I was reading Sharon’s post about the homeschool project she did with her children regarding looking at fairly “sustainable” cultures that are out there, and what they look like. In the end, they created a list regarding “indigeny”, the idea of “being local to your place”. I’ve read a bit here and there regarding the “peak oil” idea and “climate change”, and I’m not sure that I believe all of it. Not the hype, anyway. Do I think there will be an end to oil? Well, yes. It’s not a renewable resource.
Do I think it will result in a change to the way we live? Yes. But I also think our culture bears the need to change, even without the idea of “peak oil”. All we do is consume. All we think about is in terms of the economy. What happened to living? Truly living, to create and to care, rather than to produce and consume?
Ah. Before I go too far along with my soap box, I’ll offer you the list she and her children ended up with:
1. People mostly stay in one place for generations, and there is a pass down economy. That is, in Ladakh, 90% of the population owns land – but no one buys it. At one point, one man observes that he (now elderly) has seen 7 generations live in his house. Because people stay, they can’t afford to degrade the region, nor can they afford to radically overpopulate it, unless there are available ecological niches being created.
2. People live in extended families, rather than nuclear ones. This was the first thing the kids noticed about the Ladakh film – and the thing that Isaiah said he liked best, that the kids all lived with their grandparents. There are many hands around to do the work.
3. The technologies the culture evolves are low input, and simple. If the culture survives into the modern era, they must evolve powerful prohibitions against using other technologies. These prohibitions must be part of the cultural identity of the group.
4. The identity of the group is both positive and negative. That is, they must teach their children compelling stories about who they are and why it is good to be part of that culture. They also must describe themselves against people who are not part of that culture – that doesn’t have to be a hostile definition, but “We don’t watch television because we don’t believe it is good for us” or “We don’t do this because it is part of our faith” must be part of it. A purely affirmative self-definition that doesn’t say “no” to things seems not to be sufficient.
5. Children spend much of their time in their community and integrated into it – which some places do a lot of schooling and some a little, no successful indigenous culture sends its kids away from them all day. Nor do they primarily educate their children to do jobs not needed in the truly local economy. Immersion is the name of the game.
6. The local economy serves most subsistence needs. That doesn’t mean trade or money don’t exist, but the more one moves primarily into the formal economy, the harder it is to keep up. A portion, probably the largest portion of each household’s human resources are dedicated to subsistence activities. This means that the people doing subsistence work are not alone in it, and the subsistence work is viewed as primary, rather than relegated to the inferior territory of household labor.
7. There is a high value placed on getting along, accomodating others, working together, sharing and resolving conflicts. Traditions are built around these customs of sharing, and evolve for the management of common resources (despite the constant iteration of the “Tragedy of the Commons” commons are often extremely well managed).
8. People eat a truly local diet as their primary foodstuffs. They eat what grows well and naturally in their regions, including foraging wild foods and growing in ways that do not deplete the soil. Their crops and animals are not generally optimized – ie, they aren’t necessarily the biggest or best, but the best adapted to their particular circumstances.
9. It isn’t just food that is localized – architecture responds to local conditions, community practices respond to local conditions, and to evolving local conditions. One of the reasons most indigenous cultures are so often thought to be “backwards” is that when confronted with modernity, their carefully evolved structures don’t work very well. What serves beautifully in a harsh environment where little imported food is available looks scant and strange in a culture where the markets are full. What keeps one warmer than average in a cold climate with only a small fire for heat seems drafty and weird when you can just turn the thermostat to 70. As we evolve back from modernity, and deal with climate change, our local will change – what we need is broad resilience.
10. The culture creates minimal waste, and focuses much of it resources on making full use of what comes easily – rather than forcing what doesn’t come easily into a mold that doesn’t work. Waste is shocking and disturbing to people.
11. The culture has a long tradition of music, art, literature/storytelling and spiritual/religious production, as well as other projects that bring beauty and joy. That is, it isn’t just focused on subsistence activities, but has pleasures that are available to all, that are participatory and fulfill human needs for good stories, song, beauty, uplift and a sense of connection to something greater.
12. Having contiguity with your past is considered desirable, not bad. Modernity reduces the past to a few heroic tales, and makes the past literally uninhabitable to the present. Thus, those who came before us know nothing of value, and the ways of the past are archaic and foolish. Sustainable cultures on the other hand, focus on the ways that the present future and past are linked to one another.
Now not every culture does these things perfectly – but we thought that some of these characteristics might provide a set of guidelines for the project of indigeny – and of creating a collection of indigenous cultures that can compete with the bright lights of modernity.
- Indigeny Part I: Becoming Native to Your Place (Casaubon’s Book)
“Making the past literally uninhabitable to the present.” It’s like, the rallying cry of industrialism.