Mike Sliwa talks about the disease Christopher Columbus brought, and the importance of curing ourselves of it.
As another Columbus Day approaches and we continue the government shutdown and the impending US default, I’m reflecting on the continued destruction of the living planet by the psychosis of civilized living.
Interestingly enough, Avatar was on the tube and I revisited the cartoon version of Dances With Wolves. Another film where whitey saves the day from whitey. The problem is that the most profitable film of all time is a perfect reflection of what’s wrong with the very living arrangement it attempts to challenge. Progress at all costs apparently includes making a film where the indigenous are a caricature of smurf-like cartoons that snarl in 3D, but I digress. The devouring machine of progress marches on and we continue to celebrate the psychopath who brought it to a whole new level in this hemisphere while arguing about how we should keep kicking the giant can of a growing economy down the road.
We are in a sense the children, descendants and the consequences of Columbus. One way or another we who live and thrive in the industrial global economy carry the psychosis that conquerors brought with them. They carried with them the disease of wanting more. The Cree called this greed Wetiko. When Columbus arrived he didn’t recognize the people. The reason he didn’t recognize them is because they were being human. They were humans being. They were human beings. Columbus came from a conquered people and therefore carried the disease of wanting more. He was so far removed from his own humanity that he no longer recognized generosity, empathy or compassion. So he did what conquerors do, he took advantage of the situation. The foundation of civilization is about wanting more. It requires infinite growth to fill the great hole it creates. Columbus was the last to bring the psychosis of wanting more to this part of the world. Many came before him but the difference is when he came, many followed. The rest as they say, is history. The problem is we are the result of that history.
Our definition of success comes from conquerors. The very nature of conquering is wanting more. The civilized version of success is obtaining more. When I explain to people that my version of success is about living with less, they think it’s neat, cute, or sometimes even inspiring. They never think it’s personally possible. At least not on the level that’s necessary to make any real change in our psychosis. It’s not a possibility for most because we have confused our needs with our wants. We don’t recognize the difference. In a sense our wants have become needs. We need a car to go to work so we can pay for the car. We need a cell phone for our job and we need the job to pay for the cell phone. We need oil to of course build these things. Ultimately our basic needs and that which ultimately gives us life suffers because of this confusion. Clearly we have a dizzying intellect.
Which brings us to awareness and hope. We of course are aware of our vastly changing world and we hope our tech fixes, leaders, or blind faith in the market or something higher will save the day. We want to continue this journey through our version of make believe but I’m afraid we need to make some tough choices. The good news is our choices can set us free if we’re willing to consider chasing a different carrot than the one that’s been assigned to us from birth. After all, we can willingly start moving towards the exit of civilization or we can be dragged kicking and screaming.
I like what John Michael Greer said about moving towards the exit of complicated civilized living. He suggests we collapse now and avoid the rush. My wife and I are attempting to do just that. Two years ago we left our teaching careers behind to pursue a set of skills. Learning how to grow our own food, secure our own water and build our own shelter are durable skills we wish to obtain. We sold our big ticket items and donated a large portion of the rest. For well over two years now we have lived nomadically, learning and listening to others. This life choice is not a solution to the eventual economic and environmental collapse but rather a better way to live. It’s simple and it’s peaceful. We have no health insurance, no income and a shitty credit rating. We also have a stronger relationship and a growing love for the living planet. We are privileged but in societal terms we consider this choice to be an act of resistance as well.
As the treadmill of civilization continues, I continue to try and slow myself down and look around at what’s left. As oceans fill with plastic and forests become cattle lots I continue to have a better relationship with my needs and I’m doing my best to minimize my wants. It’s a psychosis I’ll fight to the grave but this fight is one I can live with.
–Avatar Photo: 邪恶的正太/Flickr