Poverty of the spirit

It’s easy to blame the poor in the third world for the destruction of their ecosystems.  And its true that the poor are chopping down forests and overgrazing the land.  But some of the poorest people on earth have done a wonderful job of caring for the earth. And some of the wealthiest got their wealth by destroying entire ecosystems.


The destruction of the earth by those greedy for wealth is easy to see. One egregious example I ran across recently was an entire river valley  turned to rubble when a Chinese company wanted Mozambique’s gold. The Chinese are finding willing governments all over Africa who can be bribed to permit the rapacious destruction of their countries. Just as Western countries once did.

Most of us know little about Africa.  Did you know that, when Christ was born, southern Africa was populated by a peaceful brown skinned people who eschewed agriculture?

Before the dark Bantu peoples migrated from their homeland near the Niger River, a lighter people lived all across Southern Africa.  If you define poverty as lack of income, then these people (called San, Khoi or Bushmen) were the poorest because they had no money.

They made a life without iron or agriculture.  These came only when the Bantus migrated in.  Then began the long destruction of African wildlife.  When the Bantus acquired the white man’s tools, the destruction really took off.  Today, the Chinese love of money is finalizing the destruction of Nature in Africa.

I’ll be taking my eighteenth  trip to Africa next month, hoping to see some of the last vestiges of wild Africa on the Serengeti.  But I also seek out the last vestiges of the original African inhabitants, the San. As Bantu populations grow with unchecked needs, the San are relegated to remote deserts which no one has figured out how to exploit.

There they live in peace with very little.  Aggressiveness and greed came to Southern Africa with agriculture.


Technology destroyed the verdant natural systems of the San. Iron workers from the Niger valley enabled invaders to cut down trees and plow soil and the Bantu began the destruction of all the lands of southern Africa.

Technology does not go away easily. So we have to counter fire with fire and technology is the only way to control technology.

To do so, we must understand the qualities of resilient systems.  Everyone loves children. The poor people of Africa want more children.  The rich people of the US and Europe see those children starving and ship them food. Can we let them starve? Pictures of starving children and the greed of Western farmers unite in helping Africans have more and more children.  And natural ecosystems recede all across the continent.

We need the wilderness. It rejuvenates us.  It puts us in touch with the basic processes of all life.  Processes which are hidden from most of us by our cultures.

Our cultures which glorify greed and income. Amassing more and more is all we think of. The San and many other cultures have alternative values. These peoples accumulate a little and then stop to enjoy it.  Accumulation is just one part of resilience. Having children, part of what ecologists call redundancy, is also a quality of resilience. Technology, or innovation, is also key to resilience.  But all these must be tempered if a culture or race or species is to survive.

Innovation must be conservative. It must maintain tried and true traditions. Redundacy must be held in check by diversity. Diversity must be complementary, not rampant. Accumulation of infrastructure and reserves must be tempered by cycling these reserves to support complementary diversity.

The San and many other cultures, have incorporated those dualities in everything they do, just as do all resilient natural systems.

We can learn from those resilient natural systems or we can perish.



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