Well, I’m heading off to Standing Rock to spend Thanksgiving with the Native Americans of North America. The indigenous Water Protectors of Standing Rock have taken an unprecedented stand against the corporate interests of fossil fuel industries and their financiers. This stand-off, the first coordinated, principled, and indigenous confrontation with the juggernaught of global capitalism in my lifetime, rivals any movement in the US in the last century for its dedication to ecology, people, and justice.
While during the 1960’s and 1970’s it wasn’t until the general population (including sons and daughters of influential Senators) got involved on a mass level that the US withdrew from its quagmire of a war in Vietnam, in the present set of civil rights violations we are confronted with, we haven’t yet hit critical mass. Sure, on the eve of November 20th 300 inhabitants at Standing Rock were injured by concussion bombs, rubber bullets, ice cannons (water cannons in subfreezing temperatures, where the water blasted turns to ice en route). But in 2016, unlike 1974, the news media has blacked out any relevant coverage of domestic atrocities, just like they tried to block out coverage that this Vermont Senator named Bernie Sanders was running for president. The amount of control and constriction of mainstream media, rendering it all but obsolete for people under 40, preclude a nation from actually looking at the violence that it perpetrates. This lack of feedback from the bottom-up further weakens any sort of civic bonds, and is acidic on the body politic.
Solidarity is a virtue too infrequently overlooked by Americans, who are tooled by education and business culture to believe in the myth of the autochthonous man. Our rabid individualistic culture–where all are supposed to inherit an equality of opportunity–has been thoroughly dissapated through empirical work by Claude M. Steele and colleagues demonstrating empirically the degenerative effects of “stereotype threats” to undermine the performance of those discriminated against through the normativity of the masculine, heterosexual, male, white standard. The fact that those not part of the old boys’ club constantly consciously or (more often) unconsciously are struggling to prove themselves against a stereotype that downgrades their identity group at particular abilities (such as intelligence), means that those competing in the meritocratic game are competing not only along the parameters of the task at hand (i.e., an SAT test), but also are competing against the stereotype promulgated through
Of course, due to the violent response of militarized police and private security operatives, firing at the water protectors, and even allegedly spraying them with chemicals from cropduster planes (see video below), I have some trepidation going in to this situation over my own safety. The use of chemical warfare against the people of Standing Rock, at night, is a serious allegation that Candida Rodriguez Kingbird calls “an act of terrorism… against the indigenous peoples of Standing Rock.”
While there is a 500 year history of European colonialism, and a history of broken treaties, dislocation, and violence against indigenous native american peoples, one would think that in 2016 that the post-Civil Rights US government would adopt an approach to dealing with sovereign native nations that doesn’t railroad over their rights. It is depressing, then, that US is increasingly–from Black Lives Matter to Standing Rock–increasingly being scrutinized by the international community as a serial Human Rights violator. International bodies are increasingly concerned with the barbarism exhibited in racist displays of power, overriding the basic dignities of non-white people. As in the water poisoning disaster in Flint, Michigan, the complete lack of care for marginalized and poor people unable to escape from the toxins perpetrated by poor planning and the normal accidents of global corporate commodity exigencies, exhibits a pattern of underhanded responses to government and corporate created environmental and social catastrophes. Human Rights Watch reports that
particularly in the areas of criminal justice, immigration, and national security, US laws and practices routinely violate rights. Often, those least able to defend their rights in court or through the political process—racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, children, the poor, and prisoners—are the people most likely to suffer abuses.
Such condemnations of a country that fancies itself the pinnacle of progress may be too much for many to digest. The cognitive dissonance of “make America great again” and the likely impact of policies constituting the road to this so-called “greatness” will more than likely exacerbate existing injustices, not repair them.
There has got to be a better way to govern than to protect the powerful and throw the poor and marginalized under the bus. This approach plays a short-term game, designed inevitably to implode. Ignoring climate limits, collapsing ecosystems, destroying communities, and seizing the last shreds of sovereign indigenous land–these are the desperate attempts of an out-of-control addict. These are the signs of wetiko, the Tibetan “hungry ghosts” that eat the whole universe until there is nothing left to eat, at which point they cannibalize themselves. This is the obscura parasitic energy/entity in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, resulting from a self-loathing repression that explodes in bursts of anger and violence.
It is time to play a long-term game, one in which we think ahead seven generations. One in which instrumentalizing life no longer plays center stage, but instead that relationality governs our thoughts, words, and actions. One where we reclaim a concept of the sacred, gratitude, and humility, so that we can acknowledge our interconnectedness, and that nothing we have ever done or been has been by our own hand alone. This symbipoeisis replaces autopoeiesis (as Haraway emphasizes), and the myth of the autochthonous man gives way to Indra’s web, the co-constituing of beings.
So, I will go and meld with the force of nature which is the Water and the Water Protectors of Standing Rock. I will share my healing arts, be a gadfly, contribute in whatever ways I can, and learn. The alternative, of safe comfort, simply would be too bitter. I couldn’t live with myself knowing that I didn’t do my all to show up and be present in this dark moment of colonial violence and neoliberal slow violence, that has seeped into our culture so thick, that we’re no longer surprised when the sacrifice zones of capitalism fall, one after another, in order to supply the latest distractive widget, so that we can forget all the harm we’re doing. Electronics and VR are the new river Lethe. We scurry away into our safe zones, all the while making the world even less safe. The personal commodity bubbles of VR, online life, or second life, eclipsing the breathing world, is nothing more than the zenith of Idealism. Deny the body, the material, the world, and retreat to the mind. This has been the strategy of numbness for centuries, when met with the fallout of capital accumulation. But now, as we reach the end of this story, its no longer even satisfying. It’s no longer a successful strategy. We have reached a punctuated equilibrium, and now what worked before no longer is a successful evolutionary strategy. We must learn surréflection, as Merleau-Ponty suggests: we must become conscious of those things we are unconscious of, in order to surmount or supersede the stuckness in antagonism. We must learn to live as a community, diverse and without ever a final authority over and against another, on this ever-flourishing earth.