Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Wayfinders by Wade Davis

Well-written and well-spoken, this series of five lectures explores the diverse cultures around the globe with an emphasis on the importance and beauty of unique cultures. Davis reminds us that “of the 7,000 languages spoken today, fully half may disappear in our lifetimes.” Like a good cultural anthropologist, Davis provides detailed descriptions about the practices of various cultures without being judgemental about their truth. But, like a bad cultural anthropologist, he ends up neglecting this duty far too often by forgetting the important qualifiers. For instance, he will say that through a particular practice “these people to connect with the divine” when he should say “these people believe they connect with the divine.” Although he repeatedly said he goal was not to evaluate the truth of the various practice/beliefs he describes, by consisting neglecting his important role as objective reporter, the lectures became annoying and unreliable. Similarly, all too often Davis seemed to have “noble savage” lens through which he viewed these fascinating cultures. Additionally, there were a couple things he said which just sounded completely inaccurate (i.e., in one tribe, the speech/language can be learned by youths without any actual speaking practice).
Davis is correct that regardless of truth, one’s beliefs will be what impact their behaviour. If one is concerned about environmental impact, then whether mountains are just rock to be mined or inhabited by gods is an important factor.

"Cultural is a warm-blanket with which we interpret" and confront the world, and the cultures and abilities of different peoples are fascinating topics to explore, I just wish Davis had done so in a more objective manner.


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