Paper # 2 – October 12th, 2016
Paper #2 – Reflection Paper: Locate yourself. What is your relation to indigenous cultures, to communal village life, and to Western civilization? How have you been affected and/or infected by the “wetiko” disease? (“Columbus and other Cannibals” by Jack Forbes)
by Andrew Hayward Smith
I am realizing that my life has been lived backwards. It has been a development for which I am grateful but perhaps it’s time to start living in it the correct order.
My life begins with the importance of a style of life in a certain place. My life can be divided into two distinct halves. It begins with the first twenty-five years spent in my native homeland of England, and the second twenty-five years as an immigrant in someone else’s homeland.
During my first seven years there was mystery. My nuclear family lived happily (or so I thought) in a 400 year-old stone cottage in the Lake District of northern England. I didn’t have any real world friends but I did have an imaginary friend called Charlie. Charlie and I talked and played a lot. Our cottage was also said to be haunted. We’d hear footsteps on the landing at the top of the stairs. The downstairs lights would be back on when we knew we’d turned them off. The hauntings didn’t bother any of us, but my parents were apparently bothered with my imaginary friend. But the mystery and the footsteps ended in a flood of tears when mum told me that Charlie had departed, gone forever. As Forbes says in his book, Columbus and Other Cannibals, “many Europeans cannot tolerate mystery, especially mystery in the “real world.” Charlie departed, the mystery departed, my family moved to a new town.
From the age of seven onwards I was increasingly immersed in a wetiko-style life– a culture of cannibal psychosis, a dog-eat-dog world of achievement, superiority and resulting illness. We moved to a town called Nantwich built by the “wetiko” cultures of the Roman Empire and Queen Elizabeth I. To this day I am not aware of the indigenous culture that pre-dates the Roman Empire’s settlement of Nantwich. I have no knowledge of the indigenous peoples of my hometown.
Salt from the town was used by the Roman garrisons in Chester, the main city of my home county. “Nant” comes from the Welsh word for brook or stream. The word “wich” means brine springs or wells. I attended a high school called Brine Leas. Brine Leas means “salt meadows.” The salt of Nantwich played a part in industry from the 10th century or earlier, and ended in 1974 with the closing of the last tannery.
We’d shop in Chester. We still do. To this day it is a beautiful city surrounded by Roman walls. They are now a part of the modern city, walkable as a thoroughfare through town. I have always felt proud of these ancient walls and what they represent– Romans were sophisticated and technologically advanced. This is my heritage.
There’s another part of my formative heritage– the English monarchy. In December of 1583 a fire destroyed most of Nantwich. Queen Elizabeth I contributed financially to rebuild the town with beautiful black and white Elizabethan-styled buildings. I have been proud of my hometown. I still am. However, I have learned through our seminary readings and classes that by 1583 Europe had survived the Bubonic plague, Europeans had become superhuman disease carriers, Christopher Columbus and Christendom had begun to annihilate and enslave indigenous peoples of the Americas for their own profit. Europe was built, including my hometown of Nantwich. Today, I can conjecture that I grew up in a place rebuilt from the profits of murder and slavery.
This place my family lived in is an affluent area of the country. We owned a three-bedroom house in the country, full of must-have material possessions and a few more. The house was located in a place too small to be called a village. It was a hamlet– a small collection of homes in the midst of farm fields. There was no sense of community or communal village life. The hamlet’s homes were individual and interaction was minimal.
My mother stayed at home to raise my brother and I. My father worked as a sales representative and provided the family with a good income. What I didn’t realize until my father’s death was that this wetiko lifestyle, one of trying to attain and maintain status, was taking a toll on their marriage and my father’s mental health. Wetiko culture sucked my parents into a quagmire of arguments, fights, divorce and finally, death.
At the age of thirteen, when my parents divorced, I placed myself into adulthood– the peacemaker in the family, the strong one, or so it felt. I’d already been provided a wetiko coping mechanism– the armor of arrogance and pride in our English culture, the strength from the happiness in my earlier years as a child, a pride that my family was upper middle class, we had affluent friends with houses with tennis courts and swimming pools, we owned nice material possessions.
Forbes states in Columbus and Other Cannibals that a characteristic of the wetiko culture is arrogance. This arrogance is called British Pride. It’s viewed as a positive characteristic. My formative view of British culture has been one of pride– the Magna Carta, the British Empire, the industrial revolution, the invention of the first computer just 45 minutes drive from Nantwich, etc. I was steeped in a wetiko culture, which blinds us all to the truth and convinces us we are intelligent, superior and sophisticated.
My wetiko pride kept me strong for many years. My pride was enabled further once I began living and working in London at the age of 21. I was living in the “big city,” working for the oldest advertising agency in the country, attending classical music concerts at the Royal Opera House and other distinguished venues. By my own estimation I had reached a pinnacle of achievement. Meanwhile, my nuclear family of four, were all living in different places and there was scant sense of any family at all.
I met an American girl and was introduced to the “truth”– Christianity and theology. We fell in love. I moved to the glitz and glamor of Miami. A part of me was happy being in love and moving to another famous city. Pride heaped on top of pride. It was time to pursue the “American Dream.” But another part of me was conflicted by moving to the United States of America. Being British we tend to look down on the USA. From the exterior it is easy to see the negative aspects that are glossed over by nationalism here: corruption, stupidity, lies, self-aggrandizement, bravado, and the arrogance of American culture. I disliked it. I wanted to change it. I thought I could educate the Americans on the perception they some times give. When I arrived for the first time in the United States the first thing that I saw in this new country was a large police officer brandishing a shotgun across his chest. “Oh shit,” I thought, “Welcome to America.” From the first moment, I was introduced to wetiko’s manipulation tool of fear.
Life was great for a while– beautiful wife, beautiful son, our careers and salaries progressing nicely. However, like my parents before me the wetiko culture was silently killing us internally. By the mid-2000s I was suffering panic attacks. I was not the only one in the Miami advertising industry. I found myself in the emergency room a couple of times. It was difficult to cope, difficult to put one foot in front of another, difficult to keep going. At times I wish it would all end. I began to admire my father’s courage to keep going until the age of 50. My wife, while caring and supportive, didn’t seem to understand what I was going through. I sensed that she thought that it was my fault. I’d brought it on myself, on the family. She was displeased with me, which made it all worse.
Simultaneously in 2008, we divorced, the economy crashed, I lost my job. Everything that wetiko culture had taught me was “good” had collapsed. That wetiko pride and arrogance that had kept me strong for many years had been weakening me, and it fell apart. This was a blessing. This was the beginning of my rebirth. Forbes writes the world of the wetikos diverts us from our authenticity. I had held on so tightly to the American Dream that I was no longer living authentically. When the American Dream ended I had nothing left to lose and I could begin to live authentically, step by step.
I departed on a motorcycle journey around the USA. It was 2009. Along the way I read Robert Persig’s novel “Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals,” in part a philosophical look at the differing value systems of Western society and Native American society. Persig, ironically born in Minneapolis, wrote about time spent with Native Americans on a reservation and I became intrigued with indigenous culture. I hoped one day I would be able to experience the culture myself.
I did experience indigenous culture and hospitality for a brief moment on the ride. (The only time until attending Underground Seminary.) It occurred in Mexican Hat, Utah, on the northern border of the Navajo Nation. It was July 4th, 2009. Everyone in the US was celebrating. I sat in the only restaurant eating fry bread and honey for the first time. I was alone. I was lonely. A Navajo family, who’d driven from the reservation 16 miles for French Fries, sat themselves down at my table, univited, and started talking to me. My Western wetiko brain took affront at the intrusion but they kept me company and we talked. I don’t recall what we talked about but I was no longer alone.
Following the journey I jumped back into wetiko culture. It was safe. It’s how we live. By 2014 I had rented the perfect living space with all my toys and my “man cave” but in other ways life wasn’t fulfilling. I was largely isolated, infected completely by the wetiko traits of individualism and no communal village life anywhere. By 2016 rent and home prices in Miami had risen, beginning to price out the middle class. Even those with well-paying jobs were beginning to complain. We experienced what Forbes describes when he writes, “What is new is that the middle-class is not always “safe” anymore.”
God led me, I believe, to Underground Seminary where I am being introduced for the first time to the concepts of wetiko culture, indigenous culture, identity and The Way. I am beginning to process my life, my culture, my origins, and my own story in a different light. (Little did I know the extent to which my own country is as psychotic as the United States.)
I am realizing, and lamenting, that through the affects of wetiko culture my nuclear family self-destructed and my family of origin story has been largely lost. There is a family tree but it is just a list of names and dates. There are no stories there. Except for Sir Ernest Shackleton, my great, great uncle, the Antarctic Explorer, who has certainly provided me with a part of my current identity and the regaining of his (our) family motto” Fortitudine Vincimus”– By Endurance We Conquer.
As I have read the accounts of atrocities enacted by the British and Americans in Columbus and Other Cannibals I have felt the weight of national guilt, perhaps two-fold guilt. Everything I’ve been proud of: Roman walls, British superiority, sophistication, material possessions, carry a burden of guilt. All are steeped in a history of violence. I can no longer regard my culture as superior. The pride still remains but now it needs to be adjusted to view it through a different lens, to see it in its true light. I need to move beyond lament to live in a different way and evolve a truer identity.
Between lament and growth first we must overcome the hurdle of fear. Between the end of one phase of life and the beauty of another comes the fear– the fear to take the next step, the fear to jump into the unknown. The fear manifests itself in the reluctance to give up a lifestyle of material possessions. The fear stems from worrying about worst-case scenarios when standing up for a cause. I find myself in a mixture of lament, fear and imminent growth. One must gird one’s loins for a jump. So, I find myself looking for the compromise of living in both worlds, Western and Indigenous. It feels safer, remaining in the offending culture and acting to change it from within. I can justify it as being shrewd.
I find myself asking questions such as “what are my indigenous roots?” It’s not Roman. I have discovered that in 1194 there is a reference to Nantwich being called Nametwihc, which indicates that my hometown was once the site of a pre-Roman sacred space (a sacred grove) of Celtic religion. I can begin with unearthing my own family’s stories.
I can begin with gratitude for the blessings I’ve already been given. I am free from debt. In this regard the wetiko prison, the classic manipulation of debt, no longer holds me. I can be grateful that there is a sliver of communal village life in my hometown– my mother lives in a Tollemache Almshouse. In 1613 the almshouses were built to provide charitable housing to the elderly, enabling them to live in the community. My mother was provided this blessing when her business partner embezzled money from their company, fled to France, and left my mother legally responsible for all the debts. It was a male wetiko madness that resulted in my mother losing the house she owned, and years of debt and legal battles.
I am grateful for the three-year experience of communal living I experienced in a YMCA in London, along with three hundred other residents, plus the introduction to communal village life here at Underground Seminary. I’m not sure at this point that I could consider it a permanent way to live. I will have to answer that question in two years from now.
I am grateful for Indigenous Peoples’ Day, 2016 where I was able to fulfill a 7-year dream of one day being able to participate in a Native American ceremony. It moved me. I stood on the earth and as prayers were uttered I closed my eyes. The wind picked up. All of a sudden the wind was quite strong. With my eyes closed I felt two things simultaneously– Mother Earth was accepting me and blowing the guilt away. I felt a powerful mystery sweeping across the world, blowing past me, and including me. Native Americans and Mother Earth giving me a second chance. I picked up a seed from the grass. It represented a new beginning. I held the seed for part of the ceremony and I let it go at the end. Only God knows where the seed and I will land, sprout and grow next. The ceremony was a cleansing moment with hopes for the future and the certainty that I am on a blessed journey of growth.
What comes during and after seminary? As Forbes describes, I hope to admit, accept and look for the mystery. To follow the path opposite to wetiko– the Good Red Road or the Pollen Path, to travel the path of knowledge, to follow the path that has a heart, that leads to “peace and pleasure,” to study myself and my origins, to do what is beautiful, meaningful, and worthwhile. I could study the nature of my favorite animal and learn its wisdom (one path of some Native peoples). “Simply be,” as Derrick Jensen describes in “A Language Older Than Words” and wait for the “natural flow” as the Dakota Native, Mike, described at the Indigenous Peoples’ Day ceremony.
At seminary we have learnt the importance of Identity, Theology and Place. In new member class I have learnt that the correct order of living is The Way, The Truth, and the Life. I see a correlation– the Way is Identity (who I am), the Truth is the Theology that helps us live authentically, and the Place is the Life we’re led to as we follow the natural flow and Good Red Road.
My life has been lived backwards– Life/Place to Truth/Theology to The Way/Identity. I will try to begin living my life in the correct order– first the Way/Identity, leading to Truth/Theology, and finally a Life in a Place. I will endeavor to go with the natural flow and see where the Great Spirit, the Great Mystery, the Creator takes me, like the seed born on the wind that I released at the ceremony.