Saturday, May 26, 2007
One of the primary fictions that governs our lives is that we are in any meaningful sense free. Our way of life is predicated on freedom, and is freer than any other way of life that has ever existed, we tell ourselves endlessly, drearily, compulsively, as sleep-deprived we look out the window at the concrete walls of a subway tunnel, on a cattle car carrying us too slow yet too fast toward a job we do not love to make money to buy things we do not want, in a life carrying us too slow yet too fast toward an end—death—for which we are not prepared, having never really lived.
We are slaves who know next to nothing of freedom. Sure, there are endless diversions available for those who have the money to afford them, and there are, for example, endless varieties of sugar-laden drinks to give us energy and make us fat: recognizing that us in this case is the very rich, and recognizing also that these sugar-laden drinks come at the cost of destroyed aquifers below those whose water is stolen (and we could of course perform the same exercise for our endless varieties of toothpaste, cars, electronic devices, and so on). We have the freedom to consume, and then consume, and then consume some more. We have the freedom to exploit and to be exploited, and then to exploit and to be exploited some more.
But we do not have the freedom to not live under an exploitative, hierarchical system that is killing the planet. This culture systematically destroys non-exploitative, non-hierarchical, sustainable cultures. That’s what it does. It systematically destroys all alternatives (try living as a hunter-gatherer as part of a functioning natural community on Manhattan Island), which means it destroys the ability to say no to participating in it, which means that participation in it is not voluntary, not free. It systematically destroys real freedoms. It systematically destroys landbases. And this renders the “freedoms” we do have—which should in all reality be called “freedoms™”—pointless, because the freedom to live on a planet not being killed is the most important freedom of all. It is, in fact, the only one that really matters: without a living planet, you have no freedom, because you have no life at all. It doesn’t matter how many freedoms™ you claim—even the freedom to change jobs you hate, even the freedom to vote among corporate-owned representatives—if you can’t breathe the air and can’t drink the water (except the water they sell you).
The “answer” to the problem of us having few real freedoms is not to demand more freedoms from those who are enslaving us in the first place. Unless we have the power to back up these demands and force change, the demands™ are really nothing more than begging. Rather instead we need to take so-called freedoms away from those in power. We need to deprive the rich of their freedom (and ability) to steal from the poor, and to deprive the powerful of their freedom (and capacity) to destroy the planet.
Here’s how I came to understand that. I often give talks, at universities and elsewhere. Just before I walked on stage for one such talk, the person who brought me there whispered, “I forgot to tell you, but I publicized this as a speech about human rights and freedoms. Can you make sure to talk about that?”
I nodded agreement, although I had no idea what to say. Everything that came to me was tepid, along the lines of “Human rights and freedoms are good.” I may as well say I’m for apple pie and the girl next door. As I walked on stage, however, I suddenly knew what I had to say. “Most people,” I said, “who care about human rights and freedoms and who talk about them in a meaningful fashion, as opposed to those who use them as a smokescreen to facilitate production and implement policies harmful to humans and nonhumans, usually spend a lot of energy demanding the realization of rights and freedoms those in power give lip service to. Sometimes they expand their demands to include things—like a livable planet—people don’t often associate with human rights and freedoms. People have a right to clean air, we say, and clean water. We have a right to food. We have a right to bodily integrity. Women (and men) have the right to not be raped. Some even go so far as to say that nonhumans, too, have the right to clean air and water. They have the right to habitat. They have the right to continued existence.”
People nodded. Who but a sociopath or a capitalist—insofar as there is a difference—could disagree with any of these?
“But,” I continued, “I’m not sure that’s the right approach. I think that instead of adding rights and freedoms we need to subtract them.”
Silence. Frowns. The narrowing of eyes.
“No one,” I said, “has the right to toxify a river. No one should be free to do that. No one has the right to pollute the air. No one has the right to drive a creature to extinction, nor destroy a species’ habitat. No one has the right to profit from the labor or misery of another. No one has the right to steal resources from another. No one has these freedoms.”
They seemed to get it.
I continued, “The first thing to do is recognize in our own hearts and minds that no one has any of these rights or freedoms, because clearly on some level we do perceive others as having them, or we wouldn’t allow rivers to be toxified, oceans to be vacuumed, and so on. Having become clear ourselves, we then need to let those in power know we’re taking back our permission, that they have no right to wield this power the way they do—they do not have that freedom—because clearly on some level they, too, perceive themselves as having the right to kill the planet, or they wouldn’t do it. Of course they have entire philosophical, theological, and judicial systems in place to buttress their perceptions. As well as, of course, bombs, guns, and prisons. And then, if our clear statement that they have no right fails to convince them—and I wouldn’t hold my breath here—we’ll be faced with a decision: how do we stop them?”
A lot of people seemed to agree. Then after the talk someone asked me, “Aren’t these just different ways of saying the same thing?”
I wasn’t sure what she meant.
“What’s the difference between saying I have the right to not be raped, and saying to some man, ‘You have no right to rape me’?”
I was stumped. But then I realized there’s an experiential difference between these two ways of putting it. A big one. Pretend you’re in an abusive relationship. Picture yourself saying to this other person, “I have the right to be treated with respect.” Now, that may developmentally be important for you to say, but there comes a point when it’s no longer appropriate to keep the focus on you—you’re not the problem. Contrast how that former statement feels with how it feels to say: “You have no right to treat me this way.” The former is almost a supplication, the latter almost a command. And its focus is on the perpetrator.
For too long we’ve been supplicants. For too long the focus has been on us. It’s time we simply set out to stop those who are doing wrong.
I used to teach at a university. My primary task as I saw it was to simply accept, cherish, and praise my students into becoming who they really were. I didn’t so much need to teach them as I needed to provide a safe and supportive environment where with my encouragement they could learn. Many felt a freedom—there’s that word—they had never felt before. And they flourished under that freedom.
I often wondered what I would do if I had the same students for not one but two quarters. And I always came up with the same answer. If this first quarter was about liberation, the second would be about responsibility. Every person needs to learn and experience—incorporate, that is, take into the body—both. And they’re inseparable. Either without the other becomes a parody, and leads to inappropriate and self- and other-destructive behaviors generally characteristic of unconscious or unintentional parodies. Responsibility without freedom is slavery. As we see. Freedom without responsibility is immaturity. As we also see. Put them together and you’ve got an entire culture consisting of immature slaves. As we see as well, unfortunately both for us and for those we meet. These parodies may be very good if you’re interested in growing the economy, but they’re very bad if you’re interested in life.
What, then, does it mean to be responsible? How can one become responsible?
Maybe it will help to know what the word means. Let’s take a walk through a dictionary. “Responsible: liable to be called upon to answer.”
Now, let’s follow back the etymology. “Responsible: 1599, ‘answerable (to another, for something),’ from Fr. responsable, from L. responsus, pp. of respondere ‘to respond’ (see respond).” Let’s keep going back. “Respond: c.1300, respound, from O.Fr. respondere ‘respond, correspond,’ from L. respondere ‘respond, answer to, promise in return,’ from re- ‘back’ + spondere ‘to pledge.’ Modern spelling and pronunciation is from c.1600.”[i]
To be responsible is to promise in return. The questions become: to whom is this promise made?
And in return for what?
This goes to the heart of the “problem” of our lack of freedom, and more deeply to the heart of what is wrong with this culture.
Who feeds you?
What is the source of your life?
To whom do you owe your life?
If your experience—far deeper than belief or perception—is that your food comes from the grocery store (and your water from the tap), from the economic system, from the social system we call civilization, it is to this you will pledge back your life. If you experience this social system as the source of your life, you will be responsible to this social system. You will defend this social system to your very death.
If your experience—far deeper than belief or perception—is that food and water come from your landbase, or more broadly from the living earth, you will make and keep promises to your landbase in exchange for this food. You will honor and keep and participate in the fundamental predator/prey relationship. You will be responsible to the community that supplies you with food and water. You will defend this community to your very death.
When the social system into which you’ve been enculturated is destroying the landbases on which all life depends, that question of who you are responsible to—to whom you make and keep your promises—makes all the difference in the world.
My dictionary defines freedom as “the condition of being free of restraints.” That is not possible. It’s not even desirable. We all have restraints. The absolutely crucial questions include: What are those restraints? Who restrains us (us or someone else)? Why are these restraints in place? and, Whom do these restraints serve? Another way to put this is: we all serve someone or something. Whom or what do you serve?
Here are some more questions. To whom will you be called upon to answer? By whom do you wish to be called upon to answer?
With every word I write—especially when what I write scares me—I think about these questions. And here are my answers I come to every day. I write for the salmon, and for the trees, and for the soil beneath my feet. I write for the bees, frogs, and salamanders. I write for bats and owls. I write for sharks and grizzly bears. When I find myself wanting to not tell the truth as I understand it to be—when I find the truth too scary, too threatening—I think of them, and I think of what I owe them: my life. I will not—cannot—disappoint them.
And I consider myself answerable to—responsible to—the humans who will come after, who will inherit the wreckage our generation is leaving to them. When I want to lie, to turn my face away from the horrors, to understate the magnitude of what we must do and what we must unmake, to give answers that are not as deep and clear and real as I can possibly comprehend and articulate, I picture myself standing before humans a hundred years from now, and I picture myself answering to them for my actions and inactions. Them, too, I will not—cannot—disappoint.
I can sometimes lie to myself. I could probably even lie to you. But to them—to all of those to whom I hold myself responsible—I could never lie. To them, and for them, I give my brightest, deepest truth.
I do this so that they will be free from the restraints of this awful culture, so that they will be free to be truly responsible to themselves, to the land where they live, and to those who come after them.
[i] “Online Etymology Dictionary.
When you listen to somebody else, whether you like it or not, what they say becomes a part of you..... the common pool is created, where people begin suspending their own opinions and listening to other people's .... At some point people begin recognising that the common pool is more important than their separate pools.
Monday, May 21, 2007
In hindsight, it would have been better for my hut-building project if I'd never read any books about building, or accepted any technical advice... because instructions destroy motivation. The best teachers understand this, and don't instruct their students at all but seduce them into figuring things out on their own. How-to books, nine times out of ten, are not an aid in doing but a substitute for doing -- the spiritual energy gets burned up in the imagining. And now I'm almost at a dead end, because so many ways of building have been killed for me by reading about them. The only way I can proceed is to do something that (as far as I know) is totally new.
Friday, May 18, 2007
Here is an interview I'm going to include on there.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
"...it seems pretty clear to me that an urge to destroy underlies many of our activities, then mused, 'I wonder how much of that urge is base on a need to eradicate those who represent other ways to be, and who thus remind us of what we're losing.' " Jensen quoted out of The Culture of Make Believe. pg. 202
What are they/we so afraid of?
Monday, May 14, 2007
Graduate, your school days are done now
What did you learn from those days?
Do you know what the system expects of you, Graduate?
Is it what you're heart desires, graduate?
There is a path waiting for you our there
Which one are you going to take?
What role are you going to play?
Clock ticking away
Death one step closer
The paths are waiting for you, graduate
Who are you?
How are you going to fit?
Control and coercion
Freedom and responsibility
Slave and master
Love and life
Machine and predictability
Spontaneity and play
Your free to choose, graduate
This is your day
The basis of the panoptic sort is the remote, invisible, automatic and comprehensive sensing of personhood and the classification, evaluation, and sorting of individuals into groups for efficient training, rehabilitation, or elimination, based on their value to the economic and political elite who control the sorting.
The most highly valued are the rich and other rulers; They are given the primary fiscal benefits of the sorting system. Also high in the hieracrchy are those trusted strategists who can make sense of the vast information apparatus. Below them are technicians who are privy to the data by the surveillance machines. Below that are the people of the middle class who enjoy enough benefits so that their sense of privilege out weighs their nagging feeling of never quite reaching the top. (From the point of view of those who run the system, the value of the middle class is to provide the bulk of the surplus value.) Below the middle class are working-class people, who run and maintain the machines that produce consumer goods. They, too, enjoy enough benefits to keep them at work, to give them the illusion that they're living a good life, and to keep them from looking for a different way to live. And as Henry Ford saw early on, it is essential in an industrial system to give at least some of the workers enough pay to buy at least some of what they build, or else the system's inevitable production has no outlet. Toward the bottom of the value scale are those who are "of little substance who carry the sick, bury the dead, clean and do many vile and abject offices."* But even the unemployed and the homeless are of some value to the system. For example, they keep wages low by making sleeping under a bridge seem the only alternative to the treadmill of rent or mortgage. Below the value scale altogether are those who will not partake of the benefits of the system, because they provide the system's servants with alternative visions and lifestyles. Because the existence of these alternatives cannot be tolerated, lest the servants become restless, those who live these alternatives must be banished from the servants' view, or destroyed altogether. Welcome to the Machine pg. 112-113
Welcome to the real world, graduate.
Saturday, May 12, 2007
Last night this passage from Derrick Jensen's book, A Language Older Than Words was calling as I was thinking about John's description of the dark universe he visited after his family was murdered (which John says was an act of war performed by the FBI.)
In the seventeenth century the Zen poet Bunan wrote, "Die while you're alive and be absolutely dead. Then do whatever want: it's all good." We are, of course, already dead. There is no hope. The machine is too powerful, the damage too severe. There are too many child abusers, too many rapists, too many corporations, too many tanks and guns and airplanes. And I'm just one person: I can't do anything. You're dead right, so what the hell are you waiting for? An Irish friend of mine once told me his favorite saying: "Is this a private fight, or can anyone enter?" Give up. Capitulate. Realize there's no hope, then have at it. If you're dead, you have nothing to lose and a word to gain.
Trudell died, and now he has "nothing to lose and a world to gain."
This culture clearly has a death urge. We are obviously trying to kill ourselves. Maybe most of us have to die first before we can expect this death urge to go away.
Friday, May 11, 2007
When asked to explain animism as a religion (as opposed to the dictionary version), I consistently say that it is the belief that everything possesses an animating, motive force, which, if I was to translate that into more 'popular' vernacular, means that everything is "alive" and can make decisions.
On a certain level, this is completely valid; choices are made consistently on a quantum level, based on variants that affect that particular quanta state. Decisions made through what we term"consciousness" are merely more complex variants of the same theme; our decisions are based on everything from what we eat to how we were raised to what the temperature is now to a thousand other variables...
I've also taken a fancy to the idea that spirit is 'breath', that wonderful energy that circulated through a system and lets it do what it does. For some, like rocks, breaths are drawn in much larger cycles than are insects (did you know rocks 'breathe?' They actually exude and take in gasses from the atmosphere. Just found that out. Fun stuff). When I die, my particular animating force goes away and all the little 'fires' that are left are devoured by other creatures to add to their life.
Let's have a little more fun with it though. Straight from a traditional healer's mouth (saw him lecture -- free btw at a university -- on Tuesday), he talked about the 'gods' of the Central American pantheons.
Take "Tlaloc" for example. Books say "god of Rain."
Wrong answer. Linguistically, Tlaloc breaks down into two words; Tlal = Earth & Loc = Liquid. Literal translation is "Liquid of the Earth". Actual translation is the evaporation cycle! The Mexica knew moisture drew up from the ground and the waters and came back as rain. So Tlaloc describes a process which begins in the ground and ends in rain. The "great spirit" of rain, the animating force that makes rain work.
So, why treat everything as if it's an anthropocentric representation of a human? For two reasons: (1) It's easier to remember, because we are geared towards social interactions within our own species (2) it allows a greater capacity for empathy for other species if you place them within a 'human' context. You may not understand your cousin's rationale, but you can still love him as family. Now if your cousin happens to be a raccoon, it makes it a smidge more difficult but still possible if you try very hard. And if you've been trying for thousands of years, you've probably figured out a whole host of ways to communicate that we first generation goofs haven't even thought of yet.
And finally, on a strange but practical note. Alright... let's say we consider 'spirit' as energy. Fine. Let's say we break it down to 'quantum choices' for decision making. Simplistic but fine. Lastly, we treat things through the lens of being human -- all the while understanding that they are also different than us -- because it facilitates communication. So what's the point? Why not strip away the metaphor and be done with it?
Here's why. Because the First Nations were right. It is one big damned mystery. I'm a cynic by nature, have been all of my life. I love studying all of the whacky phenomenon out there and don't believe most of it. I started going to a sweat lodge about a year ago. The tales told there are amazingly dense and rich with metaphorical information (including the relationship between the tree's life cycle and the heating of the stones of the lodge + many, many other interesting facts). I've prayed in that lodge
in a respectful manner, fully expecting simply a great, time tested purification ritual.
Then my prayers started getting answered, way beyond statistical chance, and in ways that astonished me. I experienced a sweat which saved my father-in-law's life. I've seen incredible healings occur, seen small miracles occur. How?!? How is this happening if the spirits are just descriptors of processes? The truth is they're more than that and I don't know how or why and that doesn't matter one bit. It's a mystery, one that doesn't solve life's problems or make you a saint but instead connects you to the world in wondrous and sometimes frightening ways.
No, I'm not saying everybody should go rush out to a sweat (though you should! ). What I'm trying to express is this: when people say that animists are talking about 'gods' and 'spooks' (to quote an earlier posts) they are talking about much more than that. And if you think they are just talking about physical processes that have no specific 'connection' to us, well, they're talking about much more than that, too. I'll be damned if I know exactly what's going on but I could spend a rich lifetime trying to figure it out.
I suppose that's our (us trying to dive out of civ) next issue. To experience more of this so we can plug into the cycle once again and explore this intense complexity that is life.
I've had similar experiences when it comes to sweat lodges. All I can say it is simply one big mystery, too.
Here is a great 15 minute video with Trudell talking about the vibratory reality we are a part of and what it means to have power.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
So you want to know why we are so unhappy?
Do you want to know why at the end of our day the feelings of disctontent, anxiety and incompleteness stop by to visit?
We have forgotten who we are.
Now it's time to take a look at that scar.
And remember who we are.
We are the Seventh Generation. (Click on the song titled: Crazy Horse *)
*Crazy Horse, the opening track on Bone Days, for instance, deals with the Indian belief that we are intrinsically connected to the earth.
"One does not sell the earth that people walk upon - we are the land? How do we sell our mother? How do we sell the stars? How do we sell the air? … possession, a war that doesn't end…" (from Crazy Horse, John Trudell, Bone Days, on Daemon Records, 2002)
"I think we wrote Crazy Horse, well I wrote the lyrics to it in 1988-89, somewhere in that time-frame," recalls Trudell. "Well actually I wrote the lyrics for a project called "Oyahte" which came out of Europe, out of Paris, so I wrote the lyrics for that project … Jean Richard was producing it. He and a man named Tony Hymas (keyboard player, Jeff Beck Band).
"I wrote these lyrics and Tony and Jeff Beck made the music to go with these lyrics, so it was a whole different performance. So whatever agreements were made on that, were made on that, but I had these lyrics that I wanted to use within my own style. And so right around the beginning of 1990, we came up with the music that we have for it now, and we've been performing it live since then. It's just that we've never got around to recording it until now."
Native themes...for everyoneAlthough many of his songs are written with and around Native themes, Trudell is quick to note that he writes his songs for all people - and these days, with the world "being turned into an industrial reservation, the next Indians are a different colour than us. The next Indians are their own citizens," says Trudell.
"When Bone Days came around, I thought that what I wanted to do with this particular CD is - I wanted to open it and close it - Crazy Horse at the beginning and Hanging from the Cross at the end. I wanted to open it and close it specifically around Native themes.
" I wanted the opening and closing song to be straight, up-front that this is Native. And everything in between, I wanted it to reflect that it could be any person. The story that goes on in between, inspired by Native but not limited to Native experience." (Rest of interview HERE.)
Monday, May 07, 2007
I just found this amazing interview with John Trudell talking about his music, reality, spirituality, Christianity, and tribalism.
Corbett: Shifting our conversation, I wondered on your thoughts about Native American spirituality. What are whites seeking when they explore American Indianspirituality? What's the draw?
Trudell: I think they're trying to find their own memory. Because remember, everybody on the earth is a descendant of a tribe, even the whites. If you go back far enough in their ancestral history, they come from tribes. But the way technologic civilization works is it erases the memory. The civilizing process is to erase the tribal memory or the ancestral memory. So if you look at most Caucasian people, they don't even remember their Great Grandparents. Or if they're the Mormons, they got this lineage thing stashed away somewhere where they can follow them by name all the way back to wherever, but they don't know anything about them. They don't know what their spiritual perceptions of reality were. They don't know their practices, how they lived with the earth. They know none of that, so they have none of that memory. So on one level, you've got all these people running around trying to be somebody they're not, and they're trying to make a fast buck at it while they're doing it. But the people who are gullible enough to come to them, they're trying to find a meaning and that reality we were talking about earlier. They're tying to find their way back to reality. And the deal is, if they don't understand what they're doing, when you enter into praying, or you enter into ceremony and start doing these things what you're doing is, you are reaching for answers into things you're not connected with. And when the answer comes back, it's just gonna end up confusing you more and taking you further and further away from what it is you're seeking.
Daniel Quinn mentioned in his book Providence that we all shared the animistic worldview at one time. This was the only universal religion (For lack of a better word right now) that has ever existed among humans.
Is this the memory "whites" are trying to find?
Saturday, May 05, 2007
“This land belongs to us, for the Great Spirit gave it to us when he put us here. We were free to come and go, and to live in our own way. But white men, who belong to another land, have come upon us, and are forcing us to live according to their ideas. That is an injustice; we have never dreamed of making white men live as we live.
“White men like to dig in the ground for their food. My people prefer to hunt the buffalo as their fathers did. White men like to stay in one place. My people want to move their tepees here and there to the different hunting grounds. The life of white men is slavery. They are prisoners in towns or farms. The life my people want is a life of freedom. I have seen nothing that a white man has, houses or railways or clothing or food, that is as good as the right to move in the open country, and live in our own fashion. Why has our blood been shed by your soldiers? . . . The white men had many things that we wanted, but we could see that they did not have the one thing we liked best,freedom. I would rather live in a tepee and go without meat when game is scarce than give up my privileges as a free Indian, even though I could have all that white men have. We marched across the lines of our reservation, and the soldiers followed us. They attacked our village, and we killed them all. What would you do if your home was attacked? You would stand up like a brave man and defend it. That is our story. I have spoken.” Sitting Bull
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
I got the chance to read Thought to Exist in the Wild through Derrick's Reading Club. It is well worth the read. I highly recommend it, like the rest of Derrick's work.