The Selfish Gene, Book Review

Dawkins, Richard (2006) The Selfish Gene, 30th Anniversary edition, New York: Oxford University Press

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins is a remarkable and engaging journey through evolutionary theory.  Dawkins’ “selfish gene theory” challenges what he considers common and incorrect notions that the “important thing in evolution is the good of the species.”  Dawkins asserts that evolution is in fact a survival and replication strategy of the gene.  Written most especially for the layperson, Dawkins’ prose abandons much of the technical jargon of science and replaces it with an informal and metaphorical language designed to be read with the same enthusiasm and comfort as science-fiction.

Setting the backdrop for the “selfish gene” theory, the first four chapters cover basic molecular and biological science as Dawkins postulates the possible chemical origins of life and the gene.  Once the gene-centered concept of evolution is thoroughly introduced, Dawkins changes gears and begins to discuss the influence natural selection may have on animal behavior.  This is the basis for the selfish gene theory in which he asserts that the pressures of natural selection which favor the most survivable genes are a catalyst for the evolution of the selfish gene which in turn produces certain behaviors in the individual.  Dawkins says that the individual body of an organism is a “survival machine” created by its genes throughout millions of often violent evolutionary years.  The primary purpose of this survival machine is to provide a protective environment where genes can more efficiently survive and replicate themselves.  Dawkins argues that because these survival machines are essentially programmed with the information carried in their genes, the drive to survive and replicate is thus manifest in a myriad of selfish behavioral characteristics.  In short, the theory states that genes and therefore the species in which they reside evolve behaviors that cause them to act selfishly for their own benefit.  Natural selection favors selfishness.

Altruism represents a possible contradiction to the selfish gene theory, so Dawkins spends much of the early portion of the book addressing this idea. Altruism is a behavior in which an individual acts in a manner that benefits its kin group at the possible expense or sacrifice of its own life.  An example of altruistic behavior in the animal world is when a certain bird gives an alarm call, warning those animals nearby of an approaching predator and thereby drawing attention to itself and exposing itself to a higher degree of danger. Dawkins explains that altruism may actually have a selfish component on the genetic level in its evolutionary function.  If evolution is about “the good of the gene” it is therefore beneficial to sacrifice an individual life in order to protect those same genes existing within the kin group.

Dawkins’ language is constantly peppered with analogies and metaphors which assign many conscious attributes to the genes as they interact with the world.  Such examples are indicative of the title itself; the “selfish” gene.  Dawkins acknowledges that experts in the biological fields are likely to be displeased with his informal, non-technical, and anthropomorphic literary style but he assures us that he speaks only figuratively, that these terms are not meant to convey any truly subjective or moral qualities upon genes or natural selection.  Metaphor is merely his tool in translating scientific jargon and complex equations into the language of the layman.

In the second portion of the book, Dawkins stretches his metaphorical translation to include a cultural concept he calls a meme, from the Greek root mimeme.  He describes the meme as “a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation.”  It is essentially a segment of idea and it functions on a cerebral level, replicating, gene-like as it passes from mind to mind. The uniqueness of the gene and therefore life itself is in their functions as replicators. Dawkins argues that memes are also significant in their function of replicating themselves through culture. Memes, Dawkins asserts, should be regarded as just as much alive as genes.  He seems to use this theory as a means to challenge not only the established perspective on evolution but certainly to challenge the more religiously minded reader with an often fiercely combative tone regarding the “god meme.”

The meme theory or memetics is a very interesting idea on a philosophical level, but at this point the book almost seems as if it has crossed over from science to fiction or perhaps some form of religious atheism.  The analogy breaks down under more empirical scrutiny, but Dawkins speaks about the subject as if he is presenting more than just a metaphor. Comparing memetics to genetics, though entertaining in an analogous context is not a very practical or empirically oriented theory.  The concrete existence of a gene makes for a much more scientifically sound study than the esoteric nature of a thought.

The Selfish Gene is a thought-provoking book, relevant beyond the fields of zoology, and biology.  Students of psychology, sociology, and philosophy would also find this book of interest.  Dawkins’ flowing prose is engrossing and it does in fact read more like good fiction than dry science.  Many of Dawkins’ points are openly intended to challenge people of faith.  This is especially remarkable due to the manner in which he uses metaphor to symbolize complex theory, attributing conscious strategies, personalities and plans to genes.  This technique is ironically reminiscent of the esoteric and hermetic symbolism found in the world’s religions which use similar techniques to symbolize philosophical ideals and translate often ancient esoteric information into popular language and culture.  In doing this I think Dawkins may have found a way to speak the same or a similar language to that of the religious whom he intends to confront and educate.

Dun Aengus: Irish Music and Revelry

The first time I ran into the Irish music duo Dun Aengus was at McGuire’s Irish Pub in Pensacola, Florida in March 2010.  It was the last night of the Renaissance Faire and a handful of us met up at the pub for a drink.  They were a great band that night, playing a lot of the classic Irish drinking songs I’ve known and loved.  I would have gone up to the pub to see them again but they were on tour and leaving for south Florida the next day.

I caught up with them again the following St. Patrick’s Day, once again at McGuire’s.  They were rocking the house with popular Irish and Scottish tunes and a few popular American classics for good measure.  Just like last year, Dun Aengus had the crowd enraptured, gathered on the floor in front of the stage dancing with wild abandon to these classic sing-alongs.  The Irish was certainly high that night.

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Lojah performing with Dun Aengus at McGuire’s Irish Pub in Destin, FL.

Hailing from Sweden, Dun Aengus consists of Peter Andersson on banjo and vocals, and Martin Rahmberg on acoustic guitar and vocals.  Martin’s gruff singing style contributes a real rootsy “beer and tobacco” quality while Peter’s smoother harmonies and verses compliment and broaden the sound.  Peter’s banjo leads also carry the melodies that distinctly bring out the Celtic quality of the music.  Their repertoire includes such classics as “Whiskey in the Jar,” “The Wild Rover,” and “All For Me Grog,” and a full night’s compliment of others.

Dun Aengus is an excellent Irish music duo worthy of some support.  I’ll be keeping track of them so I can catch them again next time they‘re in town.

You should keep an ear out for them too.  For more information or to purchase MP3s or CDs by Dun Aengus, visit their website here.

This is a video of Martin and Peter of Dun Aengus, with their other band King Laoghaire, performing “A Place in the Choir,” a really catchy tune which is also available for download on CDbaby.

McGuire’s Irish Pub, Pensacola

McGuire’s Irish Pub is a Pensacola landmark, rich in atmosphere and tradition.  Located in the Old Firehouse at 600 E. Gregory St. Pensacola, Florida, McGuire’s boasts “Feasting, Imbibery, and Debauchery 7 nights a week.”  Themed as “a turn of the century New York Irish Saloon” McGuire’s features nightly performances of traditional Irish Music and sing-along.  Such artists of note include Rich McDuff, Dun Aengus, and JJ Smith playing a majority of classic and traditional Irish folk music.

Established by McGuire and Molly Martin in 1977, but only located at Gregory Street since 1982, this pub has a few traditions that have grown up with it.  The ceiling and the walls are covered with over 1 million one dollar bills, signed and donated by the pub’s patrons.  In the late night hours, as the debauchery gets a-going new comers and those overcome with that Irish spirit may be called up to kiss the moose as the featured artist sings the traditional moose-kissing song.

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Lojah with Larry Kernagis (banjo) at McGuire’s Irish Pub

As a restaurant McGuire’s serves lunch during the day and dinner until the wee hours of the morning and employs some of the hardest working wait staff in Pensacola.  Dining at McGuire’s is always fun and satisfying, with very large portions.  The nacho plate alone is piled up the size of your head.  And the quality is top of the line.

McGuire’s is a winner of numerous awards including Beef Backers “Best Steaks in Florida,” for their USDA Prime Beef steaks.  It is also an 11 time Golden Spoon Award Winner, and a Florida Trend Magazine Hall of Famer.  McGuire’s has also been featured on the Food Network’s Outrageous Foods during which the “Big Daddy Burger” made with bacon, cheddar cheese and jalapeno peppers was created.

McGuire’s is also celebrated for its selection of beers.  They proudly display a quote by Carrie Nation; “Life’s too short to drink cheap beer.”  McGuire’s operates an onsite brewery where are created a selection of quality ales and porter.  They include a light ale, Irish Red, Raspberry Wheat, Porter, Stout and root beer.  They also brew and serve a rotating variety of seasonal ales.  Visitors may tour the McGuire’s Brewery and home brewers are offered a sample of McGuire’s own brewing yeast for use.

The bartenders are very friendly, professional and offer quick service.  They pour 1½ oz shots and double shot martinis.  McGuire’s is the home of the aptly named Irish Wake, a green concoction served in a mason jar with a green and a red cherry, so potent that no more than three are allowed per customer per visit.  Amongst its many awards, McGuires with its 8,000 bottle wine cellar is also the winner or the 2009 WineSpectator Award of Excellence.

To new folks, the McGuire’s layout may cause some initial consternation.  Much like the TARDIS from Dr. Who, McGuire’s seems to be bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.  Like Disney World, much of McGuire’s is virtually unseen from ‘above ground,’ with 400 seats throughout several different themed rooms.  Then there are the bones of Bridget McGuire.

McGuire’s is a regular stop for many celebrities and politicians who live in or pass through Pensacola, including 2008 Presidential candidate John McCain.  This is a fantastic pub in which to be a visitor or a regular.  With good food, good drink, and great atmosphere, you won’t be disappointed.  Just be sure to pay close attention to the restroom signs when ye stop by.

Visit McGuire’s Irish Pub’s website here.

Pensacola, The Place I call Home

I’ve called Pensacola home for the majority of my life.  I’ve lived plenty of other places, but my roots run deep in Northwest Florida. Casually strolling down Palafox Street, I’m often amazed at just how much history is packed into such a small space.  Along with art galleries, music venues, and bars that specialize in craft-beer, are mixed the small Plaza Ferdinand VII and at the end of the road the circular Plaza de Luna situated on the front of Pensacola Bay where you are confronted by a bronze statue of the conquistador Tristan de Luna.  Downtown Pensacola contains several little archaeological sites and reminders of its colonial past.

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Pensacola at a Glance

The City of Pensacola is a quirky, moderately sized metropolitan area in Escambia County on the Northwest Gulf Coast of Florida, situated on the bay which shares its name.  It’s also known as the City of Five Flags, because the flags of five separate nations have flown over it; Spain, France, England, the United States, and the Confederate States of America.

Pensacola has a bit of an identity crisis, part beach town, college town, military town, and a large part traditional southern community.  It’s large enough that there is always an abundance of new people to meet, but small enough that there is a good chance they already know someone you do.  If you are active enough moving around the town you will almost certainly run into friends and acquaintances on any given day.

To tourists, Pensacola is known for its snow-white sandy beaches and the emerald green waters which surround them. The summers are warm and sunny.  Late summer is brutally hot and muggy, but the winters are mild.  And there are plenty of trees.

A Brief History of Pensacola

Although Pensacola is often treated as Florida’s secret, it bears a significant place within American history.  The indigenous inhabitants of the Northwest Florida territory were participants in the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex; part of the Mississippian mound building cultures.  The earliest records of this land were made by 16th century Spanish explorers.  Tristan de Luna landed here in 1559, establishing a short-lived Spanish colony, making Pensacola the first European settlement in what is today’s continental United States.  De Luna established a port where Naval Air Station Pensacola is located today.  A few months later the colony was devastated by a hurricane and abandoned.

Pensacola means “Hair People” or “Hair Clan” in the Native language, closely related to Choctaw, in the Muskogean family.  We know the Pensacola tribe occupied the area by 1677 AD, and in 1686 they were at war with the Mobile Indians to the west.  In 1698 the Spanish established another colony here, making Pensacola an important port town and the primary exporter of hides during the deer skin trade.  Since those days, Pensacola has been a regular settling place for Eastern Creek Indians.  It was traded back and forth between the Spanish, English and, French until finally being acquired by the United States in 1821.

Lifestyle

Today, Pensacola is the home of the Center for Naval Aviation and the Center for Naval Cryptology.  This is also the home base for the Blue Angels flight squadron.

The local University of West Florida has graduated over 67,000 students and is well respected for having one of the best southeastern archaeology departments with full-time terrestrial and maritime projects at work every summer.

For a cool place to hang out I recommend McGuire’s Irish Pub.  Seville Quarter is also very popular among the younger, pop-culture driven crowd.  For large popular musical acts there is the Civic Center, while Vinyl Music Hall provides a more intimate venue.

If your  interests lie in an independent music scene, Pensacola has that too.  Two clubs stand out the most in this area; The Handlebar, and Sluggos.  These two venues have been a part of the Pensacola alternative music scene for so long that any discussion of Pensacola nightlife without mentioning them would be incomplete and uninformed.

Outdoor Activities

Ecotourism is an abundant resource in the Pensacola area.  To begin with there is of course Pensacola Beach, a barrier island of some of the whitest and most beautiful beaches you’ve ever seen.  For camping, the island provides spaces near the Civil War era Fort Pickens which also served as a prison for Geronimo and his band of Chiricahua Apaches.  Back on the main land Big Lagoon State Park provides camping spaces with plenty of access to water.  My personal favorite area for outdoors excursions is the Blackwater River State Park in nearby Santa Rosa County, with endless trails of undisturbed natural flora and fauna.

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Local Celebrities

Pensacola has also produced its share of celebrities including WBA Heavyweight Champion Roy Jones Jr., NFL running back Emmitt Smith, multiple platinum winning producer Larry Butler, and Native American Music Award winning rapper Shadowyze. Former presidential candidate, Senator John McCain attended flight school at NAS Pensacola.

Pensacola inspires artists of various sorts and every craft.  It has a diverse culture, more cosmopolitan than most of the surrounding area.  It holds a significant place in American history as the first European colonial city in what would become the United States.  With multiple festivals and cultural expositions celebrated throughout the year, Pensacola is one of Florida’s hidden treasures.

Rastafari, Zion and a Religious Irony

Fans of Reggae music understand how intimately tied it is to the Rastafarian movement from which it was born.  Rastafari is a religion, a philosophy, a way of life and a social movement.  Depending on whom you ask regarding the nature of Rasta, you’ll get a different combination of these basic premises.

Rastafari emerged from the poor black communities of Jamaica in the 1930s.  The roots of the ideology lie heavily in the collective experience of slavery and Marcus Garvey’s back to Africa movement.  The poor religious people in the shanty towns of Jamaica may not have known much about world history, but they understood the Old Testament stories referring to Egypt and Ethiopia were taking place in Africa; that mystical homeland that legend had endowed with mythic stature.

In 1930 an Ethiopian nobleman Ras Tafari was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia, taking the name Haile Selassie I, the “Conquering Lion of Judah.”  A small group of Jamaican faithful saw this as the fulfillment of the prophecy found in Revelation 5:5.

One of the elders said to me, “Don not weep.  The lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has triumphed, enabling him to open the scroll with its seven seals.”

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Rastafarian Flag

Immediately a religion converged exalting Selassie as the second coming of Jah (God), and the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.  They called themselves Rastafarians, taking the Emperor’s pre-coronation name.

Rastafarians adopted the Ethiopian Coptic Orthodox epic, the Kebra Negast as a scripture.  This book explains how the Ethiopian people are descended from the Israelites.  The story depicts the courtship of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba who, according to the text had a son named Menelik.  Menelik was raised in Ethiopia with his mother.  After visiting his father Solomon in Israel once, Menelik returned to Ethiopia with a population of Israelites under the protection of the Ark of the Covenant which they brought with them.  For these reasons Rastafarians consider themselves to be the true Israelites and Ethiopia to be the true Zion, rather than Israel; the Zion of Judaism and Western Christianity.

For the past several hundred years in Ethiopia there lived a community of black African Jews called Beta Israel, isolated from the greater influence of Rabbinic Judaism.  Rastas pointed to this community as evidence supporting their legend of an Ethiopian Zion.  After Salassie I visited Jamaica in 1960 waves of Rastas began immigrating to Ethiopia where they founded Shashemene Village.  The lost Israelites had begun their repatriation to Zion.

An ironic twist in this epic came in 1970 when the nation of Israel enacted the Law of Return, giving Jews and Jewish descendants the right to immigrate to Israel and gain Israeli citizenship.  The Beta Israel quickly sought their right to return to their traditional homeland.  During the 1980s civil war broke out in Ethiopia and famine struck the nation, threatening the Beta Israel community’s survival.  In 1984 in an effort to rescue the exiled Jews, the government of Israel executed Operation Moses; evacuating thousands of Beta Israel and repatriated them to Israel.  In 1991, Israel’s Operation Solomon brought the remaining Beta Israel to Israel.  The entire Beta Israel community, numbering 120,000 people now lives in Israel.  The lost Israelites have returned to Zion.

Native Tribalism In The Twenty-First Century

nativepride4In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries “Family Values” have been at the forefront of many a politician’s rhetoric in the United States.  Though these social servants may think that they mean well, in truth they often have done and do more to hinder family values than they do to help.  Indigenous family values have been steadily attacked for the greater span of history, often by the goals and aims of the capitalist mainstream of American and Western society through the colonial process.  It is through this process of colonialism and the perpetuation of the values inherent in this philosophy of conquest and assimilation that has brought the plague of impoverished, powerless families in crises to the world.  Indigenous peoples in general have always been the primary targets of these acts of aggression against family values, and since the close of the fifteenth century, Native Americans have been the victims of this war on the family.  As an Indian and a Stomp Dancer at a traditional ceremonial grounds I have some close ties to this subject as I have witnessed first hand some of the destructive policies of the government in these matters which have long standing and far reaching consequences for people of all races.


Traditionally Native Americans have lived in social organizations that anthropologists and sociologists have called bands and tribes.  As Andre Cherlin points out;

Before the twentieth century, kinship ties provided the basis for governing most American Indian tribes.  A person’s household was linked to a larger group of relatives who might be a branch of a matrilineal or patrilineal clan [→p38] that shared power with other clans. Thus kinship organization was also political organization.  Under these circumstances, extended kinship ties reflected power and status to a much greater extent than among other racial ethnic groups in the United States.  American Indian kinship systems allowed individuals to have more relatives, than did Western European kinship systems (Shoemaker, 1991).  Even today, extended family ties retain a significance for American Indians that goes beyond the sharing of resources that has been noted among other groups (Harjo,1993).  Kinship networks constitute tribal organization; kinship ties confer an identity.[1]

Vine Deloria Jr., renowned Native American author and former Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians develops the idea further into more practical detail;

Indian tribes have always had two basic internal strengths, which can also be seen in corporations: customs and clans.  Tribes are not simply composed of Indians.  They are highly organized as clans, within which variations of tribal traditions and customs govern.  While the tribe makes decisions on general affairs, clans handle specific problems.  Trivia is thus kept out of tribal affairs by referring it to clan solutions.

Customs rise as clans rise to meet problems and solve them.  They overflow from the clan into general tribal usage as their capability and validity are recognized.  Thus a custom can spread from a minor clan to the tribe as a whole and prove to be a significant basis for tribal behavior.  In the same manner, methods and techniques found useful in one phase of corporate existence can become standard operating procedure for an entire corporation.[2]

However, this tribal structure has never suited the palate of Western colonialism which seeks to consolidate its power and authority over national as well as individual resources.  The socialistic and communal nature of Native tribalism in America is in exact opposition to the nuclear family oriented and discriminating values of Western colonialism.


apaches_general_crooks4

After four hundred years of struggling against the effects of colonialism; disease, wars and genocide the last free Indians in North America were forced onto reservations in1886 when Geronimo and his band of Chiricahua Apaches surrendered at Skeleton Canyon in Arizona.  As soon as the federal government was convinced they had rounded up all the Indians, they forced Native communities to be defined by a set standard of perceived genetics in an attempt to undermine the integrity of the Indian tribal structure.  By applying blood standards to Native Identity the federal government alienated and further factionalized Native families and communities which were often genetically mixed, while also limiting their contemporary as well as future claims to Indigenous identity and sovereignty.  Ward Churchill, professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder says;

In clinging insistently to a variation of eugenics formulation — dubbed “blood-quantum” – ushered in by the 1887 General Allotment Act, while implementing such policies as the Federal Indian Relocation Program (1956-1982), the government has set the stage for a “statistical extermination” of the indigenous population within its borders.  As the noted western historian, Patricia Nelson Limerick, has observed: “Set the blood-quantum at one quarter, hold to it as a rigid definition of Indians, let intermarriage proceed…and eventually Indians will be defined out of existence.  When that happens, the federal government will finally be freed from its persistent ‘Indian Problem’.”[3]

Though portrayed as a means of preserving tribal identity and interests, the blood quantum standards of the General Allotment Act have in fact only served to undermine tribal integrity.

Today tribal membership is determined on quite a legalistic basis, which is foreign to the accustomed tribal way of determining its constituency.  The property interests of descendants of the original enrollees or allotees have become determining factors in compiling tribal membership rolls.  People of small Indian blood quantum or those descended from people who were tribal members a century ago, are thus included on the tribal membership roll. Tribes can no longer form and reform on sociological, religious, or cultural bases.  They are restricted in membership by federal officials responsible for administering trust properties who demand that the rights of every person be respected and whether or not that person presently appears in an active and recognized role in the tribal community.  Indian tribal membership today is a fiction created by the federal government, not a creation of the Indian people themselves.[4]

Throughout the years that followed, interaction between the United States government and Native peoples the federal policy has been one of either complete destruction or dissolution of the tribal structure.  Less than half a century after the last Indian wars the United States government began investigating ways to rid themselves of the impoverished, unified family-based communities surviving off of federal commodities, hopefully this time, without having to shoot anybody.

In 1947, in order to save funds and gain stronger control over tribal reservation lands, Acting Commissioner of Indian Affairs William Zimmerman was pressured to classify Indian Tribes into categories between those tribes that could be immediately terminated from federal service and those tribes who will require a decade or more of intensified programs of development in order to reach a level of assimilation to function within white society.  In 1950 the House Internal Committee based their survey of Indians on The Domesday Survey of 1086 as the model for their investigation on Indian affairs and economic assets.  The Domesday Survey was William the Conqueror’s survey of his recently conquered British territory and subjects nearly a thousand years earlier. The committee’s intention was to expedite the assimilation of Native Americans and the dissolution of their tribal structure, the indigenous family value.  The following years between 1954 –1968 were full of Congressional cases of tribal termination.[5]

Native American communities have continuously been treated more as conquered prisoners to be assimilated rather than American citizens effectively trivializing them as human beings.  While federal policy has tended to always be aimed toward unraveling the tribal structure in order to dissolve Native sovereignty all together, the media and non-indigenous society typically portray Indians in historical romance rather than in contemporary settings; showing Natives dealing with our modern day colonialism.  This lack of accurate portrayal of Natives has served to keep the general populace ignorant and uninformed regarding much of the truth regarding Native America.  Churchill again brings the issue into focus by explaining;

Nothing, perhaps, is more emblematic of Hollywood’s visual pageantry than scenes of Plains Indian warriors astride their galloping ponies, many of them trailing a flowing headdress in the wind, thundering into battle against the blue-coated troops of the United States.  By, now more than 500 feature films and half again as many television productions have included representations of this sort.  We have been served such fare along with the tipi, the buffalo hunt, the attack upon the wagon train and the ambush of the stage coach, until they have become so indelibly imprinted upon the American consciousness as to be synonymous with Indians as a whole (to nonindians at any rate and, to many native people as well).

It’s not the technical inaccuracies in such representations that are the most problematic, although these are usually many and often extreme.  Rather, it is the fact that the period embodied in such depictions spans the barely three decades running from 1850 to 1880, the interval of warfare between the various plains people and the ever encroaching soldiers and settlers of the United States.  There is no “before” to the story and there is no “after.”  Cinematic Indians have no history before Euroamericans come along to momentarily imbue them with it, and then, mysteriously, they seem to pass out of existence altogether.”[6]

It is for these reasons that both of the United States ethnic majorities, both black and white tend to misunderstand, misrepresent, not care or consider issues of native sovereignty and the integrity of the tribal structure to be a joke.  As far as most Americans are concerned Native tribalism and sovereignty does little more than stimulate the imagination.  The most support and understanding or sympathizing with Native family struggles outside of Native America arises in the Mexican and Latino population who tend to feel some kinship with Indians.  Native political concerns do not translate well across ethnic boundaries.  Unlike issues between black and white, which tend to be focused on integration, equal opportunity and employment, few ethnic groups in the United States can identify with modern conflicts over Reservation sovereignty, treaty violations, the right to ethnic self-identification and to maintain self-governance.  As Deloria explains it;

The closest parallel that we find in history to the present conditions of Indians is the Diaspora of the Jews following the destruction of the Temple … The Indian exile is in a sense more drastic.  The people often live less than a hundred miles away from their traditional homelands; yet in the relative complexities of reservation and urban life, they might be two-thousand or more years apart.  It’s not simply a special separation that has occurred but a temporal one as well.[7]

In less than five hundred years once powerful and highly specialized family oriented nations were reduced to ‘fourth world’ poverty .

NATIVE AMERICANS, or American Indians, suffer some of the highest rates of poverty and unemployment among racial minority groups in the United States, and conditions are even worse on Native American reservations. In 1989, 27.2 percent of Native American families lived below the poverty level while 10 percent of all American families fell into this category (U.S Bureau of the Census 1990a, Table 112). The 1989 Native American family median income was $21,619, only 67 percent of the average family median income for the total U.S. population (ibid). Census Bureau estimates of Native American unemployment rates across selected reservations in 1990 vary from 14 percent to 44 percent (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1990b, Summary Tape File 3c). The Bureau of Indian Affairs reports even higher unemployment rates for these areas, estimating rates as high as 70 percent for some reservations (Stuart 1987). Both series place reservation unemployment rates far above average rates for other races or regions.[8]

Indian tribes have been located to lands, splintered, relocated to other places and then relocated again whenever they begin to show a little too much organizational and political aptitude or when valuable resources are found on tribal lands.  Native Americans are continually losing their cultures and identity through tribal dissolution and general neglect of our current political and social obstacles by the media.  The loss of land and sovereignty is continuing to cripple the societies and render the individuals as little more than impoverished peoples and blood quantum standards encourage factionalism and disintegration by forcing mixed blood cousins off of tribal rolls.

The poor treatment and misrepresentation of social issues of Indigenous peoples by the colonial governments and their respective media sets a bad precedent for other nations.  When the world’s Indigenous peoples are oppressed and maltreated on the land that is rightfully their own then the individuals within the colonial society themselves are subject to similar or worse treatment by their own governments.  When a people whose historic and ethnic, social and religious claim to a land is undermined and effectively nullified, no one can expect to have land rights or social and religious freedom without government interference.

Native American tribalism has been an issue of trivia for western society for the past five hundred years.  The colonial structure has shunned it and counterculturalists have imitated it in their defiance of their corporate culture yet, this is perhaps the most misunderstood, misrepresented and misconstrued aspect of “Indianess.”  The Tribal structure of Indigenous people is the backbone of human culture from its roots to its leaves, but oddly enough this truest aspect of human nature has been enduring a wholesale eradication in the name of progress.  The most unfortunate aspect of this dilemma just may be the total alienation of westernized society from its indigenous roots, its true family nature.

It would do Western societies good to pay heed to indigenous ideas and views.  The world’s nations will likely never come to any justice in social reform if they do not reconsider their modern colonial perspective and come to grips with their indigenous roots.

[1] Cherlin, Adrew J., Public and Private Families, McGraw-Hill Higher Education Publishing, 2005, pg 22

[2] Deloria Jr, Vine, Custer Died For Your Sins, Macmillian Publishing, New York, 1988, pg 232

[3] Churchill, Ward, Indians Are Us, Culture and Genocide in Native North America, Common Courage Press, 1994, pg 42

[4] Deloria Jr, Vine, God Is Red, a Native View of Religion, Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, 1994 pg 243

[5] Deloria Jr, Vine, Custer Died For Your Sins, Macmillian Publishing, New York, 1988, pg 60

[6] Churchill, Ward, Acts of Rebellion, the Ward Churchill Reader, Routledge, New York, 2003, pg 186

[7] Deloria Jr, Vine, God Is Red, a Native View of Religion, Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, pg 249

[8] Geib, Elizabeth Zahrt, Do Reservation Native Americans Vote with Their Feet? A Re-examination of Native American Migration, 1985-1990 – Focus on Economic Sociology American Journal of Economics and Sociology, The, Oct, 2001

Mass Media’s Effect on Anthropology, Nationalism and Native Awareness

Modern anthropological studies are placing an ever growing amount of importance on mass media.  This interest came about in large part as a reaction to the up rise of nationalism leading up to World War II, and the growth of mass communication and media.  Since that time anthropology has shifted from the mere study of indigenous cultures into the study of nations, states, political ideologies, institutions, and all the instruments of nationalism.

As the twentieth century came to a close the undeniable influence of mass media upon society and nationalism has made it a subject of great interest to anthropologists and Native communities alike.  Anthropologists have begun to utilize the tools of mass media to further education and understanding across national and cultural lines. More significantly, access to mass media by Native populations has allowed for them to represent themselves through the dissemination of music, art and literature of their own designs independent of the anthropological disciplines.  The knowledge, and primary sources that have historically been imparted through the discipline of anthropology can now be accessible to everyone and is no longer confined to universities and their text books.


1980s and World Music

Anthropologist Francisco Osorio of the University of Chile in his paper “Why Is Interest in Mass Media Anthropology Growing?” points out that both Anthropology and mass media “… have a common starting point in World War II.”  Since the 1980’s which Osorio marks as the beginning of Modernity within anthropological studies, the study of mass media has been the focus along with science, capitalism and consumption.

The late 1980’s also bore the broad musical category “World Music” which has proven to be a lucrative commercial interest, as well as a strong medium to foster cross-cultural communication and a more profound interest in the social sciences.

World music is a broad genre that encompasses nationalist and regional music from all around the world.  Most often it represents the musical styles of communities that in previous decades would only be heard by outsiders while on vacation, a safari or an anthropological field study.  Styles such as Reggae, Blues, Celtic Music and Powwow drums represent just a small yet broad variation of the World Music genre.  According to Carsten Wergan in “World Music: a medium for unity and difference?” World Music is often intended to communicate the identity of its regional culture to the outside world, to educate each other about their respective cultures through the medium of music.  This has been successful through investments in quality production and mass distribution.   It is by its nature a means to arouse an “anthropological” interest in its listeners.

Native Americans Take Control of Mass Media

In the past, when mass media was more restricted to an elite few, Native peoples were usually portrayed in the basest forms as stereotyped images of their cultures.  But as mass distribution, through networks of independent record labels and the internet has become more accessible to every person, Native Musicians have begun to emerge from their formerly obscure shadows in the mass consciousness of Western society.

In 1989 Tom Bee formed Sound of America Records (SOAR) with the intention of distributing music made by Native Americans. According to his bio; “In 1995, Bee formed yet another company, SOAR Distribution LTD for the sole purpose of providing his clients with one-stop music from other independent labels and artists also producing Native American music.”  Tom Bee was also the driving force behind convincing NARAS to create a Native American Grammy category*.  Tom Bee has been such a significant influence and positive impact on Native American music that he has been the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions, none the least are the Native American Music Awards (Nammy) for Producer of the Year in 1998 and the NAMMY’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999.  He was awarded a Grammy in 2004 for production of “Flying Free” by Black Eagle.  Bee was also recognized for his many successes and his positive impact on native music when Mayor Martin Chavez of Albuquerque, New Mexico proclaimed July 27th, 2002 “Tom Bee Day.”

Tom Bee helped open the door and now Natives of various stripes have found their methods through more commercial avenues of music such as hip hop, rock and roll and alternative music to use mass media as a way to further the cause of their national identities and to demonstrate how corporate interests impact their lives.  Shadowyze whose first album release was produced by Tom Bee uses South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation as the backdrop for the Native American Hip Hop video “BUMPY ROADS,” which conveys the struggles and obstacles of living in a lower economic bracket – something that truly does cross ethnic boundaries – but in the very culturally specific setting of a Lakota reservation.  In this manner artists like Shadowyze, Litefoot and John Trudell have learned to use this medium of music to convey social messages and bridge cultural gaps, helping to portray the values and economic situation of indigenous cultures more accurately.



The Internet Provides a Higher Standard of Cultural Accuracy

The democratization of the internet changed everything in the media.  Websites and blogs are created for little or no cost.  Webmasters can form groups like the old webrings with similar interests and purposes linking to each other, creating a network accessible to the general public.  Native communities have been using the internet to reach out to the world and enlighten them within the comfort of their own living room.  Anthropological oriented sites such as media-anthropology.net or korubo.com are also easily accessed by thousands and potentially millions of people to provide education about indigenous concerns.  Now the internet phenomenon has taken on a new shape with social media like facebook and twitter.  Artists and musicians have free access to their own promotional site, and now unique, cultural and traditional music can be accessed by millions through their computer screen.  These sites are also being more directly utilized to further the education of anthropological studies as groups such as the Amazon Conservation Team, founded by the renowned ethno-botanist Dr. Mark Plotkin sign up and seek “friends” with whom to network.  It seems as technology advances pop culture, more accessible avenues are opened up for advancement in cultural awareness.

As this trend continues and people of different cultures become more aware and knowledgeable about other societies, a higher standard of cultural accuracy in the media increases.  Fewer people are accepting the disingenuous images of the stereotyped savage that has been perpetuated for centuries in American cinema as more Americans become aware of different cultures through the easily accessible mass produced media and the internet.  In this setting all people including Natives can use their own words, music and art to express their own values and views.

A New Era of Media is a New Era of Education

In previous decades anthropological resources could only be accessed through stodgy old books in expensive centers of education.  Many of the experiences that were once confined to anthropological field work and class study can now be accessed by the whole of society through the faculties of mass media.  As society gains more access to and education of anthropological experience through the media it becomes more sophisticated by its exposure to the disciplines theories.  The ability to use film, music and internet capabilities allows people to potentially reach audiences in the millions.  This is quite a difference compared to the mere hundreds that were previously fortunate enough to have contact with the books published and disseminated mostly within the confines of a university.

In the present era Anthropology does not have to be limited to text books.  As mass communication helped bear nationalism in the twentieth century, anthropological theory became more concerned with national faculties such as the media.  In the post-Vietnam War era United States mass distribution of music and video provided the means for an upsurge in nationalistic and culturally specific genres of music now called World Music to have a more international audience.  With the sophistication of technology through the beginning of the twenty-first century and the advent of the internet, the music and arts of the diverse peoples of the Earth can be accessed by each other respectively with the click of a button or the flip of a switch.  The old books of anthropological theories are no longer the sole guide to cultural awareness.  We may for the first time in history be at a point where cross cultural rapport can be achieved on a massive scale through the free access of media throughout the globe.

*discontinued in 2012

The Moody View sets Sail!

And we set sail on a new escapade.

Inspired by a fascination with human moorings

In awe of the human spirit, the deep abyss of the mind

The threshold where beast and demigod converge

 

Superstitious and delusory

But reason is the edge upon which I balance my burden

Though mysticism does not escape me.

A sharpened blade slicing through the fabric of being

 

I find a universe of solace within the arcane elements

That which is hidden, I look to discover.

That which is lost, I may endeavor to find.

That which has been distorted, perhaps I can clear.

 

It may be within the beer halls and public houses that you may find my wit,

Or the classrooms, laboratories and libraries in which I have matured.

You could walk up on me in the forest, where my spirit was awakened at home.

Or perhaps I’ll be entrenched, on liberty’s mission.

 

While plebeians entertain distractions,

and kings serves us our own bread with their circus

The scent of teargas fills the air

And here I scribe the view from my loft.

Music, Culture and Modern Critiques