Wednesday, May 22, 2013

To Become Otherwise

It makes you wonder...

The other day tornadoes more powerful than nuclear bombs flattened homes, hopes and everything else in Oklahoma.  Nature always has the last word, and though only a few people can speak wisely for her to us, the message is there.  Ironically, or miserably, Oklahoma's two Republican senators, Coburn and Imhofe, had voted against aid to the victims of the East Coast's Hurricane Sandy recently, and had tried mightily in 2011 to stop funding FEMA.  And of the two, Imhofe is a world-leading climate change denier.  Mmn.

A story you probably have not heard...

Senator Henry Dawes of Massachusetts, through the eponymous Dawes Act, had the federal government break up collectively owned Indian lands into individual parcels.  He had visited the Cherokee in 1895 and found that they were well organized, with effective local government, schools, no war, and they lived  communally and quite happily.  He said, "There's the problem:  if they're living like that, there will be no progress.  The bottom line of our civilization is selfishness.  Teach them that so they can progress -- it's not about being happy."

Big ideas will inevitably bite you in the butt...

The legendary Peacemaker, founding father of the Iroqouis nations, could be called the Plato of the wilderness, but he was not in a similar philosophical or social tradition at all; not an idealist or abstractionist such as set the mold for Western culture.  Hundreds of years ago, he instructed the then-separate tribes around Lake Ontario to think of the seventh generation to follow whenever decisions are made, and to evaluate your desires and thoughts in that context.  Essentially, the idea was careful growth and improvement always concommitant with preservation for the future.  Relentless and thoughtless make-your-money-today industrial progress, then, leads a society into "extracting (from the earth) at tremendous rates with no perception of the consequences."  Far too rapid climate change, resource plundering and exploding human population is what we're experiencing, but only a ridiculed minority is clearly seeing.

The invention and production of manufactured nitrogen fertilizer in quantity in the early 20th century seemed like a great leap forward in human history.  Fossil fuels powered an explosive industrial expansion which provided the mechanical power to implement the now widely available chemical fertilizers.  Then the upward shot of  progress passed its apogee and dropped downward seeking its balance on the earth again, as inevitable a pattern as it was invisible to us:  chemical poisoning of the whole biosphere and a population explosion beyond belief.  Beyond any sense whatsoever. 

"Business as usual is over..."

Oren Lyons was born in 1930 in the Turtle Clan of the Seneca and grew up on the reservations in upstate New York.  Like the Peacemaker and the talented and well-educated fellow Iroquois Joseph Brandt in earlier times, he seems to one of those very rare people who can move well between modern and traditional cultures, which normally don't mix any better than oil and water.  He earned a BFA at Syracuse University where he was a lacrosse star, and became an author, teacher and a commercial and fine artist in New York City before returning to Onondaga in 1970 to explore his cultural heritage, that of the seven-generations long view.  Why is it that only the aborigines, those who live right on the earth, can see back and ahead and understand their place in the scheme?  Maybe they're not distracted by greed and silliness.

Oren helped create the Traditional Circle of Indian Elders and Youth, and over the years extended his scope to include indigenous cultures worldwide.  He also appeared in Leonardo DiCaprio's 2007 documentary "Eleventh Hour," which unfortunately I just missed yesterday on television.  I imagine a few billion others have missed it (and Limits to Growth and all the others) over the years, judging from the constant presence of creatures like Imhofe on the national scene.

It's sad to know that at the time when we really need him, it's the end of Oren's time on earth.  Look up what he has thought and said.  Wise people don't shout ideology but we'd better listen to a clear warning.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Eyes Open

Years ago, I knew of a quite old person who had up to a certain point demonstrated a good grasp of common sense and keen judgement, if contained within a provincial mindset.   When I found out he was sending in contributions to obviously smarmy, slick and cartoonish television evangelists, it made me more permanently sceptical about the intellect of the human race.

Among the noise of the furniture and auto commercials and relentless self-congratulation, you will probably find your local television news doing a feature on recurring or newly hatched scams, illustrated with the sad story of the octogenarian widow who just sent $10,000 or more to some caller with a threatening story or a get-rich-quick scheme.  (Get rid of those landlines, people!)  And please understand most e-mails, web sites and promotions of any kind are just garbage.

Not only are they reeling from the pressure of 24/7 media and bewildering technology, but the oldest generations were always, unfortunately, naively trustful.  They were raised to believe and trust all authority figures, to obey and to distrust their own thoughts or instincts.  In a recent post, Dmitri Orlov ( made the point that the pervasive trustfulness of large portions of the American populace will prove to be a maladaptive quality vis-a-vis survival when TSHTF at the onset of financial or climate turmoil.  As the song advised, keep your eyes open and your hands on the wheel if you want to survive this trip.

Our brains are wired to see meaningful patterns, in order to make sense of all the inputs.  This is the basis of learning, for kittens or humans, but we're all too often led astray by our assembly of false patterns.  Natural and personal disasters must be caused by gods you have offended, for example. Or today, sonorous, loud men in suits and perfect forever-young cheerleader icons on Fox News look like superior people whom you should clearly take seriously.  You can't see that Pat Robertson is a lying mentally ill con man because he looks and sounds like an authority figure you can trust.  Look for the motives while you're verifying what is going on beneath the surface -- Facebook is a good example.  Early on, we were warned it was not really just the fun electronic gabfest it seemed; it was an engine for making you work for the marketers for free.  Look for the slant: are the errors you uncover all in one direction?  People so readily, and so dangerously, believe in The Whole Thing --  the political party, religion or whatever.  I'd say, believe in yourself (it's all you've got that you're in control of) and don't swallow anything whole -- you'll choke and your brain will die.  If you prefer the eight years of the Clinton presidency to the following eight of Bush-Cheney, remember that the repeal of the Glass-Steagall law from 1933, which had been the most important and effective of the banking reforms whose purpose was to prevent another Depression, was not vetoed by Bill C. in the late 90s.

Being aware and adaptable takes more effort than drifting in blind trustfulness.  It's so much easier to get lazy and pay no attention, to engage in no ongoing due diligence during your life.  Do you -- can you -- change direction when circumstances change or your knowledge advances?  If you can't and drove like that, with a blindfold on (come to think of it, most around here seem to), aren't you taking unacceptable risks for no good reason?

(Thanks to for "errors all in one direction.")