In the midst of a global pandemic that has infected millions and continues to infect thousands daily it would not be surprising if you missed a small but heart-wrenching story that got little local press beyond references to BBC, Aljazeera, or other international reports.

On July 2nd a mudslide in northern Myanmar overwhelmed a Jade mine burying a large number of so-called “illegal miners” killing over 160 and injuring over 50. The tragic story of 200 poor miners either dead or injured barely made it through the daily news cycle, lost in the chaos.

That it gained so little attention was sad in itself but something about this particular story has stuck with me beyond the appalling loss of life. As those poverty-stricken miners clawed at the earth looking for fragments of Jade and sacrificed themselves in their quest for survival one word keeps repeating itself on the edges of my conscious thought…value. How much of our culture and history is wrapped up in our collective system of monetary value?

Since the beginnings of human civilization we humans have, for a variety of reasons, imbued value to a collection of rare elements and minerals. It is difficult or impossible to relate the history of humanity without references to gold, silver, jade, etc. Empires rose and fell in pursuit of and financed by these shiny stones. Those casualties in Myanmar were but the latest of the poor and indigenous souls sacrificed on the altar of our value system. A system that has always been willing to trade lives for riches.

The currents of this story carry us through so much of our collective narrative and the prices paid for the wealth of kingdoms and nations. I think about the millions who died in the silver mines of Potosi to fuel the Spanish Empire and the age of discovery. The indigenous tribes of California brought to the edge of extinction because they were a hindrance to the Gold Rush of the 1850s. The peoples of sub-Saharan Africa that were devastated by the search for “conflict diamonds” inflicting war and suffering on the region throughout the 1990s.

Somehow those bodies buried under the mud in Myanmar are seen as less valuable than the tiny green stones they were digging for when they died. Because we bestow so little value on the uniqueness of the individual human and so much on the rarity of diamonds or gold we have forever tipped the scales in favor of the inanimate stones we call precious. Indeed our economic systems have always been built on this concept of worth we just don’t think about it in these terms or don’t talk about it this way in polite company.

Today we struggle to feed and care for a world population of over 7 billion people even though statistic show we produce enough food to feed 10 billion. The simple reason for this dilemma is we have saddled ourselves with an economic system that is still regulated by those same scales that weighed the silver dug out of the mines of Potosi. Capitalism is exactly what it says it is: the pursuit of capital. When the individual human life is balanced against the assessed value of those precious stones it always comes out wanting.

The current pandemic has served to highlight the disparity of this system of values in such stark terms that we are forced to face the harshness of a world economy that takes precedence over human life. While the poor have long realized it now the majority are coming to terms with how much of their well-being has been given to the philosophy of gain. Now we see the real cost for putting a profit margin on such things as health care, housing, clean air, clean water, and education. We’ve constructed a consumer society that in the end consumes ourselves in its hunger for lucre.

So now our avarice as a species has brought us to the precipice of history. This perverted system of values coupled with a philosophy of dominion has now threatened our ability to live on this planet. We have pushed our civilization beyond its limits unleashing pandemics, climate catastrophes, famines, wars, and other calamities that may be our undoing. The earth has existed for over 4 billion years while we have only been here for 6 million years. The earth will continue for some time with or without us.

We are here, in this time and place, because we have consented to the undervaluation of ourselves and our fellow human. The path forward depends on our willingness to use the intellectual abilities gained from thousands of years of civilization to build a world where we value life above lifelessness, a world where 160 dead miners are too high a price to pay for a handful of green stones.

Michael "T. Mayheart" Dardar ( was born in the Houma Indian settlement below Golden Meadow, Louisiana. He served 16 years on the United Houma Nation Tribal Council. He currently works with community-based groups advocating for the needs of coastal indigenous communities in south Louisiana. He is the author of Istrouma: A Houma Manifesto. Read other articles by T. Mayheart Dardar, or visit T. Mayheart Dardar's website.