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.


1 comment:

  1. Don't know how you start with a tornado and end up with an Indian HOA.