The Progress of Man

How much longer can we tolerate soulless

"Then the coal company came, with the
largest shovel/And they tortured the timber and stripped all the
land/Well they
dug for their coal till the land was forsaken/Then they wrote it all
down as the
progress of man."

was writing about his parents' home in western Kentucky, not
Niyamgiri Mountain in eastern India, but I couldn't help but hear the
echo of these four-decade-old lyrics as I thought about the struggle of
Dongria Kondh, around whom a global protest movement has grown to stop
digging of an open-pit bauxite mine in the middle of their land.

Maybe it seems odd to link Appalachia and
tribal India, but I do
so intentionally because it's the same planet, the same phenomenon of
progress, the same devastation of traditional life tied to place.
song about Muhlenberg County and "Mr. Peabody's coal
train" is called "Paradise,"
which is kind of like a cry that these hills are sacred, or once were.
Loving a
piece of Planet Earth, feeling loved by it in return: This is not
or "primitive" but a deeply human way of being in the world that
resonates at some level with every last one of us.

It's time, I think, to resacralize progress.
One way
to start is to recognize the rights of native peoples around the world
not to
be displaced, to see in their determination to remain in reverent
connection to
a piece of the earth not something quaint and primitive and of value to
alone, but the heart and center of humanity's struggle with itself.

"Our long-term goal is to change the place
of tribal
people in the public consciousness, so eventually it would become
to go into tribal regions and displace them," Tess Thackara of Survival
International USA told me. "These are very intelligent societies. They
should be part of our future."

Let me repeat those last words: They should
be part of our
future - not as displaced persons, rootless, broken and
"modernized," but fully as themselves. Many Westerners, from
astrophysicists to prosecuting attorneys, are beginning to grasp how
much they
have to learn from aboriginal cultures, whose connection with Planet
Earth and
the great rhythms of life - whose understanding of the healing process
- has never been broken. They should be our teachers.

It is in this context that I look at the
plight of the
Dongria Kondh, who face displacement by a British company called Vedanta
Resources, which wants to tear open their sacred mountain, located in
Indian state of Orissa, to extract bauxite ore for the aluminum refinery
company has already built at the foot of the mountain.

"The mine will destroy the forests on which
the tribal
Dongria Kondh people depend and wreck the lives of thousands of other
tribal people living in the area," Survival
, one of the organizations calling global attention to
what is
happening, says on its web site. While a portion of the profits
generated by
the mine would be used, as required by Indian law, to finance the
displacement, this cynical arrangement, often honored as sparingly as
hardly begins to compensate for "the destruction of a unique environment
and culture."

The momentum of industrialization is often
from the momentum of war. Companies like Vedanta are used to getting
their way,
and getting away with whatever they can. Like the armies of Rome, they
will, without compunction, make a
wasteland and call it progress.

How much longer can we tolerate soulless
progress? This is
progress that is cold and profit-driven, that views the planet not as a
entity - our nurturer and, indeed, part of us - but rather as some
great prize awarded to the most powerful, to be consumed, used up,

The paradox, of course, is how well this has
worked, at
least for those on the winning side. By declaring ourselves independent
of life
itself, and therefore its master, we've built great throwaway
civilizations beholden to their own perpetuation. But the resources of
planet are not inexhaustible. What we, the global community, need right
now is
not more bauxite but more connectedness.

"Is There an
Ecological Unconscious
?" So a long piece on
"ecopsychology" by Daniel B. Smith in New York Times Magazine last
month is titled. The article stakes a mainstream claim in the
possibility of a living, breathing, sentient
Planet Earth, from which we, in fact, are not separate, physically,
mentally or
spiritually. If we sever our relationship to it, we cease being human.

Smith quotes environmentalist Gregory
Bateson, writing about
pollution in 1972 with sensitivity to the planet as living and aware,
intertwined with human consciousness: ". . . if Lake
Erie is driven insane, its insanity is incorporated in the larger
system of (our) thought and experience."

How long can we continue to drive our planet
insane with

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