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October 23, 2011


It is especially interesting to keep in mind that this document was prepared by outsiders to the academe nearly 35 years ago
I have read only the article, and not the embedded links. But I dont understand what you mean by outsiders to the academe. This is obviously done by somebody who has studied eurasian history and prehistory, using material prepared by academic scholars, in the same fashion we Indians have come to learn about the larger world. I dont see them saying anything original. If I am mistaken, please point to the relevant section. I agree that the article shines the mirror back at modern civilization, but I doubt that humanity could have taken a different route anyways.. or put in another way, if the tables were turned.. i.e Eurasia were populated by Iroquois in the first place and North America by the others, we would still have been in the same situation (kinda like what Jared Diamond says in Guns Germs and Steel). Agent Smith has said it best in the matrix.. Humans are a virus (yeah, I am a cynic :-)) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Na9-jV_OJI


Since I liked this piece, let me tell you how I read that line. I'm sure you'll agree that facts are one thing, their interpretation another. An eye forged by radically different experiences and historical memories might interpret the same factual material quite differently, and no less legitimately. We see an outsider's narrative here (from 35 years ago, more novel then), not of a cultural insider to the academe. The point is not that an outsider's view is necessarily better; just that it's different and may be worthy of consideration. Take, for instance, the Dalit interpretations of Hindu culture and its sacred/literary texts (e.g., "Why I am not a Hindu" by Kancha Ilaiah), which can be very different from mainstream interpretations in the Indian academe. The Dalits clearly didn't learn in isolation of the academe's output.


If I'm understanding your question, I think Namit's answer is spot on, and the parallels with the Dalit perspective on Hinduism are apt. For sure, the writers of this document have studied academic texts on western history, culture, and anthropology, etc. However, reading, studying, and even graduating from university doesn't by itself make one an academic, an insider or subscriber to the establishmentarian arbiters of western knowledge. I think there's little about this document that conforms to a western academic take on history and society, especially not from the time in which it was written.

For starters, western history has conventionally been told as a story of exploration, conquest, technological progress, and enlightenment. Insider critiques have argued that some mistakes were made along the way; innocents have sometimes paid the price for our progress; perhaps we took a wrong turn somewhere, or corruption has set in, and we must steer ourselves back toward the true course of human betterment. But the view presented here is completely oblique to those arguments. Instead, this history is primarily a story of human alienation from nature, to the detriment of both. It doesn't subscribe to the values of the western project, in which "civilization," consolidation of power, and urban life have seemed to be the goal. Similarly, western narratives have generally assumed that patriarchal systems are either the natural state of human societies, or they are the progressive state of human societies (with perhaps, at best, the occasional quaint and colorful exception); whereas, here patriarchy is given as an aberration, a result of our earliest separation from nature. It's unlikely any western academic insider would present such a paper to the UN, especially not 35 years ago. But these folks were just telling it the way they saw it; you may or may not find merit in their views.

And isn't it interesting that back in 1975, when few academics were concerned about environmental degradation, when fewer still had noticed human-made climate change (and no one was openly speaking about it) the writers of this document thought these things were worth mentioning to the UN? I'm reasonably sure that the Haudenosaunee did not arrive at this observation by doing scientific studies or reading about climate change in a book; they figured it out based on their own bodies of knowledge and their own ways of paying attention to their environment. Incidentally, other tribal groups living very close to nature in other parts of the world had also made such observations before scientists were openly discussing them, so, I don't think the point here is about originality (whatever that might mean), but simply appreciating a perspective that comes from outside of our knowledge establishment. Often there is something to be learned by the exercise of looking at oneself from the outside.

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