancy unprecedented in human history, they'd choose the dugouts? And even if they did, being too old to adapt, what choice would they make for their grandchildren, if they could?


Lydia McGrew said...

Reality makes no difference to someone like that. No difference at all. He has his one and only story of reality, and that's the one he's going to tell, all facts to the contrary notwithstanding. It wouldn't matter if no one listened to him.

Anonymous said...

I thought "piercing critique of modernity" was already a sarcastic remark. But he seriously means it! Unbelievable.