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The first law of ecology holds that everything is connected to everything else. This conference addresses the challenges and dilemmas of resource management policy on America’s public lands, but it seems useful both for the purposes of the conference and in broader terms to note how resource management is connected to larger questions of global integrity and human governance. This essay explores a troubling fact of modern political life: As the problems of managing the economy and ecology of this nation become ever more complex, subtly-interrelated, pressured and demanding, our processes of legal and political governance might be expected to become more integrative and comprehensive in scope. Instead, however, there often appears to be a contrary dysfunctional tendency. The more complex and stressed an issue becomes, the more its political actors retreat into a narrow insulated factionalism that can be viewed as a form of latter-day tribalism. Viewing the narrowed perspectives and localized interests of contemporary natural resources decisionmaking as “tribalism” offers a useful analytical perspective on its symptoms and consequences. Tribalism, as the anthropologies describe it, denotes the way groups of people live in a form of cohesive affiliation and narrowed community of interest, systematically including all members of that community and excluding all others as “outsiders.” Some instructive examples can hereafter be drawn from Alaska’s Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, from public works water projects, and from controversies over timber management. The global context and ambiguous benefits of such a tribalism will be explored through two contrasting astronautic examples.


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8 Sep 2022
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