The desertion of Cambodia’s spirits

The way by which human beings relate to the environment is of urgent relevance today. The accelerating rate of environmental devastation in recent decades has gone hand-in-hand with the global triumph of a particular civilisational logic—consumerism. Anthropologists have long been interested in documenting ways of life practised by peoples who retain some autonomy from consumerist logic. Unlike the consumerist relationship to the environment, many cultural systems have traditionally regarded special features of the natural world as subjects possessed of powers that command respect. These ways of interacting with the world around us are not simply exotica or collections of superstitions. They contain profound lessons about the way humans can relate to the natural environment and we ignore them at our peril.

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