In Light of Our Differences: How Diversity in Nature and Culture Makes Us Human

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Most scientists would agree that a sixth mass extinction is on the horizon unless radical changes are made in how Western society treats nature. At the same time, another extinction crisis is unfolding: the loss of many of the world's languages. More and more work in applied biology, anthropology, linguistics, and other related fields is now driven by the assumption that we are approaching a threshold of irreversible loss, that events during the next few decades will decide whether we cross over into a fundamentally changed and significantly diminished world. This leads to a very simple question that has not, until now, been answered satisfactorily: Why should anyone care?

David Harmon takes a unique approach to answering this essential question by drawing on insights from conservation biology, evolutionary theory, linguistics, geography, psychology, philosophy, and ethics. His interconnected discussion explores the works of Voltaire, A.O. Lovejoy, Darwin, Wittgenstein, William James, Dobzhansky, and many others to explain why everyone must be concerned about the loss of diversity. When more and more elemental differences are erased from the natural world and human societies, the field of possible experience becomes more constricted and our essential humanity becomes jeopardized.

The very reason our planet can be said to be alive is because an amazing variety of organisms, streams of human thought and behavior, and geophysical features exist that provide a congenial setting for the interworkings of nature and culture. Harmon's timely, important book elucidates how as we lose diversity, we risk losing ourselves.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
[Harmon] has gone where no one else has gone—to the historic intellectual underpinnings of discourse about diversity, unity, and heterogeneity, and with this link in place, the rest of the book has the potential to declare this issue one of the four or five great intellectual issues of mankind. [Harmon's analysis] of patterns of biodiversity and cultural diversity have always been unsurpassed, but now he's added the missing ling—why any scholar or citizen should care about thse issues. It's a tour de force in terms of fresh insights and in terms of scholarly research. (Gary Nabhan)
From The Critics
"More and more applied work in biology, anthropology, linguistics, and allied fields is now undergirded by the assumption that we are approaching a threshold of irreversible loss..." asserts Harmon in his preface. He undertakes investigation of the "converging extinction crises," presenting far-reaching philosophical and scientific discussion with particular attention to the connections between biological and cultural diversity. Harmon is identified as a cofounder of Terralingua, a non-profit organization supporting linguistic, cultural, and biological diversity, and as director of the George Wright Society (advancing parks and other protected areas); his scientific or other credentials are not stated. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781588340665
  • Publisher: Smithsonian Institution Press
  • Publication date: 9/17/2002
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

David Harmon cofounded Terralingua, an international nonprofit organization supporting the world's linguistic, cultural, and biological diversity. He is also executive director of the George Wright Society, an association of researchers and resource managers advancing the scientific and heritage values of parks and other protected areas.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Voltaire's Solution Chapter 2 The Converging Extinction Crises Chapter 3 Species, Languages, and the Structure of Diversity Chapter 4 What We Do With Difference Chapter 5 Diversity and the Human Indentity

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2002

    Thought provoking

    This book presents original, thought-provoking ideas in a clear, concise manner. I recommended this to a few of my colleagues, and it has already generated some great discussions. If you care about our world and the environment, read this!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 2, 2002

    Highly recommended

    When I picked up this book I was not familiar with the subject matter. But having previously read Harmon's edited collection, "Mirror of America,Literary Encounters with the National Parks," I knew I was in for a treat. I was not disappointed! Harmon makes his case in a readable and entertaining fashion.

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