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More with Jim Marunich on Black Elk Speaks, traditional stories about Coyote the trickster and creation, and three articles: "Philosophy of Native Science" by Gregory Cajete, "What Coyote and Thales Can Teach Us: An Outline of American Indian Epistemology" by Brian Yazzie Burkhart, and "Language Matters: A Metaphysic of Non-Discreet, Non-Binary Dualism" by Anne Waters.
We get further into the specifics of the articles, talking about propositional vs. procedural knowledge (e.g., the agricultural story of the Three Sisters), process philosophy (read Jim's thesis), the personhood of the world, what we owe to nonhuman nature (respect!), and a flexible, non-rules-based, phenomenological ethics.
Listen to part 1 first or get the ad-free Citizen Edition. Please support PEL!
Are you a member of a native culture in the Western hemisphere? Do you feel like we missed the boat in our discussion and that you have something to contribute to our audience's understanding? Please contact us at PEL@partiallyexaminedlife.com to discuss a blog post or potential follow-up recording.
End song: “Circle’s Gotta Go” by Kim Rancourt, as interviewed on Nakedly Examined Music #52.
Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough – Ludwig Wittgenstein
This week’s podcast, as well as last weeks, was incredibly problematic. Native American philosophy should not be represented as simply traditional stories. I am amazed that settler colonialism was not brought up at all. This seems like a HUGE oversight. These podcasts contribute to the colonial project of vanishing Indigenous people by relegating them to the past. Native American philosophy may not be overtly called philosophy, for reasons discussed in the podcasts, however, the literature is not small. Authors like Vine Deloria, Philip Deloria, Andrea Smith, Rayna Green, and Eve Tuck are writing modern Native American philosophy that should have been considered. Non-Native scholars like Mark Rifkin and Scott Morgensen are also contributing to the body of knowledge that is Native American philosophy. Making disparaging remarks about the power of traditional rituals and reinforcing stereotypes of Indigenous people as primitive are not just bad scholarship, but are harmful, ethnocentric, and rooted in racism. I am super disappointed in the way that this topic was taken up. I think having a non-Native person, who appeared to have an incredibly limited knowledge of Native American traditions and philosophies, on the show to represent Indigenous people was irresponsible. I believe these two episodes were the worst in the history of PEL because they rhetorically harmed the people they were meant to engage. I suggest that you read the essay “Decolonization is Not a Metaphor” by Eve Tuck and Wayne Yang, then issue an apology to Native Americans for the misrepresentations, colonial violences, and reductive primitivism with which the topic was treated. I further suggest that the next time you take up an underrepresented group in philosophy, you get in contact with actual experts in the field to make sure you are not going to be perpetuating harm.
I’ve been relatively harsh in this comment, but I do frequently enjoy your podcast and hope that you will try again to engage Native American philosophies in the future.
Mark Linsenmayer says
Thanks, Robert. We’ll try to have one of those living philosophers on one of these days! Your comments are appreciated.
might start @ http://www.apaonline.org/?indigenous_newsletter
Athena Sophia Speculi Ustorii says
This was an interesting episode. I am appreciative of the comments made by Robert and look forward to reading the essay that he recommended, “Decolonization is Not a Metaphor,” by Eve Tuck and Wayne Yang.
Moreover, this episode reminded me of another essay/speech that a friend had shared with me. That essay/speech by Russell Means – activist/organizer from the American Indian Movement, seems like a worthwhile addition to this “conversation.” The essay/speech from 1980 is called, “For America to Live, Europe Must Die.”
I really liked the essay/speech and have quoted quite a bit of it, especially from passages that I found to be personally resonant. I would still encourage any interested parties to go read it in full, as there is much that I did not include (- it seems to be easily available on the internet).
The notion of “relationality” – both in the essay/speech and in this episode, I find to be particularly inspiring. As an attitudinal orientation, it seems – at least from my own superficial and amateur understanding – to more fully undercut/subvert notions of “superiority/inferiority,” oppositional binaries, “relations-of-domination,” the spiraling tides of determinate negations, and perhaps the dialectics of what it means and what it takes to be both “autonomous” and “recognized” within our intersubjective landscape. …but who am I to say, much less know what it is that I am saying…
At any rate, Russell Means is far more interesting and engaging! …Selections from his essay/speech read:
“Being is a spiritual proposition. Gaining is a material act. Traditionally, American Indians have always attempted to be the best people they could. Part of that spiritual process was and is to give away wealth, to discard wealth in order not to gain. Material gain is an indicator of false status among traditional people, while it is ‘proof that the system works’ to Europeans. Clearly, there are two completely opposing views at issue here, and Marxism is very far over to the other side from the American Indian view.”
“In terms of the [European] despiritualization of the universe, the mental process works so that it becomes virtuous to destroy the planet. Terms like progress and development are used as cover words here, the way victory and freedom are to justify butchery in the dehumanization process. For example, a real-estate speculator may refer to ‘developing’ a parcel of ground by opening a gravel quarry; development here means total, permanent destruction, with the earth itself removed. But European logic has gained a few tons of gravel with which more land can be ‘developed’ through the construction of road beds. Ultimately, the whole universe is open – in the European view – to this sort of insanity.”
“We are resisting being turned into [a] National Sacrifice Area. We are resisting being turned into a national sacrifice people. The costs of this industrial process are not acceptable to us. It is genocide to dig uranium here and drain the water table – no more, no less.
Now, let’s suppose that in our resistance to extermination we begin to seek allies (we have). Let’s suppose further that we were to take revolutionary Marxism at it’s word: that it intends nothing less than the complete overthrow of the European capitalists order which has presented this threat to our very existence. This would seem to be a natural alliance for American Indian people to enter into. After all, as the Marxists say, it is the capitalists who set us up to be a national sacrifice. This is true as far as it goes.
But, as I’ve tried to point out, this ‘truth’ is very deceptive. Revolutionary Marxism is committed to even further perpetuation and perfection of the very industrial process which is destroying us all. It offers only to ‘redistribute’ the results – the money, maybe – of this industrialization to a wider section of the population. It offers to take wealth from the capitalists and pass it around; but in order to do so, Marxism must maintain the industrial system. Once again, the power relations within European society will have to be altered, but once again the effects upon American Indian peoples here and non-Europeans elsewhere will remain the same. This is much the same as when power was redistributed from the church to private business during the so-called bourgeois revolution. European society changed a bit, at least superficially, but its conduct toward non-Europeans continued as before. You can see what the American Revolution of 1776 did for American Indians. It’s the same old song.
Revolutionary Marxism, like industrial society in other forms, seeks to ‘rationalize’ all people in relation to industry – maximum industry, maximum production. It is a doctrine that despises the American Indian spiritual tradition, our cultures, our lifeways. Marx himself called us ‘precapitalists’ and ‘primitive.’ Precapitalist simply means that, in his view, we would eventually discover capitalism and become capitalists; we have always been economically retarded in Marxist term[s]. The only manner in which American Indian people could participate in a Marxist revolution would be to join the industrial system, to become factory workers, or ‘proletarians,’ as Marx called them. The man was very clear about the fact that his revolution could only occur through the struggle of the proletariat, that the existence of a massive industrial system is a precondition of a successful Marxist society.
I think there’s a problem with language here. Christians, capitalists, Marxists. All of them have been revolutionary in their own minds, but none of them really means revolution. What they really mean is continuation. They do what they do in order that European culture can continue to exist and develop according to its needs.
So, in order for us to really join forces with Marxism, we American Indians would have to accept the national sacrifice of our homeland; we would have to commit cultural suicide and become industrialized and Europeanized.”
“I hear revolutionary Marxists saying that the destruction of the environment, pollution, and radiation will all be controlled. And I see them act upon their words. Do they know how these things will be controlled? No, they simply have faith. Science will find a way. Industrialization is fine and necessary. How do they know this? Faith. Science will find a way. Faith of this sort has always been known in Europe as religion. Science has become the new European religion for both capitalists and Marxists; they are truly inseparable; they are part and parcel of the same culture. So, in both theory and practice, Marxism demands that non-European peoples give up their values, their traditions, their cultural existence altogether. We will all be industrialized science addicts in a Marxist society.
I do not believe that capitalism itself is really responsible for the situation in which American Indians have been declared a national sacrifice. No, it is the European tradition; European culture itself is responsible. Marxism is just the latest continuation of this tradition, not a solution to it. To ally with Marxism is to ally with the very same forces that declare us an acceptable cost.
There is another way. There is the traditional Lakota way and the ways of the American Indian peoples. It is the way that knows that humans do not have the right to degrade Mother Earth, that there are forces beyond anything the European mind has conceived, that humans must be in harmony with all relations or the relations will eventually eliminate the disharmony. A lopsided emphasis on humans by humans – the Europeans’ arrogance of acting as though they were beyond the nature of all related things – can only result in a total disharmony and a readjustment which cuts arrogant humans down to size, gives them a taste of that reality beyond their grasp or control and restores the harmony. There is a need for a revolutionary theory to bring this about; it’s beyond human control. The nature peoples of this planet know this and so they do not theorize about it. Theory is an abstract; our knowledge is real.
Distilled to its basic terms, European faith – including the new faith in science – equals a belief that man is God. Europe has always sought a Messiah, whether that be the man Jesus Christ or the man Karl Marx or the man Albert Einstein. American Indians know this to be totally absurd. Humans are the weakest of all creatures, so weak that other creatures are willing to give up their flesh that we may live. Humans are able to survive only through the exercise of rationality since they lack the abilities of other creatures to gain food through the use of fang and claw.
But rationality is a curse since it can cause humans to forget the natural order of things in ways other creatures do not. A wolf never forgets his or her place in the natural order. American Indians can. Europeans almost always do. We pray our thanks to the deer, our relations, for allowing us their flesh to eat; Europeans simply take the flesh for granted and consider the deer inferior. After all, Europeans consider themselves godlike in their rationalism and science. God is the Supreme Being; all else must be inferior.
All European tradition, Marxism included, has conspired to defy the natural order of all things. Mother Earth has been abused, the powers have been abused, and this cannot go on forever. No theory can alter that simple fact. Mother Earth will retaliate, the whole environment will retaliate, and the abusers will be eliminated. Things come full circle, back to where they started. That’s revolution. And that’s a prophecy of my people, of the Hopi people and of other correct peoples.
American Indians have been trying to explain this to Europeans for centuries. But, as I said earlier, Europeans have proven themselves unable to hear. The natural order will win out, and the offenders will die out, the way deer die when they offend the harmony by over-populating a given region. It’s only a matter of time until what Europeans call ‘a major catastrophe of global proportions’ will occur. It is the role of American Indian peoples, the role of all natural beings, to survive. A part of our survival is to resist. We resist not to overthrow a government or to take political power, but because it is natural to resist extermination, to survive. We don’t want power over white institutions; we want white institutions to disappear. That’s revolution.
American Indians are still in touch with these realities – the prophecies, the traditions of our ancestors. We learn from the elders, from nature, from the powers. And when the catastrophe is over, we American Indian peoples will still be here to inhabit the hemisphere. I don’t care if it’s only a handful living high in the Andes. American Indian people will survive; harmony will be reestablished. That’s revolution.
At this point, perhaps I should be very clear about another matter, one which should already be clear as a result of what I’ve said. But confusion breeds easily these days, so I want to hammer home this point. When I use the term European, I’m not referring to a skin color or a particular genetic structure. What I’m referring to is a mind-set, a worldview that is a product of the development of European culture. People are not genetically encoded to hold this outlook; they are acculturated to hold it. The same is true for American Indians or for the members of any culture.”
great commentary and critique.
“European culture itself is responsible. Marxism is just the latest continuation of this tradition, not a solution to it. ”
I agree, but would take it a step further to say European culture is a development of civilization itself: homogenizing much of the globe today, but once was rife with indigenous lifeways of all sorts, the european continent included.
your critique bears resemblance with Fredy Perlman’s anarchist analysis of civilization in “Against His-story, Against Leviathan!”
for anyone interested in a non-leftist anti-capitalist indigenous perspective, I would highly recommend Perlman’s text, along with the indigenous anarchist journal, “Black Seed,” and Aragorn!’s writings:
Just listened. Great episode. I thought the rain-dance topic was too easily dismissed, however.
Rain dances don’t work. We know that. But every heuristic is wrong sometimes. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a valuable heuristic. There may be something to learn from the inductive nuances that lead to a belief in rain dances … or package cults … or predictive analytics.
That’s the kind of place y’all usually go. That’s what I was looking for here. I didn’t get it this time.