Book Review: Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

“I fear that a world made of gifts cannot coexist with a world made of commodities.”

Robin Wall Kimmerer transcends boundaries, and so does her latest book. Simultaneously a botanist and author-poet, scientist and Potowatomi Nation citizen, professor and mother, she brings together unusually diverse perspectives and ways of knowing. The result is a gift to readers: beautiful writing exploring knowledge and ideas often buried in academia or dismissed as “unscientific.” As in her first book, Gathering Moss, her enthusiasm for nature and learning comes through strongly, a joy for any nature lover to read. She softens and contextualizes modern hard facts by relating them to indigenous worldviews developed over thousands of years. She reconciles art, appreciation of the natural world, and science (in many ways just now catching up to traditional knowledge.) Rejecting human exceptionalism, she considers all the beings with whom we share the earth while addressing deep questions of ethics and morality.

Braiding Sweetgrass draws on stories from elders and on Kimmerer’s own experiences for its 32 chapters. Each could stand alone, ranging across seemingly disparate subjects: relationships between masting nut trees and squirrels, gift economies vs market economies, the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address, harvesting plants in a regenerative manner, and what it means to be a good citizen. But the chapters are tied together by recurring elements, most notably the titular sweetgrass. Sections entitled Planting, Tending, Picking, Braiding, and Burning Sweetgrass organize the individual chapters, and sweetgrass appears again and again as part of traditional legend, knowledge, and practice. The book is densely multilayered, with specific material practices seamlessly integrated into broader teachings about the physical world, and then into deep philosophy. The real magic comes from Kimmerer skillfully interweaving themes of relationship, gratitude, and responsibility into a story larger than the sum of the parts. Her art mirrors a well-lived life which has transformed individual experiences into holistic wisdom.

The overarching theme, drawn forth through the dozens of stories in hundreds of ways, is reciprocity. A fundamental difference between the culture of civilization and those of indigenous peoples is a mentality of exploitation vs one of gratitude. Derrick Jensen defines sustainability as giving back more than you take, and Kimmerer richly depicts a worldview in which that ethic is held first and foremost, even (or especially) when harvesting the lives of others. Her multiple detailed accounts, backed by science, of human interactions with other species to the benefit of all rebut the belief that humans are intrinsically destructive. We have the potential ― indeed, the responsibility ― to take up a supportive role in the web of life.

Building on this revelation, Braiding Sweetgrass challenges the reader to consider how an individual, or a culture, can become indigenous to place. With the vast majority of the earth under siege by settler cultures with a domination mindset, this is an urgent task. Sooner or later (hopefully sooner), collapse will render industrialism and globalization infeasible, reigning in civilization’s ecocide. But local cultures unable to develop reciprocal relationships with their landbases are doomed to continue the destruction, even if at a smaller scale.

Perhaps the most important lesson is that everyone has gifts. Birds have the gift of song, stars the gift of shining. But with each gift comes a responsibility to use it in the service of life. Birds have a responsibility to greet the day with music, stars to guide night travelers. What gifts do humans have, and what responsibilities? And more personally: as Carolyn Raffensperger asks, “What are the largest, most pressing problems that you can help to solve using the gifts that are unique to you in all the universe?” With the world at stake, contemplate the question. Find your answer. Then take action.


Braiding Sweetgrass is available as a paperback, ebook, and audio book.

Derrick interviewed Robin Wall Kimmerer for the September 25, 2016 episode of Resistance Radio. Readers who enjoy Braiding Sweetgrass will probably also enjoy Derrick’s The Myth of Human Supremacy, and vice versa.

Plutocracy: Political Repression in the USA

Scott Noble of Metanoia Films has released part I of an important video history of class struggle in the US. Combining historic photos and video with reflections drawn from a range of historians, the film covers uprisings and revolts most of us never heard of in our history classes. As Deep Green Resistance emphasizes, a successful resistance movement must learn from the history of what has and hasn’t worked for others. Plutocracy is an excellent introduction to the mass movements of the working class in American history.

Noble describes his work in more detail:

Part 1 of the series focuses extensively on the ways in which the American people have historically been divided on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex and skill level. This the first documentary to comprehensively examine early American history through the lens of class.

Although the sub-header is “Political Repression in the USA”, Plutocracy is as much a tribute to the courage and tenacity of the American working class as a condemnation of its ruling class.

Learn more: sources for Plutocracy

Donate to the film maker to support him in making parts II and III of the series.

Rang De Basanti: a modern inspiration for direct action

Review by Parag Dalal / Deep Green Resistance

Spoiler alert: important pieces of the movie plot revealed below.

Rang De Basanti opens with a British officer in pre-independence India walking along prison cells and finally entering one. The man inside, reading a book, instructs “Wait a moment, Mr. McKinley, one revolutionary is meeting another.” Thus are we introduced to the legendary Bhagat Singh, engrossed in a book by Lenin. Singh rises calmly, ready to be escorted to the gallows. Mr McKinley, with sadness on his face, says “Sorry it has to end like this.” Bhagat Singh replies unwaveringly with a smile on his face “But this is not the end, Mr McKinley. There will be many more who will follow.” He starts walking and we see tears in the eyes of Mr McKinley.

Rang De Basanti goes against the regular Bollywood (Hindi) fare of romantic movies. It is a powerful commentary on the state of Indian politics and a call for direct action. Its ultimate clearance by the Indian Censor Board, albeit with a lot of controversy, delays, and reviews, is nothing short of surprising. The music by the Oscar winning A.R Rahman is visceral and evokes feelings of anger, rage and of freedom fighters and Indian independence.

In an interview with Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, the writer, director and co-producer of the film said that when Aamir Khan heard the script, he immediately agreed to star in it. This is a telling fact since Aamir Khan, one of the biggest names in Bollywood, has since directed and starred in some of the most controversial Bollywood movies, bringing some very deep seated and taboo topics of Indian society to light. Amongst his films are a satirical comedy about the farmer suicides in India (Peepli Live); a story about Mangal Pandey, an Indian soldier who led a violent revolt against the British Rule in India in 1857 (Mangal Pandey: The Rising); and a story of a dyslexic eight-year old child which brought awareness to dyslexia in India (Taare Zameen Par).

Rang De Basanti is a story of four regular college going young men who are completely apathetic to Indian politics until they find themselves at the receiving end of the corrupt system. Before the main events in the movie, they are cast in a documentary about five Indian freedom fighters – Chandrasekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Shivaram Rajguru, Ashfaqulla Khan, and Ram Prasad Bismil. The choice of these specific freedom fighters is significant. While all of them were key in achieving Indian independence, all of them used all means necessary, including violence against the British empire. Four of them were hanged, and the fifth shot dead in a conflict with the British. While there is no way to ascertain the truth, story has it that as they were escorted to be hanged, these men wore gentle smiles, looked their executioners in the eyes, and were confident they did the right thing and were inspiring hundreds of Indians to do the same. History proves the last part was definitely true, not only during the independence struggle but also today.

In the movie, an ace air force pilot friend of the actors is killed during a practice run in a MIG-21 crash. The government closes the investigation concluding that it was the pilot’s fault, covering up the true cause: a politician bought cheap spare parts for the MIGs in return for a bribe. The young men and their community hold a rally and vigil, but the police violently disperse it, brutally injuring their friend’s mother. With peaceful protest not an option, and at their wit’s end as to what to do, they decide to kill the politician involved in the deal.

The parallels between the modern protagonists and the freedom fighters they portrayed are reinforced repeatedly with cuts to black and white clips of them playing their older versions. This vividly highlights similarities between the modern power structure and British rule. One of the most inspiring poems written during the Indian independence ― Sarfaroshi ki Tamanna by Bismil Azimabadi ― which to this day inspires countless Indians and brings up visceral feeling, is featured in the movie at key moments.

सरफ़रोशी की तमन्ना अब हमारे दिल में है

देखना है ज़ोर कितना बाज़ू-ए-क़ातिल में है

which loosely translates to:

The desire for revolution is in our hearts

Let us see what strength there is in the arms of our executioner

The youth carry out the assassination, but the elites spin the news to paint the corrupt politician as a martyr in the media. So the modern freedom fighters take over a radio station to reveal the entire truth and their reasons for killing the minister. The police declare them terrorists and kill all of them, the scenes moving back and forth between the deaths of the historic freedom fighters and those of the protagonists.

The movie had a noticeable impact on Indian society. Internet bloggers increased their criticisms of corruption and bureaucracy in the Indian Government and intense political discussions were common after the movie’s release. Young people took to streets protesting many contemporary issues and injustices, most notably the 1999 Jessica Lall Murder Case, in which the court acquitted the accused which caused intense civil protests for his re-arrest. One group of demonstrators carried out a candlelight vigil similar to that in the movie. In another instance, large rallies were organized in India and the US in response to the Priyadarshini Mattoo rape and murder case. A survey revealed Rang De Basanti as the cause of this sudden increase in Indian people’s political involvement.

The movie is revolutionary in its subject matter. The audience, especially youth, are not only sympathetic but even identify with the protagonists, average college going men. The sympathy does not wane even after they assassinate the corrupt politician and take over the radio station at gunpoint to deliver their message. The message is clear: violence is not only justified but required in certain situations. The politicians and the police force are depicted in a negative light, something almost never seen in any media, Indian or Western. The movie inspired a generation of Indian youth to take direct action and continues to inspire people to this day.

Rang De Basanti is available in the US for rental from Netflix, or purchase at amazon.com

Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?

Book review by Daphne Francis of Deep Green Resistance

I have just enjoyed reading Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner? by Katrine Marcal, translated from her Swedish into English and published by Portobello books in 2015. It certainly is a change for me to find an economics book not only informative and accurate, but also highly readable and even entertaining, with at times trenchant analysis and cutting comments.

Marcal is not the first to highlight the absence of care work, done mostly by women, from calculations of Gross National Product and the decisions of that fabricated entity ‘economic man’. When valued at all, this work is severely undervalued. But for me she breaks new ground in stating that, if the body was taken seriously as the starting point for the economy, it would have far-reaching results. In her words “a society organised around the shared needs of human bodies would be very different from the one we know today.”

She dissects the notion of economic man which has now become such a keystone economic assumption that even our feelings of love and care are treated as preferences and impersonal sets of desires. This reduction reaches a low point in an analysis that “Faking ecstasy in bed is part of a ‘rational signaling model’.” Books have actually been published with the sickening title (and probably more sickening content) of how to Find a Husband after 35: (Using What I Learned at Harvard Business School) – a damning indictment of that particular academic icon. The body is turned into human capital. The disposal of radioactive waste can be sorted by cash payments to the desperately poor. Whether we shut down a life becomes a business decision; there is no more meaning in death than is left in life. Whilst the focus of Marcal’s analysis is on the erasure of women, readers of this blog will be all too aware of the effect of economic man on the rest of the natural world as well.

Finally, who did cook the illustrious classical economist’s dinner and organise his domestic life? We have to wait for the final chapter of the book to bring to life the story of this key part of Adam Smith’s economy, a woman he effectively erased from the celebrated text into which so much of her life energy went. I won’t spoil the revelation but leave you to find out for yourself the full story behind Adams Smith’s academic output.

Soom T’s “Bullets Over Babylon” Album: Tribute to Resistance

HouseofReggae.de  

Dubstep, Reggaeton and Electronique Gives Voice to Culture

Soom T (Sumati Bhardwaj) is an Indo-Scot from Glasgow who is known for her musical melange of DubStep, Hip Hop, Electronique, Reggae and Reggaeton. She’s created her own distinctive style and genre to accompany her eclectic, poetic, socio-political lyrics and versatile vocals. She also adds in other modern and world influences with her music. The genre is called several different names and hard to reduce to one label, but one that fits accurately is “Digital Laptop Reggae.”

Even more unique about her lyrics and sound are all the other musical acts she has collaborated with. Her writing, producing, recording and worldwide touring schedule is constant and rigorous and her global fan base is already huge and still growing. She is probably one of the hardest working women in the music industry in Europe and has produced more than 50 releases since 1999. She currently is signed to Renegade Masters.

MySpace.com

To get the music out, Soom T uses all the tools in the toolbox. She is online everywhere, with uploaded videos, sound bytes, photos and a presence on viral sites such as YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, Spotify, Last.fm, Bandcamp, Soundcloud and more. Her upcoming recording, “Free as a Bird” is due to be released on November 13th, 2015.

Bullets Over Babylon” was recorded as a collaboration and produced by Monkey Marc, released on April 20th, 2015. This album surprises with lush instrumentation and dedicated lyrics, multi-layered synth, keyboards and electronique. No two tracks sound the same:

  1. Aliens in Jars” — driving rhythm, looped drums, electronique, rapped lyrics, special effects with the vocals, reverbed keyboards.
  2. Bullshit” — world rhythms in the intro, rapped angry socio-political lyrics, lots of instrumentation, synth.
  3. Complex Simplicity” with MC Karma — Far East sounding strings and chord progressions, MC Karma rapping lyrics, chorus done by Soom T, yearning and melodic vocals, world music sound, some vocal parts sound Middle Eastern. Another standout track.
  4. Drill
  5. Boom
  6. Slave” — darkness, slow, minor keys, rhythmic, synth and special effects, jazzy vocals.
  7. Rebellion” with Combat Wombat — rapped lyrics, electronica, mix of dubstep and reggaeton, layered vocal riffs.
  8. Under the Bubble” — organ/keyboards intro and throughout, rapped and sung lyrics
  9. Sick of it All” — spoken intro, rapped lyrics about corporatism and resistance, great special effects, vocals about the corporate culture.
  10. Storms Come” with Marina P and Solo Banton– slow rapped reggae by Solo Banton, dancehall rhythms, Soom T’s lyrics are soft and beautiful used in the chorus and as a backdrop for Marina P’s soul voice in the verses. Outro with the sound of rain and thunder. Definitely a standout track! This writer’s favorite.
Review by Anita Stewart of Deep Green Resistance Florida, originally published at Rock at Night.

Thoughts on "Pandora's Seed"

The following is from Bud Nye, A Deep Green Resistance supporter in Washington State:

_____________

After reading Pandora’s Seed, Why the Hunter-Gatherer Holds the Key to Our Survival (2007), by Spencer Wells, here are some of my thoughts:

Early in the book I sensed a technotopian slant. Sure enough, as I read more it became clear that, like so many technological utopian people today, Wells seems seriously to believe that we can steal energy from Earth’s ecosystems at the scale of our fossil fuel use without massively damaging those living systems with their billions of living beings.

He seems to have no awareness of how destructive dams are, for example, and he holds by the magical, grandiose idea that we can do to wind, tidal, and other sun powered ecosystems what we have done to the river systems, and we can presumably do it without causing similar kinds of damage with similar unintended consequences: largely unacknowledged atrocities.

As much good information as he provides in his book, Wells ultimately supports, and subtly but powerfully encourages others to support, the Earth-killing megamachine of the now global military-industrial-scientific-congressional complex. He makes this crystal clear with his statement in the last chapter, after listing a number of movements that have worked against the machine, that “Over the past half century another anti-progress trend has been spawned, one more widespread and potentially dangerous than the more limited moments of the past….”

At best, he is clearly ignorant of the fairly obvious fact that we must learn to live within the limits of daily sunlight–while ALSO allowing millions of other animal and plant species, many billions of living beings, to use that daily sunlight–or we will perish. At worst, he is fully aware of these real, biological limitations and is an industrial corporate shill consciously and actively spreading their propaganda as widely as possible.

The truth about Wells probably lies somewhere between these two extremes, with a complex mixture of both. Positive, optimistic thinking actively encourages and supports willful blindness, and Pandora’s Seed serves as a good example of this. Please don’t get me wrong. I think that this book does offer much of value.  Unfortunately, Wells severely shoots himself in the foot with his unwarranted optimism about his often mentioned future “several hundred years from now” (apparently blissfully ignorant of the  Canfield ocean CO2 level preconditions that will have developed by  around 2100), and the alleged, politically correct “alternative energy  sources”.

I do wonder what others think.
_____________

Adapted from Humanity, A Moral History of the Twentiety Century by Jonathan Glover (1999):

Rational self-interest can be turned upside down. In ordinary life restraining social pressures make killing unthinkable. In industrial capitalism and civilization the effect of their removal, or even reversal, is dramatic.

Industrial capitalism and civilization-building also require overcoming the moral resources. Capitalists and civilization builders need to escape the inhibitions of human responses: of respect and sympathy for others. They need to escape the restraints of moral identity: of their sense of not being a person who would wound and kill other living beings.

Mostly, the moral resources fail to prevent killing via industrial capitalism because they are neutralized. Capitalists, and the many associated, supporting military, scientific, and congressional civilization-building bureaucrats, need to produce something close to a “robot psychology”, in which what would otherwise seem horrifying acts they can carry out coldly, without inhibitions by normal human responses.  Sometimes the moral resources are not so much neutralized as overwhelmed.

There are the altered emotional states induced by industrial activities such as mining, dam building, oil and coal extraction, deforestation, desertification, ocean life mining, committing assassinations, genocide and mass extinctions, and so on.

The control and dominance inherent in industrial capitalism and civilization-building have a deep emotional appeal. People find actions that they would never have thought themselves capable of suddenly appearing, as if they were suddenly released, or as if they were the result of an inner explosion.  Distancing from other living beings–both within our own species and, certainly, from all other species–is part of a defensive hardness.

Note this today: A very sad thing happens here now–to everyone. It happens slowly, gradually, and at a distance so no one notices when it happens. We begin slowly with each unnoticed and unaccounted for death and casualty until there are so many deaths and so many wounded, we start to treat deaths and loss of limbs, both of our own and of other  living beings, with callousness, AND IT HAPPENS BECAUSE THE HUMAN MIND  CAN’T HOLD THAT MUCH SUFFERING AND SURVIVE.

Few of us seem willing to comprehend the horror now unfolding around us and within us via civilization and industrial capitalism. And, as in war, fewer still have the willingness to act in order to stop the killing.
Bud Nye Tacoma, WA

“Politics of Reality” Book Review

Ben Cutbank / Deep Green Resistance Wisconsin

The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory, written by Marilyn Frye in the 1980’s, is one of the most instructive books I have read to date. The succinctness of each of her essays, which cover such fundamental topics for the feminist learner as white privilege, male supremacy, lesbianism and gay rights, and violence against women, combines with an impressive comprehensiveness that leaves the reader with little room for debate. It’s simple, but forceful, similar to, I would assert, the works of radical environmental author Derrick Jensen, and especially his two-volume book, Endgame.

In one essay, a difference between love and arrogancetwo forces that, in a sense, speak to the entire battle of life against oppressionis drawn out:

The loving eye does not make the object of perception into something edible, does not try to assimilate it, does not reduce it to the size of the seer’s desire, fear and imagination, and hence does not have to simplify. It knows the complexity of the other as something which will forever present new things to be known.

The arrogant perceiver’s perception of the other’s normalcy or defectiveness is not only dead wrong, it is coercive. It manipulates the other’s perception and judgment at the root by mislabeling the unwholesome as healthy, and what is wrong as right. One judges and chooses within a framework of values — notions as to what ‘good’ and ‘good for you’ pertain to….If one has the cultural and institutional power to make the misdefinition stick, one can turn the whole other person right around to oneself by this one simple trick.

As a woman living under the rule of patriarchy, and as someone with a radical feminist analysis, Marilyn Frye is no stranger to the meaning of privilege, both in concept and practice. As one might expect, she speaks thoroughly and often about the privileges afforded to men over women. However, her analysis doesn’t stop there: those with white skin, including white women, experience a certain kind of privilege as well, because the dominant culture is both patriarchal and white supremacist. Connecting these dots is both crucial and, unfortunately, too rare. Says Frye:

In a certain way it is true that being white-skinned means that everything I do will be wrongat least an exercise of unwarranted privilegeand I will encounter the reasonable anger of women of color at every turn. But ‘white’ also designates a political category, a sort of political fraternity. Membership in it is not in the same sense “fated” or “natural.” It can be resisted.

Members of the dominant culture must be able to mark or define the sex of human beings so that it’s clear who is to subjugated and who is to do the subjugating, who is to be exploited and who is to do the exploiting. Masculinity and femininity are concepts created and enforced by patriarchy to keep the social order running smoothly. As Marilyn Frye puts it:

I see enormous social pressure on us all to act feminine or act
masculine (and not both), so I am inclined to think that if we were to
break the habits of culture which generate that pressure, people would
not act particularly masculine or feminine.

Imagine a bird in a birdcage. The bird is confined by numerous wires that connect with each other in order to imprison the bird. If one looks at one of the wires alone, it could seem silly as to why the bird doesn’t simply fly around it to freedom. However, it takes stepping back and seeing the whole picture that is the birdcage in order to understand why the bird is trapped. This is the classic metaphor that Frye has used to describe the meaning of oppression. She goes further to give a basic definition:

Oppression is a system of interrelated barriers and forces which reduce, immobilize and mold people who belong to a certain group, and effect their subordination to another group (individually to individuals of the other group, and as a group, to that group).

In a discussion of the gay liberation movement, and the fatal mistake
of gay men often trying to embrace masculinity instead of rejecting it,
Marilyn Frye speaks to a different vision, a lesbian vision, in a line that I
believe is one of the most powerful in the book:

The general direction of lesbian feminist politics is the dismantling of
male privilege, the erasure of masculinity, and the reversal of the
rule of phallic access, replacing the rule that access is permitted
unless specifically forbidden with the rule that it is forbidden unless
specifically permitted.

This book is crucial reading for any person with the love and courage it takes to fight for a better world. While anyone would benefit from heeding the lessons that Marilyn Frye has put forth, I especially think that men need to hear this radical feminist message and begin to join women in the fight against patriarchy and for the liberation of all of life.

New Book Featuring Deep Green Resistance Authors: The (Un)OccupyMovement

A new book, compiled and edited by Mankh (Walter E. Harris III), features contributions from Deep Green Resistance authors Aric McBay, Lierre Keith, and Derrick Jensen. The book is called The (Un)Occupy Movement: Anatomy of Conscousness, Practical Solutions, Human Equality. Prose and Poetry, and you can order copies here.

Excerpt from the book’s introduction:

As the title suggests, there is an “Occupy Movement” (begun with Occupy Wall Street) that has stirred the so-called American melting pot from its backburner state. Suddenly, things are cooking and more and more People are getting a whiff of the spirited air. Yet, from the perspective of the First Nations or Natives, the land has been unjustly occupied since 1492. Indigenous Peoples around the globe are dealing with similar issues. Hence, “Unoccupy Movement.”

Read a review of the book here.