Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Why I write this blog

[Approximate Reading Time: 7 minutes]
[Mood: Optimistic, Excited]


Between writing the post on Voluntary Simplicity and the Indian Summer, almost 2 months elapsed. It wasn't that I had nothing to write about during this interval. In fact, I thought of writing several times about very many things but certain questions kept popping up repeatedly in my mind. I wondered if there was much point to me writing these long monologues. Why am I writing a blog? I had never journaled or written a blog before. I almost never use Facebook and other social media. Why this blog? Why now? Who's reading? How many of my friends are interested in what I have to say? How many people outside my friends' circle would be interested, if they came across it? Who am I writing this general content blog for (with topics as diverse and esoteric as the plight of tribal peoples and the perils of technology) and what am I hoping to achieve? Is it an expression of my ego to want to write a blog? Do I derive a certain kind of validation of the self and fulfillment of unmet needs by being read by others? Would more readers make me happier?

As I mulled these questions over for several weeks, one fine day, a kindred spirit, Sven Eberlein, over at svenworld wrote about one of my blog posts and it generated an interesting conversation at dailykos.com with some of the readers there commenting on the debate at Google. This was the event that kick-started it all again and I returned to writing. I had been wanting to write about "Indian Summer" for a while and I went for it.

Some of the above questions that I have been asking myself remain unanswered for now but I have a feeling the answers will reveal themselves in their own time. For now, I feel satisfied that it is reason enough that I have something to say. Writing is therapeutic. I get to organize my thoughts as I write and as I imagine you reading what I write. It appears more like a conversation in my mind even though it's decidedly one-sided. It's a window into my mind for you to look through.

I've also been receiving a number of favorable comments about my posts. Thank you! Thank you for reading. In the 24/7 go-go world of ours, you're giving me a gift every time you read a post. And thank you also for sparing your brain cycles to think about the issues I talk about. I know it takes a certain mental effort. I want you to know that I feel gratitude for that. And on my part, I will make every effort to connect with you by not being afraid to be human.

So, why do I write about the stuff I write about? Why am I so opinionated about certain things? Why do I rant about technology? Why do I dislike capitalism? Why do I think there's something messed up about the mainstream media? Why is propaganda so bad? Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, I talk about empathy! What does that have to do with anything else I talk about?

If you continue reading me over the next several months, you might see that there's a method to this madness. At the moment, it might appear that the issues I talk about are disparate and unrelated. But they are all pieces of a puzzle that I intend to tie together. If you're unable to relate to me on a particular post, please don't stop reading. Come back and read the next post which will likely be on a different topic. And as we proceed, hopefully, more of my writing will start making sense and the pattern will become clearer. Here's a sneak peek: it's nothing less than the story of mankind on mother ship Earth! But it's a story you will be able to relate to. A story you'll find yourself in, playing a role. A story that's your own. Because, now more than ever, I believe our individual stories are intricately and intimately linked with our collective story, the story of our species itself. An important piece of the puzzle that's yet to come is the ending. Will we make it past the next 100 or 200 years? In what form? Does it matter? Perhaps not.

Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the gods made for fun.” -- Alan Watts

Who cares about what happens in the next 100 years, anyway? It seems there aren't many people in the world who get worked up over stuff like this. It feels like I'm in a very small minority. And perhaps you are beginning to feel I'm different from you. That we don't have much in common. I have to tell you I wasn't always interested in grand stories of humanity. I always had a good ounce of curiosity most of my life, but this obsession with the grand story and empathy is relatively new. And it has something to do with my years at Google as I alluded to in a post I wrote soon after leaving Google. Working at Google introduced me to two key areas: emotional development and thinking BIG!

If you haven't seen this 10-minute video on empathy yet, I highly recommend it. It's empathy that's the underlying theme to everything I will be writing about. It's the sinew that binds together all the disparate issues I've been writing about and will write about in future. I'm specifically referring to cognitive empathy, as mentioned in the above video. It's an art I'm trying my hand at. An art of perspective taking. A way of understanding the world by stepping into other people's shoes. A way to understand other cultures and civilizations, both present and past. And a way to understand oneself. I find that an attempt to empathize with someone I don't have much in common with helps me immensely to understand their condition and mine. It helps me understand why a Billionaire CEO does what he does. It helps me understand why we tolerate a Billionaire CEO. And this helps me understand the world I live in. It also informs my spirituality and helps me answer deeper existential questions. I invite you on this journey!

Feel free to suggest topics you're interested in and I'll write about them and tie them into the other things I write about. In fact, many of my blog posts are based on conversations I have with friends. I tend to take issues I come across in daily life and put them in perspective. If everything goes well, my writing will start to jump out and speak to you. But until then, I ask you to put in some effort to empathize with me. And give me plenty of feedback to help me empathize with you. In the end, I firmly believe, it's empathy alone that will help us weather storms, both individually and collectively.

Now, I don't mean to pretend that I have figured out the solutions to all our individual and collective problems. And if anyone does make such a claim, I will take a long skeptical look at him or her. In fact, I tend to think the problems we do have are very much a result of a people either individually or jointly proclaiming that they have figured it out all. They've gone on to model the world around their ideologies and beliefs and look where that got us. So don't believe me for a second if I seem to suggest that I have figured it out all.

 “If you think you know everything; you know nothing. If you think you know nothing; you know something.” -- Jayce O'Neal

What I do intend to do is to comment on the current situation. The current state of the planet. I make observations. I reflect. I question (and encourage you to question) our long-held collective assumptions (for instance, the purpose of the public school system). I try hard to sift fact from fiction all the while asking myself what's fact if not a very strong belief? I step into others' shoes and try to empathize with them and see their point of view. I ask what sort of background might one have and what kind of circumstances might one have had gone through and be surrounded by that's making them say what they're saying and do what they're doing? What drives people to do what they do? What drove Hitler to do what he did? What makes a stranger risk his life to save another's? And sometimes I take a break and wonder what drives me to ask these questions and what makes me wonder about them so seriously. After all, not very many people seem to care about these things, much less enjoy them. Why am I different from others in certain ways but not in other ways? (which leads me to wonder about the perennial question as to who I am anyway) I'll be going into the realm of metaphysics, spirituality, and other such topics sometimes, and when I do, I will try to comment on how the here-and-now hard reality ties into it.

I will also try my best to relate what's going on out there in the world at large with our very individual and personal lives, the mundane, the daily grind. For example, I talk about what centralization of power has to do with the fact that you could be fined for growing a vegetable garden in your front yard. You may not agree with everything I say and I fully expect that from each and everyone of my readers. I would be very surprised if I came across someone who agrees with me on all counts. My intention is neither to convince you of my viewpoints nor convert you to my worldviews.

There's no dearth of unanswered questions that swirl in my mind. I have barely started this journey of discovery, to be honest. I have many things I'm not sure of and there's so much to explore. And I ask for your help. My hope is this blog will start conversations that will help me find answers to the many questions that I already have and those new ones I will no doubt keep coming up with. I think this blog will be the perfect vehicle to connect with others who are like-minded and who worry and wonder about the kinds of things I worry and wonder about. I hope you will reach out to me and tell me you're able to relate to me. Fortunately, some of my friends have made some excellent book recommendations already upon seeing my writing. So, please, point me to the books, web sites and other resources that might help me and other readers. Give us your own interpretation of how you see things. Open the window to your own thoughts on the world we share. Perhaps this blog will evolve into something more collective.

It goes without saying that many of my ideas build on other ideas that people have talked about as I alluded to here in my first blog post over an year ago where I said I'm a channel for such thoughts. This blog is a vehicle for me to collect my thoughts and connect the dots! Join in!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Matt Damon/Howard Zinn on Civil Disobedience

[Approximate Watching Time: 5 minutes]
[Mood: Social]



Batkid and the Cancer in Society

[Approximate Reading Time: 10 minutes]
[Mood: Enlightened]

I complained about the recent batkid extravaganza in San Francisco to a good friend.

Here's what I wrote to him:
When Rome was about to burn, the people were apparently distracted by the ruling elite with bread and circuses. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/william-astore/bread-and-circuses-in-rom_b_3414248.html 
Is this Batkid story part of the circus these days here?

Instead of questioning why kids are getting cancer and why the overall incidence of cancer is now 1 in 3 and rising, we're celebrating Batkid!

He responded so (quoting with his permission):

Make a wish foundation is doing something very noble for this kid. I agree with you we should look at why there is a higher incidence of cancer, but we should keep that discussion separate from making some poor kid's dream come true. The batkid story is very heartwarming and I'm very proud to live near a city that makes a very sick kid's wish come true. I think we should cherish these acts of kindness and if I was here on Friday, I would have been cheering for batkid too.
And my response to my friend:
Fair enough. You are lucky to be able to see these issues are separate and distinct. I'm not able to anymore. I see interconnectedness everywhere. To me, it's the same culture that ignores one thing and celebrates another. And this way of looking at things is quite distressing which is why I think you're fortunate in a sense.
What's going on here? Why do I feel about this differently from my friend? And why do I feel distressed?

I spoke to another friend, a kindred spirit, about this and he said:

Regarding the BatKid stuff, I'm totally with you, what a distraction and waste of resources. And it's totally taboo to say anything negative about it, lest you come across as being against a poor boy with cancer. One Sf Supervisor, Eric Mar, actually tweeted something like "wouldn't it be nice if we helped all disadvantaged kids instead of just one?" and got totally scolded by the media and public. People just love the Disneyesque heart warmer, but then just go on to doing nothing about the systemic problems we face.

Eric Mar, a city supervisor stepped into hot water when he raised a concern over the resources being spent on the event (it cost the city over $100,000).


 Here's what Mar said and what was said of him:


What's going on here? Why are a handful of people looking at this event so differently from so many others? What are they missing? How are the 12,000 people who showed up to cheer for Batkid and the Millions of others who watched it on TV and read about it on the Internet different from Eric Mar, or my friend who told me about Eric Mar, or me?

I thought perhaps it's a matter of perspective. After a phone call to my first friend and an honest chat later, it was clear that we were indeed taking different perspectives.

The way he saw it was by putting himself into the child's shoes. Leukemia is a terrible thing to happen to anyone, much less a 5-year-old. My friend felt sorry for the kid. He felt a sense of gratitude that he didn't suffer in his own childhood what the batkid is going through. Supporting the kid in making his wish come true was an expression of this gratitude. The event, as he said, was heartwarming. The child, through no fault of his, was dealt a bad deal in life. It was through genetics and no one has control over genetics. Anyone could have been that child. Perhaps, most of the people who showed up to cheer the kid felt the same way. They were expressing their support for him as he battled this deadly disease.

Later, I learned that the batkid event was talked about on TV and social networks for days before it happened. It appears, that's how thousands of people learned of it and ultimately showed up to participate and support it. Of course, I missed the publicity. My friend was quite articulate and after talking with him, I could see the whole event the way he saw it. This was a different perspective than the one I took. I now invite you to take my perspective, which is admittedly the minority perspective. All this is timely because my next post will be about why I write this blog and this post is a good lead-in and demonstrates a different way of looking at and experiencing the world.


I have never been a participant in popular culture. I have generally ignored it but sometimes observed it as an outsider. Star Wars and Star Trek might as well be the same thing because I don't know anything about either. I don't know much about Harry Potter or the Lord of the Rings. I haven't read either and don't intend to. I don't use any products made by Apple because I don't need them. I have a smartphone only because my previous employer gave me one as a holiday gift. I have no use for a tablet computer. I don't play video games. I rarely log into Facebook. I don't tweet. I don't instagram. I don't use GPS navigation. I don't watch TV. I don't go to sporting events. For the longest time, I didn't know and didn't care if Super Bowl was about baseball or football. I never cared much about Batman and other similar icons. In short, I might as well be an alien that happens to live on planet Earth!

I don't take much interest about what's popular these days, what's trending, what's making waves, what others are watching and what others are doing as a crowd. If I do, it's because I'm curious. And I've grown a lot more curious lately. I tend to observe but not participate in the goings-on. From this perspective, I see our society differently. From this perspective, our culture appears confused. The batkid event is an example of this confusion.

It is then, unlike my many friends', an outsider's perspective that I take when I complain about the batkid event. I see a crowd of adults some of who are perhaps reliving part of their childhood through the kid, vicariously. I see them having a thoroughly enjoyable day in a city decked out as Gotham City. It was set up as a real life game show that was publicized by the major media outlets complete with streaming updates on the kid's heroics on twitter hashtags. I have a feeling the adults, batkid or not, would have come out and enjoyed Gotham City all by themselves.

I'm unable to separate a media that bats for batkid from the media that suppresses important facts about causes of cancer. I'm unable to separate a media that devotes days of coverage to this event from a media that doesn't ask why we have increasing rates of cancer in the first place and why children are increasingly susceptible to cancer these days. I can't see the media as independent from the corporate machinery. A vast machinery that feeds on us all. I can't see Big Pharma as separate from this machinery as it feeds on cancer patients. I can't separate a public that buys thousands of batkid T-shirts from a public that doesn't ask what's in the food they eat and what's in the water they drink and what's in the air they breathe. I can't separate a society that mobilizes 12,000 members for this media spectacle from a society that gives a free pass to their elected representatives and press on accountability. To me, it's the same culture that celebrates batkid that celebrates consumerism, lining up for the newest technological toys on opening day.


When I try and put myself in the shoes of one of the 12,000 fans who showed up for the batkid event, or in my good friend's shoes, I see their point of view. It's indeed heartwarming to see a cancer survivor, a 5-yr-old child, get to live out his fantasy for a day. Many have said that this event has restored their faith in humanity. The way I see it, though, is we could be living in a world where one wouldn't need these events to restore our faith in ourselves. We need to question why we need these events. No child should suffer from cancer and the truth is cancer is not a result of genetics alone, but epigenetics, the close relationship between the environment and our genes. It's the environment that causes various genes to express themselves. Our genes haven't changed much over the millennia but our environment has. In just the last hundred years, a small group of humans have created a hundred thousand new chemicals and poured them out by the ton into our environment. They're in everything we eat, drink, breathe, smell, wear, sit on, wash with, bathe with and are all the more dangerous to a young child's developing body. No long term tests have ever been conducted before these toxins were released into the environment. Add to this the many industrial pollutants, synthetic hormones, artificial colors and flavors and all manner of genetically modified foods. How many of us ask what's in the processed foods and sugar-filled soft drinks we feed children these days? Is it any wonder that childhood obesity, juvenile diabetes and cancer are afflicting younger and younger people? Why don't the many cancer non-profits ever mention the real causes of cancer? Why do medical doctors not get a single course in nutrition in all of their extensive training? Why is the medical establishment more geared toward "management" rather than cure?

What does a child's life look like these days anyway? Several hours of TV programming, thousands of corporate messages aimed squarely at them turning them into future consumers, absence of free play and a hectic calendar full of competitive activities aimed at giving each one an advantage in the dog-eat-dog world they will soon find themselves in, neck deep in student loan debts, unable to find jobs and losing all self-esteem in the process. This is the perspective of an observer, standing outside popular culture.


Someone said injustice for one is injustice for all. The injustice done by our species to batkid and a million other kids like him seems to go unnoticed by modern society. Instead, we've somehow come to believe that justice for one is justice for all. The "Make a wish" foundation seems to uphold this way of looking at the world. In an age where we live vicariously by eating up every little detail of the lives of Hollywood's popular icons and Silicon Valley's billionaire capitalists, this way makes sense. Batkid makes sense. An event like it fits right in.

This is the perspective of a spectator. An outsider to modern culture. A critic of popular culture. Someone who's curious about the way the world works. Someone who sees the gross injustice being perpetrated by a small minority on a large majority that's distracted by a million things. A majority that's too busy to notice as it goes about its daily routine. A majority that can't take the long view. A majority that stopped asking questions. A majority that is easily lead into foreign wars. A majority that falls for propaganda. A majority that gives up its freedoms to both the state and the corporations. A majority that frequently votes against its own interests. A majority that has forgotten that they could be living in a much better world. A better world not just for one kid, but for all. Not just for one day, but for a long time.

Eric Mar issued this statement in the wake of the furor his tweet caused:

A wise man was once asked, "if we see a homeless man on the street, should we give him some food or should we go home and work on eradicating homelessness?" The wise man said, "do both. Take care of the immediate concern of the man in front of you, then go home and think about the broader problem". Perhaps the generosity shown to batkid has its place in our lives. And perhaps it's time we asked larger questions too, and work on the systemic problems we face, the cancer in society. It starts with examining ourselves without bias, free from the trappings of modern culture, from the outside, as a space alien would!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Fukushima is Here

[Approximate Reading/Watching Time: 25 minutes]
[Mood: Somber]

If you live anywhere on planet Earth but especially on the west coast of the US (and if you are in a mood to handle some difficult information), you might want to read on.

History is often very much alive and continues to live on despite mainstream media's pretension that it's all in the past. Old stories don't sell. The effects of hurricane Katrina linger on, with many who were affected still trying to get back on their feet. The genocide of Native Americans is not a thing of the past but continues on a daily basis. Poverty, suicide and alcoholism are as big problems as ever on Indian reservations. Teen suicide rate on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is 4 times the national rate. We just don't hear about these things anymore. They're old stories. The story of the Native American belongs in History textbooks.

While we don't hear about it much, the disaster at Fukushima continues to unfold.


We live in interesting times. It's actually illegal to talk about certain kinds of news. For instance, you could be arrested and imprisoned for filming animal abuse in a slaughterhouse, even if you're a reporter for a major publication. Activists sometimes risk their lives and use hidden cameras to document practices at factory farms. A press person in Japan has much to lose if they talk about what's happening at Fukushima.



Don't be Evil? Don't be Naive!

Mr. Poor Country meets Mr. Rich Country

[Approximate Reading Time: 7 minutes]
[Mood: Contemplative]

As the devastation from Super Typhoon Haiyan becomes the backdrop of the discussions at COP19, the "global climate conference", much is being said about how the developed countries of the world have a responsibility to pay for damages wrought by environmental disasters made worse by climate change. It's true that poorer countries suffer the most from these natural calamities because their peoples and economies are not as far removed and insulated from nature as the richer countries while it's the richer countries that have contributed the most to climate change.


However, this simplistic reasoning covers up some very important facts that lie underneath the climate debate and in fact, the global economy itself. At best, it is a matter of convenience to talk in terms of countries and nation states. It helps to convey the fact that, on average, there are countries that are rich and there are countries that are poor, as measured by GDP or some such metric. And that the rich countries as defined above are more responsible for climate change while the poor countries suffer more from the same. But talking in averages is often misleading. The human suffering caused by typhoon Haiyan is no different from that caused by hurricane Katrina. In both cases, it's the poor that suffered (and continues to suffer), whether they live in a rich county or a poor country. There's not even any difference between typhoons and hurricanes. As the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration states: Hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons are all the same weather phenomenon; we just use different names for these storms in different places.

Talking in terms of averages misleads us into drawing the wrong conclusions about the people who cause most of the damage to Earth and its living systems and those who suffer the most from such damage. We necessarily have to step down from talking in terms of countries to talking in terms of people and even individuals. The distinction is not between rich and poor countries but between the rich in any and every country and the poor in any and every country. Let's not be fooled by the way mainstream media frames this and other similar issues.

Mr. Philippines is not begging for help from Mr. United States. Those affected by typhoon Haiyan could use help from both the wealthy in Philippines (and there are plenty of them) and the wealthy in the richer western countries. Meanwhile, millions of Americans are barely getting by themselves and are in no position to make any significant contribution to the victims of Haiyan. Mr. Haiti doesn't exist. The wealthy businessmen and bureaucrats in Haiti are as well off as they ever were (and perhaps more so after the disaster there) while the poor continue to suffer the aftermath of the earthquake despite "aid" from the West.


Did Mr. New Orleans go to Mr. Washington for help when Katrina struck? As far as the economic and power disparity between New Orleans and Washington DC goes, there's actually no single entity called Mr. New Orleans and no such Mr. Washington. It was the poorest communities of that city that suffered while the rich of The Big Easy were relatively unaffected. Just as the poorest in Washington DC are no better off than the poor anywhere else.


Is there a Mr. Pakistan? Is he rich or poor? Pakistan's richest have more in common with New York's and London's "elite" than with the tribes living in Pakistan's countryside. At the same time, the 50 Million Americans living on food stamps and suffering the most from disease, malnutrition, addiction, street crime and police brutality have a lot more in common with Pakistan's tribal peoples, farmers and fishermen who live under a constant fear of getting blown to pieces by military drones.

One only has to look at Forbes magazine's lists of the world's richest, updated annually, to realize that the rich of the world live in every country. They may not speak the same language but they have similar worldviews, worldviews with little room for nature and ecology in them. Worldviews with little concern for fellow human beings who depend more directly on nature than they do. Worldviews with little conscience. It would be naive to think that they live under the impression that their market investments, strategic goals, and growth targets have little to do with climate change, pollution and species collapse.

It might be convenient to talk in terms of countries but we would be talking in terms of averages. Let's realize that statistics is the language of the ruling class. The people who lose their homes in a typhoon don't talk in terms of means and medians. It's the bureaucrat, the politician, the businessman, and the CEO who makes sense of the situation on the ground by playing numbers games. They can't help but talk in those terms because it's humanly impossible to grasp the enormity of the resources they control and the people they affect in any other way. They can't possibly relate to every human being affected by their actions. Numbers and generalizations provide refuge as they plan their next move on the chess board that is planet Earth.

So should rich countries pay for damage caused by global warming? Who's asking?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Propaganda

[Approximate Watching Time: 1 Hour 40 Minutes]
[Mood: Reflective]


We don't believe everything we see or hear as we go about our daily lives. We don't really believe a bottle of Coca Cola would really make us happy. But we do believe a lot that we come across. Behind the scenes is the art of propaganda.

If you think propaganda matters only during presidential elections or during wartime, you'd be mistaken. Much of what makes the world go around today is based on the clever artifice of public relations agencies and perception management firms. The fact that Americans aren't sure if climate change is real or not owes much to this $150 Billion industry.



I could write a dozen blog posts on what every truth-seeking, free-thinking sovereign individual would need to know about propaganda... or you could watch this excellent documentary...

 

Understanding propaganda is key to understanding oneself and the world one is part of. Much of what we do in our lives, our goals, our aspirations, our ambitions, our fears, our conduct and our very beliefs are shaped by society and culture. Our parents are a product of society and culture and so are our teachers. 

What are our beliefs then, if not a combination of others' beliefs? And where do others get their beliefs? Who shapes these beliefs? These and many other key questions are addressed in this well-researched and thoroughly eye-opening film.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Proud, not Primitive

[Approximate Reading Time: 4 minutes]
[Mood: Optimistic]

Growing up in a middle class family in a large Indian city didn't expose me to many key issues that many millions of Indians face. The tribal peoples of India were much maligned as belonging to the "backward castes". I used to see them occasionally on the outskirts of the city trading or begging. Some of them were considered untouchable. Their lack of formal education was held against them. They were said to be good for nothing, a hindrance to the country's "development". And as some in India celebrate the country's latest technological feat of sending a Mars orbiter into space, millions of indigenous and tribal peoples' fate hangs in the balance.

Here's their real story...











Content from http://www.notprimitive.in/

Monday, November 11, 2013

Those savages

[Approximate Reading Time: 10 minutes]
[Mood: Outrage]

A friend and I were talking about the times we live in today and the conversation came to the question of human nature: whether humans are inherently good or bad. My friend was of the opinion that the times we live in today are better than ancient times in at least one aspect: social equality. His point was that since human nature is inherently slightly aggressive and greedy, societies and their cultures from pre-modern times were not very favorable to everyone who lived then. The physically stronger men would bully and beat up the physically weaker men. The verbally aggressive ones would belittle and insult the soft-spoken. One's social standing was directly related to their aggressiveness and strength. My friend would much rather live in the current era when physical strength is not a factor in determining success and conferring dignity.

I've been thinking about this for the past several weeks and if you saw my post on the debate at Google, you'd notice that I have a fairly clear position on this issue. I contend that life 200 years ago in many parts of the world was better in many respects than today. People were happier on any given day in many so-called backward societies across the world in pre-modern times. I've long had a soft corner for the tribal peoples of the world and thought highly of their simple lifestyle. I think highly of those who're close to nature, depending on it for their existence and deriving from it their worldviews. Perhaps this view of mine may have been shaped by something I'd read or seen a long time ago. I don't quite know!

I recently read a book called "Indian Summer" which is an account of life in a certain Native American village in the Central California valley in mid-19th century. 1850s to be precise. In 1850, the author was a boy whose family had recently moved next door to the Indian village. They were one of the first White settlers in the area where Indians had lived for hundreds and possibly thousands of years. The boy's mother had just passed away and the Indians ask his father to let them adopt him. His father was almost always out on long business trips trading hogs and other animals so he agrees and the boy grows up and lives with the tribe for the next 10 years until the age of 17. He learns their language, culture, traditions, hunting practices, and more or less becomes one of them, as much as a child would take to new ideas at that age.



It's a fascinating account of Indian life prior to significant life-altering interaction with foreigners and subsequent tragedy. It's a history lost to many of us, absent from school curricula and even the works of many professional historians and anthropologists. Mainstream media and school textbooks seldom mention what it was really like to be a Native American prior to contact with Whites for reasons I hope to explore in future posts. For now, consider the following excerpts from the book (found scattered among the various detailed descriptions of the Indians' daily lives):

Page 63 - The Indians always had a supply of food stored up. An Indian might go out and hunt all morning, or all day, and not get any game, but he could always come home and get something to eat. [no poverty or hunger]

Page 68 - Indians were very careful about polluting a stream near their rancheria or camp.

Page 69 - After the evening meal they would all lie around the fire on the ground through the long evening and tell stories and sing until as late as ten or eleven o'clock. This was the finest part of their lives. Here was the real family circle. The long evenings were spent about the fires in the most pleasant way imaginable. Every night was a bonfire party.

Page 87 - On the whole, the Indians I was with quarreled very little. The adult Indians very seldom ever quarreled, or even argued with each other. In general they did very little useless talking. They were not as speechless as many people suppose, but were not inclined to talk or gossip carelessly. The Indians I lived with were great to joke among themselves, and they all enjoyed themselves. The women were treated well by their husbands. Before they got whiskey [introduced to them by the white man], I never saw an Indian man strike an Indian woman.

Page 88 - White people generally have a wrong impression as to how the Indians bathed together in the rivers. In the first place, before sunup practically every Indian at the rancheria had taken a bath: men, women and children.

Page 91 - In general, the young people and children were very respectful to old people. I do not remember having seen an old person slighted or treated disrespectfully by anyone.

Page 105 (chapter titled "Indian Morals") - There is no use trying to deny that the Indians I knew were, for the most part, naked savages. But I have found in the sixty-six or more years since I left them that just wearing a lot of clothes does not make people decent. neither does going around naked necessarily make people indecent. There was nothing in the Indian language that compared with our profanity and vulgarity. They did not have the indecent attitude that White people have. I seldom ever knew the Indians to cheat at anything. I never remember hearing an argument of any kind in an Indian game. I remember that when I started school near Venice Hill with the white boys in 1862 I was surprised to find I could not trust them to tell the truth when we played water tag. So I quit playing it with them.

Page 106 - The average Indian I knew was more reliable than the average white man I knew in after years. The moral conditions in the Indian rancheria where I stayed were better than they were in the white villages that grew up nearby.

Page 108 - the reason that my daddy left me with the Indians until I was about seventeen, instead of taking me from them when I was old enough to take care of myself was because he said that I was in better company with the Indians than I would be staying around the white towns with him. Many of the white settlers of the sixties will disagree with me about many of the things I am mentioning. But they could not, and never did, know those Indians in their natural state.

Page 109 - The Indians were quite honest among themselves and never stole from one another. I believe they were more truthful among themselves than the white people.

Page 110 (chapter titled "Crowded out by Settlers") - When I left the Indians for the last time in 1962, there were not more than forty left, of a group that numbered more than three hundred when I went to them in 1850 or 1851.

The author grows up with a very different image of the Indians he had lived with, an image not shared by fellow White men of his time. He mentions how he would try to defend the Indians when he hears them being slandered and a brawl would break out because his friends and others would have none of it. So he stops talking about the Indians and his life with them until just before he passes away in his 80s in 1928.

The Indians described in the book did have one or two "strange" customs that might be considered barbaric today but by and large, it was closer to utopia than any modern society. Even these customs are deeply rooted in their spiritual worldview and when viewed in that context don't appear the same way as they would to an unbiased eye. This, it seems, was the bane of many ancient societies worldwide as many a half-curious Western historian (often with a specific narrow materialistic and religious worldview) saw ancient customs as nothing but barbaric.

The above snippets describe a way of life that's not very dissimilar to how millions of Native Americans lived for hundreds or thousands of years. Although their customs and traditions differed, they were highly evolved human beings in every sense of the word.

So were ancient societies and their cultures really like we've come to think of them? Why do we have such a distorted opinion of the many societies that thrived and flourished for thousands of years in every part of the world?


The back cover of the book


The author in 1928

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Adding "mood" to every post

[Approximate Reading Time: 1 minute]
[Mood: Accomplished]

Very often, with electronic communications, it's difficult to tell the state of mind that the other person is in. I believe knowing the other person's mood helps to better connect to what they're saying in the moment. It might even significantly change how we read what they're saying. Emoticons sometimes work well for this purpose.

Keeping this in mind, I've decided to add a "mood" attribute to my blog posts to convey a one word "state of my mind" as I write them. I've also gone back and added to all my previous posts, my mood, as best as I can recall, at the time of writing that post. I hope you will now be able to better connect with what I'm trying to convey. You might read the same post differently depending on whether I'm angry or simply contemplative as I write. This piece of information, in addition to the reading time should hopefully help you get more out of my blog! Comments are always welcome!