Were such changes necessary? According to what Oelshlaeger explains in his book, it appears that much of these changes are interconnected. With agriculture "naturally" come other transitions in the society. In fact, "neo" or "new" implies the many changes that occurred 10,000 years ago with the advent of growing crops. The beginnings of this huge change can be traced to the food-producing cultures evolving on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea in Southwest Asia, including today's Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and Iran and Iraq or what was later called Mesopotamia.
Near the end of the Neolithic period after the domestication of cereals and cultivation, domestication and breeding of stock was established and people developed farming methods especially for wide open landscapes. At that time metals, such as copper and gold, came into frequent use and technology advanced to the stage that large numbers of tools were being crafted by the methods of crude smelting and hammering. Tools that were crafted could also be used for warfare. The harvesting of grain also stimulated the development of specialized tools such as stone sickle blades and grinding stones, as well as the construction of buildings for storage. This gave rise to larger settlements and the beginnings of urban areas and a resulting increase in the population central areas. Civilization as it is known today had arrived.
What Oelschlaeger writes about has been witnessed throughout the world. Urban areas lead to centralized religion that longer revolves around nature, in addition to government and social activities that are all separated from the natural world. As the population expands, the land is taken over more and more for the convenience of the people's homes and personal needs and services. In addition, as the population grows, there is greater chance of increased poverty and illness because of the change in the food chain and distribution of wealth. The individuals who do not have desire what others do have and the cycle continues.
Oelschlaeger ends his book stating that the wilderness has been caught up in a never-ending process of change. Paleolithic hunter gatherers were bound into the natural world and organic unity between humankind and wild nature. With the Neolithic revolution, came end of the Great Mother and the beginning of barbarians who pillage and loot, beasts that prey on livestock and pests to ruin the harvest.
Throughout his book, Oelschlaeger notes the need of relating today's times to the past in order to succeed in the future. In other words, the only way forward is the step back, the rediscovery of the human roots and the attachment to the natural world. As he says in another one of his essays, "Wilderness, civilization, and language," about the ancient Chinese: "Reversion is the action of the Tao" (273).
Oelschlaeger ends his book with a challenge for humans that comes from Jeffers' poetic odyssey. Can humankind once again learn to kiss and feel the earth again, to let life run down to the roots and becom calm and full of ocean? (352) Humans are just a speck in the huge magnificent cosmic stream who have become blinded by science, religion and philosophy. Is salvation possible, or have humans fouled the earth so much that "no light can penetrate the world's midnight." These are questions that must be answered by the new postmodern mind.
In his essay "Wilderness, civilization, and language," Oelschlaeger provides some hope for meeting this challenge (282). New possibilities for life in harmony with nature can be acquired by examining more closely how we speak of the world. The world nor humans are a machine. Oelschlaeger suggests that the possibility of a revolutionary change in human consciousness is in the offing, a development that would ultimately change the ways in which humankind lives and relates to the wild world from which it came.
If history is any indication of how humans react, the saying "history repeats itself" will continue to be a truism. At this point in time, it does not appear that humans have the potential to unite and work in large enough groups of proactive individuals who care about future happenings. Instead, it seems that they are much better at reacting at the last moment and unfortunately falling back on old ways that most likely did not work the first time.
Snyder, Gary. Turtle Island. New York: New Directions Publishing, 1974.
Unlike some of the Eastern and African philosophies, the Western civilization did not see the wilderness as something to protect and honor. As Oelschlaeger writes in the preface:
Humankind's apparent success in dominating and transforming wilderness into civilization not only endangers the web of life itself but fundamentally diminishes our humanity, our potential for a fuller and richer human beingness. And so, in the beginning, I can do no better than repeat Thoreau's admonition: "In wildness lies the preservation of the world."