Taken from Wade Davis' 20 March 2004 talk at the 100th Annual Banquet of The Explorers Club at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York CIty.
Wade Davis' website:
This is the happiness quotient following is a discussion with Wade Davis ethnobotanist, anthropologist, filmmaker, photographer and author of more than a dozen books. Greetings, thank you for being here. I have something amazing and awesome to share with you. It's a talk by Wade Davis at the 100th anniversary of the Explorers Club. It took place in 2004. And I just unearthed it on a hard drive that I hadn't plugged in, in quite some time. It was a great surprise. And I watched the speech and was so blown away. The first thing I did was reach out to Wade Davis and ask if it was okay if I shared it, and he immediately got back with me and said, absolutely put it out there. Wade Davis, if you don't know is a cultural anthropologist. He's an ethnobotanist, author of more than a dozen books, a photographer filmmaker, and his best selling book, The serpent and the rainbow about the zombies of Haiti, really put them into the limelight. He's an explorer in residence at the National Geographic Society. Wade has published 1800 Popular articles on subjects ranging from Haitian voodoo Amazonian myth and religion, the traditional use of psychotropic drugs, the ethnobotany of South American cultures and Indians, pretty incredible human being who has spent an inordinate amount of time with cultures in the depths of the Amazon and beyond. Wade also wrote the book, as many of you know, into the silence the Great War Mallory and the conquest of Everest. I got to know Wade, when he was writing that book, primarily because he contacted me and asked me about my experience of looking into the face of George Mallory, and also about the watch that I found in the front pocket of George Mallory. Before we get to the speech, if you would take a minute to SUBSCRIBE, like, comment and share this with anyone who you think might be interested. Thanks so much. And this talk that he did in 2004 talked about speech and language. And he says in the speech, that when we were born, there were more than 6000 languages on this earth. And today, and now this is 2004, only half of those languages still exist. And one of the things he said that really stuck out to me, every language is an old growth, spirit of the mind. And he said, and every two weeks, an elder dies. And when that elder dies, a language will no longer be whispered into the ear of a baby. And he talked about the importance of those languages and how important it is to maintain as much much of that cultural diversity as we possibly can. Before I get to the speech with Wade Davis, it's important to know that the speaker before him was Dr. Buzz Aldrin of space and moon walking fame from NASA. And he does reference that talk by Buzz Aldrin. He was introduced by Richard wese, who at the time was the president of the Explorers Club. And the introduction to wade the video introduction was something that I produced, enjoy this profound talk by Dr. Wade Davis at the 100th anniversary of the Explorers Club in 2004. In New York City.Richard Wiese:
You know, I've really thought long and hard How To sum up 100 years of our club's history. You know, I look out there among you, I look behind me. And I see so many people of accomplishment, so many great explorers, and unique explorations. And so I think that for everyone, the the experience of the Explorers Club, the experience of exploration, the experience of science is very personal. So I'm not going to attempt to sum it up. But if there is one person who I feel that can sum it up for all of us, it's one of the most eloquent speakers and scientists I know, ladies and gentlemen, Dr. Wade Davis.Wade Davis (video introduction):
And when I see these adaptations, the genius we've seen it in the ability to move through the desert landscape. When I when I see that, that knowledge, it's just beyond my imaginings that people would not appreciate it. Because it wasn't easy to come up with that knowledge. You try to live in the Syrian deserts of the Sahara, and then you'll begin to appreciate the genius of these people.Wade Davis:
Now out, it was difficult to explain to a man who kindled fire with flint, a space program that had catapulted 24 Men several million collective miles to a distant org, or the fact that they had indeed, just brought back rock and dust 828 pounds of it all together. Now, one small part of that precious cargo found its way to Washington, DC, where it is today embedded into one of the stained glass windows of our National Cathedral that many of you have seen and worship beneath. It's called the Space window. And I never really had an answer to a sixth query as to why did we go to the moon. Until one day I was attending service in our National Cathedral, and I looked up and suddenly, through serendipity found myself beneath that stunning window. Now, in the Gothic tradition, of course, the stained glass windows are not decorative. On the contrary, these are the boundaries between the mundane realm of the sun, and the sacred luminosity of God. And the entire idea is that as the sunlight comes through those beautiful windows, it Bay's the congregation in illumination, in Revelation in the spirit of the Divine. And I looked up at that incredibly beautiful man made window was swirling orbs of colored glass of every conceivable hue. I saw that they were swirling around a black dot, that was a part of the moon and the moon remnant was black, dead in earth. And it struck me that finally I had an answer to that question of a Sikh. Why did we go to the moon, we didn't go to the moon. To acquire new wealth, we went to the moon in some sense to acquire a new vision of life itself. And perhaps the seminal moment happened even before Dr. Aldrin stepped on the moon. When on Christmas Eve of 1969, one of the Apollo spacecraft went around for the first time the Dark Side of the Moon to emerge for the first time to see not a sunrise or moonrise. But for the first time in human history, and Earthrise. And in that crystal moment of awareness, suddenly, everything we had aspired to, for all of our history was affirmed in stunning glory. And what we saw was not the limitless frontiers of the earth as we see from the perspective of the ground. But we saw what the earth indeed is a blue planet, in veiled in a shroud of mist, floating an infinite sea of darkness. And I think that that vision of the Earth from space brought to us within our own lifetimes, Will 2000 years hence be remembered as a more profound moment, than even the Copernican revolution of the 16th century that showed us finally, that the earth was not the center of the universe, because from space, we see the fact that we are indeed, a fragile planet that indeed can endure our ways, perhaps for only so long. And if you track back, that moment, became catalytic. You know, 30 years ago, the environmental movement was nascent, just getting people to stop throwing garbage out of a car window was considered a great environmental victory. Nobody spoke about biodiversity or the biosphere. These were exotic terms within the language of scientists. Today, there within the vocabulary of my children. Nobody spoke about the capacity of human beings to change the climate of the Earth, deplete the ozone, then denigrate the rainforest. These were impossible concepts that now become part of the overall agenda of every government of the world. So I think that extraordinary journey that we're so honored even to be in the presence of a man who made is a journey that will be remembered, not only in scientific terms, exploratory terms, but in philosophical, even spiritual terms as a catalytic fulcrum in the destiny of human beings. But just because we've had one veil of blindness lifted from our vision, doesn't mean that we fully recovered our see our sight. And just as we've come to celebrate the wonder and integrity of the biosphere, we have yet to recall the fact that there's a parallel web of life that envelops the planet, that we at the National Geographic are calling the ethnos sphere. And this is the web of cultural and spiritual life brought into being by the human imagination, the Ethno sphere might be defined as being the sum total of all thoughts and dreams, myths, ideas, inspirations, intuitions, brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness. The ethno sphere is humanity's great legacy. It's a web of cultural life around the planet. The ethno sphere is a symbol of all that we've achieved, and all that with the promise of all that we can achieve as a wildly creative and imaginative species. Now, just as the biosphere has been severely eroded with the loss of habitat and the concomitant loss of species is a plant and animal. So to is the Ethno sphere. But if anything at a far greater rate, no biologist would dare suggest that 50% of all species are moribund are on the brink of extinction, because it is simply not true. And yet that the most apocalyptic scenario in the realm of cultural diversity of biological diversity, scarcely approach is what we know to be the most optimistic scenario in the realm of cultural diversity. And the key indicator of that is language loss. It's an amazing thing when each of us in this room were born, there were 6000 languages spoken on earth. Now, language isn't just a body of vocabulary or set of grammatical rules. It's a flash of the human spirit. It's a vehicle through which the soul of each particular culture comes into the world. Every language is an old growth forest of the mind, a watershed of thought and ecosystem of social, psychological, spiritual possibilities. And of those 6000 languages spoken in the year that each of us were born. Today, fully half of them are not being whispered into the ears of children. They're not being taught to babies, effectively, they're already dead. And what this means is that we're living through this era, in which literally, by definition, half of humanity's intellectual social spiritual legacy has been compromised and lost in a generation. And there's a sense amongst many people that, you know, the world would be a better place. If we all spoke one language, you know, communication will be facilitated, Wouldn't it be easier to get along, and my retort to that is always to say, What a great idea. But let's make that language Lakota Sioux. Let's make it Yoruba. Let's make it Cantonese. And you begin to get a sense of what it'd be like as a native speaker of English, to have no way to pass on the wisdom of your ancestors, or to anticipate the promise of your descendants. And yet that dreadful plight is indeed the fate of somebody somewhere on Earth roughly every fortnight because on average, every two weeks, some elder dies and carries with him or her into the grave, the last syllables of an ancient tongue. Now there is this kind of conceit in the West, that while the while we've been indulging, technological wizardry, somehow these other cultures have been idle. Well, we now know from biology it to be true, but philosophically, we've always dreamed it to be true. And that is that we're all brothers and sisters, we're all cut from the same genetic cloth. All human societies share the same raw mental acuity, the same raw mental potential, and whether whether that human genius is placed into technological innovation, or by contrast into unraveling the complex threads of memory, inherent in a myth is simply a matter of choice and orientation. The human species has been around as a recognizable social form, anthropologists will teach you for at least 100,000 years the Neolithic revolution that gave us agriculture, at which time we succumb to the cost of the seed and braised hierarchy specialization surplus, where the poetry of the Shaman was displaced by the pros of the priesthood is only 10,000 years ago modern industrial society as we know it is only 300 years old that shallow history doesn't suggest to me that we have all of the answers for all of the challenges that will confront us as a species in the ensuing millennia, the diverse cultures of the world are not failed attempts at modernity, their unique answers to the fundamental question as to what does it mean to be alive? When asked the meaning of being human, these diverse cultures of the world respond with 10,000 different voices, and it's within that diversity of spirit of inspiration of hope, and promise that we will all find what we all seek to be a way to ensure that all peoples in all gardens can find a way to flourish. The goal of our initiatives with the National Geographic is not to try to sequester indigenous people in the past, like some kind of biological specimen. You can't make it rain forest park or the mind. But we can change the way the world thinks about and values the most essential part of the human patrimony, which is ourselves, the intellectual genius that we represent the diversity of intuitions and ideas that we've brought into beings since the dawn of our consciousness. How do we do that? Well, we believe the National Geographic that politicians will never lead us anywhere, polemics are never persuasive. But storytelling can change the world, and we believe is the greatest storytelling institution in the world, that we can take our audience each month of 250 million people, to those points in the ethnos sphere, where we will take you to those practices that are so stunning, so dazzling, so transformative, that just to witness them will come away, amazed, and hopefully quietly, having embrace the key revelation of anthropology, which is the idea that the world into which you were born, does not exist in some absolute sense, but it's just one model of reality, the consequence of one particular set of choices that your lineage made, however successfully, many generations ago, but These other cultures of the world are not failed attempts at being you failed attempts to modernity. They're unique expressions of the human heart. And in the end, the goal should be to avoid the plight of a people that drift to a monochromatic world of monotony, but rather embrace a polychromatic world of diversity, where we finally come to understand that the goal of our overall collective species should be to ensure that all peoples can engage in the genius of modernity, without that engagement having to imply the death of ethnicity. Because in the end, diversity, whether it's biological or cultural, is not simply the foundation of stability as a biologist and the anthropologist teach, but it is an article of faith a fundamental indicator of the way that God wanted this planet to be. So in the end exploration, if I was to sum up the fate and the plight and glory of exploration, in the next century, it will be more than adventure. There'll be adventure of the spirit of the soul of the quest to find a true way that all of us can live on this planet revealed to us from space through the extraordinary journeys of Apollo astronauts, and find a way that all human beings can be part of the celebration of a new geography of hope. Thank you very much.Thom Pollard:
Thank you, Wade Davis for giving me the opportunity to publish this amazing speech from 2004. I look forward to seeing you in September of this year. For those of you who are visiting this channel for the first time, I hope you'll take a moment to subscribe and like and comment, and let me know what you think. We'll see you real soon. Thanks very much.