Understanding “THE DOUBLE ERROR” of Naming and Grammar
My view is that in order to understand how CRAZY-MAKING cognitive assumptions are screwing up our WESTERN CULTURE psyche’s, we need to address UPFRONT, Nietzsche’s (and other’s) critique of ‘reason’; i.e.
“Reason” in language!—oh what a deceptive old witch it has been! I fear we shall never be rid of God, so long as we still believe in grammar. — Nietzsche
What is going on here is that we are falling into a trap described by Goedel’s Theorem of the incompleteness of all finite systems of logic.
If we reflect on this, we find that this is very relevant to the FIRE BURNS conundrum wherein we use such simple DOUBLE ERROR language and grammar constructions to reduce the INEFFABLE-because-NONLOCAL understanding of reality to the EFFABLE-because-LOCAL understanding.
In other words, we understand from our sensory experiencing of the seasons and multi-year cycles (warm years and cool years) that we are included in something bigger than we can get outside of and look down and in on, an experience of inclusion that is impossible to describe in VOYEUR visualizing terms (i.e. DOUBLE ERROR terms) of NAMING instantiated local things-in-themselves (FIRST ERROR) with their own GRAMMAR given actions and developments [SECOND ERROR].
The Goedel’s theorem problem of incompleteness shows up right there in ‘FIRE BURNS’ and ‘LIGHTNING FLASHES’ and ‘COVID 19 KILLS’. These are all one-sided (incomplete) positive propositions that lack the complexity needed to capture TRANSFORMATION. TRANSFORMATION cannot be captured in terms of LOCAL SOURCING as is the make-up of the logical propositions ‘FIRE BURNS’, ‘LIGHTNING FLASHES’ and ‘COVID 19 KILLS’.
We could therefore say that simple logic, the EITHER/OR logic of the EXCLUDED medium (where FIGURE and GROUND are TWO) is the type of logic that is exposed in the Goedel’s theorem sense is where the ‘incompleteness’ comes in. For example, we can use this logic to say that we are GROWING the farm land we have under cultivation, but this says nothing about the SHRINKAGE of the Wilderness lands that is reciprocal to the GROWTH of the cultivated lands.
What’s going on here? Evidently language and grammar don’t care about whether we are living on a flat plane of infinite extent, in which case there would be no SHRINKAGE of WILDERNESS lands in reciprocal proportion to the GROWTH of CULTIVATED LAND, such reciprocal interdependence being characteristic of spherical space but not FLAT-SPACE. In other words, there is no such thing as GROWTH without assuming an absolute containing space to house that GROWTH and since there is no such thing as an absolute containing space, there is no such thing as GROWTH. There is only TRANSFORMATION.
But we are not dependent on simple EITHER/OR binary logic of the EXCLUDED medium where FIGURE and GROUND are TWO… for figuring out how ‘reality’ works, we also have ‘quantum logic’ aka ‘the BOTH/AND logic of the INCLUDED medium(where FIGURE and GROUND are ONE, as in the boil in the flow). The FIGURE and GROUND as ONE reality is otherwise known as NONLOCALITY and what is NONLOCAL is INEFFABLE as in the overall environmental desiccating in the persisting summer cycle of thermal field intensification. Where is the warming coming from? Answer: — from a gathering and scattering that is aptly described as NONLOCAL as is the basic nature of the Wave-field.
The LOCAL outbreaks of FIRE are secondary symptoms of ongoing NONLOCAL TRANSFORMATION which, because it is NONLOCAL, is INEFFABLE. Here we come to the ‘logical error’ of the man who searches under the streetlight for the watch he has lost on a dark section of the street because ‘the search conditions are better there’. That is, we can be EXPLICIT in expressing our finding from inquiry into LOCAL phenomena such as FIRE BURNS while TRANSFORMATION is NONLOCAL (implicit) and resists capture in LOCAL (explicit) terms. That’s too bad because TRANSFORMATION is the fundamental dynamic and it is NONLOCAL while LOCAL dynamics are secondary IMPRESSIONS (e.g. ‘DUNING’ is a NONLOCAL resonance [Wave-field] phenomenon while the LOCAL DUNE’s movement and development is a secondary IMPRESSION that is given persisting thing-in-itself status in our intellectual-linguistic REPRESENTATIONS by the DOUBLE ERROR of NAMING and GRAMMAR).
Our WESTERN CULTURE constraining of our REPRESENTATIONS of reality to terms of LOCAL things-in-themselves with notional powers of SOURCING actions and developments complements the Goedel’s Theorem INCOMPLETENESS associated with EITHER/OR logic of the EXCLUDED medium. That is, the INCOMPLETENESS of simple logic allows us to say FIRE BURNS without mention of the reciprocal loss of NON-BURNED Wilderness which is the conjugate aspect of the one dynamic of TRANSFORMATION. The topological relations associated with spherical surfaces do not reduce to one-sided positive logic as implied by FIRE BURNS, or by the GROWTH of the BURNED AREA. In spherical space, there is always the conjugate UNBURNED area that is SHRINKING as the burned area is GROWING, the overall effect being TRANSFORMATION of the overall spherical space. Sure, it is LOGICALLY true that the BURNED AREA GROWS in size but to capture REALITY, we must admit that this logic is INCOMPLETE without acknowledging at the same time, the SHRINKAGE of UNBURNED AREA. This requires the BOTH/AND logic of the INCLUDED medium wherein FIGURE and GROUND are ONE. More BURNED FIGURE means reciprocally Less UNBURNED GROUND.
We may describe in great detail our cultivating of land and what means for us; i.e. it provides food and sustenance and employment etc. … but what meaning, as far as ‘reality’ is concerned, can that have without addressing the reciprocal loss of Wilderness lands and the impact on the overall TRANSFORMATION? Evidently, our talk of GROWTH as if it were a LOCAL phenomenon is unreal abstraction that confuses our understanding of reality.
The real world dynamic of our sensory experience is NONLOCAL and thus INEFFABLE while the expedient (DOUBLE ERROR based) reduction to EFFABLE is LOCAL. The WESTERN CULTURE issue is that this reductive tool is running away with the workman, the human (effable) with the divine (ineffable). Among EASTERN CULTURE ADHERENTS, the reduction remains a ‘tool of inference’ of the ineffable reality that lies beyond the effable so that such reductions are not taken literally, while we WESTERN CULTURE ADHERENTS are accepting DOUBLE ERROR reductions, LITERALLY, as our operative REPRESENTATION of reality. This is a CRAZY-MAKER!
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The DOUBLE ERROR of NAMING and GRAMMAR gives rise to the concept of a LOCAL SOURCING AGENCY in REALITY REPRESENTATION. While valid only as a tool of INFERENCE (as used in the EAST), the DOUBLE ERROR is misused in the WEST in being employed as a DIRECT REALITY SURROGATE.
‘NAMING’ (the first part of the TWO-PART DOUBLE ERROR) allows us, together with GRAMMAR (the second part of the TWO-PART DOUBLE ERROR), to drive an abstract fixed/local stake-in-the-ground-of the transforming relational continuum (the Wave-field aka the Tao) which is the reality of our sensory experience prior to ‘opening our mouths. Without ‘NAMING’ to establish a local jumping off point, everything is in flux. That is the reality of our actual sensory experience and because we are included in this flux, reality is NOT OUT THERE in front of us, as would be capturable in terms of visual REPRESENTATION. For example, ‘DUNING’ is a Wave-field resonance phenomenon that can include us so that we could be incorporated (and fossilized) within, so no amount of detail in the description of ‘a dune’ is going to capture BEING INDUNED.
NAMING and GRAMMAR, the DOUBLE ERROR combo, … allows us to construct REPRESENTATIONS that feature notional THINGS-IN-THEMSELVES, notionally with powers of SOURCING actions and developments.
These DOUBLE ERROR based things-in-themselves serve as local objects of PRAISE and BLAME (binary thinking) as in the EGO’s PRIDE in-sourcing productive/celebrated actions and developments, the opposite pole of which is the sense of SHAME in sourcing destructive/vilified actions and developments. This binary values imbued dichotomy plays a foundational role in WESTERN CULTURE reality constructions. For example, the U.S. social collective has one of the highest percentages among Western nations, of imprisoned citizens.
“The U.S. penal population of 2.2 million adults is by far the largest in the world.”Just under one-quarter of the world’s prisoners are held in American prisons. The U.S. rate of incarceration, with nearly 1 out of every 100 adults in prison or jail, is 5 to 10 times higher than the rates in Western Europe and other democracies. — The Growth of Incarceration in the United States Exploring Causes and Consequences (2014) Consensus Study Report
This is an indication of the strength of binary logical thinking in WESTERN CULTURE ADHERENTS.
In modern physics, indigenous aboriginal cultures, Taoism/Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta, (i.e. ‘IN THE EAST’), individuals are not LITERALLY reduced to notional LOCAL THINGS-IN-THEMSELVES with their own powers of SOURCING actions and developments, as they are by WESTERN CULTURE ADHERENTS, such reduction is used only as a tool of INFERENCE or Wittgenstein ladder, to contribute to an intuitive leap to the INEFFABLE that lies innately beyond the reach of DOUBLE ERROR based representation; e.g RESONANCE as in DUNING is NONLOCAL and thus INEFFABLE and this is the PRIMARY REALITY so that the DOUBLE ERROR reduction by way of NAMING and GRAMMAR that lets us speak in terms of ‘DUNES’ that are ‘growing higher and longer’ and ‘shifting towards the coast, is NOT INTENDED TO BE UNDERSTOOD LITERALLY (NOT IN THE EAST), but is intended only as a tool to tickle the intuition into BOOTSTRAPPING an intuitive understanding of the RESONANCE basis of DUNING.
Likewise, the NAMING and GRAMMAR that us speak in terms of ‘HUMANS’ that are growing taller and larger and are tilling the soil, is NOT INTENDED TO BE UNDERSTOOD LITERALLY (NOT IN THE EAST), but is intended only as a tool to tickle the intuition into BOOTSTRAPPING an intuitive understanding of the RESONANCE BASIS of HUMANING as in the Wave-field aka the Tao.
This reduction of the ineffable to something effable by way of the DOUBLE ERROR is where Emerson’s talk of ‘the tool runs away with the workman, the human (LOCAL) with the Divine (NONLOCAL)” comes from; i.e. being ONE WITH EVERYTHING (included in the NONLOCAL) as in being included in the Wave-field (the indigenous aboriginal GREAT MYSTERY) is what is being referred to as ‘the Divine’.
SUMMARY of CONTENT:
There is no LOCAL SOURCING in TRANSFORMATION, so where does the concept of LOCAL SOURCING COME FROM and WHY?
TRANSFORMATION is a NONLOCAL phenomenon as manifests in Wave-field dynamics, and NONLOCAL phenomenon are INEFFABLE. We can experience inclusion a field of transformation but we can’t get outside of it to get a visual picture of it and thus describe and talk about it. Hence ‘The Tao that can be told is not the true Tao’.
The DOUBLE ERROR of language and grammar wherein we use NAMING to impute LOCAL thing-in-itself existence to relational flow-forms and conflate this with GRAMMAR that adorns the NAMING-instantiated LOCAL thing-in-itself the notional power of SOURCING actions and developments.
THE EAST employs this DOUBLE ERROR to reduce and render EFFABLE-because-LOCAL (an allusion to) the INEFFABLE-BECAUSE-NONLOCAL (as is the nature of the Wave-field), for use as EFFABLE-BECAUSE-LOCAL INFERENCE of the INEFFABLE-BECAUSE-NONLOCAL.
For example, the nonlocal phenomenon of DUNING is reduced, by the DOUBLE ERROR to ‘the DUNE’ with the GRAMMAR give power of authoring its own development and actions (i.e. ‘the DUNE is growing taller and longer and is shifting towards the coast). BUT THIS REDUCTION, IN THE EAST, IS FOR DEVISING AN EFFABLE INFERENCE OF THE INEFFABLE since the representational power of language and logic is not sufficient to deliver a representation of our actual sensory experience of inclusion in the transforming relational continuum.
In modern physics as also in the indigenous aboriginal culture, Taoism, Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta, this DOUBLE ERROR reduction is only a TOOL OF INFERENCE that can stimulate the intuition of sensory experience of inclusion in the Tao. It cannot deliver an understanding of reality by way of a LITERAL interpretation. ‘DUNES’ that grow larger and shift across the desert floor towards the coast, … is LOCAL phenomena that is designed NOT TO BE TAKEN LITERALLY but to be used as INFERENCE of the NONLOCAL RESONANCE (Wave-field) PHENOMENON of DUNING.
WE WESTERN CULTURE ADHERENTS, meanwhile, are in the habit of crafting a LITERAL LOCAL REALITY from these DOUBLE ERROR reductions of the INEFFABLE-because-NONLOCAL to the EFFABLE-because-LOCAL.
Our WESTERN CULTURE ADHERENT ‘literalism’ has us thinking in terms of DUNES and HUMANS instead of in terms of resonance phenomena; i.e DUNING and HUMANING. That is, DUNES and HUMANS are governed by the binary EITHER/OR logic of the EXCLUDED medium wherein FIGURE and GROUND are TWO (our logical capture of them is as stand-alone things-in-themselves that reside in a space that is mutually exclusive of the things in it), Whereas, in modern physics (Wave-field phenomena) and in the EAST (the Tao), DUNING and HUMANING are governed by the non-binary BOTH/AND logic of the INCLUDED medium wherein FIGURE and GROUND are ONE (where phenomena are intrinsically NONLOCAL).
My reason for writing this has been to speak to the differing understanding of reality of EAST and WEST and how it plays out in shaping the troubled MENTAL HEALTH and social dynamics of the WEST. This philosophical-psychological investigation explores complications arising from NAMING as in the DOUBLE ERROR where a Montague and a Capulet (Romeo and Juliet) delivers the NAME-based psychological concept of LOCAL things-in-themselves as if such LOCAL definition-based intellectual pseudo-realities prevail over our relational sensory experience gleaned understanding of everything being in flux.
That is, once we use language and grammar to NAME and define Robin Hood and Jean Valjean as LOCAL THING-IN-THEMSELVES pathogens, we have reduced our understanding of reality from the NONLOCAL dynamic of sense-experience of inclusion in the transforming relational continuum, to the abstract “FIRE BURNS” (Nishitani) or “LIGHTNING FLASHES” (Nietzsche) DOUBLE ERROR based LOCAL abstraction.
The language and grammar DOUBLE ERROR device of REDUCING the NONLOCAL to the LOCAL secures the REDUCTION of the ineffable to the REDUCED-BUT-EFFABLE. For example, the unbounded resonance phenomenon of DUNING can be reduced, by NAMING and GRAMMAR to ‘the DUNE that is growing higher and longer and is shifting across the ‘desert floor’.
Thanks to this DOUBLE ERROR REDUCTION, the ineffable, unbounded relational transformation characterizing the world of our sensory experience aka the Tao that cannot be told, CAN, in this REDUCED SENSE, BE TOLD. We CAN speak of ‘the DUNE’ which is now LOCAL and thus EFFABLE whereas ‘DUNING’, which is the unreduced reality is NONLOCAL and thus INEFFABLE..
For modern physics and for the EAST (indigenous aboriginals, Taoist/Buddhists and Advaita Vedanta adherents), this DOUBLE ERROR reduction is a TOOL of INFERENCE of the ineffable reality of the Wave-field aka the transforming relational continuum aka the Tao.
But for WESTERN CULTURE ADHERENTS, this DOUBLE ERROR reduction is put into intellectual-representation service as a SURROGATE REALITY, a cheap reality clone that, while it is only capable of INFERRING the ineffable is instead being used as a SUBSTITUTE for the ineffable.
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“FIRE BURNS” is exemplary of the reduction of NONLOCAL (TRANSFORMATION) to LOCAL; i.e. the NONLOCAL desiccating of vegetation derives from the transforming relational continuum which is a relational development that just goes on an on and that we can’t ‘get to the bottom of’ or to the solid bottom of (there is none). As in a circular relational web of dynamics, NATURE has no LOCAL jumpstart SOURCE of its dynamic. Hence the indigenous aboriginal expression “mitakuye oyasin” (everything is related) and hence modern physics’ resorting to descriptions of natural reality by way of the ‘Surprise version of the game of Twenty Questions’, and similar imputing of NONLOCALITY in philosophyc such as Wittgenstein’s ‘ladder’; i.e.
6.54 My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.)
He must surmount these propositions; then he sees the world rightly.
7.0 Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.
–Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico Philosophicus
“FIRE BURNS” is a curt and crude language and grammar (DOUBLE ERROR) approach to dealing with (side-stepping) NONLOCALITY that is innate in the transforming relational continuum (the world of our sensory experience). “FIRE BURNS” is one of those INCOMPLETE TRUTHS identified in Goedel’s Theorem which exposes the INCOMPLETENESS of all finite systems of logic. Logic, and in this case ‘logic’ refers to the EITHER/OR logic of the EXCLUDED MEDIUM, … is competent for dealing with situations wherein FIGURE AND GROUND ARE TWO, … but is NOT competent for dealing with FLUID-REALITY situations wherein FIGURE AND GROUND ARE ONE, as are basic to our sensory experience of inclusion in the Wave-field (the transforming relational continuum aka ‘the Tao’).
For this FIGURE-AND-GROUND-ARE-ONE reality which is basic to our sensory experience, our intellectual representations of this experience requires ‘quantum logic’ aka BOTH/AND logic of the INCLUDED medium. Now we see the human form as a NONLOCAL FORMING in the Wave-field (a holodynamical-relational wave-form) rather than as A LOCAL FORM IN ITS OWN SELF-STANDING RIGHT. Just as we ‘can’t step into the same river twice, for its not the same river nor are we the same person stepping into it’, so it is in general in the all-inclusive transforming relational continuum aka the Wave-field aka ‘the Tao’. In other words, TRANSFORMATION is the primary nature of the world of our sensory experience and we can ‘feel our inclusion in this’ as we sweat it out within a long hot summer with the trees and shrubbery sweating and desiccating along with us in phase with the NONLOCAL TRANSFORMATION with its mixtures of cycles from annual to diurnal and in fact manifestly incorporating a whole rainbow spectrum of cycles.
Of course, this cyclic transformation or Wave-field dynamic, being NONLOCAL is not nearly so succinctly capturable in language as phenomena that APPEAR LOCAL such as FIRE BURNS. CAN WE THEN CONSTRUCT A VALID REPRESENTATION OF REALITY STARTING FROM “LOCAL’ DOUBLE ERROR REDUCTIONS SUCH AS ‘FIRE BURNS’?
HOW ABOUT, INSTEAD OF ‘VALID’, ‘INFERENTIAL’? Even though FIRE BURNS (which is EFFABLE-BECAUSE-LOCAL) tells us diddly squat about the greater reality of TRANSFORMATION which is INEFFABLE-BECAUSE-NONLOCAL, it does provide us a means of INFERRING the INEFFABLE. We INUITIVELY UNDERSTAND that NONLOCAL TRANSFORMATION wherein vegetation is desiccating in a seasonal heat-WAVE (and so are we and everything else since we are all included in the transforming relational continuum). The point is that the EFFABLE-because-LOCAL INFERS the INEFFABLE-because-NONLOCAL so that our DOUBLE ERROR based LOCALIZING “RE-presentation” of the reality of our actual sensory experience, is a useful tool of INFERENCE of the INEFFABLE-because-NONLOCAL REALITY.
The NONLOCAL REALITY lies innately beyond our REDUCED-to-LOCAL pseudo-reality REPRESENTIONS; e.g. the imagined-as-LOCAL “DUNE” that we say ‘GROWS” higher and longer and shifts towards the Coast. In this RE-PRESENTATION, our psyche is STEALING the SOURCE of motion from relational TRANSFORMATION and using GRAMMAR to reconstituting it as a GRAMMAR-given power of a NAMING-instantiated LOCAL thing-itself. Instead of DUNING belonging to the NONLOCAL transforming relational continuum, we substitute DUNE which is belongs only to itself and which GRAMMAR notionally equips with ‘its own’ LOCAL powers of SOURCING actions and developments.
HERE WE SEE TWO OPTIONS FOR USE AS OUR ‘OPERATIVE REALITY’; e.g. (a) DUNING within TRANSFORMATION (this is ineffable because NONLOCAL), and/or (b) DUNES imagined as disconnected/independent LOCAL things-in-themselves on their own in an empty containing space which have GRAMMAR-GIVEN powers of SOURCING their own actions and developments. Or, is the latter LOCAL reality JUST TALK aka language-based abstract RE-presentation of the INEFFABLE-because-NONLOCAL and purely relational as in Wave-forms in Wave-field?
The issue is REALLY that we have a language and grammar DOUBLE ERROR “TOOL” for effable-izing the ineffable-because-NONLOCAL reality of our actual sensory experience and while EAST employs it as a tool of INFERENCE, we WESTERN CULTURE ADHERENTS are falling into the CRAZY-MAKING trap of employing the tool not as a ‘ladder of INFERENCE’ but as our OPERATIVE SURROGATE REALITY.
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FOOTNOTE: So, where does this leave COVID 19 and other “PATHOGENS”?
The concept of a ‘PATHOGEN’ is a DOUBLE ERROR based ABSTRACTION of the same type as “FIRE BURNS” or “LIGHTNING FLASHES”. It is a DEVICE to re-render the INEFFABLE-because-NONLOCAL in reduced-to-EFFABLE-because-LOCAL terms.
The REALITY of our actual sensory experience of inclusion in the transforming relational continuum is INEFFABLE-because-NONLOCAL so, as Lao Tzu has observed ‘The Tao that can be told is not the true Tao’ and as Wittgenstein has similarly observed “Of that which we cannot speak we must pass over in silence ((“Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen”),
The implication is that EVERYTHING that we have reduced to simplified DOUBLE ERROR LOCALIZING terms such as is implied by “COVID 19 KILLS” is reductionist INFERENCE of the larger ‘primary reality’ of relational TRANSFORMATION. This is the same point as made by David Bohm in his example citing James Wilkes Booth as the popularly perceived PATHOGEN that language and grammar presents as the SOURCE of the death of Abraham Lincoln, … the more complete reality being the web of relational influences in the community at large that are NONLOCAL but which can (in tip of the iceberg fashion) MANIFEST LOCALLY. The nonlocal desiccating of forest and shrubbery is a manifestation of the (ineffable) transforming relational continuum which ‘man muss schweigen’, yet it is the more basic aka ‘more REAL’ phenomenon that lies beneath the LOCALLY VISIBLE ‘FIRE BURNS” episode.
What is the ‘more REAL’ NONLOCAL phenomenon that lies beneath COVID 19 in its simplistic LOCAL PATHOGENS KILL guise? Even though we know there is a ‘more REAL’ NONLOCAL dynamic that is cultivating the LOCAL manifesting actions wherein; Robin Hood robs, Jean Valjean steals, COVID 19 kills, FIRE burns, it is purely relational and INEFFABLE-because-NONLOCAL. So when we attempt to deal with notional PATHOGENS we are really moving about within a common transforming relational continuum and are included within the NONLOCAL TRANSFORMATION that we have intellectually reduced to LOCAL actions and development via the DOUBLE ERROR.
Our natural course of action, in lieu of our being unable to reduce to EXPLICIT-because-LOCAL terms of understanding, the reality of our inclusion in the INEFFABLE-because-NONLOCAL, is to work with the implicit by cultivating and sustaining relational harmony (a means of dealing with the NONLOCAL without having to depend on a reduction to the LOCAL).
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APPENDIX THE MANNER IN WHICH PSYCHOLOGY permeates PHYSIOLOGY. (F. David Peat interprets modern physics as suggesting that psychological development shapes physical development so that ‘dissonance’ in the former can breed ‘dissonance’ [disease] in the latter’. )
Excerpted from ‘Blackfoot Physics’ by F. David Peat
The vision of a Garden of Eden has, to some extent, been confirmed by the work of scientists who have examined the skeletons of early peoples. Evidence points to the fact that, before contact with Europeans, The People were remarkably free from diseases. Indeed, epidemics only seem to have arrived when Western civilization began to encroach upon the Americas.
A Condition of Disease
Now this raises a very interesting question about Indigenous science and the condition of Indigenous people before contact with Europeans. Why were they so free from disease? Could it perhaps have been something to do with their beliefs, science, society, and way of life? How was it that, at the time of European contact, approximately one-fifth of the world’s population was living in relatively ideal conditions? Why is it that we, with all the power and knowledge of our modern civilization, are so subject to illness, cancers, heart disease, chronic autoimmune disorders, and allergies, in addition to a wide variety of mental illnesses and the slow, heartbreaking disintegrations that come about with aging? Surely if we can split the atom, travel to the moon, and communicate electronically across the globe we can ensure that our bodies and minds remain healthy. Could it be the development of the very civilization that brought about these technological advances has also been responsible for the introduction and spread of some of the worlds most terrible epidemics of disease?
By the end of World War I, Europeans and Americans were stunned by the carnage that was the direct result of trench warfare. It seemed as if a whole generation of young men had been slaughtered and that every village had its war memorial commemorating the sons who had died on the battlefield. The memory of this carnage lives on today in the writings of the English war poets such as Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke, and Siegfried Sassoon; in Robert Grave’s memoir Goodbye To All That; in Ernest Hemingway’s novel A Farewell to Arms, and in the German novelist Erich Maria Remarque’s Im Westen nichts Neues (All Quiet on the Western Front). But it is even more shocking to realize that within a year of the peace an influenza virus was to result in a far greater number of deaths than the totality of the war. It was as if all the wartime horrors devised by human beings –gas attacks, bombs, mines, machine guns, and bayonets — did not begin to compare with the diseases of nature.
There had been many striking outbreaks of disease in Europe’s part —the Great Plague of London in 1664 caused Isaac Newton to retreat north to his family farm in Lincolnshire form which secluded environment he began to think about the nature of gravity and the laws of motion. In the fourteenth century the Black Death swept over medieval Europe wiping out on third of the population, or about twenty-five million people. Another disease, Phystopthora infestans, this time effecting the potato plant, caused a massive failure of that crop in 1845 and 1846. In Ireland this led to the Great Famine with the deaths, or emigration, of millions of people.
Is this truly the fate of human societies —periodic scourges that sweep across the world? The currently fashionable science of chaos theory argues that waves and epidemics arise out of the very nature of complicated interlocking systems. Mathematical models suggest that even in an isolated environment where predator and prey, disease and host, are locked in a battle together, human populations will naturally exhibit wide cyclic fluctuations.
But I believe that the whole question of disease is far more complicated than this and that the subject is tied to the beliefs and values held by our society. This may seem strange at first, for if we have been conditioned to see disease as caused by bacteria and viruses what can be the role played by society’s structure and how could an Indigenous science protect a whole continent for so long?
The Virus of Progress
My suggestion is that the West’s desire for progress, growth, and increase has brought about the very diseases that have become its scourge. Take a simple example: Every farmer and market gardener knows that the more he or she attempts to increase yields per acre by farming intensively the greater the chance is that a crop will be totally wiped out by disease or natural disaster.
In order to increase yields, monocultures are developed that can be planted ever closer together and cultivated and harvested in the most concentrated ways possible. This requires the use of fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides and fungicides. The end result is a system in which variety and flexibility have been reduced to such and extent that when a disease strikes it can spread through the whole crop and destroy it.
The Indigenous science of the Iroquois peoples teaches that the Three Sisters, corn, beans, and squash, must be planted together and even prescribes the number of seeds to plant in each hole. Likewise, in earlier times European farmers planted many different varieties of a crop together in the same field. They also rotated their crops, leaving the land arable every four years, and farmed less intensely. Their yields may be been a lot lower, but at least when disease appeared it would only destroy a percentage of the crop.
Some Indigenous peoples periodically burned the land, which acted to fumigate and destroy insects and plant diseases. Others, like the Iroquois, periodically moved their villages to new areas to allow the land to renew itself.
When the potato was introduced into Ireland, the indigenous population adopted and efficient ‘lazy be method of cultivation that was identical to that which had been developed by the Inca. The tragedy of the Irish potato famine lay not so much in a disease of the potato itself, but in an indigenous population that was forced, by an occupying power, to replace its other crops and foodstuffs which this single cash crop. The ultimate cause of the Great Famine was not so much the potato blight itself but a particular social, economic, and political system.
Our thoughts, values, and worldviews cause us to see the world in a particular way and are the source of our actions. Thus, in the end, these same values come to create the world for us, a world in which diseases and disasters can flourish.
Somehow, the Indigenous science, beliefs, relationships with the land, compacts with the spirits, and energies of the world — call it what you will — enabled the peoples of Turtle Island to live in harmony for a very long time. The Native American people I have spoken to always speak of obligations rather than of rights and of the importance of their ceremonies of renewal, for, they say nothing persists; all is flux, and unless a society is willing to renew itself through sacrifice it will pass away.
It appears that this was the worldview that enabled the peoples of the north to support themselves by hunting, fishing and gathering; the peoples of the plains to live in harmony with the buffalo; and those farther south to practice a mixed economy that included farming. In all cases it appears that a balance was maintained between The People and the land around them. (It is true, however, that I have heard some Native people refer to hubris and the fact that they were allowing their populations to expand too fast shortly before Europeans came to their land.)
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