Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Are we ‘the people’?

[M]any indigenous cultures refer to themselves as the people, implying that everyone else is not the people. [Derrick Jensen] asked whether, then, some form of xenophobia is inherent in all of us.

[Richard Drinnon responded,] “The name strikes you and me as xenophobic since a cardinal principle of our Western civilization has been what one anthropologist calls ‘the negation of the other.’ By contrast tribal cultures affirmed ‘the other who affirms you’ and this principle always carried with it the possibility of extending the people outward …’”

I’ve wondered about this “the people” business. I remember encountering it first in a PBS documentary about the people of the American Southwest. The Navajo call themselves Dine, which the narrator said translates as “the people.” I think I was a teenager when I saw the program. As I read more about Native American tribes I came across others who referred to themselves as “the people.” What does that make the rest of us?

Richard Drinnon thinks the contrast between us/the people and them/not? the people for tribal societies and us and them in modern Western culture is that the us of the tribe is open to adoption, whereas the us of modern Western culture is essentially race based, which makes becoming one of us in modern Western culture extraordinarily difficult, and frequently impossible. In this discussion curated by Derrick Jensen in his book The Culture of Make Believe Richard Drinnon says the adoption principle can extend “outward, beyond family and clan and tribe to all other beings and things in a universal embrace.” If true - and common - then calling one’s group “the people” wouldn’t have much meaning.

source: The Culture of Make Believe by Derrick Jensen

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