‘Learning from indigenous wisdom and knowledge – To change society a cultural revolution in activism is needed.’ This absorbing, original and moving article is a guest post by Rudi Teichmann of www.news-beacon-ireland.info I believe it confirms the feelings that many of us share. – Julian Rose
About 30 years ago I met a young woman during a train ride and we began talking. During the conversation I asked her what she was doing and she replied that she was studying indigenous civilisations within her anthropology course. When I asked her why she was interested in this subject she replied (the exact words I do not remember after such a long time but I remember the essence): “We will need their knowledge to sort out the problems we’re faced with.”
by R. Teichmann
contributed by the author
About 30 years ago I met a young woman during a train ride and we began talking. During the conversation I asked her what she was doing and she replied that she was studying indigenous civilisations within her anthropology course. When I asked her why she was interested in this subject she replied (the exact words I do not remember after such a long time but I remember the essence): “We will need their knowledge to sort out the problems we’re faced with.” I did not understand then what she was saying; or better I dismissed it, because what could it possibly be that these cultures (now barely existing and still under threat from genocide) could contribute to the solving of modern day problems?
I recently attended a workshop with an Elder of the Wampanoag Nation, Manitonquat (Medicine Story). This article is my personal “digestion” of that weekend. I dedicate this to all fellow men and women who hold a vision for a better future and are working towards reaching that goal and especially to Manitonquat and his partner Ellika.
What is the issue?
Ever since I was a teenager, I realised that something was not right with the way we live and the longing to put things right has never left me. I have been active in quite a few movements and political organisations during my lifetime, trying to make the world a better place. I witnessed sectarianism, splits, infighting, movements getting hi-jacked to serve a certain agenda or co-opted to advance something they were originally opposed to, persons with big egos rising to the top to become “leaders”.
In that respect the best example I can think of was the rise of Joschka Fischer to the top of the German Green Party. As such he became Foreign Minister of a coalition government, composed of Social Democrats and Greens, and denounced everything the Greens and he himself previously stood for when he advocated waging war on an independent state, the then Yugoslavia, “on humanitarian grounds of course” without UN Mandate and contrary to international law and the German constitution. It was then that all my hopes to change something by engaging in that party faded and I left it in protest and disgust.
Many parties and movements and even “alternative” communities seem to be ending in the dustbin of history without ever achieving their initial goals – leaving behind many disillusioned good people; people who invested time, work and money to achieve a better world and tackle the problems we are all faced with. And if they are successful they end up establishing their (or rather their leaders’) way and oppressing and dominating the remainder of society. Why is it that way?
Fear and Isolation
Most of us agree that the current way society works (referred to throughout this article as ‘the system’) is not only unfit for purpose – i.e. ensuring that the needs of people, plants, animals and everything else surrounding us in the broadest sense are met – but is also based on isolation and fear.
The fear of not passing the test in school is where it begins. The fear of not getting a job comes next. Then the fear of losing that job. The fear of not being able to provide for your family. The fear of not being able to pay the next mortgage rate and losing the roof over your head. The fear of not being taken care of in sickness or old age. And then there is the fear of the unknown. That is why people shy away from consciously acknowledging that the system is unfit for purpose and begin to think about how it can be changed and what they can do, even though deep inside they are aware of this fact.
Any movement aiming to replace the failing system with something better must create an environment where people can lose their fear. How can that be done?
Since humanity replaced tribes with ever larger entities of social organisation, comprising more and more humans, the isolation of the individual human has increased. Instead of living in a society where you knew all members of your tribe on a very personal level, where decisions affecting the community were made together and swiftly implemented, we now live in towns and cities or even hubs where you hardly know your neighbours, let alone on a very personal level.
Our direct interactions with nature, to provide us with what we need to survive, are replaced by factory farms and visits to the supermarket. Group creativity has been replaced with hours in front of that square screen in our living rooms or with spending hours shaking to synthetic music or with finding thrill in consuming “recreational” drugs. Even in the midst of thousands of other people around us, we have become more isolated than ever before.
Hand in hand with this development came the concentration of power in fewer and fewer hands. Instead of being involved directly in decision making and implementing we now have a vote. A vote that changes nothing. Many begin to realize this as the ever less participation in elections indicates. The real power people once had has migrated to career politicians who are lobbied and sometimes financed by big corporations, which are financed by “too big to fail” banks, which are financed by central banks, which are controlled by a tiny elite who make all the vital decisions behind closed doors.
We may feel connected through the Internet, the so-called social media, but these connections are artificial, virtual. We are living virtual lives instead of real ones. The deep personal connection between humans and between humans and nature has been replaced with the illusion of it. Instead of talking to each other face-to-face and heart to heart we now send twitter messages, smileys and hit “Like” buttons. Instead of actually interacting with nature, we watch “Nature programs” on TV.
Isolation equals disempowerment. Humans feel helpless when isolated. People do not engage to replace the failing system with something better because they feel powerless or perceive the powers that shouldn’t be as being the normal state of affairs that cannot be altered. Resulting from the isolation from nature and fellow human, instead of developing their intrinsic individual spirituality and respect and understanding for everything that is, people follow various religions, look for gurus and ideologies to fulfill their need of spiritual community. This is exploited by those who want control and domination or, even worse, it is used to turn humans against each other.
Any movement aiming to replace the failing system with something better must create an environment where people can connect with one another on a deep personal level as well as with nature, which they are a part of. How can that be done?
Fear and isolation are the necessary ingredients that allow the current system to linger on, to manipulate most of society, to prevent development and implementation of solutions to most problems and to allow domination, control and destruction on a massive scale.
The creation of an environment where fear and isolation are absent and that encourages direct contact with nature is a prerequisite for any attempt to effect meaningful and lasting change for the better for all of life on this planet. How can we create it?
What do political parties, groups and movements look like at present?
The origins of most political parties, groups and movements stem from the desire to come together with like-minded individuals for a specific purpose.
In the case of a political party, this usually is to get a majority or enough votes to get into government to implement the policies of the party program. Political parties are structured mirroring the society as it is. There are one or several leaders, a “steering committee” or something similar, the “parliamentary party” (those party members elected to parliament) and then there are the ordinary party members. There are conventions giving the illusion that the individual party members have the power, whereas in reality the topics are decided beforehand by smaller groups and committees. The structure is hierarchical. The purpose is not the empowerment of the party members but getting into and staying in power. The so-called party whip is the expression of that. People disagreeing face expulsion and loss of party membership if they do not stick to the party line. In most cases, once in power, the original goals become less important, staying in power becomes the goal. Very often the leaders get co-opted and corrupted. Political parties are necessary in the current system to make it function. They give the illusion that people have a say. Parties are used to split society along party lines the same as religions and ideologies are used to split society along belief lines. The traditional political parties and their structures are as unfit for the purpose to solve problems as the system within which they exist.
Then there are other groups like initiatives against this or that or to save this or that. As admirable as their goals may be, they focus on a single issue and do not address the array of other problems that are present. If they are lucky, they reach their goal- let’s say to prevent the construction of a motorway. Then their purpose is fulfilled and they disappear. If they do not reach their goal they disappear out of frustration of the people involved.
Then we have movements that try to change society by stepping outside the system and living in communities of their own, like Eco villages, trying to lead the way by giving an example of how things can be done differently. But even these movements sometimes fail. These movements have rightly identified the community as the basis for change but many lack the wisdom and knowledge and, in the long run, encounter the same problems.
Indigenous wisdom and knowledge – A game changer
The tribe – the holistic form of human life
For long periods of time indigenous cultures have successfully lived in tribes in harmony with their fellow humans and in balance with nature. The tribe is the only form of organisation I can think of that could take care of all of our needs, physical (food), emotional (closeness to other human beings) and spiritual (knowing that the entire tribe depends on nature and thus the tribe is embedded in the wholeness of everything there is).
The limited number of people living in a tribe enabled a deep knowledge of your fellow human and an appreciation of his/her personality, virtues and traits. Due to this fact it was almost impossible for one person to dominate. Leadership was not permanent but emerged naturally to solve a certain situation and dissolved again when the situation or crisis was dealt with. Like a family, the tribe was based on mutual respect and even love. It was an environment where fear, isolation and domination were absent. No government, police, judges and prisons were needed.
The various tribes interacted with each other on the basis of mutual benefit. Conflict among them was very rare. Mostly it was young men exploring their strength and courage. It was more similar to a sporting event than a conflict.
We must conclude that tribal life is far superior to any other form of societal organisation in human history, be it feudalism, dictatorship, absolutism, kingdoms, empires, or even the present so called democracies. Especially when we take into account that indigenous tribes still exist today and originated millennia before “civilisation” emerged.
Tribal life centered around the circle. Decision making as well as dancing, singing and celebrations of all sorts were conducted in a circle. A circle where everyone was equally important. There was recognition that Elders held wisdom due to the simple fact that they had more life experience. So they were highly regarded and well cared for. The tribe as a whole cared lovingly for the children as they were joy, inspiration and presented the future. For decision making the members of the tribe met in a circle, recognizing and respecting their individuality and arrived at decisions beneficial to all and future generations (the native American Indians had the tradition of taking into account what effect their decisions would have for 7 generations to come).
I argue that our ancestors really became human when they first started to form circles, sitting together to find out how best to survive and develop. Our natural state of being as a human means living in a tribe and meeting other humans in a circle of equals.
Summarizing we can say that tribal life
– Takes care of the food supply
– Provides shelter and security
– Takes care of the elderly, sick and young
– Enables deep knowledge of and love for all members of the tribe (closeness)
– Recognizes the multitude of different personalities and the freedom of the individual
– Is based on mutual respect, co-operation and love
– Creates an environment without fear, isolation and domination
– Enables a permanent balance with nature and all other life on this planet for very long periods of time
– Enables spritual development through direct and co-operative interaction with nature
One may argue that tribal life is now almost extinct because it ultimately could not deal with the onslaught of modern civilisation and thus cannot be a superior form of societal organisation. Those arguing this have not reflected on the dire situation humanity finds itself in at present. Our civilisation has led us to a situation where we are slowly poisoned, where there is the possibility of complete annihilation of the entire human race by all kinds of weapons, where there is permanent war, where many go hungry and die, where food security is destroyed by depleting soils, herbicides and GMOs and the contamination of the planet’s water to a degree where it becomes undrinkable. We must face up to the fact that the history of civilisation has led into a blind alley towards a cliff in spite of all technological advances. If we do not find another way we may well be approaching a dead end, literally.
A cultural revolution – Embracing a holistic approach
Throughout written history it has been a minority that sees the necessity for a change in direction and acts accordingly. The desire to change things for the better leads us to organize ourselves in a multitude of organisations.
Which brings us back to the question:
What should an organisation look like that can effect meaningful change?
For me the answer has become clear. It should look and function like a tribe.
When we strive to avoid sectarianism, splits, domination, co-option within our organisations we have to embrace a holistic approach. This means that the organisation must reflect the society we want to create and not the system as it is at present. We must live what we preach. We must progress from issue-centered organisations to holistic organisations. We must transform our organisations into communities that provide everything a tribe does. Ideally this means living together in a community of like-minded people, a modern tribe, interacting with the world around it on the basis of mutual benefit. That is easier said than done but we can make a start by
– Respecting our fellow man / woman in their entirety
– Recognizing that everyone is equally important
– Respecting that every opinion is a valid one
– Giving an equal amount of time to everyone to express themselves
– Listening carefully to what others say
– Not allowing ourselves or others to dominate
– Creating mechanisms whereby we support each other in all life situations (sickness, bereavement, loss of job, becoming homeless)
– Trying to care for the wellbeing of all
– Making decisions in a circle of equals taking into account the longterm effect of our decisions
– Beginning all meetings in a circle, welcoming each other and appreciating each others’ presence
– Organising meetings for celebrations and enjoyment
– Trying to grow as much of the food we need in a co-operative way to again connect to nature and our spiritual selves
If we do that we will transform ourselves, fear and isolation will disappear and a tribal spirit will emerge. Our organisation will evolve into a stable community where we can take care of each other instead of being taken care of. Where we decide instead of being led like a flock of sheep. Where we can become increasingly independent from the unfit old system until it is no longer needed.
If our organisations can evolve this way it will be much easier to network with other organisations or communites that have developed along similar lines.
If we adopt the same principles in our dealings with institutions and individuals in general we will grow a new society from the present system – a synthesis of modern technologies and solutions, ancient knowledge and wisdom, modern science and intrinsic human spirituality and bring together the suffering people in the industrialised world and the developing world.
Indigenous knowledge and wisdom show a possible way how it could be achieved. Let us embrace it – it could prove to be a game changer.
I’d like to end this with the lyrics of “Imagine” by John Lennon (murdered by the powers that do not need to be because he was on to something):
Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one
About the author:
R. Teichmann is an activist living in West Cork (Ireland) and the editor of www.news-beacon-ireland.info.
The author authorises the publication of this article anywhere provided no alterations are made, links remain intact and proper credit is given.