by Alton C. Thompson
It is no secret that our species is in deep trouble. However, because our major news and opinion media, along with our political (and other) “leaders” have maintained their silence about this fact, few in our society seem to be aware of the trouble that we’re in.
Why this silence? Is it a lack of knowledge as to the dangers that face us humans—i.e., is it a matter of ignorance, pure and simple? Are those associated with the media and (other) leadership positions so “possessed” by an ideology (e.g., neoliberalism) and its fictional version of Reality that they are simply unable to recognize the dire situation that we humans are in? Or is there some other explanation? I suspect that it is the “possession” factor that is operative here, but my interest in this essay is other than elaborating on that possibility.
As the title of my essay suggests, my primary interest in this essay is the characteristics that would need to prevail in our and other societies for there to be an absence of the threats currently facing us humans. This implies that my primary focus is not, then, on the questions:
- What can be done to address the problems that face us?
- What should be done?
Given the primary focus of this essay, a useful starting point is to note the major problems facing us humans at present. These have been succinctly stated by Guy McPherson. In the Introduction to his Going Dark (2013) he lists the following:
- “global climate change”
- “environmental collapse”
- “nuclear meltdown”
As his last point especially needs clarification, let me quote here what McPherson says about this matter:
Safely shuttering a nuclear power plant requires a decade or two of careful planning. Far sooner, we’ll complete the ongoing collapse of the industrial economy. This is a source of my nuclear nightmares.
When the world’s 440 or so nuclear power plants melt down catastrophically, we’ve entered an extinction event. Think clusterfukushima [see this], raised to the power of a hundred or so. Ionizing radiation could, and probably will, destroy most terrestrial organisms and, therefore, most marine and freshwater organisms. That, by the way includes the most unique, special, intelligent animal on Earth [i.e., us!]
I assume that McPherson, in referring to humans as the “most intelligent animal,” did so “tongue in cheek,” for he later says:
Again, I invoke the wisdom of George Carlin: “When you’re born into this world, you’re given a ticket to the freak show. If you’re born in America you get a front row seat.” [!]
Washington believes that it can win a nuclear war with little or no damage to the US. This belief makes nuclear war likely.
As Steven Starr [author of ““The Lethality of Nuclear Weapons”] makes clear, this belief is based in ignorance. Nuclear war has no winner. Even if US cities were saved from retaliation by ABMs, the radiation and nuclear winter effects of the weapons that hit Russia and China would destroy the US as well.
The above-mentioned threats are not the only problems facing us humans at present, of course, but they are the ones that should take “center stage,” given that they threaten our continued existence as a species.
This brings me, then, to the question contained in the title of this essay—“what would it take” not to be faced with these threats to our continued existence? That is, what characteristics would our society, and other societies, need to have for all of us to feel relatively “safe” from the possibility of premature deaths?
For me, the sorts of necessary characteristics were possessed by the Plains Indians (using that term rather than “indigenous people” or “native Americans”—because many Indians refer to themselves as “Indians”!). My interest in Indians goes back to my primary school days, when one of my favorite books in our “normal school” library was an illustrated book about Indian chiefs and other leaders. Although, in having a Norwegian-Swedish heritage, I suppose that my heroes should have been, and be, the Vikings (but not a Minnesota Vikings, of course, being a Wisconsin native! ), as one raised in Christianity, and who used to sing “Jesus loves the little children” as a child (with its “red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in His sight”), I have felt much more comfortable with Indian values than with Viking ones.
At any rate, I associate the following characteristics with the Plains Indians (before they were displaced by whites—“displaced” being a euphemism for “killed”!)—characteristics which, I believe, virtually prevented them from being in the situation that now faces all of us humans:
- They had a way of life that involved continuous contact with Earth.
- Their way of life involved dependence on Earth—a fact of which the members of these societies were acutely aware.
- Given their dependence on Earth for their livelihood, in conjunction with their continuous contact with Earth, it is unsurprising that they came to perceive the various components of their environment as sacred.
In not being able to explain the existence of those components, but in desiring to have one, it is unsurprising that they invented an Unseen Force (i.e., Great Spirit, Creator, etc.) as the explanatory factor. An effect in so doing, of course, was to reinforce their perception of the various components of Earth as sacred.
- Given their awareness of their dependence on Earth for their very lives, and the reverence that they developed for Earth, it is understandable that their actions relative to the components of Earth reflected their perception of Earth. That is, despoiling Earth, taking more than they needed, etc., were unthinkable to them—because such actions would insult the Great Spirit.
- Their way of life fostered a feeling of being a part of Earth, rather than being apart from it. They therefore never developed a mentality favorable to the development of technology—which, tends not only to “feed upon itself,” but, in doing so, tends to result in changes in way of life that further result in feeling apart from Earth, thereby, in turn, resulting in unecological behavior relative to Earth that eventually poses a threat to many species, including our own.
- The social unit of importance to them was one “higher” than what we today know as the “nuclear family,” being the particular group to which they belonged. Given this, it is understandable why they tended to regard the other members of their group as their equals. “Out-group” individuals might be regarded with suspicion and as inferior, so that contact with such individuals might result in their mistreatment. “In-group” individuals, however, would be regarded as “family,” and treated as such. (For additional negative comments regarding family relative to a larger societal unit, see this essay.)
- In any family the individuals comprising the family vary in their characteristics—although this is more true for some families than for other ones. If the members of a larger group—e.g., a Plains Indian tribe—think of themselves as belonging to a “family” of sorts, this is advantageous to the group; for the individual members can use their various abilities to serve the needs of the group, while engaged in cooperative, coordinated activities. With all members of the group identifying with the group, there is little basis for psychological problems and deviant behavior—whether with reference to others in the group or Earth.
- They developed rituals which increased their feeling of connectedness, both with reference to one another and with Earth.
Granted that I may have idealized Plains Indian life somewhat in the above discussion, but I believe that the points made above are essentially correct. It seems clear to me that their having these characteristics is what made them “safe” from the threat that we now face from global warming (among other threats); and it follows, logically, from the above discussion that it is fact that our society (and most other societies as well) lacks these characteristics at present—all of them—that puts us in danger.
“Eagle Man” Ed McGaa, in his Mother Earth Spirituality: Native American Paths to Healing Ourselves and our World (1990—a time when our problems were not so acute!); also see this—seemingly suggests to the reader that if we (USans in particular  would adopt Indian ceremonies, we could get “out of the woods.” He therefore devotes the nine chapters of Part II (“Earth: The Seven Mother Earth Ceremonies”) to discussing Indian ceremonies, and the four chapters of Part III (“Air: Bringing Forth Your Own Mother Earth Wisdom”) to topics such as “building a sweat lodge.”
One would like to believe that McGaa’s suggestions had merit, but I am convinced that:
- It would take far more than the adoption of the ceremonies that he suggests for us to get “out of the woods.”
- The likelihood that his advice will be heeded by many is close to 0 (i.e., zero).
- Insofar far as it would be a good idea to adopt ceremonies, I see no point in adopting ceremonies from the Indians. What would make sense, rather, is developing our own ceremonies, ones that would be meaningful to us.
Frankly, I can’t imagine that McGaa would have written this book in 2014—assuming, that is, that he is aware of what some scientists are saying about our probable future. For example, Guy McPherson, in the Introduction to his Going Dark (2013) states:
Shortly after the arrival of the 21st century I realized we were putting the finishing touches on our own extinction party, with the shindig probably over within a few decades. [Elsewhere he wrote that he expected our species to be extinct by 2030.]
Now if it’s extinction that lies in our future, there would seem to be little point in trying prevent it, or act to adapt to the changes that will be inevitably occurring. What, then, should we do? McPherson’s answer is that “only love remains”—and that may be not only the best answer, but the only one!
- As a Wisconsin native, I am “naturally” a Green Bay Packers fan. Besides, the fact that the helmets of the Minnesota Vikings depict a Viking helmet with horns—despite the fact that there is no evidence that the Vikings ever had horned helmets—proves that Minnesotans are ignorant people! (A case of inter-state rivalry—but just in jest, of course!)
- I find it of interest that they perceived this Unseen Force in unitary terms—i.e., in monotheistic rather than polytheistic terms. What may have accounted for their monotheism is the fact that their environment was dominated by just one element, the sun.
The “US” in “USan” refers to the United States. To use the term “American” to refer only to those of us who live in the United States, is arrogantly to ignore the fact that there is a North, Central, and South America, whose residents would like to be considered “real.”
McPherson’s 13 July 2014 radio interview on the Lifeboat Hour is described and embedded here.
McPherson’s 12 July 2014 radio interview on SFPI with Rick Staggenborg is embedded below. Another version, sans commercial interruption, is here.
The fourth and final part of McPherson’s 12 April 2014 presentation at the University of Rhode Island is described and embedded here. Earlier portions are included at the link.
The latest trailer for Mark Thoma’s film, 22 After, is embedded below