working together for social inclusion in America

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Vicarious Vitality

A while back, I wrote about Zuni Pueblo protector societies that maintain barriers against unhealthy influences on their people. More recently I came across another metaphor in the Apache Mountain Spirit People -- protectors, teachers, role models -- who, like the mountains, serve, look over, inform, and provide inspiration to those below.

Recently, I was thinking about the threats we face as a multicultural society in battling political violence, racism, and social exclusion, and how our collective understanding and institutional memory expressed and explored in gatherings and discussions propels social transformation. Which reminded me of the Zuni Pueblo protector societies that meet regularly to discuss threats to their social harmony and well-being and develop means of guarding against poisonous ideas, be they economic, emotional, intellectual, medicinal, physical, political, or spiritual.

And I thought about the Zuni means of preservation of memory of these tools of survival recorded in their architecture, food, pottery, and regalia, and how through five centuries they've managed to adapt and endure without sacrificing their core values. Which is instructive in the need to develop our storytelling through art, ceremony, dance, oratory, and ritual, if we, too, hope our values will someday triumph.

One story about such values is Zuni and the American Imagination by Eliza McFeely, from which I quote:

At the heart of evolutionary anthropology lay the assumption that the human mind was guided by universal, not culturally specific, impulses...This assumption had two important methodological implications. First, it allowed ethnologists to reason by analogy, and to do so with the same certainty with which they reasoned deductively from observation.

Because they believed that all societies evolved through similar stages, developing similar or at least comparable technologies and social institutions along the way, they were perfectly comfortable studying ancient Native American cultures by proxy, deducing their histories from the present lives of people who occupied the same rung on the evolutionary ladder.

The conviction that ancient and contemporary aboriginal peoples might be considered virtually identical allowed the scientists to call their work an empirical science despite the absence of the actual subject matter they claimed to be analyzing.

Read David Farber's review to learn more about McFeely's book.


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