The Indigenous’ Dilemma

Capitalism of all sorts and varieties has, as long as it keeps the concept of growth, the urge to spread into areas it previously did not or not to that extend inhabit. The push for resources depletes landscapes, ruins biodiversity, and puts strain on the resilience of ecosystems until they break. At the same time Capitalism reshapes communities and ways of life. Ways and means of production demand a certain style of dwelling, work, and interaction between people. Forms of transportation, logistics, and communication interweave with an entertainment, education, and ideology that are made to fit each others. When objects are things, not neighbours, it’s only a small step to accepting that neighbours and we ourselves are things too. Accordingly psychology, not religion, became the main tool to understand a human being, in that it enforces the ideology of craftmanship onto the inner realms. Being useful is only the overt version of the urge to treat ourselves like a thing – not only in order to enhance our performance in society but also to cope with our demons and pathologies. That life, our own life, has a sense only insofar as we give it one, is just one consequence of this attitude. That the very concept of our own life would have sounded rather ridiculous to former generations is just a minor footnote in this story.

As Capitalism proceeds it encounters borders, wastelands soon to be abandoned in search for other shores, these primarily defined with the help of a new business idea, a new way not so much of doing things but of making money. Capitalism is a very strong spiritual concept that has profound consequences on the planet as a whole. Mostly it is seen in its material aspect, as in search for concrete resources it invades pristine landscapes and leaves dumping grounds behind. Effects on the societies in the “prospects” as well as “at home” are seen at best on a material level, or on the level sociology and psychology touch. But over and above these visible consequences on the communities and societies, the pressure on people to conformity and permament activity in work and leisure, it is rather seldom noted that Capitalism is not about resources. Or, better said, the concept of resource is dramatically reduced to the concept of material resources. The craftmanship-modell of capitalism – i.e., that someone has an idea to produce something, shapes a business to create and sell stuff until markets are saturated, and then moves on – is inadequate because it is too simple. For Capitalism growth is indispensable, but it is rather arbitrary through which endeaveours and means this growth is achieved. The intrusiveness of Capitalism continues regardless whether one produces material products or focuses on services, entertainment, education, information, etc. instead. In that regard capitalism “reworks” its own societies, changes areas from one form of dwelling, production, entertainment, culture, and the relationships between the people, to another. Each generation experiences a “new” rush of Capitalism through the experience of invasion into a former “insulated” part of life, its exploitation and its being left behind as a wasteland that first gives a sour or bitter feeling until the former ways as well as the former pristine landscapes are forgotten. The new state is the way things always were …. live with it!

We call indigenous people those who live in areas remote (or formerly remote) to our societies. They live more or less reclusive, have their own ways of life, their own culture, technology, cosmology, etc. Often it’s anthropologists and linguists who pave the way to those remote communities and help Capitalism find an entrance. Ususally we don’t want an Indigenous Alternative to Capitalism to sustain, we want to consume it, pity it, and hope it vanishes soon in order to feel justified in having a bad consciene concerning the way we do things and don’t find a way out.

Indigenous people when encountering Capitalism are, in a long process, confronted with a dilemma. As Capitalism doesn’t stop at their borders, doesn’t leave them alone, and intrudes on a material and spiritual level, the options are twofold: either the indigenous people accomodate to the blessings and sufferings of Capitalism, then they will lose their culture, their history, their ways of life, their soul. Or they insist on leading their life according to their own ways, culture, and heritage, then they may sustain their soul, but will starve to death. The cruel insight of the ages-old struggle of indigenous people around the globe with Capitalism is: Their is no middle-way or middle-ground. One or the other form of death is just a question of time.

Capitalism is not about material resources. It is about whatever resources it can take or need to convey it to some sellable product. It can use oil, herbal DNA, music, conscription into the military, whatever to make a business. On the other hand Capitalism reworks or reshapes the areas from which it spreads, urging people to accommodate their lives to fit the prevailing industries. For that reason the Indigenous Dilemma is not restricted to some exotic tribe far away; it is throroughly at work in our societies as well, preventing any form of enduring dissent or different ways of living. Therefore alternatives are rather short-lived, not sustainable, and sooner or later resolve into the status quo, leaving a bitter-sweet feeling of trial and failure (not error). The conditions and the pressure may vary from place to place, but the vanishing of the Counterculture, the Commune movement, the alternative therapy movement in the West, are just a few examples how the Indigenous Dilemma is predominant inside the industrialized societies as well. Trying to be more radical, trying to live one’s mind, trying to drop out sooner or later faces the decision of starving of hunger or selling one’s soul. The tragedy is that those who tried the different way not only fail but are ridiculed by the next generation.

The Indigenous Dilemma is thus active in both places. It applies both to indigenous people at the outside of the industrialized world as well as to the minorities and marginal groups living on the edge inside of the industrialized societies. It is the same thing, happening in different places, but usually seen as unconnected and distinct. We should start to view both in context to re-establish an “enlarged” concept of ecology. 


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