We Need Chief Ethics Officers Now More Than Ever

As a person who studied ethics and was on the non-academic job market looking for ethics jobs, I became convinced that most companies–including tech companies–simply want a Compliance Officer, who is usually a lawyer, so they don’t get in trouble with the law.
What they don’t often look for is a Chief Ethics Officer. And when they do look for someone in ethics, they usually combine them into one role: Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer. Usually they are looking for someone with a JD, not a background in ethics (philosophy).
I’m not alone in my thinking. Take a look at this article, arguing for more Chief Ethics Officers.
The particular program I was in during graduate school was specifically geared to deal with modern-day, practical ethics and policy problems. Thus, you think I’d be well suited for a Chief Ethics Officer position. And, I would be. If anyone was hiring them.
So tell the entrepreneurs in your life to hire philosophers–people with backgrounds in ethics–for their organizations. You never know what great things may come of it.

“Branding” And Schemas

Yesterday, I was asked on a questionnaire what I think a “brand” is. You know, like a company brand or, more to the point these days, a personal brand.

I could never really brand myself. I’m just perhaps too adventurous to be a brand. I change my mind on things when given new evidence. This leads me to change the course of my life sometimes. A “brand” is usually more stable than that.

So, when I was asked what a brand is, I said it was the cognitive schema people typically have in their heads when they think of a company.

This got me thinking about schemas.

This is an example of a cognitive schema some folks may have. It’s kind of like a stereotype.

We organize things in our mind in neatly packaged ways. But those ways can lend themselves to disappointing or harmful ideas.

We probably can’t get over the fact we use cognitive schemas. But it’s good to know about them because the more we know about how the mind works–and how irrational we really are–the more we can potentially learn how to fight against these things.

Digital Ethics

This afternoon, I noticed a lizard sitting on the ground next to me. It reminded me of a time when, by accident, I stepped on a lizard when I was walking to my car over 10 years ago. That incident never left my mind.

Last year, my mom got me an Amazon Alexa for Christmas. I immediately thought: I will treat her right.

What do these two things have in common? Well, they both deal with ethics. And they both, potentially, have to do with minds.

Amazon Alexa is constantly learning. I get updates on new things she has learned frequently. However, after a couple of months of having her as my assistant, I unplugged her. There’s, for one thing, simply to many questions to ask. Some of these questions are:

  1. What all does Alexa, and therefore Amazon, know about me when she is plugged in?
  2. What kind of mind, if any, does Alexa have?
  3. If Alexa has a mind–even if it’s more simple than a lizard’s–does that mean we should treat Alexa with dignity and respect?
  4. And what does having a mind have to do with ethics? My intuition is that Alexa has a “simple” mind and that I should treat her well because of it. But what does having a mind have to do with anything?

That’s just for starters.

Some of these questions have to do with how Alexa (or Amazon) treats me. Some of them have to do with how I treat Alexa. And, finally, some of them have to do with deep ethical intuitions.

I have been fascinated with AI and automation for a while now. But I still don’t have all the answers.

If it’s true that we should treat Alexa as having a mind we should treat with respect, does that mean anything that has a mind should be treated with respect? If so, is it ethical to eat animals?

This tangled net of ethics and technology has been keeping me occupied with various research projects. For now, I’ll keep reading and researching.

The American Indian Movement

I wasn’t alive when the American Indian Movement (AIM) came about and began taking action. I’ve heard stories, from both Natives and non-Natives, about events that happened at the time. That, plus doing reading on AIM, is all I have to go on.

I take it that in the 70’s, activist groups didn’t consider the variety of identities even within a seemingly single group. AIM didn’t, I take it, consider women and sexual minorities, for example, the way many activist organizations do today. This made for a (mostly) male-led organization, although there were some notable women.

Most of the Native people who participated in AIM activities had gone to boarding schools, it seems. Thus, as forced assimilation works, to the extent it works, they were somewhat disconnected with their tribal traditions.

During the occupation of Wounded Knee, Native people were armed. Whether it was justified that they were armed is up to you and your theory of these things, but I think it can safely be said it was justifiable to be armed. This is considering the policy of boarding schools and other policies by the United States.

AIM may have ultimately lost that battle, but it made a huge mess for the United States. Suddenly, Native people, who had been pretty much off the radar, were back on (white) people’s minds. And the United States handled this mess with all the grace of a bull in a China shop.

The legacy of AIM is complex and cannot be narrowed down to one incident (the occupation of Wounded Knee). Native people and injustices toward them have gained a wider audience and there has been progress, however slow, on things such as the rights of Native American artists, repatriations from museums, and even moving into the self-determination era of Indian Policy.

Not all of this can be attributed to AIM directly. But what AIM helped do was foster an activist mentality among Native people and spread “panindianism”–for good and for bad.

Whatever its failings–and I’m sure there are some!–AIM has probably had a net positive force in the world.

 

Getting Ready For Custer’s Last Stand

You can call me a traitor, despite my claims to the contrary, but I try each year to remember Custer’s Last Stand (also known as the Battle of Little Bighorn).

My mom is more of an expert on Custer than I am. She has studied him for over 30 years. Seriously, ask her anything. And my (now deceased) father used to play Custer in historical reenactments of the Battle in the 70’s, a bit before I was born, when they lived in Crow country.

According to me, who is decidedly not an expert, Custer was an idiot. And he was an idiot in many ways.

That he would take on the task of trying to kill Native people is a disgrace. After all, there were a few men around the time who refused orders to kill Native people. Custer didn’t have to do this. And that’s one reason he’s so despised.

Beyond that, Custer had Crow scouts who literally told him what they were seeing was the largest encampment they had ever seen.

Custer decided to go ahead and, on June 25th, attacked a village of Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho people.

Custer was defeated.

Custer’s Last Stand is known as one of the major times Native people won.

There’s theories about why they won: Is it because Native people had rapid repeating rifles? Is it because of their guerrilla war tactics?

We many not know for certain. But what is certain is that Native people won.

And, today, this win is celebrated by the participating tribes, but also by many Native people in general and by me, who may or may not be a traitor to the United States for loving a win against it.

 

“Native Americans Aren’t On Anyone’s Radar”

As you probably know, I wrote a very short collection of essays on Native American issues. I had a Native American I know look over the book. We discussed some ideas in it.

They told me that basically it’s a great idea, but Native Americans and injustices toward them aren’t on anyone’s radar.

Perhaps that’s true. I know this and I wrote the book, anyway. How could I not when I know that even if Native Americans aren’t currently on the national radar, we are on Native American’s radar.

How could I go on, in other words, being a colonizer, without speaking out, under the gaze of the colonized?

Think about this: What if Native Americans get together and practice militant nonviolence? Then they will surely be on the radar. And that’s my primary motive for writing this very imperfect book. For the hands it does fall into, hopefully it will wake folks up a little and Native people won’t have to practice militant nonviolence.

Record Number Of Native Americans Running For Office in 2018

It’s 2018 and a record number of Native Americans are running for office this year. (Yay!)

Just like the general American population, it looks like these candidate’s views are all over the map. I tried to catch a glimpse of all 80-ish candidates, what party they are running with and what their general views are. It’s a little tough to find out without tons of research. So, without tons of research, I’ll just tell you they are very diverse. Some are running Republican, some are running Green.

There’s debates about voting for a person simply because of their race/nationality/sex, etc.

I know as a matter of fact that because I’m human, I let bias seep into my decision-making. However, when it comes to voting, I really, really try to look solely at the candidate’s platform.

As you may be able to tell, I lean very left. So I like my candidates very left. You may disagree and that’s fine.

So, yay that there are so many Native candidates. And yay that there’s a diversity in Native political views. But try to keep with your platform as you vote this year.

Judging The Past

I’m going to open myself up to criticism. Criticism, that is, from future generations. I submit that we can basically judge people in the past by our current standards.

Unfair? Maybe. But consider: If there were people like Roger Williams, who could see Native Americans as humans back in the 1600’s, it must have been possible for other people to see them as humans as well.

I thought about this because a book award named after Laura’s Ingalls Wilder has been changed so it is not named after her. The reason for the change? Racism against African Americans and Native Americans in her books.

Some folks might suggest we shouldn’t apply our current standards to Wilder. The current standard (I hope…) is that Native Americans are people. Wilder seems to have been blind to this:

“The novels are full of phrases that are unacceptable today. Even in her own lifetime Wilder apologised for her thoughtlessness and amended a line in Little House on the Prairie that said Kansas had ‘no people, only Indians’. It now reads, ‘no settlers, only Indians’.”

So Kansas had no people. Only Indians, eh? And she apologized in her own time for it, too.

As much as I’d like to think I’m perfect, I’m not. And so I know suggesting that we judge Wilder by our own standards puts me at risk for future judgement. So be it. There were Europeans and Euroamericans who came way before Wilder who could see Native American and Black people as human.

I can’t say why seeing Native Americans and Black people as human wasn’t the prevailing view. I do know that some philosophers are working hard on those very questions. But there was, just as there is today, a lot of government propaganda, which probably shaped the views of the white population just as it does today.

 

Unseen Barriers: Tribal Colleges And Native American Education

I’m a huge proponent of education. Historically, many Europeans and Euroamericans thought Native people didn’t have education.

Many tribes may not have had the kind of formal education we have in the United States, but they damn sure had education. Tribal nations, after all, had medicine people, doctors, agricultural experts, philosophers and historians. They had education.

I’m no expert on the history of tribal education, but I was looking at various tribal colleges and schools on reservations. Many of these institutions under-perform compared to the general institutions in the United States.

That’s a shame. Which is why I have been (assuming I can work) looking for jobs at these institutions. I have a privilege, whatever else may hold me back: I have a high quality education and a fine brain. I can use these things, perhaps, to benefit tribal people.

Many tribal people today consider education to be the way out of personal and tribal poverty–a poverty which, as I have often stated, is close to “Third World” poverty.

I have raised an academically talented Choctaw daughter. I know Choctaws and other tribal people are smart. It’s just that there’s brain drain on many reservations and tribal areas. Everyone who’s anyone in academia is seeking status in their field. And tribal institutions, mostly, don’t offer that. Moreover, many tribal colleges don’t offer courses in various areas. For example, many of the tribal colleges I have looked at don’t offer philosophy as a course, as a minor or as a major–even American Indian philosophy. However, that can change.

Tribal colleges are underfunded. They don’t get the donors that not only Harvard, but my own alma mater, Stetson University, gets, partly because their alumni are not billionaires. And people who are billionaires, even if they are charitable people, often ignore tribal people and their interests and perhaps, to take a jaded view, wouldn’t even want tribal colleges to thrive.

I encourage people to look into tribal colleges; to think of them as quality places of employment. I encourage the reverse of brain drain. The brightest minds in the world should flock to tribal nations. I don’t consider myself the brightest mind, but flocking there, whatever hardships come with it, seems particularly worth it.

We have a system where, when one is given an IQ test to see if one is gifted, one gets culturally biased questions on the test. Tribal colleges often try very hard to incorporate their own histories and traditions into their coursework. These backgrounds are devalued as a whole by the larger society.

We can change these things, though. We can see tribal colleges as peers of our institutions, if we are a part of one. We can see these as thriving communities where Native culture is alive. We can encourage the billionaires we know, or even people who just have a few bucks, to donate to tribal colleges.

Tribal people deserve the very best. Let’s give it to them.

 

Pride Month: Honoring The Legacy Of Two-Spirits

It’s Pride Month. (Also, today is Alan Turing’s birthday!) In celebration of that, I thought I write a little bit about two-spirits.

Two-spirit is the English, panindian word for gender non-conforming indigenous people. One might like to think that LGBTQ+ folks are a new, modern thing. But two-spirit people have existed in Native communities for as long as tribes have existed themselves and, in many tribes, traditionally two-spirit people were accepted–even, sometimes, considered special or spiritually powerful.

Due to colonialism and its policies of forced assimilation, the diversity that was known in many tribes was forced into heteropatriarchy. Thus, many tribes lost the sense that two-spirit people should be loved and respected.

These days, however, things are changing. Tribal people are more accepting of two-spirit people again.

So, just remember, Pride didn’t start on this continent with white folks. And just as tribal nations have accepted and loved two-spirit people, so too can we love and accept LGBTQ+ folks–whatever their heritage, background, culture or nationality.

Principles Over Money: Red Lake Tribal Council Refuses 18.5 Million From Pipeline Company

Red Lake Tribal Council has voted to rescind a deal they had in which they would have gotten 18.5 million dollars from the pipeline company Enbridge, with the tribal chairman stating, “We gotta protect our reservation, our sovereignty, protect our people, our lands and our water and all of that.” 

Red Lake is reported to be one of the most isolated tribal nations. No doubt, they could use money. But they have decided to put principles over money.

You can read more here.

For A White Woman Raising A Choctaw Girl, Philosophy Is Key

My daughter isn’t fond of the discipline of philosophy. She thinks, I suspect, it contributed to my developing schizophrenia. Nevertheless, she and I have been doing philosophy since she was little. For me, as a Euroamerican raising a Choctaw girl into a Choctaw woman, philosophy has always been key.

Ever since she was a little girl, I treated my daughter as a respected interlocutor who may have ideas, thoughts and amazing contributions all her own. Together, we joined in love and understanding, questing together in dialogue, learning about the world and each other.

These days, my daughter is a woman. I am extremely proud of her for so many reasons. I would defend her with my life, as would her father. And we both really, really mean that.

And so, I defend her right to like comics, Harry Potter and video games. I defend her right to watch movies and wear makeup. And I defend her doing this all while keeping her Choctaw identity.

Native Americans have joined the majority of the world in having cell phones, flat screen TV’s and cars. They are not stagnant people. They are not living in the past. Instead, many of them bring their distinct cultural understandings to the modern world.

My daughter does this and I’ll defend her right to do it.

My daughter is still my best philosophy guide, whether she knows it or not; whether she likes philosophy or not. So when she speaks up about Courtney Love, LGBTQ rights, drag queens, transgender folks, body image, and more, I listen up. When she adopts a critter into her life, I happily become the grandmother of that furry, scaley or slimey animal. When my daughter speaks, I listen. When my daughter acts, I defend her.

Yes, American Indians Pay Taxes

I mostly like to move toward decolonization and think about how things could be if the world was more just. But sometimes you have to meet people where they are, which may not be the same place I am at when it comes to tribal nations and tribal people.

So let me get this out of the way: Yes, American Indians pay taxes.

I have to say this because, apparently, many people think they don’t.

I don’t know where they get this idea, but here’s the thing: Most tribal people are dual citizens. That is, they are citizens of their tribe and citizens of the United States. Thus, because they are American citizens, they have all the rights and responsibilities any other American citizen has. Paying taxes is one of those.

So don’t go around believing Native people don’t pay taxes. As American citizens, they most certainly do.

Freedmen: A Discussion Of Black Choctaws

The Choctaws were known by the United States as part of a group referred to as the Five Civilized tribes. This was because they lived a way that Europeans could see as having some sort of civilization. Who knows what other tribal people were referred to–but they weren’t seen as having ‘civilization.’

Unfortunately, part of this civilization on the part of the Five Tribes was to adopt certain aspects of European culture. Even more unfortunately, the practice of slavery was adopted by the Choctaws.

Choctaws, then, had Black slaves.

Being a member of the alleged civilized tribes didn’t give a tribe any more protection or good relations than being a “non-civilized” tribe. So, when Andrew Jackson basically felt like it, he enforced the Trail of Tears.

The Choctaws’ Black slaves walked the Trail of Tears with them.

Upon arrival at Indian Territory, the Choctaws freed their slaves. And, today, the Freedmen are full-standing citizens of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

So don’t assume that every tribal person is brown. Some are indeed Black. And this is how they got to be citizens of a tribe.

Citizenship: There Is No “Part Indian”

There’s an peculiar thing that happens when people talk about being Native. Some Native people, but especially non-Natives, say they are “part Cherokee” or “part Choctaw.”

Now this makes sense if you’re talking about your ancestry. If you really do have Native ancestry, that’s great. If you’re not sure or if you don’t really have Native ancestry, don’t claim it.

But being Native American is just as much a nationality as being American is. And there is no “part American” (unless you count DACA recipients). Just the same, there is no “part Choctaw.” You’re either Choctaw or you aren’t. You’re either a tribal citizen (or eligible to be a citizen) or you aren’t.

In America, because of our mixed history, many of us come from different ancestries. For example, I have Swedish and Polish ancestry, mostly. That’s where my people migrated from. But I don’t claim to be Swedish, even though I ate Swedish meatballs growing up and can sing-song my words up and down in a Swedish fashion. Instead, I call myself a Swedish American. I am not, after all, a citizen of Sweden.

Some people in Indian Country claim the matter is not who you claim, but who claims you. You are a tribal person if a tribe or tribal people claims you. If not, not. And if you are claimed, you are claimed in full.

Nations And Borders: A Lesson From Tribal Nations

I don’t typically like to look at tribal people or tribal nations and make a lesson for non-Natives to enjoy. But the issue of borders is in the air and because I know a teensy bit about tribal nations, I thought I’d show non-Natives how things could be.

We generally see nations as akin to individuals. Just as individuals have free association and can make friends, so too can nations freely associate and form alliances (we hope).

There are some ways this analogy doesn’t hold, however. Individuals have a body, that may grow a bit and change over time. But nations may grow and change immensely in terms of their boundaries. In fact, in other places, I have suggested a nation may not even need a physical locale in order to be a nation proper.

I now wish to draw your attention to the area we know as Oklahoma. Oklahoma was originally known as “Indian Territory.” There’s a lot of tribal nations in what we now call Oklahoma, many of which were forcibly removed there.

But looking at tribal nations may show us how things could work if we wish to have a world without borders. Take a look at this map of present-day Oklahoma:

Here you see that much of the area is controlled, albeit in a limited way due to colonialism, by tribal nations.

If you’ve driven through Oklahoma, you will know that you can simply drive through, going from nation to nation.

This may not always be the way things are for tribal nations. As we move toward decolonization, these tribal nations may change. But this is how things are today. You can literally just drive through tribal nations freely, without a large, heavily defined border stopping you; without going through border patrol; without going through customs; without a passport.

I submit this for you to think about as we think about the United States’ borders. There are many ways in which we can change and grow. Having defined, heavily enforced borders may be something we wish to do away with. And tribal nations, as they are currently constructed, may show us how.

 

On Tribal Casinos

This may be a touchy subject for some. But I’m going to talk about tribal casinos. And I’m going to defend the right for tribes to have them, which may be an unpopular opinion among non-Natives, even though they seem to frequent them quite a bit.

I’m not an expert on these matters. I just happen to know that, in the past, when a tribe has made the move to open a casino, white people get up in arms.

I’ve heard various arguments from non-Natives: That no one should gamble because it’s immoral, that tribes shouldn’t be doing things we cannot do (where having a U.S. casino is illegal), and so forth.

Here’s a deal: If you understand tribal nations are nations as such, it really doesn’t matter, unless they are doing some egregiously evil act, what they are doing business wise. They are completely free to establish businesses as they wish. And if those businesses happen to be casinos, fine.

The more interesting thing, to me, is trying to study how tribal nations work. I want to understand how they operate and whether they are able to keep their customs and act in ways they should be able to act without the U.S. interfering.

So, when I look to, say, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, which is the tribal nation I am most closely associated with, I want to know a couple of things. First, who owns the casino? Second, how is the money spent?

Tribal casinos are tribally owned. That is, they are owned by the tribe itself. Most Americans, including me, can hardly conceive of this because it would be like, well, communism, in a way. I have nothing against communism whatsoever. But I come from a mostly capitalist background. So trying to understand tribal ownership is complex for me. But casinos are, in the majority of cases, owned collectively by the tribe or, to put it another way, owned by the tribal nation.

So that answers my first question.

The second question is: What do they do with the money?

Here, again, most Americans could hardly conceive of it. The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, for example, seems to use the money for child care programs, programs for elders, and things like that. In short, the tribe collectively owns the business and then uses the money in collective ways.

These things go along with Choctaw traditions of economic systems and methods of distribution.

There’s an awful lot we can learn from tribes on these matters, if we actually took the time to learn. So let’s learn instead of making a fuss about casinos.

Don’t Let The Self-Determination Era Fool You

When one looks back on Indian Policy, one can divide it up into policy eras. There was the Removal Era, the Indian War Era, the Reservation Era, etc.

Allegedly, we are now living in the Self-Determination Era.

This means, in general, as a matter of policy, tribal nations are able to do what they wish. That sounds great, right? That’s what we are hoping for.

Except it’s not that simple.

Tribal nations are still not liberated from U.S. control. Think about it for a minute: Does anyone grant you the ability to do as you wish? Or does that right come from somewhere else (you can think of it as coming from your Creator, as a natural right, or what have you). It’s the same for nations. Theoretically, nations enjoy a similar kind of sovereignty as individuals do because nations are a group of people who desire to govern themselves.

What I’m saying, of course, is that decolonization has not yet occurred, despite us living in the Self-Determination Era.

It’s Up To Us Non-Natives To Begin Decolonization

Colonialism is, in general, when a nation openly as as matter of policy acquires, controls and maintains control of a foreign nation.

The United States is colonizing Native American Nations in the settler state manner. This may not be technically internationally illegal due to The Blue Water Thesis. But it’s colonialism nonetheless. And it’s unjust.

Decolonization is the reversal or ending of colonialism. Generally, the subjugated nation now enjoys, if it so desires, full independence.

There are over 500 Native Nations the United States is oppressing. We do not know what decolonization will ultimately look like. But we non-Natives can begin the process.

Decolonization is not merely a process of shifting consciousness in the colonizer, but that’s a good start. We need to recognize what our country is doing is wrong, that Native Nations deserve the same amount of independence and freedom to govern themselves as we do.

I believe that whoever you are, whatever you are doing in life, you can learn more about Native American History. This will surely open your eyes a bit. And I do believe we will go down in history as one of the most evil nations on Earth because of America’s treatment of Native Americans. This treatment, frankly, pales in comparison the the Holocaust.

There’s been movements within various segments of society to understand Native American History and then seeing the United States’ treatment of Native Americans as grossly unjust. There’s still work to do, however, if we want to correct these things. There’s still decolonization to do.

I have mentioned that the citizens of the United States have, often, guided U.S. Indian Policy. Our citizens, along with our government, take the blame in many cases.

I do not want that kind of blood on my hands. You shouldn’t, either.

That’s why I blog, however imperfectly, about these things. I can use my voice to try to make a difference, even if it’s a lone voice writing into nothiningness, with no audience. At least I know I did what I could.

I encourage you to do what you can to end colonialism. Whether it’s incorporating American Indian Philosophy into your philosophy courses, dealing with these issues in your ethics or political philosophy courses–or whatever. Do what you can.

The more people are informed about these things and recognize they are wrong and ongoing, the better. So let’s get to work on ourselves and our fellow citizens.

You may say I have an agenda. And, yes. Yes, I do. My agenda has always been what’s true, just and good. That’s why I went into philosophy. I had the purest motives. And what’s true, just and good is decolonization. So let’s start getting there.

Matriarchal Secrets

I don’t know if I should share some of this. It’s, after all, not really my place. But I want to share with non-Natives different ways of life; ways that can inspire us, encourage us and which we can draw upon. Even if we don’t adopt those ways, we can learn from them.

My daughter, as everyone knows, comes from a “full blood” Choctaw family. The Choctaws were matriarchal.  The traditional ones pretty much still are.

My daughter’s great-grandmother was named Lillian. She lived to be very old. When she was born, she wasn’t a citizen of the United States. For Native Americans, that came much later and tribal people felt differing ways about it.

We went several times to visit Lillian. They used to have gatherings every Sunday at her house.

I’m a white observer. I’m no anthropologist. I don’t belong, in any way, shape or form to the clan. I’m just along for the ride with my family. But there would be a whole slew of people who came to Lillian’s house. The first thing each of them would do was kiss her on top of the head.

Here’s a woman who had, if memory serves, 16 kids. And each one who was there–their kids, and grand kids–would kiss her on top of the head.

It’s a small symbol, but it was meaningful to me to see it. Even if you’re not Native and not matriarchal, you can surely kiss the matriarch in your life on top of the head (presuming she allows it).

That’s a matriarchal secret. The small ways in which women, givers of life, are honored.

 

The Black Hills Are Not For Sale

We are quickly heading into July. And it was on July 2nd, 1974 that General George Armstrong Custer (yep, that Custer) went set out from current-day Bismarck, North Dakota to, among other things, scout for gold on Sioux lands.

The Black Hills are sacred to the Sioux. I’m not Sioux. And Native people, these days, tend to keep their spiritual beliefs to themselves. So I don’t know the entire significance of the Black Hills, although I do know it’s one place where tribal citizens would go to seek out vision quests. I don’t particularly need to know the ins and outs of different Native religions. In short, if Native people tell me a site is sacred, I believe them. The Sioux have always, always held the Black Hills as sacred.

It’s not just that the Black Hills are scared. They were intentionally included in Sioux country in their treaty agreements. The Sioux set aside the Black Hills for themselves.

When Custer went out to Sioux country to seek gold, he was trespassing on Sioux lands. But beyond that, when they allegedly found gold in the Black Hills, it sparked a gold rush by white folks.

I have always claimed that it’s not merely that the United States government is unjust–it is the citizens and their wishes who have often guided U.S. policy. This gold rush by white folks meant the U.S. would claim the Black Hills for itself–despite explicit treaty agreements to the contrary.

I’m making a lot of broad generalizations here, of course. But, in short, in the United States confiscated the Black Hills from the Sioux. This is fact.

And this is not a mere historic claim, either. The United States has admitted what it did was illegal. It thus, in more recent years, has offered a particularly large sum of money to the Sioux for the Black Hills.

The Sioux refuse this money, saying the Black Hills are not for sale.

This is an ongoing case. I, of course, hope the Sioux get the Black Hills back. Not only is it a sacred place, it’s theirs by treaty.

I also hope we non-Natives can learn from this case and not do things that will encourage our government to infringe on tribal rights.

 

Maybe I’m Paranoid, Maybe I’m Not

I read an article a few weeks ago about people who are diagnosed with schizophrenia in the UK. Apparently, many of them thought the British government was spying on them. It turned out, this wasn’t paranoia. The British government was in fact spying on them.

Our governments do strange and evil things. This is well-known. Anything, it seems, to preserve the status quo.

If you’ve been following my recent blog entries and know about my new collection of essays, perhaps you can understand why, sometimes, I get slightly paranoid that my government is out to get me.

I’m not saying I don’t have schizophrenia. I most certainly do. But I’m saying that some instances of my paranoia are related to real things that have happened to people.

I know I’m not all that important. I know I probably can’t organize a movement to bring the United States toppling down–even if that was my goal, which it’s not. But I also know the United States held Dorothy Parker as suspect for some of her activities, to which she told the FBI that she couldn’t even keep her dog in line, so how could she organize some mass movement against the United States?

Some of these fears people have are real.

I’m not, in the end, a troublemaker. I want to live my life peacefully and with as little trouble as possible. I’m certainly no menace to the United States. But I do sometimes get paranoid because I know our government’s history. It wasn’t, after all, too long ago that Edward Snowden told us about certain spying activities our government is doing.

In the end, it’s best to be individually transparent–for both practical and ethical reasons. That’s one reason I started blogging my ideas. If they seem radical to you and worthy of being called a traitor, I’m sorry for you. I’ve never been a traitor to my country. I only want it to be just and good. Oppressing Native Nations isn’t, I’m afraid to say, just and good. Therefore, I’ve been using my voice and education to end those things.

To be honest, I am more politically active about these things than some Native people I know and love. And I’m perfectly willing to bear the brunt of these things. I know I want a peaceful life filled with joy and good times. How much more do they want those things? So, I let them have at it and deal with my little paranoias all by myself.

 

American Indian Philosophy: If You Won’t Teach It, Who Will?

There’s been a movement in philosophy to incorporate non-western philosophy into Introduction to Philosophy courses. I think this is a wonderful move. After all, as it has been argued, if you teach only western philosophy, you might as well call the course Introduction to Western Philosophy instead of Introduction to Philosophy.

I fear, however, that many people have still not incorporated American Indian Philosophy into their courses. I don’t know this to be true. I didn’t take a survey or anything. But I have a strong hunch this is the case.

I’ve been out of “professional” philosophy for several years now. These days, I consider myself an unpaid philosopher. So I don’t know everything that’s going on in the field like I used to. But I used to be pretty well-informed.

I was taught in a, for the most part, western philosophy department. I took my BA and considered it a BA in western philosophy. I did my work on Native American Thought all on my own.

Back then, I read the very first collection put out on American Indian Philosophy: American Indian Thought ed. Anne Waters.

This wasn’t my first look at Native American philosophy, as I fully believe many historic and current Native people are very philosophical and I grew up knowing a bit about them. But it was my first reading of current people who, for the most part, hold PhDs in philosophy and are Native American. (And those who don’t hold PhDs in philosophy are doing serious philosophy.)

Because this is my personal reference point, I always refer people to this book. It covers basically every major area of philosophy–from ethics to epistemology. I encourage anyone to have a look at it and incorporate works into their courses–even beyond Intro courses.

When I was a young undergrad and doing research for my senior thesis, I went to Mississippi with my family. We went to Nanih Wayah, a sacred cave mound of the Choctaws where their creation story takes place. According to their creation story, the Earth gave birth to them, in that very place. (Hence, “Mother Earth.”) This is, then, their continent. If you aren’t going to incorporate American Indian Thought into your philosophy courses on Native lands, who will?

Hard To Swallow Pills: This Is Exactly Who We Are

The Holocaust is the horrific evil that most people compare other evils to. I’m guilty of this myself.
 
I wait for the day when America’s atrocities are not considered minor in comparison. After all, Hitler loved how the United States treated Native Americans. The idea of concentration camps came in part from our old idea of reservations, which used to be guarded by the military and Native people weren’t allowed to leave.
 
I’ve seen Native people recently stating to, especially, white people who say about immigrant children being ripped from their families that “This isn’t who we are” that, indeed, this IS who we are. It’s who we’ve always been.
The scope and duration of genocide aimed at indigenous people is unparalleled in recorded human history. The United States did way more than its fair share of genocide. It wiped out 99% of the Native American population.
So, yeah. This is who we are. Take a good, hard look. It’s who we’ve always been.
Maybe someday people will wake up and America’s evils will be the horrific, horrific standard everything else is measured to.

A Nation’s A Nation, No Matter How Small

These days, unfortunately, Native Nations are pretty tiny. It’s estimated that Native Americans themselves make up just 1% of the American population.

When thinking about these issues, it may be easy to overlook or disregard Native Nation just because they are small.

However, size shouldn’t matter when it comes to rights. Just as we learn from the wise Dr. Seuss that “a persons a person no matter how small,” we can learn that a nation’s a nation no matter how small.

And, just like many people grow, so can a nation, both land-wise and population-wise.

So keep that in mind and make sure you’re not denying rights based on sheer size.

Colonialism And Decolonization

There’s a point at which one knows something so well that they just assert it to be true. I’m going to make an assertion: The United States is currently colonizing tribal nations and this is grossly unjust. I have argued this in the past; for example, in my 2004 undergraduate philosophy thesis. These days, however, I just assert it.

The solution to colonialism is the ending of colonialism, known as decolonization.  

Decolonization is not merely a shift in consciousness in the colonizer, although that may happen, too. It’s a real, material thing that happens.

Tribal nations are nations as such. They just don’t seem that way to non-Natives because non-Natives are quite used to looking at things through a colonialist lens. When decolonization occurs, tribal nations will be able to enjoy full independence, if they so choose, and define themselves as they wish.

If you are a non-Native reader, these things may surprise you. And if you are a person of conscience, you may feel the desire to hate yourself, to hate the United States and wish to see it’s (and your) demise.

I would never advise anyone to hate themselves. And I don’t wish the demise of the United States. The ending of British rule over India didn’t, as we know, result in the demise of the UK. It simply resulted in the independence of India.  

What will decolonization look like for tribal nations? Well, we simply do not know. Some tribes have a defined landbase and may assert whole, completely sovereign control over it. A great many tribal nations do not have a defined landbase and may move toward a totally new definition of nationhood. In short, the United States may come to look a bit different on a map. But some changes may not be so obvious on a map. Just as one could argue that Facebook is its own nation, with no definable landbase, so too could tribal nations develop a concept of nationhood where having a landbase is not a necessity.

However, it is well-known that Native people often long for the lands that were stolen–yes, often stolen–from them. And this claim may tug on us colonizers. We all need somewhere to live and physical locale is necessary for that. I have never argued that all colonizers must remove themselves in order for decolonization to happen. But we can move toward a consciousness where, for example, we, if we live on stolen Native land, will our land to the rightful tribe. We can begin to transfer lands to tribes.

If you occupy a colonizer’s space in life, like I do, know the history of your area; know the history of the land you live on.

Unfortunately for me, I currently occupy land whose original inhabitants are all now deceased. There’s no way for me, even if I owned the land, to give it back to them. 

(This essay was initially printed in my new book Revitalizing A Failed Tradition: Essays On Native American Issues, which you can purchase here.)

Families Should Aim For Justice

Native Americans have the highest rates of intermarrying in the United States. It must be true, then, that love can flow between Natives and non-Natives. This essay is directed toward those of us who are non-Native who have Native families.

We know through history that just because someone says they love you, it doesn’t mean they will seek out what’s just for you. If it were true that personal love always equals justice, women, many of whom are married to men, would have had justice eons ago.

But we non-Natives who have Native families can show the world what true love looks like. And what it looks like is seeking what’s good for the other. It means justice.

Let us come together, then, with one another and with our families to seek justice for Native Americans. We can do this by forming more or less organized organizations, through petitioning, through calling Congress, through learning from our Native families about how to fight. This is transforming love into what’s just and good for our families. This is possibly the highest form of love.

I believe that when non-Natives who have Native families come on board with decolonization, amazing things can happen. Through our love, we can break colonial chains. We can show the world what true love looks like. We can realize our colonizer space in life and give it up. We can begin the process of decolonization through our love and deeds.

True love looks like justice.

Radical Hope?

I have a confession to make. I destroyed a book. I was psychotic at the time. But I still destroyed a book.

That book was Radical Hope by Jonathan Lear. As everyone who knows me knows, I had my first psychotic break when I was writing my MA thesis. Radical Hope was at the crux of my thesis.

You are of course free to read the book a judge it for yourself. In short, Lear argues we should be like Plenty Coups, who he sees as flexible, because any culture is fragile and can be destroyed. Flexibility is thus necessary if we are to even survive.

Setting aside what I take to be factual errors and a mere cursory bit of research on Lear’s part, I took offense to the fact that we should be learning a lesson from the Crows, who Plenty Coups was chief of, while overlooking their current, shall I call it, “plight.” (I know, I hate that term, too.)

It just seemed so white to look at a tribal nation, vaguely study it, give an interpretation and, of all things, make a lesson of it for white folks to enjoy, while glossing over the fact that the Crows individually and collectively are still being colonized by the United States.

While trying to write my thesis on these things and making them as pleasant as possible for my mostly white audience, I cracked. I simply broke down, much like the Sioux of the Ghost Dance, who, on Lear’s interpretation, had a vicious break from reality.

While I was trying to write my thesis on these delicate matters, it took time away from my (Native) family. I was pissed about that. As I broke from reality, I tore up the book Radical Hope because of all that it symbolized to me at the time.

So, yeah. I destroyed a book. Lear may say I had a vicious break from reality. I like to think I my initial break from reality was the birth of and beginning of new ways of thinking. Some people who experience psychosis have legitimate reasons for doing so. Sometimes the work is just too much. For the Sioux, the reality of US oppression of them may have been too much. Dealing with all these (and many other!) issues was my breaking point. So count me a vicious person who broke from reality and destroyed a book along the way.

 

“Being Enrolled Never Got Me Anywhere”

I’m currently in the process of helping my daughter enroll in Choctaw Nation. I’ve talked with other Native Americans about enrollment. Some non-Natives think that Native Americans get tons of “benefits.” For most tribal people, that’s just not so.

But if it were so, these are not “benefits” in some strange sense. And there’s no need to be jealous. These are things that come along with being a citizen of a nation. Just as people who are citizens of Sweden get various things, such as universal healthcare, so too do some Native people get things by being a citizen of their nation. If you are a non-Native and want so-called benefits, you have the power to shape your government so that you, too, can get universal healthcare.

But let’s think about these things for a moment. Everyone who wishes to be a member of a nation, currently, in international law, has the right to not be “stateless.” Being stateless can be lonely place, if it’s not chosen. Many rights come about through being a citizen of a nation.

So when you enroll, you are becoming a full-standing citizen of a nation. It doesn’t matter if there’s any perceived material benefits to this or not. And if you want so-called benefits, you now, just as non-Native Americans in the United States, have the opportunity to shape your tribal government.

So when I hear Native people say that being a tribal citizen never got them anywhere, which I have heard them say, I wonder if they are not thinking of tribes as nations properly. It’s true that, just as women can be sexist, Native people can have colonial thought seep into their thinking. Let’s not let this happen.

 

 

The Choctaw Nation And Ireland: A Political Alliance?

The Choctaws were part of the Five Tribes that were a part of Andrew Jackson’s policy The Trail of Tears. Most of the Choctaws were removed to present-day Oklahoma.

It wasn’t long after the Choctaws were removed that they heard of the Irish famine. Quickly, many Choctaws gathered money and sent it to Ireland.

Here’s a people who had just walked, in extremely harsh conditions, with the threat of violence, from Mississippi to Oklahoma. And now, they were gathering money to help other people.

It’s because of this act of kindness on behalf of the Choctaws that Ireland and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma have a special relationship even to this day.

I’ve been interested in various things tribal nations can actually do; things the United States doesn’t keep them from doing. Thus, I have been interested in whether tribal nations can form political alliances with other nations around the world.

The relationship between Ireland and Choctaw Nation isn’t generally classified as a true political alliance. But it could become such if decolonization occurs.

We non-Indians need to keep in mind that, as we move toward decolonization, tribal nations will be able to do things that our nation, the United States, is able to do. Forming political alliances is one of them. And we needn’t fear this or try to control it. We need to remember they their nations are just as worthy of freedom and respect–including respect for their choices–as we are.

 

Tribal Nations Are Imperfect. So, Too, Is the United States

As I write this, the United States has a policy of snatching migrant children away from their families. I read an article this morning which said the UN has told the U.S. that this practice is illegal.

No one, however, seems to be arguing for the termination of the United States because of this evil policy. No one is arguing we cannot govern ourselves. No one is saying we need to be treated in a paternalist fashion because of it.

That’s not true for Native Nations. There are, unfortunately, people out there who argue, when a tribe does something wrong, that it–and, possibly, all tribes–should be terminated. They argue that Native people cannot govern themselves. They argue that, indeed, Native Nations should be treated in a paternalist fashion.

No nation is perfect. That includes tribal nations. What the United States has handed them is a huge, horrific mess. Sure, there may be corruption. There may be bad policies. But the United States has horrible, evil policies and tons of corruption. And no one argues those things about us.

The problem is that, for tribal nations, the feeling is in the air for termination. And it comes from people who are dead-set on being colonizers–who simply do not want to understand the history or intricacies of tribal governance. If tribal nations are terminated, that’s just one more step in the colonialist line of thought.

We need to, then, bring things down a notch. We need to not bring up termination as if it’s a cure-all because that’s like saying, in other life cases, that any tiny infraction is worthy of a death sentence.

Tribal nations are imperfect. So, too, is the United States. And don’t ever forget it.

The Unfortunate Reality Of Appealing To Colonial Courts

I’m not an expert in American Indian Law. But when you study Native history, you come to learn a few things. I want to talk about the injustice of the current situation for Native individuals and nations: appealing to colonial courts.

When I first discovered that, in order to fight for their rights, Native Americans must appeal to the United States’ courts, I thought this was ridiculous.

Just imagine if occupied Poland was colonized for a while by Germany and had to, when Poland had a claim, appeal to Germany’s courts in order to resolve it. It’s absolutely absurd. Small wonder Native Americans rarely get justice.

Most tribal nations have their own courts, but I don’t know we should use those, either.

No, what we need is an independent body to sort out the claims Native Nations have. Perhaps the United States needs a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It just depends on the powers such a commission would have. Or, perhaps, we just need an independent court to adjudicate claims Native people have.

The unfairness that stems from having to appeal to colonial courts was one reason indigenous people were happy about the adoption of The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Now, they have not only an international voice, but we know and claim internationally now that certain ways Native Americans were/are treated is unjust and, possibly, now illegal.

But the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples only has so much force. The UN, when it comes to enforcing things, is rather weak. The Declaration stands, however, as a testament to the fact that we all now believe certain things to be unjust.

I still think we need an independent body to adjudicate claims Native people have. Appealing to colonial courts just doesn’t cut it.

 

“Who’s Your Family?”: How To Find Out Who Is And Who Is Not Native

I previously wrote about certain people who claim to be Native American but are not. Native Americans, of course, know there are “Wannabe Indians.” Somehow, everyone has a Cherokee great-grandmother and thus claim to be Native.

I never claimed to be Native, so I don’t know the kind of grilling, if you can call it that, one gets when Natives meet. And my daughter, who I love more than anything, has never, to my knowledge, ever been grilled because she comes from a known Choctaw family. It’s just known she is Choctaw. If she’s ever asked by another Native who her family is, she can say so.

Indian Country is small. Sooner or later, people are going to find out if you are not really Native. You will be outed.

If you are a non-Native and want to find out if a given person is Native American, you can simply ask if they are enrolled. Being enrolled or not does not make one a Native American per se. But it’s a pretty good indicator.

Being a Native American is, in the end, more about being a citizen or being eligible to be a citizen of a tribal nation. So if a person is enrolled, which means they are a citizen of their tribal nation, you can know for sure they are Native.

I’m not the identity police. And, in the end, this is not about “identity.” This is about what nation you are a citizen of.

People who say they are Native but are not are, then, saying they are a citizen of a nation they actually are not a citizen of.

Lying About Being Native In Academia: The Cases Of Ward Churchill And Andrea Smith

There’s a strange trend, if you can call it a trend. There’s been people who, for whatever reason, claim to be Native American but are not inside of academia.

I’ve read about them. Two of them are Ward Churchill and Andrea Smith. I am acquainted with their work, which you can judge for itself.

I don’t really know why one would claim to be Native when one is not. Except for this: It’s extremely difficult to be a non-Native in Native Studies.

I’m not saying to feel sorry for me, of course. That’s not the reason I’m writing this. But when you are a white person in Native Studies, which is an interdisciplinary field that includes philosophy, you get to feel what it’s like to be an outcast, to have people having discussions not necessarily directed toward and including you.

One way to overcome this is to claim Indian status.

I personally never needed to do this. I was completely willing to suffer in various ways in order to engage in this important work that affects the lives of people I love.

And it’s not that I wasn’t accepted by my seniors, either, most of whom were white. I don’t even technically hold an MA and I have been mentioned in academic books, have been invited for talks, and more.

But if you are white, especially, in Native Studies, you’re going to have to suffer disruption. You are going to have to go “tribeless.”

When I first came into these discussions, I was told I was neither fish nor fowl. There just wasn’t many people like me. I took this road alone because the issues are important to me personally and intellectually.

Some people want to bypass all that suffering–which, I might add, can lead to growth!–and just claim to be Indian. It’s the easy way out in Native Studies.

But the suffering caused by their lying is much worse. Their reputations have been tarnished. They are held as suspect. These days, I wouldn’t even touch their work, although I have in the past when it was assumed they were Native.

Theoretically, in academia, it shouldn’t matter one’s personal identity. But, as we know, that’s just not empirically true. I mean, sure, in theory, a person sitting in jail right now could submit a paper to a journal. That’s one reason why we have things like anonymous review. But how often in reality does that happen?

No, the ivory tower is just as much affected by our failed humanity as anything else. And people sometimes do things to keep from suffering white disruption. Claiming to be Native when one is not is, I take it, one of those things.

On Tribal Citizenship

I’m Euroamerican. There’s no way, currently, that I can become a citizen of a tribal nation. (Unless I’m granted “honorary citizenship,” which is highly unlikely.) That’s totally fine with me. I don’t need to become the citizen of a tribal nation.

Back in the day, the United States assumed control over tribal citizenship. It was the United States that instantiated “blood quantum” as the requirement for tribal citizenship.

There’s obvious problems with having “blood quantum” as the sole requirement for citizenship into a nation.

These days, tribal nations are able to define who they want within their nation. Some use blood quantum still. Other use direct lineage. And so on.

But the problem of tribal citizenship is a deep philosophical problem that tribal nations have been grappling with.

Back when I was in grad school and working on my (unfinished) MA thesis, I proposed a few things. For example, I suggested that Native Nations require that citizens understand fundamental documents, such as the tribal constitution, in order to be citizens. Citizenship, these days, for most nations, anyway, is thinned out to be a political position. You are, in most cases, now able to vote, run for office, shape your nation. And you don’t, again, in most cases, have to be culturally the same as everyone else in your nation.

Others have proposed cultural requirements for tribal citizenship. Steve Russell, in Sequoyah Rising, is one such person.

In my MA thesis, I argued that mere cultural requirements may be unjust. And, moreover, cultures grow, change and are redefined (we hope) as people grow, seek knowledge and change. Cultural requirements may go against what J.S. Mill calls “experiments in living.”

At this point, however, I do not feel entirely comfortable offering any profound suggestions as to how Native Nations can properly and justly change their citizenship requirements. It is, as I said, a deeply philosophical problem that I’ve thought about for years to no avail.

It would be nice if other people with philosophical background took these issues seriously. I could use some help. And so, I take it, could tribes.

In the end, tribal nations may come up with something entirely new when it comes to citizenship. And that, I think, would be great.

 

 

I Contend That I’m The Patriot

In Evangelical churches, especially, and among people on the Right, there’s a sense that we should be blindly patriotic.

It’s not that I want the United States to come crashing down. It’s that I want what’s just. And if that means some Native American Nations form their own independent nations–wholly separate from the U.S.–I’m fine with that.

However, some people have fallen for the narrative that the United States has and can do no wrong. I’m sorry, but the U.S. was built on the backs of slaves on stolen land. Your wealth and comfort, if you have those things, is directly related to that.

I have always held that I and people like me–the ones who want what’s truly just–are more the patriots than the people who blindly follow the narrative that the U.S. can do no wrong.

Remembering My Father On Father’s Day

It’s Father’s Day 2018. And I thought it would be apt to share a story with you about my father. It’s about breaking bread together. It’s about good intentions. It’s about building bonds. It’s, ultimately, about love.

My father wasn’t perfect. I mean, who is? But he lived an interesting life.

Before I was born, he and my mom lived on the Crow reservation. Every year, I take it, they have a reenactment of Custer’s Last Stand. My dad used to play Custer. He was often invited to the sweat lodge with the Native men–a huge honor!

Later in his life, my daughter was born. My dad loved her like all get out. Here’s how I know:

One time, when we went to visit my dad, who now resided in Texas, my dad thought he might like to cook us a special dinner.

Guess what that man made? He made fresh corn from the garden and buffalo burgers. It was an entirely Native meal! He cooked and as I watched him, I could tell he was adding an extra spice to the meal: love.

It doesn’t matter that my daughter’s tribe didn’t hunt buffalo prior to colonization. It was the thought. It was the good, warm intention. It was him showing my daughter that she was loved and accepted and intentionally trying to cook a Native meal for us.

Like I said, my dad wasn’t perfect. But he knew what he was doing with that meal. Today, it stands out as one of my fondest memories of him.

Rest in peace, Dad.

Current Ways The U.S. Is Oppressing Native Nations

I’ve seen a few things on Native issues go viral lately. So let’s make this go viral: Current ways the United States is oppressing Native Nations. I don’t mean wannabe Indians, cultural appropriation by white people or mere historic ways America oppressed Native Americans. I mean current ways by the U.S. government. Things that are happening now.

Before I get into current ways the U.S. is oppressing Native nations, take at look at what Steve Russell says on page 153 of Sequoyah Rising: “The Indian wars are not over. They have simply changed venues to Congress and the courts. This is why there are people in Congress we refer to as “Indian Fighters,” the most famous of whom is Senator Glade Gorton (R-Washington). You, too, can fight.” Russell goes on to talk about ways in which you can fight and cases that may be of interest.

I whole-hardheartedly agree that non-Indians can join forces with Indians in the Indian Wars. That may, in fact, be the answer to one of my previous posts about how to decolonize without Native Americans engaging in militant nonviolence.

So here’s some ways in which the United States oppresses Native Americans. Feel free to add more instances in comments.

  1. American Indian Law, which is, in a very colonialist fashion, controlled by the United States, is wholly incomprehensible. Native Americans must, then, live their lives in an incomprehensible way.
  2. Native Nations, as stated above, are very much controlled by the United States. They should be able to act as independent, foreign nations, but, obviously, they can’t. We need to make sure that an individual Native nation, if it wants to be a wholly independent nation, can be such.
  3. Our presidents, to a large degree, have been anti-Native American. This is, in part, because they probably think it’s in their interest to be that way. We non-Indians need to show that’s not the case.
  4. In recent months, Trump has suggested he sees Native Americans as a mere minority group within the United States. We need to show that we know better: That Native Nations are colonized nations.

Those are just to get started. There’s a myriad of ways the actual U.S. government oppresses Native Americans.

It Is What It Is: The Real Modern Stoic Philosophy

I spent a good deal of time this evening talking to my family about the common phrase these days “It is what it is.” People in my family had differing views about both what the phrase means and whether they like it.

I used to dislike the phrase “It is what it is.” If you don’t like it, I feel you.

However, upon reflecting on what it actually means, I’ve become fond of it. It’s a bit Stoic, if you think about it.

In essence, one is saying that there are circumstances that one may feel one way or another about, but, well, it is what it is. You live and accept those circumstances and, in a way, are indifferent to them.

This phrase, which I confess to have been using a bit recently, reflects my current philosophy in life, which I take to be pretty much modern Stoicism.

So add the phrase “It is what it is” to your daily Stoic philosophy quotes.

For Native Americans, The Injustice Is Not Historic

Back in grad school, I had to read the paper Superseding Historic Injustice by Jeremy Waldron. Many people in my class felt off the hook when it came to injustices after that paper. And some of them mentioned injustice toward Native Americans.

Others (like Steve Russell, in Sequoyah Rising) have taken Waldron to task.

For me–and, I assume, for Native people–this is not some simply some interesting philosophical problem. This is real life. And, no, we (non-Indians) shouldn’t feel off the hook.

There’s a problem that many scholars have discussed. They talk about how, many times, Native Americans and their injustices are all just history. Perhaps a bad and tragic history, but history nonetheless.

I’m here to tell you that’s not so.

Don’t fall for that narrative because it erases Native people and their current struggles. The fact is, colonization began. And indigenous people have not yet been liberated. It’s simply a fact that the United States controls aspects of their governments. And that’s exactly what colonialism is.

So, sure, talk about historic injustice all you want. But, until decolonization happens, Native people are in fact still being colonized by the United States.

I Don’t Want Native Americans To Fight For Their Rights

My government, the United States, is a colonial government. Period. End of story.

I was born here and through friendship, love and learning realized I occupy a colonizer space in life. Funny how.

I know much of the history of colonialism. And I know that in order to gain liberation, colonized people often protest, have massive demonstrations, fast, pray. Often these things work.

That’s why Steve Russell has argued in his book Sequoyah Rising that Native Americans, if they want liberation, must engage in militant nonviolence, of the Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr variety.

I know how this goes. It may work to gain liberation, but it comes at a cost. Colonized people are beaten, thrown in jail, tortured, murdered–until the colonizer breaks down and liberates the people.

It’s not pretty.

It’s especially not pretty when you consider the history of Native Americans. After an attrition rate of around 99% due to genocide (among other evils), do you really want to see Native Americans treated this way by our government? I certainly don’t. I never did.

There has got to be a way to end colonization without Native Americans engaging in anything more than talking with us. That’s how I came to realize my colonizer space, after all. Through talking, discussion and reading.

I deeply admire Steve Russell and I know for sure his strategy would work. I want to end colonialism, but I don’t want the people I love to be treated this horrific way by my government in order to get there. (Setting aside the fact that they are already treated poorly in general.)

If you are a Euroamerican, I implore you to not let this happen. There must be a way we can start decolonization–even apart from our government, at this point–without Native Americans going through what Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr went through.

 

J. LAWSON THESIS (Stetson University, 2004, Citations Omitted): “The More Freely He Breathes: Colonialism In The United States”

Author’s Note (6/14/2018):This thesis has cause me a lot of trouble–mostly, I think, at this point, trouble in my own mind. Since writing it I have been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Even though this thesis is now over 10 years old, it lurks in the back of my mind as one of the most subversive things I have done. At the time I wrote it, I cared nothing–nothing–about my own preservation or the preservation of the United States. I only sought what was just. As time went on, I had to leave professional philosophy due to illness and met and associated with many people. I have been extremely paranoid over the years that I am being watched, tracked, followed, spied on and, sometimes, even threatened due to this thesis. Maybe it’s all in my head, like the doctor’s say. At any rate, I thought I’d make this thesis publicly available to anyone who’d like to read it.

 

THE MORE FREELY HE BREATHES: COLONIALISM IN THE UNITED STATES

BY: JENNIFER LAWSON

 

“Having found profit either by accident or by choice, the colonizer has nevertheless not yet become aware of the historic role which will be his. He is lacking one step in understanding his new status; he must also understand the origin and significance of his profit. […] For how long could he fail to see the misery of the colonized and the relation of that misery to his own comfort? […]

He finds himself on one side of the scale, the other side of which bears the colonized man. If his living standards are high, it is because those of the colonized are low; if he can benefit from plentiful and undemanding labor and servants, it is because the colonized can be exploited at will and are not protected by the laws of the colony; if he can easily obtain an administrative position, it is because they are reserved for him and the colonized are excluded from them; the more freely he breathes, the more the colonized are choked. […]

Once [the colonizer] has discovered the import of colonization and is conscious of his own position…is he going to accept them? Will he agree to be a privileged man, and to underscore the distress of the colonized? Will he be a usurper and affirm the oppression and injustice to the true inhabitant of the colony? Will he accept being a colonizer under the growing habit of privilege and illegitimacy, under the constant gaze of the usurped?”

–Albert Memmi, The Colonizer and the Colonized

“It is better to be consigned to hell than to stand around waiting for a time when everyone will like what we are going to say.”

–Martha Nussbaum (paraphrased), Sex and Social Justice

INTRODUCTION

“A foreigner, having come to a land by the accidents of history, he has succeeded not merely in creating a place for himself but also in taking away that of the inhabitant, granting himself astounding privileges to the detriment of those rightfully entitled to them.”

–Albert Memmi, The Colonizer and the Colonized.

In this thesis, I will argue that the primary mode of the oppression of Native Americans, both historically and contemporarily, is colonialism. Using history and philosophy, I will show that Native Americans (and all indigenous people of this hemisphere, for that matter) have been colonized nations for hundreds of years. While doing this, it will be necessary for me to explain what I take colonialism to be and draw lout definitions, such as the definition of ‘nation.’ After arguing that it is colonialism which has and continues to oppress Indians, I will use Martha Nussbaum’s capabilities approach to social justice in order to show that colonialism is unjust. Following this discussion, I will propose that decolonization is the goal to reach for so that Indians can have flourishing, human lives.

For those who are unfamiliar with Indian history, many things I have to say may shock you. Much of the history we learn in our schools has been told over and over from the European/Euroamerican point of view. But the story of history is not the story of one person or peoples. It is all our stories together. Just as we cannot, with any accuracy, tell U.S. history while excluding African Americans, women and children, we cannot purport to speak U.S. history while excluding Native Americans. After all, this was and is their land since the beginning of time–this is what it means to be indigenous peoples. It is not merely that Native Americans were here before those of us who are non-Indian, it is that they were always here. We can have no idea as to how the U.S. came to be anything at all–let alone what it is today–without profoundly considering Indian history. And we cannot understand how Indians got to be where they are without thinking about our nation’s past and present.

Considering that my topic is primarily about victimization of Native Americans, it is important to remember that Native Americans are not and have not been merely victims of Europeans and Euroamericans. We must bear in mind that indigenous people have been and continue to be subjective beings–actors in their own lives, They have wants, needs, loves and hates. They laugh (a lot!) and they mourn. They regret and they imagine. They make meaningful bonds with people and their environments. They stand up in large or small ways to fight for themselves and the people and things they care for. And they do this despite the persecution and hundreds of years of subjugation I will discuss. Remember when you read that Indians are not pitiable beings, they are human beings.

Non-Indian readers should be aware that seeing Indians as pitiable is condescending, arrogant and, at best, only moves the pity-holder to do something more or less charitable ‘out of obligation’. It does not, however, demand justice as it would if it was understood that Indians are human beings just as the reader is human. Consider the following passage by philosophers M. Lugones and E. Spelman:

“[C]oming into Hispanic, Black, Native America worlds out of obligation puts white/Anglos in an orally self-righteous position that is inappropriate. You are active, we are passive. We become vehicles of your own redemption. Secondly, we couldn’t want you to come into our worlds ‘out of obligation.’ That is like wanting someone to make love to you out of obligation.

Out of obligation you should stay out of our way, respect us and our distance, and forego the power you have over us–for example, the power to use your language in our meetings, the power to overwhelm us with your education, the power to intrude in our communities in order to research us and to record the supposed dying of our cultures, the power to ingrain in us a sense that we are members of dying cultures and are doomed to assimilate, the power to keep us in a defensive posture with respect to our own cultures.”

Further, Lugones and Spelman argue that the motive of friendship (and I would add, “and/or love”) is a better posture to be in if we, Euroamericans, are going to have discourse with People of Color:

” I see the ‘out of friendhip’ as the only sensical motivation for this because the task at hand for you [white/Aglo] is one of extraordinary difficulty. It requires you be willing…to suffer alienation and self-disruption. […]

If you enter the task out of friendship with us, then you will be moved to attain the appropriate reciprocity of care for your and our wellbeing, as whole beings, you will have a stake in us and our world…”

I am a non-Indian, a student of western philosophy and the mother of a Choctaw girl. It is my goal to make a positive contribution to the dialogue American Indians have going about their past, present and future. I am writing this paper out of love and profound friendship and I hope that the reader will assume a posture of friendship as s/he reads on.

May the reader understand that I am not an expert or specialist on many of the things I will write about in this paper. I do not speak for anyone but myself. what I speak is my understanding of works by Native scholars and artists that I have been exposed to as well as personal stories I have heard. I recognize that my life experiences and my cultural upbringing are such that I may not be as perceptive to certain issues as American Indians are. Moreover, my way of explaining my ideas and the philosophic foundations I will stand on are primarily from my western philosophical training and cultural background. Indians may explain things in different ways than I will. I expect more of this to happen and I look forward to it greatly.

LINKING YESTERDAY AND TODAY

“It is understandable that the average intelligent non-Indian American is uninformed about Indian [or Alaska native] affairs. It never gets into the books on general history.”

–Angie Debo, A History of the Indians of the United States

American Indians experience more extreme poverty than any other population sector in the United States–the type of poverty usually related to the “Third World.” As a result (or perhaps, associated with this) life expectancy for American Indians is about thirty years less than Anglo-Americans, male or female. American Indians have the highest “rates of malnutrition, plague disease, death by exposure, infant mortality, and teen suicide of any group on the continent.” Native American families have excessive rates of learned helplessness, violence, dependence, alcoholism “and the breakdown of values correlated with healthy living.”

When a person is confronted with the aforementioned data and honestly understands that these are not just numbers but actual people–mothers, aunts, nephews–I believe that many are able to discern that something is definitely wrong. But without knowing the historic antecedents that led to these conditions, concerned people may not give the right sort of help. Perhaps even worse, whatever lead to these conditions may continue to occur if we do not learn from past wrongs and take necessary steps to make reparations and not repeat past mistakes.

Following George Santayana’s famous quote that those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it, M. Annette Jaimes explains that the matter of understanding these historic link is of great importance “…not merely as some abstract exercise is seeking “Truth,” but because the nature of the past interactions between Euroamericans and American Indians within what is now the United States serves to define the facts of their present relationship.”

American Indian history is as diverse and intricate as any other history. I cannot possibly cover everything in this paper. There will be a lot I have to leave out because of space and because I am not adequately acquainted with the oral histories of any tribe. Acknowledging this fact, I will now set out to roughly describe some of the general qualities of American Indians and Europeans based on history so we can get an idea of how American Indians got to be where they are today and how the United States got to be, arguably, the most powerful nation on the planet today.

I will begin by painting a portrait of Europeans prior to and during the invasion of what is now known as the Americas. I know it is not completely accurate to lump all Europeans together. The French were different than the English. Moreover, not all French people were the same. But it is my belief that there were commonalities shared between European individuals and nations that were not shared by indigenous nations. There are philosophies, politics, economics, social practices and religions held in common.

Following my outline of Europeans, I will then paint a portrait of American Indians prior to and during the early invasion and colonial period. As with Europeans, it is not perfectly correct to lump all Indians together. But there are certain things Indian nations shared to a degree. Therefore I think it is reasonable for me to do this as long as the reader and I both understand I am making broad generalizations.

These portraits will, I hope, give us a workable backdrop to the arguments that will come later in this paper. It will help us link yesterday to today.

PORTRAIT OF EUROPEANS

“A significant thing: it is not the head of civilization that beings to rot first. It is the heart.”

–Aime Ceasire, Discourse on Colonialism

“I implore you to recognize the Church as a lady and in the name of the Pope take the King as lord of this land and obey his mandates. If you do not do it, I tell you that with the help of God I will enter powerfully against you all. I will make war everywhere and everyway I can. I will subject you to the yoke and obedience to the Church and to his majesty. I will take your women and children and make them slaves…The deaths and injuries that you will receive from here on will be your own fault and not that of his majesty nor of the gentlemen that accompany me.”

From The Requirement of 1513

When Christopher Columbus made his infamous trip which lead to the invasion and subordination of what is now known as the Caribbean Islands circa 1492, The Requirement (part of which is printed above in translation) was read, usually in Spanish, to people who didn’t understand Spanish.

An updated and shortened version of The Requirement may go something like this: You must convert to Christianity and take our Monarch as your ruler. If you don’t, we will brutally devastate you and your loved ones and we won’t lose any sleep over it. It will be entirely your own fault if we enslave you or murder you. Consider this your warning.

Columbus and his men eventually slaughtered, tortured and enslaved millions of indigenous people. Within 46 years the Taino population went from around eight million to an official count of 200.

Back in the Eastern hemisphere, Europe was ending the Renaissance and heading toward Reformation. Capitalism was on the rise. It would be 267 years before Mary Wollstonecraft was born and would later argue that the mind has no sex and therefore women have the ability to reason. Wollstonecraft was met with vicious backlash. Male philosophers criticized her by calling her a “philosophizing serpent” and a ‘hyena in petticoats.”

When we look back, the word “hierarchical” seems to be a very appropriate descriptor of Europe. And, as Devon Mihesuah explains, the European invaders were no exception to this:

“European colonists were influenced by Renaissance ideologies, notably the concept of the “Great Chain of Being,” that everything in the universe should be in order (i.e., the God is at the top of the hierarchy, with Hell and chaos at the bottom, or, in politics, the king at the top and peasants are at the bottom). Natives needed to be placed within this order, and generally, they were seen as inferior and therefore positioned at a low rung on the ladder of civilization.”

Western philosophers and scientists were seeking objectivity and “Truth.” Descartes would soon be engaging in his Cartesian doubt and coming to clear and distinct ideas. He would attempt to defeat skepticism and have completely certain knowledge through his conception of God. Western scientists were making technological advances and learning more about the solar system while hiding from the church when necessary. And imperialism was in the air.

I have no doubt that individual persons and cultures can empathize with each other and think of one another’s needs and wants. I consider our capacities to have compassion and to imagine another persons’ position some of our greatest abilities. Yet, maybe everyone to a certain degree is egocentric, that is, self-centered. Likewise, it’s probable that every distinct culture is ethnocentric–centered around it’s own ethnicity or nation. I know this may not be an accepted thing to say, but it seems true and perhaps unavoidable. It seems that Europe, during the Renaissance and Reformation, was ripe with ethnocentricism and imperialism and had made certain advances which would make it possible to extend social, economic and political power abroad to what we now call the United States, Mexico and Canada, just to name a few.

Imperialism, the process of one nation forcefully extending power over another sovereign for the gain of the dominate nation, was not new to Europe. It had been practiced more of less inside of what we now call Europe for quite some time.

And within this context, it came that Europeans began “[B]ringing European religion to people who already had religion and European law to people who already had law.”

Today, over 500 years after Columbus, he is widely considered to be a cultural hero, a brave explorer who “discovered the New World” and, as a child of Europe, the United States still has a national day which celebrates him and his legacy. Native Americans, on the other hand, generally consider him to be on par with Hitler and I am of the same mind.

PORTRAIT OF AMERICAN INDIANS

Western historical experiences are not…the standard by which human experiences should be gauged. For every religious fanatic who saw in God the Father a justification for putting pagans to the sword, there were other peoples, particularly American Indians, who experienced God as Grandfather, who could not conceive of committing violence because of religious differences.”

–Vine Deloria Jr, Circling the Same Old Rock

We never quarrel about religion.

–Red Jacket

The two quotes above reflect American Indians ideas about religious tolerance. As opposed to European ideas–and perceived mission in many cases–of converting people to Christianity, Natives typically had no problem holding steadfastly to their own beliefs while existing beside people with different religious viewpoints. Every tribe had (and has) its own distinct religion. American Indians didn’t find it necessary to convert other people to their belief system and seemed to live satisfactorily with spiritual difference.

Prior to European invasion, “[m]ost tribes were egalitarian societies…unlike the stratified societies in Europe’s, among tribes, each sex had its own decision-making powers.” As Priscilla K. Buffalohead tells us, “[W]e stem from egalitarian cultural traditions. These traditions are concerned less with the equality of the sexes and more with the dignity of the individual and their inherent right–whether they be women, men or children–to make their own choices and decisions.” A large number of tribes were democratic and tribal citizens would openly discuss and vote on things of concern to the community. Even in those tribes where women didn’t typically attend council and vote, they wielded considerable power over political and economic decision making.

Many tribes lived communally. To be exact, inside indigenous nations, land was not split up in plots or parcels for individual ownership. As I understand it, land was seen as either belonging to the Creator or held in common by all members of the nation. In the case of the Choctaws, Elder Charley Jones explains, “The Choctaws had the concept of land ownership–everything belonged to the Great Spirit and [the] Choctaw was just a steward of the land.” The European notion of individual property ownership and the idea of buying and selling land was, to paraphrase Tecumseh, as ridiculous as owning clouds in the air.

Warfare among indigenous people before the invasion was usually very different than European warfare. As Tom Holm elaborates:

 [W]hile traditional Native Americans avidly pursued “war” as an honorable activity, it was a form of war so radically different from that developed in Europe as to be of an entirely different genus. Not only were there no wars of annihilation fought in North America prior to the coming of Europeans…but the purpose of war seems to have been…something altogether different from killing…

Honor accrued in cultures solely on the basis of personal bravery. The best-known example is the practice of “counting coup”…In a way, the whole thing was rigged to keep enemies alive in order that the contest might continue perpetually.”

Other ways of dealing with inter-tribal disputes was to engage in game playing such as stickball. In fact, indigenous was much more like European contact sports than war practiced by Europeans. Women were not barred from warfare or game playing in Native cultures, although they did engage in it less than mean. However, women were apt to fight in battles once there was a great need to defend themselves against invaders who did intend to kill them.

COLONIALISM

I have given a brief picture of the American Indians and the Europeans during the invasion and early colonial period. In this section, I will discuss what I believe colonialism to be and show that how it happened in what we know as the United States.

In general, colonialism is said to happen when a nation directly and as a matter of open policy acquires, controls and maintains control over a foreign nation. This control is power over the social, economic and political life of the other nation and, hence, over individual members of the colonized nation.

Yet, in the international community, “colonialism can properly (and legally) said to exist if, and only if, one nation directly and as a matter of open policy dominates the social, economic, and political life of another nation from which it is separated by at  least 30 miles of open water.” This stipulation that the two nations must be separated by 30 miles of open water is known as the “Blue Water Thesis”.

While the international definition of colonialism does explain historic empires, such as France and Spain, scholars have argued that the Blue Water Thesis is arbitrary at best and have discussed different definitions of and forms of colonialism since at least 1966.

The Blue Water Thesis is said to be arbitrary because it seems strange to say that if there are to contiguous nations and one extents power over the other in an otherwise colonial manner, it is not colonialism because they are neighboring nations. Rather, in the international custom, the would-be colonized is now a “minority’ of the would-be colonizer. On the other hand, if they were separated by 30 miles of open water, it would be colonialism.

For a historic example, let us consider the occasion that Germany invaded Poland in 1939. Both Germany and Poland are said to be nations. They are also contiguous. When Germany entered Poland by force and controlled it, people of the world considered this to be a colonialist act. Poland was seen to have the right to be liberated from German control. Polish people were not, by and large, seen as now being a “minority” of Germany.

With cases like German control of Poland in mind, thinkers began to offer different accounts of colonialism which attempt to describe phenomenon which occurs in the world. I will discuss two of these: classic colonialism and setter state colonialism. In addition to this, I will argue that American Indian nations are colonized in the settler state manner.

Classic colonialism is when a nation sends colonizers out and sets up colonies within the subordinated nation. The two nations–colonizer and colonized–are separated by at least 30 miles of open water. The colonizers still remain citizens of their motherland and consider it their home. An example of this which the reader may be familiar with is British rule over India.

Settler state colonialism is characterized by populations of people leaving their homelands to subordinate nations elsewhere. The people occupy and control the colonized lands on behalf of the mother country. The colonizers within the colony, for one reason or another, consider themselves less and less connected to their motherland. They eventually rebel against it. In this revolt, the colonists break away from the mother country and begin to set up their own independent nation while they continue to colonize the original inhabitants of the land. The emphasis in describing settler state colonialism is the aspect of settlers forming a nation which colonizes the original inhabitants of the land.

In history, we can see how settler state colonialism happened here in what is now the United States. At first, many European nations sent people out to claim land, find gold, establish trade relationships, capture slaves and set up colonies. For what would become America, the ‘thirteen original colonies; were, more or less, the beginning of what we now call America. During the time of the thirteen colonies, Natives of the region were being colonized in the classic manner. But when Americans revolted against Britain and won the war for independence, the Americans began colonizing indigenous people in the settler state manner. Steve Russell illustrates that the European colonizers:

“[H]ad come to look upon North America as home and upon themselves as the colonized rather than colonizers. The exploitation of indigenous people as a violation of the very same fundamental rights of human beings that the colonists claimed for themselves was not within the revolutionary consciousness of the revolution. They either held the truth to be self-evident that only some people were created equal, or it escaped their notice that the original inhabitants of North America were people.”

In addition to American Indians, many other people are or have been colonized in the settler state manner. As Ward Churchill points out, this variety of colonialism oppresses or has oppressed (in the case of South Africa) “the Inuits and Native Hawaiians in the United States and Canada, as well as much of Latin America” in addition to “Northern Ireland, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Isreal.”

NATIONS, TRIBES, PEOPLES

If we take the general definition of colonialism as “one nation directly and as a matter of open policy acquires, controls and maintains control over a foreign nation”, objections may be raised concerning whether or not indigenous nations are nations as such. Historically, American Indians have said to belong to tribes rather than nations or peoples. Because of the European/Euroamerican perception of Native Americans as inferior and primitive, the term ‘tribe’ has often been used to describe the hundreds of distinct groups of Native people.

Naming in an important aspect of domination and “Once named, for the convenience of colonial rulers, [Native Americans’ were fixed as tribes, whatever their own sense of group identity or culture and social organization might be.” Scholars have realized that they were incorrect in using the term ‘tribe’ as if it did not mean the same thing as ‘nation’ or ‘peoples’. Many indigenous people today feel comfortable referring to the social/political group they belong to as a ‘tribe’. Yet, for many non-Indians this term conjures up images of ‘primitiveness’.

I will now put forth a definition of ‘nation’ from a combination of John Stuart Mill’s assertions in his Considerations on Representative Government, John Rawls’ concurrence with Mill in his Law of Peoples, and Ward Churchill’s Struggle for the Land. Following this definition is, I think, what we usually mean when we deem a group of people a nation or making up a nationality.

The term nation as it is typically used  means roughly:

A group of people, population independent, who are bound together by a common language, common culture and what J.S. Mill calls “common sympathies which do not exist between them and any other people.” Moreover, these people usually, but don’t always, have a common religion. The people reside in a certain location having a defined or definable land base. They can and do provide for themselves economically, but they can also trade with other nations. The people desire to be under the same government and evidence that desire by governing themselves. Lastly, these people share a collective historic consciousness, shared sense of pride and express similar emotions connected with historic events.

If we take this as the definition of ‘nation’ and look back at tribes of American Indians before the European invasion, we can see that American Indian nations were nations as such. They had every characteristic of what we call a nation at the time invasion began. After European nations set up colonies on the western hemisphere, Native nations became colonized nations and remain so today.

JUSTICE

“I am talking about societies drained of their essence, cultures trampled underfoot, institutions undermined, lands confiscated, religions smashed, magnificent artistic creations destroyed, extraordinary possibilities wiped out…I am talking about million of [people] torn form their gods, their land, their habits, their life–from life, from dance, from wisdom.”

–Aime Cesaire, Discourse on Colonialism

John-Paul Sartre has referred to colonialism as an economic system. This is because colonizing nations have usually undertaken the task of colonized people and their native institutions for the economic gain of the colonizers. Historically, colonizers have forced colonized people to work for grotesquely unfair wages and have often made literal slaves of them. Colonizers have also been preoccupied with finding wealth for themselves that is contained in/on the land which colonized people live on (gold, timber, minerals etc.) or the land itself.

It is my opinion that any reasonable and sane person will understand that colonialism is unjust after understanding what colonialism is and recognizing that the colonized individuals are human beings. I also believe that many ethical theories and theories of justice could show that colonialism is morally repugnant. However, for this nest section, I will apply a theory of social justice put forth by Martha Nussbaum in order to show that colonialism is unjust. I will first describe her capabilities approach to social justice and then apply it to colonialism.

Martha Nussbaum explains her approach to social justice as a capabilities approach. She gives a tentitive, empirically based list of capabilities which all people should be able to choose to whether or not to exercise, without going through more trouble than other people, in order to have flourishing human lives. It is important to emphasize that Nussbaum intends the items on the list to be capabilities as opposed to functionalities. In particular, everyone should have the capability to enjoy any or all of the items on the list, but by no means has to.

To better understand the relation between capabilities and functionalities, let us consider one of Nussbaum’s own examples so we can grasp her conception. In item two on her list (Bodily health and integrity) Nussbaum includes the provision that everyone should be able to be adequately nourished without going through more trouble than other members of society. However, a person does not have to consume food. A particularly religious person may opt to fast and this, under her approach, is perfectly fine. And, as Nussbaum notes, it is the ability to have food but denying it that gives fasting its moral value.

Each person should have the capability to perform an assortment of vital functions. The focus here is that everyone should be able to be treated as a free, dignified being–a maker of choices–and able to create a life for his or herself and not have the flourishing of that life blighted by such things as inadequate nourishment or overwhelming fear.

The list itself is intended to answer questions such as, “[W]hat do we believe must be there, is we are going to acknowledge that a given life is human?”, “What activities characteristically performed by humans are so central that they seem definitive of a life that is truly human? In other words, what are the functions without which…we would regard a life as not, or not fully, human?”

The capabilities on her list are cultural universals. It should be noted that Nussbaum see her cultural universals as metaphysically agnostic. In other words, these things could be fixed in the nature of things in a platonic fashion or not. It stands to reason that people from all over the world, from different traditions, nations and cultures will be able to agree on a list such as this one. And this wide acceptance is the goal of her list. As Nussbaum explains: “[T]he point of the list is…to put forward something that people from many different traditions, with many different conceptions of the good, can agree on, as the necessary basis for pursuing their good life.”

Nussbaum intends her list to be humble and open-ended. I would like to keep the integrity of the humbleness as I transfer it to my paper. Further, no one item on the list is more or less important than another and “[a] life that lacks any one of these capabilities, no matter what else it has, will fall short of being a good human life.” (See Appendix I for Nussbaum’s List of Capabilities)

Colonialism is an institution such that every item on Nussbaum’s list is under attack. After all, the definition of colonialism is one nation controlling the social, political and economic life of the other nation. This, in effect, leaves the colonized people at the mercy of the will and whim of the colonizers. I will now give examples to show this. My discussions below are not intended to be extensive analyses of colonialism or the unjust experiences of American Indians, but rather they are specific points we can look at to show colonialism is unjust.

DIGNITY

I know that many Euroamericans cleave to images of American Indians that are thoroughly dehumanizing. Because of these images, Indians are not treated as dignified human beings by non-Indians. Colonialism presupposes that the colonizers think themselves to be superior to the colonized and this superior/inferior dichotomy is necessary to keep colonialism going.

Indigenous people have hardly been recognized as human beings by Europeans and Euroamericans. Thus, we have grown used to seeing Natives as less than human, as non-human. Aime Cesaire says that “the colonizer, in order to ease his conscious gets into the habit of seeing the other man as an animal, accustoms himself to treating him as an animal…” Likewise Vine Deloria Jr. has mentioned that, while African Americans were seen as draft animals, Indians were seen as wild animals. Native Americans have been and still are thought of as savage, primitive, stoic, backward, lazy and stupid.

If we recall the Great Chain of Being where Natives were placed on a lower rung of civilization, we can see that these inferior images of indigenous people made their way into western philosophic works such as that of Locke, Hobbes and Rousseau. Natives, whether they were portrayed as noble savages or lawless savages were seen as not having ‘civilization’. They were/are thought to be less complex, less perfect and somehow evolutionarily prior to Europeans.

This perceived inferiority resulting in the dehumanization of colonized people in common in colonialism. Albert Memmi describes that in the eyes of the colonizer, “all the qualities which make a man of the colonized crumble away. The humanity of the colonized, rejected by the colonizer, becomes opaque. […] What is left of the colonized at the end of this stubborn effort to dehumanize him? […] He is hardly a human being. He tends rapidly toward becoming an object. […] One does not have a serious obligation toward an animal or an object.”

We should ask what effects these images have and the less-than-human treatment of American Indians have had on Indians themselves. To be sure, they are varied. I have heard, from personal testimony, feelings of overwhelming fear, self-hatred, anger and much more. As one American Indian told me, “Sometimes, if I am in a room full of white people, I panic. I know they don’t think I’m like them. You know, a person. But I am a person.” Further, consider the narrative by Paula Gunn Allen describing some of the contemporary effects of dehumanization on Indians:

“All but overwhelmed by ubiquitous redefinitions of ourselves and our sense of reality, one tries to write. To think. To get some kind of clarity about almost anything. One tries to function. To stay sober, to stay connected with the deeper stratum of being that is one’s identity, or one’s tradition, one’s very perception and consciousness. All too often, one gives up. Drops out of school. Flunks too many courses. Quits too many jobs. Gives in to all-pervading despair, to the murderous thoughts the whole white world projects daily, hourly, year after year. One gives up and lies down and dies. […]

Small wonder that far too many Native people, especially children, are suicidal. It is not that we possess a death wish but that the huge culture around us projects a homicidal wish on us.”

On Martha Nussbaum’s list of capabilities (Item 7, B), she notes that everyone should be able to have “the social bases of self-resepect and nonhumiliation” and to be “able to be treated as a dignified being, whose worth is equal to that of others.” Under colonialism, citizens of the colonized nation are not treated as dignified beings. They are constantly humiliated by the subservient positions their colonizers force them into, non-human treatment as well as the images and descriptions of them as made by the colonizers.

POLITICAL PARTICIPATION

Nussbaum points out in item ten on her list that all individuals should be “able to participate effectively in political choices that govern ones life.” When a colonizing nation controls the political, economic and social features of the colonized nation, none of the members of the colonized can, or can effectively, exercise the aforementioned capability. The colonizer, therefore, institutes policies which effect the colonized people, but the colonized people have no real choice in the matter. Because colonized people have no (or very little) political influence, they cannot shape and adapt institutions to their needs. For American Indians today, M. Anette Jaimes points out that:

“[O]ur ability to favorably alter [the conditions we live in] is drastically curtailed by the imposition of a federal order…that has “legally” supplanted our traditional forms of governance, outlawed out languages and spirituality, manipulated out numbers and identity, usurped our cultural integrity, viciously repressed the leaders of our efforts to regain self-determination, and systematically miseducated the bulk of our youth to believe that all this is, if not just, at least inevitable.”

COLONIAL POLICIES

I have just explained that colonized people have little to no say in the politics which govern their lives. I will now describe some policies colonizers actually institute.

GENOICIDE, CULTURAL GENOCIDE AND FORCED ASSIMILATION

Genocide is generally known as the act of exterminating, or attempting to exterminate, a national, racial, ethnic or religious group in its entirety. John-Paul Sartre points out that “Colonization cannot take place without systematically liquidating all the characteristics of the native society…” To be more explicit, wherever there is colonialism, there is always genocide. Sartre goes on to say that cultural genocide is also associated with colonialism: “For the subject people this inevitably means the extinction of their national character, culture, customs, sometimes even their language.”

Horrifically, there are abundant examples of the genocide, actual or attempted, of American Indians from the time Europeans began their invasion to the modern day. In fact, is has been said that the scope and duration of the genocide experienced by indigenous peoples of North America is unparalleled in recorded human history, with an attrition rate of about 99% since colonization began. From the infamous delivery of smallpox infested blankets ordered by Gen. Jeffery Amherst in hopes that the resulting outbreak would “extirpate this execrable race”, to the alleged order by Col. John M. Chivington to “kill them all, big and small, nits make lice.” In more recent years (late 1960’s to early 1970’s), indigenous women and girls have been subjected to surgical sterilization without their knowledge or consent. In a 1974 study, it was estimated that forty-two percent of Indian females of childbearing age had been sterilized this way. The obvious attempt was that no more Indian babies would be born. Not only was this U.S. policy an act of genocide, it also violates Nussbaum’s item two (being able to have reproductive health) as well as three (having choice in matters of reproduction. Genocide is unmistakably unjust according to Nussbaum’s list (see item One–Life–on her list). As Gabriel Horn aptly puts it:

“I know that genocide remains the most perverse human act. It eradicates entire peoples. It annihilates whole cultures. It rips beauty, wisdom, and understanding from the world and robs people of identity. Thus, when it comes to the act of genocide, I also know there can be no alternative to finding ways to fight for life…[T]here must be no surrender to genocide. Ever!”

For Native Americans, cultural genocide has been a constant force since about 1611, when French Jesuit missionaries set up schools to acculturate Indians. The intention has been one of “demolishing the internal cohesion of native societies, thereby, destroying the ability of these societies to resist conquest and colonization.” Cultural genocide is often coupled with forced assimilation which is the act of forcing one group to become like another–forcing the ‘uncivilized’ to become ‘civilized’. Thus, when the colonized child then goes to school, “The history which is taught him is not his own…Everything seems to have taken place outside of his country. […] The books talk to him of a world which in no way reminds him of his own.”

Cultural genocide and forced assimilation creates individual identity and social identity confusion (among other things) upon those who are victims of it. The colonizers who try to exterminate the cultural characteristics (including, but not limited to, the religious, linguistic, and social makeup) of the colonized consider the culture of the colonized people to be inferior. The identity confusion of colonized people associated with cultural genocide and forced assimilation facilitates the colonizers efforts to control the colonized people. While this certainly ties back to Nussbaum’s claim about dignity (everyone should be able to be treated as a dignified being), it also makes it extremely hard for colonized people to freely exercise the capabilities “Senses, imagination and thought (item 4) as well as “Emotions” (item 5), “Practical reason” (item 6) and “Play” (item 9).

To further investigate my claims, let us look at the institution of boarding schools (1870-1933) which was one of the United States’ policies which was geared toward cultural genocide–or as the phrase goes to “kill the Indian and save the man.”

“[M]any boarding schools were operated like prison camps, with American Indian children being starved, chained and beaten. Children were forbidden to speak Native American languages, practice Native American religions, or to convey or enact anything that might remotely resemble Native American lifestyles, beliefs, or customs. Children were taught that Native American cultures and religions were inferior, even evil, and were influenced to be ashamed of their parents, their family, their kinship systems, their language, their way of worship, and other remaining facets of Native American identity.”

From this description, we can see how indigenous children and young adults who attended boarding schools were unable to exercise their religion and avoid “nonbeneficial pain” (item 4). In addition to this, Native youths were prevented from having “attachments to things and persons outside” themselves (families and other social units), they were unable “to love, to grieve, to experience longing…and justified anger” and their emotional development was unquestionably blighted by overwhelming fear and anxiety (item 5). American Indian youths were swayed from forming a conception of the good (item 6) informed by such things as virtuous role models, adequate educational instruction and spiritual grounding. Moreover, these young people were unable to easily “laugh, to play” and to “enjoy recreational activities” (item 9).

REMOVAL AND RELOCATION

Forced relocation or removal of colonized peoples is also frequently found in colonialism. This is typically because the colonizers are by and large looking for land or resources of the land the colonized people are in their way or, to be blunt, in the way of progress. Colonizers have been historically known to force colonized people from their homes and lands so that the resources and lands they once occupied can be used for the empire. When housing provisions have been made by the colonizers, they are normally very substandard. In addition to this, the locations colonized people are removed to tend to be harsh, unfriendly and very confining environments.

Many thousands of American Indians have been forcibly relocated and removed from their homes and lands since colonization began. The instances most often noted are the forced removal of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole and Creek nations from their homelands in the south east of what in now known as America to “Indian Territory” (Oklahoma). This forced removal is known as the “Trail of Tears” or “The Trail Where We Cried.”

Forced removal creates excessive physical and psychological hardship for those removed. This has been especially true for American Indians who, oftentimes, had to transport themselves–for example, literally walking from the Mississippi area to Oklahoma–by threat of violence–without adequate food, shelter or clothing. This is complete opposition to, at least, Nussbaum’s capabilities 1-3.

Further, the loss of traditional homelands created (and still creates) spiritual injury to American Indians because most indigenous religions are location specific. That is, they are centered around and in relation to specific geographic points and features of the natural world which cannot be remade by humans. This made (makes) it virtually impossible for removed people to practice their religions. This prevention of religious practice is opposed to Nussbaum’s claim that everyone should be able to practice her/his religion. Additionally, it prevented Native people in concern with plants, animals and the world of nature–item 8 on Nussbaum’s list–which are of particular significance to Native people.

SUMMARY

I have touched the unjust makeup of colonialism in general and have explicitly pointed out examples of how these injustices show themselves in relation to Euroamericans and Native Americans.

In brief, for colonialism to ever begin, capabilities of the soon-to-be colonized are already undermined since colonizers, in order to move toward colonizing, see the colonized as inferior and worth less than themselves. Once colonization starts, it becomes more difficult for colonized individuals to have flourishing lives.

If we recall Nussbaum’s claim that a life that lacks any of these capabilities, whatever else it has, will fall short of being a good life, how, then, would we describe a life that lacks all–or nearly all–of these capabilities? How would we describe millions of these lives? How would we describe those who prevent these lives from flourishing?

Martha Nussbaum says that:

[H]uman capabilities exert a moral claim that they should be developed. When these capabilities are deprived of nourishment…they are fruitless, cut off, in some way but a shadow of themselves. They are like actors who never go on stage, or a person who sleeps all through life, or a musical score that is never performed. Their very being makes forward reference to their functioning. Thus, if functioning never arrives on the scene they are hardly even what they are.”

Now when we call to mind the data I presented in the section “Linking Yesterday to Today” that American Indians experience the most extreme poverty in the borders of the United States. That life expectancy is for American Indians is about thirty years less than for Anglo-Americans. That American Indians have the highest “rates of malnutrition, plague disease, death by exposure, infant mortality, and teen suicide of any group on the continent.” That Native American families have excessive rates of learned helplessness, violence, dependence, alcoholism and the breakdown of values that correlate with healthy living.” When we look at all this, we can now see the links between yesterday and today. We can also see that, clearly, American Indians today are not practically able to exercise capabilities which make a human life flourish. If you have even a loose agreement with me here, out next question might be: What do we do?

DECOLONIZATION

“The whole country changed with one handful of raggedy-ass pilgrims that came over here in the 1500’s. And it can take a handful of raggedy-ass Indians to do the same, and I intend to be one of those raggedy-ass Indians.”

–Annie Mae Pictou

To answer the question “What do we do?” we must first turn to American Indians themselves. As with previous sections of this paper, this section must be informed by Native American voices. This is, after all, their lives we are talking about. This is about their experiences and hopes. These answers cannot, then, come from “objective” observation or from mere reason. Those of us who are non-Indian need to realize that whatever propositions we make for the betterment of Indians need to be seriously informed by American Indians. If our propositions are not informed this way (engaging in dialogue, reading/listening to Indians voice their life experiences and scholarly views etc.) we are simply continuing to be imperialist. To restate the point, it would be an arrogant continuation of colonialism if we presumed to know what is best for people we’ve never met, talked with or listened to.

Think back to the introduction of this thesis when I asked the reader to assume a posture of friendship. This motive–the motive of friendship–is necessary for those of us who are non-Indian if we want to break colonialist thinking. Our writing and postulating must include, to a large degree, Indian voices. M. Lugones and E. Spelman explain that white/Anglos don’t need to set out to understand African American, Hispania, Native American communities, but we may become friends with individuals within those communities. However, we mustn’t befriend individuals for the purpose of theory making as this would be, Lugones and Spelman right tell us, “a perversion of friendship.” Further they inform us white/Anglos:

“[F]rom within friendship you may be moved by friendship to undergo the very difficult task of understanding our lives in our communities. This learning calls for circumspection, for questioning yourselves and your roles in your own culture. It necessitates a striving to understand while in the comfortable position of not having an official calling card (as ‘scientific’ observers of our communities have); it demands recognition that you do not have the authority of knowledge; it requires coming to the task without ready-made theories to frame our lives. This learning is then extremely hard because it requires openness (including openness to severe criticism of the white/Anglo world). sensitivity, concentration, self-questioning, circumspection. It should be clear that it does not consist in a passive immersion in our cultures, but in striving to understand what it is our voices are saying.”

American Indians have been exercising their voices for quite some time, despite the many obstacles they must overcome in order to speak out. But American Indians have been, by and large, only talking to themselves. Read how Anne Waters (former chair of the Committee on the Status of American Indians, American Philosophical Association) explains the concerns of the Committee on the Status of American Indians in 2003:

“We have had continuing discussions about: why there are no tenured or tenure-track American Indians in a philosophy department that offers a terminal degree; why there are no American Indians on any APA committee other than the Committee on the Status of American Indians in Philosophy; why no American Indian have received any prizes, awards, lecture opportunities, etc. from the APA; why we experience isolation and lack of audience (other than ourselves) at the divisional meetings; and why American Indians holding a PhD in philosophy do not receive inclusive opportunities to participate in philosophy department-sponsored diversity conferences at various universities across the country.”

It should be understood, then, that we–non-Indians and principally us Euroamericans–have not yet begun to strive to hear what indigenous voices are saying. Hence, the vast majority of us are ill prepared at this time to offer suggestions about the road to justice–the path to flourishing indigenous life.

If we understand that American Indians are the ones who know what they want and need and we also understand that they have been speaking (albeit to deaf ears) we may ask what is it that American Indians have been saying. What do indigenous people want?

I cannot rightly say that all indigenous people want the very same thing, but I do believe that many would agree on this: decolonization. It is colonialism which has squelched their populations, social cohesion, pride etc. therefore it must be the reversal or ending of colonialism which will put them in a better position to take back what they should have just by the mere fact of being born.

Ward Churchill tells us that “Decolonization means the colonized can…exercise the right to total separation in whole or in part, as they see fit, in accordance with their own customs and traditions, and their own appreciation of their needs. They decide for themselves what degree of autonomy they wish to enjoy and thus the nature of their political and economic relationship(s), not only with the former colonizers, but with all other nations as well.” This means that all indigenous nations within the current borders of the United States will be able to choose what relationship they want to have with the U.S. and how they would like to present themselves to the world. This does not necessarily mean that indigenous nations will completely separate from the U.S. and form independent nations, but it does mean that a given indigenous nation would be able to do so if the individuals of the nation thought it would be practical and best for the tribal citizens.

One concern I have run into while talking to non-Indians about the possibility of giving autonomy to Indians goes like this: If Indians want justice, does that mean that all of us white people have to get on the next ship to Europe?

The answer here is: no. This objection is, I think, a slippery slope. All I have ever heard Natives say is that that want to be able to control and shape their institutions to suit the needs of their citizens, to be able to practice their religions and access their sacred sites. They want nutritious food and water which does not contaminated with uranium. They want to be able to stimulate their economies and provide healthy environments for themselves and their loved ones. They want to make artistic works and scholarly works. And they want to do this without the U.S. government holding controlling policies over their heads and without the threat that the U.S. could, at any time, instate policies which would take away what Natives have worked hard to get. This does not mean that people who have heritage outside of this hemisphere must remove themselves.

We should not take this to suggest that American citizens will be unaffected by decolonization or that it will be comfortable for them. Giving up overprivilege is not comfortable for the oppressor. And taking back what has been stolen is not comfortable for the oppressed. But if we care about human lives and human flourishing and if we claim to be friends or would like to become friends, will will willingly give up our overprivilege–whether it’s comfortable for us to do so or not. We will also understand that whatever relationship Native nations have with the United States in the future will be up to indigenous people–not merely tribal leaders, but Indians, ‘formally’ educated or not, in positions of power or not.

If we understand the imperial power we hold over Indians, if we understand our overpowering privilege, and see how our colonial privilege stifles Native lives. we should do well to consider the following passage by Albert Memmi:

“[The colonizer] finds himself on one side of the scale, the other side of which bears the colonized man. If his living standards are high, it is because those of the colonized are low; […] the more freely he breathes, the more the colonized is choked. […]

Once [the colonizer] has discovered the import of colonization and is conscious of his own position…is he going to accept them? Will he agree to be a privileged man, and to underscore the distress of the colonized? Will he be a usurper and affirm the oppression and injustice to the true inhabitant of the colony? Will he accept being a colonizer under the growing habit of privilege and illegitimacy, under the constant gaze of the usurped?”

It is my wish, my intense hope, that we–Euroamericans–will not continue to accept our role as usurpers. I hope that once we have understood our current and historic status as oppressors and out implicit agreement to be colonizers, we will not explicitly agree to that position. I hope we could not live with ourselves as colonizers under the constant gaze of the colonized. I believe we can give up out power; we can choose to not support colonialist activities of our government. We can see American Indians as citizens of the world–citizens of their respective nations–whose worth is equal to that of ours. If we can give up overprivilege and understand Native Americans as human beings, then perhaps Sherman Alexie is right–“It’s a good day to be indigenous.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On “Safe Spaces”

I was told recently by someone that I need a “safe space.” This was said in a negative way–as if having a haven is a bad thing. This person, of course, is a Trump supporter and was acting very hateful to me. They probably have nothing but good things to say about the current policy of snatching migrant children from their parents’ arms and putting those children in concentration camps.

Who here really needs the “safe space,” then?

I’m not the one afraid of Black people and immigrants–so much so that I knock them down, beat them up, lock them away and put up walls.

I’m not the one who needs an All White Space.

Think about that if someone tells you, in a derogatory way, that you need a safe space. Who is really the one with serious fragility problems? You or them?

The Personal Is The Philosophical

Lately, I’ve been mixing personal stories and experiences into my philosophical writing. That’s no accident. I finally feel, when doing this, authentic in my writing and thinking. (Instead of pretending I have thoughts, feelings and insights that come, dislocated, from nowhere.)

The personal has always been the philosophical for me. I know, I know. We shouldn’t say this in philosophy. We should be “objective,” aloof and disinterested.

That’s just not the case for me.

I’ll tell you the story of my senior thesis for my degree in philosophy. It happened one November day when I picked my daughter up from school. She was in kindergarten.

My daughter happens to be Choctaw. And, each November, in public schools, they have a tradition about learning about Native Americans, as well as Pilgrims.

I picked my daughter up from school and she told me flat out, “I don’t want to be Indian because Indians aren’t smart and never did anything good.” That’s exactly what she said. I’ll never forget.

“What,” I thought, “are they teaching my daughter about Native Americans?!”

Teachers have a certain authority to kids. You think what your teacher is telling you and insinuating is true. That’s pretty much why you are there.

But I knew otherwise. And I was pissed.

My daughter, beautiful and smart–with the sparkle in her eye–was telling me she was ashamed to be herself.

I wasn’t having it.

So I did the only thing I knew to do. This was about 2003 and I needed to complete a senior thesis. I picked an advisor, who happens to be the badass Susan Peppers-Bates, and went to town.

I emailed a fellow at another university who specialized in Native Studies, Steve Russell, and asked him for reading recommendations. He gave me a HUGE list of reading materials. I will always be so grateful to him for so, so much. I was a pretty ignorant white chick, after all, and he and I corresponded and he helped me out of the goodness of his heart.

I took that list of books and personally ordered every. single. one.

I devoured them.

Meanwhile, I told my daughter’s teacher that she was not going to participate in the Thanksgiving activities at school. I had my daughter sit out of Thanksgiving activities until she was older and they no longer did the Pilgrim and Indian thing.

I did many things related to the research for my thesis. I (we) traveled to Mississippi and re-traced the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma. I got to meet Chiefs from Mississippi and Oklahoma. We went and did family-related things with my daughter’s Choctaw family. I went all out for my research.

I got an A+ for my research.

I then wrote my thesis. Maybe someday, I’ll post it online.

I argued that the United States is currently colonizing Native American Nations, that this is morally wrong, and that the solution is decolonization.

I defended my thesis, but, I admit, I broke down in tears when I was grilled by people. I felt awkward making these arguments in a western philosophy department–even though the arguments were probably good! I just didn’t fit the canon. So, after I defended my thesis, I went to the bathroom to cry.

At home, though, I was trying to learn the Choctaw language with my daughter and sing Choctaw songs. Even though she is not “full blood,” I wanted her to be proud of her entire self–including the Choctaw, especially since her kindergarten teacher had made her feel so bad about it.

So, for me, the personal has always been the philosophical. I’m just more open about it now.

In Praise Of The Minority View

You could say I come from a failed history, both personally and intellectually. Personally, I failed at many things. But I want to talk more about the intellectual failings. The times “my guys” didn’t win.

Throughout our dismal western history, there have been a few shining lights. I want to talk about two of them: Bartolome de las Casas and Roger Williams.

I spent a lot of time–years and years!–studying Native history and philosophy. These days, I don’t proclaim to be an expert on those matters, though.

De las Casas and Williams are two men who stand out to me. Each of them interacted with indigenous people and took a wildly different view from what they learned from indigenous people than what was the prevailing views at the time.

Neither of these men are perfect, of course, and each revised their views over time–something that is admirable.

De las Casas (eventually) opposed all forms of slavery in the 1500’s. Yes, the 1500’s! He didn’t just think this and write about it, though. He actively went out and worked against such things for 50 years. He is known, in the western world, as one of the first people to advocate human dignity for all.

Some of de las Casas’ ideas took hold at the time. But, as we know, the prevailing view was to kill, maim, conquer, rape and enslave indigenous people. That’s what went down in our history books. That’s the reality indigenous people live(d) with.

Roger Williams was one of the first abolitionists in the 1600’s. Yes, the 1600’s! He is known for his staunch views on the separation of church and state. The concept of this separation is enshrined in our Constitution. But it came about from Williams’ interactions with Native people, who he saw as humans, who were good and decent, but who happened to have a different religion than he did.

Of course, American History shows us that Williams’ view of Native Americans did not win at the time–or for hundreds of years after. (And, arguably, still today.) And that’s what’s in our history books. That’s what Native Americans live(d) with.

We know in philosophy that the minority view is not always the incorrect view. That’s why we, hopefully, appreciate freedom of speech and liberty of conscious.

Don’t be afraid, then, to not follow the pack. Don’t be afraid to consider the assumptions of your time and place and think for yourself. Don’t be afraid to fight for what you know is right. You may lose. You may be an outcast. However, hundreds of years later, you may have someone writing an ode about you and remembering your legacy.

I come from a failed tradition as a westerner. However, my tradition is proud. My tradition is strong.

My tradition is gaining hold.

Putting Emotions In Their Place

As I’ve said, I’ve been on a journey. In this journey, I’ve come to have a more whole self–a self that is no longer fractured between the cognitive and the emotional.

We–whoever “we” are–tend to privilege the cognitive aspects of ourselves over emotion. Somewhere in western history, we decided emotions were inferior to reason. I’ve decided not to argue about the intelligence of emotions or how emotions really guide us in our intellect.

Instead, I want to value emotions for themselves.

Now, I have a history of practicing Stoicism. You’d think, then, if you took a stereotypical view of Stoicism, that I’d value emotions less than anyone. But that’s not the case.

I think the devaluation of emotions is linked to the oppression of certain humans, animals and nature. Somewhere along the way, emotions got to be associated with being wild, free and, sometimes, “womanly.” (And, of course, woman is thought to be inferior.)

It’s true that emotions can be wild, free and unchecked. But that doesn’t mean to suppress them. That doesn’t mean to rely solely on the cognitive aspect of yourself. Because, even if you don’t think so, the cognitive aspect without the check of emotions–without being a whole self, together and integrated–can run you afowl, too.

Think about my case: I knew in my cognitive self that all humans were equal. But it was only after integrating the emotional self that I actually came to practice this. The virtue of justice has now (finally!) been more integrated into my character because of emotions!

That’s no small feat. And emotions were, perhaps, the cause.

It wasn’t fellow-feeling. I had that already. It was me being entirely integrated. It was me being “in tune” with my own emotions that made me develop virtues.

So let’s not denigrate emotions anymore. If we are in fact two halves–one part cognitive and one part emotional–each half should be given an equal share in your life.

And we don’t have to resort to talking about how emotions are “intelligent” or are the prime cause of our ideas and thoughts in order to do this. Each part of you should be in equal proportion. So let your emotions do their thing. And, when that happens, you may gain virtues, feel whole and complete and you won’t have to worry too, too much about either your emotions or your intellect running amok.

Bumping Into Another: The Joy Of Conflict

My counselor says she doesn’t have the wisdom to do what she does. Any wisdom she may have, she says, comes from God.

Well, wherever her wisdom comes from, it’s there for sure.

She and I have discussed interpersonal conflict. I’ve had a negative view of conflict in the past. I’m sure many people do. In fact, when I discussed community and family with someone recently, they wondered how everything could be sunshine and roses.

Well, everything is not sunshine and roses. But it’s how you approach it that makes you grow.

People you meet in your life have the ability to help you grow as an individual. Personal growth and development is something we should all aspire to.

I’ve come across many people in my life. And I lived for many years in a combative environment–philosophy. But life–and philosophy!–don’t have to be combative.

When you bump into another–someone with a different view from you, someone with a different worldview, etc–you don’t have to respond with combativeness. Even if they are jerks, which a lot of people are, you can learn from them. They can help you grow. In fact, it’s my little secret these days that, when I bump into another, I try to take away some kind of thought and growth–even if they don’t take away anything. I’m not responsible for their growth. Only mine.

This way of being in their world can work for practically anyone. If you are a Christian, it’s argued by many that God wants you to be as mature as you possibly can. So take the time to learn by bumping into another.

I call it “bumping into another” because when thoughts collide, you can feel the reverberations inside yourself. This can make you grow. And, just like bones need tension in order to be strong, so your character needs tension by bumping into people with different views from you. I’m not saying, again, that it’s all going to be sunshine and roses. I’m not even saying your going to have a great experience when you bump into another. It’s the reverberations inside you that will give you insights about things, people, the world, and so on.

So, go ahead. Bump into another. You may grow. And, if they are lucky, they will grow, too.

On Killing The Indian And Saving The Man

American, Canada and Australia have worldview blood on their hands. Yes, they have literal blood, but, worse, they have worldview blood on their hands.

Each country stole Indigenous from their families and placed them in boarding schools. While there, they were beaten for speaking their Native tongue, forced to dress “western,” abused in many ways, and were forced to take on a different worldview.

These are “before and after” pictures of Native children in the midst of being assimilated.

These countries couldn’t win the debate between worldviews, so they appealed to force. It’s important to note that this was entirely about worldviews. This was forced assimilation. It’s not merely about how one dresses, although that’s certainly a part of it.

There are still (non-Native) people who think Indigenous people were inferior. And I suppose they think that bringing Native kids into the western worldview was the proper thing to do.

But, alas. That can’t be true. In addition to the physical, emotional and sexual abuses these kids endured, they were taught in an American way. They were given strict structure to their day. No more could they live on Indian Time. They were given a hierarchy to live in. No more could they strive for egalitarianism. Their ideas of God, nature, the universe–of everything–was forcibly replaced.

Well, these major countries tried the method of force, but many Native people still practice their old ways as much as they can–and it’s amazing! When you have to appeal to force, you automatically lose. So, when judging the argument between worldviews, it’s clear who the loser is.

 

I’m Pretty Sure God Doesn’t Want You To Be A Doormat

I’m not and expert on Christianity. Last year, I did some serious studies and even applied to Divinity School (which I can’t do for personal reasons). But, still, I’m not an expert. However, I’ve come across some Christians who apparently think that being devout means they have to be a doormat.

“Forgiveness” is often preached. We should be forgiving, they say. But that doesn’t mean you have to live your life doing things that make you forgive and forgive. You shouldn’t be in a state of constantly trying to forgive people.

I’m talking to, mostly, Evangelicals here.

God is a role model for you. And I don’t think your God is a doormat. If S/He was, S/He would be granting all your wishes and desires. However, God is not your genie in a lamp. And you are not a genie, either, to be at everyone’s beck and call, only to feel used up and feel the need to forgive.

For more on this, I do recommend the book Boundaries.

Would You Rather Be Smart Or Good?

That’s a question I used to ask people way back in undergrad. It seemed to me that these two things were in conflict; that it’s hard for both to exist in a person at the same time.

And, at the time, I guess I chose smart. (But I wanted both!)

Well, the years have rolled on. I don’t know if these two things are in conflict. Someone else will have to answer that. And I don’t aspire to be incredibly smart anymore. Instead, I aim to be wise. 

Counseling, which I do recommend for just about everyone, has helped me with that. 

Phenomenologically, there seemed to be a split in my very self. It was a separation between what we call the cognitive aspect of me and the emotional aspect of me. The cognitive was overdeveloped. While the emotional was stunted. So, I grew up and lived bent and broken; not a whole, intact self, but a fractured self.

Through counseling, I’ve come to be more in tune with my emotional senses. And this has lead to radical changes in me. Of course, cognitively and in theory, I appreciated the emotions. But that doesn’t mean I put it into practice.

And, these days, I feel more whole. I think there really is a sense in which some people who are bad or evil are broken in some way inside. And tons of people, I’ve found, walk around this way.

Would you rather be smart or good? That may be a false dilemma. It all depends on how our psychology is; how our characters may be structured.

But I take it that the overdevelopment of my cognitive self and the underdevelopment of my emotional self is what was the problem.

Ancient western philosophers, who I know more about than other traditions, must have been not only intelligent, but wise. They must have lived and experienced things. They must have had “insights.”

Unfortunately, some aspects of contemporary philosophy have stressed mere smartness. We come up young, sometimes with very little life experiences, and develop the cognitive aspects of ourselves, playing around with logic problems and exercising that.

I want to bring back–if it was ever there–the philosopher as a sage; the philosopher as wise. This doesn’t have to hokey. And, if you think being sage and wise is hokey, I have to wonder about your biases.

 

“Anywhere you can lead your life, you can lead a good one.”

That quote is from Marcus Aurelius. It may be true in fact, but in reality, it may be more complex.

Anywhere you live, you can be a good person. However, it’s known that under certain conditions, it’s harder to be a good person. For example, it may be harder to be a good person under an authoritarian regime.

This is partly because leaders in authoritarianism, however evil they may be, are not typically dumb. They use strategies to instill hate and fear in the population. These strategies are hard to resist.

Still, it’s possible, with fortitude, preparation and work, to keep yourself intact and not succumb to these tactics.

Over a year ago, I read and shared this piece on how to be your own light in the Age of Trump. If you haven’t read it, I do recommend it. I’ve tried my best to stay true to this.

However, I can’t say I haven’t changed while Trump has been in office. I’ve had, for one thing, a happy shift in my worldview, which has made me not only more just in character but has given me new ideas about implicit bias.

So, the changes in me have been positive, all in all.

However, this may be rare under an authoritarian regime. We grow hateful, cantankerous and mean under authoritarianism. This can be true of anyone.

I still believe, though, that you can be a good person under authoritarianism. And that, in fact, is perhaps the best way to fight it.

Toward A Value Theory Of Implicit Bias

There’s been some books that have come out over the past few years on implicit bias. I’ve really wanted to read them but haven’t. If anything I write here is in them, I’d be surprised, but happy. It means I’ve struck upon a good idea.

As I was lying in bed, like Descartes, tonight, I had a thought: What if the things I’ve been writing about recently are related to implicit bias? I’ve always known that everyone has biases, but implicit bias is exceptionally bad. You act as if other people have less value. This has been documented against people of color and women, especially.

What if, I thought, The Great Chain of Being is related to all of this.

We live in a hierarchical society. Its sad but true. Like I’ve mentioned before, I lived my life as if certain people–not necessarily people of color or women, per se–had less value than others. I now aim to live differently.

I want to, then, put forward the beginnings of what I call The Value Theory of Implicit Bias. (For more on the background thinking on this, see the rest of my recent blog posts.) On this theory, we know, explicitly, that all humans are equally valuable. But we act as if some are more valuable than others because of how our (capitalist) society is structured. This would explain why, for example, people say they believe in equality but act as if they don’t. They are attributing, in the back corners of their mind, a false value to people, thinking some to be worth less than others.

On this view, we are incorrect in the recesses of our mind and in our actions. This would be why people show to be having bias on the Implicit Association Test and why a people act in biased ways.

It would also explain why women and people of color also seem to score to be having bias on these tests and why a woman can be sexist. These are people who know the structure of our society. We–all of us–are born into it and raised in it.

On this view, then, we are incorrectly assigning values in our implicit thoughts and in our deeds. That’s why it’s called The Value Theory of Implicit Bias.

This is a new thought to me: that bias is really an assignment of value. And, moreover, it carries out in our actions.

I’ll think more on this and write more if anything else comes to mind.