Sunday, July 6, 2008

Good Aspirations

Wade Davis, the great storyteller botanist, said that "the measure of a society is not only what it does but the quality of its aspirations."

I think that's probably a good thing to keep in mind. And not just for societies, nation states, and big, expansive, unified cultures, either. For communities. For businesses. And for individual people.

What are our aspirations? How and when did they come into being? From what are they derived?

How do we assess them? How do we decide high and low quality? Do we or should we know intuitively? Or are our intuitions governed so closely by our aspirations that objective introspection (and outro-spection, for that matter) is impossible?

How do aspirations move? From society to community to individual? Or the other direction: from the grassroots on up? Or is the movement much more complicated than that: jumpy, unconstrained, and only vaguely predictable?

How should we address the aspirations we don't like? How do we address them in societies and businesses and friends and family? How do we address them in ourselves?

Anyway, that's what I have tonight. Questions. And a couple of links to Wade Davis TED Talks: February 2003 and February 2008.

I don't know much about this aspirations puzzle. But my instincts are pulling me toward one preliminary conclusion.

Wade Davis has high quality aspirations.

He aspires to protect the indigenous cultures he studies and the indigenous people with whom he works. He aspires to protect our planet's ethnodiversity. He aspires to protect our greatest stores of human possibility.

These myriad voices of humanity are not failed attempts at being you, failed attempts at being modern. They are unique facets of the human imagination. They are unique answers to a fundamental question: what does it mean to be human and alive.

And when asked that question, they respond with 6000 different voices.

And, collectively, those voices become our human repertoire for dealing with the challenges that will confront us in the coming millennia.

He's fighting knee jerk cultural narcissism, and he's fighting a myth about the happy inevitability of a culturally flattening world, but the man has vision, and the man can tell stories, so I'm certainly not betting against him.

If human beings are the agents of cultural destruction, we can also be and must be the facilitators or cultural survival.

Next step, Wade, is for you to tell me how I can help.