Journey to Authenticity
by Jay Taber
In the largely synthetic reality we inhabit as residents of a consumer culture, it is often difficult to find refuge from the commercial onslaught, but it is essential that we create such spaces if we are to begin our journey to authenticity. Taking time to think may seem like an obvious point of departure for this journey, but without a peaceful space to consider reliable guides — absent the intrusion of imbecilic pseudo adventures — the first step is never taken. Rejecting counterfeit society positions us to begin our journey, but it does not get us underway to a healthier mindset; the work that encompasses requires embracing genuine relationships that only reveal themselves one step at a time.
I don’t remember when irony and paradox became my constant companions, but I do recall being vaguely aware of their presence from a young age. Perhaps like layers of redwood bark they slowly accumulated around my young psyche until they became deeply-furrowed with time. Awareness itself is a phenomenon worth reflecting on, and indeed formal studies of the history of consciousness are even offered in academia, but irony and paradox only became tangible to me as a result of civic involvement—an arena where human frailties and contradictions are magnified.
Finding humanity in places where I’d least expect it, as well as experiencing its betrayal from quarters where I’d hoped for better, has tempered my expectations while simultaneously giving me encouragement. As I acknowledge the need to find hope somewhere among the ruins of human relations, I am repeatedly reminded by natural, uncoerced acts, that perhaps generosity is a more authentic attribute than selfishness, and that cruelty is thus contrary to the order of things.
Living within the boundaries of a TV empire, yet nourished by an indigenous culture that produced the mind of Momaday and sense of Silko, I can fully appreciate the development of my longtime friends as we walk together through the forest of forlorn kin and kind. Working with fellow imperfect beings, in an already perfect world, only accentuates my reliance on them as perpetual patterns woven inexorably into the fabric of my existence.
As is often remarked, sometimes the most obvious things are hidden in plain sight. While occasionally this is due to a simple matter of neglect or a pre-conditioned blindness to other points of view, in the case of indigenous invisibility, our inability to see the forest for the trees is more often than not due to the monumental wall of denial meticulously constructed and maintained by state-centric institutions and market-oriented media.
With the resurgence of indigenous leadership in North and South America in recent years, the critical mass of the world’s unrepresented ancient nations and original peoples is finally beginning to dismantle this 500-year-old wall. And despite all the distortion and deception mustered by modern states like Russia, China, and the US, the authentic message of peoples close to nature is getting through. That message — that they, as the ancient seed of later migrations, are the proprietors of a natural consciousness vital to the survival of mankind, and perhaps more importantly, are ready to share this knowledge with anyone willing to treat them with respect — comes none too soon.
As we witness the collapse of the planetary ecosystem and the breakdown of modern states built on foundations of aggression, this act of generosity by the Fourth World is one we would be wise to accept. But whether or not we enter into this new relationship with the world’s 5,000 surviving aboriginal societies, depends largely on our willingness to listen attentively to their stories and to learn to navigate the sacred dimensions of human relationships. From the Mapuche in Chile, to the Naga in India and the Sami in Sweden, the World Indigenous Movement — catalyzed thirty years ago by First Nations in British Columbia — is now gaining recognition in international fora like the EU, UN, and International Criminal Court; how we respond to this moral challenge will determine whether our future is one of rapprochement and coexistence, or one of violence and misery.
The World Indigenous Movement is now fighting what Fourth World nations perceive as the final battles to protect their lands, knowledge, and ways of life from total annihilation. All the world’s natural resources, governing institutions, and economic structures are involved in this conflict. Absent satisfactory resolution of this fundamental disagreement, no modern societies will long be able to meet their basic needs in terms of mobility, energy, security, food, or water. As Dr. Rudolph C. Ryser of the Center for World Indigenous Studies put it, “What the people in the Fourth World nations think, decide and do on their own behalf will decide much of the world’s international policies for generations to come.”
As both Gerry Adams and Nelson Mandela will tell you, democracy is a discursive process where everyone must be listened to; anything less is simply rule by repression. If our governance structures (such as majority rule) don’t allow for consensual participation by all citizens, then they must be abandoned for a system that does.
Confederated regions with aboriginal autonomies is not a new concept or practice on this continent, nor are subsidiarities in land use, education, or economic development. Because some federal obligations remain even with devolution of some powers to more appropriate, even localized levels, is no reason to abandon our attention to preparing for self-determination. Creating authentic, democratic architecture and infrastructure while subverting empire opens up opportunities for literally anyone who wants to be involved.
Perhaps we should concern ourselves with exhibiting behavior that young people would be proud to emulate; if nothing else, we will at least retain the sense of dignity required for furtherance of humanity after the fall. If that means creating new conventions borrowed from other cultures and traditions, then so be it; we have the cultural diversity to accomplish that. Making the connections to achieve this task is the only justification I can see for investing our time in online discussions; at some point we must experiment for ourselves. Family, clan and tribe are nurseries for larger solidarities.
One of the advantages of a network (versus an institution or other dogmatic organization) is that we can take the experience and best ideas of each independent correspondent and put them to use. Call it synergy or symbiosis, but the cooperative creation of narrative through unmediated, intentional communication enhances our estimate of the situation, allowing us to develop more effective plans. People with experience in social conflict who have developed curricula on the subject bring a perspective to our discussions that is useful, authentic and unique.
The recent showdowns at the United Nations over whether or not indigenous peoples should be treated as human beings, is instructive in that it provides an opportunity to educate, reflect, and reassess relationships between first and fourth world peoples. As an ongoing dispute, the conflict between synthetic states and authentic nations is literally foundational–not only in how we are to live together and coexist, but perhaps more importantly, whether we choose to end a destructive way of life and embrace a more creative future.
For all the contrived complexities of commerce taught in business schools, economics boils down to getting what you need versus what someone else wants. There exists no better illustration of this than the global struggle of indigenous peoples to prevent states and corporations from laying waste to the entire planet in the pursuit of luxury goods.
Attempting to arrest economies of wanton destruction from tearing the heart out of Mother Earth and leaving behind toxic radioactive waste, however, is not so simple as appealing to common sense or requesting simple respect for sacred beliefs. As living remnants of free peoples and authentic lifeways, the aboriginal nations that have survived annihilation by the hoarding economies now find themselves facing down an insatiable world system of plunder.
Conscious of their history, they know this is the final battle. They also know they need our help. As the Mayan of Mexico lately observed, “We are already dead.”
(Jay Taber — recipient of the Defender of Democracy award — is an author, columnist, and research analyst at Public Good Project.)