Saturday, June 27, 2020


A holocaust is supposed to be a sacrifice that will save the sacrificer by bribing the gods, but no one gives any thought to the feelings of those sacrificed, which are often human “animals” (out-groups) or their children.  We were supposed to have given that up when we went to agriculture and just sacrificed something vegetable, maybe a corn dolly or a burning man.  But the gods are willing to sacrifice whole crops. Whole species.

Holocausts do not improve people either as individuals or groups, “improve” meaning happy, cheerful, generous, patient and all those other things.  When the Blackfeet were sacrificed so ranchers could have grass and the railroad could have right of way, the US side Piegan group were reduced to 500 people, half children.  The loss was of story, social structure, standards, knowledge, memory.  It all had to be rebuilt or borrowed from someone.  Luckily the Canadian divisions hung on to a lot of it.  But there was loss to the point of numbness.

The first reaction was simply being stunned.  Then it was secrecy.  Maybe some ceremonies, the old familiar ones or even the rituals of invaders, since those things seemed to work. Maybe some small comforts, little possibles kits to hang on one’s belt the way the movies use diamonds as holders of value.   I don’t say this because I’m an expert on “Indians,” I say it because it’s human and we’re all doing it now in this pandemic.  Somehow while we weren’t looking, someone killed all the “buffalo”.  And now they are putting bounties on the heads of our warriors.  Maybe we’d better start providing gifts, or did we do that already?

One strategy is to shrink the size of one’s community, the people one will defend or share with.  At one extreme is the person who has made no real attachments so only has himself to guard.  He had better have resources or at least good luck.  At least it’s an advantage if the holocaust is caused by something contagious like a virus that can be defeated by distancing.  But if the holocaust — the one only barely on the horizon — is climate change, there is nothing to be done without working with others.

The most familiar and mammalian basic group is family but if threatened one way or another, the adults abandon the pups.  This is where we all can learn from the tribal people where family is the whole tribe, but sometimes it shrank to the “clan” or “band” — the people who traveled together.  The internal plague has been those who intercept money for themselves or their immediate family.

Still, the impulse to help each other persists so in the midst of terrible times there have been formed affinity groups, like the refuge Carl Cree Medicine created from an empty building, a trusty big coffee pot and a collection of furniture, specifically for street people who sat in a loud of cigarette smoke, but out of the killing weather.  Not quite out of the contempt of others.  Then there are the growing number of coalitions that feed people living on the street who until recently had houses.

A little fancier was the group of teachers and administrators in Browning who formed a “learning group” and talked a state college into providing a curriculum that they taught to each other until they had earned higher degrees. 

But the secret to the rez and most Western small towns is the power of the family involved.  With a family defined as everyone with blood or marriage connections, all members have help and insurance, even if it’s only sitting at the kitchen table brain-storming the scene over coffee.  But some families harbor criminals or are violent even among themselves. 

The even darker national side of this is that somehow thirty Republican senators have formed something more like a coven than a family, but capable of creating power and controlling a whole country, bluffing as much as punishing. The coin of their realm is money and that may turn out to be their downfall, because money is only bookkeeping and often just gambling.  It’s not so easily hidden now and lies are revealed by videos.  Most of those senators can’t even bring up a spread sheet on a computer.  Reporters and smart phones are everywhere.  Somehow the secret handwritten ledgers in safes are eventually found.

The strongest glue in scary and edgy times is always gambling and that’s an industry in itself, though it used to be one of the big “Christian” sins, like going into debt which has also underwritten our contemporary holocausts and threatened families by foreclosure.  The ultimate gamble is elections so the money-grifters try to buy them, too, but it’s getting harder.  If Putin is paying a coyote bounty for every American soldier, he must be paying bigger for all the defenestration in his own country.  Not in terms of money, but in terms of sacrificing the best people in his country, the scientists who would have made Russia far more of an empty prairie than the middle of America.  Putin is always gambling that no one will find out, but we do.  He is in debt.

It’s a strange human self-destruction that it imposes holocausts on itself.  The quiet and coherent Judaism of the Middle East was oppressed so viciously by Rome — which crucified hundreds along the roads to warn dissenters (carefully crucifying women facing the cross so no one would be embarrassed by their vulnerable bodies) until Jesus was able to oppose them in “house churches”, family by family, sharing in the potlucks that became communion.

Rome was eventually destroyed, as much by internal strife, barbarians, climate change, famine, insects, and disease holocausts as by proudly valuing themselves above everyone else. After a couple of millennia of admiring Rome and living off its remnants, until WWII brought everything to a climax, we thought we had finally given a new country — Israel — to a people often treated unjustly.  Now we see that they have repeated the same oppression on everyone around them, besides allying with the worst Roman-style senators among us.  People who once sacrificed as holocaust have become accustomed to just putting the skin, bones, ears and tails of the lambs on the altar and taking the rest home so the family can enjoy lamb chops. It doesn’t work.   

Just as I was building up to a mighty climax of blame and outrage, I got a phone call.  It was a person I went to grade school with — Class of 1953 at Vernon Elementary in Portland.  Some of them still meet for lunch once a month. She was living in a “bubble” away from the rebellion, murder, fires and other mayhem in Portland, but she knew what was happening worldwide. We persist, we eighty-years-old people. Little unseen filaments who vote.  It’s a human world wide web.

I'd better add the Biblical story that my title comes from. God had become so disgusted by the behavior of people that he intended to destroy them all.  But an intercessor argued, "Would you really want to destroy X who is a good and innocent person?"  Well, no, God admitted.  The intercessor named others. In the end God didn't obliterate the town.  

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