Controversies 2 - The Noble Other, Indigenous and Oriental...

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The Noble Other, Indigenous and Oriental Largely within the anti-religious camp, but sometimes also in the religious opposition, there are critics who dismiss spiritual ecology as idealistic, romanticism, simplistic, and the like. One of their main lines of attack is the assertion that champions of spiritual ecology are unrealistic in naively thinking that Buddhist or other societies, such as animistic indigenes, are in harmony, balance, or equilibrium with their natural environments (e.g., Kalland 1993, 2003a,b, Lohman 1993, Pedersen 1995). However, these anti-idealists usually ignore the details of the cultural, historical, and spiritual ecology of many societies which have survived and prospered for centuries or even millennia without depleting natural resources and degrading environments irreversibly (IUCN 1997, Sponsel 1998, 2001b, 2004). These antagonists concentrate instead on striking examples of environmental destruction, such as Pleistocene megafaunal extinctions which appear to coincide with the aboriginal colonization of new frontiers like the Americas and Australia in prehistory (e.g., Kretch 1999). A few cases of anthropogenic environmental destruction are naively generalized to the assertion that human nature is anti-nature, the stance labeled as "Homo devastans" by anthropologist William Balee (1998). The proponents of the Homo devastans position assert that only population size and technological capacity limit the environmental impact of a society. Also proponents ignore religion including a culture's world view, attitudes, and values regarding nature, a deficiency reflecting their materialist bias and/or ignorance. (Also see Headland 1997, Redford 1991, Redman 1999, Smith and Wishnie 2000). Some critics, in marshalling their own theoretical (and often ideologically based) arguments, have taken points from the publications of others out of their original context, disregarded nuances of the latter, over- simplified them, and thereby distorted them and spread misinformation. A case in point is anthropologist Arne Kalland (2003a,b) who constructs a strawman argument with the problematic dichotomies of the "Noble/Ignoble Other" and "Oriental/West." Kalland simplistically depicts the "Ignoble Other" as scientific fact, and the "Noble Other" as myth. He is just as uncritical of the "Ignoble Other" as he is critical of the "Noble Other," and that is hypocritical. Kalland draws on publications such as anthropologist Shepard Kretch's (1999) book The Ecological Indian: Myth and History to try to refute the idea of the indigenous ecologically "Noble Other." Kalland follows Kretch uncritically, whereas the book has been exposed as problematic in many respects (e.g., Deloria 2000). (Also see Buege 1996, Grinde and Johansen 1995). As Sponsel (2004) states: In conclusion, whether it is the relationship of "savages" to one another within or among societies, or with nature, Westerners tend to emphasize either the positive or negative image. That is, "savages" exemplify a
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Controversies 2 - The Noble Other, Indigenous and Oriental...

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