Wednesday, September 1, 2010
There are some fundamental and core beliefs that every people and society holds. They are deeper than our religious beliefs that we cling to and fight wars over. History, like i wrote about in my last blog is one of those things for most peoples of the world. Time is another. They are kin. I have found out that birthdays are something that is fundamental and unshakable to most people in our culture since i gave them up. People get violent and angry about it when i tell them i have no birthday. These core beliefs are so fundamental that trying to shake them rocks people a little bit. At first they think you are crazy but if it starts to sink in that you are not joking, often times they will fight to keep the belief intact. Rocking the foundation can be psychologically difficult. It is like the situation some people get into after experiencing an earthquake. The ground below our feet is not supposed to move fluidly like water and when it does sometimes people need therapy.
When Europe crashed into North America we could see two world views with fundamentally different foundations clashing. Many problems that happened in European dealings with the aboriginal population was because the two groups were operating on a completely different paradigm and neither side had the tools to communicate with the other.
There was an example of this that my professor Clavin Martin witnessed at a council in Alaska. There was a conference about a scientific plan to help preserve and increase the moose population and many Yupik elders were there. After presenting the plan the biologists invited Paul John, a native elder to speak. He spoke in a hushed tone, nearly whispering and said, "We think this is a good plan but we should speak of it quietly. We know from experience that the moose listen to us and if they hear this plan and do not like it, they will leave." The room was silent for a moment and then, the biologists went on as if nothing was said. From our world view, what Paul John said could not be heard. We do not have the apparatus to function in a world view where moose are listening in on our conversations.
Neither world view is right. They are different. Carlos Castaneda was taught to be a sorcerer, and in order for that to work, he had to enter into a new world view where Coyotes could talk and his mentor could turn into a raven. That is crazy in our world of reason and when we are in it, we can not be a sorcerer. That does not mean that the world view of the shaman is not real, it is just different.
I am digressing though. The real thing i want to get at here is that we have some core ideas functioning that shape everything we do in our daily lives and we do not even usually begin to think that they can be questioned. The birthday thing is an example. Most people can not begin to believe that i honestly think that i do not have a birthday. They think it is cute and a little eccentric but even after i have explained that it is a deeply held philosophical belief i have been working on a long time, they will still often come back with, "But really when is your birthday?" Yes, i was born, but it is the measurement of the passage of the years that i think is artificial and very Western.
That chart that i have at the beginning of this blog is one i would put on the board when i used to teach about the difference between European and Native American world views. I remember one day after class sitting there and looking at the chart and realizing that everything on the Native side was actually all the same. Self, place and time are not separate in a hunting and gathering world view. The whole chart itself was very European of me. I am a product of this world view as well and did not even realize it. We love to measure stuff in our culture. How many acres do you have brother? A Sioux horseman on the plains could not possibly think of one acre as the same as any other. Each piece of dirt has its own character as surely as you and i do. Borders are more fluid in a world view where you live in intimate connection with the Surround.
It is good to blow free air around these core beliefs and shed the light of day on them sometimes. In phenomenology they would bracket things. For example, [the sun is just a ball of gas in the center of our solar system.] Bracketing is a way to take a look at what is said. You notice in this statement the word [just]. That changes a lot. The sun IS indeed a ball of gas or plasma in the center of our solar system but it is so much more. It is what all life on this planet is made of, it is the prerequisite for sanity to some people in the northern or southern polar regions at those times of year when Brother Sun disappears for months at a time. To me it seems better to do away with that word [just] in most circumstances. As we live in the universe, things are never really just anything.
We all also have some personal assumptions that are so fundamental that they shape our lives and we probably do not even remember them or know that they shape everything we do. Some promise we made as a child or broken hearted teenager that shapes everything that comes after. Maybe as a boy your father did not show up for the big game and you promised yourself, "i will never trust anyone again." Are there things like that that have ruined every later relationship we have ever had?
Finding these fundamentals can be a big step toward health and i am not saying they all need to go. Some probably do, i vote on getting rid of all of our Cartesian thinking as a first step to health as a people but that is probably another blog. Some of these fundamentals are probably healthy, but knowing that they are there can never hurt. They are often hard to find because they run in the deeps of our subconscious most of the time. I feel lucky to have wound up in the classes and experiences that i had. These ideas are not only mine but those who tread these grounds before me. I feel that i have learned a lot about myself and my people, my place in the universe by being a seeker of knowledge and trying to deeply look at what i think.