The First Global Man

A pair of books by Charles Mann describe life in the Americas before and after Columbus linked the hemispheres and kicked off first era of globalization. It turns out that the New World was far more technologically advanced than subsequent generations have realized, with plenty to teach the Old, especially about how to simultaneously exploit and preserve key natural resources. (…..) Most obvious contribution Mann’s books make to history of globalization is the often forgotten point that the New World was central to story of global integration. His books will continue to challenge Eurocentric histories, such as Ferguson’s recent Civilization: The West and the Rest, in which a half dozen Western “killer apps” do the handiwork of Europe’s ineluctable triumph over the rest, including Americas. Mann reminds those who tend to think of the Americas as having remained essentially separate from the rest of the world until United States emerged as a superpower that the hemispheres actually had a deep history of interaction. And he forcefully rebuts those, such as Niall Ferguson, who tend to think that Europeans invented modernity on their own. Globalization was not a unique European creation; it could not have been possible without the resources that Native Americans had already figured out how to exploit before 1492. Mann’s second message is that accumulated learning of the original Americans, their mastery of nature, survived the catastrophe of the Columbian exchange. The wardens of that learning are the Native Americans’ descendants, who continue to make use of resources in artful and productive ways. Take, for example, Rosario and her family in Brazil. By letting messy shrubbery grow along the tributaries of Amazon River, they create habitats to harvest shrimp alongside trees for producing limes, coconuts, and hearts of palm. This mishmash does not look like an orderly farm, but it is lucrative and sustainable. Models such as these serve as rebuke to trendy environmentalists in the West who want to slow or stop human exploitation of natural resources altogether. And it challenges those industrialists who want to release man and machine from all constraints in a mad rush to exploit today’s commodity boom. The clash of these two philosophies takes place almost exclusively in the global North. Most of their counterparts in South do not think much of either option and reject the false choice between pure predation and deforestation, on the one hand, and untouched wilderness, on the other. It is no secret that globalization has been a disaster for some, a boon to others. That it has been the cause of great ecological transformations, dating back to Columbus’ arrival in Americas, is less well understood. Any future textbook on world history will have to reckon with this development and its portrayal in Mann’s books.



Acerca de ignaciocovelo
Consultor Internacional


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