about Old (indigenous) and New ( physical) Knowledge

I’m not much into a kind of spiritual approach, at least, as a beta scientist I’m not sure how to deal with that. I’m more into physics, what can we prove (or at least: what we can’t change…). On a fundamental level that is, not within limited system boundaries where many effects have been tossed over the fence. From that I come to the conclusion that we need to live off the land and the sun, as they provide us with food, energy, and materials on an annual basis. And only if we handle them with care as well, including recovery times, for instance. A clear, if you will, clinical, approach and consideration.

Until recently, when I read the book: “Braiding Sweetgrass.” The author is a ‘daughter’ of an original North American indigenous group, the Potawatomi, and also an ecological scientist. She extensively describes how her people perceive the environment, how they coexist with it, and, for example, consider plants and animals as ‘somebody,’ not as ‘something.’

A few times, I thought about putting the book aside. Thinking its just about tree huggers and such. Not that I don’t want to know about it, but I can’t handle 400 pages on that ;-). However at some point, I got intrigued. Not only because she alternates the spriritual approach with passages with scientific considerations, in her attempt to reconcile those two worlds, the spiritual and the physical ecological approach, but also because I actually discovered that what I find, reasoning physically, is entirely confirmed by what these peoples have known ( and practised) for thousands of years. It’s a completely different way of saying the same thing. It’s thousands of years of practical experience expressed in inspiring stories. Of course, I already knew the main approaches of their lifestyle, and consequences, like the Native Americans losing their land because they knew no ownership or registration, and the colonists reasoning that it was therfor up for grabs, with the blessing of the ‘church’… But Robin Kimmerer vividly describes and deepens it to layers I didn’t know. Like her struggle with the modern supermarket or ‘Mall,’ where everything is within reach without a connection to what produced it, versus her camp in nature where she describes nature as a supermarket, where everything is available, but where you also have to ensure it remains available. It’s a ‘gift,’ the Earth gives those things, and you have to give something back as well.

So it’s basically just ’take and give’: in balance, not more of one than the other. And that’s exactly what I see physically: you have to replenish the stock or let it replenish, when nature gives and we take. But not more than what can be sustainably harvested annually.

Let me keep it simple: the views, the stories, and the actions of those ancient peoples were actually what we are rediscovering now, but with an enormous detour way to ‘prove’ with science what common sense has always known.

I must also think of the slogan of a bottled-water company years ago, which expressed it perfectly: “If we’re not good to the water, the water is not good to us.” The fact that we don’t need bottled water in our part of the world is beside the point here, the principle was correct. And checking on their website: they protect their water source and ensure that no more is withdrawn than is added annually. So that part seems ok. The problem is that money is involved, which has no physical value, and profit is made, and with that money… etc.etc. Back to the story: The Potawatomi, and fellow peoples, even had no financial economy. They had a gift economy. According to many of their old lessons, if we receive something, we should give it back, in soem way. Wealth meant having enough to give away, and someone’s social status was determined by their generosity.

Colonists who (at first) received gifts from indigenous peoples thought: “these are valuable, we shouldn’t give them away.” But according to the givers, the value of gifts lies in their reciprocity, literally: they were indignant if they didn’t come back to them in a roundabout way. By the way, until a few hundred years ago, the ‘economy’ in Europe also worked like this: there was no ‘value paper’ , value that wasn’t based on anything (or supposedly based on gold (whats the value of gold…?) , gold ‘looted’ from colonized areas*). Until then, a service was provided, and a debt was created, which was then repaid by a counter-service. The debt and claim relationship no longer existed afterward. Reciprocity at its best. No profit and such. Already a 100 year ago Mitchell Innes described this perfectly, and I elaborate on that extensively in my new book, Post-fossil life. (for the moment only in Dutch, but read a preview here [1]) From a ‘possession economy‘ (our current economy), a gift is something that is free because we receive it without paying for it. But, as Kimmerer describes, in a ‘gift economy’, gifts are not free! They create reciprocity, and the essence is that a gift creates relationships. And nature is a gift in that sense and requires reciprocity…! You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.

Something we already practiced in my student house many years ago, with a bottle of gin. Which was given on birthdays as a gift and then passed on afterward, it went around like that for years until you ‘got it back.’ That it had long been emptied and refilled with water was an open secret and not relevant…

Part of this gift economy, as she describes, includes giveaway ceremonies: the community was invited to someone’s home to take over unnecessary things. And here, she connects the present world again with that of the Potawatomi: “Imagine,” she writes, “that our neighbors held a giveaway ceremony, and in the meantime, someone broke in and took whatever they wanted sneakily. We would be highly indignant about that moral transgression. We should feel the same indignation when it comes to the Earth. The Earth freely gives wind, solar, and water power, yet we break open the earth to extract raw materials. If we had only taken what is given to us, if we had done something in return for the gift, we wouldn’t have to fear for our own atmosphere…”

Living of the yearly growth potential of our earthen system, in other words. It’s not just physics that shows it’s about balance, about taking and giving. There are, so to speak, multiple ways to come to the same conclusion. Physical or spiritual, they al lead to the same conclusions. Which we can start practising as good intentions for the New Year…

I wish you a happy new year and lots of wisdom!


* By the way, what if those countries start recovering not only looted art, but also looted gold…?

Author: ronald rovers