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Original Politics: Making America Sacred Again

Original Politics: Making America Sacred Again

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Original Politics: Making America Sacred Again

Lunghezza:
422 pagine
6 ore
Editore:
Pubblicato:
Jun 16, 2020
ISBN:
9781590795026
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

To recreate a whole and sacred America, it is important to piece together the forgotten fragments of history that are currently keeping the country divided. Just as a traditional Native American potter begins a new pot with shards of old pots—honoring the ancestors, bringing the energies of the past into the present—Original Politics re-constellates the nation as a whole out of the seemingly disparate shards from our origins. The most significant forgotten piece is the profound effect Native America had on the founding values of this nation. Original Politics convincingly demonstrates how the best aspects of the founding vision of America were inspired, or directly appropriated, from living, Native American cultures: concepts such as natural rights, liberty, and egalitarian justice. Further, Parry traces the influence of Native America not only on the founding fathers, but on the founding mothers' of the 19th century women's movement; as well as the 19th century abolitionist and modern ecological movements. Native America has inspired what Parry sees as the sacred purpose of the nation: bringing all the world's peoples together on one soil in a harmonious cultural mosaic of unity in diversity. While there have been periodic setbacks (devolution) in our nation's history, including today, these only serve as catalysts reigniting our sacred purpose. America is creating a new melting pot, and like the original vision, it will be a creation from the many into the one—only this time it must not leave anyone out. This includes the natural world. Original Politics is ultimately about respecting all forms of life and all forms of political expression as different aspects of one whole. It is a reclamation project that brings people, land, and nation together as one. The overall effect of the book is profoundly healing.
Editore:
Pubblicato:
Jun 16, 2020
ISBN:
9781590795026
Formato:
Libro

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Original Politics - Glenn Aparicio Parry

States.

CHAPTER ONE

Original Unitive Consciousness

The Mayflower Pilgrims believed they were fleeing a world of religious persecution to reach salvation on a distant shore—a new Jerusalem, a promised land of purity and abundance. The settlers may have made their exodus from Europe, but they did not leave their European values behind. They not only brought their religious beliefs to their new homeland; they arrived with their secular ones as well, including the Enlightenment mentality that rational thought can overcome nature. In the New World they soon lived side-by-side with Native Americans who lived in relative harmony with the land and in far more egalitarian societies than they were accustomed to.

In this way, long before the then Euro-Americans began to formulate their concept of a new political nation, the settlers had an opportunity to live on this continent and to observe and interact with Native Americans. They lived alongside Native Americans for a century and a half as they formed their ideas of community and government. Yet few historians consider the impact this cultural exchange had on the founding of the nation. In truth, the influence of Native America—both the place and the original peoples of this continent—contributed mightily to the formation of the United States. The encounter between Native Americans and Euro-Americans was never a smooth or easy process, but it was out of this awkward collision of these different concepts of the world that the nation of America was born.

The unusual circumstances of our nation’s birth do not diminish the historic significance of the United States. The founding of our representational republic was unique and important because it represented a radical departure from the monarchies that dominated Europe at that time. However, as novel as the American experiment was, relative to Europe, it was not new on the American continent (where egalitarian democracy and personal liberty were the norm among Native American societies). The notion that the founding fathers came up with the idea for America on their own is, in my view, mistaken, as is the belief that they simply resurrected ancient Greek democratic ideals. It makes more sense that they designed their new society in large part upon the living example of Native America’s values and ideas. There is ample evidence to support this conclusion, as I demonstrate in due course.

From the beginning, the meeting between European settlers and Native Americans was jagged—not just a clash of worldviews, but of origin stories, each culture emphasizing different values. The European narrative was essentially a reenactment of the Exodus story from the Bible; the journey of the colonists can be likened to that of Moses leading his people forth from Egypt in search of the proverbial promised land of milk and honey. Like the biblical story, the journey of the settlers was arduous as they traveled from distant shore to distant shore, intent upon forging a new society in a new world.

Indigenous origin stories, on the other hand, told of peoples being grounded in a sense of place. Their stories spoke of the people evolving from the land, often emerging from deep within the earth—from other worlds or dimensions—to inhabit the surface of the land they loved. The Indigenous North Americans were connected to the earth, much like an umbilical cord connects one to one’s mother. They were physically, emotionally, and spiritually tied to the land they occupied.

In short, there was a stark difference between these narratives. One was about intimate, familial connection to place; the other was about the hero’s journey away from one’s place of origin to start anew in a foreign land.

The gulf between these two kinds of stories may seem impassable, but it was out of this dramatic (and sometimes violent) cross-fertilization of worldviews that America’s character and destiny was formed. How this happened, and who or what provided the bridge between the worlds, provides the foundation of this book. I also investigate how this historical influence continues to reverberate in present-day America and how that initial spark has evolved and devolved. It is during periods of devolution, such as now—when the psychological shadow of unresolved conflicts returns and triggers a national identity crisis—that there is an opportunity to make deep substantive changes. Devolution may even promote healing, for healing comes through awareness and transformation of shadow elements into a higher-level of integration.

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED DURING THE FIRST CONTACT BETWEEN INDIGENOUS NORTH AMERICANS AND EUROPEANS?

There are many stories of how Native Americans experienced the arrival of the first Europeans at the time of Columbus. According to one popular account, the Natives first thought the ships were floating islands; the mast was thought to be a tree, and the sails were taken to be white clouds. It goes on to say that the Natives eagerly rowed their canoes out to these islands to pick strawberries.¹⁰ The only problem with this narrative (and others like it) is that it is almost certainly untrue. These accounts were the fanciful musings of Europeans, not the first-hand accounts of Native peoples.

A more reliable indicator of how Native Americans experienced the arrival of Europeans can be found in their traditional oral histories. These oral accounts are remarkably consistent over time, according to the late Native American author, scholar, and activist Vine Deloria, Jr., and thus he asserted that they can serve as sources of the historical facts, while also providing insight into the Indigenous mind.¹¹ Many of these histories describe encounters with outsiders, whom they often referred to as cannibal giants. These cannibals were sometimes real flesh-eaters, but that is not my primary concern here. Native oral tradition speaks of invaders as cannibals in large part because of their insatiable appetite to subsume Native culture. Columbus himself was spoken of in this manner by Native American author Jack D. Forbes in his book Columbus and Other Cannibals.

The interesting thing about these stories is that the invaders were rarely met with hostility; in fact, in most accounts, they were greeted with hospitality. The tribe killed the strangers with kindness, which is to say that in many of these narratives the invading cannibals were at least partially changed by the encounter, and as a result became less of a threat. This oral tradition cannot be dismissed as fictional stories. It became a working strategy among Native American tribes, who sought to transform the behavior of foreign invaders by indigenizing their worldview. I return to this point later.

The written stories of first contacts from the European perspective confirm that the people they referred to as Indians welcomed them with various gifts and kindnesses. Columbus, who described the Taino of the Caribbean as a loving people without covertness, went on to say that they came to his ships loaded with balls of cotton, parrots, javelins, and other things too numerous to mention; these they exchanged for whatever we chose to give them. But he also saw the Taino as a people he could easily overpower, boasting I could conquer the whole of them with fifty men, and govern them as I pleased.¹²

Columbus was wrong in this last assertion. Native peoples never gave up their lands easily or willingly. I imagine the Indians also made some incorrect assumptions about the Europeans, for upon first contact, it makes sense that neither side would have seen the other clearly. In all likelihood, both saw a people wholly different from themselves—an archetypal Other. Everything about their counterpart would have appeared different and strange—not just their skin color, but their clothing, customs, attitudes, values, and expressions of spirituality. I doubt that either side correctly identified exactly why the other people made them so uncomfortable—but I believe the root of their discontent may have come from something they had already rejected in themselves, something they then projected upon the other. I will return to this subject shortly and throughout this book, since it is central to healing through a process of arriving at an understanding of the diverse points of view.

In any case, whatever assumptions Indians may have made about the European settlers cannot be known with certainty because of a lack of written accounts, unlike many of the assumptions European settlers made about the Indians, which are easy to verify but were often incorrect. The core assumption made by the Europeans was that they were meeting a society less advanced than their own—i.e., primitive or savage (even as the Indians were later romanticized as noble savages.) The assumption of primitiveness was partly based on religion since many Europeans were convinced that those who had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior were superior. A corollary assumption was that Europeans were more advanced because they had superior science and technology. This last assumption was perhaps the most pervasive and intractable, and almost universally believed today. Some of my readers may now be asking: Isn’t it obvious that Europeans had superior technology? What’s wrong with that assumption?

Well, it depends upon what kind of science and technology we measure. If the standard is force, computed in terms of the number of horses, cattle, guns, gunpowder, cannon fire, mills, and forges, then, yes, the colonists held the edge. But if the metric is ecological knowledge—deep, intimate knowledge concerning such things as animal tracking and migration patterns; the harvesting of berries, seeds, and nuts; herbal medicines; what crops to grow, and where and when; and weather patterns, water sources, and terrain (woods, mountains, or canyons)—then the Indians had the superior technology.

DIFFERENCES IN WORLDVIEW OF THE NATIVES AND SETTLERS

The differences in technology were a direct reflection of differences in how the cultures perceived their world. European technology was better suited to willfully remaking the land; Native technology was better suited to working with the existing (dynamic) balance of relationships and alliances held within the land.

This goes to the heart of a difference in worldviews about what it means to be human. The Western worldview at the time was moving in the direction of a newly emergent philosophy, one that increasingly viewed self and humanity as separate and transcendent from nature. This separation had begun in earnest six hundred years before during the Renaissance, and by the time of the 18th century Enlightenment, it had developed into a powerful new science that required an objective perspective from which to study, predict, and ultimately control the natural world. In time, the extraordinary successes of modern science fueled a growing belief that humanity would eventually master the natural world. But in our zest for scientific innovation, we (in the West) ignored the shadow side of progress—a widening divide between man and nature.

The scientific worldview was not just different from that of American Indians; it was a departure from the perennial wisdom of our Western forebears who had long believed that humans and Nature were one—that man was the microcosm of the macrocosm. It was this aspect of themselves that the colonists had rejected before setting sail—only to find it again in the Indians they met on the American continent. Hence it should come as no surprise that they would perceive the Natives as less developed.

HOW DID NATIVE AMERICANS ARRIVE AT THEIR VIEWPOINTS OF THE WORLD?

This question was rarely asked by the colonists, apart from certain people who had significant dealings with Native Americans and took genuine interest in the whole of their culture, such as Roger Williams and Ben Franklin, two influential people I examine more closely in subsequent chapters. Most colonists never considered asking this, for they assumed that the Indian worldview was backward, a vestige of another time—reminiscent of their own Garden of Eden story—and not a conscious choice.

When people imply that Indigenous peoples have lived in exactly the same manner for eons, this is a naïve view tinged with racism. Such a view emerges from the Western notion of linear progression that conveniently sees the West on the forefront of progress and non-Western peoples as stuck in their ways or trailing behind. But this is simply not true. Native peoples have evolved and changed, like all peoples, over time. While Native people themselves might say they have been following original instructions (given to them by Creator) since time immemorial, that is because the experience of receiving original instructions is inherently renewing. The instructions change with the times. The word original provides a clue here because it can mean old and/or new. For Indigenous people, ceremonies and songs are their means of renewal. The ceremonies are a direct reconnection with Spirit. They literally inspire (reconnect with the sacred breath of Spirit) and this is the means of their renewal.

It is also true that Native peoples have not always followed their original instructions. Being human, at some point in their histories they undoubtedly lapsed. This narrative is supported by the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) story of the Peacemaker, also known as Deganawida, that begins part one. Peacemaker was born at a time when the people had begun to selfishly take from Mother Nature without regard to her replenishment, and a course correction was desperately needed. Peacemaker traveled amongst the people teaching another way. This way, now known as the Law of Peace, was foundational to the enduring Iroquois Confederacy and greatly influenced the founding of the United States.

If all Indigenous peoples made a similar course correction, it would flip the usual script; it would mean that Native Americans, not Europeans, were the more advanced civilization because Natives had already discovered what Western peoples are only discovering today or perhaps just remembering—that Nature cannot be overcome—and any attempt to do so is not only futile; it is suicidal. Imagine for a moment that the latter narrative is correct—that Native peoples rejected the notion of pillaging from nature because they knew the result. What, then, would native peoples from Northeastern America have felt upon first encountering the Europeans? They would have felt some sense of responsibility for their younger brothers who had not yet realized the crucial importance of living in harmony with the rest of creation.¹³

In any case, Europeans and Indians had a remarkably different sense of self and society upon first contact. The European mind considered each individual self to be an autonomous being and society to be the sum of self-interested individuals held together by the rule of law. In this worldview, there is always a dynamic tension between the individual and society, and the social contract theories of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau—so integral to modern politics—attempted to articulate (and attenuate) this tension. There wasn’t the same tension in Indigenous societies because the Indigenous sense of self was essentially non-egoic, derived from the web of relationships in which the person was embedded. Tribal man is hardly a personal self, according to Vine Deloria Jr., who added, He does not so much live in a tribe—the tribe lives in him.¹⁴

Indigenous views of the sacred elements—light, air, water, and earth—are based in the same sense of relationship. While there is an overlap between Western concepts of God/Holy Spirit and Great Spirit (translated in Cherokee as One that Thinks, Breathes, Creates),¹⁵ Indigenous people would generally disagree with the Western scientific notion of the elements as merely the constituents or building blocks of life. Grandfather Leon Secatero, the late Head Man of the Canoncito Band of Navajo, said, The elements [themselves] are the creators.¹⁶ Grandfather Leon considered the elements alive, whether they were inside or outside of us; no distinction was necessary. For the Navajo, the air we breathe in is the One Living Air—or nìlch’i, whether it exists outside the body or as a breath within the body, for all processes on Earth and throughout the cosmos.¹⁷

Most moderns dismiss the idea of living air, labeling this thinking as mere animism, but it is worth noting that a similar way of thinking once prevailed throughout the world. In India the living air has traditionally been known as prana; the ancient Greeks knew the breath as pneuma; the Romans called it spiritus; the Jews named it ruach. In the Bible it is the ruach—the living, breathing, heart of God—that first animates the world. The Ruach of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

THE RENAISSANCE WORLDVIEW

It is important to remember that the 18th century Enlightenment was preceded by a period now known as the European Renaissance (roughly the 15th–17th centuries) and that the Renaissance began as a movement that looked back to the ancient wisdom of Greco-Roman times.¹⁹ The symbol of the Renaissance was Janus, the Roman god of doorways and transitions who looked both backward and forward (from which we derive the name January, our first month of the year).

In the early Renaissance period, the ancient idea of man as microcosm of the macrocosm was still very much intact. Leonardo da Vinci was following the wisdom of the ancients when he astutely observed that the elements work in similar ways regardless of whether they are inside or outside the human body. In his notebooks, da Vinci helped to preserve this perennial wisdom:

Man has been called by the ancients a lessor world, and indeed the term is rightly applied, seeing that if man is compounded of earth, water, air and fire, this body of the earth is the same: and as man has within himself bones as a stay and framework for the flesh, so the world has the rocks which are the supports of the earth; as man has within him a pool of blood wherein the lungs as he breathes expand and contract, so the body of the earth has its ocean, which also rises and falls every six hours with the breathing of the world as from the said pool of blood proceed the veins which spread their branches through the human body, in just the same manner the ocean fills the body of the earth with an infinite number of veins of

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