Category Archives: Original Peoples

Mexico on the Eve of AMLO: “So Far from God and So Close to the United States”

The full quote by Porfirio Díaz is: “Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States.” Mexican President Díaz (1876-1880 and 1884-1911) got it at least half right. Mexico has suffered in the shadow of the Colossus of the North, but Mexico is not poor. Mexico is rich in many ways, yet it also has been impoverished. And Mexico has been greatly underappreciated by North Americans.

Mexico is bucking an international right-wing tide, shifting its government from right to left-of-center with the presidential inauguration of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) on December 1. Speaking for international capital, The Economist is worried. The other 99% of humanity is hopeful. A cautionary history of this trice conquered land follows.

Pre-Colombian Mexico and the First Conquest

Prior to Europeans “discovering” the New World, Mexico was home to many great civilizations, which thrived for nearly four millennia: Aztec, Huastec, Izapa, Maya, Mixtec, Olmec, Purépecha, Teotihuacan, Toltec, Totonac, and Zapotec. History and Headlines rates the “10 great historical civilizations,” naming the Olmecs and Aztecs alongside the Romans, Persians, and Egyptians.

The popular image of the Aztec depicts savage men in loin clothes and feathers on top of stone pyramids making human sacrifices. But let’s put that into historical context. Historian James Cockcroft tells us that at the same time the barbarians in the New World were assuaging their pagan gods with human blood, more  people met their end  burned at the stake as “witches” by the civilized Europeans in the name of Jesus. Christian femicide is a forgotten legacy.

European contact in 1519 brought Christianity and disease to the then flourishing Mexican civilizations. While the Europeans and the indigenous Americans were roughly on the par technologically, the Europeans were far more adept at war and to them went victory and the spoils.

Geographer Jared Diamond estimates that 90% of the Native American population was obliterated by measles, small pox, flu, and the like for which the Europeans had developed relative immunities. Mexico did not regain its 1519 population until 1940, taking over 400 years to recover.

Although the official language of Mexico is now Spanish and Mexico is the most populous Spanish speaking nation in the world, it is also home to the largest number of actively spoken indigenous languages in North America.

The Second Conquest of Mexico

The first conquest of Mexico was by the Spanish conquistadores. The second was by the Yankees and has received far less acknowledgement.

Mexico won its independence from Spain in the period 1810-21 and with it slavery was abolished, though not entirely until 1829. It wasn’t until 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued followed by the Thirteenth Amendment two years later, that formal slavery was abolished in the US. However, sharecropping and Jim Crow laws continued to preserve the “peculiar institution” in the “land of the free.”

The Adams–Onís Treaty of 1819 established the border between the former Spanish colonial territories and the former British colony, now the US.

By 1836, the Republic of Texas succeeded from Mexico and was annexed to the US in 1845. The following year, the Mexican-American War was provoked by the US as a war of conquest.

Two years later, Mexico was forced to sign the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceding nearly half its national territory. The US gained what would become parts or all of California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Colorado. The Gadsden Purchase of 1853 added southern Arizona and New Mexico to the spoils of war.

In all, 55% of Mexico, over half of her sovereign territory, was taken from Mexico by the ever-expanding Colossus of the North. No wonder our Chicanx compatriots remind us “we did not cross the border, the border crossed us.”

Alta California

Gold had been discovered at Sutter’s Mill just a few days before the treaty was signed, which transferred Alta (upper) California from Mexico to the US. The discovery of gold was unknown to the signatories at the time.

Alta California was to become the Golden State. With a $2.7 trillion economy, the state now boasts the world’s fifth largest economy, larger than Mexico’s $2.4 trillion gross domestic product (GDP). Were Alta California to rejoin Mexico, the new union’s GDP would be surpassed only by the mega-economies of China, US, India, and Japan.

The constitution for Alta California was drafted in both Spanish and English. Despite having a bilingual constitution, the Alta California voters passed the English-only Proposition 227 in 1998. Then in 2016 the voters passed Proposition 57, which repealed the more egregious English-only provisions of the earlier proposition.

The repeal of the English-only proposition reflected an influx of non-English speakers into the state. Alta California is today a truly multi-ethnic state with 43% of its inhabitants speaking a language other than English at home. The largest ethnic group is again Hispanic-Latinx, comprising 39% of the population and outnumbering what the Census Bureau calls “white alone.”

The Mexican Revolution

The bully to the north became revolution-adverse after concluding its own revolution. When Haiti won its independence from France in 1804, the US joined Napoleon’s empire to force the fledgling Haitian nation to pay debilitating reparations for freeing itself from slavery.

Nevertheless, the Mexican Revolution of 1910-20 was able to slip by. In those days the US empire was not as capable at multitasking as it is now and was preoccupied by World War I.

The Mexican Revolution stands in the pantheon of great 20th century revolutions, pioneering the way for Russia (1917), China (1949), Vietnam (1975), and the many Third World liberation struggles of the last century.

As the first of the major 20th century revolutions, the Mexican Revolution guaranteed labor rights, nationalized subsoil rights, secularized the state and curbed the power of the Roman Catholic Church, and gave inalienable land rights to indigenous communities. Women’s rights were advanced, and women fought as soldiers and even commanders in General Emilio Zapata’s revolutionary army. Many of these gains have since been eroded.

The Revolution Institutionalized

After the tumultuous revolutionary period, politics in Mexico became consolidated under the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party). This single corporatist party brought together political factions representing the peasantry, labor, and urban professionals. As the revolutionary period receded, the PRI became politically centrist.

The one-party rule of the PRI was finally ended with the successful presidential election in 2000 of Coca Cola executive Vincente Fox of the PAN (National Action Party). The PAN won the subsequent presidential election as well. The PAN is a right-of-center Christian democratic party. It has strong backing among northern Mexican agri-business and international corporations and has a conservative social agenda.

The current Mexican president, Peña Nieto, is a member of the PRI. As the PRI moved to the right, more liberal forces within split in 1986 and formed the PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution). The main stronghold of the PRD has been Mexico City and among organized labor.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador was the PRD standard bearer in the 2006 and 2012 presidential elections. His losses in both elections are widely believed to be due to fraud.

NAFTA – the Third Conquest of Mexico

The third conquest of Mexico by North American finance capital came in the form of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and similar neoliberal arrangements. Neither free nor restricted to trade (e.g., it includes military cooperation), this stealth conquest facilitated the repatriation of foreign investment profits and the further integration of Mexico into the US economy.

NAFTA was ratified in 1994 among Mexico, the US, and Canada. The agreement remains controversial in the constituent counties. The Zapatistas in southern Mexico specifically chose the initiation date of their on-going rebellion to coincide with the day NAFTA started, presciently predicting the deleterious effects NAFTA would have.

By 2014, as many as a million US workers had lost their jobs due to NAFTA, which also had the effect of depressing wages.

NAFTA ended many Mexican government supports for agriculture, while encouraging entry of US and Canadian agricultural products. Consequently, peasant and most family farm agriculture in Mexico are less economically viable. The result has been a massive internal migration from the countryside into Mexican cities and an external emigration of people forced off the land to the US.

Neoliberalism’s Winners and Losers

A decade or two before the imposition of NAFTA, Mexico had appeared poised to transform from a developing to a developed country. New oil reserves had been discovered and a boom seemed imminent. Then instead of continuing a development model, Mexico bowed to international financial pressure and switched to a neoliberal model of deregulation and privatization.

Rather than lifting Mexico’s economy through its deeper integration with the US economy, as NAFTA’s proponents promised, Mexico has fallen even further behind. After NAFTA and the neoliberal “reforms,” poverty went up in Mexico while per capita economic growth lagged compared to the rest of Latin America.

Instead of wages becoming like those in the US, working wages became competitive with Guatemala. Mexico took its place in the international market economy as an export platform for low-wage maquiladoras, factories owned by foreigners and exporting to a foreign market.

Despite great national wealth, 46% of Mexicans live below the poverty line. The per capita income of Mexico is a third of the US, making the shared border the most income-unequal border in the world.

Neoliberalism has also had its winners. The government telephone monopoly Telmex was privatized in 1990, bought up by Carlos Slim Helú who became the richest man not only in Mexico but in the entire world by 2010. His ranking has now slipped to seventh, though he is still the top tycoon in Mexico owning 40% of the listings on the Mexican stock exchange. His net worth is equivalent to 6% of Mexico’s GDP, which is greater than the entire GDP of neighboring Guatemala and four times that of Nicaragua.

With a new strata of billionaires and deepening poverty, both spawned by neoliberalism, Mexico is among the more income unequal nations, with a Gini Index of 48.2. Carlos Slim and eight other international fat cats now have more wealth than half the world’s population.

Contemporary Mexico

Yet today Mexico as a nation is rich in many ways.

In terms of biodiversity, Mexico is way under-recognized. Mexico ranks fourth or fifth in the world, scoring high for the number of reptiles, birds, mammals, and plants. The much more celebrated Costa Rica in comparison doesn’t make the top ten in any of these categories, although it has a far better public relations apparatus. Mexico encompasses vast rainforests, dry forests, mountains, deserts, and the second largest coral reef in the world.

In terms of conservation, Mexico has been a world leader in the protection of whales. Commercial whaling was banned in 1954. In contrast, the last US whaling station in the San Francisco Bay was closed in 1971, followed the next year by passage of the Mammal Protection Act. The world’s first whale refuge was established in 1972 by the Mexican government. In 2002, Mexico again exercised world leadership in designating all its territorial waters and Economic Exclusion Zones as whale refuges.

Culinarily, Mexico’s cocina is considered among the great cuisines of the world; a lot more than taco trucks and cheap burrito stands. Amongst Mexico’s contributions to the world’s larder are avocado, chocolate, guava, tomato, vanilla, many varieties of beans and chiles, and most notably corn, which is now the world’s most important staple food.

Mexico has the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the hemisphere. The three most influential modern muralists are the Mexicans Diego RiveraJosé Clemente Orozco, and David Siqueiros.

With 7.6 billion bbl of proven reserves, Mexico is a major crude oil producer. Ranking 12th in the world, it outproduces Nigeria, Qatar, and Libya.

Mexico’s economy ranks 11th in the world, placing it second in Latin America after Brazil. Mexico’s GDP is greater than that of Italy or Spain and just below France and the UK, making it one of the world’s economic powerhouses.

The 2018 Election

Left-of-center Andrés Manuel López Obrador ran for the Mexican presidency on July 1. Having broken from the PRD, this third run was the charm as he won decisively. Morena, his newly formed party, swept the national and state legislatures.

Mayor-elect of Mexico City, Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo, is also part of the winning coalition. She is the first woman and first Jew to be elected to the post. She is a scientist and was a joint winner of the 2007 Noble Peace Prize as a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

After decades of right-wing governments in Mexico, López Obrador is being sworn in on December 1. The popular sectors in Mexico are expectant that corruption, inequality, and other long festering economic injustices will be addressed.

Baselines for Activism: Brecht’s Stance, the New Science, and Planting Seeds

I’ve often wondered about the limits of activist’s reach and the lack of coherent, organized progressive social movements in the US. Does it come down to the precarious nature of our jobs, the stress, strain, and exhaustion caused by the realization of being a paycheck away from penury? Or is it all the fault of our monopolistic media, with the puppet strings controlled by their advertisers, the corporate giants and multinationals? Is it geographic distance from Europe where socialism advanced far broader and deeper into society? Could it be the anti-communist Red Scare that dominated the binary and delusional cold war mindset? Was it the very real threat and use of violence via COINTELPRO, and overseas with Operations Gladio, Condor, etc? Is it deeper psychological issues stemming from the trauma of having to grow up in a cold capitalist world which leads to false consciousness?

It would seem to be a mixture of all of the above. Yet millions of citizens still are able to see through the mendacities inherent in our empire, in our collective cultural death-wish, and many millions more would be able to if provided the education, tools, and resources to see through the lies of our global system of capital.

Activists and educators must reconsider their approaches in light of the repeated failures of international progressive organizations. In short, part of the failure lies with the leadership of non-profits, NGOs, community leaders, and the type of worldview they adhere to. For one, unstable vertical hierarchies are reproduced, with not enough feedback from concerned citizens and community-based, small-scale pressure groups. Also, technocrats and lawyers are relied far too heavily upon to perform band-aid, stopgap procedures in the social and environmental justice fields. Endless petitions and protests are planned which do not lead to fundamental change.

Organization in the majority of so-called progressive movements mimics the neoliberal order. Pedestals and soapboxes are lined up for the official learned classes, who are offered cushy positions to run vote campaigns, to lobby (beg) a corrupt Congress or Parliament to do the right thing. This is turn creates a new split between the middle-class non-profit lawyers, campaigners, and managers; and the working class constituencies, which only fuels social division and alienation.

These maladies contribute to the false consciousness of the mostly liberal, white, middle-class, urbane, college-educated non-profit and social justice managerial class, as well as progressive activists. All of the racist, sexist, and classist baggage is carried alongside these organizations, as we can see so clearly in the faux “progressive” areas like Silicon Valley.

Let us take this line of thought further. I believe the lack of rigor and effectiveness also shows up with so-called radical activists and intellectuals who believe they are sincerely committed to revolution. It works in a few ways: radicals take on the feelings of others in unhealthy ways, bottling up anger and sadness that legitimately occurs and is expressed in subaltern groups. Another point involves the expectation of success, the attachment to pet projects and the personal rage that spills out when failure occurs.

US progressive and radicals are, for the most part, not versed in modern scientific advancements, ecology, or Eastern traditions. There is no tolerance for balance, paradox, and contradiction. Most are stuck on treadmills and attached to their egos and personas. Then there is the problem of speed: trying to catch up with every travesty the establishment and corporations impose on us (playing defense), as if one could bail out a sinking Titanic with a bucket. There is the notion of taking on social justice burdens as a very Christian-like type of “work”, instead of blending work and play into a post-modern, post-coercive labor environment that could put humankind on a type of threshold, a liminal state, towards a saner society of free association and mutual aid which could end much unnecessary suffering.

Running in Circles

There is most likely an inverse relationship between how seriously one takes oneself and one’s wisdom. The most serious among us are almost undoubtedly the least wise. The vast majority of the endless running around from protests or events or conferences or speaking engagements are just a series of distractions.

There are appropriate times for all those things, to be sure. Yet it must be noted that the predominant mode of liberals, leftists, and progressives is predicated on constantly reacting to and diagnosing mainstream culture, rather than arriving at any original prescriptions for changing society.

Many people in the US of all political persuasions are quite aware of the near terminal nature of politics: and many are looking for a model that works. The diagnosis has been made countless times. People are ready for an alternative to our broken system.  Obviously, with no capital this is nearly impossible for poor and marginalized communities.  An international network of direct action, worker co-ops, and communal agriculture must begin as soon as possible to fight neoliberal economics and the looming challenges of climate change.

Brecht’s Stance

A few years ago, I stumbled across Bertolt Brecht’s Stories of Mr. Keuner. The first passage is entitled “What’s wise about the wise man is his stance.” Here is the full passage:

A philosophy professor came to see Mr. K and told him about his wisdom. After a while Mr. K said to him: ‘You sit uncomfortably, you talk uncomfortably, you think uncomfortably.’ The philosophy professor became angry and said: ‘I didn’t want to hear anything about myself but about the substance of what I was talking about.’ ‘It has no substance,’ said Mr. K. ‘I see you walking clumsily and, as far as I can see, you’re not getting anywhere. You talk obscurely, and you create no light with your talking. Seeing your stance, I’m not interested in what you’re getting at.’

Now we’re getting somewhere! As Sean Carney explains in Brecht and Critical Theory: Dialectics and Contemporary Aesthetics:

The most important thing to draw from Brecht’s play, then, is the attitude it displays, which Brecht also calls a kind of wisdom that is performed or staged for us. It seems important here to distinguish between the form of wisdom, and the content of wisdom. Brecht, for his part, is concerned only with the former, the posture of wisdom, wisdom as an action. The form of this wisdom is dialectical and historical.

There is no space to flesh out all the implications here. A few thoughts will have to suffice.

When Western activists scream, “Rise up!” they should be reminded: “Sit down.” Always consider the antithesis. Slowing down, sitting: calling for nationwide wildcat general strikes would do much greater good than marching around with placards along predetermined protest routes.

When others shout “Speak out,” we can remind them: be silent (just imagine kids in school refusing to speak the pledge of allegiance or taking a knee in high school sports in solidarity with Kaepernick). When protestors implore: “Wake up,” they can also be chided and reminded: “Keep dreaming!” (of a genuine revolution, not stopping the imagination at some milquetoast progressive reforms led by the DSA or other pseudo-leftists, which, while helpful, do not go nearly far enough). I am not advocating not speaking truth to power here, or any escapism, only that in certain cases we should ignore the constant dramas and tragedies engendered by the corporate ruling-class and focus on building parallel structures and intentional communities to bust an escape hatch from global tyranny.

Non-striving

It should be recognized that many so-called “radicals” mimic the striving, combative, and authoritarian nature of the neoliberal order. Raised in an ultra-competitive society, some proponents of revolution refuse the inner work necessary while clinging to whatever social capital or insignificant platform one can muster up.

We live in a culture of constant striving, clinging, petty jealousness and egomaniacal childishness. It is no wonder that it shows up on many outlets of progressive outlets as well as on social media, and in activist circles.

Instead, we should begin the work of instilling a radical patience. Not because we have a lot to time left to act (we assuredly don’t), but because attaching oneself to unobtainable goals in the very short term only has the effect of tiring out and disillusioning many sincere people. Western activists could learn something by practicing non-attachment.

Only by giving up hope can we become present in the moment. This has continually been best expressed among Buddhists. As Pema Chodron writes:

As long as we’re addicted to hope, we feel that we can tone our experience down or liven it up or change it somehow, and we continue to suffer a lot. In a non-theistic state of mind, abandoning hope is an affirmation, the beginning of the beginning. You could even put ‘Abandon Hope’ on your refrigerator door instead of more conventional aspirations like ‘Everyday in everyway, I’m getting better and better.’ We hold onto hope and it robs us of the present moment. If hope and fear are two different sides of the same coin, so are hopelessness and confidence. If we’re willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation.

Thus, this brutally honest reflection (on our individual lives, but also on the fate of our civilization as we hurtle into the Anthropocene) leads to self-love, joy, and to vulnerability. This is a baseline for giving our collective culture what Rollo May called The Courage to Create. May contrasts happiness (in this sense a cessation of wants, a sense of security) with basic joy (quoted here):

Happiness is related to security, to being reassured, to doing things as one is used to and as our fathers did them. Joy is a revelation of what was unknown before. Happiness often ends up in a placidity on the edge of boredom. Happiness is success. But joy is stimulating, it is the discovery of new continents emerging within oneself…Happiness is the absence of discord; joy is the welcoming of discord as the basis of higher harmonies. Happiness is finding a system of rules which solves our problems; joy is taking the risk that is necessary to break new frontiers.

One cannot understand joy without noting the sense of timelessness: the past, present, and future all converging into the present moment. Athletes, artists, scientists, and others call this “flow” or “being in the zone.” Time moves more slowly, certainly everyone has experienced this phenomenon at one point or another. Relativity has proven that this is possible, as well as studies in consciousness, meditation, and psychedelics.

Is any of this useful as a guide towards activism today? I will leave it to you to decide. Is it possible to “create light” when you speak, or be in tune with “higher harmonies?”

Time

Regarding time, we can turn to Brecht’s friend, Walter Benjamin, and his notion of the Jetztzeit. In order to break free from “homogenous, empty time,” which, notably, Francis Fukuyama unintentionally expressed so well as the ever-looming backdrop to the neoliberal era in The End of History, Benjamin writes that society must struggle towards “the messianic zero-hour of events, or put differently, a revolutionary chance in the struggle for a suppressed past.”

That is to say, only by looking backwards in time can we assess the damages of the present age, even as the storm of progress pushes us further away from mending the wreckage, as Benjamin explains Klee’s Angelus Novus. Only in the zero-hour, the ever-present moment, can we blast open a historic event. This explains Benjamin’s concept of the monad, a “constellation overflowing with tensions.”

On the Horizon

Does any modern science conform to these ideas of reality as a constellation of energy and matter, something like Benjamin’s monad, influenced by Leibniz, overflowing with possibilities, tensions, and constant flux? Put another way, are there are empirical/scientific fields which show a healthy stance or posture of wisdom?

Here we turn to some of the modern science that corroborates what people like Benjamin, the German Idealists, process philosophy, Leibniz, and before him, Spinoza, Heraclitus, Lao Tzu, and various Eastern traditions have contributed to: a systems view of life and the universe that explains phenomena holistically. In a nurturing system such as this, cross-discipline studies would expand, converge, and enrich social life and ecosystem health.

In many ways, modern science shows a return to the old ways of knowing: concepts in relativity and quantum mechanics were foreseen millennia ago, such as in Buddhism’s principle of dependent co-arising, for example.

Chaos Theory

Some of the greatest 20th century scientists were: Einstein, Watson and Crick, Margulis and Lovelock. Yet the most influential of all may turn out to be the little known meteorologist, Edward Lorenz, pioneer of chaos theory, the butterfly effect, and the strange attractor.

For a thorough introduction, James Gleick’s Chaos is a great start. For those mathematically inclined, I recommend Manfred Schroeder’s Fractals, Chaos, Power Laws.

It is this system-view approach that can explain, even, the formation of life on this planet: self-organizing proto-nucleotides and amino acids along with fatty membranes and mitochondria/chloroplasts which gave rise to the first unicellular organisms. It is these non-linear dynamics which do, in fact, create higher harmonies- Poincare’s three body problem being the first modern example.

In non-linear systems based on power laws, when the variable in the function passes a certain limit (dependent upon the initial conditions), the function starts to behave chaotically. The next figure cannot be predicted from previous answers. Eventually, a bifurcation will occur: this simply means that further on in the progression, the function bounces back between two figures, back and forth. If the parameter is pushed higher, period-doubling occurs: this simply means that instead of bouncing between two numbers, the function doubles to bounce between four, then eight, 16, etc. This applies to many dynamic systems and can start with any integer, so depending upon the function, you could have period doubling of 3, 6, twelve; four, eight, 16, etc. Period halving is possible, too.

The scientist Robert May was the first to prove this in population biology, and many fields have found it a useful tool for studying dynamic systems since. The point I want to make clear is in regard to climate and weather: all climate scientists and meteorologists accept weather cannot be predicted after 3 weeks, weather is inherently chaotic, yet climate, for now, is stable.

Without significant changes, the positive feedback loops currently warming the planet will eventually push the relatively stable, homeostatic climate model into the “Hot house Earth” model. Wild changes in weather are more likely to occur. Not only that, but much higher-level droughts and flooding will occur more frequently; i.e., climatic normality may switch into an non-linear, chaotic state.

In the US, the Southwest in particular will be hit hard. Consider central Arizona, where the ancient Hokoham population could have reached 80,000 around 1300 CE. The area around Phoenix could have provided for 10,000 people. You make think, well, that was before modern irrigation and food transportation. You would be wrong. The Hokoham were masterful farmers with over 500 miles of canals and estimates of over 100,000 acres of cultivated, irrigated land. Today, metro Phoenix has approximately 4.7 million people. This won’t end well. By 2050, much of Arizona and the wider region could be ghost towns.

The second point: self-similarity is inherent in nature at many scales, as observed in fractals. How does this apply to culture? Direct democracy can be implemented at all scales (local, from worker councils to communal town meetings; to international, with a trans-national body such as a re-imagined UN.)

Chaos theory applies to the brain as well: there is evidence that psychedelics reform and rearrange new connections of neurons, changing the “criticality” of its structural firings. This is what is able to cure patients of depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc., by changing the flow of thoughts and giving a wider expression, to get your mind out of a rut or a bad habit of harmful/fearful thinking.

There is plenty of sociological and anthropological evidence that mimetic theory (pioneered by Rene Girard) has some merit. Mostly, this is studied cross-culturally (horizontally), but we should consider the vertical dimension of hierarchies: at levels of coercion and exploitation are imitated at all scales of the socio-economic pyramid. The ruthless hierarchy was not that different between the mind-numbing conformity and bureaucratic chicanery of state-capitalist countries, contrasted with the crushing alienation and faux-competitive crony capitalism of neoliberal nations. If the structure is rotten at the top, most state and local governments mimic and take their cue from the power relations above them.

This played out very clearly on the international level after 9/11 and the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Once the Patriot Act, NDAA, and AUMF were passed, once NATO and ISAF forces invaded Afghanistan, with troops and spooks using “rendition”, “enhanced interrogation techniques”, with nighttime raids on civilians, and outright drone murder was rolled out by the US, other nations followed suit, with a rash of authoritarian copycat legislation, as well as police and military brutality playing out around the globe. For instance, the uptick in violence by Israel in 2002-2003 during the second Intifada is telling. Without the September 11 attacks and the relentless anti-Muslim propaganda coming from the US, there is little doubt that the IDF would have been so emboldened.

On a positive note, it’s quite telling, and appropriate, that the self-similar snail shell (caracol) became the emblem of the Zapatistas, and the model for their communities. Rebecca Solnit explains this well, and quotes a wonderful passage from Marcos, who draws from his folk hero, “Old Antonio”:

The wise ones of olden times say that the hearts of men and women are in the shape of a caracol, and that those who have good in their hearts and thoughts walk from one place to the other, awakening gods and men for them to check that the world remains right. They say that they say that they said that the caracol represents entering into the heart, that this is what the very first ones called knowledge. They say that they say that they said that the caracol also represents exiting from the heart to walk the world…. The caracoles will be like doors to enter into the communities and for the communities to come out; like windows to see us inside and also for us to see outside; like loudspeakers in order to send far and wide our word and also to hear the words from the one who is far away.

Contradiction, Paradox, Nuance

There is a great passage in an old Marcos communiqué, “The retreat is making us almost scratch at the sky.” As the echo chambers, petty infighting, and silos build up on the Left, I thought it’d be appropriate to share his thoughts on how to respond to those fearful of heterodox-postmodern-non-ideological-anarchic stances:

After these confessions, he of the voice was exhorted to spontaneously declare himself innocent or guilty of the following series of accusations. To each accusation, he of the voice responded:

The whites accuse him of being dark. Guilty

The dark ones accuse him of being white. Guilty

The authentics accuse him of being indigenous. Guilty

The treasonous indigenous accuse him of being mestizo. Guilty

The machos accuse him of being feminine. Guilty

The feminists accuse him of being macho. Guilty

The communists accuse him of being anarchist. Guilty

The anarchists accuse him of being orthodox. Guilty

The Anglos accuse him of being Chicano. Guilty

The antisemitics accuse him of being in favor of the Jews. Guilty

The Jews accuse him of being pro-Arab. Guilty

The Europeans accuse him of being Asiatic. Guilty

The government officials accuse him of being oppositionist. Guilty

The reformists accuse him of being ultra. Guilty

The ultras accuse him of being reformist. Guilty

The “historical vanguard” accuses him of calling to the civic society and not to the proletariat. Guilty

The civic society accuses him of disturbing their tranquility. Guilty

The Stock Exchange accuses him of ruining their breakfast. Guilty

The government accuses him of increasing the consumption of antiacids in the government’s Departments. Guilty

The serious ones accuse of being a jokester. Guilty

The adults accuse him of being a child. Guilty

The children accuse him of being an adult. Guilty

The orthodox leftists accuse him of not condemning the homosexuals and lesbians. Guilty

The theoreticians accuse of being a practitioner. Guilty

The practicioners accuse of being a theorist. Guilty

Everyone accuses him of everything bad that has happened. Guilty”

I take inspiration from this; I see a sort of playfulness, a glimpse of his “inner child”. Today, we could also say: to those who, without nuance, accuse others of being heretics or dogmatic; to those who would accuse us of rather having a messy, non-violent, and imperfect revolution on the streets rather than continue to perpetuate a self-congratulatory, alienating, bloviating, insular, suffocating, and self-defeating movement in substance and style, we must reply: we are Guilty.

Quantum Theory

Our understanding of reality and consciousness has grown by leaps and bounds with advances in quantum physics. The parallels between Eastern thought and quantum mechanics are uncanny, and no one has explained this better than Fritjof Capra in his bestseller The Tao of Physics. Exploring connections between the sub-atomic world and Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist philosophy, Capra takes the reader on a tour-de-force. Of course, it was the early physicists who worked on the uncertainty principle, double-slit experiment (wave-particle duality), complementarity, and quantum superpositioning who originally noted the connections between Eastern philosophies. Thus, consciousness and the observer effect somehow influences these experimental designs in ways science currently has no answer for.

Capra synthesizes this and builds upon these models: he insists on the interrelationship operating at certain scales of reality, and calls it a holistic/ecological worldview in his afterword to the 3rd edition.

There has been lots of push-back from other physicists since 1975 when the first edition appeared. The science is not in debate at the sub-atomic scale, rather, how it applies to the macroscopic world is what is at stake. There are plenty of scientists that dismiss Capra completely without acknowledging the very qualified, modest theory he put forward.

The new revelations about quantum entanglement push this line of thought further. The basic idea is: two electrons become “entangled” where the spin of one is connected with the other regardless of distance. When one electron’s spin is measured, the second spin correlates instantaneously, faster than the speed of light. This is what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance.” Non-locality is another name. This flies in the face of the fundamentals laws of physics.

So what does this mean? The best analogy I can come up with (paraphrasing from someone, somewhere) is that when measuring (observing) the first particle, you are pushing through the fabric of space-time with your finger to “touch” the second particle at the same time, bypassing the physical distance between the two.

What are the implications here? Physicists insist this phenomenon doesn’t “scale up” to the macroscopic level. If we look at today’s level of scientific knowledge in physics, they’re right. There is little evidence to suggest this.

Yet, the simple fact that this can occur on sub-atomic levels is staggering. No one knows where these new teachings will take us.  Certainly, though, there are parallels with shamanic/animistic ways of thinking, or, to put it in the words of Stephen Hawking: “every particle and every force in the universe contains information, an implicit answer to a yes-no question.”

However, this interpenetration of levels/worlds in the social and mental realms, is quite pronounced, say, in medical facts. The higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, in poor and working class communities as well as for minorities is tied to the mental strain and stress of living in substandard housing without proper nutrition, lack of access to education, etc. African American women are 3-4 times more likely to lose children in childbirth compared to white women, due to lack of pre-natal care, and sometimes because their doctors won’t listen to them. Women who’ve suffered a heart attack are more likely to survive if their doctor is a woman, rather than a man. Again, because women doctors are generally: more competent, listen to patients’ symptoms better, and show higher emotional intelligence and compassion.

Gaia Theory

Turning to Earth systems, it was the pioneering work of Lynn Margulis and James Lovelock who together formulated Gaia theory. Thinking of the Earth as a self-regulating super-organism is helpful in many fields, from geology to climate science to evolutionary biology. From the simple-programming of Lovelock’s Daisyworld, today we can model ecosystem resiliency, albedo effects in the Arctic Sea, and deforestation in tropical rain forests, the lungs of the Earth, all in terms of feedback loops which can tie into trends such as global warming, species extinction, desertification, and declining biodiversity.

Scientists are now willing to combine the shocking implications of chaos theory within Gaia: in the journal Nature Barnosky et al. write of “Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere.” The authors write that “the plausibility of a future planetary state shift seems high” and they acknowledge the uncertainty about when it may happen. They also point out: “it is extremely unlikely or impossible for the system to return to its previous state.” Thus, if a hothouse Earth scenario becomes a reality, there will be no going back. Real estate speculation on Antarctica could be a thing in 100 years.

There are reasons to be hopeful. One line of thought was taken up recently by Bruno Latour, who along with a co-author, postulate what they call Gaia 2.0. Simply put, they are referring to a global system where:

…deliberate self-regulation—from personal action to global geoengineering schemes—is either happening or imminently possible. Making such conscious choices to operate within Gaia constitutes a fundamental new state of Gaia, which we call Gaia 2.0. By emphasizing the agency of life-forms and their ability to set goals, Gaia 2.0 may be an effective framework for fostering global sustainability.

While they posit this self-conscious biomimetic planning of bioregions as new, because they see it as the first chance to endeavor to perform this on a global scale, the novelty only really applies to a certain brand of Eurocentric/anthropocentric materialists, anti-intellectual monotheists, and other deniers of common sense and basic ecology. Indigenous groups have used bioregional eco-friendly practices for millennia, with First Nations sustainably caretaking land from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic Circle.

Consider terra preta in Amazonia, the miraculous change from teosinte to maize which many estimate domestication circa 9000 years ago, mountain terracing in the Andes, super-high productivity with Central American milpas, multiyear field rotation for fallow lands to rejuvenate nutrients, seasonal burns throughout North America which increased deer and upland game bird populations, with agroforestry “forest farming” of chestnut (Chestnut Trees could produce over a ton per acre in vast portions of America before the die-off occurred), hickory, butternut, oak (acorns are used as a food source removing tannins with water) and more. Not to mention the thousands of uses of native plants and fungi for herbal/traditional medicine, preventive/holistic care, and shamanic/spiritual uses.

I would say one of the most interesting debates about what Gaia 2.0 could look like is mostly ignored, because it is occurring on the far side of the globe: Aotearoa, aka New Zealand. Their government has already launched a “Predator Free” program for 2050, where all mammalian predators are hoping to be eliminated with a variety of programs forming in the near future. Intense debate surrounds the gene drive approach, some techniques using CRISPR and some using other gene editing technology, to in effect, using genetic manipulation, create all male future generations of predators and thus, lead to localized extinction of these mammals in Aotearoa and its small outlying islands.

The bioethics are being debated by UN and national groups and many conservation groups are totally against the idea. Some Maori are open to the possibilities of gene-drive technology, yet they understandably critique the bad faith of the scientists involved, citing:

[An] increasing lack of cultural accountability in academic journals who seem happy to publish anything without thought, consideration, or commentary from the communities those papers have extracted from, taken swipe at, or made promises to… The second issue is what I deem bad research-dating behaviour, or rather how to build respectful relationships with indigenous peoples/communities… Relatively few, however, are actually committed to investing their time into building long-term relationships, despite being continually told that that is what is required… However, some researchers by-and-large continue to push an extractive model whereby they attempt to take intellectual property from communities in return for ‘the greater research good’. This model is naïve to the political situations that indigenous communities are operating in, and often places those communities in culturally unsafe positions.

Fritjof Capra notably calls the first step in transitioning to such a state of ecological awareness and cultural sensitivity “eco-literacy” and the next step eco-design. He’s on point. The funny, sad, and tragic thing (to me at least) is that exposes the orthodox technophile Western Left (seemingly the majority) as supporters of what many like to call Industrialism, the over-arching system, including capitalism and state socialism, of fossil fuel exploitation which is killing the planet.

According to the technophile proponents of unrestrained instrumental reason, many of us, well, sane and sensible people, who, in advocating for appropriate-scale technology, have the basic common sense to understand that Small is Beautiful, are a bunch of Luddites, crazy hippies, anti-civ, lifestylists, primitivists, nihilists, and/or misanthropes.

This type of thinking exposes the narrowness and superficiality of many “Leftists” who espouse all the right mantras, yet never bothered to take Marx’s example and actually study and stay abreast with key scientific and ecological advances.

I try my best to remain calm, patient, and equanimous, yet it is difficult with unabashed technophiles- again, possibly the majority of what qualifies as what’s left of the Left. There is a discomfort from listening to the droning on of progressives, and also many banal Leftist economists and historians who pay lip service to sustainability, while not even giving token acknowledgment of the nature of spiritual transformation required.

Many of these people, even on “progressive” alternative media, are unaware of their own immiseration via lack of engagement with the natural world, which I take no pleasure in pointing out, so my queasiness doesn’t qualify as schadenfraude, but apparently, there is another German word for what I’ve been feeling: Fremdschämen: “‘exterior shame’, for those of you who cringe in phantom pain when others make a fool of themselves, this is your word. It describes the feeling of shame when seeing someone else in an uncomfortable or embarrassing situation.” Perhaps Mr. Keuner was feeling this, as well.

Planting Seeds

Well, there is no high note to end this on. Most of activism goes towards wasting time attempting to change the minds of adults whose conditioning and social infantilization have already reached epic proportions. There is no systemic, global plan for engaging the youth in ecological-cultural restorative practices. This is absolutely ridiculous and a severe oversight of academia, including lackadaisical teachers and administrators, as well as conservatives and liberal-progressives who insist on vote-campaigns and the wonders of traditional higher education which indoctrinates and obfuscates class issues: yet the idea of revolutionizing public education never crosses their minds.

Revolutionary artists have always understood this, as well as indigenous tribal societies and many poor and working class communities. Yet today, the hungry ghosts of global capitalism are here to consume the sustenance and life force of future generations in an era where information is at our fingertips as never before.

The current education model effectively imprisons children in unsafe and unhealthy schools, with psychotropic drugs, authoritarian teachers, mind-numbing boredom and ennui functioning as social conditioning for a future hellscape with billions in poverty worldwide, no decent jobs, benefits, or forms of belonging; alongside a crushing tyranny of corporate rule, oligarchy, global war, climate chaos, and a culture ruled by a principle of “repressive tolerance.”

Thus, it is inevitable that the most important thing to do is raise our children in a healthy way. This will require social engagement on a spiritual, intellectual, communal, emotional and material basis (i.e., sharing extra housing for homeless and low-income families, paying child-rearing adults a living wage for their time and labor, equal pay for women, ending oppression against the LGBTQ community, serious environmental education, etc.). Patriarchy and racism will not be solved, until youth are gifted the freedom and opportunity to pursue their passions unencumbered by structurally racist and sexist policies which enforce hierarchy, capitalism, and war, until pathetic guidelines advocating rote memorization in school are abandoned, and crippling conformity fueled by vapid pop culture and the psychically numbing effect of social media is no longer glorified. Poverty, war, and disease cannot be significantly lowered or eliminated without a fundamentally redistributive model.

Furthermore, some sort of restorative healing measures, including some sort of reparations for minorities, including but not limited to redistributing money, property, land, and the means of production, via a process truth and reconciliation in the public sphere, is absolutely crucial. This would necessarily coincide with the dissolving of corporate and state power.

Public and private land must be given back to citizens: we are only free when given the ability to use the means of production to transform corporate agriculture into communal, appropriately-scaled endeavors where communities can directly and deliberatively interact, and transform as need be, to the world-historical changes (climatically, ecologically, and socially) on the immediate horizon.

This would seem to entail relaxing the grip of the Apollonian style of “emotionless” pure logic (techne/episteme), and instrumental reason; and coming to terms with the obverse: the Dionysian, where the shamanic/animistic, nomadic, and anarchic ways of being are accepted. This shift, with the science to back it up, is seen in a many counter-culture belief systems: the push for radical intersubjectivity, expanding studies of the realms of consciousness, a hylozoic belief system, and formulating a new model of recognition (see Taylor, Fraser, Honneth, Butler, among others) which does not re-invigorate the power of capital.

There is no hope of this happening in today’s 24/7 mainstream media, driven by fear and sensationalism. Only a world-historical process, a paradigm shift, can overturn this momentum, which would require inner work to be done on a mass scale in the Western world alongside collective general strikes, debt jubilees, a bit of carnivalesque (Bakhtin)/festival/regional cultural appreciation/in the spirit of a Communitas, and a counter-cultural force which does not overly privilege the economic at the expense of other social struggles.

This critical way of teaching is a sort of “stance”: a tendency towards what Aristotle called eudaimonia, “the good life,” informed by virtue, areté. Another way of phrasing it would be “human flourishing,” and here this referred to a moral sensibility, but also an aesthetic, a form of posture or “stance” if you will, an art of living, a way of (Hölderlin-esque) dwelling poetically upon the Earth.

From another angle, we could consider this a search for The Ethics of Authenticity. As Charles Taylor describes, what is structurally called for is:

…a many leveled struggle, intellectual, spiritual, and political, in which the debates in the public arena interlink with those in a host of institutional settings, like hospitals and schools, where the issues of enframing technology are being lived through in concrete form; and where these disputes in turn both feed and are fed by the various attempts to define in theoretical terms the place of technology and the demands of authenticity, and beyond that, the shape of human life and its relation to the cosmos.

Yet, again, this type of work should get started by educating children, because under the current conditions of liberal democracy, there is no acknowledgment of “interlinking”. There is only the autonomous individual: at least understood by most adults, whose notion of civic duty is voting, or volunteer work, or donating to charity. Rather, youth could be asked to inquire, as Rudy Rucker wondered:

One might also ask whether a person is best thought of as a distinct individual or as a nexus in the web of social interaction. No person exists wholly distinct from human society, so it might seem best to say that the space of society is fundamental. On the other hand, each person can feel like an isolated individual, so maybe the number-like individuals are fundamental. Complementarity says that a person is both individual and social component, and that there is no need to try to separate the two. Reality is one, and language introduces impossible distinctions that need not be made.

We can imagine a single cell in our body asking itself the same question: am I an individual or just part of a wider integrated whole? We can shift the scale but the self-similarity always follows: it’s turtles all the way down. This famous saying, of course, echoes what we know about fractals, and the possibility that we’re in a multiverse. There are also the First Nation stories about Spider Woman, or Grandmother Spider, who created the world. Again, we find the notion of the web- the basis of our bio/psycho/social being, and also a connection to string theory: spider-woman’s creation song; i.e. vibrations held by interconnected threads.

My preferred analogy to the individual/social false binary is mycological (or rhizomatic, though I’ll save D+G for another day): our conception of ourselves (ego) is the mushroom, the fruiting body which rises above the soil, while the unconscious mycelium sustains us below the surface. Although we stand above the detritus (wreckage, as Benjamin says) we are deeply enmeshed in it, history “is not even past” and it feeds, and thus can warp, our consciousness and sensibilities.

Thus we must tend to the soil, nurture the sprouts and green shoots of this new culture. The meager results of our efforts can be depressing (April really can be the cruelest month) yet we must move on, without clinging to hope.

As for the problem of language which Rucker mentioned, it’s worth reminding our sisters and brothers that propaganda is all around us today. As Malcolm X said: “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” Now is the time for the “revaluation of all values.” The struggle continues.

Canadian Legal System’s Complicity in Genocide

[T]he US government no less than the government of Canada is required to obtain the consent of the Indian nations’ before assuming jurisdiction to invade, occupy and govern the yet unceded Indian national territories.

– Bruce Clark, Ongoing Genocide caused by Judicial Suppression of the “Existing” Aboriginal Rights (2018), p 25-26

I have only been physically inside a courtroom once, and that was to support a falsely accused colleague. It struck me that a typical western courtroom is set up not to exude justice but to intimidate, not just the accused but all people present, with the power of the State. The judge is invariably seated centrally on a dais, able to observe all that transpires below in the courtroom. When the judge enters, all present are required to stand, and none may be seated until permission is granted by his “honor.” When the proceedings are displeasing to her honor, she may strike a gavel on the dais to summon order in the courtroom.

Witness the power of the State: the power to mete out punishment for persons found guilty of something the State has determined to be illegal. It is a power that may be, and has been, wielded in what would be construed to be a thoroughly criminal manner in a moral universe. After all, gift giving and dancing were once deemed illegal by the Canadian State, and thus the tradition of First Nation Potlatches were banned until a sense of sanity and seeming propriety prevailed.

Such legal chicanery is not surprising to those who subscribe to Emery Dahlberg’s admonition that power corrupts.1 When law is unjust or when the punishment for wrongdoing is unjust, then the State has abused its power. The State’s power to prescribe justice can, moreover, be argued to represent State violence – in that the threat of punishment is used by the State to coerce behavioral compliance with the societal norms as dictated by the State.

To any informed person, Canada is undeniably a nation state erected on pre-existing nation states. The founding of Canada was unquestionably rooted in the genocide of the Original Peoples of the territory.2 Genocide is a heinous act often rooted in racism and supremacism. One group of humans considers itself privileged and accords itself rights, god-given or not, to the land and resources regardless of whichever people inhabit such territory or how long the territory has been the domain of its inhabitants.

That the law is not a moral construct is adduced by the fact that it has served as a vehicle for carrying out great crimes. The so-called New World was gifted by the Papal Bull Inter Caetera (1493) for division among the Spanish and Portuguese. Non-Christian savages had no rights according to the papacy. Albeit this was later superseded by the Papal Bull Sublimis Deus (1537). Nonetheless, the entirety of the western hemisphere remains controlled by elitist European settler-colonialists.3 Hence, Original Peoples find themselves stripped of sovereignty, ethnically cleansed from gargantuan swaths of unceded territory (reality check: who knowingly agrees to ceding a people’s territory anyway?), marginalized from decision-making regarding their lands, with many people having been forcibly assimilated into the dominating culture.

How to achieve actual justice for the dispossessed?

Bruce Clark is a man who made his living in the courtroom as a lawyer. He is an expert in law as applied to Indigenous peoples, having achieved a doctorate in comparative jurisprudence. Clark believes in the notion of applying law to achieve justice. Justice is a concept that is higher than the self, thus Clark took on the establishment to seek justice for his Indigenous clients. In the end he was punished for his zeal for justice.

I first became aware of Bruce Clark when he was providing counsel to the Sundancers at Ts’Peten (Gustafsen Lake). To protect the claimed rights of an American rancher to property on unceded Secwepemc territory, the provincial government resorted to para-military measures to evict the Sundancers; it was astoundingly reprehensible to me. Natural law was stood on its head by the provincial authorities. It is a matter that all “British Columbians” and “Canadians” should make themselves deeply informed about and act thereupon according to their consciences.

Bruce Clark is speaking and writing words extremely discomfiting to many non-Indigenous people. He is the author of Justice in Paradise and Native Liberty, Crown Sovereignty: The Existing Aboriginal Right of Self-Government in Canada. Just published is a collection of Clark’s subsequent writings, Ongoing Genocide caused by Judicial Suppression of the “Existing” Aboriginal Rights. In Ongoing Genocide Clark presents the legal case for Indigenous sovereignty such that the layperson can readily grasp the arguments.

Clark examines the constitutional law, international law, and case studies based on the law of the invaders. When interpreted without bias, the compelling arguments of Clark strongly refute any credence to the newcomers’ doctrine of discovery, especially over lands previously inhabited for millennia. That invader courts should have any authority in the territory invaded is, on its face, risible.

While constitutional and international law should be preeminent, in Canada writes Clark, “The modus operandi of the legal establishment and its collaborating Indian accomplices is the suppression of the constitutional and international law that the establishment intentionally is breaking.” (p 15)

The corruption in the system is political, economic, and legal. Clark finds that the legal profession and the judiciary are complicit in misprision of treason, fraud, and genocide. (p 31) The legal system has politicized law through artifices such as “the rule of judicial discretion” substituted for “the rule of law.” (p 40) Clark criticizes, “The lie, recently invented by the Supreme Court of Canada in willful blindness, is that the aboriginal right is no more than ‘the right to be consulted’…” (p 142)

The legal system has shielded itself from scrutiny in its complicity with crimes committed. Writes Clark,

Immunity anywhere signifies the non-existence of the rule of law everywhere. But again that will not happen, because like Canada the legal establishment of the United States practices the same willful blindness to the unconstitutional genocide at the historical heart of its legal system. (p 50)

A number of court decisions are mistakes, per incuriam, and are not a binding precedent, writes Clark.

Clark cites legal documents and precedents, in particular, the Royal Proclamation of 1763 which sets aside the Hunting Grounds to Indian nations in which the Indians are to be unmolested.

Clark has tried to challenge the constitutionality of Canada’s usurpation of Indigenous territory. A Catch 22 has been designed to block this. Clark relates how the Supreme Court demands a lower court ruling on the matter while the lower courts insist it is a Supreme Court matter. (p 127) It is clear to Clark that an independent, third party adjudication is required, this having already been established in the 1703 case of the Mohegan Indians v. Connecticut for Indian land claims throughout British North America.

Pressing to have his legal arguments heard and a decision rendered in court ultimately cost Clark his career as a lawyer. But this was not the end of Clark or the quest for justice.

Clark remains dangerous to the system that upholds the dispossession. A Vancouver Sun diatribe against Clark revealed this. Clark is described as “too radical for B.C. courtrooms, and too rambunctious for the Ontario bar,” and “a colourful but fatally misguided militant zealot.” Yet the critic acknowledges, “… Clark’s well-articulated ideas are definitely threatening to the status quo.”

Clark touches upon many topics in Ongoing Genocide among them the effects of Indian Residential Schools, the Indian Act, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (“… an expensive fraud upon the public but a cruel imposition upon the victims, who are encouraged to air their innermost suffering in the mistaken belief that it will lead to closure.” [p 20]), the so-called 60’s scoop of Indigenous children, and more.

The book concludes by pointing out an error in the Supreme Court Case Tsilhqot’in v. British Columbia, 2014 that is at odds with precedents such as the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and section 109 of the Constitution Act, 1867. In recent years the BC provincial government and federal government have apologized for the wrongful hanging of six Tsilhqot’in chiefs.4 Despite this, the BC government and Taseko Mines have continued to undermine Indigenous sovereignty, with repeated attempts to set up and operate a platinum mine in the Tsilhqot’in nation.

Ongoing Genocide caused by Judicial Suppression of the “Existing” Aboriginal Rights puts forward the case over which Canadian law courts dare not deliberate. That should not preclude people of conscience becoming informed. Is Canada a just society? Read the book and judge for yourself. Then do something about it. Humanity requires many more brave warriors like Bruce Clark.

  1. I hold that Dahlberg’s aphorism should not be considered too simplistically – that it has many layers. E,g, there is probably something already present in the nature of many humans that leads them to covet power.
  2. See Tom Swanky, The Great Darkening: The True Story of Canada’s “War” of Extermination on the Pacific plus The Tsilhqot’in and other First Nations Resistance (Burnaby, BC: Dragon Heart Enterprises, 2012). Read review.
  3. A noteworthy exception is Warisata (Bolivia) which has been governed by an Indigenous president, Evo Morales, since 2006.
  4. Emilee Gilpin, “Minister Carolyn Bennett says exoneration of Tsilhqot’in chiefs opens door to reconciliation,” National Observer, 27 March 2018; Tom Swanky, “Exoneration of the Chilcotin Chiefs,” 10 September 2015.

An Invitation from the Nevada Desert Experience

Come to Nevada: Walk for Peace, Resist Nuclear Weapons, Stand for Indigenous People’s Rights and Fill the Jails! April 13-19, 2019.

On Indigenous People’s Day, formerly known as Columbus Day, October 8, 2018, Nye County, Nevada, prosecutors and Sheriff’s deputies ended a three decades old policy concerning arrests of protesters at the Nevada National Security Site, NNSS, formerly known as the Nevada Test Site, 60 miles from Las Vegas.

From 1986 through 1994, two years after the United States put a hold on full-scale nuclear weapons testing, 536 anti-nuclear peace demonstrations were held at the site. Many thousands participated and according to government records, 15,740 arrests were made, but starting in 1987, the Sheriff’s Department, motivated in part by the expense of so many prosecutions on a rural county, stopped charging protestors who entered the site with criminal trespass. Activists who crossed the cattleguard at the fence-line three miles from the secured zone, now represented by an arbitrary white line closer to US Highway 95, were detained briefly in an open air corral and issued a misdemeanor “Notice to Appear” citation with no appearance date filled in. They were informed that no charge would be filed. Detainees who had no identification, who refused to identify themselves or even offered frivolous names were also released, as were those who presented permits to enter Western Shoshone land issued by their National Council.

In August, 2018, a representative of the Sheriff’s Department informed the Nevada Desert Experience, NDE, of the change in policy. From now on, protesters who enter the site and can present government issued ID will be given a warning ticket the first time and issued real citations if they repeat. Those who are apprehended without ID will be arrested, transported to jail in Pahrump and charged as trespassers. Permits issued by the National Council of the Western Shoshone will no longer be honored. This crackdown is due, according to the deputy who spoke to NDE members, to pressure from the National Nuclear Security Administration of the US Department of Energy that operates the site.

With diminished numbers but with faithful regularity, NDE has continued its vigils, prayers and protests at the Test Site several times each year, usually with some of us detained by the deputies and released after presenting permits from the Western Shoshone. Our annual fall event, “Justice for Our Desert”, includes a prayerful procession into the site and this time, three members of the NDE governing council were taken into custody. Two of us, Mark Kelso of Las Vegas and me, from Maloy, Iowa, were released with warnings after we presented our driver’s licenses. Marcus Page-Collonge of Calaveras County, California, was taken to jail in Pahrump and was bailed out that evening.

A few days later, on October 11, the Nye County District Attorney filed a complaint against Marcus in Beatty Township Justice Court that charges that “The Defendant did willfully and unlawfully go on to the property of Nevada National Security Site after being warned no to do so” and trial for his alleged crime is set for December 3.

At trial, the State of Nevada will need to prove that the property Marcus went on to is that “of Nevada National Security Site,” an allegation that will not be verified easily. In 1950, Test Site was established on land legally recognized by the Treaty of Ruby Valley in 1863 as belonging to the Western Shoshone indigenous nation. This agreement allows the US government the “right to traverse the area, maintain existing telegraph and stage lines, construct one railroad and engage in specified economic activities. The agreement allows the US president to designate reservations, but does not tie this to land cessions.” The NNSS posts billboard-sized “NO TRESPASSING” signs claiming the land as theirs, but the Western Shoshone have never ceded their sacred land to the government. By any measure, the land is theirs and it is the NNSS who is the trespasser, not Marcus nor any of the thousands of activists arrested there in the past.

The NNSS is not only occupying land that is not theirs, it is operating a criminal enterprise there. Nye County authorities could use their time more productively addressing these crimes against humanity than harassing law abiding protesters. This site is the place on the planet that has suffered more atomic blasts than any other and so will be poisoned for countless centuries, even if Yucca Mountain (at the western edge of the NNSS) does not finally become the repository for all nuclear reactor waste. While there have been no actual detonations there since 1992, there are still “subcritical” tests done and there is still testing done to determine the viability of the United States’ aging nuclear arsenal. Plans also still exist to resume testing at Area 5 of the NNSS, should any US President order such. The NNSS is operated not only in violation of the Treaty of Ruby Valley but against the United Nations Charter and other international agreements that according to the US Constitution are supreme law of the land. The treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons adopted by the United Nations last year makes it a crime to “develop, test, produce, acquire, possess, stockpile, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons.”

If on December 3, Judge Gus Sullivan of the Beatty Township Justice Court rules according the law he is sworn to uphold, Marcus will be found not guilty of trespassing and the District Attorney will be admonished never to file such obviously frivolous charges in that court again. Justice, however, is rarely seen in our courts and this reasonable outcome is not expected, at least not the first time such a case is heard there in more than 30 years. But, what if in the coming months, dozens, hundreds, even thousands show up at the Test Site as in the past, packing the Beatty Township Justice Court, and the Nye County Jail while we are at it? As Marcus tells us, “All humans in Nevada and Shoshone territory who care about the future of life on earth are responsible to reverse the momentum of nuclear weapons, waste, mining and milling, to end the nuclear violence represented here at the NNSS!”

A modest proposal: We invite all friends and fellow travelers to join all or part of NDE’s annual Sacred Peace Walk, April 13-19, this coming year, walking 60 miles from Las Vegas, past the killer drone center at Creech Air Force base to the historic Peace Camp, ending on Good Friday at the gates of the Nevada National Security Site. Then, with the largest number of resisters we can raise and with the permission of the Western Shoshone National Council, we enter their sacred land together!

While this “arrest” will no longer be the ritual without consequences that it has been, even in the new regime each one should be able to calculate the risk each is ready and able to take. First, anyone can participate in a meaningful way without crossing the line, each person adding to the strength of the whole action with no risk of arrest. Second, anyone entering the site with a Western Shoshone permit AND a photo ID such as a driver’s license, who has not already been issued a warning (that’s only me and Mark Kelso so far) will likely be processed quickly and released with a warning. Third, anyone entering with the Western Shoshone permit as their only ID should expect a ride to Pahrump and booked into the jail there. Marcus was held on $500 bond, but who knows what they will do if there is a crowd of us? Going bail or not may be another option for each to consider. If we are held over, it is likely that a judge will let us out on Monday, either with time served or with a trial in the near future.

“Filling the Jails” is a time honored American tradition that has been an integral part of every successful movement for social progress and the stakes have never been higher. Thirty years ago, overwhelming numbers helped end prosecutions of protesters at the Test Site and contributed to implementing the global ban on full-scale testing of nuclear weapons. What we demand now is so much more than this. There are no promises of outcome beyond educated guesses in this proposal. It would be a step in faith, but one that these dangerous times demand of at least some of us and the more who show up, the more fun it will be!

Long time protester and prophet Phil Berrigan could have been speaking to our present dilemma when he offered that, “In this morally polluted atmosphere, we believe that imprisonment could hardly be more to the point. We shudder under the blows of a society permanently mobilized against peace. Duplicity, propaganda, media indifference, institutional betrayal mark our plight. Our people are confused and hopeless. Let us not give up. Let us continue to nourish each other by consistent and prayerful presence at military installations, in courts and lock ups. Indeed, we need to be free enough to go to jail. We need to fill up the jails. Nonviolent revolution will come out of the wilderness, as it always has. And be assured, dear friends, one formidable wilderness today is the American prison.”

Nevada Desert Experience is a faith-based movement and the Sacred Peace Walk embraces the witness and worship of many traditions and of those who identify themselves with none. Walk and camp with us through the desert for the week or join us on Good Friday morning for a communal act of nonviolent resistance. For those who can, come prepared for a joyous weekend together in jail and a strong rebuke to oppressive power in court, if that’s how it goes. Contact us at gro.ecneirepxetresedadavennull@ofni, or phone (702) 646-4814, the same number you might need to call from inside the Nye County Jail, where only collect calls are allowed!

What Is the Left in Canada?

A claim to righteousness in international affairs is fundamental to Canadian exceptionalism, the idea that this country is morally superior to other nations.

— Yves Engler1

In early August of this year, the Canadian minister of foreign affairs, Chrystia Freeland, tweeted for Saudi Arabia to release human rights activists. This greatly angered the Sauds who issued a series of sanctions that included selling off Saudi assets in Canada, ceasing purchases of Canadian wheat and barley, expelling Canada’s ambassador, suspending all Saudi Arabian Airlines flights to and from Toronto, and ordering Saudi students to leave Canadian schools.

So far Canadian government officials have not responded other than to state Canada will continue to speak out on human rights abuses. That Canada speaks about human rights abuses comes across as rank hypocrisy to some Canadians. Given that Canada exists through a genocide against its Original Peoples; given that Canada is a partner in US imperialist wars; given that Canadian corporations, especially mining corporations, have been exploiting the third world whereby do Canadian officials living in their government greenhouse deign to cast rocks at other houses?

Canada touts itself as a multicultural land that embraces diversity. Canada tends to align itself more so with the Scandinavian welfare-state model rather than the rugged individualism of its neighboring United States. And Canada has a politically represented Left, or what purports to be a Left, in the New Democratic Party (NDP) — even a Communist Party and Marxist-Leninist Party, although neither are electorally successful.

Yves Engler has written Left, Right: Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada (Black Rose Books, 2018) which examines the Left in Canada. I tend to use the term progressivism because it refers to a grouping “that encompasses a wide spectrum of social movements that include environmentalism, labor, agrarianism, anti-poverty, peace, anti-racism, civil rights, women’s rights, animal rights, social justice and political ideologies such as anarchism, communism, socialism, social democracy, and liberalism.” The term the Left points to a bipolar split rather than a spectrum. Nonetheless, progressivism and the Left are referring toward a similar orientation.

In Left, Right Engler examines the NDP (and its earlier incarceration as the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation or CCF), the labor movement, leftist institutions, and leftist personalities (and other actors) for just how leftist or left-leaning they actually are. If one self-identifies as Left, then its seems perfectly reasonable that one should adhere to leftist principles. Actions will define a social/political orientation with greater clarity than words (which are also important). To belong to a party deemed leftist which then pursues right-wing policies presents a contradiction — and in the worst case, exposes one to criticism for hypocrisy.

Engler critiques the CCF/NDP for its militarist support, lack of compassion for foreign workers, and moral corruption of its leaders. For instance, NDP stalwart “Stephen Lewis was stridently anti-Palestinian,” writes Engler. (p 31) Ex-federal NDP leader Tom Mulcair was a front-and-center Zionist. Engler notes that another ex-federal NDP leader Jack Layton was passionate about the role of Canada’s military in Afghanistan. (p 35)

Engler asks,

Has the desire of some in the NDP to replace the Liberals as the slightly leftist alternative to the Conservatives caused the party to move so far to the right that it agrees with Canada being a partner in enforcing imperialism? If so, what sort of home does it offer to those who oppose US Empire and all forms of imperialism? (p 48)

This reviewer does not consider any major Canadian party to be Left. The Conservatives are staunchly neoliberal. Ditto for the Liberals (just a bite less to the Right than the Conservatives). The NDP also are a Right of Center party. Their lack of internationalism, support for militarism, racism among leaders, etc locate them at a great distance from leftist principles. At best the NDP are faux-Left.

The labor movement has also seen jingoism, militarism, racism among labor leaders, anti-communism, and a lack of solidarity (a sine qua non for the dignity of labor).

Engler writes that the Right has caught the ear of many labor leaders. (p 86-94)

Even “left-wing” think tanks bend to the Right, as do “leftist” critics. Engler notes that the Rideau Institute’s support for “peace-keeping” plays into mythologizing Canada as a peaceful kingdom while aligning with military objectives. (p 99)

As far as I can tell, major Canadian peacekeeping missions have always received support from Washington. Ignoring the power politics often driving peacekeeping missions has resulted in (unwitting) support for western imperialism. (p 100)

The author dispels the obfuscation of corporate/state media and its purveyors to cut through disinformation that has captured some of the “leftist” imagination. Engler shreds the role of a good Canada historically and more contemporaneously, among others, in supporting Zionism, the US-France-Canada orchestrated coup in Haiti, as well as the lauded (nauseatingly by corporate/state media) Canadian general Roméo Dallaire who twisted the genocide in Rwanda. Dallaire is a strong proponent of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, a cover for western imperialism. (p 176)

Even among Original Peoples — traditionally considered, in at least a societal sense as leftist2 — have seen their “leaders” support militarism, colonialism, imperialism, corporate plunder, and environmental degradation. Engler says an online search will reveal the Assembly of First Nations insouciance about how Canadian policy impacts on rest of the world. (p 179) The Assembly of First Nations is, however, problematic insofar being viewed as a legitimate representative of Original Peoples. (p 192)3

The Left treads a slippery slope when it agrees with or takes up right-wing causes such as militarism, acquiescing when environmental destruction is at stake, and failure to support solidarity networks outside Canada. Engler broaches the antidote which is genius in its simplicity and obviousness: the Do No Harm principle backed by the Golden Rule.

Yet contrariwise Engler opines, “Canadian soldiers have only fought in one morally justifiable war: World War II.” (p 52) No explanation is proffered by the author for this opinion. One wonders how the Do No Harm principle was satisfied by Canadians fighting overseas? Also Engler’s contention of a morally justifiable4 war is challengeable, and it is challenged by history professor Jacques Pauwels in his book The Myth of the Good War.5

Engler writes in a very readable style, and his work is solidly backed by sourcing. Most saliently, his work has a moral core. Left, Right is important and valuable in that it does not only illustrate and lament the corruption of leftist principles, but it also provides solutions about how leftist principles can be upheld; pushing the Left leftwards.

Read Left, Right and find out about how the NDP can be made relevant on the Left, about how to increase public awareness, and about how to grow the leftist movement.

  1. Left, Right: Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada (Black Rose Books, 2018): 151.
  2. This was anathema for colonialism and its capitalist ideology. “The communal–they [colonialists who decided that “the Indians were to be individualized and completely Americanized” (p 3)] called them ‘communistic’–patterns of the Indians were an affront to their sensibilities. Unless the Indian could be trained to be selfish, they felt there was little hope of civilizing and assimilating them.” In Francis Paul Prucha (ed), Americanizing the American Indians (Harvard University Press, 1973): 8.
  3. Something pointed out by Indigenous warrior Splitting the Sky: “The Assembly of First Nations is a neo-colonial elected system and their Chiefs are dependent on federal funds, therefore they are considered as collaborators of a foreign power.” In Splitting the Sky with She Keeps the Door, From Attica to Gustafsen Lake (Chase, BC: John Boncore Hill, 2001): 84. Review.
  4. The language is slippery here because Engler does not state that WWII was morally justified, just indicating that moral justifications could be made. But is that not true for almost any war? And do not the war-initiating nations invariably purport some sort of moral rationale to justify aggression?
  5. E.g., US motivations during WWII were based on corporate interests: “… the US power elite is motivated first and foremost by economic interests, by business interests… (p 240; see also p 29-41); not on fighting fascism as GIs “first became acquainted with fascist (or at least quasi-fascist) practices, in the form of petty mistreatments and humiliations…. The American soldiers had not wanted this war, and they did not fight for the beautiful ideas of freedom, justice, and democracy; they fought to survive, to win the war in order to end it, in order to be able to leave the army, in order to be able to go home.” (p 22) In Jacques R. Pauwels, The Myth of the Good War (Toronto: Lorimer, 2015).

Canada vs. the Rule of Law

I’m aware that Canada, unlike its southern neighbor in which I live, has just recently, ever so slightly, stood up to certain of the horrors of the Saudi government. I’m aware of the role Canada has played, albeit imperfectly, as refuge for people fleeing U.S. slavery and U.S. wars and general U.S. backwardness. I’m aware of how many times through history the United States has attacked Canada. I’m aware that just several yards in front of me as I sit in my outdoor office (the downtown mall of Charlottesville) a small army is gleefully creating a police state on the anniversary of a Nazi rally at which similar numbers of soldiers, similarly armed, stood by and watched fascist violence last year. I agree with Robin Williams’ characterization of Canada as a nice apartment over a meth lab.

But here’s the thing. I’m a world citizen not owned by the Pentagon. When we hold World BEYOND War’s annual global conference in Toronto next month, Canadians will, if they are like most people on earth, be eager to discuss Canada’s shortcomings, not its highpoints. I’ve been reading about some of those shortcomings, and they are not insignificant. Canada is a standout player when it comes to environmental destruction, and in the colonial brutality that still feeds that destruction.

The theme of our upcoming conference is the rule of law, its uses, its abuses, and its potential as a local and global tool. I’ve just read Tamara Starblanket’s Suffer the Little Children: Genocide, Indigenous Nations, and the Canadian State. This is a lawyer’s view of the Canadian history and present practice of forcibly removing children from families. While the U.S. removal of immigrant children from their families has been in the news of late, it’s not been newly invented. Both settler-colonist Canada and Nazi Germany learned from the U.S. practice of removing Indigenous children from their families in order to “educate” them into another culture.

A major focus for Starblanket is the legal and linguistic case for applying the term “genocide” and the crime of genocide to the forcible removal of Indigenous children in Canada and their placement in so-called residential schools. It ought to be no mystery that kidnapping is evil and criminal, just as it ought to be no mystery that murder is evil and criminal. But “genocide” is something different from those crimes — different not in quantity or grandeur, but in type. Genocide is an act “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” Such an act can involve murder or kidnapping or both or neither. Such an act can “physically” harm no one. It can be any one, or more than one, of these five things:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The actions in item “e” can transfer children to a materially better condition where they are educated in a culture that views itself as dramatically superior, and yet genocide have been clearly committed. That is a clear matter of international law. It is not a claim that all acts of genocide are equally evil, that all victims are equally tragic, that all types of genocide can best be prevented in the same way, or any other such unstated claim.

But the idea of removing children to a materially better condition is a theoretical one irrelevant to the Canadian context, at least when viewed as a whole. The Indigenous children removed from their families in Canada were forced into “schools” where over 40% and likely over 50% of them quickly died, from disease, starvation, torture, rape, suicide, and physical and mental abuse. Of those forced into Dachau by the Nazis, 36% died, Buchenwald 19%, Mauthausen 58%. The Canadian “schools” employed a list of torture techniques that could make a CIA agent drool with envy.

A survivor, Emily Rice, is quoted by Starblanket:

” I clung to Rose until Father Jackson wrenched her out of my arms. I searched all over the boat for Rose. Finally I climbed up to the wheel house and opened the door and there was Father Jackson, on top of my sister. My sister’s dress was pulled up and his pants were down. I was too little to know about sex; but I now know he was raping her. He cursed and came after me, picked up his big black Bible and slapped me across the face and on top of the head. I started crying hysterically and he threw me out onto the deck. When we got to Kuper Island, my sister and I were separated. They wouldn’t let me comfort her. Even today, all my sisters are strangers to me.”

Numerous top Canadian officials over the years stated clearly that the intention of the child-removal program was to eliminated Indigenous cultures. Placing their words and Heinrich Himmler’s words about a similar Nazi program side-by-side finds them virtually interchangeable. In the words of various Canadians, the intent was to utterly remove “the Indian problem.” I suspect, though Starblanket doesn’t discuss it, that part of why U.S. as well as Canadian genocidists perceived an “Indian problem” was that it was impossible to persuade Indigenous adults to adopt the settler-colonist culture, while numerous settlers happily adopted the Indigenous culture and refused to give it up. In other words, fierce methods were needed to destroy cultures precisely because of their desirability — making the acts crimes against humanity, and not-incidentally against the rest of the natural environment.

Proving the crime of genocide does not require the statement of intent, but in this case, as in Nazi Germany, as in today’s Palestine, and as in most if not all cases, there is no shortage of expressions of genocidal intent.

There is also no shortage of genocidal results. Indigenous cultures of Canada were devastated — in no small part because the children subjected to the “schooling” who survived it lacked parenting skills, as well as cultural and linguistic knowledge — in addition to being traumatized, dehumanized, and demonized in their own eyes.

When the treaty to ban genocide was being drafted in 1947, at the same time that Nazis were still being put on trial, and while U.S. government scientists were experimenting on Guatemalans with syphilis, Canadian government “educators” were performing “nutritional experiments” on Indigenous children — that is to say: starving them to death. The original draft of the new law included the crime of cultural genocide. While this was stripped out at the urging of Canada and the United States, it remained in the form of item “e” above. Canada ratified the treaty nonetheless, and despite having threatened to add reservations to its ratification, it did no such thing. But Canada enacted into its domestic law only items “a” and “c” — simply omitting “b,” “d,” and “e” in the list above, despite the legal obligation to include them. Even the United States has included what Canada omited.

Thus, when Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2008 apologized for Canada’s crimes, he didn’t indicate any awareness that they were crimes, much less that they were the crime widely understood to be the greatest of all: “genocide.” (At Nuremberg, of course, the chief prosecutor characterized something else as the greatest international crime: war.) In fact, while Harper’s apology certainly looks like a positive step in the right direction, it also reads a little like a Ken Burns Vietnam documentary where “mistakes” flow from “good intentions.” Harper says that children were tortured and killed “partly in order to meet [Canada’s] obligation to educate Aboriginal children.”

Starblanket notes that Indigenous children today are frequently forcibly removed to provincial child “welfare” systems, and that as recently as 2014 (six years after the apology) St. Anne’s School in Ontario was torturing children with electric chairs.

Of course, in the United States, Canada, and other countries, non-Indigenous children are sometimes removed from families believed to be abusive, and sometimes these families are abusive indeed. But one wonders whether the tendency to remove children rather than to aid families in caringly keeping them originated in practices directed against Indigenous peoples, just as every “security” technique I’m now watching in downtown Charlottesville was first justified for use against foreign “enemies.”

Much of the Canadian crime of genocide predates the Genocide Convention, although consisting of numerous other recognized crimes then extant. Current continuations of Canadian genocide may not in all instances any longer constitute, in isolation, genocide. But that genocide is a major element in the story of Canada, as in the story of the United States, as in the culture of Europe and most of its offshoots, there should be no doubt. Bringing ourselves to say the word is not the most important thing we can do about it. But our reluctance to say the word is indicative of the primary problem at the root of it.

I would offer Starblanket the friendly amendment of dropping her proposed use of the term “brainwashing” because of its origins in the CIA-driven propaganda used to claim that U.S. pilots engaged in biological warfare in Korea were telling lies magically implanted in their minds. And I would urge the merging of honest Indigenous understandings of genocide with honest anti-imperialist understandings of war, with the combination opposed to the academic view of genocide as something non-Westerners do, and of war as something noble Westerners use to combat genocide. The fact is that war and genocide are Siamese twins. The slaughters that coated North America with blood were both genocides and wars, and the application of either term to them meets similar resistance. The slaughter of Iraqis by Westerners in recent years has been both war and genocide, and recognizing and understanding both is part of the solution. It is helpful to the antiwar cause when Indigenous North Americans apply their understanding to global peace.

The Kellogg-Briand Pact, which first clearly banned war globally in 1928, as documented in The Internationalists, largely put an end to the acceptability of new wars of conquest. The rule of global law that may be needed for human survival will draw on the wisdom of Indigenous, not colonial, precedents, and will respect local rights in Canada as in Nicaragua, in Crimea as in Kosovo. The changes in law and culture that are most needed are those that will address root causes of suffering and prevent violence and force. But the “forward looking” lawlessness advocated by Barack Obama and even Andrés Manuel López Obrador must be replaced with non-vengeful accountability equally applied to all.

That means law for the powerful as for the weak. That means kidnapping is kidnapping even when in line with colonial views. Murder is murder even when committed by drone or when part of a war. Torture and land-theft are torture and land-theft even when committed on large scales. Prison camps are prison camps when on actual U.S. military bases as when in Hollywood movies set in Nazi Germany. Canadian horrors are horrific even when the Prime Minister is a handsome liberal bowing and scraping to the same oil companies and NATO warmongers.

Canada should seek out the best in its history. There are rich veins there too. Canada should lead by example, add restitution to apology, and make peace at home rather than exporting violence in the name of its supposed “responsibility to protect.” Protect us from such protectors!

How Does Canada Escape Prosecution for Genocide?

Can Canada continue to commit what is an enumerated act of genocide by the UNGC [United Nations Genocide Convention] and excuse itself by continuing to say that it is not intending what the Genocide Treaty recognizes as the result of such an act… ?

— Tamara Starblanket1

Genocide is a heinous crime that fractures and dehumanizes humanity. Science tells us that we are all taxonomically Homo sapiens. Yet most of us tend to divide into Us and Them groupings, sometimes leading to in-group and out-group competition that can turn violent. In the worst cases, the monstrous result is the decimation of the different group.

The carrying out of a genocide doesn’t require annihilatory bombing or the mowing down of a particular targetted group. Neither does genocide require a lightning temporality in execution. Genocide merely requires the intent to bring about the destruction of a targetted group by whatever manner, unbounded by a specific timeframe. Humans steer genocide: a malicious force capable of an evil genius in linguistically guising its execution, as well as being capable of extreme patience in achieving its pernicious aims.

A particular example of an under-the-radar genocide is that carried out by European settler-colonialists who denationalized all the Original Nations of the western hemisphere. There are non-indigenous people who are aware and acknowledge that genocide occurred, but few would realize or acknowledge that the genocide continues. That is much of the importance of Tamara Starblanket’s Suffer the Little Children: Genocide, Indigenous Nations and the Canadian State (Clarity Press, 2018).

Starblanket is a Nehiyaw iskwew (Cree woman) from Ahtahkakoop First Nation in Treaty Six Territory — in the region colonially designated as Shell Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada. Her Suffer the Little Children is based on her Master of Laws thesis which, she relates, met with obstruction from “Canada’s academic gatekeepers.”2

Suffer the Little Children details the Canadian state’s Indian Residential School (IRS) program — a policy whose intent was the disappearance of Indigenous peoples. As such it constitutes genocide. Moreover, by prefacing the genocide with the descriptor “cultural,” as in cultural genocide, the destruction seemingly points to the abstraction of culture, thereby eliding the lethal effects on humans.

Starblanket cuts through the lexical obfuscation and compellingly makes known that the genocide continues “in somewhat altered form, and the toll continues to mount.” (p 22)

One narrative, however, is largely controlled by the state and dependent media. A stark example is the “apology” read by then Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper about the “sad chapter” of the IRS.

How sincere an “apology” was it? Has the Canadian state subsequently set out to meaningfully atone for the genocide? The author asks:

But has the Canadian state put effort into assisting the victims of the residential schools to re-learn traditional parenting skills before the birth of children? Has the state stopped the forcible removals in the child welfare system? All the aggravates not mitigates the Canadian government’s conduct? (p 265)…

It is hypocritical for the state of Canada and Canadians to pretend to Indigenous Peoples and Nations and to the world at large that they are ‘sorry’ when it’s obvious the Canadian state, at least, is anything but…. Furthermore, there is no ‘apology’ that would undo or make the atrocious crimes it has engaged in ‘forgiveable’. It is a smokescreen designed by the colonizer to absolve itself of the crimes it knowingly engages in against the innocent.” (p 273-274)

The “apology” was followed by a government-created Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to document the history and make known what happened in IRS. Starblanket, however, argues that “the TRC adheres to the federal script in every significant respect,” (p 27) evades addressing genocide, (p 28) and is “very far from the truth.” (p 28)

The Canadian government apparently attempted to burnish its image based on the goodwill and generosity demonstrated by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. In South Africa, the TRC was establised by the people who survived the apartheid regime — not by the oppressors. Unlike in South Africa, the Canadian TRC was set up by the colonial-settler political estalishment.

Evading a monstrous crime such as genocide is problematic on many levels, including legally and morally; nonetheless the evasion continues in Canada. One legal obstacle is demostrating the intent of the genocidaire. Starblanket writes that “the specific intent requirement actually serves the denial of genocide due to its difficulty to prove.” (p 32)

Starblanket cites the International Criminal Tribunal findings in Karadzic and Akayesu as indicating: “If the destruction is massive, widespread and systematic this will satisfy the specific intent requirement.” (p 74)

However, Canada and the colonial powers displayed bad faith in the drafting of the UNGC. “In effect, as a result of the colonial powers’ dominance over the drafting process, international laws fail to protect against the imposition of a colonial framework of destruction over Indigenous Peoples.” (p 77) “The necessary point to draw … is that colonialism is regarded as a genocidal process by the very fact that it came up in the drafting process of the genocide convention.” (p 81)

Starblanket argues that Canada was aware of legal loopholes in the Genocide Convention that would allow it to evade culpability. (p 213) Furthermore, “If Canada intended to have entire segments of the convention excluded from its domestic laws, it was under an obligation to make a formal reservation.” (p 229)

That the forced transfer of children has taken place suggests an implied reservation by Canada. (p 229) Yet the International Court of Justice determined that parties to the Genocide Convention could not make sovereign reservations to the convention. (p 232) Building her case further, Starblanket points to Article 18 of the Vienna Convention which prohibits states involved in criminal conduct from entering into treaty on such a conduct, in this case genocide. (p 235)

Starblanket describes the IRS as a total institution, an institution whose purpose is dehumanization. (p 97, 342) Among the outcomes wrought by the IRS total institution are:

  1. linguicide3 — as the state realized the importance of transmitting culture from one generation to the next and sought to stultify such transference; colonial language attempts to finalize domination and dehumanization (p 162); “… children do not learn that we have names in our original languages that identify our lands and territories.” (p 189); “Spiritual laws are encoded into Indigenous languages.” (p 202)
  2. deculturation
  3. religious indoctrination
  4. slave labor
  5. torture
  6. starvation
  7. trauma — such as compelling Indigenous students to witness the public execution of eight Cree men (p 118)
  8. beatings, rapes, killings — all this disguised euphemistically to thwart legal efforts proving state culpability. (p 156)

The genocide continues unabated. The author writes that the IRS negated adult survivors’ ability to parent. IRS children lived the example of violence used to coerce their obedience. Post-IRS enter the child welfare system and children continue to be “removed” and isolated from biological parents, family, community, and their First Nation. This was not, as the language implies, a Sixties Scoop. Starblanket finds that such naming masks the ongoing genocide within Canada’s child welfare system. (p 221) The ongoing genocide is revealed by 2011 statistics: whereas Indigenous children represent 7% of all children in Canada, they account for 48% of children placed in foster care. (p 133-134)

Starblanket points to cognitive conditioning whereby:

… ‘laws of occupation’ … serve as the cornerstone of legalized persecution and oppression of Indigenous Nations in the colonizer’s quest for land. Colonial domination justified by the dehumanizing Western doctrine of racial superiority is vital to the process of genocide. (p 190)

Starblanket argues, “The application of the law [will] show beyond a reasonable doubt, to say nothing of a preponderance of the evidence, that the Canadian government is culpable for crimes of genocide.” (p 244) After reading Suffer the Little Children, it is difficult to rationally or morally reach a different conclusion.

The book is bold and well-argued, and it should be read widely; however, a few points vexed me.

1) Starblanket cites the ruling from Akayesu and the purported genocide of Tutsis committed by Hutus. (p 263) Granted, Starblanket is interested in the legal determinations concerning the genocide, and, of course, the ruling of the court has salience. However, when the validity of the court is dubious and the question is raised of whether a genocide could be insidiously twisted such that the perpetrators escape justice and even benefit from the horrific crime then such matters demand addressing.4,5

2) Starblanket cites academics David MacDonald and Graham Hudson who state that there have been few occasions for Canadian courts to consider the Genocide Convention in criminal proceedings. (p 211; See David MacDonald and Graham Hudson, “The Genocide Question and Indian Residential Schools in Canada,” 2012. PDF: p 14.) Suffer the Little Children has not cited Bruce Clark, PhD in comparative law,6 who has doggedly (some may say overzealously; but how can one be overzealous in fighting against genocide?) attempted to pursue the matter of genocide in Canadian courts where he and his clients have been stymied by the legal system’s Catch-22. This is missing from MacDonald and Hudson’s paper and Starblanket’s thesis. It seems pertinent.

Starblanket replied that she was not encouraged to include Clark’s work since she was building her own case and it was considered unnecessary to prove her legal arguments to her committee.7 Maybe so. But it seems crucial to points she raised in her book.8

3) Granted, Starblanket is focused on IRS and Article 2(e) of the Genocide Convention: “Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” Yet no mention was made of biological warfare against Original Peoples.9

A Quick Historical Overview, Solution, and Duty

The Original Peoples had lived on Turtle Island for millennia when the Europeans first reached the continent’s shores. The Europeans brought with them their supremacist notions and dehumanized the Original Peoples as savages and heathens. Preposterously, the colonial-settlers considered that this gave them the right to dispossess the First Nations and wreak a genocide. First Nations’ children were kidnapped and indoctrinated into the White man’s ways. Today, the dispossessed remain dispossessed and the genocide continues within the child welfare system.

The solution (the only solution according to the author) to the injustices lies in Indigenous peoples ridding themselves of the yoke of colonial dispossession and seizing what is their sovereign right to self-determination.

Starblanket speaks to non-indigenous Canadians:

It is up to you finally to be the generation of settlers that stands up against the crimes that are committed against Original Peoples and Nations of this Western hemisphere and the world. (p 278)

I concur. For those not already aware (and those who wish to deepen their knowedge), read the book and stand in solidarity against the crimes that are committed against Original Peoples and their nations.

  1. In Suffer the Little Children: Genocide, Indigenous Nations and the Canadian State (Clarity Press, 2018): p 208.
  2. Academic gatekeeping regarding Original Peoples is no surprise to this writer. See “Canadian Government and Academia: ‘Othering’ Original Peoples,” Dissident Voice, 2014.
  3. In 1890, 100% of First Nations people spoke the Indigenous tongue compared to 5.1% in 2010. “Report on the Status of B.C. First Nations Languages 2010.”
  4. See Keith Harmon Snow, “The Rwanda Genocide Fabrications,” Dissident Voice, 13 April 2009 and “Real Rwandan Genocide and Brainwashing of the Western Mind,” Dissident Voice, 11 April 2014. Edward S. Herman and David Peterson in Enduring Lies: The Rwandan Genocide in the Propaganda System, 20 Years Later (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014) write that the victims and the perpetrators of genocide have been inverted, abetted by the US, UK, and Canada. Moreover, “a larger–apparently substanially larger–death toll was suffered by Hutu [compared to Tutsi]…”
  5. Keith Harmon Snow, who has been working on the politics of genocide for years, sees the merit and power of Starblanket’s book. But he wonders, “How so many people cite wrong cases of genocide, or fail to cite true cases, and all the other kinds of political, intentional, accidental, ethical errors and commissions and propaganda.” Snow considers, “Akayesu, and many of the other cases were a complete sham.” Snow particularly dissents from Starblanket’s promulgation of the establishment narrative on page 74: “‘(Tutsi peoples)’ as victims but this lacks all appropriate situating of genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity in Rwanda, and so it contributes to the perpetuation of genocide (ongoing) against the Hutu peoples in service to the establishment interests.” Herein Snow identifies a problem: “On the one hand she [Starblanket] wants to challenge the establishment; on the other she uses the tools of the empire (establishment agents) to try to do so.” Personal communication, 1 August 2018.
  6. Clark is the author of Indian Title in Canada (1986) and Native Liberty, Crown Sovereignty: The Existing Aboriginal Right of Self-Government in Canada (1990), Justice in Paradise (2004), and the upcoming (2018) Ongoing Genocide caused by Judicial Suppression of the “Existing” Aboriginal Rights.
  7. Dana Kaminstein, professor and capstone advisor at the University of Pennsylvania states, “The literature review for a master’s thesis or capstone… needs to be a substantive part of the paper. The focus should be on making sure that the literature that is covered is directly related to the research question(s) in the thesis, as well as being clear about what areas have been left out, and the reasons for excluding them. (p 3)
  8. E.g., at footnote 88 (p 352) Starblanket writes, “The point being there is no Canadian Court that has applied the term genocide or acknowledged the application of genocide in international law to government culpability into genocide.” That is precisely what Clark has been struggling against at great personal cost.
  9. See Tom Swanky, The Great Darkening: The True Story of Canada’s “War” of Extermination on the Pacific plus The Tsilhqot’in and other First Nations Resistance (Burnaby, BC: Dragon Heart Enterprises, 2012). Review.

Canada’s Military recruits Indigenous Youth

Is the Canadian military a friend and ally of First Nations or an exploiter and repressor?

The military’s immense resources and cultural clout certainly enables it to attract indigenous youth to become soldiers. But First Nations have more reason than most to be wary of the Canadian Forces (CF).

A recent Ipolitics story titled “This is where I need to be’: Indigenous military summer programs ‘fantastic’ for young recruits” detailed the CF’s recruitment of Indigenous youth. The article quoted 19-year old Private Brandon Julian saying, “I love Canada … I want to serve this country.”

The story described the Bold Eagle, Raven and Black Bear leadership and training programs for 18-25-year-olds from reserves. Partnering with the Saskatchewan Indian Veteran’s Association and Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, the CF launched Bold Eagle three decades ago. It’s a three or four day “culture camp” conducted by First Nations elders “followed by a military recruit training course.”

Receiving input from its Defence Aboriginal Advisory Group, the CF operates various programs focused on Indigenous youth. CF recruiters participate in National Aboriginal Day events and oversee the Aboriginal Entry Plan, a three-week training. In 1971 the CF introduced the Northern Native Entry Program and the military funded Cadet Corps has long worked with band councils and schools on reserves.

The CF has organized international Indigenous exchanges. In 2015 the military sent twelve members of the Northern Canadian Indigenous Sovereignty Patrol and Surveillance Unit to Australia for a series of trainings and events with the largely aboriginal NORFORCE. Canadian Defence Advisor to Australia Colonel Acton Kilby, Canadian Aboriginal Veterans Association President Richard Blackwolf and former Indigenous NHL player Reggie Leach were part of the delegation.

A number of monuments, usually supported by Veteran Affairs, honour First Nations veterans. In Batoche, Saskatchewan, the Métis Veterans Memorial Monument is dedicated to those who “served alongside other Canadian servicemen and servicewomen in the South African War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and in each of the efforts since then to defend our country and contribute to international peace and security.” For its part, the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument in Ottawa says it was “raised in sacred and everlasting honour of the contributions of all Aboriginal Canadians in war and peacekeeping operations.” Apparently, it’s the only official monument in Ottawa commemorating Indigenous peoples or history.

A growing number of landmarks bear the names of Indigenous soldiers. The third Canadian Ranger patrol group headquarters, a monument at CFB Borden and a Parry Sound statue are dedicated to top World War I indigenous sniper Francis Pegahmagabow. World War II and Korea veteran Tommy Prince has a statue, school, street, drill hall, CF base, two educational scholarships and a cadet corps named in his honour.

The CF, government commissions and Indigenous veterans’ associations, often backed by Veteran Affairs, have also produced much laudatory literature on aboriginal veterans. A dozen books and theses, as well as hundreds of articles, detailing First Nations’ contribution to Canadian/British wars mostly echo the military’s perspective of those conflicts.

But, a critical look at the historical record suggests Canadian militarism has, in fact, been a primary tool of the colonial project to steal Indigenous land and enforce settler control. The CF grew out of the British force that conquered large swaths of this land. The ‘father’ of Canada’s army, Lieutenant-Colonel William D. Otter led a force that attacked Cree and Assiniboine warriors in 1885 near Battleford, Saskatchewan, in the Battle of Cut Knife. Without orders to do so, Otter asked permission to “punish [Cree leader] Poundmaker.” As such, the Montreal Daily Star coined the term “Otterism” as a “synonym for merciless repression.”

During the past century the military has expropriated a great deal of Indigenous land for its bases. The most infamous example is Stoney Point, near Sarnia, Ontario, which after a half century of military occupation led to the Ipperwash Crisis in which the Ontario Provincial Police killed Ojibway protester Dudley George.

From low-flying jets in Labrador to DEW Line waste, First Nations have borne a disproportionate share of the military’s ecological footprint. Brian Lloyd, a former British Army bomb-disposal expert who cleaned up Canadian sites, told the New York Times: “In Canada, the military acted like a giant, using Indian land like stepping stones across the country. You find an Indian nation, and you find range contamination.”

Despite claiming not to spy on Canadians, the CF continues to monitor Indigenous dissent. Between 2010 and mid-2011 the CF’s National Counter-Intelligence Unit produced at least eight reports concerning indigenous organizations. In Policing Indigenous Movements Andrew Crosby and Jeffrey Monaghan document their surveillance of 2012-13 Idle No More protests and the CF’s National Counter-Intelligence Unit also monitored the 2013 Mi’kmaq-led anti-fracking camp in Elsipogtog, New Brunswick.

Does it make sense for Indigenous youth to participate in the repression of their communities?

The CF’s glorification of First Nations military participation should not confuse people about the Canadian Forces’ role in enforcing the imperial order here and abroad.

Canada’s Military recruits Indigenous Youth

Is the Canadian military a friend and ally of First Nations or an exploiter and repressor?

The military’s immense resources and cultural clout certainly enables it to attract indigenous youth to become soldiers. But First Nations have more reason than most to be wary of the Canadian Forces (CF).

A recent Ipolitics story titled “This is where I need to be’: Indigenous military summer programs ‘fantastic’ for young recruits” detailed the CF’s recruitment of Indigenous youth. The article quoted 19-year old Private Brandon Julian saying, “I love Canada … I want to serve this country.”

The story described the Bold Eagle, Raven and Black Bear leadership and training programs for 18-25-year-olds from reserves. Partnering with the Saskatchewan Indian Veteran’s Association and Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, the CF launched Bold Eagle three decades ago. It’s a three or four day “culture camp” conducted by First Nations elders “followed by a military recruit training course.”

Receiving input from its Defence Aboriginal Advisory Group, the CF operates various programs focused on Indigenous youth. CF recruiters participate in National Aboriginal Day events and oversee the Aboriginal Entry Plan, a three-week training. In 1971 the CF introduced the Northern Native Entry Program and the military funded Cadet Corps has long worked with band councils and schools on reserves.

The CF has organized international Indigenous exchanges. In 2015 the military sent twelve members of the Northern Canadian Indigenous Sovereignty Patrol and Surveillance Unit to Australia for a series of trainings and events with the largely aboriginal NORFORCE. Canadian Defence Advisor to Australia Colonel Acton Kilby, Canadian Aboriginal Veterans Association President Richard Blackwolf and former Indigenous NHL player Reggie Leach were part of the delegation.

A number of monuments, usually supported by Veteran Affairs, honour First Nations veterans. In Batoche, Saskatchewan, the Métis Veterans Memorial Monument is dedicated to those who “served alongside other Canadian servicemen and servicewomen in the South African War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and in each of the efforts since then to defend our country and contribute to international peace and security.” For its part, the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument in Ottawa says it was “raised in sacred and everlasting honour of the contributions of all Aboriginal Canadians in war and peacekeeping operations.” Apparently, it’s the only official monument in Ottawa commemorating Indigenous peoples or history.

A growing number of landmarks bear the names of Indigenous soldiers. The third Canadian Ranger patrol group headquarters, a monument at CFB Borden and a Parry Sound statue are dedicated to top World War I indigenous sniper Francis Pegahmagabow. World War II and Korea veteran Tommy Prince has a statue, school, street, drill hall, CF base, two educational scholarships and a cadet corps named in his honour.

The CF, government commissions and Indigenous veterans’ associations, often backed by Veteran Affairs, have also produced much laudatory literature on aboriginal veterans. A dozen books and theses, as well as hundreds of articles, detailing First Nations’ contribution to Canadian/British wars mostly echo the military’s perspective of those conflicts.

But, a critical look at the historical record suggests Canadian militarism has, in fact, been a primary tool of the colonial project to steal Indigenous land and enforce settler control. The CF grew out of the British force that conquered large swaths of this land. The ‘father’ of Canada’s army, Lieutenant-Colonel William D. Otter led a force that attacked Cree and Assiniboine warriors in 1885 near Battleford, Saskatchewan, in the Battle of Cut Knife. Without orders to do so, Otter asked permission to “punish [Cree leader] Poundmaker.” As such, the Montreal Daily Star coined the term “Otterism” as a “synonym for merciless repression.”

During the past century the military has expropriated a great deal of Indigenous land for its bases. The most infamous example is Stoney Point, near Sarnia, Ontario, which after a half century of military occupation led to the Ipperwash Crisis in which the Ontario Provincial Police killed Ojibway protester Dudley George.

From low-flying jets in Labrador to DEW Line waste, First Nations have borne a disproportionate share of the military’s ecological footprint. Brian Lloyd, a former British Army bomb-disposal expert who cleaned up Canadian sites, told the New York Times: “In Canada, the military acted like a giant, using Indian land like stepping stones across the country. You find an Indian nation, and you find range contamination.”

Despite claiming not to spy on Canadians, the CF continues to monitor Indigenous dissent. Between 2010 and mid-2011 the CF’s National Counter-Intelligence Unit produced at least eight reports concerning indigenous organizations. In Policing Indigenous Movements Andrew Crosby and Jeffrey Monaghan document their surveillance of 2012-13 Idle No More protests and the CF’s National Counter-Intelligence Unit also monitored the 2013 Mi’kmaq-led anti-fracking camp in Elsipogtog, New Brunswick.

Does it make sense for Indigenous youth to participate in the repression of their communities?

The CF’s glorification of First Nations military participation should not confuse people about the Canadian Forces’ role in enforcing the imperial order here and abroad.

Of Genocide and Those Who Do Nothing

Of genocide one thing becomes clear: the perpetrators are usually governments. The perpetrators may be cliques within the government, using the government, but the organization of such cataclysmic events is beyond the skills of amateurs.  So it isn’t a surprise that the domain of preventing genocides is as tightly controlled as the mechanisms of punishment. A control not entirely foreseen by the conceptual author, Raphael Lemkin, was written-into the Convention on the Punishment and Prevention of the Crime of Genocide, with the support of countries which had risen to power through colonialism. It is the word “intent” as in “intent to destroy”, which is now considered a requirement, if any attempt to destroy a “national, racial, ethnical or religious” group of people is to be considered a genocide.

The mass killing has to provably have the intention of destroying one of these groups protected by the Convention.

The vagaries of “intent” and the difficulties of ever proving “intention” deep within a perpetrator’s mind is a domain claimed by the government’s policy makers, academics, inevitably psychologists, and the judiciary, who keep the Convention on Genocide basically out of the hands of the people.  The people are universally the victims.

To move beyond this control we might put aside nationalism and look at governments on one hand, and peoples on the other as not always having the same interests.

The emergency brake of puzzlement about “intent” is customarily used to obstruct application of the Convention on Genocide. It’s the standard way genocidal governments seek to avoid responsibility for their actions. Still we recognize the horror of a genocide as it occurs, which is partly that we are not doing something to stop it.

For example, can the military forces of North American countries bomb the civilian water supply of Iraq, her civilian infrastructure, entire cities, museums, bomb the country “back into the stone age,” without intention to destroy the national group? Civilian casualties were falsely referred to as “collateral damage.”

This assumed lack of intention spares our leaders and ourselves but is sophistry. Intention is established by repetition with a similar result each time leading to the inevitable mass civilian deaths. North Americans find the meaning of “intention” difficult. Too many dead Aboriginals, slaves, prisoners of our histories clogging our minds, never dealt with, never admitted. Denying the people their history leaves no chance for rehabilitation.

The U.S. having signed and after forty years ratified the Convention on Genocide presents objections as “Reservations and Declarations”1 which specifically underscore the need for intent to be present in the destruction of a group, if it’s to be considered genocide.

The Convention has already limited its own applicability to groups. It fails to specifically protect gender based and sexuality based groups, as well as the aged, the sick, ableist and groups defined by genetic traits, as well as groups defined by mental health, criminal records, or prisoners as a group. These are all vulnerable to genocide-like actions by fascist states as shown in the German Third Reich’s practices. A contemporary Convention on Genocide should include them.2

The Convention on Genocide as it appeared in 1948 was a very narrowly conceived document in one sense: it addressed the safety of the powerful victim groups of Hitler’s inhumane policies while ignoring less powerful victim groups, which in many cases continue to be victimized.

Understanding #4″ of the U.S. objections to the Convention prepares the U.S. for wars such as the destruction of Iraq by armed force. It’s very simple, it says: “4. That acts in the course of armed conflicts committed without the specific intent required by article II are not sufficient to constitute genocide as defined by this Convention” (Article II is where the Convention prohibits “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group…).

What could be interpreted at the diplomatic level as a threat to other countries, of war without quarter, possibly to assure their cooperation, was in Iraq a threat fulfilled. Through “Understanding #4” the U.S. could excuse itself from obligation at international courts as long as it controls the courts or interpretation of the law.

Not all countries agree that the U.S. can define applicability of the Convention on Genocide to itself, which the U.S. attempts in “Reservation #1” and “Understanding #5.” The Convention is considered currently applicable to actions in all countries signatory to the Convention. Under the World Court this could include the U.S., willing or not, with applicability a political issue not reliant on any statute of limitations.

Because of the U.S. extreme insistence on the element of “intent” (also specified in “Understanding #1”), as necessary to genocide, the interpretation of the Convention became slightly skewed.

The difficulty rises from an awareness which keeps asserting itself, that intent is very hard to prove. It becomes harder as perpetrators learn to disguise their intentions to avoid eventual prosecution. And harder as those who struggle to be moral, repress and twist their own motives to avoid the guilt of their own actions or inaction.

Protected from application of the Convention by the U.S. withdrawal from International Criminal Court U.S. writers and academics write more freely about genocides. Karen Goldsmith’s work, “The Issue of Intent in the Genocide Convention”3 discusses this within academic traditions, aware of attempts historically to trap interpretation of the Convention into serving the powerful. She encourages a more relaxed approach.

Instead of acceding to an academic discussion of intention which has allowed the confusion of whether an instance of insane mass murder is a genocide or not, wouldn’t it be more wise to cede a situation to the laws against genocide without immediate consideration of the issue of intent?

It may be arrogant to ever suppose to know or understand what happens in another person’s mind. It may take a long time to identify a pattern of behaviour which might prove intent through points of evidence. Realizing that the Convention attempts to shield a number of groups deserving of its protection, logically one would assign the word genocide to situations where one group as defined, is being repetitively killed or deprived of necessities or of lives for its children. It is certainly genocide to its victims.

To suggest the academic or professional jurist’s difficulty with this I recommend some consideration of the work of Kai Ambos4 who is not only an academic (professor of international criminal law) but has served as a district judge and a judge at the International Court of Justice (at the Hague), and is comfortable with the differences available in “intent to destroy.”

Is this general intent and knowledge of what one is doing, or a “surplus” of intention, an ulterior intention which exceeds the persecution of a group, a “special” intention? While the study of projected meanings presents its own kind of hell of devils dancing on the head of a pin, it makes no difference at all to the victims, their family, and village slaughtered most probably by an array of expensive modern technology.

To ascertain guilt by identifying precisely the perpetrator’s state of mind is the result of an evolution in response to the Convention’s prohibition. It is also a distraction from what is moral. Or a distraction from the pain of confronting human nature. ‘Legalese,’ by removing a subject from day to day life and placing it in a domain which is not necessarily ruled by love, may spare the judges of humanity’s excesses suffering and an ongoing PTSD syndrome.

But people at large seem to be moving beyond “dolus generalis” and “dolus specialis” as categorizations of kinds of intent to what is more simply expressed and noted by both Ambos and Goldsmith: Article 30 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

The ICC holds the Convention on Genocide within its jurisdiction since one of the Court’s purposes is to address the crime of genocide. Therefore the ICC’s interpretation of the Convention can solve years of puzzlement created by patriotic lawyers:

Article 30 Mental Element

1. Unless otherwise provided, a person shall be criminally responsible and liable for punishment for a crime within the jurisdiction of the Court only if the material elements are committed with intent and knowledge.

2. For the purposes of this article, a person has intent where:

(a) In relation to conduct, that person means to engage in the conduct;

(b) in relation to a consequence, that person means to cause that consequence or is aware that it will occur in the ordinary course of events.

3. For the purposes of this article, “knowledge” means awareness that a circumstance exists or a consequence will occur in the ordinary course of sequence or events. “Know” and “knowingly” shall be construed accordingly.

The Rome Statute’s definitions end run much of the smokescreen available in discussions of general intention versus special intention. This makes it much easier for countries subscribing to the International Criminal Court to address instances of genocide.

Because the path forward is in a way clear to address and consider instances of genocide currently in motion why haven’t the world nations attempted to honour their commitment to the Convention which demands some response when a genocide occurs?

Because a reader might not agree with one example I’ll point out four salient instances where the situation could be declared genocide by the courts:

1. The peoples of the The Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire) are being destroyed in the battle for Congo’s resources, by foreign interests.

2. Palestinians, particularly of Gaza, are being destroyed as a national and as a religious group by the Zionist government in Israel.

3. In Myanmar the Buddhist Army found few impediments to its attempted destruction of the Muslim Rohingya people. Signatory governments are complicit through inaction.

4. Indigenous peoples of Canada are subjected to extreme conditions of life, health and water by the Government over a long period of time. The government’s inability to move beyond its denial, or educate Canadians to their full rights and responsibilities under human rights law can be equated with an attempt to destroy the victim group.

Any United Nations intervention to directly counter a genocide in progress would, I think, have to pass through the Security Council for approval, and could meet a U.S. veto.

The attempts to effect the Convention on Genocide have been obstructed by:

1. The difficulty of proving intent as a condition required for identifying a genocide.

2. Likely obstruction at the Security Council where the political and financial interests of one of its members can veto intervention.

3. Lack of public knowledge and misinformation campaigns (demonization of a targeted victim group’s leader).

4. National reluctance to identify genocide since under law a signatory nation is required to intervene.

5. The fact that genocides are almost exclusively effected by governments and the Convention on Genocide can only be effected by governments or possibly large international organizations.

While genocides are waged for national or corporate purpose by governments the Convention on genocide is a mechanism of protest, alleviation, intervention, at the service only of governments. In areas where the genocide might be of gain to many governments it is less likely that the Convention will be brought into play.

Note, for example, NATO’s attempt to force the overthrow of Syria’s leadership by making conditions of life unbearable for Syria’s people. This became a concerted military effort by France, England, the U.S., Turkey, Israel and others. The resulting partial destruction of the national group was an intended genocide with a deflection of its purpose by a “civil war” waged by a minority assuming responsibility for a rebellion initiated by the foreign powers who provided funding.

There are also policies which many governments can agree on and ignore when they share the guilt. A current example is the forcible transfer of children as a way of managing migrants and asylum seekers entering the U.S.. While this isn’t accompanied by an intention to destroy a portion of a “national, ethnical, racial or religious group” it could be if the U.S. were considered responsible for destruction of the refugee’s country of origin. Both Canada and the U.K. separate children from their families when officials consider it in the “best interests of the child.” The issue has stronger interface in the area of transferring children to a country’s social services and the practices of ‘sponsoring’ the children of one protected group, with sponsors outside that group.

To address directly our own genocide defenses in North America: these almost exclusively rest with organizations funded by the government, at the service of government policy, staffed by academics with strong ties to government, or who have worked for the government, or will work for the government. Or who have government loans, or grants. The organizations’ political positions accommodate government policies, despite the innate confusion in identifying genocides, previously discussed here.

It’s unlikely that one will find in the active agendas of the genocide related NGOs any protests or any actions hampering government policy. This is particularly notable in the controversial area of Israel’s ongoing persecution of Palestinians.

If the issue may be considered within the multi-million dollar funded structure of the enterprise, or studied in a course from the hosting university, one might find that the well known NGOs are not usually allies in struggles to save the peoples oppressed criminally by the NGO’s host governments or its allies.

A run down of these specific non-governmental organizations, funded through service to the government either overtly or covertly, is avoided because much of what they accomplish does address the needs of victim groups. In a sense they pay off humanity by doing a portion of their job. The difficulty is that they refuse to address the crimes of our own governments. And they provide on occasion impetus for falsely raising the issue of genocide, in the service of government programs for corporate expansion which in situations of ‘genocide’ can threaten with military intervention.  Powerful NGOs concerned with genocide risk at some point supporting government policies which are genocidal. When they do not purvey genocides as genocide which is the major portion of their usefulness, they become complicit.

Against these difficulties with the “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide,” as it stands, and the difficulties of applying it, is the fact that it corresponds deeply to the beliefs of the largest portions of humankind. We believe it’s valid and necessary – not the law of it only, as much as its affirmation of our humanity – its refusal of the horror we find unacceptable.

In Rwanda after the genocide there were trials of the accused perpetrators under international law but also under Rwandan law, and then under village law in that the courts were held in the communities. In villages throughout the country people were brought together and found they had to account for themselves and explain what they did or didn’t do – their part in the genocide. These courts were known as Gacaca courts.4;5

What begins to evolve in the accounts of village trials is a world view of justice asserting itself in a landscape of the ultimate horror. And it has very little to do with arguments of what kind of intent was involved, or the mental state of the perpetrators, the Faculty coffee room, the judges or judicial chambers.

It has everything to do with surviving what the people never chose of their own accord. I think this defense might well be applied to a majority of North Americans as their corporations and capital continues to destroy less powerful nations. These instances of taking life are so much more clear in the Rwandan genocide.

This is the shadow which falls between the studies of genocide and the massive losses of humanity, decency, tenderness, life.

Prof. Giorgía Donà’s study of “situated bystandership”6 explores the realities of the bystanders, those who were neither the victims nor the perpetrators of the genocide which by her figures killed close to a million Tutsi (April 7th through July 18, 1994).

This group most closely parallels the majority of North Americans during the destructions of Iraq, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Libya, Syria to begin a longer more complicated list of massive loss of life and destruction.

She notes both external bystanders such as the United Nations and signatories of the Convention who knew and did nothing, and the internal bystanders who might be thought of as the people, and bear the guilt of the people for crimes that came from beyond them, were broadcast to them, programmed into them like an experiment with Rwanda as its laboratory.

A terrible thing here is that the killing was accomplished by so many and by my understanding so many were forced into the conformity of killing others lest they be killed, and under pressures that might make our judgment of them and our concept of ‘heroism’ irrelevant. In some instances those who wouldn’t kill were killed. Those who hid fugitives, if caught, were killed or forced to kill the fugitives they had harboured. Can this be considered within a context of law?

How deeply have North Americans responded to the massive death caused by our inception, our wars, armaments, economic needs, when our survival has had so many options other than war?

Donà’s paper suggests that in the aftermath of the Rwanda genocide the majority of people tried to separate themselves from the perpetrators whom they considered “extremists” and evil. The bystander majority would consider itself as retaining moral values. The Kagame government at first promoted the assessment of morally guilty bystanders, complicit through inaction.7

This group of bystanders then sorts out into those who acceded to the perpetrators’ actions and those who attempted to resist under the tremendous pressure from the overall program to kill. Those who remained non-violent would have to hide as did the victims.8 When refusing to participate in the killing meant death, some then participated. At a local factual level this was understood by the Gacaca courts, because how does one judge this with reference to the intent of genocide.

While Gacaca courts prosecuted murder and rape they didn’t the crime of non-intervention,9 and so under the policy of the community courts non-intervention was no longer necessarily one of guilt. These courts also shifted guilt and the responsibility for a crime, from mass action to the individual.

Crimes during the mass killing of the genocide were no longer abstract or collective but personal. While many of the Hutu were found guilty, many were found innocent and were freed from the condemnation of collective guilt.10

The Gacaca courts present a challenge to academic studies, and what is often an intellectual or judicial tendency to categorize and perceive through the application of abstractions. The community level courts were more realistic and humane than the courts of international law? Possibly so. But then they were addressing the people who as victim, killer or bystander, were the objects of a planned and prepared-for national atrocity.11

This focusing of attention on the bystander element of genocide may help many North Americans reconsider our own relationship to guilt, the ultimate price of silence, the relationship between our morality and what happens about us, realizing that despite the tremendous social pressures programming us by schools, corporately funded universities, from media, from history, by conformity and each other, we deserve to be judged for how we’ve responded to the crimes against others.

  1. The “Declarations and Reservations” which at ratification the U.S. added to the Convention are generally kept out of sight so I list them here:
    Reservations:
    1. That with reference to article IX of the Convention, before any dispute to which the United States is a party may be submitted to the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice under this article, the specific consent of the United States is required in each case.
    2. That nothing in the Convention Requires or authorizes legislation or other action by the United States of America prohibited by the Constitution of the United States as interpreted by the United States.
    Understandings:
    1. That the term ‘intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group as such’ appearing in article II means, the specific intent to destroy, in whole or in substantial part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such by the acts specified in article II.
    2. That the term ‘mental harm’ in article II(b) means permanent impairment of mental faculties through drugs, torture, or similar techniques.
    3. That the pledge to grant extradition in accordance with a state’s laws and treaties in force found in article VII extends only to acts which are criminal under the laws both of the requesting and the requested state and nothing in article VI affects the right of any state to bring to trial before its own tribunals any of its nationals for acts committed outside a state.
    4. That acts in the course of armed conflicts committed without the specific intent required by article II are not sufficient to constitute genocide as defined by this Convention. 5. That with regard to the reference to an international penal tribunal in article VI or the Convention, the United States declares that it reserves the right to effect its participation in any such tribunal only by a treaty entered into specifically for that purpose with the advice and consent of the Senate.
    – According to “Multilateral Treaties deposited with the Secretary-General.” Status as of 31 December 1992. United Nations, New York.
  2. I initially stated this suggestion in “An Essay on Genocide: or why the Convention on Genocide hasn’t worked,” peacemedianews (Netherlands), 1995. Reprint: Night’s Lantern.
  3. Karen Goldsmith. “The Issue of Intent in the Genocide Convention, and Its Effect on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide: Toward a Knowledge Based Approach,” Vol. 5, 2010 (Issue 3, Article 3), Genocide Studies and Prevention: an International Journal (IAGS).
  4. Kai Ambos. “What does ‘intent to destroy’ in genocide mean?” Vol. 91, #876, December 2009, International Review of the Red Cross.
  5. Giorgía Donà. “‘Situated Bystandership’ During and After the Rwandan Genocide,” Vol. 20, No.1, Journal of Genocide Research, 2018; passim.
  6. Ibid.
  7. loc. cit., p. 8.
  8. loc. cit., p. 14.
  9. loc. cit., p.17.
  10. Concerning the issue of alleged massacres of Hutu by Tutsi I suggest the work of Professor Peter Erlinder (William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota), The Rwanda Documents Project.
  11. Alison Des Forges. “The Ideology of Genocide,” Volume 23/Issue 2/1995. African Issues.