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Afterword Fulfilled in family and career, and famed as seer and mentor, Carl Sauer felt increasingly alienated from modern ways. In the guise of progress, re-­ sources were gutted, landscapes befouled, rural communities impoverished , tradi­ tional cultures eviscerated. Sanctimonious do-gooders—St. Bureau­ craticus’s “more and better jobs” to guide “this wobbly world,” and St. Scholasticus’s “five-dollar phrases for commonplaces”—ruled government and academe alike. Cultural and agricultural diversity gave way to monocultural uniformity, an arid and rootless sameness of soil and spirit, whether on the American or the Soviet model. Moneyed malefactors backed purblind planners’ development programs that squandered finite reserves of soils, water, and forests, ditching humane and aesthetic values for shortterm profits. Out of tune with modernity in general and technocrat improvers in particular , Sauer termed himself an obsolete relic from a bygone era, a “cranky old backwoodsman.” Nostalgic for his slow-paced small-town childhood, he relished his “Society of Backward Peoples and the Slowing Down of Progress.” Yet for all of Sauer’s self-mocking despair, subsequent events make manifest the merits of many of his embattled stances. Most salient today is Sauer’s critique of environmental exploitation. “Civilized man,” he pronounced, was “the most perilous parasite in the history of the earth. He has thrived briefly on destruction and multiplication, [but] the world is actually growing poorer day by day.” The technological hubris that Sauer then assailed in vain has given way to alarmed awareness of the perils unleashed by human derangement of the Earth. “More damage has been done to the productive capacity of the world” in the past century and a 182 to pass on a good earth half, judged Sauer, “than in all human history preceding.” The half century since has redoubled the damage; we have not yet learned Sauer’s “difference between yield and loot.” Growing population and mounting power make human agency—burning fossil fuels, accelerating erosion, poisoning air, land, and waters, extirpating species, and crippling ecosystems—the prime threat to our well-being if not survival. From the time of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) to the searing summers of today’s global warming, recurrent disasters—lethal oil spills, polluted waterways, eutrophically dead lakes, nuclear meltdowns, plastic-choked oceans and debris-clogged space orbits, antibiotic-resistant pathogens, ozone depletion, melting icecaps— underscore the ecological warnings that Sauer did not originate but of which he was a most eloquent champion. Sauer’s concern for cultural diversity paralleled his pleas to conserve nature . He likened technical assistance “meddling” that sought to “reorder the world” and “reduce it to one system” to missionaries “putting Mother Hubbards on Hawaiians,” a vainglorious know-how devoid of “wisdom and pity and humility.” He feared that industrial demands would “eradicate the natural and cultural landmarks we cherish” and destroy invaluable heritage . The backward Third World was bidden to eliminate hunger, endemic disease, poverty, and illiteracy, guided by Western planners with “their social consciences all straight and their responses to any situation all ready,” scoffed Sauer, “arranging the lives of men unknown to them and not under­ stood by them. That cultural conservancy is critical to the sanity of the world [was] alien to their thinking.” No more. Sauer’s stewardship is now de rigueur. Cultural autonomy is sacrosanct, Western tutelage repudiated as neocolonialism. United Nations and UNESCO protocols declare traditional heritage and genres de vie inviolable . The arrogant modernizing certitudes that Sauer deplored are replaced, in precept if not in practice, by an ethic of self-determination. However quixotic or impracticable, each people (nation, tribe, or minority) is entitled to set its own goals. Two events underlie this volte-face. One is the failure of utopian postwar planning. Once-confident social engineers now realize, pace Sauer, the futility of one-cure-fits-all to local, complex ailments. Second, cultural along with ecological and genetic diversity has become a precious resource to be Afterword 183 sheltered from global conformity and rapacious entrepreneurs. The viability of diverse cultures in distinctive locales is no longer rejected as primitivist folly, but prized as essential to human well-being. Because “there are very few things most sensibly done in one way only,” as Sauer argued, “we deal not with Culture, but with cultures.” And one day “human survival might depend on there being enough thick-headed peasants who have some dumb awareness that their way of living is good and enduring.” Sauer saw all human experience as historically determined, the present as “an accretion of the...


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