Like so many of my generation of European-Americans a significant part of my conscious being has been devoted over the short span of my life to answering the question “Who am I?” In the face of the material well-being of my generation what could I possibly want? Surely, life was more than about wealth and material comforts.
I suppose the idea that I should know who I was started when my father, seeking to humor my awkward teen existence shared a cartoon parodying the “now” generation with the headline, “Who am I?”. I didn’t think it was terribly funny but I knew that adults were themselves humored by what passed for consent so I let the remark slide. My father probably never thought again about the subject or knew how deeply he had influenced my thought process.
The issue was undoubtedly that I should be constructing a focused adult life in anticipation of assuming an adult identity. He probably did not understand for all of his preoccupations that my life was already under construction and that my adolescent rebellion was already about community and my identity within that community.
The first question then concerned the observed asymmetry of power between the local production system and my privileged ‘colonial’ status. What was it about the encounter of two systems that created unfair advantage? Why was one system local, the other not? Which of these systems was my community? And if my community was the local production system, how could I accept an advantage originating outside of the local community?
[ Before I go any further, I should explain what is meant by “an advantage originating outside of the local community”. I was born and raised on Hummingbird Island, the eldest son of a professional manager responsible for a food processing business that purchased and transformed local farm produce for sale and consumption in Europe. Payment for the transformed produce was made in the United States to merchants who “hedged the risks” associated with the local production system, using the profits to finance additional production operations. ]
To my young eyes and 20/20 vision, since augmented by 40+ years of hindsight and a clear sense of what we know today as “globalization”, this international production system produced a redistribution of wealth, from Europe to South and North America. The redistribution in Europe took the form of purchasing economies (production and sale of less expensive, grain-fed livestock) resulting in lower market prices (increased disposable incomes to consumers) and for producers, lower factor costs at given market prices. For the land- and labor-rich host country this produced employment and land rents. Nothing was taken unfairly.
But this was only one facet of the colonization process. Other facets have since become apparent. The transfer of wealth from one economic system (Europe) to another (North and South America) produced a streamlining of local production processes from credit to manufacturing machinery and data processing, generating ever more wealth; it encouraged population growth and replication of European-style systems of social hierarchy, mobility and social geographies. Economic forces encouraged the progressive removal of natural ecosystems from their primary organic function supporting Earth communities of life and biodiversity. In short, this form of colonization succeeded in reproducing European-American settlement patterns, disenfranchising Native Peoples and advancing the day for “Mother Earth’s Great Purification Ceremony”.
More profoundly speaking, the success of the European colonial system, the “dominance paradigm” now fully mature and “in possession of Turtle Island” must inevitably turn to its next challenge, global scarcity and the control of food and water production systems. This is what is happening today all over Africa and in less developed areas of the world where land, water and labor are plentiful.
Where will it all end?
An old Indian friend whose life model is deeply rooted in community practice and collective intelligence, and who actively anticipates Mother Earth’s Great Purification Ceremony reminds me that the civilization disease which expresses itself as a belief in “individual”-ity, is a social cancer that can only be checked by
Human Persons in-Community, and so in-tune with the Song ‘n’ Dance of Life Herownself, whatever the geographical origins of their Ancestors…
In answering the question “Who am I?” my old Indian friend might as well have said “it is not so much ‘who’ we are that matters, but how well we DO what we ARE”.
This is in fact what he said.