The Digital Age at Standing Rock and Western Civilization
Water protectors and memories of the Taino at 524
By Layne Hartsell
Entry, September 5th, 2016, Earth
“The dog has blood in its nose and its mouth.” “I affirm that I saw with these eyes of mine…they let loose their dogs upon the people.” The two statements are describing incidents some 400 years and 4,000 km apart in the Americas. The first of exasperation is from journalist Amy Goodman as she covered the protest of the Dakota Pipeline by the Sioux, nearly 100 other tribes, and non-tribal activists on September 3rd, 2016. The second statement of utter horror is by Bartolome de las Casas’ recounting his experiences in the New World in his 1552 book concerning the destruction of the Indies or native people of what is now the Americas. Such news should lead us to reflect on the Taino people, life and liberty, dignity, history, and Western civilization. Standing Rock is a distressing, and yet inspiring, scene given the great gains that have been made from wide scale collaboration in the past against the continual backdrop of mass murder, slavery, and economic tyranny up to 1890 and on until 1973 at Wounded Knee, and then to today on a global scale.
Las Casas’ was a commentary on what Columbus called The Enterprise of the Indies, described in 2013 by a CEO in Venture Beat as the work of the “Preeminent entrepreneur.” And, we are told “rational people don’t take these risks. Entrepreneurs on the other hand, thrive off of them.” His [Columbus’] “world changing disruptions” would eliminate perhaps 100 million human beings which began with a mining venture for a particular kind of metal, gold, and at the time from 1494 to 1508, reduce a population from over 3 million to less than 60,000 through “war, slavery, and the mines.” By the time of Wounded Knee, 1890s, the U.S. role in North America would be “over” as perhaps 12 million people, the lowest estimate, had been reduced to about 200,000.
Through other remarkable abilities, Columbus would hang on to his “reality distortion field” as he thought he had reached Asia, even as so much evidence mounted against him he was not taken seriously. Nevertheless, we are told, “I praise him [Columbus]” as he was the “entrepreneur’s entrepreneur.” Venture Beat claims to be one of the best blogs on the web referring to both a New York Times endorsement, and as read widely by famous entrepreneurs. The myth-making continues with its inevitable outcomes.
In Columbus’ view, it was a business venture, but also according to him, it was a religious mission as Christ-bearer. Both views led the people of Haiti to eject “him,” or his statue, a few centuries later, throwing the statue into the sea, and also in New Mexico, others would cut off the foot of a statue of Onate who had done the same to real human beings. About the same time, the “National Council of Churches, the largest ecumenical body in the United States, is known to have exhorted Christians to refrain from celebrating the Columbus quincentennial.”
On October 11, 1492, Columbus stumbled on to a beach not knowing where he was in what is today the area around the Bahamas. His navigating abilities had failed along with his judgment, and his humanity would disintegrate with his near absolute power. He would make four voyages to the New World, which we are told was discovered by Europeans, though discovery is hardly accurate. From Las Casas, Columbus, Cortez, Pizzaro and others, we know that the New World was already full of people, as we know presently, the Dakotas are populated but are “unlucky” again to be in the “right of way” for an insatiable system. The same goes in many other geographical locations and with the people who live there. At Standing Rock, the actions at the corporate level against people and nature has been met with massive collaborative protest and what may go to large scale, and thus leads us to a juxtaposition of historical account as current events bring up, once again, the main moral hazard and cultural obscenity which is centuries old.
In 1776, Adam Smith would write about the “discovery” of the New World “opening up a new and inexhaustible market” for great wealth both extractive and for the commodities of Europe. Speaking of the Europeans, and in this case the destruction of Peru (Pizzaro) and Mexico (Cortez), Smith wrote “the superiority of force”…“enabled them to commit with impunity every sort of injustice in those remote countries.” He called it, “savage injustice.” Smith writes that Columbus would return from the first voyage to bring “triumphal” honor to Castile and Aragon, gold and cotton being two of the valuable products. Cotton would later also prove valuable to Wall Street and a new nation-state.
In the U.S., rejecting Smith, by 1830 the bullwhip, pistol, and the slate (accounting), “innovations” in the times of the Middle Passage, would create such a windfall for enterprise so as to make New Orleans a major world center as American capitalism would be built from cotton into what it is today, including the financial sector. At around the same time in Asia, based on the Elizabethan warrior-merchants and wars for markets, the guns of the Nemesis opened up “markets” on the Pearl River in China (1841), allowing the Chinese to gratefully “share” in Western culture. A while later, in January of 1914, a “new realism was necessary” as Winston Churchill would tell his Cabinet, “We have engrossed ourselves in an altogether disproportionate share of the wealth and traffic of the world. We have got all we want in territory and our claim to be left in the unmolested enjoyment of vast and splendid possessions, mainly acquired by violence, largely maintained by force, often seems less reasonable to others than to us.” It was also the “traffic” of the world from Cecil Rhodes in South Africa similar to Columbus’ and up to Belgium and King Leopold’s mining adventures in the Congo which had its effects on Hiroshima, and then found its way into the Digital Age, and into our hands, as rare Earth metals line the insides of our phones and computers. We are all connected into a moral and material “fabric.”
Digital Age and the Market
In the Digital Age, we have the benefit of websites to inform us on company practices, and then we have people doing actual research and journalism as activism to report what is happening in the real world. It is important to evaluate the company claims against the assertion of reality by people doing authentic journalism – authentic, meaning relevance to humanity, species, and Earth. One website claims to support human rights and to have signed the UN Global Compact as the company strives, we can suppose battling on our behalf, to bring energy to North American’s “energy they invest in life” with the outcome of “beautiful things” happening. While the outcomes might be nice, we cannot be unaware of what precedes such “beauty.” The company even goes so far to have a section on native rights. It is the abstract company, more like a consortium, which “employed” the dogs to attack the Sioux. The website of the dog harness maker has its own propaganda which is to “create the perfect harmony between the dog and his owner’s work” Finally, the fact that Wall Street is involved, it is not necessary to go over since recent history has brought finance and the world economy clearly to the attention of the populace in 2008 and by Occupy in 2011.
Adhering to the ideology of the market, the contradictions we feel are supposed to be “resolved” if we simply adhere to the religion that the externalities of indigenous peoples and nature are the magic of the market where the intention of profit is ok, never mind the unspeakable horrors as a regular side effect of personal, self-interest. The relevant moral statement is “we are just seeking profit, and that’s ok.” And, this is the benign end of the spectrum of this particular way or orientation towards existence, a religion indeed. That people have accepted self-interest and free markets, and therefore worked against rational dissent and humanity led in part to the triumph of the market in 2008, the real world, as it could only have done with massive complicity with market society. Enlightenment thinkers such as Adam Smith and Wilhelm v. Humboldt, who adhered to life, liberty, and equality, have been co-opted as saints by “libertarians” as the market not only eliminated superfluous people it also disrupted ecological integrity in a matter of decades. Of course, intelligently ignoring the myths, and distortions, and when reading Smith and Humboldt we find a far different story – a different case of arguments for a perfect freedom and equality (and prosperity) adhering more to a line of thought which would develop not into capitalism, but into true libertarianism, later in the 19th century.,
The history of conquest and subjugation in the Americas, and by now, the planet, has posed a serious moral and cultural dilemma for the West, and it is a history that continues in catastrophic form. For approximately half of that time human rights and the religion of the market, a more sophisticated fanaticism than of Columbus’ aim, have been used as the cover for horrors inflicted and thus led to the erroneous blame of the radical, universal humanism (life, liberty, equality) and science of the Enlightenment. Such blame is an outrage in itself, as capitalism extended its adventures and domination not so much through science but technification and fetishization of technology. Intellectually, as we have moved from degradation and decline in Western society to the emerging disintegration, there is the extent to how successful some postmodernists were in advocating an absolutist form of relativism and working to convince people to go against science (or applied reason), and then against the radical humanism of the Enlightenment. The consequences of being in favor of postmodern absurdities and elitism accepting “everything is relative and you can’t make any judgments [a judgment in itself],” and then, “there are no moral, or scientific statements which hold any more relevance than any other” are gross distortions of a basic understanding in science, and incidentally of fallibilism, relativity, and uncertainty. It is not and equality of opinions, “my opinion is just as good as your’s,” but that no view gives us complete knowledge and that we all have equal right to expression. Difficult to take, yes, as there seems to be no knowledge or view which is absolute, including mathematics, but such “understanding” is far different than relativism. The danger of such intellectualization, since it can be presumed that postmodernists did not actually reject science and morals, is that dictatorial types and authoritarians from all over listened in, closely, to this new “wisdom” of Western cultural relativism, as did those who did not want to invest in science and innovation for common human interests. A new academic elitism had formed and influenced society going against Galileo’s plainness in the application of reason as he “worked in precisely the same spirit of scientific reform, of progress, and the breaking down of narrowing prejudices, without any regard to the limit separating the learned world and the common people.” Contrary to myth-making from the Enlightenment, he was neither a great mathematician nor physicist in his day; and he did not “content himself with pure mathematical abstractions,” but was someone who looked at “things” differently as with the mechanics or common people, the same as both Kepler and Copernicus had done.
By the time of the Enlightenment, essential humanity would be accepted or that which was already known in the earlier work of the mechanics and regular people in reading the Bible, such natural intelligence is enough for applied reason with the ideas as central and any authority as peripheral. Though some in the Enlightenment would erect statues and attempt myth-making as Romanticism came in. Today, the web of myth-making should be seen as if producing cartoons as absurd as the media which thrives on them as a distraction. The caricatures and cartoons should not be believed, however, they should be taken seriously as there is a real world happening.
Galileo and the Enlightenment thinkers accepted natural intelligence, empirical reality, anti-authoritarianism, fallibility, and radical democratic participation to be at the core of science or living in society and using applied reason. The technological innovation of the printing press (now Internet) made all of this physically possible. Later, accepting the essential nature of humans, Thomas Hobbes would point out that all can learn the natural philosophy, and from Descartes it was possible to distinguish humans through this demonstrated natural intelligence if they had a language. To the extent that they as individuals were complicit with the atrocities of the day and did not follow these values is an important matter, but the merit of the values should be taken seriously as great gains have been made. The better aspects of Western civilization we see in the growing demonstration at Standing Rock by democratically minded people, guided by science, as they act to stop the destruction of the land, nature, and subsequently protect water and people.
For indigenous culture and democracy, not far to the east of Cannonball River and the pipeline was the Iroquois Federation, and then throughout the Americas have been major democratic movements led by indigenous people in collaboration with others who have achieved in recently years the feat of giving rights to nature – a protective step towards an integrated biosociety for the future, one where the water protector will be revered. The task of the globally-minded citizen is to choose which aspects of history to accept and which to reject, and then, how to meet current conditions from eco-humano values, just as the uprising at Standing Rock is proving today. Eco-humano values are a synthesis of the radical humanism of the Enlightenment with the environmental activism of the 1960s and 1970s. Further, if those at Standing Rock can connect with Occupy, environmental groups, unions, and others, then there might be actual change and a basis from which people can act to reverse disintegrative damage thereby rebuilding and remaking a better system, a collaborative system of renewable energy, other generative technologies, and sustainable practices along with substantial changes in access to the technosphere and services of the Digital Age. Such dreaming needs to be done and turned into a reality, and we should not spend further time on the absurdity of relativism, apathy as cowardliness, and deliberate ignorance, or even waiting around for a revolution and then acting from a position of weakness. Natural intelligence and basic humanity are enough.
Journalism, Debate, and Protest
There are risks. The dogs going after indigenous people are not abstract, and after such an unspeakable history, today women, children, men all engage in active protest of the destruction and are attacked by dog handlers with “alligators” on leashes according to Jonni Joyce, an expert on law enforcement and canine handling. The use of dogs rather than discussion with the tribal councils along the pipeline should be a matter of public concern in North America for all. Independent journalism is having its effect. In the book cited by Las Cases, he recounts 14 times the use of dogs to destroy native people, a practice that gave a euphoric sense to the conquerors as they watched human beings being run down and torn apart. There were no independent media, or smartphones at the time, but there was a friar recording the horrific attacks by canines under the control of the Spanish. Las Casas, a slave owner himself, would be the independent journalist of the time, and in his debate with Sepulveda he countered Sepulveda’s humanist argument as a veil for imperialism, an early version of Manifest Destiny which would emerge in 19th century America and then up to R2P. That same argument was used by imperial systems to go against the Enlightenment and to drive “values” into people in the name of the Enlightenment. It is largely independent journalism and activism which brings much of the same to light.
Now, 524 years after the conquest in the west, we are able to watch human rights abuses in action against first nations (and against black people), against actual human beings, as they once again experience the jaws of bloodthirsty animals on the hands of the handlers. One woman was reported to have been bitten in the face, and we can expect that the dog was aiming for the neck. With independent media and the technosphere, we can also see other views at the point of actual conflict. The security woman whose dog had human blood on its muzzle and tongue was questioned by Goodman, who was rebuffed, as she moved to attack more native people. At this point, her “alligator on a lease” violated company harmony and reptilian impulses, in fact the dog backed up, while the handler pushed the animal to attack the Sioux who were not advancing on her. When one watches the video coverage of tribal members, or anyone, being attacked by the “security” of the corporation, one reflects on the history and the moral incoherence of what is happening at Standing Rock, and then in the market overall, as 100’s of millions, mostly poor, have perished since 1990 with billions of casualties along with ten percent of the planet’s wilderness destroyed and perhaps more than a thousand species going extinct each week. Furthermore, pipelines will try to extract out of the Earth the last drop of fossil fuels subsequently leading to climate calamity on a global scale as global energy subsides incentivize inaction estimated at $10m USD per minute ($5.3 tn USD/year). Native Americans, many Americans, many Earthians we might say, know exactly what is still occurring which by now is a neoliberal holocaust or as a continuation of the same history. Nothing liberal and new to it. What is new, and remarkable are the tools we have to see what is going on, and nearly in real time, leading to an upsurge in democracy as people take up these tools for change.
There is of course concern about the onlookers, the apathetic, the selfish, the narcissists. There is a lot to this constellation of concerns. It is true, that the occasional Columbus, or Caligula, or LeMay, or even rapacious company that comes along is awful, but while depravity is a term that comes to mind for the occasional tyrant, such a projection turns in reverse to the point of origin if we stand by and watch with the perfect equanimity of a yogic meditational exercise. The latter should be more discouraging and chilling. It is a level of depravity, and it can also be changed by the same methods as other change occurs such as through collaboration, education, and action as people find common ground based in humanity and ecological awareness and thus survival.
At present, just as in 1973 at Wounded Knee, unresolved historical issues emerge back into the national dialogue to meet the new of the same old. And, while current events illustrate all too painfully the meaning of Wounded Knee, Standing Rock, Hispanola, and continual wounds, the protectors of the water have emerged based on the efforts of people from all over to maintain the integrity of nature and dignity. The ghosts of the Taino make their 4,000 km trip to the scene recognizing the gains made between the utter horror of yesterday and that of continued exasperation today for anyone who is willing to stop and think for a moment that we are all indigenous to the Earth and should be acting together from our humanity and sense of survival. For the free the society, such an effort at thought, consideration, and action, is a heavy responsibility. It is the primary responsibility of self-reflection that if shunned will lead to complicity with a rapacious system and consequent disintegration, and by now climate catastrophe. We can hope that the conflict at Standing Rock ends with a firm resolution grounded in agreements on human rights and ecological sustainability already codified into laws, and finally, a resolution which can be built upon to protect the natural world and all species. The basis of a movement for planetary society is in place, only the very basic human connections need to be made. Contrary to current mythology about markets and entrepreneurialism with consequent hero worship, the sheer optimism during the first part of the Digital Age has been largely indigenous people acting through La Via Campesina and tribes such as at Standing Rock now. Their activism has brought to light a new general role or what could be called benepreneur, or even benedonneur, hence the Water Protector has emerged as one of the most honorable ways of life today. We can hope that more join in.