A couple of summers ago, we hosted a young Israeli couple. It was hilarious to see these two, straight from their compulsory army service – where they had learned many survival skills to find themselves “lost in the Canadian woods” with no cellphone coverage.
Prior to their National Parks adventures, a friend had kindly taken them to a local wooded campground and sternly instructed them to stay on the trail. They’d scoffed it off, self-assured that their desert-orienteering skills would overcome the challenge of the Canadian wilderness. They were shaken to realize after a short experiment that our friend was right.
They ended up in a campground in Jasper where the attendant warned them to be wary of a nasty bull elk that had killed a dog the week before. Having no idea what an elk was, they dismissed his advice and made camp.
All through the night they could hardly sleep as some idiot roamed the campsite with a loud noisemaker. They were furious at having paid for a sleep in the woods only to have the silence destroyed by this fool.
In the morning, the young man went to the car to get some food, only to hear that same idiot blasting away behind him.
He turned to see a gigantic horned beast standing right beside their tent where his girlfriend was sleeping. She had been woken by the blast and in a rage, unzipped the tent to shout at the idiot, only to find herself looking up, way up, at a large hairy mammal with hooves near her head and sharp pointy things on its head.
One thought crossed the brave young man’s mind.: “I hope that beast is distracted enough so I can run away.”
But seriously folks, these two later made a trek to Head Smashed-in Buffalo Jump where they were astonished to find that life for the Plains Indians had remained more or less the same for thousands of years, while European and Central Asian cultures had zoomed from hunter-gatherer to high tech. Why?
I found an interesting answer in Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond on the National Geographic DVD that I borrowed from the public library.
Diamond loves watching tropical birds. He’d spent a lot of time in Papua New Guinea, a rather primitive culture.
One of the locals there had started him on his quest by asking why the white man has so much stuff.
Diamond began researching different factors and arrived at a theory that the EurAsian white man wasn’t any smarter than any other group on the planet – just luckier.
He/she had the luck to start off in a favourable climate, where about a dozen of the most domesticable animals originated too.
That meant there were plenty of four-footed labour-saving devices that also provided their owners with mild forms of diseases so that immunities could be built up (i.e. cow pox to small pox).
Likewise, Mother Wheat originated in the fertile crescent of the Middle East, allowing people to produce vast quantities of high protein/carbohydrate food through seasonal work, that could be stored, almost indefinitely.
And this access to quality food in quantity, liberated the people to engage in the development of strong metals and tools that revolutionized all aspects of development, life, learning (with the printing press) and war, with guns being the ultimate winner over spears, arrows or stones.
As Europeans spread around the world, they took their germs with them, but not their immunities (until modern science); they brought their domesticated animals and in any favorable climate, their new settlements thrived as easily as the ones back home.
Their guns, germs and steel totally decimated any who came into contact with them.
White European hunters shamelessly slaughtered an estimated 66 million buffalo on the plains in the space of a few years.
First Nations people, decimated by small pox, were forced to take a giant leap forward 5,000 years while to this day many people of European heritage condescendingly judge their “progress.”
I accept Diamond’s theory as a logical explanation for how things turned out. The white man won a kind of global lotto.
Unfortunately now we are drowning in the “stuff” of our own success.
Michelle Stirling-Anosh is a Ponoka freelance columnist.