Ishi and Us

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Katie Martin
Honors 366H
Professors Mahlis, Miller
12 March 2013
Paper One
Saxton Pope wrote upon Ishi’s death: “And so, stoic and unafraid, departed the last wild Indian of America. He closes a chapter in history. He looked upon us as sophisticated children–smart, but not wise. We knew many things, and much that is false. He knew nature, which is always true”. In order to analyze Ishi’s commentary one must first begin to ask is Ishi’s opinion correct? From what I know and understand about society today and society in the past, Ishi’s view of settlers of European descent and the modern day man are right on point. As a culture of people we are “smart, but not wise”. This statement must be true because as a civilized culture we are living in a world of trouble and demise. The earth as we know is being negatively altered because of our modern day practices and the ecological damage currently in a state of turmoil. Not only have our practices damaged the earth and wilderness but life forms are threatened, even that of our own. We have been living more against nature then with nature and we continue to turn a blind eye to what is happening to the world around us we will eventually run out of natural resources and human kind too will be extinct.
There are two perspectives of knowing. Ishi seemed to understand the difference between knowledge and wisdom, which is essential in understanding why he claimed the human race is “smart but not wise”. Knowledge (smarts) is a noun that encompasses information, understanding and skills that one gains through experience or education. Knowledge in other terms is the facts and data that are available to anyone who has the resources. Wisdom is a noun that encompasses the ability to make sensible decisions and give good advise because of the experience and knowledge that you have. Someone may have the knowledge about a subject but may not have the wisdom to utilize this knowledge properly to be able to act in a sensible manner (differencebewteen.net). You can gain knowledge by educating yourself but you gain wisdom only by experience. Wisdom also refers to the knowledge that a society or culture has gained over a long period of time, much like Ishi’s people. One can be knowledgeable without being wise but one cannot be wise without being knowledgeable. Here lies the root of Ishi’s reasoning. Unfortunately the two traits of being wise and smart do not usually exist together and this is because a person who is wise has learned through experience while a person who is smart usually will have book knowledge (sharpkiwi.com). In order to have both you have to experience life in great depth, the American Indians were very wise about the land because they lived and thrived with the bare essentials of life and learned how nature works and the balance of life. Ishi was wise because he learned about nature through experiencing it whereas Anglos only studied the possibilities and without living as one with nature we know many things, and much that is false . In society today we are surrounded by thousands of intelligent people. These people will take over conversations and make sure their knowledge is heard and absorbed by those around them. They are in a way like instructors sharing what they have learned over the years. A wise person, like Ishi, advises another about dangers, problems and hardships and come up with plans to move forward and puts these plans into effect. This is how the philosophical views of the Land (Nature) vary between Indians like the Yahi, and Anglos. The Indians gained knowledge through stories pasted down from generation to generation and wisdom came from this knowledge by going through experiences with the land. Not only were they educated about the land, but they also lived with the land as its equal. They understood and valued a land ethic of being a member of the land and the land being a member of the community. This respect for land and nature is wisdom. The...
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