Thursday, June 25, 2015

Stoics and Sundance, Truth and Reconciliation (Part 1)

I was packing my bag for Sundance and I was going to take the two books. Both had something to teach me and that I wanted to share on my journey.

The first I picked out of our yard sale. It had been on the main shelf but as space was needed it made the trip from living room to back room to yard sale box in the shed. Essential works of Stoicism – Marcus Aurelius: To Himself, Epictetus: The Manual, Diogenes Laertius: Life of Zeno, Seneca: On Tranquility.

I had read some of it before but nothing that would suggest the text would live up to the author's introduction that the teachings of the Stoics, "left its mark on both the constitution of the Roman Empire, the teachings of Christianity and eventually it helped prepare the way for the French Revolution."

I started, of course, with Marcus Aurelius: To Himself. It was the movie Gladiator that put Marcus Aurelius back into the cultural ether and into my mind. I could see Russell Crowe shouting out the name as he led the Spartans in the movie 300. (I know. Two different movies but that’s the way it was Gerard Butler entered only in the afterthought of writing.)

To Himself is a list of teachings and philosophies that begins with giving thanks to his parents and grand and great grandparents and the many teachings they shared with him such as “To endure Freedom of Speech, and to have become intimate with philosophy and to have been a hearer.”

To "endure" freedom of speech. That is beautiful.

Epictetus: The Manual is a list of 53 things that one can do in order to live conforming with nature. 

“Of things some are in our power and some are not. In our power is the power of opinion, movement toward a thing, desire, aversion (turning away from a thing) and in a word, whatever are our own acts.”

I would post Epictetus quote about gossip.

“If a man has reported to you that a certain person speaks ill of you do not make any defense to what was told to you but reply, “The man did not know the rest of my faults else he would not have mentioned these only.”

The goal of the Stoic was self-sufficiency autarky by conforming to Nature. I began to wonder if Stoic was accurately placed on the Native Americans by the settlers as a term that is close to  Warrior/Philosophers. That something true had been turned into a lie.

Why not? Everything that has been taught to me must be considered a lie. A resumption of presumption. Everything should be questioned. Everything is upside down.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission had proven that a great conspiracy of silence hid Canada’s cultural genocide in the implementation of the Indian Residential School System. It is in every school and every history book - lies and deceit towards the willful elimination of Native people and their history.

It was a narrative that was divined soon after discovery and before the arrival really began. These people can not be human beings. They are not like us. They are less than us. 

In Myth of the Savage, Dr. Olive Patricia Dickason writes, “In 1513, a presentation to Pope Leo X had claimed of Amerindians, “they are our brothers.” But there were others who were not so sure, and from the very first, opinion was sharply divided on the subject. As spiritual conformation was considered to be all-important, it was immediately asked why Amerindians had not been informed about the Christian God, Pope Alexander’s bulls notwithstanding, there were those, even in the church, who held that the answer lay in the fact that Amerindians were brute beasts and incapable of learning the mysteries of the faith.”

So began the “Wild Man” period in which tales of cannibals covered in hair and communicating in grunts, dog headed men and other bizarre tales became acknowledged truth. Dickason notes that the reality to early explorers was jarring, “As Claude observed, “In truth, I expected to find fierce beasts, men totally rustic, rude and savage (as we call them), but I found that to be far from reality. Instead I have never encountered any people with such perfection of their natural senses, whether exterior or interior, and I have never heard of a nation which excels them in this.”

There was another book that had my mind and unlike Dickason's beautifully illustrated coffee table size book this was pocket size and one I could easily carry with me. I had discovered it by accident when the book was used as a prop at a wedding. The pages were painted shut and the cover had a faux pearl design and the words "The Kiss" in a tasteful font. I got bored and peeled open the book.

 The Story of ModernScience Vol 8 – Bettering the Race is part of a ten volume set published in 1923 by Funk & Wagnalls Company, New York and London. The book celebrated the new school of anthropology as “the science of man in all his relations”. Although fitting in all his relations into the brotherhood of man was as difficult for the scientist as for the religious fundamentalist.

“There are writers of the present day,” says Dr. Pritchard, writing about the year 1840, “who maintain the offspring of the primitive Mosaic pair did not comprehend the uncivilized inhabitants of the remote regions: and that the Negroes, Hottentots, Eskimoes, and Australians are not in fact men in the full sense of that term, or beings endowed with like mental faculties as ourselves.”

The book pointed to the debate on the origin of the species and “associated with this question of the origin of mankind as a whole was the allied question as to the origin of the so-called Aryan Race.”

Its scientific recommendations on bettering the race include “judicious inbreeding” which the royal family is held as the example. 

It was with these teachings and the accompanying perceptions and interpretations weighing upon my mind, the text of Bettering the Race in my bag and The Essentialism of Stoicism in my hand, I headed to Sundance.