McKinley/Denali as culture wars ignore ecological resilience

Kotzebue, Alaska, is the jumping off point for camping in the Arctic.  When you get to town just go down to the airport and you’ll find a pilot who will drop you off in the wilderness and pick you up later.

watermarkPresident Obama is arriving there today.  He’ll be taping an episode of Running Wild with Bear Grylls.  I’m glad we visited before Kotzebue got famous.  I wonder if Barack and Bear will go where we went.

Our Kotzebue bush pilot found a landing strip just a short hike from the Arctic Ocean and left us with all our gear.  We set up camp and tried to walk through the tundra to the coast.  At first that was virtually impossible.  A shrub called littletree willow carpets the tundra in that part of the Arctic.  It grows about 3 foot tall and forms a dense canopy too interwoven to walk through.  We walked on top of it for awhile until we hit a less dense spot and dropped down to the ground.  Progress was maddeningly slow.

Then we found a trail winding between the shrubs.  The trail led us all the way to the Arctic Ocean.  It got wider as we neared the ocean and then we saw tracks.  It was a bear trail we were following.  And we had to go back the same way to our camp.

We walked along the Arctic Ocean for awhile and waded in the freezing cold water.  In the distance we heard an engine which turned out to be a native couple on a 4 wheeler.  The guy was amazed we had come up there with no gun.  They wished us luck and sped off down the coast.  We watched them till they were out of sight.

We sure wanted to be at camp by nightfall, so we headed back up the bear trail to our tent.  Freeze dried food tastes great over a sterno stove when you’ve been hiking the Arctic wilderness.  We hung up our food far away from our tent and slept with no interruption.

Our food was unmolested the next morning, so we had a good breakfast and packed up to head back to the gravel landing strip to be picked up.  After we took off, the plane made a big circle so we could see our camping spot one last time.  We passed over musk ox next to the landing strip and then found our camping spot.  Two huge grizzly bears were nosing around right where we had camped.

Our pilot flew us back to Kotzebue and then we headed on to see Mt. McKinley.  I guess you won’t ever see Mt. McKinley because Obama has changed the name to Denali.  Wonder if he’ll also feel the need to change all the other US peaks which are named for European-Americans?

The Athabaskan tribe is glad because Denali is their name for the mountain.  But what about the peoples that the Athabaskans drove out of the region?  Archaeological evidence shows that two different groups inhabited Alaska before the Athabaskan’s ancestors came from what is now China.  The Athabaskans had more sophisticated plant food processing techniques and better weapons and drove out the other tribes.  Much like the Russians and then the Americans took over land from the Athabaskans.

So why is the Athabaskan name preferable to McKinley?  Both were names given by people who took the land from other peoples.  Why are the Athabaskans given more honor than the later arrivals?  The most obvious answer is that some people just don’t like European-Americans.

Though there is much to dislike about the history of any people, the people who inhabited North America when the Europeans came were no saints.  They killed off many huge native species, including the Mammoth.  They waged war on each other and exterminated those with less sophisticated technologies.

I like the name Denali.  It makes a fine name for the tallest peak in North America. I wonder what the people wiped out by the Athabaskans called it.  Might have been even nicer.  But it wasn’t chosen because it sounds nice. It was chosen because of our non-resilient education system.

Unfortunately, most education in the US today stresses the virtues of every group except the European-Americans.  So our education system emphasizes how the Europeans took land from native American tribes, but not how those same tribes obliterated other peoples to gain the land.

History is written by the victors.  The victors in our cultural wars so far are those who don’t like European-Americans.  Get ready for changes much more radical than just changing the name of a mountain.

The victors in our cultural war don’t like the wisdom passed down from generation to generation in all resilient human societies.  Because the present system is not perfect, they justify undermining its foundations with no idea of how to build a new system.  They are master educators with little practical experience who can convince the gullible while deriding the resilient wisdom of the ages.  They trust in transitory pleasures and maximize pleasure for the masses to maintain control over them.

We know what happens to societies which follow this route.  Their leaders fail to understand natural cycles and natural inclinations because they haven’t experienced such things.  They are only educated in classroom knowledge.

Such societies encounter leaders like Vladimir Putin or the Ayatollahs or the Daesh who are versed in a little more practical sort of knowledge.  Then comes failure of the cynical classroom knowledge which was so successful with the miseducated and pleasure-seeking.  Ukrainians and Israelis and Syrians suffer and will suffer more.

But the failure can be ignored if the people can be diverted.  They will forget.  There must be some way of changing the conversation to minimum wage or overtime pay or women’s reproductive rights or gay marriage.  Why, Putin doesn’t believe in gay marriage and he invades other countries!  That’s so twentieth century.

He’s obviously on the wrong side of history, they say.  And they go back to work reassembling an electoral majority of the miseducated and pleasure-seeking.  That vast majority of modern Americans has no practical knowledge of resilient phenomena.  They can keep getting elected if they just focus on the wants of the pleasure-seeking.  That’s the way to stay in power.  It worked for generations of Romans, just as it worked for generations of urbanites in hundreds of civilizations throughout Asia and the Middle East.  Civilizations which disappeared under the sands created by their lack of knowledge of what makes a resilient social ecosystem.


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