Confusing Discovery and Conquest: A Recipe for Destruction

By Madronna Holden

The worldview that links discovery with conquest has caused considerable social and environmental harm.   This attitude has deep roots in Western history.  Julius Caesar’s famous motto Veni, Vidi, Vici (I came, I saw, I conquered), featured on some  modern t-shirts, couldn’t be more clear on this point.  Discovery is a prelude to conquest.

Caesar himself didn’t invent this approach.  It was the guiding principle of the Athenian colonial empire, as illustrated in the tragedy of Melos. The people of Melos sent the Athenians a missive indicating they wished to live in their own way rather than join the empire.  The Athenian response was to massacre them.  In their proposal of neutrality the people of Melos violated the first rule of colonial empire, which is that whatever lands or peoples the conqueror casts his gaze upon, he owns.  In this context, the only alternative to assimilation of the Melos was their obliteration.

The worldview which mingles discovery with conquest persisted in the history of the Pacific Northwest—and it still persists today in our modern technology.  It is signed by the failure to see what we discover for what it is rather than for what we would make of it.  Indeed, an essential part of this discovering/conquering gaze is what it doesn’t see. Rather than Caesar’s I came, I saw, I conquered, the slogan of the conquering discoverer would more accurately be, “I came, I didn’t see, and I conquered”.  Or alternately, “I came, and I destroyed what I didn’t see.”

Take some examples from Pacific Northwest history.  Several decades after explorer Alexander Henry declared the Willamette Valley Kalapuya a wretched and homeless lot who lived out under the trees, those same Kalapuya began saving Oregon Trail pioneers from wholesale starvation—and it was the pioneers themselves that took shelter in the trunks of trees when they first arrived here. As for the traditional Kalapuya, one of their houses on Marys River (near Corvallis) was sixty feet long, and the ones near Tualatin might be twice that big.

But the denigration of the Kalapuya in the pioneer worldview led to the Senate’s refusal to sign treaties with them on the logic of those like Senator Sam Houston, whose Senate speech declared them “insignificant”.

The reduction of native villages to “huts” on lands that were “wastes”, as early  missionary Father Francis Blanchet wrote of the Chehalis, licensed their destruction. In fact, the Chehalis houses where Blanchet traveled, constructued by whole communities working together, included a potlatch house nearly two hundred feet long, to accommodate intertribal horse races inside in the wintertime.  But if one saw native houses as huts, that licensed their obliteration and replacement by a shipping port on the Chehalis River, as Blanchet proposed.

The blindness of those who crowded into a tiny cabin roofed with sail canvas and the camping mats of native people–and declared their abode the first house on Puget Sound– might simply have been humorous from the perspective of those at Port Madison whose cedar longhouse covered an acre of ground. In describing this contrast, historian and novelist Archie Binns stated that many pioneers foolishly assumed that, “a house is not a house unless built by whites”. This blindness  provided a license for destroying that which the pioneer worldview rendered invisible.

Throughout the Northwest, the cleared land upon which Native villages stood was favored by pioneers—and they seized it as they destroyed native homes, usually by burning. This is the mortal danger in the discoverer/conqueror’s blindness:  that which he renders invisible, his actions work to banish in fact.In the claims case pressed by several Puget Sound tribes in the early 1900s, indigenous peoples testified how the houses in village after village were burned by pioneers, who sought the land on which they stood–and ignored the fact that this land had been cleared by native people.

In fact, lands pioneers favored throughout the northwest were those specifically modified by native labor:  as was the broad Willamette Valley early fur trappers nicknamed the “gourmand’s paradise” for its profusion of natural foods. But Lyman Abbot, major spokesmen for the ironically named “Friends of the Indians” who lobbied Congress to assimilate Indian peoples to white ways in the nineteenth century (and take their land in the process) argued that the Indians did not even “occupy” the land.  Real occupation, he argued, would consist of things like mining operations.

Or the beaver trade.  The destruction of beaver homes along with human ones was something Chehalis elder Mary Heck remarked in the claims trial above.  This gets to the heart of the discovering conqueror’s blindness—the conqueror destroys that which creates the very things he favors. Pioneers throughout the continental US coveted beaver meadows as choice farmland, as Carolyn Merchant details in her analysis of ecological changes in New England with the coming of pioneers.

But at the same time, Euroamericans brought the beaver to the brink of extinction.

Val Plumwood outlines the blindness of the “dominator” logic—or more properly, illogic—expressed here.  The conquering mindset divides the world into dualistic sets such as progress/backward, civilized/savage, human/nature, civilization/wilderness, man/woman, master/slave, boss/worker, insider/outsider, friend/enemy– with the idea that one is higher and one is lower.

From the perspective of the ones above, those below become “objects” for their use—and invisible in their own right.  And also invisible in terms of the ways in which those at the top rely on them.  As Carolyn Merchant also observed, seeing nature as an active process means recognizing the contributions of natural life in creating the landscape upon which we make our own lives. But today we are still laboring under the induced blindness of the discover/conqueror in this respect, which sets humans above nature and renders natural systems as there for our use–and invisible in their own right.

Thus  globalization and industrialization are systematically destroying seventeen ecosystem services priced at $33 trillion a year, treating these aspects of ecosystems as it they were merely objects for our use–and thus invisible both in  their own right and in their contributions to our survival.

It is a matter of logic and of justice that we recognize and honor the living communities that charge water tables, contain and filter storm water, hold hillsides together with their roots—and provide us with the air we breathe and the soil on which to grow our food.   But we are hampered in doing this by the mentality that mixes discovery with conquest.

The mentality does not ask the “discoverer” to assess the consequences to natural lives (including human ones) in the use of his newly discovered technology. Modern industrial society simply gives the rights of usage to the “discoverer” as a patent.  The dangers involved in this approach have led the European Union to institute the precautionary principle in its REACH program.  According to this principle, a new chemical must be proved safe before it can be distributed.

There is the further question of who owns something derived from an ecosystem– something created and sustained by other life. The notion that if we “discover” something it is ours to do with as we will brings to mind a quip comedian Dick Gregory made about the discovery of the American continent by Europeans. Following this historical precedent, he declared that he would like to discover himself a car.

To address this issue in modern globalization, Vandana Shiva has instituted a “no patents on life” campaign. According to its guidelines, discoverers can neither own nor lock up from others the use of what they “discover” if it is part of a living ecosystem.  This pertains especially to the patenting of food and medicinal products traditionally used by third world peoples.  In the case of Shiva’s India, corporations patented both basmati rice and neem—and attempted to use those patents to keep these products out of the hands of those who used them for generations.  Shiva’s idea has been picked up in a European Union proposal.

All in all, it is time to clear up our inherited confusion between discovery and conquest—and the near-sightedness that goes with it.

Let us re-imagine discovery as a matter of meeting and mutual learning—rather than overrunning and obliterating the others who share our earth.

After all, blindness to the natural sources of our lives is not a survival tactic.

453 Responses

  1. Through the act of ethnocentrism many indigenous people were forced either directly or indirectly to conform to the culture that was intended to make their lives “better”. Many believed that because the progressive culture was “superior” that the indigenous peoples would effectively reject their own culture and embrace the modernization. Just as Val Plumwood describes the “the dominator logic” one culture is higher and one is lower.
    What I find fascinating is how many of these cultures survived for thousands of years by handing down knowledge and traditions. The Indigenous people strived to satisfy basic human needs and only took what they required from the land. Government programs were put in place seemingly with intentions of helping the indigenous people, but in actuality they were advancing the Nations economy through exploitation of the rich natural resources. You make an interesting point about the fact that because of the conqueror many natural resources that had been part of the indigenous culture were stripped away from them- such as rice, medicinal plants as well as water rights. This often forcibly required the indigenous people to become wage earners and contribute to the nation’s economy.
    I agree it is time to share- not conquer…

    • Good insight on the economic effects of colonialism, which, while proclaiming itself making as making things better for indigenous peoples, was actually stripping away their resources– land being the most essential of these. The resilience of indigenous societies in the face of pressures to assimilate has been truly amazing–and attests to the strength of traditional communities in the face of so many historical tragedies–though they are of course also suffering from these. Thanks for your comment, Anedra. There are many reasons why I also think it is time to focus on sharing rather than conquering.

      • madronna holden
        hi, am hoping to get your email so i can ask you about an interview you did in 1975 with henry cultee. am very serious.
        jack in seattle

  2. “Ready, Fire, Aim” – is an example that I give to Sales Management as the wrong way to coach, train, and develop people. That same statement ties to how we as a people moved into this great nation and conquered not only the natural habitat to our advantage but also is an example of how we treated the Native Americans as we moved from the East to the West. We immediately assumed our superiority over the Native peoples and treated them as such. We did not aim before we fired and destroyed a group of people physically and emotionally by taking away their way of living and forcing our culture on theirs. We felt that we not only owned the land, but the people on the land by virtue of being the conquerer.

    This “Ready, Fire, Aim mentality continues to wreak havoc on the decision making process. I could create a long list of “technological” wonders that have both enhanced and destroyed our environment – DDT being at the top of the list. Maybe it is human nature as our best asset in our personality which makes us successful is sometimes our worst… … As the article stated, the discoverer is not responsible for the consequences. That may be true, but how does one ensure that the discovery will in fact not harm the environment as it helps the people? As technology continues to create new and better mousetraps our responsibility for those mousetraps may have to change and we may have to focus on the Aim before we Fire to ensure the safety and sustainability of all.

    The Native Americans did not have a “market’ economy – theirs was one of redistribution. We saw the deer as a source of money and the Native Americans viewed deer as a source of food – they did not understand or believe in a market economy. To conquer the Native Americans, the Europeans used the “Ready, Fire, Aim”. method. To create a state of dependency on the Native peoples, one had to destroy their culture. As we look back on the history of our colonization of America, wouldn’t it have been better had the colonists aimed first before they fired so that we could have learned from the Native Americas on how to create a sustainable environment.

    • Pointed parallel in the “ready, fire, aim,” mentality, Elizabeth! Good contrast on economies in this comment, but I want to add that the deer was not ONLY a source of food for native peoples. It was a creature with rights of its own– this recognition is part of the partnership attitude you commented on in another essay on this site. It is certainly true that firing before we take aim (or even understand what we are destroying) has led to much tragedy. Nice analogy here!

    • I like your view that native people operated on a redistribution model rather than a market one. With the native model, everyone wins. With the market model, an elite minority wins at the expense of everyone. This shotgun approach simply does not help society or the environment.

      • And in fact, we don’t even have a real free market (as Francis More Lappe argues), since money is not distributed among us in such a way that we can (as Adam Smith has it) use the market to express our preferences.

  3. As I read this article, I was constantly reminded of corporate raiders. Small businessmen getting put out of business by giant corporations moving in whether that be Walmart eliminating small retailers or corporate farming giants eliminating the family farmer.

    I think that the dominating perspective is always narrow and self serving. The beaver trappers would not have destroyed the beaver habitat, but the farmers were happy to destroy beaver habitat for a place to grow their crops. Likewise the mining company’s will strip the ore, the corporations will strip the profits. Exploitation for immediate personal gain and reward is what it’s all about. We haven’t broken that chain yet, we just keep redirecting it. Even statutes are regularly broken to get a headstart on the competition.

    I find the idea of “no patents on life” an interesting concept. I presume that would be taken beyond the life of humans, to the lives of other living things. But how far do you take it? Microbes? Lot’s of current biotech companies are spending huge amounts in R&D, without the potential for patented products gains, none of that research money would be available.

    It is a complex balance we must achieve

    • Thanks for your comment, David. In fact, the “no patents on life” is also extended to biotech research. Shiva’s campaign hopes to specifically discourage particular types of biotech research, such as genetic engineering. You may or may not agree with this, but the European Union has been actively discouraging of gmo products as well.
      Thoughtful point about the beaver; the historical situation is that some fur companies in the Pacific Northwest specifically set out to create a “fur desert”– that is, totally deplete the resource to better their competitors. In this case both the farmers who favored beaver-created habitat and the trappers systematically destroyed the sources of their sustenance.
      The exploitation you refer to often results from the capitalist dictum that businesses should “externalize costs” and “internalize benefits”–which also leads to the depletion of the commons.
      Thoughtful points, David!

  4. All my life, in every American history class, I always feel so saddened at the way Native Americans were treated by the Euroamerican colonialists, discoverers, and pioneers. Missionaries preached that they were living in sin worshiping pagan gods, discoverers claimed their lands without right, the government gave them the dregs of America for their reservation land. It is sad that people felt so comfortable totally disregarding another way of life already in place. So comfortable demanding that the natives change to meet their expectations, not that the explorer adapt like the natives of the land, who understand the land. The most important part of the lifestyle that the natives led was that it followed the ways of the land, it didn’t destroy it. I feel like the Euroamericans who settled the land after the natives who were already here could have learned so much from the natives. But in the Euroamericans ignorance they did things from their point of view and destroyed so much.

    • Very thoughtful comment, Anna. I think there is good cause for sadness here– and also, the most important thing about the mistakes we have made in history is our potential to learn from them and to do better in the future. I hope that we can learn something about living with the land rather than destroying it, as you point out native socieites did–so that we can leave a legacy of a thriving environment to those who follos us. Thanks for sharing your feelings here.

  5. I was saddened by this article also. I feel that so many people are lost in the dualistic world that separates themselves drastically from others and things. Once a person places themselves in a superior position to another object, we fail to realize our true spirit. I think this happens so often with land and mother nature. I am slightly ashamed to say that while I was reading about the mountains and roots and the purpose they serve. Mainly because I can’t believe I do not look at the world more in that view. I definitely appreciate my surroundings and feel most at peace when I am surrounded by nature, but I often forget about divine purpose.
    I can already see how interesting this course is going to be. Where can lines be drawn within the realm of ethics on all of these topics? The essay spoke of using something that was found for another purpose. What if your find would help many others?

    • Thoughtful and caring comment, Lorena. Good question about “using” others. The issue is not whether others support us. In the interdependent circle of life we are all connected and thus rely on one another for our livelihood– whether or not we are conscious of this. The issue here is whether we see others as ONLY there to use for our own purposes, without any rights or identity of their own. Interestingly, most indigenous peoples give away or share the product of their hunting and gathering: in order to honor the contribution of these beings to our own life. In the case of learning from nature, we might want to learn something in order to help heal others: can we ethically learn from others? I think the answer is certainly yes. HOW we treat others in the process of that learning is a concern. Much scientific experimentation can be done in a humane way-and actually yields more information in that way. Take the work of Barbara McClintock, who recently won the Noble Prize for her work in plant genetics. She describes her method as getting to know each plant individually– “speaking with” the corn and learning from it its growth habits, etc. I myself wonder if we can say we have really learned anything at all if we “pin nature to our experimental board and torture her secrets from her” (as Francis Bacon, often called the father of Western science, once put it).
      Keep thinking for yourself!

  6. I love this alternative phrase “I came, and I destroyed what I didn’t see.” I think that this mindset was and unfortunately is still very present today through the conquering of civilizations (such as rebel African wars) , hierarchies of genders and social groups, hierarchies of living beings, and devastation of ecological resources. I have seen this “Veni, Vidi, Vici” be popularized on many sports team T-shirts, active wear, or other advertised products. This article brings up a very strong point in that this mindset is elevated especially among young individuals who do not know what this phrase truely means. I confess that I had not thought of this phrase before this article in terms of the devastation and turmoil that other civilizations had faced throughout history. Yet the inhospitable and unsympathetic attitude that is implied in this comment is very advertised and prioritized around the world above reciprocity and the interdependent worldview.

    • Great response, Kristen. These examples help bring this cultural idea of domination home in term of its easy acceptance in popular culture by those who do not understand the history and impact of its meaning. It is in such ways that worldviews get enforced.

  7. It is saddening to read this and once again be reminded about the horrible legacy left by European settlers across our nation. The truths of the past and the implications they have on our current society are too often misrepresented or just flat out ignored. It’s unfortunate that proper reconciliations to the native peoples can never be made at this point. What we can do is use the lesson of the past to inspire the decisions we make in the future. This is something that has yet to be done, as I see it, since our culture continues with this conquering attitude and always with the question, “What can this do for me?” It is a habit of the cowardly brute to reduce something to a duality, which is easily taken control of, and then propagate that attitude. It is fortunate that modern technology gives us the freedom to explore information and philosophies from around the globe and from history long past so easily, so that we can see our mistakes and change our actions.

    • Thanks for your comment, Michael. I certainly agree with you in terms of the wisdom of learning from history– that is what has made us distinctly human– what has created culture itself. It is fortunate indeed that modern information systems allow us to explore and honor diverse views–and expand our options both for learning from the past and expanding our sense of compassion for our fellow humans.

  8. I love this statement, “The conqueror destroys that which creates the very things he favors. ” Besides the beaver, I could go on and on. It’s bad enough that the settlers destroyed what they valued so highly, but then they force Native Americans to conform to their ways as well. They had no idea that they were taking away such a valuable asset to nature. What I mean by this is, preventing the Native Americans from going about their natural disturbance regime (e.g., seed disbursal, and fire regime to name a few) they contributed to their own economical prosperity. Then they had to come up with new technology and find other natural resources to destroy. We’ve been on the treadmill ever since.

  9. I also thought that the phrase I came and conquered what I didn’t see was a very apt analogy for what the settlers that came to the PNW did not only to the natives, but also to the ecosystems that they developed. One example is of the Blue Mountains which the settlers valued for the massive Ponderosa pines that were there. As detailed in Nancy Langston’s book “Forest Dreams, Forest Nightmares” the native tribes maintained this ecosystem through fire which produced the park-like stands of enormous trees, Yet, settlers came, cut down the trees, suppressed the natural fires and then wondered why they could not reproduce the valuable and beautiful stands of Ponderosas. The settlers saw the trees and conquered them, but how those trees became that way was invisible to them because it was outside of their own worldview and did not fit in with their econocentric view of the forest.

    The dominator worldview, in which humans take what the earth provides without regards to the fact that it is an integral part of a system, has led to the wholesale destruction of many vital ecosystem services. When we use the earth for gain without regard to sustainability, we often find that our actions have a cascading effect of unintended and unwanted consequences. It brings to mind genetic engineering and patenting crops. There are over 50,000 edible wild plant species, but 90% of the world’s food calories come from only 14 of them. We have so altered our crops that we would no longer recognize them if they grew wild. It is frightening to realize that many corporations own the “rights” to these crops, especially when the genetically altered varieties are hybridizing our native crops and making them obsolete. We are ignoring the way nature provides us food, just as we ignored how nature created the Ponderosa forests of NE Oregon, which, as stated above, if definitely not a good survival tactic.

    • Thanks for a pointed historical example that expresses the theme here, Bekah. As you say, it is certainly time to acknowledge our responsibility in living in an inter-connected world! You might be interested in the “plants for the future” website (in terms of edible plant variety) linked under “farm and garden” on this site. We obviously can only ignore the ways in which nature provides us with food to our detriment. Vandana Shiva’s Stolen Harvest is the best work I know that points out the problems–and alternatives– to corporate-induced monocultures in agriculture. A great comment!

  10. I think the part of this article that really spoke to me was the dualistic nature of the conquering mindset. It has been around for centuries and is still active in our culture today.

    By dividing the world into us/them categories, we are able to rationalize and justify all sorts of atrocities not only against the environment, but also against each other. Whether our actions are blatantly obvious such as war, or subtle stipulations for receiving economic assistance, we manipulate and control others to meet our needs.

    I think that we could learn a lot from the European Union and it’s policies.

  11. I had no idea that the Kalapuya built houses that were two hundred feet long. That is astounding! I like that they used it for intertribal horse races. It intrigues me to see that these Native Americans who lived off the land had developed the skill of architecture. Why couldn’t the pioneers see that they were human too? This should have shown them that the Native Americans weren’t savages, but just people who decided to live a different life style than them. They were capable of sport, art, architecture, hunting, love and respect. It is so incredibly arrogant for the pioneers to come in and just take over and destroy everything that the Native Americans owned and worked so hard to sustain for so long, because they were “insignificant.” The pioneers should have realized that although this land was new to them and to Europe, they did not discover it. The Native Americans were here first and therefore they were the discoverers. As the discoverers, they sought out to do with their discovery as they saw fit. Fortunately for them, it was a love and respect relationship that they decided to live in with the nature around them. The pioneers were not so wise.

    • The Kalapuya houses were “only” 120 feet long: it was the Chehalis houses and some others on Puget Sound that were much larger. Just wanted to get the people attached to the right cultures here– though that is beside the point in terms of your comment, which shows a good deal of perception and sensitivity. Let’s hope we are learning to see the world in a more expansive and realistic way these days. Thanks for your comment, Chris.

  12. I feel as though people tend to do what’s best for them and only best for them. I do think that society is a dog-eat-dog world however I only think it’s like that because we’ve made it that way. We seem to be willing to do what ever it may be, lying, cheating, robbery, and so forth in order to get ahead of the next person. The article talks about instances of not seeing something so acting in disregard, even if there is something there and to be affected by our behaviors. Taking healthcare reform as an example, because certain people don’t see the 47,000+ people that are uninsured they must not need it or by them having it will affect the rest of us in only a negative manner. An argument being that reform could cost in the upper of hundreds of billions of dollars to a trillion dollars seems to be a focal point. However, that’s only what we see now; we don’t talk about how a decade or so we could be saving about 3 trillion from a reform. Even with a majority vote of 60, it is found difficult to pass anything because the arguments of what’s going to happen now are on such a large scale (and a slightly skewed view of the truth depending on your position) that it throws reform off course. Also the view of discovering something makes it ours is the same as the saying finders keepers, losers weepers. It’s a selfish and childish game/act that in the end of things can greatly hurt both sides! Because we “found” air to breathe doesn’t make it ours just as finding land doesn’t mean it wasn’t someone or something else’s first.

    • Some pointed thoughts here, Trevor. Our lack of health care for all (we are the only industrialized nation in the world without this) is a good example of not caring about those we see as not in our community–or not at our point in a hierarchy we have constructed. Good point about “discovering” the air we breathe. This attitude has played havoc on the commons we need to sustain our lives. For one we think it is ours, we also think we can use it up or pollute it in any way we choose.

  13. It’s hard to think of examples of discovery in history that precluded domination (at least it is for me). The only cases that I can think of were pure scientific voyages to the north pole or into space, but that seems like the land “claimed” would otherwise be utterly worthless for any material value. Even so, the exploration of space eventually led to the building of satellites to expand our technological ability. Even discoveries of science are then conquered as we figure out how to use them to our own advantage. Expanding it even further, almost any aspect of human knowledge gathering is used for *some* purpose; most people would agree there is no point to learning something unless there is a reason for it. The meanings of these two words are so inexorably linked in our minds that we would have to take special care if we wish to use one without the other.

    • Thoughtful exploration (pun intended) of discovery in our history, Daniel. But there is another model: discovering the spirits of those who share our earth, as expressed in vision quests that initiated humans into adulthood all over the world. They, too, got something out of it–a sense of having experienced a personal challenge so profound that it would strengthen them for the rest of their lives– and an alliance with some aspect of the natural world that would lend them knowledge and guidance. Such quests were so well liked that some folks went on several others after adolescence. I think exploration and discovery is in our human blood, but conquest isn’t. We need to redefine discovery and find other ways to challenge ourselves.

  14. The statement, “I came, and i destroyed what I didn’t see,” resounds deeply with me because it seems to be the theme for Western culture. There are so many beautiful natural entities that are on the planet, but the Western culture is extreemly short-sighted and uninterested in preserving what has been created over centuries. Western civilization is centrally focused on personal gain, which will be what destroys the planet in the long run. This is the reason that many plant and animal species are going extinct, because humans can not be botherd enough to treat other beings with respect and reverence. Indigenous peoples have sustained lifestyles for centuries without the “I came, I saw, I conquered” lifestyle. This idea should be disposed of in Western culture, instead of coveted.

    • I think you have an important point in the destructive aspect on the focus on personal gain, Katie. I certainly agree that we would be better off “disposing” of the worldview that legitimates conquest.

  15. We are ancestors of conquerors. I am sad to say this fact. The Spanish conquered Mechico (Mexico) and made the natives more “civilized”. When one culture believes one that is different is not as good as us, there is a problem. We cannot look down on any culture or people because they are different. When America was coming together there were plenty of crimes committed. One can argue it was for the best but try telling that to Native Americans. Malcolm X has a popular quote that is very relevant to this topic. This particular one states “we did not land on plymouth rock, that rock landed on us”. We attempt to justify our wrondoings with reasons which are more like excuses. I was taught to be a man and to admit my wrongs and this would help me not do them again. I believe the government should be open about there mistakes and learn to accept them. We took the Indians out of pristine land and placed them in the middle of nowhere to wither away. I tell my friends I’m glad to see the Indian Reservations build casinos. I want them to make money and not pay taxes. KARMA is occurring. I wish the best for them as a race because they seem to have more problems than solutions. We as Americans place ourselves higher on the scale than other cultures. We are ignorant in doing so because we need others to succeed in taking care of this planet.

    • Thanks for your considerations of equality and justice here, Al. I certainly think that it takes more courage-and as you put it, manhood, to admit one’s wrongs, learn from them and try to rectify them than to move on in the same destructive vein. Thanks for standing up for this idea here, Al.

  16. It is very unfortunate to realize what had happen to many Native Americans land being taken away that was once theirs. Domination, power, and just plain greed took over, and many lives we affected. In realation to this, we can think about other past history events that occured because of ignorance and domination like the evacuation of thousands of Japanese American citizens during WWII. Many of them lost land and buisnesses they once owned and never got it back. I feel that it is vital to learn from past mistakes that many people made to prevent them from ever happening again. “I came, and I destroyed what I didn’t see.” This quote was well said and represents many unfortunate events that have occured throughout our history.

    • Hi Jena, I think the evacuation of Japanese-Americans during World War II was inexcusable– the most touching event that I did hear about during that period concerned the population of Bainbridge Island, who carefully kept the land in trust for those who were relocated and returned it to them when they were released. There is a wonderful song by folksinger Linda Allen about this event with the refrain, “These are our friends and our neighbors”. The lyrics are here:

      • Dr. Holden,
        Funny that you mention that! My grandpa was actually born in Bainbridge Island! And his mother is mother burried there…Someday I would like to go and visit over there, I hear it is beautiful. thank you for the song, I will definitely check it out!

  17. I love your take on “I came, I saw, I conquered”, as, “I came, I didn’t see, and I conquered”. Or, “I came, and I destroyed what I didn’t see.” The fact that actions like these can be taken in good conscience is completely beyond me. Though what the WTO is doing to Indian farmers with the Agreement on Trade Related Intellectual Properties (TRIPS) isn’t EXACTLY the same as massacring an entire race, it’s not far off. (Especially because of the wave of farmer suicides that’s swept the Indian countryside as a result of the desperation TRIPS has brought.) Where do those people get off, and how can they possibly sleep at night? I agree with you completely, it’s time to stop conquering and start cooperating.

    • Thanks for you comment, Liz. I don’t think that actions done in supposed “good conscience” due to denial or self-licensing projections are actually done in good conscience. I absolutely agree with you about the WTO: especially since the Indian example is only one in a long list of such abuses perpetrated by this three person tribunal whose decisions are made behind closed doors. One could argue that massacring of “races” could be non-human as well. But there are distinctly human effects in the legal decision brought against the Massachusetts State Legislature after they banned imports from Myanmar on the basis of the genocide taking place there. The WTO forced them to rescind the law, since it discriminated against particular goods based on their “means of production”. As you likely know, this WTO guideline means that national signers have to accept all goods on the same playing field no matter the social and environmental conditions of their production.

  18. Throughout history it is not uncommon to hear of dominating races (predominately whites) discovering a new and foreign land with completely different cultures and people from their own and then destroying and taking everything they have. The idea that we live in a hierarchical world where the more advanced races with better resources are therefore at the top of the food chain and are entitled to take what they please is absolutely ridiculous. It has always troubled me to think that an individual or a group of people might think that they are better than another group just because they are more technologically advanced. The truth is that indigenous groups or Native peoples are advanced in their own way–that they are able to survive with an abundance of resources without abusing them must mean something. So what really confuses me is why another group would take that away and just tear it apart.

    The pioneers were unjustified in taking away the land and destroying the homes of the Kalapuya and it is hard for to think that this happened even after those good people helped them with food and shelter. The point about how we should most definitely discover new places and methods, learning and growing from, but not steal and destroy them is an excellent point. We don’t need to steal from others in order to gain something–there is so much we can gain just through observation and then practice in our own territory.

    • Hi Erin, thanks for your critical perspective here. You have an important point in analyzing just exactly what “advanced” means– certainly “advanced” does not mean overrunning and stealing the lands of others in moral terms. And we have to re-assess our own sense of technological advancement when we are facing so many environmental crises in 200 years on the land that native peoples managed sustainably for 10,000 years.
      And creating learning opportunities for ourselves, as you point out, does not necessitate stealing from others. Indeed, the dominating attitude keeps us from learning from the land and people we might encounter–just as it historically kept immigrants from respecting–and thus taking the opportunity to learn from– native knowledge.

  19. It never ceases to amaze me the arrogance of a conquering people. It’s as if because they won, they are superior in every aspect. Then the conquering people judge the other people by their own values and standards!! The Christian missionaries stand out to me. Because the native people had a different belief system, relating to religion, social classes, and documentation, they were primitive, ignorant, and inferior. Many native people lived in the areas for generations, successfully working with the lands in which they lived. What makes a people superior to another? Is it writings? Building codes? Warfare and weapons? For that matter, what makes A PERSON superior to another person or species over another? I wrestle with these questions but can’t find an answer. I hope society can find answers before we completely destroy ourselves and our world.

    • Thanks for more thoughtful sharing of ideas, Christy. I think that we must first define what we mean by superior– superior morality or superior force, for instance. The ability to engineer things for our own short term convenience or the ability to engineer societies that worked in harmony with other humans and the earth that supports us all? I think that the point of these contrasts is that the real superior person does not come out as superior over others– but superior in meeting the challenges of his/her own humanity, its possibilities and responsibilities.

  20. Whenever there’s a war, we used to dehumanize the enemy. You’re not shooting a person, somebody’s kid; you’re just shooting a (insert epithet here). Heck, you’re practically doing them a favor.
    When I read about the pioneers doing this, I get almost physically sick. This is just plain NOT what I read in the history books, and each new thing I find out knocks another leg out from under me. I think I’m hovering precariously right about now. “Those aren’t houses, they’re just huts.” That kind of lying is more painful to me than General Sheridan’s blatant hatred (“The only good Indian is a dead Indian”). It’s deliberate self-delusion, or just rationalization for doing what you shouldn’t. It says one of several possible things: They were seriously lacking in information; They were not seeing clearly (deluded); They did not have the mental tools necessary to see something different and identify it; they needed an excuse to take what they wanted.
    I have to break out one of my favorite mantras and keep applying it these days. “If we don’t learn from history, we’re doomed to repeat it.” I’m trying really hard to not sink into guilt and depression, but focus on what we can do now. What *I* can do now.

    • Hi Patrick, thanks for your comment. You have an important point in the observation that out and out racism is easier to tell with than this reduction of other lives to invisibility.
      I think your list on “this kind of lying” is a good one: and often it was more than one of these that came into play.
      You may also like the book, Lies My Teacher Told Me. Lately I have seen some indications that there is same problem teaching the truth about climate change in high schools that there has been in teaching about history.
      One thing you can (and evidently are) doing is to think critically–and spread the word.
      And a sense of humor about our history doesn’t hurt either: since when is a “hut” 235 feet long?

  21. It seems to me that it only takes one person to deem a whole tribe of people “insignificant”, and that really makes me sad. It only takes one opinion to say when land is being “occupied” or not. It only took a few people in the early days to decide that it was our “Manifest Destiny” to “explore the rest of America. And yet it led to the total annhilation of several tribes.

    It seems that in all of history – from Chris Columbous, to President Bush – all it takes is one person to decide was lives and what dies. It seems to me that as Americans, we think we have the right to everything. We forget that we had to fight for so much, and we no longer cherish that or even remember except for one day per year. We have become lost in the conquest for money and power, to put it bluntly. It’s not really about seeking new opportunities and adventure, unless that adventure means a new theme park, and that opportunity involves making billions of dollars.

    I work for a major retailer, and if you patent an item or make something that becomes mainstream within a year of working for them, then that item belongs to them – as well as the profits. It seems to me that most people put money first, and I understand that in this type of economy. But it’s this type of attitude that makes me completely gung-ho on Shiva’s idea of “no-patens on life”. Why not come up with something, and let it benefit everyone? Seems like a good idea to me.

    • Important observation about the abuse of power when one person gets to make such (utterly backward and destructive decisions), Becky. One would think that the motivation in coming up with something that benefits everyone could do much good: too bad the idea of monetary profit too often gets in the way, not only of community service– but of caring for the land that our children need to survive on.
      Thanks for your comment.

  22. It is interesting, with all that we know about “discoverers” and the things they “discover”, that much of this is still going on today. I don’t think that it is happening in the same fashion, not too many areas left that can be discovered, and taken over, free of charge. I think it is happening more in a sense of, “if I buy this land, I can do with it what I please”, sort of a discover/conquer monopoly game. Like with the Arctic Nat’l Refuge. It was made a national refuge to protect the unique environment there and the unique things that thrive there. But, since we (the US) own it, and discovered oil there, we can conquer it how we please, drill for oil and decimate it. I think this happens many times when something valuable, in a monetary sense, is found. A company, or other entity, will see profit, and will conquer the area in order to gain that profit, often at the expense of the environment.

    • I think you are right about the “discover/conquer monopoly game” as it applies to contemporary development, Matt. This is what “internalizing” (might as well say “grabbing”) benefits is all about– scooping up what is out there for ourselves in whatever way we can–with some truly tragic consequences. Time to stop rewarding such behavior with profit– just as we reward conventional but not organic farming that cares for the land with subsidies.
      Just seems rational to pay for societal and environmental benefits rather than harms–now if we can just get the corporate lobbyists out of the equation so that we can enact this rationality…

  23. When I moved to Asia in 1990 for what was to be an 8 year residence, my eyes were opened wide. Until that point, my view of life and accompanying values had very much been western- and Christian-centric. I had started doing research on local arts — particularly textiles — across Southeast Asia — and had taken my “World Art” text from when I had been in college. Well, while paging through for gaining some foothold on art in the region, I had not noticed until then that “world art” consisted of nearly 600 pages of which 12 were of “non-western” art. Then, as my research deepened as I began collecting Asian art history resources, I learned of the wholesale massacres of cultures for the sake of “owning” the islands on which precious spices grew — in the name of at least one certain western religion. How could I have been so blind? I was a mature, professional adult.

    But, what I continue to learn and be reminded of is that to make things relevant to ourselves, we must experience them first-hand. Only then will empathy grow to such levels that our habits in making decisions will instantly include the welfare of “the other” and selfish conquest will be furthest from our minds. I hope that the base of people who work at growing fully in tune with the rhythms of the biosphere will continue to expand such that we can collectively make responsible decisions on behalf of our ailing planet.

    • Indeed! I am heartening by those who are working with India and China to give them different models of development than our own carbon-glutton diet. Unless we change our own ways it is hard to argue that these countries should not take the course of development we ourselves did.
      That is why I am heartened by Obama’s global leadership on climate change–as opposed to the Bush regimes to sign the Kyoto accords. We can hardly give other nations the idea that we are in this together (as you aptly indicate at the end of your post) if we expect them to sacrifice but aren’t willing to change our own ways.
      And as for art, I certainly agree with you. At the beginning of my teaching career, I saw two faculty members, well known in the global arenas for Chicano literature and African art drummed out of their respective university departments because their art was not up to the Western standard– which would have been impossible, since there WAS no Western standards that would accept such art, even world-renowned, in the mainstream fold.
      I think this is changing somewhat for the better–witness the global perspectives core courses at OSU.
      You might enjoy taking a look at the work that Lily Yeh has done in Philadelphia. She came from experiencing the violent crack down of intellectuals at Tiemann Square to enacting the belief that great art makes great communities.

  24. Earlier last summer, I took Gender & Science and we watched a documentary on Vandana Shiva’s campaign. I ended up blogging about it for days because I was so upset lol. In class, we discussed a legal case regarding a large corporation bringing a poor farmer to court for growing their patented seed, which I’ll call Corn X.

    Apparently, one of the corporation’s trucks carrying the genetically modified Corn X seeds drove past this farmer’s property and a few seeds fell out into his soil. Upon their discovery, the farmer tried spraying them with plant killers, but because they had been modified to withstand pesticides, they wouldn’t die lol. So he had these bionic corn plants growing illegally in his field and he didn’t even want them!

    Meanwhile, the corporation finds out and sues him because they’ve patented the seeds. They actually won. This is why I was so outraged.

    I agree with Shiva in that it is completely ridiculous for one to “own” another organism, especially when it’s a means of food for thousands. So many women and children starve in India because they can’t afford the newly patented rice seeds that they were using before for free to feed their communities. It’s heartbreaking and I wish I know more that I could do personally to help in the cause 😦

    • Thanks for your comment, Randa. This a tragic example of the extension of ownership and manipulation of natural “life” to that of other humans. And for your information, the Canadian farmer who was sued by Monsanto in a similar case recently won–he only had to fight it for years! Here is the farmer’s website where he details his story.
      Maybe this will make you mad all over again–and for good reason!

  25. “The conqueror destroys that which creates the very things he favors. ” I found this quote to be very interesting as the Euroamerican colonialists came here to establish their own territory free from oppression. It is curious that they would turn around and do the same things to the native inhabitants that was done to them in their former land. I also find it very interesting how the so called “Discoverers” can love a certain landscape for their own purpose and act in a way that destroys it. It is truly amazing to me that people can be greedy enough to destroy the landscape that provides so much for them and the other life around it so completely without ever thinking they are destroying themselves, albeit much more slowly. Maybe I am looking at this from a hindsight perspective, but it truly saddens me. The needless destruction of ecosystems, as well as the cruelty and disregard that has been shown to all native peoples in this country.

    While true recompense can never be fully achieved for the damage caused to all native american populations, it is my hope that by partnering with them now and allowing them to guide us through the restoration of the many ecosystems we have wreaked major havoc we can begin to rebuild not only the natural world, but our relationship with these peoples that have been so wronged.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kathleen. There is much healing to be done here. Obviously much harm has been done that needs to be addressed. I think that the conquering attitude blinds us to much– including the sources of our own sustenance. And we cannot keep this up if we hope to survive on the planet.

  26. This idea of “I came, I saw, I conquered” reminds me very much of my three year old nephew. This mentality is so juvenile and selfish… it makes you wonder if they have an IQ test for culutures. I know my nephew likes to claim things as his… and my goodness, if you even try to grab it from him when is not even playing with it, a full blown war will break out! Hmm… that also sounds like Western Culture! Perhaps we as a society need to “grow up” a bit…

  27. I have always detested the presumptuousness of human beings who think everything that exists must be claimed and owned. If they discover it, it is rightfully theirs. I have noticed this quite a bit, prior to ever reading this article. This article took me back to the quote by Chief Seattle, “The earth doesn’t belong to us, we belong to the earth.” One of the most memorable quotes I have ever learned, probably because I support it most avidly with my own views on the earth and wild species, and probably because it is one perspective that I find is most ignored and countered by people of today.

    Just because someone discovers something, does not make it theirs, for that something was probably there before the discoverer ever existed. A newly discovered species of animal or plant, a fossil, a rock type, an island…. all of these things are a part of the earth with which we must share. These things existed far before the evolution of modern man, and thus deserve far more than what we leave them. In fact, if the earth can be claimed at all, she would be the trees’ and wild species’ who were here far before us, before she would be ours. Nevertheless, the earth cannot be claimed at all. She allows us all the same things: a home and the resources to exist altogether. Thus, we would be hers’ to claim before she would be ours to claim. We are her creation, her children… not the other way around. She birthed all that inhabits her. We did not bring her into existence at all; rather, we are working on destroying her; we thus have no right to call her ours’ in the least bit.

    We think that just because we CAN, we have the right to take what we wish from the land, claim it as our own, and do with it whatever way we see fit for our own benefit. We truly need to reevaluate the way we look at the earth and the flora and fauna with which we share her. It is disgusting the way we can be so selfishly presumptuous in thinking that we have the right to own the earth, call her our property, when we should recognize that without this “property”, we would not even be here; the natural beauty we forget to see, as well as you and me, would be nonexistent. I thank the earth that I am alive. I know that some people thank God that they are alive. Thus, if one can’t see it my way, perhaps they should think of it this way: do you claim God as your own? Is He your property to do with as you see fit?

  28. It’s interesting that we as Americans have only identified our culture as a “consumer culture” since the 1950s or so. But after reading this article, I would argue that we’ve always been a consumer culture. We see something we want, we take it, and then we use it until it is used up or destroyed. I think that this doesn’t even start with the colonization of America. I think that this starts back at the very formation of the hierarchy of the class system. As soon as some people started thinking they were better than plants, better than animals, and then better than other people, that’s when the problems started.

    We use things that we think are “lower” than us on this completely insane class system. I think that we use these things because in a way, we believe that we own them. For example, a VP of a company uses his “lower level” grunt workers because he thinks he “owns” them. A landowner may choose to clear cut a piece of forest land because his mentality is, “I can do whatever I want. I own this land. This is all mine.” Our society is so set on having ownership of things. We horde and grab at anything we can get. In our society, owning more means you’re more successful, and we all want to be considered “successful.”

    • Very interesting observation about being a part of a “consumer” culture from the beginning of pioneer settlement, Sarah–and even further back to the beginning of the class system. I think we will need to develop some very different ideas about success than that of the ownership you describe if we are to successfully face our current environmental crises. Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

  29. It is truly sad what “white people” decided as waste and land that was of no use. The way they also disregarded the native people of the land also shows how much they really didn’t know about differences. These native people actually took care of them when they were about to starve, and gave them shelter in their tree houses, even after these people gave them a hard time for living in trees. Land nowadays is being tilled and everything that used to be there is no longer there, making room for new and better things, or so it is said. What if the old environment was left alone and we continued with these old traditions, where would our life be then?

    • Some caring points here, Patricia. I think you missed the point about the tree houses here– native people certainly offered shelter and other forms of hospitality to pioneers. However, it was whites (not native peoples) who lived in tree houses- though all might take temporary shelter under a tree during a camping trip. This essay outlines some of the help that native peoples offered the incoming pioneers.
      How we might not continue to squander the gift of our environment is something to contemplate for our future!

  30. I found Val Plumwood’s dicussion of the dominator logic facinating. It made me start to think about my own viewpoint on things. I think humans have a tendency to view something, compare it to what they know, and then make a judgement about it based on their own views. I think back to groups in high school. They use dominator logic. Rather than try to understand one another, judgements are made and a person is either equal or insignificant. It is an interesting thing to think about.

    • Thanks for your comment, Ashley. I think it is always useful to be able to apply these ideas to self-reflection. In-groups and out-groups are a good example of the dominator logic, as you note–and they are certainly set up to emotionally wound those deemed, as you put it, “insignificant”.

  31. It has been so true throughout American history how things that are different from us are seen as lesser, insignificant, and needing to be conquered. From this article, this can be seen through the “hut” example. By viewing the construction of Kalapuya homes as “insignificant,” the European settlers had justification for the destruction of Native properties. Their homes were different and the explorers did not understand all of their history and purpose. European destruction of what they discovered relates to all of the previous cultures that used to call America home. For example in the discovery of the Southwest, the people who now inhabit Mexico were forced off of their land by European discovery. Discovery in this context comes with a sense of entitlement. Because explorers saw the land, they took it as their own. In the Mexican language, the word for the Europeans that discovered and took over the land is very appropriate: conquistadores.

    • Thanks for your pointed comment, Bree. Seeing something different as lesser–or even entirely invisible is a poor license for confiscating or destroying it. And the large question that comes up here is whether we will ever gain any true knowledge if we see the “other” only in terms of domination and destruction.
      Insightful comment!

  32. A World Wildlife Fund web site ( 2004) says most of the remaining significant areas of high natural value on earth are inhabited by indigenous peoples and this testifies to the efficacy of indigenous resource management systems. I keep hearing from other students from other Natural resource classes, that God has given dominion over the planet to man, and that man has always been conquerors and plunderers.
    But I say, what if that wasn’t so? What if that is just a cop out, making it ok for Man to to continue in this bad behavior, as if it were human nature. Survival of the fittest is what I am told by others. But this kind of mass extinction of species, resource theft, and hunger for endless war, isn’t natural selection, it is a choice. A choice of greed and narcissism. There are voices who can help us to live within our limits, to procreate only as much as our Mother’s carrying capacity can handle, to consider all living species with every decision, and to live sustainably and not overindulgent. Voices who have been around much longer than these conquering men. For some conquerors like Christopher Columbus are called discoverers and considered heroes. And for the first peoples here, he was a slave trader, murderer and rapist, who accidentally landed on the Virgin Islands because he was lost, not here in American shores. Living the lie is all part of why it is ok for some to believe that man has always been that way…It is not ok for me.

    • Hi Val, thanks for your passionate response. I think you are absolutely right that we need to look at these decisions as choices– ones for which we are responsible– rather than some form of natural impulse that has made us what we are regardless. In fact, the lie of this (as you note) is indicated by the fact that some cultures have not lived as dominating ones, some have neither ravaged their environment nor terrorized and colonized other humans. And these cultures are the long lived ones in human history. I am sorry that your classmates have not thought beyond the short term view (and of course, the license it allocates to them to dominate the world as they see fit). But I have hope you are working on setting them straight (or at least getting them to work on more self-reflection) with resources like the WWF one. That same point is repeated by the UN research on indigenous knowledge for instance, as outlined here.

  33. The more I read about the dualistic worldview and the more examples I see, it really amazes and scares me. It has been with us for so long, is so ingrained in many of us and done so much harm along the way. This essay brings up a very good explanation for why this worldview continues to this day, one must be blinded or choose to blind in order to carry on and decide that a village must be burned, have peoples evicted from their lands or to continue destroying the wetlands that protect us during storms and floods.

    To be able to “look” past a forest and only see the potential profits is truly a gift, an damned one that as the essay points out, helps the conqueror destroy that what he favors. I think as everyday people it is also easy to be blind because one might feel overwhelmed and helpless.

    The fact that Vandana Shiva’s “no patents on life” campaign even needs to exist in order to protect food and medicinal treasures safe from corporations and their patents is sad but I am glad it is in place and will hopefully not let them get away with this.

    • Dualism that divides up our world in this way is scary, Yensi. Selective blindness, as you point out, has created license to do some wretched (and often stupid) things. The blindness of turning away because we feel overwhelmed and helpless is also a human response– but not a beneficial one. It’s a little like shutting our eyes before an oncoming car in the hopes it won’t hit us.
      It takes some courage to open our eyes– but that is the only survival tactic.
      I agree with you on the point of the “no patents on life” campaign.
      Thanks for your comment.

  34. I’ve got a bit of a mixed reaction to the “no patents on life” campaign. On one hand I feel bad than another segment of life is being subjected to the greed and madness that are Intellectual Property laws. On the other hand I’m glad that it’s becoming such an unruly problem that people at large are starting to take notice. It’s unfortunate that it takes some problems to grow to monstrous proportions before being addressed, but things could get pushed past the breaking point. Then we can all get to a happy future where I can say “told you so” and not get strange looks as a reaction.

    It’s certainly not the historical case, and not likely in the present, but I see no strict causal connection between discovery and conquest. While it won’t do the past any good and won’t help heal those wound, I would like to think that someday we can reach a point of expanding our understanding and reach without destroying what we find. It seems down right contradictory actually, it’s rather hard to study something after it’s destroyed.

    The “us” versus “them” mentality underlies so many problems. Be that patenting corn so we can profit, or taking land so we can prosper. Is it really so hard to take a step back and say “Lets do the morally right thing, because it is the morally right thing”. Then again if it was easy I suppose it would be more common.

    • Very thoughtful perspective on the “no patents on life campaign”, Peter. It is unfortunate that we don’t take proactive action: that is what the “precautionary principle” is all about– something I think more andmore necessary as our technology becomes more powerful.
      I don’t see a necessary causal connection between discovery and conquest: the point of this essay seconds your hope, that we take a wrong turn when we link the two. It does indeed seem contradictory to destroy something we are trying to understand: for when it is no longer there, we can learn nothing about it.
      A challenge to do away with the “us” versus “them” mentality in the context of industrial civilization, but it is my personal sense that not only our moral integrity but our sustainable future depends on it.
      Thanks for the comment.

  35. This article reminds me of the stories I’ve read of Columbus’s conquering of the Arawak Indians in the Bahamas. Through these stories I learned that Columbus was in fact an exceptionally brutal conqueror who viewed the natives as having no souls and therefore not fully human. The Arawak Indians were happy to share and trade everything they owned with Columbus, because, sharing was an integral part of their native culture. This was very contrary to the Western worldview at the time, and Columbus took advantage of this Arawak characteristic to obtain all their gold. Columbus made various discoveries throughout the America’s, all of which eventually culminated in brutality and death of natives on a massive scale. The Arawak Indians were eventually worked to death by the Spaniards digging for gold, and are now extinct as a result. Much of this is documented in Columbus’ own log. Since the Indians had no knowledge of metals, they had virtually no chance against the swords of the Spanish. Most disturbing perhaps to me were the drawings I’ve seen of Spaniards who had put saddles on the Arawaks and bits in their mouths. This was so that the Spanish soldiers could ride the Arawaks around like horses. It is absolutely astonishing to me that there is a Columbus Day celebration in the U.S. Imagine how outraged people would be if we had an Adolf Hitler celebration. Yet, most Americans are more than happy to take Columbus day off from work.
    I have always found the concept of conquering to be very hard to understand. I have asked on many occasions why humans conquer other peoples and have never really received a satisfactory answer. Why do we feel the need to kill other people and take what they have? What’s more disturbing to me than Western societies destruction to their environment, is their dehumanization and genocidal practices. The coarseness required to see the benefit in such action is difficult for the average person to grasp. Yet, so many times through history, average people get caught up in its perpetration. For example, the Maori Indians in New Zealand are the predecessors to all Polynesian cultures. Every island in the pacific ocean inhabited by humans was originally discovered by descendents of Maoris. Given the level of technology available at the time, this is an amazing and impressive accomplishment. Ancient Maori sailors read the currents of the oceans, harnessed the wind, and used the stars to guide them to remote islands thousands of miles away from any other land mass. They were hardly a primitive people. However, upon encountering Western “discoverers” the Maori were nearly annihilated to the brink of extinction. Their ancient tradition of tattooing their genealogies into patterns on their faces made their heads a valuable collectable commodity in Europe. Europeans from France to Portugal were paying huge amounts of money to obtain the severed heads of natives to be used as decorative collectables in aristocratic European homes. This demand for Maori heads and the prices they were selling for brought the Maori nearly out of existence from mass decapitations. It staggers the modern mind to think that severed heads were actually a decorative commodity in old Europe, but to this day the heads are displayed in museums throughout the old world. This leaves us wonder, who really were the savages?

    • Hi Joshua, sadly we can read Columbus’ own journals to get this view. He seems proud of his bloody ways of forcing cooperation among those he did not obliterate. It is only a worldview that links discovery and conquest, fueled with narratives such as the Manifest Destiny of the conquerors that would ever allow Columbus to publicly claim such actions as positive ones.
      This worldview has tragic consequences throughout the world, as you so powerfully indicate with the example of the Maori–not the least of which is that a community that feels so blithe about destroying other humans will not withhold forceful treatment of its own.
      There is a poignant story cited by Eleanor Leacock (she got it from a Jesuit journal) in which the Montagnais peoples (of northeast north America) were organized into a march and drum corps by local British colonists. One of the little drummer boys lost control of his drumstick and it flew out of his hands and hit an older Montagnais man. The Jesuit wrote that he saw this as an opportunity to register the meaning of the corporal punishment to the Montagnais who had no such concept– and thus were having a hard time understanding the concept of hell. The Jesuit told the injured man that he could now how the satisfaction of revenge upon the one who injured him–and proceeded to begin to beat the drummer boy. The horrified native man, however, jumped in front of the whip, declaring, “Hit me, I got in the way of the drum! We never hit children!”
      With this story the Jesuit declared the Montagnais hopeless in being instilled with “Christian” ideas. I disagree: I think this indicates great hope for our species in illustrating that we are not violent by nature (and I don’t think, either, by religion) but by culture. Perhaps it even taught the Jesuit something about true Christianity as well.
      But then we might ask a legitimate question– where and how did this dangerous impulse to conquer others get into any human culture? I think that there are many complex answers. But pointedly, earth-centered and women-centered cultures tend not to exhibit such mechanisms of violence. I think this is intertwined with how cultures see warfare, authority and nurturance. We are creatures of choice: and we all have the potential for immense good and immense evil in us– so do cultures. I very much like Chinua Achebe’s point that some cultures are better at fighting the human instincts of self-destruction than others. I would name those self-destructive tendencies (and the ones that lead to violence) as greed, arrogance, and exclusion.

  36. This mentality of “discovery as a matter of meeting and mutual learning—rather than overrunning and obliterating. . .” has implications that reach far beyond any one issue. As a student, I will relate this to an example of listening during a lecture.

    For most of my college career, I was prone to take notes furiously (and blindly) on whatever the professor might put on the board, essentially “conquering” the information. However, when I seek to retain as much information as possible, I do not end up grasping the intended concept nearly as well as if I simply listened to the professor with an open and eager mind.

    I believe that early settlers approached new land with the same mentality as I approached lectures as an early college student. Obsessed with grabbing as much as they could, they forgot to “read between the lines” and see that the sum (the ecosystem) of the parts (the resources) we were exploiting was far greater and more important than simply capturing the parts. The “discovery as a matter of mutual learning” rather than “overrunning and obliterating” mentality holds the same spirit, I believe.

    • A fascinating analogy, Morgan. Writing things down in this way is not only holding onto information, but reproducing it uncritically. That is, what you were “discovering” was not your own thought process– but someone else’s.
      And as you aptly point out, this process did not give you any space for dialogue– dialogue in this case between the information you were taking in and your personal response to it– including the response that might have integrated into some sort of whole– not to mention, critically assessed any of it.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment– and a reminder that dialogue must have more flexibility and openness to change. In this sense, we might say the “conquerors” could learn nothing new; in fact, some modern mathematicians (Godel’s “incompleteness theorem” comes to mind) have indicated that the Western model of deductive reasoning cannot in fact take it anything it did not assume from the beginning.

  37. I feel that it’s a very dangerous concept when you begin to associated “different” with “wrong”. As in the case of the settlers moving in on native lands, the natives did things differently than the settlers but it was obviously working. But because it was so radical to the settlers they couldn’t accept the way the native peoples lived. However they were more than happy to take the “fruits” of the native’s labor. Rather than try and learn from natives, they simply took from them and assumed that they could just as easily get the things the natives had. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case as they never learned how the native people were able to sustain these things and nearly lost some (beavers).

    • I agree that it is dangerous to associate “different” with “wrong”, Travis. And especially dangerous to assume we have the right to conquer or take over that “different” other people or land. This approach stymies learning altogether, since we can hardly learn from what we are in the process of destroying. I think we need to learn this lesson both in terms of the natural world and other peoples.

  38. I have never seen the phrase “ecosystem services” before and so was interested to see what this was. I was a little surprised to see that was the article is referring to is the global ecosystem in its entirety! What impressed me most is the attempt to categorize each “service” into seventeen areas easily recognizable to most westerners such as waste treatment, water supply, food production and recreation. Most peoples monthly bills include just such categories. This seems to me to be an attempt to make concrete what can sometimes be a very hazy subject, that of the economic value derived from undeveloped natural areas. Perhaps because inherent natural value can be such an unclear (unquantifiable?) subject that it is easy to fall back on the discoverer/conquest worldview?

    • Thoughtful comment, Jeff. Those who attempt to price ecosystem services have taken on an ambitious undertaking indeed! But this also goes to show us how much valuing we need to recover when, as you note, the discoverer/conquest worldview fails to value anything it cannot price– or pass on to “others” as costs.

  39. I have had a paradigm shift around the “hut” buildings and technologies available to early native people. I have always believed that their structures and homes would have been small and minimalist in stature. The fact that they would have had fairly large structures actually makes more sense, since they had such a deeply ingrained sense of family and community. I understand the idea around discovery/conquest blindness and the teachings of the small inferior huts natives lived in. We needed to justify our blind conquest not only to ourselves but also to those around us. A new question begins to surface in my mind though; why do these justifications still hold true today? Why would I live my entire life on this planet thinking that all native people would live in small tents and huts? Certainly the Egyptians lived long before these natives and created some of the largest structures in history. The Roman Coliseum came long before we ever settled in this country. So why then have I always had this perception? Do we continue to propagate a lie in order to justify the actions of our fathers and grandfathers? It isn’t often I find myself having my views changed so dramatically, and this is certainly one of those times. I’m going to expand my knowledge around this further.

    • You exhibit a central learning stance here, Damien, by being open in this way to expanding your views of our shared history. You ask an important question indeed about why we continue to believe views that (blindly) minimalize the works and intelligence of other cultures (notably, cultures we are justifying our conquest or “develop” of). Conceptual sets are powerful indeed in getting us to see reality according to their distortions. As Thomas Kuhn points out in History of Scientific Revolutions, Western science has often failed to change its paradigms, no matter what the data showed– until a worldview shift allowed them to do this.

  40. We still have not evolved to a point that we can discover and learn easily. Even if that is the point of discovery, there is always an element or person who finds a personal gain in it. I had to laugh at the the quote from Dick Gregory about “discovering” himself a car. When you look at it from the perspective, it makes the taking of native homes and accompanying land sound bizzare. After all, someone was already living there. I had a quick vision of someone knocking at my door saying “excuse me, I just discovered your house and I am going to live here, you may leave now”. Unimaginable.

    On a side note, I had always thought of huts and teepees in the Pacific Northwest. Your description of the long houses and large homes of the natives was new for me and yet made perfect sense.

    • Hi Bernadette, thanks for your analogy about something “discovering” your house. Teepees were useful on the Plains, where portable housing was needed, but not in the Northwestern winter rains where there were permanent winter villages and lots of wood. The teepee stereotype comes in part from all those Westerns (ugh) which took place in what the US designated “Indian Territory”, where many teepee dwellers lived. However, even in Indian Territory some had other forms of housing. Now you can spread the word if the opportunity comes up!

  41. This is the first time that I have ever thought of this concept. I assumed one went with the other. If you wanted to discover then you had to conquer. Maybe the way I think of conquering as an inner struggle with fears and obstacles like oceans and mountains rather than plundering and murdering. The National Geographic Society has set the stage for discovery to better humanity. I never thought of it in a bad way. But then I have never considered killing and enslaving people for monetary gain either. I guess I just don’t think evil enough.

  42. “This gets to the heart of the discovering conqueror’s blindness—the conqueror destroys that which creates the very things he favors.”

    This, in my mind, is the conundrum. Madronna, you elude to the beginnings of the conqueror mentality above, but how and why is this the dominant way of being? Where and why did man decide that it is preferable to rape and pillage the land and people in order to survive? Many people say it was with the invention of Christianity, but wasn’t it even before that? Was it when we first began to devalue egalitarianism and move into patriarchal dominance? But what happened in that moment that allowed for that change even?

    It seems that there must have been a defining moment in time that allowed such a drastic change in human behavior. However, in some odd and twisted way dominant culture still sees the importance and value of the natural world. Although, that value is only measured by how much personal gain can be achieved from it. So important is the desire for personal gain that this culture is willing to destroy the very sustenance of that gain. It’s truly perplexing.

    • Hi Dazzia, I have not been clear if I gave the impression that the conqueror mentality has been the predominant way of human life. In fact it has not– especially if you count years of our human history. It would be great if there were such a “defining” moment of the shift from partnership to domionation, since we might just turn things around at one exact moment in time. But things are more complex than that: it apparently takes a number of decisions, perhaps over generations, to move from a partnership to dominator culture. This is certainly linked to the conquest of one people by another, but it is also linked to scarcity of resources, to certain trade and manufacturing practices, to certain technologies, to the oppression of women by men, to population increase and to specialization of labor in ancient irrigation projects (listed in no particular order of importance here). However, we cannot tell for sure which came first here, the dominator mentality or these dynamics: likely they were intersecting in time.
      In fact, if this shift had happened all at once, I venture that it is unlikely that we would ever have had a dominator social structure emerge. Think of it this way in terms of an analogy: how many women would “sign up” for an abusive relationship if they understood how it would turn out? But it happens step by step, usually beginning with seemingly-flattering romance at first. There are danger signs, such as the abusive partner-to-be’s attempt to isolate his partner from her social network. In the same way, Ellie Weisel (who survived a concentration camp during the Holocaust) makes a list of the “danger signs” of an incipient totalitarian regime.
      In similar fashion partnership societies may turn to dominator ones (with all their potential for totalitarianism: history shows us, for instance, that anything a government is willing to do to “others” it is ultimately willing to do to its own people, thus we have important history lessons in the essay at hand).
      We are an adaptive and flexible species whose choices can lead us in many directions, which is why self-reflection on both an individual and social level is so important. But I think danger signs (“instincts of self-destruction” Chinua Achebe has called them) include arrogance, greed, and exclusion– when we have a society that rewards rather than discourages these values, we are headed in a dangerous direction.

      • Thanks for the reply, Madronna. You’re right, I suppose, about it not being one defining moment–that would make it too easy! It makes me think of technology. A lot of our massive problems today came out of the Industrial Revolution, a lot of which at the time seemed like great ideas. This is when indigenous knowledge is so important to pay attention to. It teaches us to look farther into the future for many generations to come, and not only human generations.

        • I agree absolutely, Dazzia. Indigenous stories illustrate instances of human mistakes and how to repair them– we can hardly afford to ignore such knowledge and keep making the same mistakes all over again.
          I also think the precautionary principle– which by its nature is caring for the future consequences of our actions ought to instituted in the US on the model of the EU.

  43. I do not promote the discovery/conquest idea. Just because one discovers something, who are they to think that they can stake claim to it. This, to me, is just plain arrogance and ignorance. I definitely agree with Shiva on her thoughts that one should not be able to put a patent or claim on anything discovered in nature, especially when it has already been in use for generations. The discovery/conquest idea must be how slavery first came about. People thinking that just because they came upon a different group of people (discovery) that it gives them ownership/control over their well-being (conquest) just to accommodate their own selfish and apathetic ways.

  44. This article has really made me sit and think about the daily things I “conquer” without any time taken out to see the invisible pieces, people, and ecosystems that are used everyday to give me what I want/need/desire. I guess I’m thinking about this tonight because I am finding fewer and fewer differences between our American past, and treatment of the other, and how we act today.

    I think that one of the most important places we refuse to see the invisible is in our economy and pricing. I am becoming more and more aware of how our pricing of products and resources 100% misrepresents the actual cost of production, destruction, and consumption. Many of us “don’t want to see” the true cost of our food products, our consumption of energy and water, the cost of our clothing and beauty products, etc. We have artificial prices, because if prices truely had to reflect the cost of the things I use and consume every day then I’d be forced to “see” the displaced indigenous farmer, the polluted soil and water, the sweat shop child, the clear cut forest, the dead marine life, the starving family, the rising sea, the beaten wife, and so much more.

    Just as with the pioneers in the article, the modern day “…conqueror destroys that which creates the very things he favors”. Although this was only one portion of the wonderful article, it for some reason struck me the most.

    • Great point about the lack of true pricing in most consumer products, Shawna. The latter would force us to evaluate our purchases far more thoroughly.
      I appreciate your response–and your ties between our past and present: no surprise if the same worldview is operating both places. Thanks for your thoughtful self-reflection.

  45. This essay raised some strong points. It’s a very bizarre mindset to think that if you find something you can then own it. As humorous as the quote from the comedian was, it actually made the whole topic make more sense. If i “discover” a car, I have no right to claim that car as my own invention or something that I can take over and rule all the rights too. Someone else way before me thought of cars and it belongs to them. Just like when the pioneers came and discovered the America’s. They really had no right to claim that land than I have to claim the first car. It belonged to the natives long before them. That was very interesting to me. It makes me think of all the beautiful places in the world that people have decided to own. Take most big waterfalls for example. How much more rewarding would it be to be hiking through the forest and come across the majestic Niagara Falls than it is to be able to pull your car up to a railing, step out, take a look, and move on to a gift shop with T-shrits, bumper stickers and refrigerator magnets? That takes away a lot of the mystery in my mind.

    • I like your discussion of the analogy entailed in “discovering” a car, Alyssa. I concur with you that honoring the intrinsic rights of a place or living thing puts us in touch with the mystery of life in a way that we could use more of in the contemporary day. Thanks for your comment.

  46. The following quote sums it up perfectly:

    “It is a matter of logic and of justice that we recognize and honor the living communities that charge water tables, contain and filter storm water, hold hillsides together with their roots—and provide us with the air we breathe and the soil on which to grow our food. But we are hampered in doing this by the mentality that mixes discovery with conquest.”

    Indeed, these dualistic notions of classifying indigenous peoples and other entities within the natural world by these conquerors has cost us much interms of resources as well as psychologically. The myopic mindset that one human is inferior to another is prevalent in these conquistador attitudes. Likewise, such a mindset is not by leaps and bounds much dissimilar to the idea of human life trumping any other form of life, nor is it much of a stretch to place living organisms above still entities such as rocks, rivers or mountains. Amazing that one single lesson – to see all life as interconnected and interdependent, to see us all as one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively – can dispel and renounce all three instances of bigotry.

  47. I found this article and the examples very profound. So often it seems as though our society believes that our conquering mindset was just recently, in the past 50 years, developed. In fact, over one hundred years ago this same mindset was being displayed among Native Americans and pioneers. So where did this mindset originate? With the Athenians? And why did it not only originate but also impact our lives so much? With all the talk of global warming, a “greener” world, and the depletion of our natural resources you would think this conquering mindset would be conquered by now. Yet it seems even the people who practice a more sustainable lifestyle turn a blind eye to our many issues and our worldviews. While a little change is better than none and each individuals change makes a difference, is it going to be enough?

    • Hi Kerri, I think we cannot spend time considering whether what we do is enough if we are doing all we can. This query makes it all the more important for each of us to do what we can.

  48. I completely agree with this essay in that mixing discovery and conquest is a recipe for destruction. There are so many examples in the Indigenous history that shows of this destruction. Examples include from the destruction of Columbia River Fisheries, to the demise of the Buffalo in the Great Plains, to just the thinning of Native Americans and their homelands in general. It really is like you say, “I came, and I destroyed what I didn’t see”. However sometimes I feel like settlers knew the harm they were causing. Euro-American settlers who came to the Great Plains knew of the Native Americans value towards the Buffalo and they really didn’t care. Settlers massacred Buffalo just so Natives would have no use for the land anymore and have to beg euro-Americans for help. It seems like Americans have been and still are obsessed with power. Even President Obama spoke of how we need to be the most powerful nation in the world in his “State of the Union” address this year and I thought to myself why? It’s kind of ironic how we want both parties to work together yet we want America to be the highest power in the world and have control over everything. What’s the difference? Not much in my opinion. Anyways, the treatment of the Native American’s makes me really sad and angry to hear of and is something I wish never happened. The legacy passed on by our ancestors is a terrible one but maybe we can create our own that surpasses that of our ancestors.

  49. This is a very poignant article. It goes along with the First Lesson discussion in the way that it reminds us not to be blinded by our own worldviews. This quote cuts right to the point when it says, “it is signed by the failure to see what we discover for what it is rather than for what we would make of it.” That is a really big deal because the ability to see the real value and importance of not only indigenous peoples worldviews and how their culture has been shaped by their worldviews can provide us with tremendous insight when we are able to expand our thinking beyond our own preconceived notions and beliefs. When we shrug off another culture’s innate value, by declaring them “insignificant” we are setting ourselves up for failure on a grand scale. To me it is like and apprentice choosing to ignore the skills and knowledge and more importantly, the vast experience of the master. It is simply foolish.

    The fact that Euro-American settlers seized lands that Native American people put their own sweat into modifying for their own purposes indicates a selfishness and greed but also a total lack of empathy and respect. The thing that really gets me though is that this behavior of discovery/conquest is still happening now. Hasn’t enough damage been done? How can we stop this from continuing?

    • Hi Molly, thanks for your comment. We younger cultures might be like apprentices if we listen and learn both from natural cycles and more ancient cultures. We obviously need to expand the worldview that stops us both from honoring other ways of life (including non-human ones) and how to respect and care for our world.

  50. It is a sign of power that one owns something. For example, why do people strive to own the new fancy car model? Or own the house on the top of the hill with the five acres surrounding? People have become accustomed to organizing places and things under categories. America once thought owning people was moral, but it’s not. So it would be interesting to find out why how we came to the belief that every section of land must have a name to it. This goes hand in hand with how people have steadily destroyed our environment because we have gotten to the idea that nature is something to own and not respect its delicacy. However it is nice to see operations such as the REACH program and the increasing value in organic material.

  51. The near sightedness of the higher/lower mindset is what makes it so dangerous. The destruction or manipulation of the “lower” whether it is nature, people, or a mix of the two is terrible enough, but it is the destruction of the future generation that is astounding. Without the realization that what we do today has impact far beyond that which we consider, the world we are crafting for our children’s children’s children is not one that we would want to reside in ourselves.

    Every action needs to be governed by this realization. It can even be twisted, at least in argument, to sound like it is still taking advantage of the lower. You can say “do it this way so that you future family can take advantage of it” The convincing factor, however, I fear will not be found until the world collapses around the “higher” and they then become the lower and see how the balance can be restored.

    • You make a profound and powerful point in your statement that the world we are crafting for our children is not one we would want to live in ourselves, Rick. When we all share one “rung” in a human community, we will perhaps, as you indicate, learn how to empathize with one another–and shape our decisions in justice to the life we share.

  52. Sadly enough, it seems that nearly all of the conflict in this world is due on some level to the conquest part of this equation. Even though we have discovered geographically a large portion of the earth, that doesn’t mean the discovery portion is over. On a personal level, there’s so much more we need to concentrate on discovering as a priority over any type of conquest. In fact, in some ways, when those settlers and explorers first came to the Willamette Valley, it doesn’t sound to me like they did much actual discovering in the first place.
    As often happens, it sounds like the Europeans are on to something in requiring proof that chemicals must be proven safe before distribution. Here in the US, chemicals and additives seem to have an innocent until proven guilty pass.

  53. As a business major this piece make me take into account the other side of the Globalization argument more than I have to date. I almost go through my entire collegiate career assuming everything that globalization entails is somewhat necessary. I think of globalization as, the fact that I have never gone into a store and told them this price is way too cheap. Maybe I need to sit back and reflect quite a bit more about issues and realize the negative impacts of these decisions. I feel a bit greedy and guilty in reference to how I have thought of globalization.

    I did find the “no patents on life” to be intriguing. Technology and everything is moving so fast these days, it just seems out of control. To be honest it’s scary, and when is it going to stop? Should it stop? I think that there is a middle ground. Some of the technological advances save lives and that is very important. From air bags to medical procedures these technological advances have been a savior, but not all are.

  54. Interestingly enough, this brought to mind another class I have taken, in which we discussed how farmers are getting sued for all they have and being prevented from even farming their traditional crops, simply because some company decided to patent a type of corn. One of the farms, in Canada, I believe was fighting the litigation. In this instance, a truck carrying the patented corn seeds had driven by their farm, the back flap open and some of the seeds falling out. The corn mixed with the strain that the farmer and his family have been using for generations, one that they had carefully cultivated for its properties and the area they lived in. The patented corn mixed bloodlines with the family version, and now, because the patented DNA is mixed into their family crop, the multinational company is now sueing the small family so they can sell NONE of the crop.

    If we can patent a strain of corn for commercial use only, does that mean I can patent my kid and then make money off my descendants because they carry that patented DNA strain?

    Where does the ridiculous of conquering for the sake of money stop?

  55. I grew up learning that discovery and conquest was a good thing. I have always perceived that conquering was the ultimate satisfaction when I read about such things in history books. What’s sad is that most westerners think like this. The western mind in my opinion is growing. However I think its evolving. We’re definitely more aware of how we affect such things as the beaver or Native Americans, or others. We need to take the awareness to another level though.
    If discovery is the prelude to conquest then should we stop the discovery process? In our western world novelty usually trumpets the old. It’s how we function. It’s how we move. Maybe we simply have to slow down. If the present economy is any indication in this, I believe we are starting to slow down. If I’m correct, this slowing down has caused disturbances in the US. Namely shootings and suicides across the country.

  56. Clearly the view of nature cultivated in the Enlightenment encouraged an extreme exploitation of nature, especially in Europe and North America. with increasingly sophisticated and powerful technological devices, human being have been able to bend nature to such an extent that we now spend much of our time insulated from direct contact with it. It seems to me, that for many people in the West, and throughout the world, the real world is a world that to a great extent shuts nature out. Most of us live our lives in technological cocoons in which very little contact with or even observation of nature takes place. Our relations with the non-human environment are primarily machines- cars, computers, ipods, and televisions. This separates us from the earth and the story of the land we live in. Domination and control of nature have come to mean being cut off from it.

  57. The goal of the pioneers and Euro-Americans was clear. Take what isn’t yours. Greed filled these people, they took a group that we now know what was important to the development of this country and destroyed almost all of it. The reasons these Native Americans were invisible, is that if they were visible, the pioneers and Euro-Americans could not take everything away from them. In this sense, the pioneers, miners, and other conquering people put themselves above all else that was real. Those real things are the Indigenous peoples and nature, of which we are all part. The conquering people did not know what their technologies would do to the land, nor did they care. They took all they could from it. As we read in this essay, these actions continue. How can you patent something that is not yours? Again, greed is showing its mighty hand.

  58. I recently saw a t-shirt stating “Veni, Vidi, Dormivi” or I came, I saw, I slept. I share this because I thought it was a humorous contrast to the t-shirts mentioned here. It’s also an interesting indictment of the slacker generation, but that is another discussion for another time.

    As you point out, Veni Vidi Vici is not quite accurate. I think about the early European explorers and settlers. I just wrote something similar in response to another essay,but the ideas are the same. They came to America, they didn’t understand the complex system that was honed by centuries of experience, and then they steamrolled over the traditional practices. In other words: They came, they didn’t try to see or understand, so they conquered. This attitude is worldwide, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why we live this way. People kill other people over land. What horror! Reason would dictate that we care for others and care for the land, because then the land and others will care for us. There is a consequence for every action, and it seems as though we would want to choose the actions with the least horrific (or even the most edifying) consequences. Somehow, we have a disconnect in the logic, though. We do not seem to realize that the dominator and patriarchal mentality is not working for us or working for the planet. We are so shortsighted that we don’t see how much destruction we have caused. And we are so far down this path that we are afraid to change. As we discussed in WS 450, there is a fear of the unknown at the heart of patriarchy. Maybe it’s time for a little mystery. The status quo is certainly not going to work for us much longer.

  59. I totally agree with this article that much of society is based on the idea of discovery and then destruction. I have never really understood why that is other than greed on both an individual level and a cultural one. I think that using many of the Northwest’s native cultures as an example hits the nail right on the head. Many of these cultures such as the Chinooks were incredibly advanced well beyond much of European technology and yet I’m not sure if it was due to the Beaver trade of manifest destiny or whatever, but these culture were abused and slowly eradicated. I do think that there have been many ways of integration without sheer brute force that has been used to integrate different cultures. I think that the Catholic Church has used them such as connecting local gods with Christian deities such as the Virgin of Guadalupe or the creation of the Celtic cross to connect paganism with Christianity. However, these are still ultimately incredibly destructive methods of conquering.

  60. It is amazing to me how many societies have been wiped out in the name of “progress”. Ancient civilizations like the Aztecs as well as Native American tribes have all fallen victim to the blindness of the conquerors. Never considering observing the lifestyles of the conquered, the conquerors simply saw them as an asset or a liability and exploited or destroyed them. Unfortunately, as this article states, humans have not been the only victims. The blind destruction of many ecosystems because they have no value (i.e. they can’t make the conquerors money or increase their social status) continues to be a stumbling block for humanity. Until western thinking can expand its idea of value, the earth will continue to be in trouble.

  61. I consider the idea of conquest, conquering, and ownership a form of madness. Apparently, this mental illness has infected people for far too long, and they have passed it down, generation to generation. Those of us who have come out of the thick fog of that insanity should be grateful, and we should do our best to shake others from their stupor before it is too late. The indigenous tribes that have suffered at the hands of others’ insanity have my compassion. As a society, we might consider throwing ourselves at their feet and begging them to show us a new way.

  62. In my opinion, the idea the discovery and conquest are linked in American history is an undeniable fact. Colonialism was an ongoing attack on the indigenous peoples of the world and an attempt to erase their cultures. Columbus , Cortez , and Captain Cook seemed to be just sailing around the world, discovering new places, and killing anyone they found there. In many cases the people were turned into slaves to harvest gold from their own land and then worked to death in the process. The term “discovery” I think primarily refers to new places to dig gold and acquire land. I don’t think it in any way referred to discovering new cultures and peoples. This is interesting, because one would think that this would be of interest to an educated civilization. However, the natives in these circumstances seem to have been viewed merely as a resource. This mentality of seeing everything as a resource is still deeply woven into the social fabric of Western culture. I think this notion gives great insight into my of the problems we are are experiencing in the world today.

    • “Just sailing around the world” and “killing anyone they found” in the new places there is a horrendous path of discovery, Joshua. It would be nice if “discovery” meant learning- including learning about ourselves and our human potential rather than “discovering” resources, lands and peoples to exploit. Thanks for your comment, Joshua. There is a destructive trend indeed to the idea that learning about something means we own it to do with it whatever profits us.

  63. I found this article very eye opening. I can’t believe that we are able to destroy vast amounts of land just for the purpose of our own self benefit. I was astounded when I read that Euroamericans almost put the beaver into extinction. We need to realize that while we all live on this Earth, it is not someones decision whether they want to destroy an area, especially if it is occupied by living species. I have seen this happen in my hometown at a smaller level. A company was destroying a stream area to put in apartments, and a large amount of Nutria were forced out of their living areas, and would wander all over the streets and parks. This caused a huge problem for the city, and for the Nutria was well. It is not fair to disturb a living species just to benefit yourself.

  64. It’s really tragic that so many indigenous peoples, especially in the United States have been obliterated by colonialism and western culture. Calling these peoples “savages” or “insignificant” is just how politicians and leaders justified their obliteration. It would be really cool if the United States took a similar approach to Australia’s government’s formal apologies to the aborigines. What we did to the Native American Indians was tragic much like what happened to the aborigines, but Australia’s government is at least making real efforts to right their wrongs.

  65. Dr.Holden,
    In many conservative history classes, the Manifest Destiny is discussed, at least from classes I having personally taken, with reverence and something like pride. The claims made by Father Francis Blanchet mentioned in this article are so infuriating. Even now, filled with cars, buildings and many other human influences, the Willamette Valley and all of the Pacific Northwest is so incredibly beautiful and for the most part highly respected as a natural beauty. Not only did early settlers and missionaries treat the land and environment with total disrespect, but also the native people, which should really be a red flag as to what type of attributions we “Americans” and our founding fathers should really have. The confusion between the terms ‘discover’ and ‘conquer’ is so embarrassing to me as an American. So much about our way of thinking needs to be changed in order to understand a more accurate history as well as a respectable and sustainable future.

    • It saddens me that any educator would speak of such a destructive concept with pride. I don’t find it a matter of pride to destroy so much other life.
      Our way of thinking certainly does not radical change on this point: your embarrassment indicates your sense of conscience, Cheyanne– but you are not responsible for what others have done. Though of course, we are all responsible for effecting the needed changed in our lives. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  66. You bring up some good points in this essay regarding the constructed connection between discovery and conquest and the numerous social injustices as well as environmental impacts that have resulted from these dominant perceptions. I also think the concepts of human dominion and individual ownership of everything that has been objectified has led to serious consequences and inequalities. It is ironic that the “conqueror’s blindness” and imposition of value systems in which everything is defined in terms of immediate value to humans results in the ultimate destruction of ecosystems and the valuable resources they provide. I appreciated that you mentioned Caesar’s concept of “I came, I saw, I conquered”. It seems that until the end of colonialism, that has been most of Western Europe’s motto in regarding not only expansion beyond Europe but also what Europeans have done for centuries to their own natural environment. By draining all their marshes and deforesting the countryside for farmland, the European ecosystem was totally changed. It is not surprising that their descendents coming into the Northwest would have the same attitude. I think the damming of the Columbia River in recent times and how that has changed the environment is a huge example of the effects of conquest and manifest destiny. I do think however that not all Europeans or Euro-Americans should be stereotyped, and I think recognizing the legacy of explorers such as David Douglas who took more of a horticultural approach to exploration is good to show that there were explorers who were more interested in the natural landscape for discovery than for exploitation.

    • David Douglas is a pointed example, since his life was saved by native peoples on Grays Harbor: he was suffering a severe infection in his leg when native peoples saw his campfire, paddles across the harbor and brought him to their village where they saved his life. You are right that there were many who had a different idea about “discovery”: early pioneer on Puget Sound, Ezra Meeker, writes of his own experience being fed by Indians, after which he realized that carrying his loaded gun around caused him to miss much of the world around him– including the nature of the peoples who were already on this land. See this post for the ways in which native peoples support the pioneers and a few pioneers returned the favor:
      It is important to remember that not all humans think alike, even in a given culture (thank goodness). Thanks for your comment.

  67. I think we are also seeing this Discover-Conquer mentality in the current field of Genetically Modified Foods and are possibly seeing another example of the environmental values of cooperation, connection and relationship being ignored to our possible own demise. All the signs are there to warn us of our beginning a process that is foreign to the long-term successful workings of the earth.

    In my opinion, we should not be so emboldened by our just recent understanding of the nature of DNA that we think we can conquer earth’s system of plant life in such a short period of time. Although there appear to be many positive aspects to genetically modified plants it is also obvious that species have a way of modifying themselves to challenge our technologies when we try to “check-mate” nature. We may find ourselves in the position of having creating natural pest enemies greater than we imagined that will require stronger and stronger solutions to eradicate, and in the end possibly ending up with our own eradication.

    • I think you are right about gmos, Mark–and unfortunately so, since there are so many dangers to using this material in the ways in which corporations like Monsanto do it. We have been in the position of creating better and better pests before–and if we wipe out diversity at the same time, we will really put ourselves (and the species we are tampering with) in a grave situation. Thanks for your comment.

  68. It fascinates me how much a group of people desire for others to conform to their ways. This barbaric idea of discovery and conquest has eliminated entire civilizations. If we met on good terms with the Native Americans initially, what would it be like? They certainly would be more numerous, not defending the last bit of land they have today, and probably wouldn’t have had to assimilate to modern society. In fact, us as a nation would most likely be better off, with unlimited knowledge of the natural environment of the United States. Perhaps even a self-sustaining nation.

    This happening that has been around since early man has dramatically effected basic human relationships. It may be impossible to develop a positive relationship with other nations with the discovery and conquest mentality. Conforming to the majority methods, most of the time, leads down the path of more blind and ignorant thinking. In my opinion, true science always lagged behind military technology and government, not allowing them to “see” before they conquer. As Val Plumwood brings up, the dominator logic always pairs a dominant action with a more submissive action. Few things in this world are that black and white. Sometime you have to get a little gray.

    • I think it is certainly impossible to develop a positive relationship with other nations when we have this discover and conquer mentality, Kyle. I think the attempt to make others conform to one’s own way of life stems from an essential insecurity–a need to see it proved over and over again that one’s way is the best- in fact, the only good one. Unfortunately, this attitude also licenses terrible devastation and abuse. Few things are black and white in a complex– not to mention, interdependent world, in which (as per the recent NIMBY essays you commented on) we depend upon the very “others” we set ourselves up as better than.

  69. The idea of I came, I saw, I conquered transformed into I came, and destroyed what I didn’t see, sums it up perfectly. In my ignorance I choose to believe that settlers didn’t fully understand the repercussions of their actions. Granted, they had to have had some sort of emotional pull turning them away from some of what they were doing, but clearing land and modifying landscapes was second nature to them and they did not apply the precautionary principle, just as we are today. We are built upon reactionary rather than precautionary guidelines. We sin and ask for forgiveness. If we could ever change this mode of thinking, we could become a much stronger nation.

    • Thoughtful points, Megan. It is true that we are a reactionary culture, which is why we wind up doing so much damage control rather than creating our visions. I agree that worldviews, like those of the pioneers, can make one unconscious and clearing land to plant was just want they did–many worked hard and were proud of their work, never quite understanding the negative consequences of their actions. Unfortunately, as in the case of DDT, the consequences show up for succeeding generations to deal with (as in the plowing that caused so much midwestern US topsoil to be washed away into the rivers so this type of agriculture is destroying some of the richest agricultural land on earth). Thanks for your comment.

    • YES! I agree totally! We sin and THEN ask for forgiveness! Why cant we as a society, as a people, as a world just figure out a way of life that isnt harmful to others, then we wouldnt have to ask for forgiveness!

  70. I completely agree with this essay in all aspects. We have no right to “own” things that are wild and part of the ecosystems of earth. There is no being that is superior to another that is here on earth. Be it human to animal or boss to worker, there is a devine way of life that things work and the food chain is in order for survival NOT to make one being above another. All humans are equal, we all have the same parts. Our brains all work the same ways and my boss may be above me in work but she is not above me in any other way. This essay reminds me, as many subjects like this do, about Monsanto and “their” genetically engineered soy beans that are going to take over the world. Literally, these beans are “owned” by Monsanto, so if the wind carries them into your yard your yard is not owned by Monsanto… I’m sorry but WHAT!?! That is the most absolutely ridiculous thing I have ever heard.

    • Being responsible for Monsanto seed that drifts into your yard is ridiculous indeed, if you are looking for a logical basis, Briana. But when a corporation has both political clout and a profit motive, people get hurt by such actions.
      Great point that we all have the same parts as humans AND I am very glad you have this sense of perspective in terms of your relationship with your boss.

  71. George Carlin had a, rather crude, comment on humans and nature which I think can open up an idea I wish to suggest. He said something to the effect of, “Save the planet? We don’t even know how to take care of ourselves; we haven’t learned how to care for one another. We’re gonna save the planet? There’s nothing wrong with the planet. The planet is fine, the people are ‘screwed’! Compared with the people, the planet is doin’ great. It’s been here over four billion years… the planet isn’t goin’ anywhere, we are! It’s going to shake us off like a bad case of fleas!”

    This points to a specific misunderstanding I believe we have about the planet. “We came, we saw, we conquered”? We came, we ate, we didn’t fix our ways in time, we lost. Of course the worst part of this thought is that so many non-human creatures could surely be taken down with us, along with so many people who were actually able to live in concert with the natural world. We may be able to conquer ourselves, but, “Indeed, an essential part of this discovering/conquering gaze is what it doesn’t see.”

    • Thoughtful point, Thomas. In fact, I have heard a similar point to Carlin’s expressed by contemporary native thinkers, one of whom said, “It is a bit of arrogance to think that we are destroying Mother Earth. She is fine; it is humans who are in trouble.”
      I think this is important perspective, at the same time that we must express compassion and responsibility (that might motivate us to change our ways?) for those other lives that are “going down with us.”

  72. This essay made me think about the never-ending battle to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling. Why is it that every discovery must lead to conquest? Why can’t we appreciate that these resources exist without harvesting them? Where is our self-control? The recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a perfect example of our lack of self-control. We take and take and do not think about the consequences of our actions until it is too late. It is a tragic flaw in Western culture that I hope some day we will be able to overcome.

    • This is indeed a tragic flaw in Western culture, Hannah. Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe put it brilliantly: “The best cultures fight the human instincts of self-destruction”. I hope our culture will soon learn to battle arrogance, greed and exclusion for our own sakes as well as that of the living world that sustains us.

  73. Manifest Destiny, and the idea that the Native tribes were simply not putting the land to efficient use were such strong drivers for the settlers or pioneers or whatever you want to call them. It is like the Natives caused their own demise by making their homes on land they cleared because the White’s did not see the point in doing their own work to clear it. Why not just burn down what is there and re-build? They are wasting it. But if they are truly wasting it, why would you want to live there? You would think the superior White race would have found a better place to live…

  74. This article points out the issue of patenting life in its concluding paragraph. I didn’t know this issue even existed until I watched the documentary “Food Inc.” At first I couldn’t believe that a company could actually patent a food crop and create such a huge monopoly like Monsanto has with Soybeans. This whole idea seems so illogical to me, and unfortunately puts Monsanto in a position of enormous power and influence. I don’t care if they genetically modified the seed type, it is morally wrong to do what they are doing to so many small farmers today.

    This article also reminds me of the attitude that many Americans share that as an individual they cannot accomplish anything. This outlook is extremely frustrating to me; little efforts combined can make a big difference. Many people think “it won’t matter if I throw this one bag out of the window, it’s only one bag. Someone else will pick it up.” But when ten thousand people think this way, ten thousand bags end up in our environment. I wish there was a simple way to impress upon people the importance of their individual efforts.

    • I agree with you on Monsanto’s actions against small farmers, Allison. “Owning” a gmo crop should not allow one to penalize a farmer for using a wind-propagated seed. Food, Inc. has some extremely important information in it. Great reminder on the importance of small actions: I also think we are honoring ourselves when we act according to our ethical values. Thanks for your comment.

  75. This mixing of discovery and conquest reminds me very much of a small child at the time when they are so connected to the world, in a sense, that everything they see they grasp at and hold on to, and if you try to take it from them they begin to cry. If they are old enough to speak and you try to explain to them the intricacies of personal property, they just sort of look at you, and then go back to grabbing things. Luckily they grow up and become a bit less self centered, because carrying this attitude into adulthood doesn’t work too well. But it seems fairly obvious that we do and we get things like patents and plagiarism where we are unable to distinguish ourselves from the world and really recognize that something would belong to someone else besides me. Hopefully, though this appears to be something that we are very gradually growing out of at the moment with the recognition of mistakes that were made in the past towards native peoples and trying to make up for them in some way and also trying things in areas of technological development like open source software.

    • I find it interesting that the behavior we don’t accept in children we accept in corporations– or even whole societies. I would hope that we mature and learn to live more gracefully and generously in this world.
      Thanks for your comment, Andy.

  76. This essay highlighted the dualistic view that the conquers, described in this essay, justify their destruction with. I had never considered the logic behind these acts, or as stated in this essay, “illogic”, although it gives me a complete understanding of the history of conquest and destruction. I thought the section on pioneers reducing native peoples houses to “huts” was very interesting. I thought the statement, “A house is not a house unless built by whites” seems very true of the history of North America. Those pioneers wouldn’t have given native peoples the credit of building an intelligent and sustainable community no matter how big their houses were. I think the most significant point in this essay was discoverer’s blindness. Described in this essay as, “the failure to see what we discover for what it is rather than for what we would make of it.” I found this to be the critical point of this essay and shed the most light on this issue. I really liked the restating of the popular line by Julius Caesar “I came, I saw, I conquered” to “I came, I didn’t see, I conquered.”

    • Thanks for your feedback and careful reading here, Emily. Such “illogic” is not only destructive to others but winds up being self-destructive in its own blindness. Surely we cannot afford such crippled sight given the current social and environmental problems we face.

    • I was also very interested in the section that explained how the pioneers were able to justify the destruction of native villages and cultures. It definitely explains how colonialism was able to take place for so long. If the conquerors viewed the people they were attempting to conquer as less than themselves, then of course it would be easy to slaughter and manipulate them. It’s like the difference between killing a cow and killing a human. They preferred to view the others as animals to justify the atrocities they were committing against them. I think a lot of people in this country today prefer to see Arabs and Muslims in this light so they can sleep at night when they consider the war we are waging in the middle east right now.

      • You are (sadly) right, I think, Allison in pointed out the consequences of objectifying others. The good news is that we are less likely to carry out such atrocities. Having lived and taught among the Palestinians for a year, it is especially hard for me to see such unwarranted responses to Muslims.

  77. Prior to reading this essay, whenever I thought about the destruction of indigenous people after the arrival of Europeans, I would always ask myself why it always had to be this way. Now I understand that it was a foregone conclusion based on thousands of years of discovery and subsequent conquest. I used to admire Caesar’s statement, I came, I saw, I conquered, but now I see it for the self-defeating delusion (as you stated) it is. And the reason I admired it is because I’m a product of my culture. Thank you for helping me to see another example of this in my life. I think that we often think of ourselves as somehow above the fray, but in reality (and on a deep level) we take our acculturated wisdom to heart.

    I had a similar experience in a Mythology class last year. Our teacher compared Dionysus with Jesus, and I immediately thought, “No, that’s not right. Jesus was a real person”. I’m not even a practicing Christian at this point – nor have I been for decades – but I was certainly deeply imprinted with its teachings. Once I looked at her comparison objectively, I was able to see that she was right, and I had the opportunity to learn something about myself and the effects of the culture to which I’ve been exposed.

    • Hi Barbara, thanks for your thoughtful comment. Walter Wink’s statement about worldview is that it is so much a part of our way of perceiving the world that we can’t look at it clearly from within. I appreciate your learning stance: this is the perspective that history and cross-cultural views can give us.

    • Barbara, you are not a lone in admiring the phrase “I came, I saw, I conquered.” I think when many of us in the US are taught this phrase in history class we are also taught to admire the strength and power of the Roman Empire. This makes sense because in many ways the Roman Empire’s power, at its height, parallels that of our own society. Similar to the Roman Empire the US has systematically tried to increase its control in neighboring lands and the rest of the world.

      Ultimately though, the “conquering” of the land in and around the Roman Empire resulted in stripping the land of resources, large amounts of deforestation, and decreasing food crop productivity that helped lead to the Roman Empire’s fall. I think that unless we want our society to crumble like the Roman Empire we will need to change our perspective on how we interact within our borders and around the globe.

      • Great perspective, Darcy. If we refuse to gain wisdom from this history lesson, what we will be destined to repeat is our own downfall.

      • Hi Darcy,

        I agree with your observations about the Roman Empire and yes, you’re right, we are greatly encouraged in school to admire their accomplishments and to favorably compare ourselves to their model. However, I think we should find these comparisons humbling since the Roman Empire endured for about 1000 years. We just celebrated our 234th birthday as a nation, and for all our technological power and glory, at the rate we’re going, we’re not going to endure a whole lot longer. I actually think this would be a good thing. Look at Canada – they may not be “the superpower”, but they’re getting along just fine. Much better than us in some ways (healthcare, for instance).

    • I appreciated reading this essay for similar reasons. I also used to admire Caesar’s statement I came, I saw, I conquered because that viewpoint had been pounded into my head since I entered elementary school. It’s interesting to me how much public schools propagate the “manifest destiny” outlook still. I hope that in this century we can begin to move farther away from that.

  78. I agree and I have noticed this trend in almost every instance of “discovery” that I can think of.

    We seek, we discover, we exploit, we destroy.

    I like to look at the concept of discovery as somewhat of an illusion. To discover something is to find, identify and experience something “new”.

    Personally, I think that discovery is only possible from an egocentric point of view.

    Afterall, if something exists then it is already found, identified and experienced by others that also exist within that particular environment or location.

    So, althogh what we “discover” might be new to us, it is almost certianly not totally new and undiscovered to others.

    • Thoughtful rendering of the seek/discover/exploit/destroy cycle, Ron. You have a point that discovery is only discovering something new to us–and in this sense all discovery might be thought of as egocentric. And it is too often true in modern technology that a “discovery” is simply a means we have found for manipulating something to our own benefit.
      I am hoping we might find a different kind of discovery: we might discover something in ourselves and our history that gives us genuine humility (and ways to behavior with more respect toward those who share our world). We might see discovery not as conquest (and claiming what we find is “ours”) but as a means to experience the wonder of our world.

    • This is interesting and good point.

      However, new to us is till new? Isn’t it? I guess in modern times it is easier to discover without conquering because many things that are new to us aren’t new at all. So therefore we don’t even have the opportunity to conquer new things, but only to discover and experience.

      Interesting way to think about it, but I agree with you on your point about exploiting new things. Whether they are new, or just new to us, we can exploit them. Sad but true.

      • Thoughtful, Sarah. What do you think of the point of the essay there that science too often today mixes discovery with conquest– still carrying on the tradition of mixing up controlling the world with finding out about it?

  79. I was really intrigued by the idea of nature of a living system. It is so apparent that today we would never think of nature as a living thing, and to give back to it what we take. The example I think of with this is the logging community. Sure loggers replant after they take down trees, but the reality of the matter is that they are following guidelines, and really just planting trees they can destroy in another hundred years. Whatever ecosystem that is built within them will be ripped out again soon enough.

    I also did not really understand if the point the author was trying to make was that people who conquer areas do not actually see them. Was the author trying to say that they do not physically see them? Possibly because they never leave their home? Or was the author trying to say that they do not really see them for what they are or what they have to offer? I believe it is probably the second part about seeing the land for what it truly is. Therefore they just conquer and ruin the land instead of seeing and using the land for their benefit, and for the benefit of the area as well.

    • The idea of nature as a living system is one that has pervaded human cultures throughout our history on this planet–and now is revived in the Gaia hypothesis in modern science.
      What do you think about why or how those who were invited to stay as guests in cedar houses hundreds of feet long could write of the “huts” of the Indians? This is an historical instance that I presented here to ponder–not one with which I wanted to make a single point.
      I think it does underscore the point that people miss a good many things that are before their eyes because of their prejudices.

    • Hi Sarah,

      From what I have experienced and what history has described, many times people cannot see the trees through the forest. People who cannot recognize that the forest is the trees are not logical thinkers. I believe this is what happened when the discovers were laying claim to lands already developed and made fertile by Native Americans. They then cleared everything from it in order to build what they needed and plant what they were certain would grow. Knowing little to nothing about this worlds climate, with no knowledge of native plants, and no understanding of the most balanced way to live the discoverers forged ahead certain they would prevail. Not seeing the trees through the forest is ignorance. Not acknowledging that you cannot understand in order to learn is deadly in some situations. The discoverers were simple minded with a dominant mentality; they thought the information they had about farming and building applied to everywhere and failed to realize their limitations. When they took the land, they did so because they would benefit, this alone made it easier to either not recognize what was before t hem when standing in front of an Indian building one acre in size. What motivated them most was what they stood to gain, so they saw only what they could benefit from, not what stood in their way. If the very first discoverers to arrive burned the homes and lodges, by the time more conquerors came, there was no evidence of structures, and it’s these people’s stories that further perpetuated the incorrect telling of events to people of the time, and throughout history so that people would come to believe there were no homes and lodges.

      • Some insightful considerations here, Lizzy. It is true that the second wave of immigrants lacked experience with the ways of life (and homes) of indigenous peoples.
        I like your idea, as well, that the conquerors see only their own goals–and what stands in their way is invisible to them. Such ignorance, as you note, can be deadly. Deadly for indigenous peoples–and in the long run, deadly for the conquerors who fail to see that upon which their own survival rests.

  80. In the 15th century when Columbus “discovered” latin America he was amazed at what a found. A civilized developed culture with beautiful cities, waterways, structures decorated with gems, silver and gold. What he actually “saw” was minerals to be mined, and a people to be exploited and land to be conquered, those that followed him did the same. History is full of stories of discovery and conquest done out of greed and with violence and an attitude of superiority.
    You see this attitude continue in countries such as Iran and North Vietnam. Humans don’t appear to have learned much over the centuries.

    • Thoughtful points: I would change the word “humans” to members of particular cultures. Your examples illustrate the ways in which attitudes of conquest cause such blindness in addition to tragedy. Thanks for your comment, Deborah.

  81. I was thinking while I was reading the last few paragraphs that it is refreshing to read about these efforts to rectify this situation. It is scary knowing that so much life is gone because of this mentality. And this is the way many people in developed nations around the world think. Humans are highly intelligent (in most cases) and high functioning but this does not mean that humans therefore have the right to be in control of and manipulate all things at will. Just because you have the means and the mindset to do it does not mean you should. It is very strange that people think “because I can, I will”. In America it seems this mindset is coupled with a modern convenience mindset as well with an entitled attitude.
    For example:
    When I go camping I am always mesmerized by the amount of trash some people create when camping and the even more bizarre part, what they do with it including burning plastic and throwing trash right into the surrounding foliage. I think people pollute and act destructively towards nature because just as was stated in the article, people have become disconnected from nature. The divide and conquer mentality made people completely or partially removed from the natural world through changing ones thought process and redirecting care and concern from the impacts on living things to oneself. A thought should include considering what will happen to other living things when I do what I am thinking of doing, as well as considering what will happen to all things, living and non living in our environment. Today, we focus on what we will get and how soon we will get it. Over the past twenty years, we have gone from phones with chords and rotary dials to cell phones, superfast internet connections, and we are still unhappy that the document did not upload quickly enough. The rate of demand is increasing along side the rate of destruction and technological advancement, it is all tied together. We have so much work to do, its overwhelming.

    • “Because I can, I will” is indeed a dangerous approach to choices of action, Lizzy. Not mention (as you note), “what’s in it for me and how soon can I get it.” Let’s hope that we catch on soon to how unsatisfying such an approach to life actually is.
      Thanks for your comment.

    • Lizzy I totally agree with you that our society is disconnected from nature. Particularly the latest generation. With tecnology and the competition for individual “success” we seem not to know what is most important. Fortunately, here in Bend I do see a bit of a difference in the level of attention paid to being green and protection of resources. It would be great to see this more globally.

      • It is ironic indeed that limited ideas of “success” may be doing us out of success as a species. Thanks for your comment, Deborah. We can’t learn about something to which we have no connection.

  82. Lyman Abbot’s assertion that “real occupation” consists of activities such as “mining operations” brings to mind another way in which the term occupation is often used: war. Both involve dominator worldviews that license the destruction of the natural and social world, and justify the removal of people from their homes (or limiting the way those people have been used to living in their lands) in order for one group to exercise control and possession of resources, at the expense of others. I think I have come to view the term ‘occupation’ as having negative connotations because it is in the context of war that I am most likely to hear the word used. Likewise, the term ‘discovery’ has begun to fill me with dread–it too often leads to a debate over ‘ownership’ of whatever has been ‘discovered’ (even if, in truth, it was already known to some groups or individuals). So I definitely appreciate the suggestion to “re-imagine discovery as a matter of meeting and mutual learning”–as I had learned it to mean when I was a child.

    • Powerful insight about the dual meaning of “occupation”, Crystal– neither of them in partnership with nature’s or human others.
      Thanks for your thoughtful personal response–and your note at the end of this comment about the form of discovery you learned as a child. Great idea about recovering that sense of wonder so different from the impulse to control the world.

  83. The dualistic mindset that is a part of the “discovery/conquest” model that believes that anything that gets in the way of the conquerors is disposable is still very much in effect in our society today. There are overt and covert ways these dominating beliefs still are experienced by many persons not in the “club” of those in power. So is the case with many non-human persons.
    Even our private property laws are a way of reinforcing these conquest beliefs. I have owned homes across the world and have to own to my own sense of “entitlement” to that land and structure. It is do deeply ingrained in our American culture and mind set. We seem to have lost the concept of the commons in regard to our “own’ space.
    I live in an area that was recently cleared and developed, in the last 5 years, into a housing tract in the western hills of Eugene. The deer, my neighbors, still follow the pathways that they have followed for generations. The path went right through the house that I live in, so the deer take a course in a backwards “C” around the house. I have apologized to them for taking over their paths and they in turn now sleep and rest in the bamboo patch next to the house. I believe they understand and have acknowledged my apology and know they are safe here. I had mama’s bring their babies the last 2 summers and drop them off for the day in the blackberry thicket nest to the house returning to sleep in the bamboo thickets at night. I hope I have been able, in small measure, to make amends for myself and other humans who have taken their safe home territories.
    This housing development is a modern form of discovery and conquest.

    • Thank you for relating your experience–and personal care– with respect to our taking habitat of other creatures, Maureen.
      This is too often true with modern housing developments, as you note– though there are a few who are working to do things differently.
      You are right about private property laws according to the authors of “the tragedy of ecosystem services” (linked in “attending to the whole” here)– who make the case that our particular private property laws, especially those developed from the early 19th century on, leads directly to the destruction of the commons that provides habitat and clean air and water for both humans and more than humans.

  84. OOps lots of typos, sorry. Time to get off the computer……

  85. Lizzy, I agree that just because we humans have the intelligence and functionality to manipulate and control Nature does not give a us the “rights” to Nature. I do also agree that there has been concerted “divide and conquer” campaign through those who profit from our disconnection for the natural world.

  86. Throughout history there was been an attitude of conquer and conquest. Whether it be in Julius Caesar’s time or modern times. You see this attitude, as the article said, in the Pacific Northwest, when we took land away from the native indigenous people. We burned down their huts, exploited, dominated, and oppressed them. We also forced our culture on them, especially their children who were eventually forced to go to “white schools” and were forbidden from speaking their native tongue. This mindset has caused a separation between the “haves” and the “have nots”. This mindset sets the tone for duality, hierarchy, and patriarchal systems and puts the rights of some humans above the rights of others. It also sets humans above nature.

  87. It is sad that the discovery of our country was done with the same approach as Cesar. We came and conquered. It is that simple, and we destroyed what ever resistance came in our way. There was no mutual respect or partnership involved. Just as Cesar had done many years before, we let greed get the best of us, and decided that what we saw, we owned. Ownership of the land is not a mutual respect, but an example of our society controlling our environment and not working with it. I cannot think of one singe example of an expedition that resulted in sharing of land, and taking ones land over. To look back and think about what if these discoveries had been dealt with mutual respect and not over powering the land is very hard to think about. Very good article, that made me re-think my thoughts on discovery and expedition.

    • It is never too late to learn from history– though the lessons may be harder ones if we are obstinate in getting them the first time. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Kyle.

  88. I agree, however I feel it very different from Julius Ceasers; I came, I saw, I conquered. I feel that Ceaser came in knowing he was going to destroy a whole Roman empire, that was his qwest. Today, in modern technology, it is is lack of what we don’t know, and rather not knowing what we want to do, or where we are going with it…just going. I agree very much with the statement “I destroyed what I didn’t see.” That is the point exactly because you destroyed what you DIDN’T see. They don’t see homes built, the shelter they took in the trees– they were not there when they first arrived, therefore they do not SEE what they are destroying. It is insignificant to someone who knows nothing about it, but to someone who’s roots are planted there, it is everything. It is time to find a common ground, and share the world we live in, that’s what it is created for. Unfortunately we think to much about getting what we want.

    • Though are contrasting discovery in the colonial context and discovery in technology– I am not quite clear about the distinction you are making. It seems that ignorance is linked to the dangers in both contexts. How do you see it differently? Thanks for your support of justice in your last statement about sharing the world, Tayler.

  89. “…globalization and industrialization are systematically destroying seventeen ecosystem services priced at $33 trillion a year”
    –I felt my heart skip a beat when I read that.
    Hey, did you know that you could save trillions of dollars every year by switching to holism?
    If only there was some cute little gecko mascot we could use so people would remember…

    On a more serious note, it would seem that a lot of these problems that we face with globalization and industrialization are more of a problem of selfishness.

    The problem of discovery is a perfect example. If we just discovered something and shared it openly there wouldn’t be much of a problem. Though when people try to keep resources to themselves or make a profit (getting more for less) out of it is when things start getting nasty.

    Yes sometimes certain things can’t be shared( or shouldn’t be) but those things don’t really count in terms of things needed by the whole. Things of ‘survival based’ worth really pop up to the forefront of resources that need to not be hogged. Not everyone needs the original Mona Lisa in their bathroom.

    Would be kind of cool though…

    All in all though the question that comes to mind is:

    How can we learn to get along with the rest of life if we can’t get along with ourselves?

    • Sharing is the important thing you mention here because there are too many people who want everything for themselves and see resources as endless thing to use at their disposal. We must understand that everything is not just about profit and that our affect on the environment is important for its sustainability.

      • Or, once again, that we might want to closely define “profit”– seems to be that clean water and air and soil free of heavy metals is substantial profit indeed. Thanks for your comment, Alex and Andrew.

    • I very much like your idea of the “cute little gecko” that ought to repeat the information on ecosystem services to humans, Alex. I absolutely agree that selfishness is a major roadblock to our even seeing what we need to do to make things right. This ties in, from my perspective, with Chinua Achebe’s idea that the best cultures have mechanisms to fight the “human instincts of self-destruction”– we could use a few of those to combat rather than reward greed in our current economic system.
      And you pose an important question indeed: my sense is that it is time to stop tinkering with new technologies that could wipe out life on earth until we are morally up to the task–signed by such things as our ability to get along with one another.

  90. I think this essay shows that just because you come across land that has not been used doesn’t mean you can do whatever you choose with it. There is only a certain amount of resources on land and if people are not careful and responsible iwht it they will use up those resources very quickly. Humans do not have domination over any land and it must be cared for in the right way. We have a relationship with all species in the natural world and are not at a higher level than any of them.

    • Make that land that “has not been used” by those who happen to come across it from elsewhere, Andrew? The colonists might have found land that was not being dug up for strip mining, for instance, but it was used to sustain much natural life–human and more than human.
      Though we attempt to dominate the land, this domination can predictably understood to do us in.

  91. The concept of making something invisible in order to conquer it seems to work hand in hand with the dualism model of ignoring the connection between pairs. I wonder how family men can ignore the interdependence between male and female in culture when every day they rely on the wives and mothers to raise their children. How can it be possible to oppress your own daughters?

    • We would wonder– there are some cues from Robert Jay Lifton’s work on dualism in modern society, in which people create “psychic numbing” to certain spheres of their lives.
      Val Plumwood calls this “backgrounding”–and notes that we tend to “background” the fact that we rely on the natural world for survival, for instance, just as plantation owners “backgrounded” the real contributions of slaves to their well being.
      On the other hand, I have seen many men become attracted and open to women’s issues once they become the father of a daughter. Thoughtful points, Sheryl.

      • It is very true and I have seen it too that many men will become more interested and aware of women’s issues if they have a daughter born. Women will also become more aware of men’s issues if they have a son too. I know I have and am with my three year old.

    • Good point Sheryl. Our country has made a great deal of progress in women’s rights, but we still have a ways to go. Being a mother is a vital role and now it’s common for mom and dad work to support a family that role is changing.

  92. I had this infestation of carpenter ants once. They chewed through my walls and made an impressive colony for themselves. In fascination I watched and thought about how about how much they had in common with humans. The carpenter ants had no clue that they were destroying my home to create their colony. Modern human civilization has dug up, cut down, and built over a good portion of the Earth, without regard for what else may live there.

    US history is sprinkled with destruction and oppression of both people and nature. The dualistic view of us and them, in relation to indigenous people was a driving force behind the destruction of native civilization. Of course, we would have become industrialized sooner or later, but I think that eradicating that which is different than us was a mission of sorts. Unlike the carpenter ants who are just trying to survive, we destroyed homes and habitats out of spite and greed.

    • Interesting analogy with the carpenter ants, Tiffany. Another major difference is that we built out houses in their habitat in the first place, and their essential role in that habitat was to turn downed and dead wood back into a food usable by other lives. And of course, we don’t want them destroying what we build in that way– just for the info of those reading this, check out the Northwest Coalition Against Pesticides library for ways to treat carpenter ants in a non-toxic fashion.
      You are absolutely right about the dualistic us/them attitude that creates so much human destruction in this world. I think we need to differentiate industrialized technology from technology bent on dominating the natural world (and other humans, since much of it was created in conjunction with warfare) from advancing technology per se.
      I am not sure we would have in any case created dominating societies.
      Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

  93. I grew up in Vietnam. It is an unfortunate country. Our history is a series of war. We spent about 1000 years to resist the invasion of China; then another 100 years to fight the brutal ruling of France. Most recently, we just had struggled through the war between the North and South. I deeply understand how a person feels when his country is invaded by another country which claims to be “superior and more civilized”. Sometimes, I think that “pioneers” who claim the land that not belong to them is just like robbers. They come in other’s house without permission. They return native’s hospitality with destruction and killing. It is not right. Land pioneers only care about economic profit they can make from the land. They don’t consider the value of thousand-year tradition of the native. It is hurt more to see the tradition values go down than to see a house gets burn down. Tradition values are not something we can rebuild, it require centuries and wise people to create it. The essay also mentions about how globalization and industrialization are invading the ecosystem. “Dominator’s logic” is great point. Dominators keep dividing the world into good/bad so they can justify their actions. I believe in the idea of everything is interdependent, and one should not others for its own favor.

    • I am sorry that your unfortunate country has been the site of so much conflict and pain, Vu. You have a large heart to have come out in the midst of all this with such a positive and compassionate attitude.
      Thanks for sharing the perspective of one from a people who has been on the receiving end of supposedly “superior and more civilized” cultures who are not earning their name by their actions toward others.
      You have an important point about the treasure of tradition– which takes “centuries and wise people to create”.
      My hope is that someday (perhaps the ecological crises we share will teach us) we will learn that we surely share this earth-and “dominator” logic does no one any good in the long run.
      Thanks for your insightful comment.

    • Vu,
      I can relate to your story about Vietnam not only because I’m part Native American, but also because I can’t help but identify with people who have suffered due to war, colonization, etc. It is devastating when pioneers invade a country, steal the land there, destroy the culture, and force a new culture on the people. I also agree with you that the loss of traditions is more damaging than the loss of property. While we have many artifacts, pictures, and stories about the Native Americans who lived in America long ago, I often wonder about the things we don’t know. What stories have we missed out on and is there any hidden knowledge which is forever lost? I believe there is much more to know about our history than we currently know in all parts of the world, but I also believe that we may never discover these things because as Napoleon (I think) once said “History is written by the winners.”

      • There is much to grieve for in what has been lost, Kelsey. But there is also much more remembered in community than that which is written by winners– which we must nurture and protect to the best of our ability. You yourself and Vu are parts of the living legacy that remains.

      • Kelsey, you bring up a good point, in that indigenous people have lost more than land/property, due to colonization, they have lost traditions. It is sad to know that possibly major aspects of a culture were not passed down to the younger generations, because of this. Aside from traditions, here in Hawaii, it appears that knowledge of the Hawaiian language is diminishing. Luckily, there are a few schools here that require students to take the language for credit, in order to teach it and pass it on to younger generations. However, there are not nearly as many younger people that know the language as the elders do.

        • The loss of tradition–and with it, the loss of wisdom of the past and community- is certainly sad, Leah. I am heartened by the resurgence of things like the language credits you speak of.

  94. In reading this article and delving into the story of the Melians facing the Athenians with a mind to live as they had chosen to rather than fall under Athenian rule, I found their story to be as distressing as all later conquest histories. This was 2400 years ago, and conquest-bent socieities still haven’t learned a thing! Even in present-day, we have so-called democratic societies attempting to impose their will on traditionally monarchical societies (who themselves have conquered and subjugated their own differing tribes). The turmoil in Tunisia of late gives us an example of a people making their own choices as to how they and their land will be governed. This doesn’t directly relate to the environmental destruction done by conquering peoples, or does it? Perhaps a modern people at the helm of their own ship will be able to steer it towards a more environmentally sound future.

    • Hi Rebecca, I do think that our ability to listen to and respond to the more than human lives on the land may be related to let others determine their own way of doing things (as long as it does not oppress anyone else– should we hold corporations, some of whom are larger than many states, to this standard?) That is, skills in listening to others and allowing them independence can be applied to both social and environmental realms. Also, the is something to be said for the links between environmental care as related to long-term residence in a place that one considers home.

  95. I found it interesting that the colonists chose to take land from the Native Americans which had been cleared. I’m guessing this means that the bushes, tall grass, and other plants had been trimmed or removed in order to make the space ready for building and make room for the activities of daily life. This reminds me of something I wrote in my paper, which applies here. The way developed (patriarchal/hierarchal) societies treat nature is like the way many Americans treat their yards. We don’t like the way our grass looks “wild” when it grows tall so we cut it. We also trim our hedges and bushes when they grow a little bit out of their box, and we plant flowers in very organized and controlled rows.

    • Thoughtful musings, Kelsey. It was not just the cleared space for houses they wanted, but the wide well tended valleys that they thought made the best farmland– though they gave no credit at all to the native people who had tended it so as to create this ecology.
      Thoughtful point about “weeds” or wild plants in yards, since it was such plants that helped create the fertility of the soil on which we plant our yards– as the wild prairie plants did the deepest and richest topsoil in the world in the US midwest.
      The dominator worldview urges us to treat “others” in the same controlling way–whether those others be other classes, other societies– or other species.

    • Very interesting view on this subject. I hadn’t thought of the connection with how we are trained to control nature in our backyards. Its funny- in a peculiar sort of way- how we cut down trees and shrubbery and other wild life that belongs and is native to certain areas to replant foreign species that are not meant to survive there. Americans thrive on control and the whole domination over nature is another way to strengthen it.

      • And control/domination is course the opposite of intimacy. Makes for an ultimately lonely worldview.

      • Ely,
        I like how you mentioned controlling your back, in stead of leaving it natural and beautiful the way it was meant to be. I don’t think anyone would even think about leaving their yard in it’s natural state and see what happens I guess that is our western world view coming into play, we are trained to keep our yards the way they are “supposed” to be. I also like how you mentioned the word control. A strong word and a meaningful one. Western society controls as much as we can, and when things begin to get a little out of control, people begin to panic.

        • Control is a big issue indeed, Melinda. I have mentioned it before, but it is worth repeating that some early fur trader journals write that they put in gardens not because they wanted the produce but because they wanted to show Indians how to “control” the land.

    • I completely agree with you Kelsey. I have seen so many instances where the native plants have been eliminated, altered or out numbered by non native plants with attractive looks. As a result of this action, often times the local Ecosystem becomes unbalanced. This would be a negative consequence of westernized attitude towards plants, we want our garden to look the way WE like, not the way they naturally are.

      • Good point, YunJi. I might add that the sense of what is attractive is often a matter of cultural taste: I think many native plants are quite lovely–and especially in their natural combinations.

  96. I have such a difficult time with the concept of superiority. Humans have always deemed themselves superior to everything- land, water, animals- yet we rely on all of them for survival but they don’t necessarily need us to survive. We rely on Mother Earth to aid us in producing food yet we destroy her by tearing her up and continuously building. We rely on water for everything yet we are constantly polluting and rerouting our rivers to accommodate ourselves and we rely on animals for so many things yet we treat them as inferiors and bare no respect to their lively hoods and well beings. This mentality makes it no surprise that we would treat fellow human beings in similar fashions. It is just so hard to comprehend how a man could think himself better than another man without any reason. The Natives were never even given the opportunity to prove themselves as humans let alone equal to their conquerors.
    There is such an egocentric mentality that goes along with the whole discovery/conquer paradigm. The whole notion that you bring up about owning and doing as you please with anything that you “discover” fits in perfectly with this mentality. How could it be considered “discovered” if there is already somebody there who’s known about it for a long time?
    Shiva’s campaign deserves great attention. Not even all the money in the world should be able to claim anything that is part of a living ecosystem. Patenting foods and plants is just another way for corps with lots of money to be able to control and manipulate consumerism. A line has to be drawn somewhere- although it should’ve been drawn a long time ago.

    • Standing back and looking at the worldview built on superiority with a bit perspective like that which you offer, Ely– it is clear how vacuous–not to mention, destructive– a concept this is. I think some societies know this, fighting what Chinua Achebe has called “the human instincts of self-destruction” such as arrogance by encouraging humility and sharing instead.
      And demeaning the very things upon which we rely for our survival is not only destructive but just plain stupid.
      We need cultural values such as the superiority you mention to create the blindness that allows us to sidestep our own rationality here.
      Thanks for your comment.

  97. It is sad to learn how hearltess the colonists were and that they could take advantage of the Native Americans and there kind, humble ways. I don’t agree with it, however agrression and dominance is what wins over power. Not that the colonists deserve the power because they obviously were only considering their own selfish reasons for developing and abusing the land. But, I think simple and plain they are greedy people who just don’t share the same morals and beliefs as the Native Americans, they were taught that wealth is money and land, so when they see an opportunity like this of course they are going to take it. I am not defending the colonists in anyway, I am just saying that expecting more out of the colonists only let the Native Americans down, someone who is full of greed and is emotionally and spiritually disconnected to nature is not going to respect the land. I think that this idea of power over nature has increased and keeps increasing with each generation.

    • I see some hope in changes for the better among many who believe as you do, Courtney, that dominating others is not the way to go. I also think that although it looks like the dominator wins out in the short term, history has shown that such victories are short-lived–and societies based on worldviews of domination generally become divided and self-destructive. I only hope that we get this knowledge in time to prevent some of the suffering created by such domination. Thanks for your comment.

      • Extending from this thought, I think our attitude of domination over the nature is also represented in our economic system. Most of the business models that are being used today are focused on the short term vision, profit expectation and overturn cycle- this results in the business owners to be unaware of the environmental consequences of their actions, production facilities and the consumer health. As long as the business can make financial profit, other factors to not play any significant roll.

        • Too often true, YunJi- though there are businesses who are trying to do things differently. And they are wise, since the short term strategy you mention is just that– short term gains of the types you mention have had many disastrous long term consequences.

  98. There is another example of forgotten indigenous knowledge that I have experienced. As a child, I suffered from a skin condition called “atopic dermatitis” which involves dry and itch sensitive skin that you cannot stand without scratching your own skin until it bleeds. My parents spent first 7 years of my childhood trying to fix this condition with westernized medicine and treatment. Their effort was not successful until they tried out the traditional Korean acupuncture method. It took two months for the acupuncturist to cure my condition. He explained the condition a bit different from the western doctors I have met previously. He not only diagnosed what is happening with my skin on the surface, but what is causing my skin to get dry and itch. By treating the origin of the problem, he was able to cure my condition quickly. Eastern medical philosophy looks at human body as a system and a flow of energy. How it works has not been scientifically proved entirely, but the positive effects of these practices has been proved many times. The attitude of discovery- wouldn’t it be the limitation of modern science?

    • Thanks for sharing this personal example of a kind of knowledge that might be lost (or not seen) because it was not Western. As you note, such an attitude certainly limits the real discoveries science might make. My sense is that acupuncture is a widely accepted complementary practice today– though perhaps it was not when you were a child.

  99. The cycle of exploration, discovery, exploitation, and depletion is repeated throughout the history of the world. In my area of interest, fisheries, we have seen this happen in just about every place of the globe with every species of fish. Humans discover large untouched stocks of fish that are beyond their imaginations, instead of taking what we need and leaving the stocks at a sustainable level we get greedy and over fish the populations into depletion in a few short years. We then move to a new location to find more of the same fish or we work our way down to a less desirable fish in the same location until they become depleted. Until finally we find ourselves with a barren lifeless sea that can no longer be relied on for food. A great example of this is the fishery of George’s Bank of the Northeast coast of the US over the past few hundred years. Here is an excellent article for those interested in learning more:

    • Thanks for sharing this link, David. You might also be interested in reviewing the interview with Dean Bavington concerned the NE cod fishery’s collapse here: ttp://—24-listen/#episode13.

  100. It is absurd to think that just because we discover something it is “ours”. One of the many downfalls of capitalism is that of the “need” for private ownership of everything. When we view the world simply in terms of “supply and demand”, we lose sight of the values that keep us human and sane. There should never exist a situation where, due to a patent, a sick patient cannot afford the medication needed to make them well. The fact that there are patents on corn and soybeans, and other food crops is a symptom of a corrupt society. We have only to look at what our current dominant culture has done to the earth and contrast that with the bounty that was created when indigenous cultures dominated the earth to see that we are ill. We need to trade our dualistic, hierarchical, selfish worldviews in for a compassionate, peaceful worldview rooted in equality between all beings.

    • I absolutely agree with you about taking ownership too far when it means we possess something necessary to the lives of another (and keep it from them through our “owning” it).
      I also like your connection between a peaceful world and a compassionate one “rooted in equality between all beings”.

  101. This essay goes to show that the statement about the people doing the conquoring assume they have nothing to learn from those they are conquoring. It also coincides with the idea that the whites had (and many people still have) the mentality that if you weren’t like them, you were a savage and needed their help.
    The idea of mutual learning rather than discovery and conquest is a great idea but did the people who came upon this land understand that there is a difference? I think sometimes people have the mentality of an egocentric child and thinks that if they “find” something, its theirs, as the comic would indicate with the discovery of a car.

    • Thoughtful responses, Loni, indicating some of the problems with the conquering attitude that harm the conqueror as well as the conquered.

    • I completely agree. Unfortunately, this kind of attitude is still very prevalent today. It’s surprising to me that no one has stood up to make a change regarding America’s mind-set.

      • I think some are standing up to do this, bit by bit, in actions if not in words: which is why I am so cheered by the many good hearted and generous-handed peoples on our links page.

  102. When I think about how the whites viewed other peoples and societies – especially ones that they colonized or “discovered” it makes me think of just how far they had traveled from their own origins and how much knowledge they lost. Had they still retained some of the knowledge they once had, knowledge more in line with that of other indigenous peoples, and seen the value in nature and in living with the land, instead of just on the land, they might have approached these new cultures with a mentality of “look at what these people could teach us to add to our own knowledge, to discover new ways of living.” They would also perhaps have been more likely to look at these new peoples as equals, people with their own special skill and knowledge sets, than as beneath them because they have a different skin color or way of living. I wonder what the planet would be like today if that had been the case, instead of this mindset of discovery, then conquest.

    • Thoughtful point that those who retain some respect for their own culture are likely to respect others– I think that is a good part of the reasoning behind the words of those Chehalis elders who thought it would be a good idea if I spoke to my own elders as well as to them. (It was also out of compassion for some elder whites, who were pretty lonely and isolated in this area).
      I know that we lost much with the bad choices we made in ignoring so much indigenous wisdom (not to mention, concern for just treatment of indigenous peoples)– but it is never too late to begin to change a wrong way of doing things.

  103. This article just made me sad to be honest. The way western society has been for years entails taking something natural, and turning it into something unnatural. I keep thinking of western society as a small toddler. They see something they like, andthat’s the end of it. There is no way any of the other children will ever get to play with it, and the grip on the object seems like the child is holding on for their life. It’s the same way we are. If we see something we want, then we will do whatever it takes to get it and make into something else. Share the land with the Indians? Idon’t think so. I believe the song we sang in elementary school was, ” This land is my land, this land is your land, from California, to the New York islands”…I think the first sentence of the song captures the reality of it.
    It’s really a tragedy, and sometimes I feel like we should see something beautiful and natural and simply step back and say, “Wow”.

    • That is, you are suggesting we just appreciate it, rather than figure out how to take it over or how to benefit from it now that you have found it?
      I think we miss a great deal by missing out on the sense of pure awe of this kind, Melinda.
      I do think there are all kinds of ways of interpreting, “This land is my land”– it may mean we belong to the land– and that we do this together (for this land is yours and mine.” Belonging to the land is a very different kind of ownership from seizing something to do with what you will.
      Thanks for the thoughtful comment: it made me think of a native women who said that no one should “take” anything in nature or from humans– only accept what is given. It would make our world pretty different if we held to that standard.

  104. What really is interesting here is the idea of competition that is presented beneath the surface. The stories of conquest and discovery are undoubtedly linked to man’s primal nature of competition. And the different ways man evolved this idea of competition is evident the example of 200 foot house used for winter horse races. Although the house is an example of the land that was destroyed, what happened there is a great example of colliding worlds that have many more similarities than anyone can see. It is just the vast differences between the similarities that made their encounters so devasting to the native population.

    • I agree John, competitive natures can certainly cause devastating results if the future is not thought about. What’s interesting about competition is it can be a positive thing because it makes people think about how to better themselves. However, when they are only thinking about bettering themselves and not taking other people’s existence into consideration it can be disastrous.

    • Hi John, thoughtful point about competition– but the idea that it is part of our “primal” nature is a bit of a stretch in the context of the vast arrays of human worldviews and ways of life. This house did not in fact “destroy” the land: it was carefully communally built (and in ceremony with trees whose permission was requested to be part of it). It was owned by several families (not a single one) and was used as a place to share food in the wintertime– and even for animal shelter– as some early pioneers noted that “wild” animals tended to share the house. Also, this house was built one time to stand for generations.
      You want to be wary of assuming things that are not: that being said, you have a thoughtful point about games running through all cultures–and different cultures having different ways to express their play with one another. In this context, the horse races were entirely more friendly than the taking over of another’s land and calling it “discovery”. What this shows, I think, is that there is a wide range of ways to express our human traits– some of them a good deal more positive than others.

      • I did not mean the house destroyed the land initially, I was trying to say that the the example of the house in the story was about the destruction that was caused when the pioneers came into the northwest. I understand the confusion in how it was worded.

  105. This term I am also taking a COMM class, in which I read an essay on political language by George Orwell. It amazes me how powerful words can be, how (even so long ago) a senator could convince a nation that native Americans were a waste of space. On a similar note, another thing that stuck out to me was the statement “The worldview which mingles discovery with conquest persisted in the history of the Pacific Northwest.” Humans are always striving to conquer, to be the dominant species, and culture. While we may not discover and conquest like we once did, we still do in more subtle ways.

    • How would you connect the first part of your comment with the second part, Caleb? It seems to me that the political manipulation of words mitigates against the idea that humans are “always striving to conquer”– as if it is agiven part of our nature rather than the result of certain social dynamics.

  106. This is hard to read, because it’s true. The culture that defines itself by conquering will absolutely take over everything at any cost. So much knowledge and joy is lost with this mentality. It also is a precursor to the modern consumer society, where we just want to have, never mind it’s effects on the natural or social world. It also applies to the current gene wars over food patens, people are hungary but all they care about is getting their due cut of the profit. We need to discover and explore with the freedom to know it doesn’t belong to anyone.

  107. Reading this reminded me of Christopher Columbus. As a kid, I celebrated Columbus Day. It wasn’t until my junior year in high school that I discovered how naive my teachers and parents had let me be about the reality of what happened when Columbus sailed the ocean blue. When we were young, we were taught to believe that Columbus did great things by exploring and discovering new lands. Our teachers and parents neglected to mention that slaughter that took place after Columbus “discovered” the new world. As sad as it is to say, I believe discovery and conquest almost go hand-in-hand. Is it the nature of discovery that leads to conquest, or is it the nature of man?

    • Thoughtful point, Jenni. And yes, it is sad– as many of the readings indicate, the “nature of man” varies depending on culture. Given this how would you answer you question?

  108. I absolutely agree with your statement that our world needs to re-learn discovery. It is very sad that in order
    to “discover” new things, mankind feels the need to
    conquest in order to do so. This does not have to be the case. If it keeps happening, there will be nothing
    left to conquer!

    Perhaps if mankind saw that they could receive great satisfaction from discovery alone, then the conquering would stop.

    • You have a thoughtful point here, Samantha. I think a sense of challenge and extending our boundaries intrigues most of us. What we need to do, as you indicate, is firmly separate this from domination or conquest.

    • Money talks, people sometimes kill for money. It makes you re-examine the world we live in (maybe just the culture?), and is sad to think that this is what we have come down to.

      • If “money talks”, it is we who have given it a voice, Samantha. It is on odd thing to contemplate an entire economy built on such an abstract thing– but as consumers in this context, we can at least vote with our dollars.

  109. I’ve always found it a strange concept that throughout the western world, societies have often celebrated the famous discoverers, without ever really stopping to point out that in many cases the places they “discovered” were already long inhabited by other people, in many cases people who had already formed their own civilizations. Or calling the first people to colonize a place the “first settlers,” when they more often than not settled in places which had long since been occupied by indigenous peoples.

    • Thoughtful considerations highlighting our need to accurately use terms that tell the important facts of our history that we might learn from if we had proper knowledge, John!

    • It is funny how nothing is found until we find it. Our actions have much greater impact then just finding something new and interesting. It is sad how we destroy things by claiming they are ours.

  110. Very good piece, I have never really taken a look at how I personally define conquering and discovering. I did always think that when something was conquered force of some kind was used and discovering was more natural and less invasive. But now that I am thinking about it, we did discover parts of America and by doing so brought disease and forced the Natives to gather together on land we defined as theirs. It actually makes me very sad to think we can just take domain over whatever we please.

    • Yes it is a hard to think about how harsh we were with the native people here in America and the situation could have been handled in a different way but without the actions of our forefathers we would not exist and would not benefit from the privileges we have here in America today.

    • I agree with you completely. It is sad to think that to get where we are today, we destroyed a culture as well as the natural land. Respect and peace seem to be a thing of the past.

      • I am a bit more hopeful, Samantha. Teaching in this arena, I am aware of some great tragedies we cannot ignore. But I also see the growing care of many like yourself. Your sadness and awareness of a different possibility adds to my hope as well.

    • It is a sad part of our history, Michelle. Hopefully we can learn to do things differently for the sake of all lives and all cultures concerned.

  111. The difference between discovery and conquering is something that I have thought a lot about before. Discovery is for those who are happy with what they posses and have a thirst for knowledge that is only quenched by exploring and learning about the world outside their own. Conquering on the other hand is for those who feel the need to have more whether it is land or just an accomplishment. Conquerors usually have no remorse for anything standing in their way because of how self centered they are.

    • Great assessment of this contrast in terms of the sense of personal lack, Jake! I think there is much insight in the difference you set out between the motives of (true) discoverers and conquerors.

    • Indeed, conquering is for those who are unhappy with what they have. Conquerors see what other’s have and they want to make it their own so they steal what they can and destroy the rest. This selfish attitude needs to change if we are to avoid further tragedies.

      • Excellent point about being satisfied with what we have — or at least working with it instead of running away from our past and ourselves as we ravage others.

    • Discoverers delight in their findings and make all attempts to cherish and preserve it. Conquerors delight in their findings and see how they can be used as vehicles of power to overcome others. This reminds me of the story relating the sadness that Einstein felt when his discoveries led to the vast destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

      • Thoughtful way of pointing out the contrast between discovery and conquest, Susan. It is sad indeed when those who are truly leading the way in scientific discovery provide information for conquerors– such as the example you give of Einstein’s work.

  112. I greatly disagree with the idea of needing to conquer things on a daily basis. So often in modern society, we judge people (potential employees, dates, etc) on how much “drive” they have. How in your face are they, and do they push forward to take out the opponents. This is classic survival of the fittest ideals, which are out of date and lead to suffering for the “weak.”

    • I like your insight, Samantha. I have had more than one student who thinks they are not doing a good job as a student unless they are able to give a demolishing argument for every idea presented to them. There is a different approach developed by the Harvard Negotiation Project that works on developing common interests rather than attacking other views.

  113. While reading this article I felt ashamed and slightly embarrassed of America. I think it’s safe to say that as a nation we are consuming conquerors. If there is a chance of profit or wealth, we plow through to grasp it only to better ourselves. We never stop to look at what we are running over and destroying. The phrase Veni, Vidi, Vici is unfortunately the attitude America has taken. We have a perspective that is harmful to society and our planet. We need to realize how far we have come and try obtaining integrity while still being successful.

    • Integrity should certainly be a priority, Josh. Acting in this way is no less than truly honoring ourselves.

    • In an age where anyone can bring up information about the past, it’s strange to me that we still haven’t learned our lesson. Yes, we’ve become “successful” for ourselves but what about those who we trampled over to get where we are. It truly is a shame.

      • I think we might want a closer definition of “successful”, given the environmental and health crises we now face that spring directly from what we have in the past termed “progress”.

  114. It’s so tragic that we have confused the idea of discovering with the idea of conquering. Rather than learning more about the world through cooperation with natives, we simply destroyed them and the culture that could have made the world a better place. Lost civilizations such as the Mayans come to mind. I wonder what the world would have looked like if we had adapted a policy of discovery rather than conquest. I can’t help but feel that many of our current problems would have been avoided.

    • It is with some grief that we must view so much that has been lost: let us hope that this is a lesson that leads us away from destroying more. Meanwhile, we might also note that the Mayan culture has not been obliterated, there are many Mayans alive today who still speak their traditional languages and live in the traditional way.

  115. This artice reaffirms the oblivious from reality and denial. Yes, it is sad but true, because a lot of people that hold a higher position than others, do take everything for granted and will never stop and appreciate their surroundings. I will always refer to the small things in life, because I truly believe and feel that if you have an appreciation for them, then nothing else will matter the most to you!

    • It sounds like you also set yourself up for a much happier existence than that of the conqueror as well, Ryan.

    • What I find so interesting that your comment brings up Ryan is that an appreciation of surroundings seems to have been completely replaced by an overwhelming greed. A lot of people now only examine and appreciate things as they pertain to their benefit. For example, I was walking across the quad the other day with a woman I had just met, and we were discussing the new push by OSU catering for the use of all compostable products. I was talking about how great I thought the reduction of waste is for our sustainable OSU community and the environment overall when she stopped me and asked, “Well what benefits will me daughter see from this?” I was puzzled by the question and simply replied that her daughter and her daughter’s daughters would benefit from a healthier world. She scoffed at me and replied that the least the university could do was give her daughter discounts on food nourished with the compost or even access to the compost to allow her to use it on her own garden. It seemed almost comical to me that something innately good for EVERYONE was worthless in this woman’s eyes because it had no explicit benefit for her. These types of mentalities boggle my mind as I consider my perspective of appreciating the small things just for existing. I find that I don’t desire much, and I am content with living a simple life. I am happy and flourishing – a great quality of life if you ask me. But how do we get more of the human population to recognize this potential and live accordingly?

      • I am glad you are happy and flourishing–and sad that those suffering economic “blackmail”– problems with the ability to feed their children nourishing food take sides against the commons–or at least see it as pointless. This is one reason I really appreciate the urban farms in Eugene that involve the poor and distribute food to their families.

  116. This article did not sadden me. Instead, I was outraged. The people that have successfully led to this conquest worldview are some of my ancestors as well as everyone else’s. It was a collaborative effort that was passed on that created this worldview and it will take a collaborative effort to change it. As angered as I was reading this article, I kept thinking about a quote that I learned in a history class back when I was in high school. “Those who do not know history, are destined to repeat it”-George Santayana. Yes, we can feel sad and angry about the injustices that have happened but I believe that it is even more important that we learn from them so as to avoid repetition of them and exercising even worse acts.

    • I think you had a very legitimate sense of outrage here, Sage. Good point about the collaboration necessary to change the worldview of the conquerors. And following your train of thought here, here is another quote, “Those who wish not to repeat history must study it”– begins the work of a Nobel Prize winning researcher’s book on the ties between corporations and toxics production that has stopped us from cleaning up our environment in the way we must or endanger our survival.

  117. I find it so galling that Western society (but our own country in particular) can so easily brush aside its own greed. Manifest destiny, while the mantra of the early Western settlers, is still alive and well. It can’t be “God’s will” to continue to destroy the Earth and to live without compassion for even other living beings. It’s appalling that when we (the Western world) discover something, we must then claim it as our own, as though every thing we encounter can be claimed.

    We put resorts in foreign countries, safe Western zones that are familiar in direct opposition to the idea that travel can broaden one’s horizons. We put a flag on the Moon, despite the fact that no American can actually live there. It seems we cannot simply be in awe of something, something we cannot own, but must take it for our own and, in the process, destroy the very reason why it was inspiring to begin with: the idea that magnificent things can be hidden away, without our interference, existing without us.

    • Your personal passion here is well felt here, Lily–as you point out in the ironies and contradictions that the greed that we do not address creates. Obviously we need to see things more clearly–and with less denial.Thanks for your comment.

    • Some people enjoy looking at architecture or city things. The most inspiring view to me is an aspect of nature that does not have any visual additions from humans. Almost everything in this time period has had some influence from human activity, but I am talking about the hard to reach places that aren’t ruined by electrical wires, poles, or road systems. You bring up a very interesting point on the Moon. I’ve never thought about it like that. It is kind of ironic that we put a flag up there when we do not own it in any way. It’s just a symbol to make the country feel like it controls everything.

  118. I say very similar things all the time-why must we know about everything? The more we find out about things the less magical they are because someone is trying to put nature into words which is just not possible. The view that we must be ‘all knowing’ is just silly, why must we know how everything works and how. I believe that part of the ‘discovery’ aspect is power-once you discover something, you gain power because you have done something others have not. Another problem with this, is the fact that many of those who are discovering do not care for what they find, they are there to find something they can manipulate and profit from. This goes completely against what nature is all about therefore making nature hide from us and not give us the nutrients and love that we need because we have not done that for it.

    • Some thoughtful points that might also be a response to why science can’t know everything, Cyia. In this case, is it discovery itself that is the problem– or the urge to learn? What else do you think is going on here?

  119. I think one of the reasons that the “conquering” people saw that which is different as wrong or not important. Since the Kalapuya didn’t do things the way they did, they did not matter. Of course, some know how wrong they were now… They also were looking to exploit the land and anyone not stripping the land of its value the fastest clearly weren’t as “advanced.” Then they have use the idea of “survival of the fittest” to justify that those people or that animal died out because they weren’t strong enough to last against the complete destruction of their habitat and systematic killing of their species.

    • These values of the conqueror are ironic– since they wind up being self-defeating; if one obliterates one’s own habitat, no matter what the rationalization, there simply won’t be anything to live on in the end. Thanks for outlining such rationalization so that we can change our destructive thinking patterns on this score.

  120. I wonder what our country could have turned into if pioneers had partnered with the tribes in business and trade, instead of “conquesting”.
    In reading some of the previous posts, I do not think that discovery is the problem , I think it is good for us to discover and urge ourselves to learn, if we did not push ourselves our minds would become dormant. The problem is the intention of the quest. Pioneers could have “discovered” lands and shared them instead of exploiting them for personal gain.

    • I agree (and hope that I emphasized this enough in the post) that discovery is certainly not the problem. It is when we collapse discovery and conquest into the same thing that we run into problems.
      Thoughtful exercise of the imagination to think of what it would have been (and still might be) like to disconnect the conquest end of things from discovery. Certainly, the challenge of discovery remains–not the least of which entails what we still have to discover about ourselves.
      Thanks you for your thoughtful comment.

  121. This is article is definitely agreeable to me. Humans today of all ethnicities are a driving force to the earth’s destruction. It is because of our blindness, which is part of the discovery and conquering attitude, that we are facing the consequences of a dying environment. We have conquered this planet in a dualistic way and are still doing it today through our advancing technology. Advancing technology is a big contribution to the blindness of humans by helping us conquer ecosystems and by taking our attention away from the environment and more towards our cell phones, computers, TVs, etc. I hope that someday advancing technology will focus more toward the conservation of the environment, which I believe is possible. An example of how advancing technology has helped us with the conservation of the environment today is the acquisition of renewable energy through solar panels and wind turbines. We need to start conquering renewable resources instead of conquering non-renewable resources from this fragile planet.

    • Hello Maileen, certainly human behavior today is not good for natural systems- to say the least. I would only change the “of all ethnicities” designation, since it seems to me that some humans (even in contemporary industrial society, are working on behalf of the earth. And historically, the presence of humans strengthened the abundance and fertility of particular landscapes.
      I would certainly concur that (largely– there is some technology that follows the rules of sustainability–at least from the perspective I have outlined on this site) much contemporary technology has a destructive influence on natural systems. Thoughtful perspective here: how do you feel about the main point of this essay– that we might separate the idea of conquest entirely from that of discovery– so that our technology is not at all about conquest of natural systems, but about living with and within them?

  122. Fresh in my mind is a book I have been reading for another class called Shankara’s Crest-Jewel of Discrimination. In it, the author Shankara relates the reader to the three gunas. They are rajas, tamas, and sattva. The first two, rajas and tamas, are directly related to the discover/conquer worldview or psychology.

    Rajas explains the ability for thought or the mind to project itself onto an object. It perceives a subject and objectifies it. Tamas is thought’s illusory ability to create an image of the object. It takes what is real and turns it into something not real. An example of this would be seeing a rope on the ground and mistaking it for a snake. Until the mind is able to see without projection and false images, it cannot see the truth of something. Once it has seen the truth however, the mind is then said to be using the power of sattva.

    Much in the same way, discovery is the ability for the mind to see or find something. It objectifies the discovery by creating a false image. In this case, conquest is generally based on a monetary value. This image does not take into account the intrinsic value of something within a system. It isolates the object and attempts to harness the value placed upon it.

    I personally believe that we can incorporate values into our educational system that are not built on false images or objectification of nature. This would take great awareness on the part of the current generation to instill this sense of intrinsic value in the next generation.

  123. In history book conquering has always been apart of discovery. Once something was “discovered” it gave that nation the right to go to that land and take whatever they wanted. It’s funny how those history book were written by those that did the conquering. I wonder what the history books would say to the people that were already there but were considered insignificant.

    It is true that those who have the I came, I saw, I conquered mentality never like to credit those that had already been there. Especially if those natives weren’t using the land like they should. If the land is not for farming, mining, and exploiting, then what is it for? We have always made up reasons to get what we want, and for this it was no different. Well they weren’t using the land so it wasn’t really theirs to begin with, no big deal if we take it. We still do this. “We are still catching fish in the ocean so there must be more out there, it is a big ocean out there.” Even though we know that destroying and conquering people and places isn’t right or beneficial, we still do it. Not only have we not learned from our mistakes, but we are continuing to make them.

    I have always wondered why some ethnic groups have never been able to be satisfied with what they have and why the need to discover, and other ethnic groups don’t. I wonder what is different that some cultures have the dualistic approach and others have that of interdependence. Why some conquer and others live within the means of the land.

    There is a book that goes into the history of this called “Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies” by Jared Diamond if anyone is interested in the same kind of topic.

    • Hi Laura, thanks for your comment. I think that Diamond’s later book, Collapse, is better, as he gives more credit to cultural choices that led to either sustainability or societal collapse in the context of particular geographies. I think that the book you mention has some good research but it is too deterministic for my taste– as it seems to indicate that if human societies wind up in a certain ecology, they just automatically wind up with a particular social structure. Collapse has remedied this hole in reasoning by comparing successful and unsuccessful societies.
      You might also be interested in looking at a very readable book, Lies my Teacher Told Me, which corrects some of the stereotypes about conquest that we unfortunately have in standard history books.
      Thanks for your comment– we can’t make wise choices or learn from history if we don’t have the facts about that history.

  124. The battle against the conquerer’s mindset is mirrored in another essay on this site that considered the idea of legal rights for nature. It’s unfortunate to say, however, that even if these rights existed during those days of discovery, they may have been readily ignored. The United States’ historical treatment of Native Americans are a testament to the fact that legally binding contracts can be easily dismissed. A culture that displays such behavior is not likely to take a noble stance on environmental rights.

    On the bright side, the American culture seems to have taken great strides in overcoming the conquerer’s blindness. There is certainly a long way to go as we continue to exert our illusory control over natural systems, but more and more eyes are opening to see the intrinsic value of Earth. One can only hope that the awareness mentioned by Dwayne in the previous post spreads more quickly than the destruction caused by our near-sighted stumbling.

    • You make an excellent connection here, Jason. The conqueror’s mindset fails to respect the intrinsic right of all lives– humans and more than human. And your example of treaty rights honoring is telling– in fact, there is much correspondence between treaty makers and the Congress that indicated that the treaty makers hoped to abandon treaties as soon as the US got the military power in a particular area to be able to enforce their presence. The good news is that this was remedied in part by the Court of Claims set up that allowed native peoples to press for their treaty rights in the mid-twentieth century (though belated!)
      Our historical “near-sightedness”, as you aptly put it, has done enough damage. Time to stop squinting and open our eyes so as to learn the lessons of history. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    • I think you make a great point about the fact that America has made some great strides in overcoming its blindness. I, myself, am so quick to judge American society and modern society when it comes to destructiveness and lack of care. I try to remind myself that we have come very far. While there are still fundamental/governmental agencies that have the perspective of “discover and conquer,” there are also agencies that protect the rights of the discoveries, (as well as common people who participate in activism for it). Although I would like to see a more accelerated form of this progress, it is, at the very least, comforting to see that some form of improvement has been made. At the same time, however, I do acknowledge that new forms of environmental harm had been implemented in the past 50 years. One can only hope that our level of awareness and demand for change will be the reaction to these new developments and traditionally old tactics.

    • I too feel that Americans and the rest of the world are getting better about the “conqueror’s blindness.” The world is not so readily viewed as something that should be conquered but understood. I really hope that our views on the world keep expanding in this way.

  125. The dominator logic can be seen throughout history (the objectification is at its core): witness the Great Chain of Being. For years this Chain was taken as fact as the be-all, end-all of life. “Men” are on the chain, but the term is used loosely – that is, to the exclusion of women – and the Earth and all Her glories are at the bottom. With this kind of mentality, it is no surprise that the Earth and all Her creatures are at the bottom – She is objectified, a “thing” to be conquered and controlled, as are women.

    Supposedly, we have made great strides since the Great Chain of Being was taken as law. Unfortunately, I don’t think we have. With the Chain comes the conqueror mentality, in which, as Dr. Holden says of the conqueror, “that which he renders invisible, his actions work to banish in fact.” By objectifying the ecosystems and rendering them invisible, the conquerors are justified (in their minds) in taking what they want. Once again, the Earth is a “thing” to be bent to man’s will. In taking what they want (rather than what they need), they destroy entire communities (not just human ones, but also those of the plants, animals, and the very soil itself).

    We can’t just take what we want. If we followed the ways of the indigenous people, we would take what we needed to survive and nurture the environment, which would continue to provide all that we need. We have to have a system of reciprocity – not just between humans, but with the very Earth that gives us life.

    I love Vandana Shiva’s “no patents on life” campaign. Unfortunately, most people don’t see the environment as a living organism. Again, it is a “thing” to be manipulated. If we viewed the Earth as a living entity, then we wouldn’t even need such a campaign. Everyone would take care of all life, as we should.

    • Hi Kim, thanks for your comment. You have made some excellent points about the dominator mentality, objectification and hierarchy. One thins that is sad about the idea of the Great Chain of Being is that if the image were the web or circle of being, there would be an honoring of the magnificence of life.
      I think, unfortunately, humans can “take what they want”– in the short term, and in some circumstances– which unfortunately, can lead to blindness with respect to long term and inevitable consequences.
      I appreciate your logic and your compassion in joining the refusal to call lives “things” that can be patented and thus owned for the sake of making a profit on them.

  126. To me the concept of “discovery and conquest” sums up the epitome of a major flaw that is present in our society today – a sense of entitlement so strong that it disregards other life and the planet on which we live. I find it arrogant to think that, just because we have a physical power over a particular organism or ecosystem, we have the right to overrule and destroy it as we please. This has proved true of humans in regards to the ethical treatment of animals, the ecosystem, other people in colonizing countries and our own counties, and often with our peers. I see this notion present in my everyday life all of the time – this sense of entitlement to conquer and destroy something, simply because a person can.

    I love the idea of a “no patents on life” campaign. Instead of wanting to control, conquer, and/or destroy what we, as humans, find, it seems to make more sense to aim to live in harmony with what we discover. The way to a more peaceful planet may be paved with notions of respect and less ownership of other life. I particularly liked the quote: “There is the further question of who owns something derived from an ecosystem– something created and sustained by other life.” This reminded me that, while a person may “discover” something previously unknown, that thing has a history that is independent of the discoverer. For that, the discoverer should respect it for it exists and thrives without the intervention and contact of us as humans or as another culture/race. As stated in the article, it would benefit us to learn from the things we discover and live in harmony with them, rather than control and destroy them. I believe we would be more connected to nature, the Earth, and each other.

    • Arrogant to say the least, is this sense just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should. We can genetically modify organisms and claim power over the planet and its resources without regard for the environmental damage we inflict, but it is unethical for us to do so.

      Just because we can plant a seed and that seed can grow into a plant doesn’t mean that we “created” the plant and therefore should never be allowed to claim a patent on it. The seed will create that plant, not us, and nature created that seed, again, not us.

      It would benefit all of us to realize this undeniable fact, but humans are short-sighted and see the monetary benefit they can quickly gain instead of the societal and cultural benefit that we all would gain now and for our future generations. Greater realization of this would create ever greater connections to each and everything around us.

    • I think you have an essential point in the problems with our sense of entitlement, Amanda!

  127. I see humans, specifically those living in dominator patriarchal societies as a type of parasite. A parasite is defined as an organism living off of and at the expense of another, typically larger, organism. The parasite offers nothing in return for this benefit other than pain and suffering to the host organism. The human parasite reproduces at a faster rate than the host, in this case our planet. We are destroying it at an alarming rate without giving it enough time to heal or recover from this harm. If this continues unabated this parasitic relationship will morph into a parasitoid relationship which leads ultimately to the death of the host organism.

    A parasitoid relationship is unavoidable at our present trajectory: world population just topped 7 billion and sees no “plateauing” in sight. The more we consume of the planet, the quicker we hasten our own defeat. Sadly, this points indeed to the blindness of the conquerors of nature. To reword President John F. Kennedy’s famous quote, we ‘ask not what we can do for our planet, but what our planet can do for us’. In this illogical line of reasoning we see miss the fact that if not for nature in the first place we wouldn’t even be able to survive. The air we breathe, water we drink, and soils we use are all unsurprisingly filtered to the perfect level that we require. We look past this or through this and completely miss it, disrespecting the wonderful beauty that is inherent in the harmony of it.

    Living unsustainably with the take, take, take attitude and imposing a hierarchy upon nature in which humans consider themselves more than it is flawed. We think we ‘discovered’ nature and resources to be put to use for us when nature actually spawned us. When one considers themselves greater than their creator the result is never positive.

    • It does feel like humans have been kind of like a parasite. It is a very interesting perspective. I do feel like we have become very parasite like but I do believe that there is some redemption. If we actually bring people up economically and spread resources around population starts to level out like in India. the population is leveling down because of the eduction that people are getting. Now it is more beneficial to have only one child as oppose to many, financially. An educated person can make more than several uneducated people. Thus it is better to have one educated child than several uneducated children.

    • I like the way you explained human relationship with the planet. You labeled humans as a parasite living off a host. The parasite keeps using more and more from the host until the host has no more to give and eventually the host dies. This is true; if humans don’t figure out how to live in harmony and respect this planet that spawned our lives then we will end up destroying this great blessing that is our planet.

  128. I agree wholeheartedly that a lot of people in dominator patriarchal societies are parasites; that is a great descriptive term! We need a symbiotic relationship, not a parasitic one. We have to learn to cultivate (for want of a better term!) a relationship with the Earth and all her blessings, rather than sucking the life out of her. Indigenous peoples learned when to leave a field fallow so the earth could regenerate the resources contained therein, and we really need to take a long hard look at how we take the resources without taking care of the Earth in the interim. I think this is why people are really pushing genetically modified foods. They know we can only take from the planet for so long before there is nothing left to take, so they want to make sure they are prepared for shortages. The thing is, if we all disappeared from the planet, the Earth wouldn’t miss us. She would heal herself and be as she was before we started our parasitic relationship with her (if you can call it a relationship, as I tend to think of relationships as 50/50, and that is definitely NOT the case in this instance).

    I think the word “discovery” is misleading. When people say they’ve “discovered” a new species, people think it just cropped up. That is not the case. The species has been here for who knows how long, and has survived because it hasn’t been exploited, overmined, clearcut, or any other number of euphemisms for what is really going on: the rape of the Earth.

    • And then there is that twisted sense of discovery linked with Manifest Destiny, in which colonials claim to have “discovered” an empty land–or a land soon to be empty as the “backward” people there are swept away by the hand of “fate”.

  129. The issue that I like about this article was that it did address one of the issues of “Discovering” something. There does seem to be an association between discovering and conquering. The idea is that if I don’t control it is not a part of me and if I discovery it then it either with me or against me. The example of the Native Americans of the Willamette valley was a perfect example. They did not live in the kind of houses that the settlers did. They were not a part of them and were seen as something that needed to be controlled. One way that they could control them was to destroy them. That is what a lot of the settlers wanted, but the Government wanted to control them a different way and that was through the reservation system. The reservation system was only an increase in the discovery and conquering Mentality in my opinion. This way the Native Americans could be separated from the settlers and not be a part of the area.

  130. Its sad to think back at all that has been lost to this type of thinking. Entire cultures and ways of thinking have been lost in the process of war, and all that remains are the notes left by the conquerors that they destroyed something at some spot. Hopefully humanity as a whole can begin to move away from this mindset and preserve what still remains.

    • Let’s hope so, indeed.
      And perhaps there is more left that we might expect, as indicated by the cultural resurgence delineated by Charles Wilkinson in The People are Dancing Again.

  131. It crazy to me that the Native Americans land was viewed as a “waste”; only because the they didn’t do things like the whites. Their houses were viewed as “huts”. Therefore that gave a senator the right to label these people as insignificant, and remove them from the land. Early settlers were so ignorant in labeling the natives as insignificant. The natives helped the early settlers by teaching them to live off the land and saved them from starvation. Still the natives got no respect. It would have been great if the early settlers put their conquest on hold to take the time and discover a partnership with the Native Americans. Now in modern times, our conquest over the American landscape is over, we must attempt to re discover what made the Native Americans so great before they were labeled as insignificant and removed from the land. Possibly we can have a positive conquest to heal America from environmental destruction and practice the native ways of sustainability and partnership with the planet.

  132. I am disgusted by the things that the whites did to the native Americans. Saying things like that the Indians didn’t occupy the land because to occupy it would be to start a mining operation or other similar enterprise, it is absurd to me. It is amazing because of things like this it was deemed ok to remove the natives from their land because they were wasting it.

    • I agree the white people have treated the Native Americans so unfair and also look what they did to the blacks by enslaving them. Look how they treated their own women. Yes humanity has also been cruel to its own kind as well as the natural world. Very sad and I hope that peoples mind sets will change to love one another like brothers and sisters and to treat the natural world with love and nurture.

    • And…we celebrate Christopher Columbus who “discovered” America and “conquered” the land. In reality, the land was already populated with indigenous people and had been visited by the Norse prior to his arrival. His definition of conquering the land is today defined as genocide. This still does not make any sense to me, and I most certainly was not taught in school about how that natives died at the hands of soldiers, either by sword or disease.

      • Good point, Kristy. Many native people are horrified at the celebration of this man– as well we might all be if we read any of his journal indicating how he got native people to do his bidding as slaves by cutting off their hands if they did not.

  133. There are a lot of ideas to consider in this essay.

    I have had a small personal experience with “what is it” versus “what we would make of it” since I moved to Oregon. My husband and I enjoy exploring our new home state. We try to get out for a good hike once or twice a month. Our first hikes were beautiful, but limited – something I didn’t realize until later. We would hike to the halfway point, have a snack, hike back and then check the time. How long did it take this weekend? Two years ago I began volunteering as a naturalist and taking classes about Oregon flora and fauna. This fundamentally changed our hiking experience. Binoculars, cameras, and hand lens are packed in the knapsacks now. We go on a three mile hike and are out for three hours, seeing what is around us. I cannot call these hikes workouts anymore, but we get more enjoyment out of them now.

    The reduction of private homes and business to something less than they are so that the homes and businesses can be razed still happens under the guise of eminent domain. If I can make it sound like you live in a shack, that you are not using the property to its fullest and that I can do something better with it, I may a chance at taking your property and making it mine. You can’t stand in the way of “progress.”

    The last thing I want to touch on is the statement about “seventeen ecosystem services priced at $33 trillion a year…” As a country we seem unable to value something unless it has a price tag. If you want an issue to gain interest attach a dollar amount. Some species of bats in North America are being decimated by a fungal disease called white nose syndrome. A percentage of people may care about the issue simply because animals are being killed. Others may care after they find out the benefits that bats provide humans, and still others may be uninterested until they learn that the economic value of these bats to the agricultural industry may be as high as $53 billion per year ( ,

    Changing the culture of a company, large or small, is a long and painful process. Changing the cultural values of a nation could take too long.

    • Excellent example of the different information that comes from looking at the world in slower and more patient detail! As you say earlier and I concur more than once on this site, we really need a critical definition of “progress”.
      The crises with respect to bats is a great tragedy– and are you point out, there are different ways of looking at this, including the huge financial loss entailed. But as one of your classmate’s put it, it is important to look at our fellow creatures as having intrinsic value rather than having merely value to ourselves that we can price.

  134. I totally agree with you that today the conquering mindset is running ramped in our world today. When new things are discovered through science you have everyone thinking of how they can benefit from it and how they can make money no matter what the cost is. Even if they are destroying a whole ecosystem they really don’t care or are they just blind. I agree it’s like they have near-sightedness they only care about what is here and now not about future generations to come. I love your idea of discovery as meeting and mutual learning rather than overrunning the ones who we share our world with. That is how everyone should think because after all we are all equal no one is above another so why are we treating other people and the natural world like they are objects? You are right if we are blind to nature then how will this help our survival?

  135. For years I have heard the phrase, Veni, Vidi, Vici. This essay is completely right, under a conquest point of view, Vidi should not be part of the phrase. Many native peoples have been completely wiped out because explorers/conquerers did not actually “see” anything. Of course pioneers preferred native land. These native peoples had worked their land for thousands of years. They had lived in harmony with their surroundings and manipulated nature to produce more of a bounty. If the land hadn’t been cultivated for so long by native peoples, it wouldn’t have been as desirable. I wonder how much history would have changed if pioneers had been more open to native techniques and views. I don’t think that technology is a bad thing. It makes humans human, we have always been working at creating and using tools. The discover system is silly, if you discover it, you have the right to exploit it.

    • Could thought about the conquerors not really seeing at all what they came upon, Holly. The “I discover it, I get to exploit it” system, as you point out, is silly.
      We wouldn’t be human, as you also say without tools– but how we use our tools is something to consider in our creations. Thanks for your comment.

  136. I guess what scares me the most about the “discover and conquer” attitude is what happens now there is nothing left to be find and dominate. Throughout history different civilizations have taken over neighboring cultures on the pretense of their way of life being superior. Now in the present day world we have a word for that being genocide, and although looked down upon by modern cultures, these massacres still take place.

    Ethnic cleansing is not considered politically correct by our standards, but there are other ways to conquer a nation. Right now corporations are assuming control by taking ownership of natural resources like food and water. These are resources that are essential for humans survival. I think Vandana Shiva summed it up with her “no patents on life” campaign. When you have countries like India patenting basmati rice and neem, and Monsanto patenting the soy bean here, then it get’s scary. What happens when people know longer have the right to grow their own foods without buying seeds from corporations that owns the patent on it?

    With over 6 billion people on the earth the new attitude should be manage and sustain. There are enough resources left to feed everyone, but only if the power is in the hands of the people and not corporations. The way to stop companies like Monsanto is by not purchasing their products. Support local farmers and vote for politicians that have the same values. One person can start a revolution in the right direction.

    • I agree with you that now since the land is more or less divided and “discovered” where does this mindset go? Because the “discover and conquer” mindset is so devouring it seems as if it will never stop and so it goes to resources and the last thing not claimed by people: the ocean. We are at this moment going to war over oil in the middle east with the goal to conquer to be able to maintain our rights of extracting oil over there. There also seems a small reversal within the conquering mindset that says, “we conquer by having the resources and selling them to you who do not have the means or the resources”, I argue globalization is the new form of colonization. An example: India is one of the countries in desperate need of fresh water for their people. As the land becomes more arid, as water tables drop, rivers become polluted and as lakes turn into salt marshes some of the poorest people on the earth are in desperate need for fresh water. Here in Alaska we have an abundance of fresh water systems from glacier and snow melt. The town of Sitka is said to have such an abundance of fresh water that they are looking to sell it to nations for a price. The questions I have with this is, what right does a city or state have to sell natural resources? Water should be free…where do we get the idea that we “own” it and so can freely sell it for a price to people who are in need of it? A student earlier up discusses the aspect of price, that we put a price on everything. I blame that the historical notion of “discover and conquest” mixed with free-market economics and capitalization has bred us to put a price on everything, even the stuff that should be free, like water. But by selling and transporting the water from Sitka to India, India becomes conquered by their need for water to allow their peoples to live. Do we own them now because they have paid or are paying for the water? Do we know have leverage over them in case a political transaction goes bad? What truly is the cost of water and how is this assessed? And what right does Sitka have to sell it to them?

      • Corporate Watch (see our links page) has a campaign specifically directed to stopping the consolidation of water resources into the hands of multi-nationals. This is a very serious problem, not limited to third world countries: Nestle was recently stopped from buying up a Florida water source to bottle up and sell. This community stopped them by changing the laws of local water ownership– and the need for community approval to see such rights. It is tragic when third world communities with limited power are subject to pressure to sell the resources they need to live.
        And the laws are different everywhere, so I don’t know the answer for Sitka, but see if the Corporate Watch site has anything useful for you.

        • Thank you Dr. Holden. I will take a look at this website and I am glad to hear that Nestle was stopped. Their amount of destruction to our environment is huge and I feel they need to start becoming accountable for their actions. I am sure you have seen this but if not the documentary “Flow – For Love of Water” is really good.

        • Flow is a great film: Annie Leonard, maker of the film “The Story of Stuff” also has a brief film, “The Story of Water”– linked on our links page.
          Nestle was stopped in this one effort, but evidently is still going at it on several fronts in its attempts to buy up the world’s water. This buying up of water by multi-national corporations is something we need to attend to!

    • It is scary that so many resources (not to mention, lives of many species, including humans) have been gobbled up by those with this attitude– lives we care about and resources we all need to survive. I hope we can alleviate that fear by learning to behave differently. Thanks for your comment.

  137. The question I have is, “how do we change a mindset that has always been such”? History does not illustrate very many civilizations being formed through the synergism of two unique cultures, but rather through the power and domination of one culture over another. This is not just seen in the Western world but also through the Indigenous of the America’s as well and through the tribes of Africa. At the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza there is a wall with skulls etched on the stones, illustrating those who have been conquered and given as sacrifice to the gods. I do not wish to sound as if I am defending this mindset, but I wonder if such a mindset is inherit with humans. If we do not have a historical example of another way of going about things then how can we compare? How do we change a mindset that is set?

    • Stratified societies (hierarchical ones divided into classes) have this mindset indeed: this includes empires everywhere– in Africa, the ancient Middle East and Central and Latin America–and too often in modern industrial societies. As soon as any society sees any lives as “objects” to be utilized for their benefit, violence ensues.
      I do not think this is inherent in human nature: I do think we are capable of vast goodness AND vast tragedies– I like what Igbo (African) Nobel Laureate said, that no culture is perfect, but some are better than others at “fighting the human instincts of self-destruction”. I would say most humans are not working very hard on that task in the current day. Not as hard as the Ju’Wasi of South Africa (to which every human on earth is related genetically– the one culture to which we are all genetically linked– evidence that we became human in this context). The Ju’Wasi work a few hours three days a week and spend the rest of the time telling stories and songs and performing dances with which they express their paramount job of getting along together.

  138. Unfortunately there will always be inherent greed among humans. There will be those who feel that they are superior in knowledge or right and will continue to feel that “conquering” entitles them to destruction of what they don’t understand or value. I think the only thing we can really do is continue to live our lives as examples, and continue to fight for what we believe is right. I personally feel that we should remember our own history of genocide as well as that of the world. If we ever hope to see change, we must deal with the hard facts of what has happened in the past, admit what happened, and vow to change things in the future. With education lies hope.

    • And I like what Chinua Acebe (Nigerian Nobel Prize Winner) once said– there are no perfect cultures, only those good at fighting the human instincts of self-destruction. So let’s get to it– greed is such an instinct if ever there was one. And arrogance along with the loss of memory you indicate we need to remedy here are right there along with greed.

    • I don’t think greed is inherent but derives from particular cultural and/or physical situations. Thanks for your comment. Such terrible violence is of concern to all of us as part of our human potential– which is why we should work against the conditions that create it.
      Here is a copy of the response I just posted to Michelle on this same point:
      I do not think this is inherent in human nature: I do think we are capable of vast goodness AND vast tragedies– I like what Igbo (African) Nobel Laureate said, that no culture is perfect, but some are better than others at “fighting the human instincts of self-destruction”. I would say most humans are not working very hard on that task in the current day. Not as hard as the Ju’Wasi of South Africa (to which every human on earth is related genetically– the one culture to which we are all genetically linked– evidence that we became human in this context). The Ju’Wasi work a few hours three days a week and spend the rest of the time telling stories and songs and performing dances with which they express their paramount job of getting along together.

  139. Greed, hubris and ignorance factored into play when humans attempted to dominate and destroy the American Indigenous People and we continue to do the same to the environment that they so selfishly killed for. I realize that a dominator mindset is not exclusive to the United States, yet the destruction to our natural resources (air, soils, water, flora & fauna) is pretty difficult to ignore. The euro settlers lost out on the empirical knowledge that the natives had to offer. If we keep destroying our environment, we will lose out (or continue to lose out) on what the natural world has to offer.
    I live in a working class area of the mid-west where the average the perspective is natural resources are for man’s consumption and science will make everything okay and as long as I don’t see the landfill or power plant (the NIMBY approach) then no, harm no foul. This is an attitude I find stemming from ignorance. Ignorance we might change through education, greed, well, I am not so sure how we throttle that. I’m hopeful knowing that some people today are getting informed, becoming aware of the crisis at hand and becoming part of the solution. It just seems to me, sometimes, that modern mankind has been falsely wired to compete, driven to win and conquer at any cost; it’s like a bad virus we can’t shake

    • I am hopeful that information is being spread on these issues as well, Scott. And as for greed, we might at least stop the disincentives for doing the right thing (so-called “perverse subsidies)–and here is a link to a trend in current social science research that indicates generosity has evolutionary benefits as well as moral ones. This implies what I believe– that arrogance and greed are taking a step backward from our basic humanity:

    • Scott,
      I also keep thinking as I read the article and the comments here that we are just a greedy nation and built on consumption. If consumption is down that is a negative thing. Our country is built off of us taking more from the land, creating more, and buying more. How can we possibly change this when every day we hear about the consumer index and where it is. Spending is up good, conservation is up bad. This trend is what we’re built from and it will take a lot to change that.

      • Good point. As long as we see our economic well being as geared to consumption (and that is contrary to conservation), we are in trouble as far as designing and implementing sustainability goes.

  140. In this essay “Mixing Discovery and Conquest: A Recipe for Destruction” there is an interesting point here that brings up many issues on ownership. When Europeans came to America they wanted to own everything that seemed of value and the people who lived here could not understand this when it came to nature and land .The people knew it was not possible to own growing trees, plants, rivers and such and did not take the crazy Europeans serious. Sadly conquering people did buy and sell and still do day, with no thought of preserving. But now it is not just nature and land but also humans them self can be bought and sold. To exploit the world is not a positive thing.
    This essay tells of how Vandana Shiva has introduced a “no patents on life” campaign. Which states discoverers can neither own nor lock up from others the use of what they “discover” for it is part of a living ecosystem. She has been introducing this in her country to fight the conquering company Monsanto who are trying to do this with seeds. Dr. Shiva says “The future of our world depends on how we steward our land, soil, water, and seeds, and pass them on to future generations. “ I understand what people like Dr. Shiva see for our future if we change and if we do not, but what do people like Hugh Grant president and chief executive officer of Monsanto Biotechnology Company see for our future and does he care?

    • Hi Colinda, thanks for tying this essay in to Shiva’s important no patents on life campaign– and giving us this particular link to her site (which is also on our links page here).

  141. Murder will always be murder and we sit upon it and wonder why they did it. Rape will always be rape and we will sit upon it and how could they? In the conquest to overpower another civilization, both the act of rape and murder run rampant throughout a conquest, and both sides view the other as more insignificant.

    But I guess the point here is not the inherent evils of the world, is it? It is not about greed, or the nature of human beings, it is about the “No patent with the Natural World” about changing the mindset, that a few others have pointed out, has been around for centuries. What incentive will the people in charge of this have? Will it only be to protect natural world and to see the world as a partner? Or will there be a catch? Some people have pointed out that we have a “virus to compete” – a sickening problem that is not something we can get rid of., well I agree. Or maybe it is the sickening problem that most people do not want the change and that there is the hardest type of behavior to change.

    To get scientists to rid themselves of the greed of exploiting their discoveries for fame runs rampant among society. Here is the thing, if there was a petition to sign for this, I would sign it because I do believe in it, I may not believe in humanity but I guess you can safely say I’m a pessimist in that area. I would hope that people would be able to simply see the natural world as something they are a part of and not above which is the point of this article. In addition and in relation to your comment above on Kristy’s and michelle’s, it is most likely the truth that the people who care do not work hard enough to implement change.

    • What do you make of the fact that there were human cultures in the world in which there was no word for rape, since it was literally inconceivable? It seems we have inherited some very dangerous things from the practice of conquest. As you point out, we can hardly work too hard to change these.
      I have not seem this idea of a “virus to compete” — but I do know that there is more and more research being done on the evolutionary benefits of cooperation and generosity (e.g. I can only hope we humans are not taking ourselves backwards in this respect!

  142. It is interesting how we see these things as almost invisible or dispensable until they are gone. We didn’t realize how important beavers were to us until we almost killed them all. We are going the same with forest and especially with rivers and water. Too often we just think about what we want and what we need and disregard the consequences it has on others. It is an interesting point that once we discover something it is ours to do with what we wish. A few years ago I remember there was a new fishery opening up and the fishers wanted to fish as much as they could because it was not proven that there was a limited supply of these fish. On the other hand regulators wanted to set limits on fishing until studies could be done to assess how big the population is and how much fishing it could sustain. There is obviously a limited supply on our resources. I hate the idea that once we discover something it’s ours to use as much as we want or how we see fit. Not everything was put on this earth to feed our consumption.

    • You have just made another argument for the precautionary principle: we need to get used to viewing our world as limited and fragile and exerting care (rather than a get-as-much-as-you-can-before-it-runs-out approach) BEFORE we face such losses.

    • The other questions to ask, is why? Why do we proceed in such a careless manor? Why cannot we not live in unity? Why is it our instinct not to? A mention of the precautionary principle has been noted by Professor Holdem’s comment below (or above) because you mention the part about the fisheries. My question is, when will we employ this prinicple on a large scale? When will it be uncommon again to see people destroying the land? I guess, like the other article in the final lesson, “caring-and-forecaring-watching-over-the-commons,” we should never quit dreaming of a world where we treat nature as one.

      • Good questions that evince the frustration you (and many) feel when we are not doing the right thing that is clearly laid out in front of us–and so imperative in the face of things like the massive cancer epidemic.
        I do think this is not a matter of “instinct”– since there are so many that share your frustration and many cultures in which the precautionary principle is rooted. What we need to ask rather is, what is it about our particular social and economic and political arrangements that stand in the way of getting these thing done– then we need to remove the obstacles.
        And whereas it is important to hold to our visions, instituting the precautionary principle is more than a “dream”– since it is law not only in the EU, but in some municipalities in the US. I find it heartening that the latter communities have simply decided to act on their own– whether or not the federal government does. However, if enough local areas do institute the precautionary principle, the federal government may finally follow suit.

  143. When Alexander Henry “declared the Willamette Valley Kalapuya a wretched and homeless lot who lived out under the trees” I wonder if he realized the effect his words had on the Kalapuya people or on the Williamette valley based on his limited initial observation. Why is it that politicians treats initial reactions as authoritative when human experience proves time and again that while our first observation is strongest, it may not be the most informed?

    • Thoughtful point, Justin. Substantial changes can take place when one lives next door to another–and depends on them for survival. But for that to happen, we also need some open mindedness.

  144. People should not be punished for wanting to live their own way, such as the people of Melos who were massacred. In the article, I believe it is unfair for the native villages and people to have their homes destroyed by burning. To me, the discoverer/conqueror’s blindness is equal to ignorance. In today’s world, it would be discrimination for people to say the Indians did not occupy their land because mining operations were not being done. We need to realize how sacred our lands are or else there won’t be sufficient resources for our well being. We also need to realize that respecting our environment will come back to us for our benefit. We must put in what we take out of it, or we will destroy everything that we need to sustain us because of carelessness and selfishness and the conqueror’s blindness. We need to stop categorizing and dividing up the world with these narrow mindsets so we can all benefit from our natural environment and co-exist together and create domination over everything. We can’t stop setting ourselves “above” nature. If we continue to do this, there’s only going to be negative consequences that result.

    • Thoughtful points, Shaylene. According to this perspective, it seem that both the “others” that should be allowed to “go their own way” thus entail both human and more than human lives, it seems.

    • Shaylene,

      I think that those of a dominator mindset might take the viewpoint that if we let everyone live their own way then they, the dominators, should be able to do as they please, as well. Even if this does involve killing and stealing, which they are obviously alright with. It is difficult to say hey everyone do what they want when not everyone has good intentions behind what they are doing. I do believe that we should all do what we want. I just wish we people would be kind enough to realize to “live and let live” actually translates to “live and let live with respect for other species and the environment”.


      • Thoughtful consideration here, Shaylene and Kelly: when the right to do whatever one wants interferes with the rights of life and livelihood of other lives, it seems to me this right no longer holds.
        That is, if carrying out my desires means oppressing you, I no longer have a right to enact those desires– since in a democratic society (or an ecological system), all must share the same freedom.

  145. I liked the view of this essay and the light it brought to the truth in conquest and discovery. The truth is, the two are not in the same. An neither, actually describe what has been done for years and years. Conquest is to be in search, which is how it always starts but it does not end in discovery, it ends in conquering and destruction. If it was discovery it would be a learning expedition. The people on the conquest would learn from their surroundings and the people they meet.

  146. The egalitarian societies of the indigenous peoples understood the values of the earth, understood the balances that maintained the land and their place in it. They understood the basic rights of each individual to the resources necessary for survival and that survival depended on nurturing the natural resources. Europeans ended up on this continent looking for an easier way to exploit the riches of the East. What they “discovered” was a vast continent of new riches to exploit. And so it goes today with corporations blindly taking what they want and destroying anything that is not profitable including the very things that maintain the riches that they seek.

    • It would concur that too much development follows along it the track of inherited values of colonialism, William. I think we might also consider that corporations do not always go about their work blindly– that is, they may be blind to the real value of what they destroy, but they may bring about such destruction with deliberation– as Perkins details in his book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, in which he relates the ways that “development” schemes intentionally get third world nations in debt so that they can be controlled by the debtors.

      • Yes, I suppose a more accurate wording of what I meant would be that “corporations taking what they want and blindly destroying…” and the whole thing is to control what they can and destroy what they cannot control in order to control us all too.

    • Well, I just realized that we cannot use the word ” discovered” because it is closer to conquering since european actually did not find new thing.
      Is the corporation always blindly taking what they want? Corporation sometimes bring very good opportunities even though “corporation” happen when they want to take over( or want to make a profit)from someone.

      • What would you propose as an answer to your own question as to whether corporations always take what they want? In a society that protects profit about all else, we certainly give corporations the license to do this with many tragic results.

  147. I am thrilled to hear a person, any person is making a request to eliminate people from getting a patent on something did not create, but discovered or stole from an other person.

    How can I sign on to the “No patents on life” campaign? This article brings back many memories of listening to the elders I was raised around speak of what the government was doing to keep them from using certain natural herbs that they have used for decades.

    I recall when I was in the 7th grade, we lived in Norther California and one of the tribes locally used bitter root for many things, and there was an issue raised at the local city hall about it. I was too young to undertand the issue or the overall situation, but I am happy to report they all still use bitter root to this day!

    • Danielle,

      While it is sad to think that generations have been fighting against patents for generations, it is really neat to hear that your elders have kept the conversation going and saved bitter root in your community! How lucky you are to be surrounded by people who care deeply about natural herbs and protecting their environment.

      • Bitterroot is such an important plant that is not only tasty but evokes so much history (as in the trade gatherings between those up and down the Columbia River as well as East and West of the Cascades).

  148. Just the other day I re-watched the documentary FLOW that talks about large corporations wanting to turn water into a private enterprise. In thinking about the quote, “I came, I saw, I conquered,” it seems that now more than ever “we ignore, we don’t ask, and we do whatever we want.” FLOW talked about this exact idea. This is not a healthy way of living and is bound to get us into trouble if we continue to live this lifestyle. Instead, if we want a healthy future that generations can enjoy we should be asking ourselves, “Where did this (resource) come from? How much do we need? How much is left? How can we preserve it?”

    • Important questions to ask about our usage once again, Rudy. When we stop asking them, we are indeed living an “unhealthy lifestyle” that puts future generations at risk.
      I would recommend FLOW to anyone who gets a chance to see it–and Annie Leonard’s brief “The Story of Bottled Water” as well.

  149. I have to wonder is it an honest blindness that these dominators and conquers embrace or is their perception of reality so skewed that they think harming another being is okay. Are these people truly unaware of their actions or are they just ignoring the blatant truth? In today’s world, even in ancient history, how could you possibly be so ignorant that you do not know to enslave, kill, rape, and to steal from another is wrong? I do not give people that much credit. I am so blown back by the fact that so many, throughout history, have just killed and oppressed without a second thought. I go back and forth on my standpoint on the questions I posed. I sometimes think, well maybe these conquers, really do not see the error of their ways, and they honestly believe in what they are doing. Other times, I think how could someone not see how a dominator viewpoint is primitive and unevolved? It is a struggle of mine to not get upset by the ignorance of others. I am not perfect but I know that I do not want to bring harm to another being or the precious earth. When will people wake up and embrace the beauty that life can bring, when people see that beauty in other people, even ones that are different than them, and nature?

    • Perhaps it is not an either/or answer to your original question but a mixture of both, Kelly: dominators have convinced themselves this behavior is justified–and blinded themselves to the repercussions of this.
      You have a powerful contrary stance in your own personal choice of relating to the world, Kelly.

  150. As I read this web essay I came up with a question. If we made partnership with the indigenous people instead of conquest their land what the history could have changed? I do not think that the discovery is the problem because we are always looking for something new to make better life. If we do not have any discovery we would not survive in this society as well. In the history, we often see that conquering has always been a part of the discovery. Well actually, the history books were written by winner (in this story, who had conquered). We cannot just take whatever we want and we cannot just someone push away from the land. We must have the reciprocity thinking and we share our idea/knowledge.

    • Thoughtful perspective, Tomoshiro. Enacting the ethics of partnership and reciprocity would certainly have changed our history–and where we are now as well.
      As your comment intimates, only taking from other humans or the land without giving back will not work- or work only in the short term.

    • I’ve always considered the quote, “I came, I saw, I conquered” to be the epitome of arrogance. What insecure person would feel the need to conquer at all? Why can’t the quote be, “I came, I saw, I revered”? This is similar to ‘not seeing’ as Professor Holden puts it, but why did those of Western historical roots feel the need to acquire what wasn’t theirs to begin with? This un-acceptance of diversity led to the obliteration of the Melians, Native Americans, and many others. Belief in the “you’re either with me or against me” viewpoint has led to countless murders and cultural loss. I, for one am with you that we should champion discovery, because we have to keep learning and can’t become stagnant, but conquest sets the species back.

      • I love your proposed substitution of “I came, I saw, I conquered”, with “I came, I saw, I revered”, Trent!
        We do indeed need to keep learning, but as you point out, tying this to conquest only “sets our species back”–and I would argue that this is a form of ignorance rather than learning.

      • First, I don’t consider someone insecure for conquering anyone. Past wars have been fought to secure resourses to provide for thier families and protect thier families. Other wars have been got to gain technology from others or gain alliances. To relate this to current times i don’t understand the insecurity of today’s consumers. The quote can also be “I came, I saw, I bought” Any time a new technology comes out people rush out to buy it than complain there a bugs and things wrong with it, video games, cell phones, I pad and 3d TVs are good examples. Than people that don’t have the new technology want it and steal and kill for them. Me personally I’ll wait till the price drops on the new technology and for the initial bugs to be fixed.

        • It seems to me that wars “to secure resources” must have insecurity at their base. Would they be fought, that is, if we truly felt security in providing for our families and resources?
          There is much to consider in your re-phrasing, “I came, I saw, I bought”– since much colonized land was “bought” from indigenous peoples even though they refused to sell. The tradition of pricing everything leads readily into current consumerism.
          Seems like a sound idea to wait to utilize a new technology until after the bugs have been worked out– in the case of new computers and programs, for instance.

    • I agree, partnering with the indigenous cultures would have changed things greatly. I personally think that partnership would have been a two way street. Often we are caught thinking romantically about the past and indigenous cultures. Their way was not perfect, but it was better than A LOT of things we did. It would have been nice to have seen reciprocity go in both directions; We could have seen their relationship with the environment possibly mix with the current technological advancements. It seems our culture is trying to head in that direction, but it would have been nice if that change had started hundreds of years ago.

      • I do find it heartening that it least it is happening now: never smart (nor certainly good science) to throw out all the data and points of view that might broaden your perspective.
        We need some expanded thinking– and, as you indicate, some bridges between difference ways of thinking, especially taking note of those that are meticulously place-based.

  151. I think that our history has proven that discovery and conquest shouldn’t be paired together. During the colonization from Dutch and Spanish once they found new land (discovered) they believed all its land and contents belonged to them. I think that the precautionary principle can and be should in all aspects of life. Often people do things without thinking of consequences.

    • Too often true that things are done without considering the consequences– ideas like that of Manifest Destiny seem like a direct attempt to ignore those consequences.

  152. It is ironic that we tend to destroy the things we want so much. We wanted the land that beaver dams freed up, but we nearly killed off the beaver. We loved to hunt, so much in fact that we decimated the herds of deer and elk in North America so that only a few thousand remained in the early 1900s. Thankfully we are starting to learn the error of our ways, but at what cost? We are still letting companies like BP and Shell influence our government so that they can drill for oil in some of our wildest areas. We are still trying to “occupy” the land even after all of our misdirected follies. We still live in a culture where domination is a part of everyday life. Small companies are bought out by bigger companies to get a better handle on the market. Certain civilizations still invade other countries for oil opportunities, food markets, or “religious right.” We’ve been around for thousands of years and we are still making the same mistakes.

    • I don’t remember if you responded to the essay “A Dangerous Reverence” here, Jeremy, which makes precisely the point you do in this comment: that when we idealize something, we tend to destroy it (since we don’t really recognize it for its reality and limits, but see it only according to what we want from it).
      Unfortunately, corporate money drives all too much research these days, witness the recent discoveries that big pharmaceutical companies were not only faking research– but even coming out with a pseudo-peer- reviewed publication which was not discovered as a fake medical journal until it had been published for a year.

  153. I have a hard time understanding why land needs to be taken and privatized. Indigenous people do not understand this either. I truly like the idea that things should be open and the idea of no patents on life is great. It is said many times in the article that those who came and conquered were blind, to me it seems as if the blindness continues when fences are put up. I have hope that this mindset may slowly be changing as I see more community gardens cropping up.

    • Community gardens are a great alternative to fences that blind us to what is on the other side, Kim. Thanks for your comment!

    • I agree with your comments on fences. It seems that we not only disconnect ourselves socially from other humans, but the natural world itself. We see boundaries at all levels of life from federal wall projects to individual homeowner lots. Boundaries are not just physical as well. What kind of a world would we have if these boundaries did not exist?

      • Indeed, what kind of a world would we have if these boundaries did not exist– or perhaps if we followed the place-based boundaries of bioregionalism instead. That is, we saw ourselves according to our belonging within an ecosystem rather than according to the separation of that system from others?

  154. The line, “I came, I didn’t see, and I conquered,” illustrates the blindness of some men. Therefore there is no respect, no understanding or learning taking place. Although this attitude demonstrates physical strength and progress, it is limiting to man in the spiritual sense of compassion. The “dominator” line of thought would seem to indicate a personal battle between an individual and others around him. Thus anyone getting in the way would be considered insignificant, irrelevant or even an enemy. Not a very cooperative way to live or survive. I would say, just because you can conquer does not mean you should.

    The Western worldview of conquering undiscovered lands seems to have come to an end. Our ability to progress may depend upon how well we cooperate with one another.

    • Thoughtful points, Chris– how would you define the idea of “progress” expressed by the marriage of discovery and conquest? You imply a very different idea of progress in your last statement.
      I think you are right about the competition between individual set up by the dominating worldview.
      And one might remember that not only is it true that one should not do everything (including conquer) because one can, in fact, looking at history, one can only conquer for a short period of time, as egalitarians societies outlast empires many times over.

    • Chris I really like your last point. I find it interesting that in the Western worldview that to conquer and affix your beliefs was considered righteous and affirmed by your religious view, even if it meant killing or subjugating those that opposed you and your beliefs in the name of religion. Maybe as we continue to open our eyes and mind we will learn that to cooperate will be a better means than to kill, or destroy in the name of conquest becasue truly that time is now over.

    • Your comment, “just because you can conquer doesn’t mean you should” really nailed it for me. I agree with what you say about men being blind, and it seems they get that way by selfish ambitions to prove something that doesn’t bring any good to others or the world. Men who have tunnel vision to reach only those selfish, self-promoting goals have no problem running over or through those who don’t agree. Either you agree with them, and you’re safe, or you disagree with them and are exposed to their relentless mission to conquer or, arguably the worst of all, you are deemed “insignificant.”

  155. When you look back at the illogic of historical conquest of any civilization, the amount of knowledge and wisdom that gets eradicated is sad. When the Spanish friars decided that the Mayan text needed to be burnt in order to manipulate, educate, and cleanse the “savages” we lost millennia of astrological, ecological and historical data. Today not only have civilizations be conquered but so have ecosystems. The fact that the conqueror destroys that which creates the very things he favors make no real sense at all we have continual witnessed its occurrence. Our short term outlook is one of the greatest problems facing our modern conquest of nature. Whether it is mineral extraction, or hydrocarbon removal, we can see the many tarnished landscapes left in their depleted wake.
    The “here, and now” has been the prevailing thought since European Americans took ahold of the continent and its great wealth of resources. People have reaped many monetary benefits from this discourse, made many great advances, but have also left quite the path of destruction too. Today, the “no patents on life” is a very important concept that we should look at very closely. The pharmaceutical and industrial agriculture businesses, are modern day conquers that are poised to “Veni, Vidi, Vici” at all costs. We need to assure that we have learned from past mistakes and not allow the exploitation of common resources especially those in developing countries to occur. Protection of our living ecosystems and changing our worldview will be important as our world is changing around us. Failure to adapt could have dire consequences.

    • We also lost a natural library among the Aztec, when the conquerors destroyed their extensive collections of living birds along with all the written records that they burned.
      You make a good point that the conquering mentality does not limit itself to one dimension of behavior– it conquers ecosystems as well as other humans. We certainly have a system that needs re-calibrating when it rewards those who destroy the ecosystems upon which all life depends.
      “No patents on life” goes hand in hand with protection of our seed sources. At some point we will simply conquer ourselves out of existence if we continue to ravage the basis of our own subsistence.
      Thank you for your comment.

  156. Interesting spin on “I came, I saw, I conquered.” I definitely agree that we can do nothing but learn from the mistakes immigrants made judging and controlling the native peoples. When we look back through the course of North American history beginning with the colonization of the European immigrants in the late 18th century, I think an issue that was far from being overcome at the time was societal change. When the immigrants considered the societal change that would take effect once they established themselves, they only considered the way their society lived. They thought they were among the most advanced, civilized societies and that the primitive people of the land could either assimilate and evolve to their status or be controlled, but in no way could they be compromised with. While reading this article, I was particularly taken back by the Kalapuya people who accommodated people arriving on the Oregon Trail. Do you think that if the roles had been vice versa (Kalapuya people arriving to the land of the immigrants) the outcome would have been the same? There was probably a lot of things about the native peoples that immigrants overlooked because they only viewed the natives as people standing in the way of furthering their own society.

  157. Thank you for including the link for “The Value of the World’s Ecosystem Services and Natural Capital” because I have been searching for this type of research for a while. The information in this link is vital to help enable understanding for those whose viewpoints are geared towards arrogant conquest by presenting an argument to include the financial viability of the natural world. If this information was common knowledge, there would surely be less degradation. Perhaps it is in the best interest of future generations to further educate people from all walks of life of the state of our earth, to address less-than-sustainable viewpoints which negatively affect the quality of natural resources on local and global scales, to promote “bless the land” attitudes through acts of partnership, and to very seriously consider the numerous benefits of healthy ecosystems. Although the benefits offered by the earth can be quantified, these assets are priceless. Natural resource enthusiasts should discover and conquer the endless opportunities to make a difference in this world.

    • I am glad this proved useful, John. It is too bad that this information is not more widely known–and it is great you will be helped to disseminate it.
      You are right that though we can quantify the benefits the earth offers us daily, these are priceless. This knowledge of value is important and also there is an additional point that we need to make those who deplete such services pay to replace them. Otherwise, some will not care about mistreating what they can get for free.
      Thanks for your comment.

  158. It was really good for me to see a historical context with this viewpoint, it really made me look at it with a deeper perspective because I was forced to notice the “arrive and conquer” mentality has spanned over thousands of years. The comment you made about NOT seeing what these men conquered as opposed to the age-old quote “I came, I saw, I conquered” is something i can really agree with. I think if people with the dominator mentality stopped to really look, really pay attention to what they were claiming as their own and what they were allowing to be destroyed, then they wouldn’d have destroyed it. To me, it follows the same lines as the concept that the only reason anyone could hate someone else is because they don’t understand them. Or the only reason someone could hurt someone else is because they don’t know them. It’s a similar case to the conquerors and the Kalapuya, or Caesar in his time. They didn’t take time to see what was in front of them, so they has no problem ruining it.

    • Thoughtful (and I think, hopeful) point that if conquerors looked fully at the lands and peoples they sought to control, they would change their behavior. Of course, it is difficult to see which came first: the destructive behavior or its justification in the failure to truly see what is being destroyed.
      There is much work done in psychology today on the links between destructive behavior and an “attachment disorder” that parallels the immoral behavior of those without an intimate connection to the world around them that underscores your point about our truly knowing another standing in the way of our harming him or her.

    • I like your sentiment that to know someone or something is to understand it. I wish that I could be optimistic about this kind of approach to our world. I think we would all be a lot happier if we could learn to observe and listen to others and nature instead of this hell bent attempt to rubber stamp it with what we think it should be. Unfortunately, I run across too many people who don’t want to know or understand because that would take effort on their part. This is clearly a lazy and insensitive attitude so why does it seem to prevail? Is it really so difficult to open yourself up and learn? Perhaps it’s this vulnerability that we are not all knowing of all things and all people that causes this mind set to flourish.

      • Lindsay –
        It is so funny that you mention the importance of vulnerability. I just watched an absolutely phenomenal TEDtalk on vulnerability and its importance in creating a happy, balanced, connected world. If you are interested, it is an absolutely amazing video – it seems to be really connected to many of the ideas we are discussing in class:

      • I think you are truly onto something in your statement on vulnerability– see the essay here on the importance of vulnerability in human cultures:
        Yet that is not a trait much honored in contemporary society.
        I hope you don’t give up your values just because you have encountered so many difficult people. You have an important job to do in planting the seeds of something different. Even if those you meet don’t seem to get it now, you are still planting important seeds.

  159. The sense of greed and waste on behalf of the early white settlers was appaling. To burn the homes of the native people because they wanted the land and then cast out these people who worked so hard to cultivate and cherish these lands, is quite disturbing. Didn’t the white men then just build their own homes on these very lands? It never ceases to amaze me how people refuse to see what is right in front of them. The native people clearly had occupied these lands, but the white settlers decided to ignore what they saw and instead claim these lands as their own, to occupy and do with what they saw fit, which was usually total destruction and degradation. All these early settlers saw was conquest and insignificant people who stood in their way, when in fact the opposite was true. The native people were carefully managing these lands in a sustainable way to ensure the survivability of their people and their way of life, not to conquer and destroy everything around them.

    • Thanks for sharing your compassion here, Jamie. Time to open our eyes if we expect a decent future for ourselves and for those with whom we share this earth.

  160. “Veni Vidi Vici”, this reminds me of the architect in another article, the one that wanted to “wipe the slate clean” for his building project. Discovery with a dominator attitude is indeed blind to that which they claim to discover. If the pioneers had approached the indigenous inhabitants with just a little humility they might have found what a rich and vibrant culture existed. This makes me think about each time I have read that a new super food or rare flower that may cure cancer has been “discovered” when in reality the native peoples already knew and valued these aspects of their homes. More importantly I really hope that Vandana Shiva’s “no patent on life” campaign succeeds for this very reason. I doubt the native peoples are benefiting from these “discoveries” and more than likely are being harmed by there extraction and removal. True discovery should be an act of personal humility because we are appreciating something new in our lives that enriches us and hopefully others.

    • Lindsay –
      You make an excellent point about the ‘discovery’ of the curative power of plants – it seems it is only recognized if there are patents pending and a way to bottle and mass produce some sort of drug (even though the Grandmothers’ warn that this is so much less effective than using the plants in their natural form). One of the things that really terrifies me about our late discoveries is the idea of how many of these potential cures we are missing because of vast deforestation. If we don’t take steps to ensure the protection of the environment, we will end up permanently losing the TEK that indigenous societies could teach us (if only we were listening).


    • Good connection between the stance in these two essays, Lindsay.
      I think the “no patents on life” campaign is a very important one for the environment and for justice.
      Thanks for reminding us that “extraction” is an artifact of conquest, not discovery.

  161. This conquerer organization of society reminds me a lot of the frontier economy. A frontier economy is one based on resource extraction, which seems compatible with our current, consumption based capitalistic society. In a frontier worldview nature is seen primarily as a storehouse of goods and, in a corollary image, as something to set oneself against, to master or dominate. In the early frontier times in the United States, progress was equated with subduing “savagery” (of both people and nature); in this vein, wilderness was conquered, civilization planted, wealth created, and progress insured. In this worldview racism, violence, and speciesism are central organizing principles of the white-European-American. One important theme, if I’m understanding the reading correctly, is that this worldview depends on the domination and mastery of nature by human beings.

    I wish that this structure was one we could look back on in horror, but as you point out, it continues to be seen in t-shirts, and is integral to our ideas of production and progress. This seems like a late frontier worldview – in which the frontier ethic is softened by social constraints. It is a story about frontier values mediated through progressive ideals. Conservation as applied to forests does not mean preserving them from exploitation, but pursuing a more prudent, efficient, and farsighted exploitation that carries the additional goal of maintaining the forests productive capacity for future generations. Hopefully we will be able to view nature as something different soon. If we cannot grasp the intrinsic value and embrace a precautionary principle, perhaps we can at least recognize the tremendous ecosystem services we are destroying and take steps to increase environmental protections.

    • Thoughtful historical overview of the worldview behind the “frontier” mentality, Anna–and the analysis of our contemporary society in which we try for a “more efficient and far-sighted exploitation” of our natural resources (and a most “far-sighted” exploitation of human workers in “outsourcing”?)
      Obviously, this system is broken and “far-sighted” or “prudent” exploitation only means prolonging the painful costs on humans and the natural environment resulting from this mentality. I like William McDonough’s metaphor here: we don’t need to be going 20 rather than 40 miles per hour in the wrong direction– we need to change directions.
      To be truly “prudent” and “far-sighted” it seems to me we must find real alternatives for exploitation as a method of operation. As you indicate, a first step in this direction would be to at least recognize what we are destroying in our recklessness.

  162. Very interesting and shows just how irresponsible we are in our blindness to all forms of life. I read the article on the European Union Proposal, which is dated 1997. I was disgusted with the thought that a patent has been approved on umbilical cord blood cells and they can be used without the ‘donors’ permission or knowledge:

    “Already, under the existing patent system, the European Patents Office has granted Biocyte, a US-based company, a patent on umbilical cord blood cells from foetuses and new-born babies. The patent gives the company complete control over the extraction and use of the cells and over any therapies developed in connection with them. The cells can be used without permission of the “donors”. The patent has been challenged by a wide range of medical and other groups. If the new Directive becomes law, however, the scope for future legal challenges will be severely curtailed, because the new law will explicitly allow such patents.”

    The law passed in 1998. In my research on this I found a summary of Directive 98/44, which is great because it breaks the law down for the everyday layperson and explains the definitions of the terms used; for example, “(a) ‘biological material` means any material containing genetic information and capable of reproducing itself or being reproduced in a biological system;” (

    After reading this law in full (there is a pdf version available on the aforementioned web site), I’m completely behind Vandana Shiva and her “no patents on life” campaign.

    • Thanks for your note about the date of this report: you would think we would get the point by now, yes? There is a book on Henrietta Lack’s breast cancer cells that were used extensively by researchers without her knowledge:
      I appreciate your following up the “no patents on life” campaign as it applies to umbilical cord cells.

      • Oh! I read about this in a previous class. The Lacks Family has a web site: The fact that Mrs. Lacks’ family still to this day has not been given compensation or acknowledgement of her unapproved contribution to the medical field is repulsive. You KNOW some scientist and his family is receiving royalties for the “discovery” of the HeLa cells.

    • How come medical science can use different body parts without the consent of the patient? This goes to show the greed of some of the sciences. They may want to look for a cure, but they should get consent from their patients. I don’t know if any of my family members have had parts of their cells or other body parts used for research, but I am thinking that is scarey and now I wonder about what doctors do with things after performing surgeries on people.

      • You are rightly indignant about taking body parts for use without consent, Mary. One thing you and your family can do is say (odd as it may seem) that if you are undergoing surgery, that you want all your body parts given back to you. Some folks already do this for religious reasons, and at least in Oregon, hospitals are required to ask whether patients want this by law.
        I find it sadder still that whole groups of indigenous peoples have had their genes used for such research without their knowledge or consent.
        We need to assert our power over the integrity of our own bodies– which would change things like contamination (as in “chemical trespass”) — perhaps even advertising of the female body to sell things?

      • I wonder the same thing, Mary, about what happens to a body part once it is removed after surgery. We have no idea what they really do with it. For instance, my son had half a lung removed and part of his small intestine and I have no idea what they did with those organs after removing them. I supposed they could have kept some of the cells for further research but we’ll never know.

  163. “I came and didn’t see what I destroyed” pretty much sums up the idea of white mans expansion, even as we expand today. We build strip malls and the same McDonald’s, Starbucks, or Walmart on nearly every block, wasting more land that could be utilized for natural life. We send suveyors to survey the land just to make sure it’s worth building on and if the land is not up to code, you find a way to make it that way. We are selfish in the way we are taught to utilize the land and people wonder why there is wildlife that show up their front door. My grandma told me that we should be stewards of life and to nuture it. Why not set aside land for a park so that people can see the beauty of nature or give some of the land back to the original owners?

  164. “I came and I destroyed what I didn’t see” pretty much sums it up as far how we handle all forms of life. Ever since white men have expanded their territories both in Eruope and in the United States, we lost sight of how fragile the balance of life is. We may learn in science what happens when we treat land a certain way, such as when we precede to build on wetlands like what they did in Tualatin (I lived there when I was younger and I know that some of the things they have built are sitting on wetland). We may utilize life in the laboratories but it doesn’t make any difference because it seems like the more we learn, the better we get about working around the ethical issues involved in what we do with life. My grandma taught that we were to be stewards of life, but we treat life as if we own when in actuality, we don’t.

    • I appreciate your anger on behalf of the lives lost and natural systems undermined by this process, Mary. I only hope that we can turn things around so that some day, you (or the next generation) will be able to say, “Look at this natural beauty where such ignorant devastation for the sake of a quick buck once reigned. Thank goodness our ancestors changed things!”

    • Yes, Mary, unfortunately some builders don’t really care about the wetlands. Here in Playa Vista a large builder wanted to wipe out the last of the wetlands in the area to build an apartment complex. The community was up in arms so they finally settled on building on a little of it and restoring what had already been damaged by what was built around it. Very sad. I agree with you that scientists are getting very good at working around ethical issues in regard to life in the laboratories.

  165. While it is sad that there is such a history of this domination, throughout the world, over nature and indigenous peoples, it is heartening that the European Union is beginning to take preventative actions. Their precautionary principle in their REACH program is evidence of this. If more nations would take these same precautions it could have great positive impacts on the environment.

    • It would be great if we assumed some leadership of the kind expressed in the REACH program– the data indicates that our cancer rates would fall substantially if we did so.

  166. Realizing that we have carried on this blindness for centuries is very discerning. I would think that as a society we could have progressed a bit more, and realize that we are destroying the roots of the deepy ground tree of our existence.
    The Idea that “a house is not a house unless a white man builds it,”angers me so much. A white man build a house for money, with greed and “progress” in his heart and mind, a community build a home with love, cooperation and hope, that their new home will withstand them for centuries.
    The fact that we feel that we own everything we discover is sad, it the thousands of years that that “discovery” has been in existence no one has tried to dominate it. No one has disrupted it natural state.
    I completely agree with the Reach Program. We do not have a right to take ownership of nature, and what occurs naturally. It is wrong and destructive to take ownership of nature.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughtful and personally passionate responses, Laura. You remind us of a number of things to ponder here.

    • I really appreciate your contrast between when a man builds a house, for profit, and when a community builds a house for love and cooperation. This to me showcases a divide in our society. I think that many people want to build a community, around love and compassion. However, our society as a whole labels these actions as weak. To get ahead in our society woman have to conform to these ideals that nurturance is weak and domination is strong. Only when we have more people showcasing how nurturance, and compassion are strong will we be able to move past our ideals of dominance.

      • Lovely as well as powerful point, Aryn. This is a very important issue–how we construe and act on our sense of home.
        In the sense of community expressed in your sense of home and Laura’s, we have an opportunity to value (and empower) of nurturance.

      • I agree our society is known to make nurturance as weak. A example is women in the corporate world if they show emotion and empathy they are considered weak and are seen as not having the “right” fit for the corporate world. If they show any nurturance, they will not move up to a higher position.

    • Oh that word! Progress, I absolutely despise that word, I always feel like it is used in the wrong context. In my opinion progress is just, and please excuse the word, a bullcrap concept, progress cannot really be progress unless it is bettering everyone and everything. Man’s idea of progress is making life better for man, what it should really be is making things better for the entire world, including the world itself. I apologize, and with that rant aside, I really think that what you say is deep and I agree, especially with your last few lines about how we do not have the right to take ownership of nature, the only things that we should take ownership for our ourselves and our actions the rest should be left to itself.

      • Anything that is undefined and yet creates license for acting however we want fits your expletive well, Kelsey.
        I think you have a good reason to “rant” given the results of the use of this concept.
        Time to start analyzing what real “progress” might mean.

      • I really loved what you said about the word progress because it is so true! Man is really only concerned with man and not with the other livings things we share our planet with. It is sad really that for man, progress actually hurts the environment but makes are lives more lazy and disconnected.

  167. Reading this article I couldn’t help but think of the song Colors of the Wind from Pocahontas. The phrase Veni Vidi Vici, or rather I came I saw I conquered makes me think of the Europeans coming to America and claiming to have discovered it even though there were already people here living and prospering. When you state that it is not a matter of coming, seeing and conquering but rather a matter of coming not seeing and conquering it made me immediately think of the Colors of the Wind and how in the song Pocahontas sings;

    “You think you own whatever land you land on
    The Earth is just a dead thing you can claim
    But I know every rock and tree and creature
    Has a life, has a spirit, has a name”

    We just see a land and think automatically it is ours because we think we can lay claim to anything that we want but the land does not feel any obligation to us. For instance when the european people came to America I believe there was a time when they almost starved to death and would have were it not for the Natives, because the Europeans did not know how to grow things in the soil of America. I think of that as the land not wanting them there, and that was its way of attempting to defend itself. The natives knew the land, they loved it and cherished it so they knew how to work with it and get something in return. Then Pocahontas goes on;

    “You think the only people who are people
    Are the people who look and think like you
    But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger
    You’ll learn things you never knew you never knew”

    When our ancestors landed they saw the natives as savages, “people who aren’t really people” because they looked strange and saw them as dumb because the natives couldn’t understand them. When Pocahontas sings of walking the footsteps of a stranger I feel it as a sort of double meaning, not just as walking in the shoes of a native and learning how they do things but putting yourself in the place of the earth as well, see things from the point of view of mother earth. How would she feel about the way that she is being treated?

    • Thanks for sharing these words. Even someone like the Disney corporations can come up with something that touches those who are close to the land– though I do have my reservations about the ways in which this might over-idealize or romanticize native peoples. Yet this obviously resonated with many, since you are not the only one who has brought up this movie and song.
      You have an important point to ponder in terms of walking in the steps of a “stranger” (an “other”) than ourselves– there are cultures (and some parents even in our own society) that teach their children to extend themselves to others– including other species– with compassion and potentially to learn something from them.
      Shifting away from our own point of view and expanding it to others is an essential way to make ours consciousness and conscience larger. Pointedly that you see “listening” as an essential element of attraction in a former post: listening to “others” is an important skill indeed.

  168. I am so upset by the lines about a house not being a home if it as not build by a white man. These white men could care less about the people who live there or the land, their main goal is money. The native people care about family and loved ones, money is the last thing on their mind. It saddens me how the greediest of people are the ones who always seem to take control. They walk all over those with kind hearts and good intentions. As the world is “progressing” our environment is going down the drain. I wish we could all learn to thank the earth like the natives who try to give back as much as they take. I feel bad for the mess that future generations are going to be left with. We are at the point where is it hard to stop this downward spiral.

    • There is considerable irony–and resulting tragedy in those who were so restless (and themselves homeless) declaring that native peoples living on the land for thousands of years had no physical home there!
      Worldview can lead us to very selective perception indeed.
      Perhaps the greediest “take control” because control is not a goal of the compassionate and sharing. But that “control” has been only short-lived in historical cases– even if it, sadly, causes so much damage. It is time to take up other values, as you indicate, for the sake of our own happiness and survival.

  169. I was contemplating the same concept expressed in this essay while traveling for work. My job took me to the Appalachian mountains for a day and a half. It is a beautiful part of the country, mysterious, and families are deeply rooted. It is also the heart of the coal mining industry.
    As an outsider, I could see the ease with which a “conquerer” would come up on those mountains and strip them of their natural resources for profit. This, of course, has been done for hundreds of years, producing billions of dollars for a few who have claimed coal as their own.
    The detriment to the natural ecosystem has been the reshaping of whole mountains, which are older than the Rockies, polluted waters, and the pollution caused by coal burning for electricity. The poor health of mine workers is imminent, but their salaries are so high, it does not make sense for them to leave.
    The livelihoods of the people in Appalachia, historically European settlers, are based around the coal mining industry. So there is the positive economic side, which appears more and more important in this time of financial decline in our country, but it is not without the irreparable negative of the destruction of nature.

    • Thanks for sharing another example of this dynamic in another part of the country. Though you indicate you were traveling to Appalachia–and so may or may not have more ties there– check out the Appalachian Voice– an excellent newsletter that is a voice for community and environment.

  170. Reading this blog and many of its posts, I am constantly reminded how imperative it is that we go back to education–to start to counter the duality in our storylines, by-lines, definition, interpretations of ourselves, our relationship and our worlds.

    Humans are not quite computers waiting for code, but then again we are. We need to act back on ourselves and change our own culture–Native Americans are not genetically “better” at preserving an ecosystem-(-and evidence suggests is that natural ecosystems weren’t preserved, but sustainably modified ecosystems (well with in boundaries of resilience)). It is the early social learning.

    It is unfortunate in the cycle of rock-paper-scissor, that European cultural “strengths” won out, but as in the cycle of rock-paper-scissors, the “loser” can in another context be superior–in other words there are no winners, it is context.

    And to wait for western culture to change itself is guaranteed to be unrequited. We are the small snowflakes in un-avalanche who need to move avalanche back from where it came.

    What can we do? What ideas can we replicate, share, weave into our thoughts and deeds that will be one more thing going against the status quo? What letters can we write? what stories can we tell our children, our grand children?

    Who can we honor and recognize in our lives and communities? How can we spend our money and time?

    • Ecosystems in established (successful) partnerships with indigenous peoples were not only “preserved” within their “boundaries of resilience” but enhanced if you look at the ways in which abundance and biodiversity were enhanced by native activity, for instance, in Native California (see Kat Anderson’s Tending the Wild).
      This certainly gives us a hopeful model for the future as far as I am concerned: we do need to honor the special character of particular wild places, but we don’t need to avoid any contact with the natural world in order to “preserve” it. As in the marvelous (near-miraculous?) case of Gaviotas’ spontaneous restoration of the rainforest in Colombia by honoring certain ecological standards in their actions, human presence might even enhance the natural world– if we relinquish our impulse of control and domination and turn our actions with humility and care (for the future generations as well as other lives)instead.
      Your questions are pertinent ones that are another way of answering Bernice Johnson Reagon’s question, ““What is it you want to do with the time you have left on this planet?”
      A question for our culture– perhaps for the human species– as well for each of us as individuals?
      I am also not so sure that European “cultural strengths” won out– depends on how you define “strength”– and whether you are looking at a long term or short terms sense of winning and losing. It is certainly true that there have been great tragedies associated with Euroamerican dominance and development worldwide. As for Western culture changing from within: holding on to the worldview of Manifest Destiny is no recipe for change; however, I do believe that there are many unsatisfied Westerners living the results of our cultures mores– and that makes things ripe for change. On the most pragmatic level, there is the growing gap between rich and poor. Oxfam just this week reported that the net wealth today of the 85 richest humans is equivalent to that of the poorest half of the world. Oxfam’s research also indicates that the income of the richest 100 people in 2012 was enough to entirely end global poverty.
      Seems like some things are ripe for change there– and you are not alone in looking for a better future for all of us.

  171. It was so appropriate to have a rebroadcast of a speech by Vandana Shiva playing on npr’s “Alternative Radio” program. She was discussing the origins of the word “patent” (in context of the letter of explorers who would read this letter to the indigenous groups in a bureaucratic ritual that magically transferred rights and ownership.

    .I was heartened at how the “dual” system of men and women has allowed seeds to be saved from destruction. It is the savvy assimilation-istic cultural that can quietly go about doing what they do under the radar of the dominant culture–like the women Shiva referred to in her speech keeping a stock of indigenous seeds unbeknownst to the men. The powers of the invisible are not complete, but potentially valuable like a recessive gene left unselected against until it can be selected for. .

    • I concur that Shiva’s “no more patents on life” campaign is an invaluable one- that may save all our lives even as it saves the diversity of our food resources.
      Thanks for sharing this here.

  172. This post reminds of me of the saying “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. It is such a true statement. One group of people sees their structures and area as their homes and culture whereas another group may see the same area in terms of devastation and poverty, or, even as something to conquer. This brings into light the importance of cultural relativism. I’m sure people like Archi Binns would not understand or even begin to appreciate how indigenous groups build their housing structures out of local materials which help support them throughout a variety of weather patterns. In fact, tribes like the Acjachemen (California) lived in wigwams that were made out of tree branches and leaves to protect themselves from bad weather. Instead of buying new homes (like modern white society promotes) their houses were burned and rebuilt in other areas if they needed something new. It took fewer resources, and far less time than building homes does today. Houses were not utilized as a symbol of status, but instead a mere reflection of the world around them, encompassing many elements of the environment; trees, plants, mud, water, etc. They did not own their homes; they recognized that the earth gave them the ability to be protected. The homes were hers and they were made from her natural spirit.
    The indigenous appreciation and support of the environments was looked at as something beneath the white pioneers. The white idea of occupying land has to be understood in terms of destruction. As your essay describes, “Real occupation, he argued, would consist of things like mining operations”. Even their eating and hunting practices reflect an atmosphere of conquest and devastation. The hunt for beaver pelts significantly altered ecosystems throughout the Cascade region. And white hunting strategies incorporated a prize-mentality into its functions instead of an appreciation for the life that they had taken. I agree that there is definitely “blindness” prevalent in these actions. The binary divides highlighted by Val Plumwood reflect a “we versus them” attitude which is echoed throughout much of colonial history. It makes me wonder what would have happened if pioneers approached Native Americans with ideologies that reflected equality throughout cultures. If they would have stopped comparing themselves, their beliefs, culture, morality, etc., and instead tried to listen or SEE the Native experience in the natural environment, I wonder how different the world would have been. The idea makes my heart heavy.
    What if there had been no blindness at all? The hierarchal patriarchal ordering of white over Natives would not have been supported. The destruction and taking of homes and land would never have occurred. Reservations would not exist. The horrifying Native American genocide (yes that is what it was) would never have happened. Instead, maybe a partnering of cultures would have taken place where each learned intimate knowledge to the next. I can imagine a society like that, the beauty it would have, the peace its citizens would encompass, and most importantly the appreciation they would have for their Mother Earth and her blessings. If we all had the ability to SEE the world in her beauty, our fellow man/woman and their strengths in terms not influenced by patriarchal ideologies, then our living experience would be completely different. . As Jack Kornfield said in “Buddha’s Little Instruction Book”, “If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change”. Imagine a world like that…I can. And I believe that the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers can as well. They too believe in the ideas of hope and change.

    • Thank you for your heartfelt and moving response, Lara.
      You pointedly chose the Acjachemen people to speak of in terms of homes, since they are the indigenous people who once occupied what is now one of the most populous (and polluted) areas of southern California.
      A powerful turn in your analysis here from the grief for what might have been to a vision of a possible shared future (shared, that is, among all lives, rather than divided into “us and them”).
      I think it would not only benefit both our relationships to one another and our own sense of self/presence in the world if we truly saw it as you describe.
      And a necessary correction I gleaned from your careful reading: I need to make more clear that Archie Binns’ statement was ironic. He was actually a novelist and pioneer descendent who was quite sympathetic to native views –and critical of the pioneer notions of conquest.

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