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This is Not About Banks (2019-01-28)

Bob the Angry Flower -- if you haven't read it yet, you're in for a treat. Bob the Angry Flower -- if you haven't read it yet, you're in for a treat.
Bank Job, Bob the Angry Flower comic 857, by Stephen Notley, 2010.

Even though it is so tempting to rant about the banks, because generally that is something everyone is allowed to do because it is basically ineffectual, even as a means of catharsis. Banks are a mighty symptom of the ills and evils of fundamentalist capitalism, which is the pursuit of money as the only valuable thing that in fact has no value but what we agree to give it in a sort of consensus illusion to its ultimate conclusion. Since they're a symptom, it makes more sense to try to wrestle with identifying and challenging the cause. But I am not going to spend much time as such on fundamentalist capitalism either, because it too, wildly enough, is a symptom. Both are symptoms of something so pernicious and dangerously persuasive in colonizing cultures that it manifests in multiple frightening branches from a snarl of interwoven trunks and unpleasantly widespread, though not deep, roots. It is tempting to label this something "the big lie" but that sort of labelling is part of its substance and how we get pulled back into the morass because we can be fooled into thinking that we just have to counter a singular notion. Yet I think the key is to give up on metaphors for it based on nouns and to resort instead to something verb-based. Something like, ways of being that encourage sameness, even demand sameness, as a means of achieving an ever-receding, never achieved safeness that somehow is like the horizon, always ahead but never touchable, never still. I didn't originally have the awkward coinage "safeness" in there, but it was too good a typo to abandon.

The equation of an ongoing state of safety with some form of ever spreading uniformity in everyone else's behaviour, is one of the most clever and dangerously self-deceiving ever invented, precisely because it is made only through action. Somehow the "we" or "I" in the middle always gets permission to bend the rules because we can be convinced by ourselves or by others that what we are doing, enacting, is in fact the right way. The right way to drive towards the uniformity that will finally create the permanent safety that we crave, that promises once everybody is behaving according to the patterns that spread homogeneity, it won't be difficult. It won't take hard work by us or anyone else. It will just be, and it will be perfect. Never mind that the anxiety the attendant drive to perfect conformity instills in us at every moment, until in some places an incredible percentage of the population is on some sort of anxiety-masking drug. Never mind that the evidence in the real world shows that this drive for a uniform existence in fact destroys real peace and health on individual, social, sea, and land levels. Never mind that there are still, against incredible odds, thousands of modes of Indigenous existence in action in the world right now, where people have eschewed the sick drive to sameness and survived well for thousands and thousands of years and are even surviving the drive to destroy them, hard though it is.

I have acquaintances who insist that the fact that Indigenous nations have warfare, haven't completely solved poverty or social injustice absolutely and forever, or are showing the terrible effects of colonialism and ongoing attempts to genocide them means that their ways of life are obviously defective. They don't usually resort to such crude rhetorical bludgeons as claiming those peoples are evil, or that they have failed to "modernize" which just means assimilated or died. In effect, their arguments are some variation of, "they haven't produced what we define as paradise on Earth or the closest thing to it, a place and time when everyone is behaving in the same way all the time and held to it by sheer force of social pressure." And social coercion, of course. I remember when I was much younger puzzling over how an argument so obviously wrong could have wrongness in it so difficult to make explicit, having been caught up in the tangle of presuppositions. Notice the final assumption of the argument goes back to assumption that living in as uniformly a manner as possible is ideal. Yet it is simply impossible.

Among the most tell-tale speculative fiction themes that turn up all over north american examples especially is the recurrence of militarized societies. The military may be relabelled all sorts of other things, yet the key features remain in place: hierarchy and authoritarianism expressed in an absolutist chain of command, uniforms, and pervasive forms of coercion. No matter how often military life is decried in so much of this speculative fiction, it is somehow inescapable, and what is really decried is a particular version. Such as ones where female humans could conceivably end up in charge and not be treated as if they lacked all intelligence or will, or ones that look to be bad for capitalism. The original conceptualization of the Borg in Star Tek came very close to breaking through the illusion here until they got revamped into yet another pseudo insect colony model with a sort of Eve figure to tempt the "next generation" Spock surrogate with the ways of all flesh. The failure of imagination and political cop outs involved were and are tragic, because the writers came within a whisker of identifying and challenging the obsessive attempt to live absolutely the same way everywhere in all time. For a short while I think fans and writers for the show alike came very close to seriously asking, "What if we are the Borg? Have we held up a mirror that we only hope is distorting what we see?"

One the challenges of a thoughtpiece like this is that in english there is no inclusive we versus exclusive we, and that would be incredibly useful here. On one hand, I think the pernicious temptations of trying to live in a way that enforces absolute unity and unchanging perfection are equal opportunity. They are what can fool anyone under stressful conditions to take this way of being on board, even Indigenous peoples whose cultures are built on different principles. I think often of the importance of not slipping into the fallacy of equating shared principles with dogmas that by definition cannot adjust to the reality of where and when they are because they are not alive but enactments of profoundly bad ideas. Enactments of profoundly warped expectations. On the other hand, being from an Indigenous culture and committed to resistance to oppression, I do think there are a few, very few good ideas that work anyplace and anytime. But they demand that we refuse the easy way out, the false goal of perfect safety and perfect sameness and never dying. They're frustrating because they demand that we be responsible and accept and act on the awareness that others are responsible. We must respect them and refuse to apply such false justifications as "might makes right" in all their guises. It's hard to live this way at any time because we are sometimes so impatient with others and especially ourselves. Add that to the wrongful feedback from those who insist that if only we all acted the same that would fix everything and we couldn't make a mistakes because mistakes would become impossible to make, and it is difficult indeed.

Yet, it isn't hard at all. I think often of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy on this point, and the tellings of the origins of the ways they found to live together again that focussed not on creating sameness but on creating the conditions to help everyone favour living with a good mind. That is, in a way that favoured careful consideration of the present unique conditions and the possible consequences of actions before deciding, with the level of consideration going up when the potential scope of the consequences does. It was difficult for them to make this happen. It took a long time, and it couldn't be done by coercion or demanding an absolute unity of way of life or action. It did demand mutual respect and refusing to act oppressively, including changing when on further experience a way of being everyone thought wasn't oppressive at first turned out to be after all. The Haudenosaunee succeeded, and are still even as they must concurrently resist multiple settler states.

Copyright © C. Osborne 2019
Last Modified: Monday, May 29, 2017 2:03:23