The Normativity Of Creating New Minds

Perhaps I am mistaken. But it is my impression that there’s a normative aspect of AI that needs to be addressed and hasn’t been. This aspect is a certain normative schema of creating AI minds.

When most people think of AI, such as myself, they think of incredibly intelligent—in the cognitive sense—beings; beings that may or may not be smarter than the average human. These beings often lack certain qualities, such as wisdom, emotional intelligence and the ability to love. In short, we think of the stereotypical human “genius,” who may bumble about, not tying their shoes but producing great theories of the universe.

I want to question the normative aspect of creating a certain type of mind in AI.

As we know, there’s diversity in the human species. Humans can have autism, Down’s Syndrome, schizophrenia. The fact that these so-called disorders are not inspected more by AI developers is telling. And it purports to create a new society—an AI society—without such “disabilities.”

It has been argued by many that the differences in minds—often referred to as “neurodiversity”—is just as beautiful as other forms of human diversity. And these differences give us strength within our communities.

No doubt, it would be difficult to create an AI with a condition like autism and there would be criticism all around such a project—from all sides. But boldly going into that territory nevertheless is perhaps better than ignoring such human differences when it comes to developing AI.

I want to challenge AI developers to look beyond their own current understanding of what they are producing and aim to create artificial intelligence with flaws, deficiencies, vulnerabilities and, yes, disorders. This is perhaps much more challenging than creating the standard AI, it’s true. But erasing the differences in humans while creating AI is perhaps worse.

We cannot deny that most bots created fit into a certain category. This inflexible understanding of the human mind only wipes away the beauty that is humankind. As you think about the characteristics you program and develop into your AI, think about the diversity that lay behind your assumptions.

 

Dystopian Arguments Against AI: The Case Of Wall-E

For about a year and a half, I have done reading on developments in AI. A lot of people are for AI, but others have a dystopian view. I recently came across a new dystopian future as AI develops inspired by the film Wall-E.

In this future, we are not killed by evil robots. Instead, everything is automated and bots rule and keep things in order. The end result is that humans are complacent in a zombie-like state, unhealthy and disconnected.

This future is not too far fetched. Compared to other projections of AI, this one hits the mark much more closely. That is, it’s believable that something like this could happen and is already happening.

In the film Wall-E, we have intelligent bots: Wall-E himself is possibly the most intelligent because he appears to have emotions and wisdom.

It’s interesting to note in this dystopia, however, that while humans create technology to preserve themselves, it’s the bots–particularly Wall-E, who feels love–who save all of humankind from itself and saves the Earth.

So while this dystopian future may look like it’s anti-technology, it’s really not. Wall-E, a bot, saves humanity and the Earth,

What we will need to do, perhaps, as technology develops into AI, is strike a healthy balance between our uses of technology and our connection to one another, our connection to our planet and not allow our use of technology allow us to become to lazy, complacent, disconnected and zombie-like. No doubt, this balance will have to be chosen deliberately and implemented by us individually. For even though Wall-E is the hero of the film, saving us all, we cannot hope for such a kind creature to save us from ourselves.

A Feminist Take On Teen Mothers–From A Former Teen Mother

I’m a feminist. I was also a teen mom. I have read slightly anti-teen mom things recently from the left. I wanted to address those things.

I’m not going to tell you how I was mature for my age, which I was. Instead, I’m going to make a pragmatic case that, so long as teen moms exist–which they do and will continue to until we have better local things to do than have sex, have proper sex education and teenage girls and boys have better access to birth control—that we should evaluate our society and make it so teen moms can thrive.

Having been a teen mom, I know the unique challenges. Child birth and raising children is difficult in “ideal” circumstances let alone when one still needs to finish high school, get a job and a driver’s license and hopefully go on to college.

Fortunately, when I was six months pregnant, I moved to Florida, a state in which a school for teen parents is required in every county. There, my teachers were my role models. They fought to provide us with a quality education, including parenting, nutrition and health classes for both us and our babies.

I have heard leftists say that they themselves had sex as a teen and that they think their teen having sex if fine so long as it’s safe. These are reasonable positions. However, as soon as a girl gets pregnant and keeps the baby, there’s worries about the “morality” of this. On the other hand, if the young lady has an abortion, it’s all swept under the rug.

The worry should be that it is now increasingly more difficult for this young lady to achieve things in life, to succeed, to gain an education. And that decreases the likelihood of the baby’s achievement. When I was a teenager, the statistic was that only 3% of teen mothers graduate high school. And, of those, only 1% went on to college. I had to make up my mind to fight and struggle to be that small percentage of young women with children going on to college.

We need to be more accepting of teen moms instead of scolding them, judging them and making life even more difficult for them. There’s a fear that catering to the needs of teen mothers will only encourage more teens to have babies. That wouldn’t be so if we also have the things in place I mentioned above, such as proper sex education. We cater to the needs of so many kinds of people already—not to make things less of a meritocracy but to even the playing field. Why not cater to the needs of teen moms?

You Might As Well Live

In 1926, Dorothy Parker wrote her famous poem “Resume.”

Razors pain you;

Rivers are damp;

Acids stain you;

And drugs cause cramp.

Guns aren’t lawful;

Nooses give;

Gas smells awful;

You might as well live.

I’ve just started reading the book Cyberspies. How are these two things related? It’s simple.

Just today, someone said that, with all the talk of cyberspies, espionage and hacking, it’s hard to want to, for example, have a Facebook account. You’re damned if you do.

How, they asked, can we keep in contact with people, if we can’t trust things like email or Facebook? You’re damned if you don’t.

The problem, I suggested, is not new.

The book Cyberspies begins with some of the first instances of spying and espionage, starting with intercepting plain, old-fashioned mail. Surely, people have dealt with these issues before.

While it’s good to be wary of the unknown “Friend Request” and to keep your account private, that, as we now know, is not a sure-fire way to keep your privacy.

Today, I was thinking about these issues when I saw a worm on the concrete porch. The worm seemed to be heading to certain death as it wriggled to nowhere, sure to dry up by morning. I began to walk over to save its life. But before I could do that, a tree frog hopped over and ate it!

It’s experiences like these—the small ones; the ones that don’t seem important—that you, Russia, Facebook or TSA would not know about unless I decided to tell you. There’s aspects, then, of our privacy we can keep. These may be tiny, seemingly insignificant things that happen in the dark on your front porch. But they are private things nonetheless.

After the worm and frog incident, I sat down to write.

You might as well live your life, I thought. You should certainly be aware of privacy risks, but don’t let it ruin your life. Don’t get overly paranoid about it. You should totally raise your voice so that your privacy is kept, but know that people have been dealing with these issues, mostly during times of war, for centuries. So, to quote Dorothy Parker, “You might as well live.”

An Oddball History Of Myself

In the world of universities, there’s scholars, administrators, students, administrative assistants. And then there’s me. I’m an oddball.

I always have been a little different, tying my shoes the opposite way—from top to bottom instead of bottom to top—when I was a kid and setting a brief trend.

When I graduated high school, I knew I wanted to go to college. I applied first to a community college to test the waters. Then, I applied to the highest-ranking university I could commute to: Stetson University.

I started out as an English major at community college. Perhaps I should have stuck with that. However, as these things go, I switched my major to Psychology and then, after transferring to Stetson, added Philosophy as a major.

I have always had very broad interests. A jack-of-all-trades and master of none. When my first Philosophy professor told the class that there was nothing beyond philosophy and that philosophy deals with everything, I was sold.

But philosophy is hard. Quickly, I bought myself a philosophy encyclopedia and dictionary in order to grasp this whole new language I was trying to pick up and master. I tried like everything to make A’s. And mostly, I did.

I graduated from Stetson in 2004 with BA’s in Philosophy and Psychology. I took a year off to study. I wanted to go to graduate school and thought I should spend a year beefing up my skills in Philosophy.

I applied to the University of North Florida. I was accepted. Then, I emailed to Department Chair asking how to apply for the Teaching Assistant position. He said, “Consider yourself as having applied.”

I got the Teaching Assistantship. I had a lot of anxiety and I would be speaking in front of students earning their BA’s. I decided I would overcome these fears and be the best teacher I could be. These days, I am fairly comfortable talking to groups—a skill that very few people seem at ease with.

I had decided, too, that I would try my very best to make all A’s in my graduate work. This would be tough, I knew. I would attempt to do my reading, turn in my work early, and solicit feedback from my professors so I could make the grade.

All the while, I was hammering myself in the head with logic. I became an informal logic machine. I could assess arguments, identify fallacies and see objections.

Being an informal logic machine is not my natural state. It’s not a healthy state for me. When I had my first psychotic break, it was because I could see so many different arguments and objections as I was writing my MA thesis that I became paralyzed. I simply broke.

That was on top of the personal obligations I had, which made my situation worse.

It was a perfect psycho-social storm that made me break from reality.

I hoovered around academia for several years, thinking I would make my way back in. At this point in time, it seems that will never be the case. I have had to take time to heal, adjust and align myself with new goals.

The oddball in the university—the one who broke from reality during her years in graduate school—has now blossomed into a writer of sorts. I do writing exercises every day. This is one. In my writing, I’ve come to understand other people and myself more fully.

My life—the one I’d pick for me—is currently a life living in a RV at a campsite, doing creative remote work for a living. That’s as sure of myself as I have been for a while—perhaps ever.

John Nash said that living with schizophrenia is a matter of living a quiet life. I think he was right. I may have had more grandiose visions for myself in the past. I may have even managed to do some remarkable things. But, at the end of the day, I just want a quite life. A humble life. And that is what I’m currently aiming for.

Does Donald Trump Sleep? And Other Questions Of Self-Care.

Tonight, I took a moment to reflect on something a republican said to me: “I’m not a whiny fucking liberal.”

I like generating theories–even if they aren’t correct. At least  I can say I tried to understand.

My assumption here is that the media this person consumes tells him that liberals are whiny. And that there may be differences between the explicitly-stated liberal and conservative view of humanity.

Conservatives, I take it, seem to assume that we can pull ourselves up by our very own bootstraps; that we have no mental, emotional or physical limitations. This is what their comments often suggest.

Liberals, I suggest, take the opposite to be true.

I would try to explain these things to the person who insinuated that liberals are whiny, but this particular person isn’t prone to have productive conversations.

Donald Trump seems like a grouchy, old man to me. However, he does in fact have limits and he knows it. For example, he goes golfing very regularly. This is, I suppose, to let off steam and to refresh and rejuvenate. This is basic self care. Yes, Donald Trump engages in self care.

But, at a more basic, human level, we can ask if Donald Trump eats, sleeps and shits. (We know he has sex!)

All of these things suggest the limitations of humans. We have physical, emotional and mental limitations and needs. Donald Trump, if he is to stay anywhere near sane (which is doubted by some, but I think he’s somewhat sane), needs to attend to these basic needs.

This is the liberal point of view. And it seems true as evidenced in Trump’s behaviors. When liberals “whine,” we are often suggesting that we–and you–are human and have needs that have to be met in order to stay physically and mentally healthy.

Yes, Donald Trump sleeps. Meditate on that. And remind yourself that you also sleep next time you think someone is “whiny.”

 

There’s Jokes And Then There’s Theories

For the past few days, I’ve been mulling over the theory posited that Trump is in love with Putin. This morning, I had a conversation with a brilliant family member about these things. My family member and I disagree on some things, I think.

There’s political jokes and satire aimed at people within a group–say, the leftists. I think these things can fortify a base and keep morale up. Some of these jokes/images are of Putin and Trump kissing and so forth. As useful as some of those things are in keeping up morale and generating a laugh, that’s not what I’m after.

Instead, I’m after a plausible theory as to why the president treads so closely to treason.

Initially, I thought that Putin had something on Trump–something damaging, which lead to Trump’s submission to Putin. But that doesn’t seem to explain Trump’s behavior–including his public fawning over Putin and, then, his backtracking. These behaviors point to a man who has a kind of commitment to Putin, but who is later advised by the GOP that he needs to back off a bit. In short, it’s the actions of a man in love who is told by potential “friends” that the person they love is treacherous. But Trump loves, anyway.

Political comics may indeed help us understand Trump. They may–perhaps, must–say something true that leads to a laugh. And they distill these things into an bite-sized image. But I’m not looking for a laugh. I’m looking to understand the man that, for all intents and purposes, leads our country.

I may be grossly wrong. But at least I’m trying to understand.

Trump: The Masochistic Figurehead

Yesterday, I read an interesting article over at Foreign Policy. The article posits that Trump is in love with a father-figure: Vladmir Putin. I encourage you to check out the article. It makes a good case.

Putin is known for his harsh brutality. Anyone who’d love him the way Trump appears to is, probably, a masochist. This love explains a lot of things about Trump’s behavior.

While Trump gesticulates more and more toward treasonous activity, the broader GOP has been doing the dirty work, including drafting policy for him and developing a budget proposal.

It’s my assertion that Trump is, indeed, a masochist in love with Putin. Who can say anything about this type of love? While he plays S&M on a global scale with Putin, the GOP is trying to unravel everything that does, in fact, make America great, such as Social Security and the EPA.

I think the GOP decided a while back that they would let Trump “play” at being president. They try to keep him in line, making sure he doesn’t veer too much toward being a traitor.

In the end, Trump is just a figurehead at this point, whose own party is playing him, while he tries to get his rocks off with brutal dictators.

My only hope is that Trump, whose savvy-ness I doubt, has created some limits with Putin and has developed a safe word. Because Putin is the real deal. He will not stop brutality on his own. I doubt, however, that any such contracts, even verbal, have taken place.

Trump is Putin’s Bitch.

Announcing: Hire A Philosopher

If you know me–I mean, really know me–you’ll know there’s nothing more I like to do than philosophy. Thus, I’m in the process of creating a brand new business. It’s a philosophy research and consulting firm.

You can check it out by looking at our new website.

You can learn more about me and my passions at the interview Helen De Cruz did with me here.

You Can’t Touch Girls, But You Can Rough Up On Guys

Today, I was at lunch at a local Mexican restaurant. I happened to overhear a young fellow across the way talking about the state of things today. In short, he said if you are a guy, you aren’t allowed to touch girls, but you can sure as heck rough up on a guy.

For real????

I mean, it’s true, you cannot even touch a girl without her permission. That’s basically the law. Otherwise it could be considered assault, which is a crime. This is true, however, whether you are male, female or something else.

However, the same is true of guys: You aren’t allowed to even touch them.

The culture of toxic masculinity says that guys can touch whoever they want–and even beat up on other guys. And that’s just a same.

Well, I’m sticking up for everyone: If you haven’t asked and gotten permission, don’t touch people. More to the point, don’t rough them up–whether you and they are male or not.

How Stoicism Can Help Your Business

I recieved a comment from someone about having an Ethics Officer at your company. The person said, “Great idea. Like count to ten before screaming at people?”

It’s sad to say, but there are indeed some bosses who need advice on this. For them, I recommend looking into the ancient philosophy of Stoicism.

Contrary to how we typically use the word ‘stoic’ in modern America, the ancient Greek Stoic wasn’t like Spock. Yet, there is a sense in which emotions can be a hindrance to the Stoic. This is especially true of of the emotion anger.

Anger is detrimental not only to those around you, but to you yourself. If you are a boss screaming at employees, you have a disturbed soul or psyche (in the ancient Greek use of the term). You cannot be at peace with anger in yourself.

The goal of the Stoic is to become like a Sage, who is the ultimately free person; who, indeed, nothing can disturb.

Unfortunately, anger is on the rise in our country. Some people have more problems with it than others. But learning from the ancient Stoics can help us here–and help your business.

Does It Make Sense To Talk About The Character Of A Company?

There’s a theory that corporations are–or, are like–people.

Set aside whether you agree with this position. I want to assume for a moment it’s true. If it is true, does it make sense to talk about the character of a corporation?

I don’t presume to know everything about business. Yet, I know for sure that it’s complex enough to think that if corporations are people, they have the same theoretical and empirical problems individual humans do when it comes to character. For example, take a look at the evidence for situationism.   

Situationism, generally, the idea that individuals are shaped more by their environment rather than something called character, presents a challenge for virtue ethics, one of the major ethical theories.

If situationism is true for the individual, I presume it is probably also true for the corporation. So, does it make sense to think of corporations as having a character? Many corporations try to make it seem as if they have a clearly defined character by consistently branding themselves. Yet, whether they actually have a character and whether this character matches the brand is something altogether different.

It remains to be seen whether corporations have a character. If they do, and if virtue ethics is correct, it may be possible to have more or less virtuous corporations.

Implicit Bias Training Is About Ethics

I’ve written about how organizations need Chief Ethics Officers. And they do. 

Recently, Starbucks came under fire when an incident occurred with Black customers who had the police called on them for simply being there. Starbucks responded to this incident by closing for a day for implicit bias training.

Whether implicit bias training works is yet to be seen. However, the point is the company responded–and it did so from an ethical standpoint. 

No one has yet outlawed implicit bias. You are completely allowed, under law, to be as biased as you want. That’s likely the way it should be. So this is not a matter of compliance. It’s not a matter for, specifically, a JD. It’s a matter of ethics. It’s a matter for philosophers.

This case is but one of many cases across to world which demonstrates the need for ethics in our public life. Ethics can, we hope, contrary to research by Eric Schwitzgebel, make us better people. It can make us act better. It can reduce bias in our own thinking and in the thinking of our customers.

So, next time someone asks you whether we need ethics in our public life, our policy-making and our organizations, you can confidently say, “Yes! Absolutely.”

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.