A reader writes:
I was deeply moved by the video of the Vanuatu chief. You mused:
Or maybe grief at this kind of human loss is Luddite or reactionary. But I don't think so. It's, in a word, wise.
I couldn’t agree more. The story reminded me of another recent one about the sole survivor of an un-contacted tribe in Brazil (“The Most Isolated Man on the Planet”, Monte Reel, Slate, August 20, 2010). The Brazilian government decided to carve out protected space around the man, intermittently monitor his movements, but otherwise to leave him alone and protect his isolation. A generation ago, this man would have probably been dragged into Western life whether he wanted to or not. But for many like him, that trip doesn’t end well.
We’ve all watched in horror as indigenous groups all over the planet struggle to find their place in the modern world. For many, the promise of jobs, medical care, and technological wizardry either does not manifest or is outweighed by the concomitant loss of identity, the reality of poverty, and frequent struggles with crime and/or alcohol and drugs.
Modern Western societies have yet to figure out how to incorporate traditional ones without major disturbances. And for all that I, modern and Western to the core, could not give up my modern life with all of its amenities, I also recognize that many traditional societies offer extraordinary benefits to their members: certain identity, constant fellowship, and presumably lower day-to-day stress.
There aren’t easy answers to questions like this. The lure and proximity of the West makes the unchanged continuance of the Vanuatu tribe unlikely. But those who think grieving its loss is Luddite or reactionary are poor students of history and arrogant to their core.
Thank you again for posting such a moving and beautiful video.