Friday, July 29, 2011

In Search of Real Survival, part 2

An Interview with Vine Deloria, Jr.

I had to chuckle when I heard a “survivalist” say that he’d like to see the collapse of society so that he could start over from scratch. Really? Why would someone sitting behind a computer, driving a truck, and buying what he needs at the local grocery store want things to fall apart? Though such persons are usually clueless as to what it actually takes to start a society “from scratch,” such sentiments do reveal a deep discontent with our current state of affairs.

History is full of folks who attempted to create a breakaway society, usually in search of a better, more idealistic, maybe even utopian, way of life. That’s how our American experiment began, at the expense of the Native Americans. This is how and why the Amish live they way they do, and persevere despite the ridicule of their neighbors.

Hippies of the 1960s and ‘70s also tried to create separate communities, “communes,” where they could farm, dance and sing, and attempt to put into practice whatever religion and politics they developed. Let’s examine the hippies.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to interview Vine Deloria, Jr. for Wilderness Way magazine. Deloria was named by Time magazine as one of the greatest religious thinkers of the 20th Century. Among his approximately two dozen books, he wrote “God is Red,” which Wilma Mankiller (former Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation) called “the flagship book of Native American spirituality.” (Deloria passed away at age 72 in November of 2005).

Among other things, I spoke with Deloria about how hippies presumed to imitate Native Americans in both look and practices.

The reason that the hippie movement failed, Deloria told me, was not just because of drug use, though that was a significant factor. Hippies failed, said Deloria, because they failed to grasp the value of organizing tribally, and they ignored the value of customs. “I think they failed for lack of discipline and lack of commitment,” he said. “People tried to create communities from scratch and it didn’t work. People were sincere, but they often lacked anything in common except a rebellious spirit. And in fact, a lot of Indian communities today have the very same problem. Extreme individualism is chaos and unjust to everyone.”

Deloria also blames television and popular media for presenting a false picture of what traditional Indian culture was and is all about, so those who do sincerely try to pursue that end up pursuing a counterfeit.

“In the world of ideas,” continues Deloria, “Indian culture becomes a kind of deli where people pick and choose what they want to practice. Much of the appropriation is the projection of wishful thinking on different Indian symbols, such as the vision quest, sweat lodge, using the pipe, etc. My fear was that with so many Indians living in the cities with no experience with reservation communities, some of them would begin to think that the frauds actually represented the true tribal cultures. I can remember how popular the Billy Jack movies were and many Indian youths thought the ‘ceremonies’ in that movie were what people actually did. A lot of it sounded good to people who knew nothing about Indian culture. And simply being an Indian in the urban area does not somehow magically mean you know anything of the traditional tribal culture.”

It was an insightful interview with Deloria on a variety of topics where he shared – if you read between the lines – how to succeed at making a meaningful community, based upon following certain patterns from the past.

Unfortunately, the interview was never published in Wilderness Way because the owner/publisher told me that “It might offend Christian readers.”

“How on earth would they be offended?” I challenged.

“Because his book is called ‘God is Red,’” said the publisher.

I was shocked at his narrow-mindedness, and suggested that he read such books as “The Pipe and Christ,” or Joseph Epes Brown’s “The Sacred Pipe” to see that there is less dichotomy between pure tribal religion and pure Christianity than meets the eye. This is not to imply that Deloria did not criticize Christianity. He certainly did, but Deloria was an “equal opportunity” criticizer, criticizing what he saw wrong in both Native American practices, Christianity, and elsewhere.

For example, he harshly criticized televangelists such as Oral Roberts who once told his followers that he needed about $10 million for his new building or “God would take me home.” He analogized televangelists to mainstream Christianity as the travelling pop shaman to traditional tribal religion.

“Except the televangelists are much worse,” he explained. “They thirst for political power whereas the medicine men, even the phoneys, simply want some public recognition and status.”

There is no shortage of guidelines from the past or present for “the right ways to live.” It is silly to think that everything must be destroyed in order to create a higher and better way of life.

Deloria brought up just a few of the principles that anyone can work to put into practice: Discipline, organizing within a community of like-minded people, and valuing your traditions and customs.

Additionally, whenever anyone brings up “The Old Ways,” it usually refers to such things as valuing family, home, respect for elders, respect for your surroundings, cooperation with others, and the ability to adapt.

Anyone wishing to seek the meaning of Real Survival cannot go wrong by beginning to apply these simple principles into your daily life.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

In Search of Real Survival

All of us who have devoted our lives to studying and applying skills of survival are well aware of the periodic events which beset us all: wars, droughts, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, economic collapses, etc. Some are “acts of God,” and many are acts of man.

The practical skills of survival are direly needed by all of us. And yet, the media continues to serve up “reality” shows that provide little or no practical skills in our day to day living.

Shows like Survivor, Man vs. Wild, Survivorman, and their offspring can be amusing, but are designed more for entertainment value rather than providing anything of real value. These shows which often depict buff individuals in a wilderness setting often showcase the worst of human nature in order to keep us glued to our seats.

Though it amusing, and often nauseating, to see hungry men and women eating snakes, rats, and grubs, there seems to be little relevance to the millions of modern urban dwellers.

What then is real survival all about?

Our food-related survival skills necessitate our knowledge of urban food production, such as growing fruit trees, raising vegetables in limited space, raising chickens, making compost.

We need to educate ourselves to the what foods have great nutritional value, and which do not. If we cannot grow at least some of our own food, we should support those farmers at local farmers markets who are providing local quality food.

Real survival in the modern world includes practical knowledge of economics. How can you get more for less money by spending less and earning more. You can begin by separating need from want, and then you should re-evaluate everything in your life that is touched by money. Ask yourself, “How can I obtain this thing, or service, or skill, without money?” Is it possible to trade or barter?

And then there is the ages-old good advice for how to soundly deal with material things: why buy new if used will do? Don’t discard if it can be made into something else, etc.

Economic collapse of a country’s currency has happened many times, usually due to the over-extension of the leaders who controlled the purse strings, and who considered themselves more deserving than the general populace. A collapse of a country’s currency forces the people to deal with stark, basic, everyday needs and concerns in a harsh manner until something new is developed.

While it is true that learning how to trap and eat a rat means you don’t have to worry about food from the store in the event of an economic collapse, it is far better to involve yourself in the practical and philosophical underpinnings of the society so that such a collapse doesn’t happen in the first place.

As our material abundance and technological advances continue, we become more and more dependent upon things which we cannot control. We’re fast on the path to a “Blade Runner” or “THX1138” world.

If you’re worried about our future, the answer does not lie with a loin-clothed man with a spear, since a thriving meaningful culture requires vastly more than that. Real survival must encompass a working knowledge of politics, economics, ecology, health, and so much more.

Our answers lie in making the time to educate ourselves to the things that really matter in life. For that matter, in today’s information-glutted world, it’s a real challenge to discern between useful and useless information, between entertainment and education, between that which leads us to freedom and that which merely titilates.

If we desire to be a part of the solution to the ails of modern civilization, then we must choose to not live our lives driven by fear and greed. Yes, real survival means that we must change ourselves first.

Sometimes, we have to realize that we’ve been hypnotized, and that we must fight our own ignorances. Real survival means that we must become like children again, and realize that there is no dishonor in going back to Square One. By reassessing everything that we think we know, and by asking questions anew, we may discover a new found joy in our very existence.

The pursuit of material survival is too often compassionless. We need compassion for each other if we want to have a society that is worth living in.

William Blake once summed up the essence of Real Survival when he stated, “I sought my soul, but my soul I could not see. I sought my God, but my God eluded me. I sought my brother, and I found all three.”