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What do you think of the idea that we "are captives of a civilization system that more or less compels us to go on destroying the world in order to live?"

Excellent example of paper 1 by Catie Draney Fall 2009

The awareness for our global deterioration has become known around the planet. Deforestation, smog and global warming are concerns of everyone today. Everywhere we look there is the "green movement". Reusable bags, recycled plastic, biodegradable clothes and environmentally safe soaps are consuming our markets. People are riding their bikes to work and changing their engines to biodiesel to help preserve the planet. But even though being green is so in right now, only a small percentage of people are acting on it. Organic and green products are more expensive and not everyone has the ability to ride their bikes to work. It is so much easier to live the way we do without regard to the planet. Why did it take so long for us to notice our harsh habits? And how did this destructive cycle begin? These questions bring up answers we don't want to know about ourselves. The system of our society holds us captive in this destructive cycle because of our sense of entitlement brought on by our culture.

In the novel Ishmael by Daniel Quinn, the main character and his teacher are talking about creation myths, and in every cultures' creation myth, the natives of the land believe that the place they live was created for them. On pg. 59 of Ishmael the "creation myth" of planet earth from the human perspective is explained, "They made the universe so that our galaxy could be in it. They made the galaxy so that our solar system could be in it. They made our solar system so that our planet could be in it. And they made out planet so that we could be in it. The whole thing was made so that man would have a hunk of dirt to stand on." Having the perspective that the entire universe was built for mankind to live in leaves us to believe that we don't owe anything to our planet, it only is here for our use. This sense of entitlement is common for every culture and creation myth, it is a type of ethnocentrism. Mankind continues to use and use the planet's resources without questioning how it will affect the future. Eventually we as a society have come to the mindset that the world can't live without us and not the other way around. We have gained so much confidence in manipulating the land and learning how to use all aspects of life (including the sky) that we don't think of it as living off of the land at all but rather as living off of our own technology. Civilization is captive to its own system of destruction. Even with all of this "going green" only a few individuals really have made the massive effort it takes to break out of this cycle and live in a way that isn't destructive.

Westernized cultures are especially ethnocentric and since we have grown up with this lazy lifestyle of depending on our destructive system we can't bring ourselves to understand why any other society wouldn't live the way we live. With our food brought in from around the globe and our trash taken away for us we are kept in the dark of how our lifestyle is destructive. Even if we wanted understand this system it would be almost impossible to research and get truthful facts because the corporations that run this society don't want us to know our destructive ways. They like us nice and naïve and lazy. And in that way it is not only us that keeps us captive to our way of life, maybe if we practiced cultural relativism more we might question the way we live more. Unfortunately there aren't a lot of outlets to understanding another culture that are as informative as traveling. Cultural relativism and less ethnocentrism would help us to understand our system of life and with that understanding we would no longer be victims of the system and might change our ways. If we were to know our own social norms we might have a better chance to break away from them but it is very common that a lot of people aren't even aware of their own social norms but just accept them as the way of life without question. Everybody should be educated about the social norms of their society to have a better chance of breaking out of the system we are captive to. And the educated should choose to challenge any harmful norms without fear of negative sanctions. Maybe sometimes it is our fear of negative sanctions that holds us captive to our own system.

Westernized culture has become completely materialistic. From clothes, cars, jobs, houses and beyond, our world is filled with material things rather than values and tradition. The materialistic culture is the culture that is never going to escape the system that continues to destroy where we live. Having a culture revolve around material things means a never ending cycle of disregard for the world and its destruction.

This brings us to the Takers and Leavers, or rather, the primitive and civilized these terms are from the book Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. The leavers are societies with a type of culture that live with the land instead of manipulating it. Of course it would be impossible now to revert back into our "Leaver" ways now that we are so deep into our "Taker" ways. It would demand so much more than a revolution to change society now, we are so deeply rooted in our destructive habits that this cycle couldn't end without some sort of apocalyptic start over. Maybe this all came with the invention of language. Primitive societies became civilized with the invention of language and that started this entire cycle. Like the Saphir-Whorf Hypothesis, language determines our consciousness and perceptive. We could never unlearn language. Every modern society is its language and with that so is our understanding of the meaning of life and what is important to us. Language is the first thing we learn growing up along with walking so really it is engrained in us since birth the type of things we are going to want out of life, like material things, that it feels like instinct to us. So, in a way, our destructive behavior seems instinctual to us.

We are compelled to continue this cycle because there is no way out. Even if we wanted a way out, which not enough of us truly really do, we could never pull it off because of how deeply engrained our culture is. Westernized culture is global and affects everyone even if they do not share the same culture. It is business and environmental and social. Our language and mindset are centered around the way we live, or the other way around, but they are irrevocably intertwined. We lack the means to change our ways as well as a desire to. There are outside forces but mostly our internal forces like our sense of entitlement that keeps us from even caring whether we can stop destroying the world that was "built only for our existence." We are captives to ourselves in this sense and in that we will always be captives to the destructive way we continue to live.


Ishmael. Daniel Quinn.