Monday, December 02, 2019

The destruction of “ways of life” from within and from without: Turtle Island, the United States of (North) America, and ….

Crow Indians 14 Crow Indian hide stretching
Crow Indians 18Crow Indian Coup Well Known
Plenty Coups 2Crow Indian mother and child 2

What inter-tribal warfare (quickened with the arrival of Europeans), smallpox, malaria, treaties with the U.S. government, the virtual extinction of American buffalo (bison), confinement to reservations, and white settler colonialism generally did to the Crow Indians* as a nomadic, warrior, and hunting tribe is robustly analogous, I suspect, to what “we” will experience as the cumulative effects of climate change on “our way of life” or ways of living in the coming decades. However, while the Crows, along with other North American Indian peoples who suffered material and cultural devastation if not genocide (loss of their traditional way of life, loss of ‘meaning’ generally and as it constituted the subjectivity of the individual person) at the hands of outside forces (forces from ‘without’), the environmental, material, and cultural devastation we are facing in this country is the direct result of generic and genetic modern industrial civilizational forces and effects internal or intrinsic to our ideologies and the ways of living (and dying), that is, common to both “developing” and affluent capitalist societies. 

The incipient, imminent, and long-term catastrophic ecological and environmental results of what is after all euphemistically termed (in other words, sterile in both senses of the word) “climate change,” are immeasurably worsened by the mind-numbing effects of procrastination and corresponding conspicuous failure to summon and mobilize sufficient political will among both presumably educated or at least literate populations and those elected to represent and lead them in the industrialized and post-industrial (i.e., disproportionately and preposterously affluent) countries. At this juncture, only a social-psychological explanation can begin to account for the obdurate persistence of our individual and collective inability or refusal to explicitly question the premises and character of modern, “Western” civilization.

At the same time, we need to dream of, envision, and construct here and now the alternative models of environmentally sustainable modes of living while drawing upon the necessary and salvageable remnants of the plethora of historic and existing religious and non-religious worldviews so as to continue to provide us with fundamental metaphysical, existential and moral bearings and foci—the motivational or social-psychological structure—essential to such urgent endeavors and formidable struggles. Indeed, it is from these worldviews that we will have to find (or re-discover) and fashion the intellectual, affective, and spiritual instruments capable of combating the widespread and deep denial, self-deception, and wishful thinking that acts in “elective affinity” or collaboration with the conscious and subconscious insecurities and fears that define the core political anxieties and ideologies espoused by the growing number of demagogic, authoritarian and proto-fascist leaders of right-wing populism that have seeped to the surface in both (nominally or not) democratic and non-democratic societies. 

A democratically and spiritually constrained utopian imagination will be necessary if only by way of dialectically sublimating and transcending the darker energies incarnate in the messianic and apocalyptic phantasies that have heretofore proven seductive in pivotal periods of historical transformation.     

* These analogical musings arose as a result of reading afresh a book that brought me to tears: Jonathan Lear’s Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation (Harvard University Press, 2006). 

Relevant bibliographies
Images: The photos of Crow Indians are from the “Curtis (Edward S.) Collection” at the Library of Congress


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