Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Great Forgetting - Precautionary Principle

I was looking at this article on the risks associated with WiFi and how a Waldorf school in Minnesota researched the issue and eventually made a decision to remove WiFi from its campus.

Toward the end of the article, I encountered this: an example of "the great forgetting".
In the decision to have WiFi in a school or in our homes, it is perhaps wise to apply the Precautionary Principle. This principle, developed in the early 1980s, is meant to guide decision making regarding ecological and health policies. In the agencies of the European Union, the Precautionary Principle is officially recognized as a determinative guideline in making decisions that affect the environment and public health.

The Precautionary Principle states that when a new device, activity, or policy is proposed, and before it is implemented, those who will provide and profit from it must prove conclusively that it is not harmful. The burden of proof should be on those proposing and promoting the innovation. Those who question or oppose the innovation should not be required to prove that it is harmful.

At this time, no one, including the very powerful electronic communications industry, has proven conclusively that exposure to Wifi is safe. There is no proof that short- or long-term exposure to WiFi for children or for adults is benign.
According to Wikipedia,
Regarding international conduct, the first endorsement of the principle was in 1982 when the World Charter for Nature was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, while its first international implementation was in 1987 through the Montreal Protocol. Soon after, the principle integrated with many other legally binding international treaties such as the Rio Declaration and Kyoto Protocol.
So, yes, as far as Western Civilization is concerned, the precautionary principle is indeed very recent. But Native Peoples all around the world have long held the precautionary principle as a sacred tenet for eons. The Iroquois codified it in their constitution but it has been an unwritten rule passed down the generations for thousands of years. When we wonder how modern civilization has managed to bring us to the brink of extinction in just a few hundred years, we'd do well to remember that the indigenous peoples of the world, no less smarter than modern man, have nurtured and sustained their tribes and ecosystems for thousands of years very successfully. Their understanding of the principles of sustainability far surpass any that are taught in the most advanced universities of the modern world.

This, my friends, is an example of "The Great Forgetting"! Modern man has forgotten the wisdom of his ancestors. In his hubris arising from material advancement, he looks down upon the traditions and thought of older cultures with disrespect and disdain.

As Thom Hartmann writes in "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight", Western Civilization is a young culture. Our most important inventions and discoveries date back to just a few hundred years, and in many cases, as in the case of the precautionary principle, just a few decades.

Here are a couple of screenshots of the contents of this book which I highly recommend:

It's time that we, inculcated in the ways of a young culture that is Western Civilization, realize that the story of humanity is not one of constant advancement from a barbaric existence toward a "civilized culture". In this story, our current crises of ecological destruction and mass extinction are explained away as unfortunate side-effects. The dominant view is that, if we do go extinct and take the planet down with us, it's just because humans are a flawed species and all our Science and Technology hasn't been able to help us overcome our flaws and take us to utopia. The human train ran out of fuel and failed to reach the station! It's a story of constant evolution and progress with an unfortunate climax.

In reality, our species has been devolving for several thousand years now and the devolution is only speeding up. Technology is a turbo-charger accelerating this process. Human extinction is a logical consequence of this process. The best times that our species has seen seem to lie prior to agriculture, during the many tens of thousands of years when we were hunter gatherers.


  1. Another good essay. Thanks.

    "The great forgetting" made me think of something that I heard on the radio (BBC Radio 4, I'm in the UK) a few days ago.

    They were talking about more and more young mothers having a "problem" with their toddlers not being able to eat "solid food". It turned out that they had kept their children on baby food and nor given them solids (in time). Now these older children didn't know how to chew, swallow and breathe at the same time. "Experts" in the health service now had to "treat" this "pathology".
    I was shocked. I'm usually not surprised by anything but I hadn't thought of this one coming. Just imagine, something as vital as chewing and swallowing solids (which, of course has to be taught at the "right" time) could be lost just like that, in one generation. Our ancestors could never have imagined this. The "experts" discussed just like any other "problem", like obesity etc.
    Here, I think, mothers are falling for the modern story of "you don't have to do anything, we (in this case, we, the baby food manufacturers) can do it all for you. You just get out there and get a "life". Whatever you do, don't make things or think for yourself.You just "forget" it and leave it to us! Just the opposite of all our ancestral stories.

    Just think how much has been forgotten!
    I spend a lot of my time trying to recover knowledge about wild plants: how I relate to them and they to me, for medicinal and culinary purposes (for my advantage) and just because they are there to notice and love. One of the things that makes my life worth living. Once you find a connection, there's a lot you can do. It's almost like "magic".

    1. That's sad! I am always intrigued by the many pre-natal and new mom classes that are available to new parents. What does modern culture have to teach us in this area? I'm willing to bet a rural grandma in 1900 knew so much more about the birthing process and the care of infants and toddlers than the experts of today who are all too eager to add another new expertise to their bulging professional resumes on LinkedIn! Our educational system and media train us to look up to these experts. "Feel free to bring in your smart phone but leave your critical thinking skills at the door before you enter". No, thank you.

      Just about every facet of the human experience is up for grabs, analyzed by the finance whiz kids on Wall Street and monetized and put on the free market for the so-called innovators to pounce upon and improve. Charles Eisenstein talks about the relentless monetization processes that are underway in his book "Ascent of Humanity". For instance, Facebook is thriving on monetizing friendships and social connections. Is there anything that can't be converted to money? Even the future emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere have been monetized through carbon credits and swap markets. Corporations can get paid for not polluting as much as they otherwise would. Wait, what?

      Good to hear you're stopping to listen, taking the time to connect with creation, in the midst of all that's going on.