Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Dystopian Vision

Matthew Skomarovsky reviews the 30-year history of bipartisan efforts to steal Social Security benefits from working Americans, and showcases Obama's dream team for making Reagan's dystopian vision reality.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Defending Aboriginal Title

Coastal First Nations, a partnership of indigenous communities in British Columbia, takes a collaborative and strategic approach to defending aboriginal title and resources in their traditional territories.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ending the Empire

As military families and veterans mobilize to end the American empire, we thought it might be timely to revisit A Moral Imperative.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Coming Together

I was just reading a casual exchange between some British and Portuguese bloggers, and they mentioned how every town and village in their respective countries has citizen's advice centres, where for free people can get help in dealing with government agencies, utilities providers, landlords, and other aspects of life. All done by volunteers with special expertise, this civil society institution seems to fit well with what I've been yammering about here.

They were surprised that I had to ask them what an advice center was.

Working together, or in Irish, meitheal, is something rarely seen in the US. We compete rather than cooperate. We consume rather than create. We exclude rather than include others.

Some of us, though, realize this is not something that can long continue. Indeed, things are rapidly falling apart.

For myself, finding inspiration and guidance among the peoples indigenous to this continent, as well as in the sacred traditions of indigenous diaspora, is both a challenge and obligation. In these reflections, I hope what you find here will help you in making a connection to something authentic and engaging.

Disheartening as our absence of communal relations is in America, it does help to explain our persistent affection toward institutions, as well as our attachment to their recognition and acknowledgment in validating our self-worth--indeed, in bestowing on us the right to exist.

Unhealthy as this institutionalized relationship is for us, both individually and socially, it is understandable; institutions--for better or for worse--are presently the only enduring loci of collective memories for our rootless society, disconnected from the land and lives that surround us. Until we construct more functional alternatives, institutions--despite their repeated betrayals and systematic exploitation of every aspect of our daily lives--will maintain their grasp on our lonely psyches in this perverted exchange for a sense of belonging.

If communication in its myriad forms of expression is what comprises a culture, then the particular architecture or design of communicating is what determines that culture's level of human consciousness. An emphasis on beauty in art, song, dance, and storytelling will produce a very different consciousness than one inclined toward ugliness.

It almost seems trite to say so, but when one's primary input is from mass media, it's hard to imagine a beautiful mind.

I have often marveled at writers who could create beautiful stories from adversity--powerful works of art exhibiting the dignity of creativity under duress. I have also often wondered if guardians of this sacred space, those who protect it from wrathful oblivion, can ever fully enter it without the sense of an outsider observing from a nearby plateau. I suspect the protectors would do well to accept their fate, taking satisfaction in the space created for art, and knowing the artists and their work.

As a guardian, I can see the beauty in the choreography and narrative of creating this space, yet fail to see how to express this other than in the acts of doing so. Some are more gifted than I.

As Carlos Fuentes notes in A New Time for Mexico, “Exclusionary modernity, drawn from Western models, banishes all that it does not understand. Inclusive modernity understands, especially after the Chiapas rebellion, that there are many ways of being "modern," of being contemporaneous with one's own values.”

Yet, the patterns and relationships that emerge from collaborations in protecting sacred space reflect a harmonious arrangement of vital if not visible dimensions. Depending on awareness, this visibility of the symbiotic relation between useful art and its protectors can be preserved in archival creations often unimagined outside sacred societies. Communicating this story is not easy.

As Maya Lin once remarked, “It is sometimes good to understand what's been lost, what is irrecoverable, what is valuable to us and what we would like to repair.”

One of my colleague's students asked if I found my indigenous associates to have a different philosophical perspective. I responded by noting that their cosmology and epistemology was in sharp contrast with dominant society views, and mentioned an interview with Richard Atleo they might find helpful.

Making a connection with philosophies indigenous to the landscape we inhabit could be exciting to students and others feeling adrift in the modern world. Looking at methods of curating social knowledge over long time frames gives one a sense of adaptation and evolution of such things as morality -- processes that apply to the European diaspora as well as Native Americans.

This is perhaps a way of introducing non-indigenous Americans to researching sacred dimensions of their own ancient cultures that have much in common with American Indians.

After centuries of diaspora and displacement, identities are increasingly complex. For those whose tribal identity has been extinguished -- as in most Europeans of North America -- what's left of this essential human function is often a confused mixing of inherent cultures, combined with a vague and transitory identification with place. For settler societies, states, provinces, regions, and watersheds provide a shallow-rooted attachment to landscape and sometimes historical notions of belonging, but circumstances outside our control can easily diminish these bonds.

The synthetic modern cultures that have replaced ancient, more holistic ones are thus poor substitutes for the integrated social systems that once nurtured all humanity. Finding meaningful and purposeful alternatives outside this systematized social support has been attempted many times, but absent the political autonomy required to pursue a more coherent agenda, most gains are never institutionalized.

Resistance to the prevention or destruction of a holistic identity, without an appreciation of what has been lost, is usually futile. Understanding tribal systems and the history of cultural development helps.

In the words of Bernadette Devlin, “To gain that which is worth having, it may be necessary to lose everything else.”

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Principles of Organizing

Learning to use communications technology, while valuable, should not be overemphasized at the expense of learning the principles of organizing. While computer-based research and education has expanded our access to information, learning to evaluate information for its applicability requires greater focus. Analysis of communications in conflict, otherwise known as psychological warfare, thus serves as a prerequisite to effective engagement in netwar.

Comprehending how activism functions in this context, helps to distinguish between consciousness-raising and capacity-building. While not mutually exclusive, they are also not synonymous.

As more young people become involved in politics, they will, like us, live and learn from their mistakes. What they need to know in the digital age, is that connecting with millions through mass communication means little if the interaction fails to redistribute the power needed to socialize wealth and democratize capital ownership.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Identity of Possession

A while back, I wrote about the fabric of identity, and if insufficiently authentic, how it can unravel. In our consumer society, identity is closely associated with possession, and as millions become dispossessed, their identity crumbles. Losing one's possessions in a culture of imbeciles (a term used here to indicate political illiteracy) can make one vulnerable to recruitment by all sorts of ideologues, and this can lead to pathological behavior. And in a state where access to quality counseling often depends on a measure of possessions, the dispossessed are adrift.

We may indeed witness a return of active domestic terrorism in the form of Christian Patriot militias, but unlike the farm crisis of the 1980s and the millenarian mania of the 1990s, this time around, the social context of economic panic and religious hysteria is more widespread. Sociopathic conduct short of murder could become the norm.

Keeping calm amid hyperventilating media and bombastic propaganda won't be easy, but then, it never is.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Common Heritage

On my mother’s side, I am descended from Eoghan Ua Niall (Irish spelling), the nephew of the guy on the left on this 2007 Irish postage stamp. Sheila O’Donnell, a private investigator who like me lives near San Francisco, is related to the guy on the right.

Sheila was the PI that put together the info that in 2002 busted the FBI for framing Judi Bari, the celebrated redwoods activist.

When I was dealing with Wise Use vigilantes in Washington state in the mid 1990s, my Public Good partner Paul called on Sheila to help us figure out the network of figures involved in threatening and assaulting environmental activists there. Sheila came up to consult Paul, but I was otherwise engaged and missed meeting her in person.

I had another near miss prior to meeting Sheila when Ani Mander, my professor at New College of California passed away in June 2002. I went to her memorial at Stinson Beach Community Hall, and at the end of the service Ani’s son said he wanted to thank Ani’s friend Sheila O’Donnell. When I asked him to point her out, he said she had just left.

When we finally met on the plane at SFO in December 2005, Sheila and I flew up to Seattle together to help groups fighting violent anti-immigrant bigots, and had a good chat about our common Irish heritage.