SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO -- Amazonian elders are telling us what the dominant society desperately needs to hear: The world is not merchandise. The planet is not a resource. The “thing-making machine” turning out more and more merchandise is killing us .
Over a decade ago, the Yanomami tribal elder Davi Kopenawa told us in The Falling Sky that money -- “the sad leaves” to which we are so beholden -- will not save us. Amazonian elder Ailton Krenak, alludes to Kopenawa in Ideas to Postpone the End of the World, his much humbler book of only 69 pages, a bracing exegesis that says we either produce the conditions to keep ourselves alive or we perish. The ‘necropolitics’ that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is pushing upon the indigenous peoples and Brazil as a whole, and which the world is hellbent on following, is a “ death sentence" for humanity.
In the American southwest, elders shared the same message over a quarter of a century ago . We have just experienced the largest firestorm ever in New Mexico. Kopenawa warned that whatever is happening to his people will happen to us. Native peoples were fed the story, mostly from missionaries, that humanity “stood apart from the great big organism of Earth.” But the native peoples all over the world believe the world is sacred and their cosmology is one of honoring existence, from the humblest being to the most imposing. Now is the time to “abandon our anthropocentrism” as Ailton urges or it will be the death of untold millions.
Here in New Mexico, where some of the indigenous peoples passed through on the way to South America millennia ago, we have seen ominous changes. They are happening. They are not mystical confabulations. We have experienced winds such as we have never seen. The tornadoes will get worse. The soil is drying up and there are reasons to believe that the dustbowl will return.The inability to grow food will haunt us here in America and even in Europe -- not just in Sudan, Afghanistan or India.
Western civilization has forgotten humanity’s original instruction, which was to honor the world. Colonialism’s premise that there was an “ enlightened humanity that had to go in search of the benighted humanity and bring those savages into their incredible light” is coming back to haunt us. Native elders in New Mexico told me over a generation ago that the technological society will go to them for answers, to discover how to reverse the disasters we have unleashed upon the earth. But by that time it will be too late.
The small minority of the ruling elite, those who are “ high on progress” have created a false narrative that is costing the life force of every insect, and whale, every man, woman and child on earth.We are letting the world be devoured by mining operations, soon to be pursued even under the sea. How can the world and its geological and hydrological cycles remain stable? Our arrogance is madness.
I have been told by Hopi elders in Arizona that we are going through purification, but it is really purgatory. Fields and forests have been converted into favelas and outlying slums. The native people who hold the world's biodiversity in their care have been literally flung into the great big blender of humanity.”
Much of the blame, says Krenak, is owed to corporations that he maintain are not sustainable, “no matter what they say.” He adds, "Corporate sustainability managers have become the sacerdotes of a new planetary order, self-righteously preaching something their employers, by their very nature, can’t practice.”
We no longer speak to the mountains as our ancestors did. We are going to end up living in totally synthetic environments and the children will quite simply no longer be children. We have not even listened to one of the key messengers of our own culture, Greta Thunberg, who said, "I want you to panic." The native people fleeing forest fires are panicking. Abuse of the world's environment is passed off as reason, but it is treason. We either listen to those who have been on the ground for 20,000 years and change direction or our civilization will perish by fire and flood.
Krenak’s people were stuffed into a reserve, a container. Water now must be delivered in trucks when it was all free. Now the gold hoarders have arrived and have unleashed hell on earth. Those who trade gold have abetted this nightmare.. They have uprooted life and sapped the “ meaning of experience from life.” It is time to give the four percent of the world that are indigenous people their basic Rights, because they hold the future of the planet in their hands. If the technological society does not change its ways, it will simply not survive. The logging companies, miners, and gold prospectors are the terrors of civilization.
We need to listen instead to the native people’s story. “ If we can make time for that, then we’ll be forever putting off the world’s demise.” The “poetics of existence," meaning the subjective realm of dreams and visions offered by prophetic voices had that kind of understanding, but they were always marginalized. Now our entire civilization needs to come to terms with a different perspective. The economists do not have the answers to our existential dilemma. In this time of biological havoc, only the native peoples have the wisdom of millennia to help navigate life on this fragile planet. They do not take part in subjugation, they are not responsible for the toxic mud from a burst tailings dam that completely overwhelmed Krenak’s world. Now that sludge of the extractive industries is about to overwhelm our world. The first peoples were never savages. Vanity, arrogance, and abject greed are killing the Earth.
The dominant society is the savage.
Our world has transformed into a factory for consuming innocence, and it is equipped and fine tuned to ensure that none of it remains anywhere on the face of the earth. Ailton Krenak