Photographer = Nick Brandt.
I was in Laos when the last of the wild elephants there were disappearing —along with the habitat that formerly sustained them. I heard a range of views (including those of government officials) from Laos, Thailand and Yunnan.
One aspect of the imitation of the European economy (in Asia, Africa… everywhere) is the imitation of European agriculture: people in radically alien ecosystems really do assume that “the future” of their own country is a second-rate imitation of Europe’s past. I really was looking at jungle being chopped down on the mountain-slopes of Laos, to be replaced with third-rate European cattle-farming (using European breeds of cows, too, as provided by aid-agencies… not water-buffalo, and not bos indicus).
One of the real weaknesses of human culture is that notions of futurity lag behind the rapidly-receding present: Disney’s “Epcot” was already campy the day it opened —and has only become more out-of-date since then. Poverty-stricken countries don’t have the luxury of opening their own equivalent to “Epcot”, and they don’t make their own science-fiction movies, either: they generally watch dubbed versions of the American movies, and inherit a lot of assumptions about what “present progress” is, and what the future should be. That’s not only true of science-fiction movies, it’s generally true of science textbooks as well.
I didn’t meet anyone in Laos who thought that the Elephants were part of the future: they only thought of them as part of the past. I asked numerous people, directly, “Your grandparents saw elephants every day; your grandchildren will never see an elephant, isn’t that sad?”