Ecologies of the Heart: Emotion, Belief, and the Environment / Edition 1

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There is much we can learn about conservation from native peoples, says Gene Anderson. While the advanced nations of the West have failed to control overfishing, deforestation, soil erosion, pollution, and a host of other environmental problems, many traditional peoples manage their natural resources quite successfully. And if some traditional peoples mismanage the environment—the irrational value some place on rhino horn, for instance, has left this species endangered—the fact remains that most have found ways to introduce sound ecological management into their daily lives. Why have they succeeded while we have failed? In Ecologies of the Heart, Gene Anderson reveals how religion and other folk beliefs help pre-industrial peoples control and protect their resources. Equally important, he offers much insight into why our own environmental policies have failed and what we can do to better manage our resources.
A cultural ecologist, Gene Anderson has spent his life exploring the ways in which different groups of people manage the environment, and he has lived for years in fishing communities in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Tahiti, and British Columbia—as well as in a Mayan farmtown in south Mexico—where he has studied fisheries, farming, and forest management. He has concluded that all traditional societies that have managed resources well over time have done so in part through religion—by the use of emotionally powerful cultural symbols that reinforce particular resource management strategies. Moreover, he argues that these religious beliefs, while seeming unscientific, if not irrational, at first glance, are actually based on long observation of nature. To illustrate this insight, he includes many fascinating portraits of native life. He offers, for instance, an intriguing discussion of the Chinese belief system known as Feng-Shui (wind and water) and tells of meeting villagers in remote areas of Hong Kong's New Territories who assert that dragons live in the mountains, and that to disturb them by cutting too sharply into the rock surface would cause floods and landslides (which in fact it does). He describes the Tlingit Indians of the Pacific Northwest, who, before they strip bark from the great cedar trees, make elaborate apologies to spirits they believe live inside the trees, assuring the spirits that they take only what is necessary. And we read of the Maya of southern Mexico, who speak of the lords of the Forest and the Animals, who punish those who take more from the land or the rivers than they need. These beliefs work in part because they are based on long observation of nature, but also, and equally important, because they are incorporated into a larger cosmology, so that people have a strong emotional investment in them. And conversely, Anderson argues that our environmental programs often fail because we have not found a way to engage our emotions in conservation practices.
Folk beliefs are often dismissed as irrational superstitions. Yet as Anderson shows, these beliefs do more to protect the environment than modern science does in the West. Full of insights, Ecologies of the Heart mixes anthropology with ecology and psychology, traditional myth and folklore with informed discussions of conservation efforts in industrial society, to reveal a strikingly new approach to our current environmental crises.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"With his characteristic generosity and skilled analytic doggedness, Gene Anderson engages in a series of explorations in cultural ecology. Like a skilled therapist, he explores the conditions of reasonable and harmful human interactions with environments. He sensitively examines intersections of ecology with religion, cognition, and, especially, emotionality....One learns from the dragons in the hills, Northwest coast religious ecology, Webers disenchantment, and much more."—Lynn Thomas, Professor of Anthropology, Pomona College

"Here is another E. N. Anderson masterpiece—a carefully crafted, meticulously researched, and compellingly personal treatment of a topic so critically important to all humanity: Why do we treat our environment and its resources the way we do?... This book is a 'must' for any thoughtful reader concerned about the future of the earth. Biologists and ecologists, anthropologists, economists, political scientists, religious scholars—and most especially politicians and decision-makers of industrial societies—will find here a new way of thinking about humans and our place in the universe."—Nancy J. Turner, Professor of Environmental Studies, University of Victoria

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A cultural ecologist specializing in resource management, Anderson has studied how people manage their environment in such diverse countries as China, Malaysia, British Columbia and Mexico. He points out that traditional societies that have managed their resources well have done so in part through reliance on religion or ritual. Ecological problems, he claims, result from human choice, which is usually based on strong emotions. Anderson makes a scholarly, penetrating analysis of the sociocultural side of environmental decision-making. He examines a Chinese folk belief system, the spiritual kinship with animals of American Northwest Indians, and Mayan agriculture with its attendant ceremonies. He discusses economics, information processing and institutions. The author believes that laws and enforcement agencies are poor strategies for protecting the environment; instead, he advocates that we view environmental management as involving an ethical and moral code. He calls for hands-on environmental education and for the conservation movement to set priorities and hold to them. (Mar.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195090109
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 3/28/1996
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Lexile: 1250L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

E. N. Anderson is Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Riverside.

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Table of Contents

1 Landscape with Figures 3
2 Feng-shui: Ideology and Ecology 15
3 Chinese Nutritional Therapy 28
4 Learning from the Land Otter: Religious Representation of Traditional Resource Management 54
5 Managing the Rainforest: Maya Agriculture in the Town of the Wild Plums 73
6 Needs and Human Nature 85
7 Information Processing: Rational and Irrational Transcended 100
8 Culture: Ecology in a Wider Context 123
9 In and Out of Institutions 135
10 The Disenchanted: Religion as Ecological Control, and Its Modern Fate 160
11 A Summary, and Some Suggestions 174
Notes 185
References 215
Index 235
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