Monday, August 28, 2017

The First Nations, and why we need them

On Friday, I was driving East on highway 16, to attend Rose Borunda’s Indian Curriculum fundraiser. The evening sun baked the round hills to golden brown. Sparsely placed green trees were promising shade. It looked like a fairy tale country. I was thinking about people who walked through this landscape some 19,000 years ago. Canadians have found exactly the right word for them, the First Nations; it is a much more poetic term than Native Americans. There is something incredibly profound about seeing all this beauty for the first time ever, be the first human being to enter this part of the world, to give names to these hills, these rivers and valleys, without also taking previous names away. It is the discovery that is not yet polluted by conquest.

Then I made a mistake of turning on the radio, and my thoughts quickly turned to the theme that I was preoccupied with for a few weeks now. The surge of xenophobia in the US and in theу world is something new. It is not your old racism at its last gasp. The alt-right is related to the old racism like Agent N (which is a biological weapon) relates to the ancient Anthrax bacteria. It is the same bug, but manufactured in quantities on purpose and distributed through new technological channels. The bacteria is the same, but the effect is very different.

The argument I am working on is that we cannot defeat the new threat with more education, and more critical thinking. This is not the place to lay out the full argument, but the gist it is this: the paranoid mind on which the new racism feeds, is a form of perverse critical thinking and is immune to logical argument. So we need to build an arsenal of spiritual, emotional, cultural memes to fight this war. And where do we find those things? The major source of these ideas is the communities that practiced survival under oppression for centuries, the communities of color in the US, and other marginalized groups throughout the world. Their cultures have developed the cultural immune systems, or, if you like, the stocks of cultural capital that fights domination with solidarity, empathy, and spirituality.

This is not just theory. Just remember how homophobia in the US has been defeated – not by rational arguments, and not by critical thinking. No, it was because the gay community made a strategic decision to enter the mass culture through TV. Similarly, the African-American culture’s impact on the global culture did more to combat racism than many efforts to educate the rational minds. Those things work; we just need to find a way of accessing the stocks of cultural capital and use it in education. We need Multiculturalism 2.0 to combat the racism 2.0. It is an arms race, and we need the troops and materials. And yes, you should donate to Rose’s project; it replaces the 4th grade mission project with Indian-approved curriculum. It is not just about telling the truth, but about telling the emotional truth.

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