Saturday, April 18, 2009


Here-Now is one of my fav NPR radio programs, which might be conditioning since I listen to it during my lunch break. But lots of times I like it for reasons Robin Young might not expect. Today Sarah Chayes, former NPR reporter who now runs the Arghand Cooperative in Kandahar, was supposed to be telling us about the injustices against women there. Instead, she ended up expressing some things I’ve seen right here, esp. on the rez. No, NOT the stoning of women!

She was talking about how the pressure of the situation has taught people certain things. For instance, stuff that was being stored was just jammed into the closets and shelves any old way -- not sorted into kinds of supplies, sorts of equipment, and related objects. This, she suggested, was because EVERYTHING had been in short supply so long that it was all valuable, but there was no way to predict uses, so it was enough for it just to be there. Everyone had plenty of time to sort through the mess. One of the things her co-op sells is handmade soap, but the different scents were jumbled together so that they mixed smells and lost the identity that made them saleable. She tried to get across the idea of “quality control,” that is, delivering what one said would be sent. But everyone shrugged. Soap was soap. They were not used to being picky -- it was a foreign concept, literally.

Worst of all was a kind of passive acceptance of whatever the “mighty leaders” said, since it had been impossible to predict previous orders from what they knew about life. It all seemed highly arbitrary but backed by infinite mysterious resources. So when they were told to think for themselves in the new context of planning, their minds went blank. Part of the blankness was fear of punishment if they got it wrong. The idea of owning their own decisions just didn’t compute. Seemed like a trick.

But once they start thinking out of the box, stand back.

"Navajo speaker presents idea of 51st virtual state,” Elizabeth
April 13, 2009. © Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press.

“Gallup, N.M. (AP) -- Mark Charles would like Native Americans to start thinking outside the box about themselves and their political voice - or lack of voice - in the United States. Charles, of Fort Defiance, Ariz., spoke to a small group of community members at the University of New Mexico-Gallup on Thursday about his idea for the country's Native American people to join together to create a "51st Virtual State" for native people. A graduate of the University of California-Los Angeles, Charles is a public speaker, writer, computer programmer, minister and consultant on Native American issues…Charles explained he came up with the idea of a 51st virtual state for Native Americans after returning to the Navajo Nation and living for three years with his family in a traditional hogan in Cross Canyon, Ariz…Although there are more than 500 Native American tribes in the United States, the total population of Native people is so small that their political voice is marginalized. Candidates aren't very interested in communities that have no real voting power, he said. Even the Navajo Nation, with its large population, isn't a strong political block, Charles said. "As a Navajo people, as a nation, we can't vote together," he said, noting Navajo voter power is split between Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. However, if all Native Americans who are enrolled members of a state or federally recognized tribe could become citizens of a 51st virtual state, Charles explained, they could have a greater political voice…"

The metaphor of the “nation” has been so strong (not quite so strong as the metaphor of “money”) that we’ve forgotten until now that it’s an invention and arbitrary. We’re now living in a world where “failed states” are afflictions that nations can’t control: pirates, terrorists, nuclear arms . . . secret banks. So why not invent something entirely new? Voting by affinity, a virtual state. We’re about to the point where being “Indian” is more a state of mind than anything else anyway.

Now and then I think of a man who commented on a previous post about re-framing. It was about this re-thinking business, but it was during the New Orleans immediate aftermath and this man had been looking for practical physical rebuilding advice. He said that once he figured out the idea, he thought it was more helpful that any lumber and nails stuff. The world HAD changed.

So many of our disciplines and taxonomies and categories are based on assumptions that are outdated. Academic departments and disciplines don’t really fit the data we’re trying to understand, so we end up having to work cross-discipline or invent a sub-set. You can’t get to anything via Google without thinking through how some computer or computer programmer might have understood the subject. Too many things are set up as dyads when they are really continuums. Too many things don’t fit into any known category or the category something fits into is psychologically abhorrent, like saying Pluto is no longer a planet.

The whole planet and everything on it is shifting around. But it’s always done that. The dangerous times are when there are serious rifts between layers (generations) or when one religio-cultural-moral-legal complex that had evolved into a working system stops being relevant before a new one has had a chance to form. (Like Iraq.) Right now my guess is that a new global one IS forming, but it’s only gotten to some of the people, most of them young. Then again, Valier, Montana, time-lags, which might be a good thing. When all the keyboards are disabled, we’ve still got our pencils.

The economic shift is forcing new systems and the consequences will be tragic in terms of suffering, but chastising in terms of bad money practices. Major moral changes I see are in sex and drugs. Despite the kind of diseases one would expect to drive everyone into Puritanism, the young have been exposed to so much sex through the media that they just take it for granted and assume there will be a cure. Sex is no longer the sensation is was fifty years ago -- the new sensation is violence: real-life violence, like people blown into parts or having their heads slashed off. As far as drugs go, the pharm people have persuaded us that all drugs are good unless proven bad. But I think even the young agree that meth is bad and see marijuana as good. They see jailing people for small offenses and forcing drugs underground as a source of violence. I thinks that's true. If sales of marijuana in this country exceed sales of corn, wheat and soy combined, then we’ve created a new Prohibition and we know what that did to the country. Drug dealers are a virtual nation.

The kids will never stone women who want their own lives, but they will get stoned. And they don’t mind watching while people they don’t know are put to death. Looks more like Rome than the Taliban. Are they creating their own underground virtual nation?

1 comment:

Lance Michael Foster said...

I have said we are Rome since I was in high school in the 70s...I even used the term Pax Americana back honor in being a Cassandra of course

Y'know, if all the tribes got together...what are the Navajo...100,00 or so? The various Sioux groups too? And then all the other tribes...gotta be at least 600,000 or so that are enrolled or claim Indian?

You then add the 400,000 that are Native got a virtual Indigenous Nation of 1,000,000. That's a real start