Editorial Comment

The Curse of Modernization

I have a farmer buddy that lives a few miles from town on an eighty acre parcel. He resides almost on top of the very spot his great grandfather had his sod shack when he began homesteading on the land in the early 1900’s. My pal is like many other farmers in the Leduc-Wetaskiwin area; probably like farmers all over the world, in that he loves to farm. If he won the Super 7 jackpot, he would spend the money on being able to farm better, not so he could quit farming.
    Unfortunately for my agrarian friend, although the family farm was handy for putting food on his own table, it wasn’t a large enough operation to make a go of it solely on the proceeds from what he could sell from his efforts. The extra grain and occasional hog sales just weren’t enough to support his family. He worked a forty hour per week job for his entire adult life in order to bankroll his farming habit. In retrospect, it seems cruelly apparent; he had a front row seat to the death of the economic viability of the family farm.
    As sad as it is that a traditional way of life has now become an anachronism in just a generation or two, it is important to remember there are far too many humans on the planet to feed with the output of inefficient family farms. We need the large commercial operations and the efficiencies that come with farming many sections of land, rather than a section here, a half-section there. It is too late to go back to how it once was, no matter how pleasant the memory of it that is conjured up.
    I was thinking about my buddy when reading about some First Nations people who oppose scrapping the Indian Act and allowing native lands to be held as private property by the band members. Their concern, and it is a valid one, is that it doesn’t take many individuals to sell off their share to whoever might buy it, to negatively affect those that remain. Eventually, too many fences will prevent living life according to the old ways. Of course the image of the noble native living off the land as they did centuries ago is not applicable to every band. In fact, native bands are currently in practically every stage of the inexorable modernization process, no matter how much they try and stave it off. 
    Just like in my buddy’s case, each aboriginal community is approaching, at different speeds, the end of their era and are living in a world where they can no longer live as they once did. Trying to live off the avails of hunting and gathering is becoming more and more difficult under the onslaught of globalization in the 21st century. It’s not just happening in North America, either, as enclaves of traditional peoples all over the world cling to ways of life that have worked for hundreds, if not thousands of years, only to see them swept away by the tide of their youth demanding smart phones and high definition TVs. The clash between modern societies with ever-diminishing groups of tribal people, is certainly a lop-sided battle. It isn’t pretty, either, wherever it happens.
    The reason for the ugliness is that inside many a modern man is a sneaking suspicion all this modernization may not be all that good for us. For millennia, the African tribe, the Masai lived a simple life of raising cattle and growing food  It took the average tribal member maybe three or four hours a day of work to get enough food, water and shelter to satisfy his, and his community’s needs. The rest of the time was his own. They would never get rich but the very concept of being “rich” was utterly foreign to them for most of that millennia of existence.
    Now, sadly, the young ones are lured to the cities with dreams of making money and acquiring things; things they didn’t know they wanted or even existed, until televisions and computers came to the villages. The tribes’ youth go to work in the factories for ten, twelve hours a day and leave the villages to the old ones. The elders unfortunately can’t keep up the ancient lifestyle, as they need the new generation to slowly take over the herding, growing and gathering.  It is like an unfortunate, partially self-inflicted form of genocide.
    So what responsibilities do modern societies bear for their traditionally based brethren? Do traditional societies have a responsibility to modernize? Is modernization even wise, or even possible for some? Even if we moderns decide there is value in maintaining traditional cultures as they are, which, of course, would include depriving them of advancements in science and medicine, is there any way to stop the young people from trying to escape the old ways, even if being a modern man is proven ultimately bad for both him and his culture?
    These are troubling times for both sets of people. Modernization, like everything else, is a double-edged sword. So, too, however, is maintaining the ancient tribal ways. 
    There are no easy answers. Those that would suggest that the sooner we modernize all the ancient cultures the better, however, may be misguided. Consider this, for example; in the event of a cataclysmic Earth-wide disaster, the traditional folks will be far more fit to survive to carry on this experiment in humanity than anyone. Those of us that depend on our electronics and do paperwork for a living (editorialists, for instance) will be as acutely ill-equipped to live the life of the traditional man as traditional peoples are ill-equipped for life in the new millennium.

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