The Days After Tomorrow 7: To Put Away Childish Things

Vision Quest

Initiation rites almost always began with a long period of solitude, deprivation, even pain. All the things a parent tries to keep from a child, imposed to teach life’s important lessons. (Photo by SacredLivingInstitute .com)

[This is one of a series of meditations on what we might have learned, and might still learn, from the history of Native Americans about how to live without modern technology and industry, which we may have to do in the near future.]

We modern white Europeans have discarded most of the ways humans have devised to preserve their societies over hundreds of thousands of years. Clans, extended families, true community, ceremonies and rituals promoting awareness of connections among the people, the natural world and the spirit world — all are pretty much gone. Disabling our own society, and destroying the natural world on which it depends, have become the things we do best. If we are to start over, after our ultimate group failure, we must learn again how societies — such as the Native Americans — successfully preserved themselves for thousands of years.

One of the most important — and most universal — of the preservation techniques was the initiation rite. Humans found out early that the span of one lifetime was not enough time to gain wisdom. Elders had to pass on hard-won life lessons to the young, sometimes with stories, sometimes by example, and sometimes with a good hard cuff upside the head. Or, in other words, an initiation rite. Continue reading

The Days After Tomorrow 6: They Voted With Their Feet

[This is one of a series of meditations on what we might have learned, and might still learn, from the history of Native Americans about how to live without modern technology and industry, which we may have to do in the near future.]

de Crevecouer

This is a noble Frenchman who fought in the French and Indian War. He thought Indian culture was “far superior to anything to be boasted of among us.”

If you say anything complimentary about historic Native American life, you will be told that you are buying into the myth of the Noble Savage, you are mis-applying modern sensibilities to Stone Age history, and are thus constructing in your mind a Disney movie about a Mad Max era. It’s a hard criticism to answer. How, indeed, can we overweight, sedentary keyboard crunchers come to any valid conclusion about life as hunter-gatherers without iPhones?

Turns out, we have a few witnesses. Here’s one. “The American Indian should serve as a model for how to eradicate poverty and bring natural rights back into civilized life.” Can you hear the sneers? Obviously, this is some bleeding-heart academic New Age liberal with no knowledge of history, right? Wrong. That’s Thomas Paine, a founding father of the United States, writing in 1795 while the Indian Wars raged in the Midwest. Continue reading

The Days After Tomorrow 5: None So Blind

Bill Gates

Think the days of arrogant white ignorance are over? Consider that just a few weeks ago, American Geek-in-chief Bill Gates grandly offered to give Bolivia, which he referred to as a poverty stricken country, 100,000 chickens. (Sort of a “Let them eat eggs” statement — or, with a little extra trouble, cake.) Bolivia, it turns out, has a thriving economy, exports 36 million chickens a year, produces nearly 200 million. But thanks anyway, Great White Father.

[This is one of a series of meditations on what we might have learned, and might still learn, from the history of Native Americans about how to live without modern technology and industry, which we may have to do in the near future.]

One cannot answer a question that has not been asked (if you are a parent, you know exactly what I mean). And one cannot ask a question of which one cannot conceive. Thus does ignorance remain locked in place. Before we can learn anything useful from or about any other culture, we have to remove any blinders that prevent us from conceiving of questions: things like bigotry, racism, intolerance, delusions of superiority and exceptionalism, convictions of a special and exclusive relationship with God. Continue reading

The Days After Tomorrow 4: Paiute Morning

When dawn came, and the people of the Paiute camp emerged from their wickiups, the Watching priest was astonished not by what they did, but what they did without.

When dawn came, and the people of the Paiute camp emerged from their wickiups, the Watching priest was astonished not by what they did, but what they did without.

[This is one of a series of meditations on what we might have learned, and might still learn, from the history of Native Americans about how to live without modern technology and industry, which we may have to do in the near future.]

About a hundred years after Father LeJeune vented about the unwillingness of the Montagnais to give or receive orders, another Jesuit priest awoke in the predawn hour in a Paiute village, near the other coast of the North American continent. Apparently the Jesuits, who at least were willing to observe and take down information about the lives of the Native Americans, were no better than anyone else at sharing what they learned, because this priest was as shocked by what he saw as Father LeJeune had been, for the same reason.

As daylight came and the villagers stepped out of their wickiups, they went immediately into action, some gathering twigs for tinder, others starting the breakfast fires, some fetching water, others preparing food. All this activity, and all that was to come that day and every day, proceeded without anyone giving anyone else an order. Continue reading

The Days After Tomorrow 3: Saving the Montagnais

Fr. Jacques Marquette, S.J., a contemporary of Fr. Le Jeune quoted here, at work saving souls of Ojibwas in the western Great Lakes. (Wikipedia Photo)

Fr. Jacques Marquette, S.J., a contemporary of Fr. Le Jeune quoted here, at work saving souls of Ojibwas in the western Great Lakes. (Wikipedia Photo)

[This is one of a series of meditations on what we might have learned, and might still learn, from the history of Native Americans about how to live without modern technology and industry, which we may have to do in the near future.]

During the same time that the unfortunate Montagnais people of what is now Quebec were being economically transformed and then ravaged by the juggernaut fur trade, in what we could call the Beaver Bubble, they were also being spiritually ransacked by the Catholic Church. In both cases the outcome was ugly, but offers lessons in what must not be sold, or lost, or given away if a people is to persevere.

You don’t have to look very far into the records that exist pertaining to Native North Americans before you realize that the writings consist in the main of the writings of Catholic missionaries, most of them Jesuit. You can’t help but wonder; how did it happen that there were so many Catholic missionaries in the New World wilderness? Continue reading

The Days After Tomorrow 2: Mourning the Montagnais

The way it used to be for the Montagnais, circa 1550; hide clothing, wood and hide canoes, stone-tipped weapons and tools. Thanks to the French fashion trade, things were about to get a lot better for them. And then, way, way worse. (Photo by Ben Christi/skyrock.com)

The way it used to be for the Montagnais, circa 1550; hide clothing, wood and hide canoes, stone-tipped weapons and tools. Thanks to the French fashion trade, things were about to get a lot better for them. And then, way, way worse. (Photo by Ben Christi/skyrock.com)

[This is one of a series of meditations on what we might have learned, and might still learn, from the history of Native Americans about how to live without technology and industry, which we may have to do in the near future.]

In North America in the 16th Century, the people known as the Montagnais (the French called them that, “Mountaineers,” the tribe called themselves “Innu,” the People) were among the first to fall before the European juggernaut. Their story became a template for almost all the other tribes on the continent, and in some important respects is eerily like our own unfolding story. Continue reading

The Days After Tomorrow 1: The Thunderbird Lesson

Thunderbird Site

A 1985 on-site reconstruction of the oldest known human habitation on the North American continent, used by Paleo-Indians in what is now the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. What they were doing there, for 12,000 years, could be a lesson for us all. (Photo by Douglas Campbell/Flickr)

When we talk about re-ordering human life to suppress the sicknesses that have brought the planet to the brink of destruction — greed, heedless exploitation of limited resources, and so on — the discussion often founders on claims that these traits are fixed in human nature or to put it in more modern techno-jargon, they are “hard wired” in our brains and/or in our genes. So it doesn’t matter, it is argued, \ how we try to organize society, human nature will assert itself and a few years after the total crash of industrial society someone will invent a futures market and away we go again. One of the reasons that I will never buy that argument is that I have been to the Thunderbird Site. Continue reading

The Days After Tomorrow: Introduction

Making dinner without a microwave, as they did in Cahokia Mounds, Illinois, 800 years ago (when the city was larger than London)? Maybe. But living without greed? Priceless. Maybe we should ask. (Photo by Cahokia Mounds Museum Society)

Making dinner without a microwave, as they did in Cahokia Mounds, Illinois, 800 years ago (when the city was larger than London)? Maybe. But living without greed? Priceless. Maybe we should ask. (Photo by Cahokia Mounds Museum Society)

Apres Nous le Deluge. And Then What?

Opinion is divided about what la Marquise de Pompadour meant, when she said (perhaps to her lover Louis XV), “Apres nous, le deluge [After us, the crash].” It was either, “You know, we’re making a really big mess of things, and everything is probably going to go to hell after we’re gone.” Or, on the other hand, she may have meant, “So what? We’re going to be gone. Where’s the cake?”

Among people who believe that the Industrial Age has started to come crashing down around our ears, there is a roughly similar divide: between those who see nothing after le deluge but extinction of the human race; and those who think some of us will survive. But then what? Continue reading