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Dangerous Myths

One of the odder things about those in thrall to the diversity and environmental movements is their excessive devotion to myth.nbsp; Consider, for example, the myths about the lives of Edward Said and Rigoberta Menchu.nbsp; Presented as archetypes of Western injustice, their stories have been used to rally the faithful against Western culture.

Said, holder of an endowed chair in English and comparative literature at Columbia University, champions Palestinian Arab rights and claims to be an exiled Palestinian.nbsp; In the September 1999 issue of Commentary, Justus Reid Weiner showed that Saids stories are just that. [1]nbsp; He grew up in Cairo, not Jerusalem.nbsp; His father was a wealthy American, and the Said family was dispossessed by Egyptians, not Jews.nbsp; In 1952 a revolutionary mob burned down the familys flagship store.nbsp; Several years later its assets were nationalized by Nassar.nbsp;

The myth of Rigoberta Menchu, winner of the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize, rests on an autobiographical account of how her family and other poor Indian peasants were stripped of their land by wealthy landowners of European descent.nbsp; She says she saw her brother starve to death and received no formal education.nbsp; David Stoll, author of Rigoberta Menchu and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans, investigated.nbsp; He found that she had attended two private boarding schools and that her brother was alive and well.[2]

On campus, where skin color often trumps the content of ones character, such exposs have had relatively little effect on the myth that whites always oppress browns.

Ecological myths have equal staying power.nbsp; Despite evidence to the contrary, stories of global warming, deadly dioxin, dying forests, demonic DDT, rejuvenation by recycling, and the evils of electric fields continue to gain adherents.nbsp; Green mythology holds that white technology is destroying the planet.nbsp; Only with the elimination of Western evils like the internal combustion engine and chemicals can we recover the health and happiness that flow from living as one with nature.nbsp;

When the green and brown stories overlap, as they do in stories about American Indians, the result is a myth of monumental proportions.nbsp; From James Fenimore Cooper to Dances with Wolves and Disneys Pocahontas, American Indians have been mythologized as noble beings with a spiritual, sacred attitude towards land and animals, not a practical utilitarian one.[3]nbsp; Small children are taught that the Plains Indians never wasted any part of the buffalo.nbsp; They grow up certain that the Indians lived as one with nature, and that white European settlers were the rapists who destroyed it.

In The Ecological Indian: Myth and History Shepard Krech III, an anthropologist at Brown University, strips away the myth to show that American Indians behaved pretty much like everyone else.nbsp; When times were bad they used the whole buffalo.nbsp; When times were good, whole herds of buffalo might be killed only for their tongues or their fetuses.[4]nbsp; Although American Indians adapted to their environment and were intimately familiar with it, they had no qualms about shaping it to their needs.

Indians set fires to promote the growth of grasses and make land more productive for the game and plants that they preferred.nbsp; Sometimes fire was used carefully.nbsp; Sometimes it was not.nbsp; Along with the evidence that Indians used fire to improve habitat are abundant descriptions of carelessly started fires that destroyed all plant life and entire buffalo herds.[5]

Nor were American Indians particularly interested in conserving resources for the future.nbsp; In the East, they practiced slash and burn agriculture.nbsp; When soils became infertile, wood for fuel was exhausted, and game depleted, whole villages moved.[6]nbsp; The Cherokee, along with the other Indians who participated in the Southern deerskin trade, helped decimate white-tailed deer populations.[7]nbsp; Cherokee mythology believed that deer who were killed in a hunt were reanimated.

In all, contemporary accounts suggest that many Indians treated game as an inexhaustible resource.nbsp; Despite vague hints in the historical records that some Crees may have tried to conserve beaver populations by allocating hunting territories and sparing young animals, Krech concludes that it was market forces in combination with the Hudsons Bay Company policies [which actively promoted conservation] that led to the eventual recovery of beaver populations.[8]

Those who blame European settlers for genocide because they introduced microbes that ravaged native populations might as well call the Mongols genocidal for creating the plague reservoirs that led to the Black Death in Europe.[9]nbsp; Microbes travel with their hosts.nbsp; Trade, desired by Indians as well as whites, created the pathways for disease.nbsp;nbsp;

Myths are dangerous because they inform human actions and human actions have consequences.nbsp; The Nazi myth of Aryan superiority had horrendous results.nbsp; Modern myths are no different.nbsp; History shows that the choice is clear.nbsp; If one ignores the truth, one will bear the consequences.nbsp;


Linda Gorman is a Senior Fellow with the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, Colorado, https://i2i.org. This article originally appeared in the Colorado Daily (Boulder), for which Linda Gorman is a regular columnist.

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.
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