Posted Feb 25, 2010
Last Updated Jun 9, 2010



25 Feb 2010


I am accused of rambling, aka exploring the topical landscape. So be it.

The Five Tribes

By 1828, the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee-Creek, and Seminole people (sometimes collectively referred to as the Five Civilized Tribes) had assimilated many European-style customs, including the wearing of gowns by women. They built roads, schools and churches, had become farmers and cattle ranchers, and at least the Cherokees had a system of representational government. A Cherokee alphabet, the "Talking Leaves," had been perfected by Sequoyah, and they were becoming a literate agrarian culture.  Which wasn't all  that big a stretch: the southeastern tribes had been semi-settled, gardening cultures for a long time. 

There'd been decades of intermittent fighting between Indians and militias in the Southeast, and decades of intermittent good-will efforts on both sides for peaceful co-existence.  Treaties had been signed.  But the population of Georgia, for example, had increased six-fold between 1790 and 1830; the pressure for taking more Indian lands was constant and growing.  And in 1829, a gold rush developed in Georgia, with most of the gold on Indian treaty lands. 

So not surprisingly, Congress, in 1830, passed The Indian Removal Act, which resulted in the forcible relocation of the five civilized tribes westward to Oklahoma.  On what became known as the Trail of Tears.  The army, of course, was given the dirty work; they herded them into camps by the tens of thousands, then moved them on foot, boats, and by wagon (no airlifts, no highways, no motels, no supply dumps, no Red Cross…) — moved them 2,000 round-about miles to "Indian Territory," Oklahoma.  The number just of Cherokee dead, in the concentration camps and on the trail, has been given as 2,500 to 6,000, but 4,000 is the usual figure of the 16,000 rounded up. 

This entirely ignores the suffering that preceded those deaths, the suffering of the survivors, and the legacy of futility they generated. 

And to top it off, in some jurisdictions the survivors were charged $35 a head for the disposal of their dead; they weren't allowed to bury them themselves.  $35!  That was a generous month's pay then!  All in all, the program was a compounding of evils.

It's easy to get indignant over something like that, but indignation isn't what I'm after here.  In fact I bring it up partly — partly — to help me sort out something more "topical."  Namely Israel; which is to say Palestine.  Which inevitably turns my attention back to our own American history

We Euro-Americans justified our genocidal land grab as "Manifest Destiny," which pretty much equates to the Zionists' "will of God." 

End-Times in Abrahamic Religious Lore

(By "Abrahamic," I refer to the three religious families dating back to "Father Abraham":  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — cousins who don't get along.) 

My impression is that, in America and Europe in recent years, there's been a gradual erosion of popular support for Israel.  However, I suspect that fundamentalist protestant support is still strong here, because the fundamentalist protestant end-times scenario depends on the Jews ruling Palestine.  Thus many feel bound to support Zionist occupation, and whatever is deemed necessary for its continuation.  Because that's how God wants it.

End-times?  What are end-times?  In periods when values and cultures are under stress and changing, a sizeable number of people worry that the world is about to end.  That's how it feels to them. And the three Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — have different end-times scenarios, called eschatologies, of what that end will be like, the features differing with different authors.

The major Hebrew end-times version depicts the coming of a charismatic Messiah (Mashiach) who will bring peace and justice to the world, and gather all (!) the Jews back to Israel.  (This would seem to require a much larger Israel — perhaps including Jordan and Syria — large enough to accommodate them all, with room for population growth.)  And the ruling law would be the Torah, reminiscent in concept of Islamic law, the Shariya.  The priests/rabbis/mullahs decide on disputed behavior.  Not surprisingly, many Jews are not enthused.

Christian and Islamic end-times scenarios are mostly more brutal than the Judaic.  But all are ruthless: obey or else!  And most of  those end-times scenarios are embellished with environmental cataclysms — basically violent geological and/or astral events.  Fortunately not all Christians or Jews or Muslims take those scenarios literally, but their fundamentalists are working hard to change that.  To save us.  (Thanks but no thanks.)

Various potential real-world astro- or geological events can be named (and rationalized) which fit religious end-times disaster scenarios and their after-effects. But the theological accompaniments read like the fevered imaginings of overwrought bronze-age tribal priests on ergot, thinking up, in the name of God, lurid punishments for those who disagree with them.

But even skipping the Muslims, for many of us — from believers to skeptics to atheists — there is growing negative reaction to the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and especially its suppression of the previous occupants.  (Not that the Israelis haven't been abundantly, deliberately provoked.)  And any discussion of peace talks tends to break down into angry exchanges of claims, accusations, sabotage, explosions, and the trampling of any rational movement toward give and take.  By the ruthless of both sides, all in the name of justice and/or God!

Well I ain't a-goin' there, least-wise not today.  Instead I'll revisit something closer to home, as a hopeful source of insights that apply both to the "Holy Land" and to "Our Land."  Criticism from our shores tends to carry a distinct smell of hypocrisy, with a "do as I say, not as I did before you" odor.  Google the "Wounded Knee Massacre" (1890), and a generation earlier the "Sand Creek Massacre" (1864).   And read the investigative military and Congressional hearings that resulted.  The circumstances, the reasoning, the attitudes, the rocks and the hard places resemble today's Israeli/Palestinian situation in important respects. 

Right down to the justifications, fundamental and superficial.  The taking of Indian lands was justified as "Manifest Destiny" (meaning God intended it — set it up that way).  The Zionists were more explicit regarding Palestine: "God gave it to us.  Moses said so in the Torah."  End of subject!  Neglecting to mention that the Torah also tells us that later, God kicked them out of Palestine for their disobedience.  ("But He changed His mind [sputter sputter!]  He changed His mind!")

Well maybe He changed His mind again, and no one wrote it down.  We might well wonder.  Certainly the Romans drove them out.  One could argue that Israelite behavior caused God to change His mind again.  Actually I don't think God operates like a really REALLY BIG old man with a bad temper.  (Whatever happened to "God is love?") 

It seems to me that God is misrepresented in our religious lore.  It's a matter less of God creating man in His own image than of Man creating God in our own image; a key metaphor in examining, understanding, and misunderstanding "God."

Regarding understanding — as a long-time amateur cosmologist (no, smart-ass, I do not do toenails), I espouse physicist Richard Feynman's beautiful advice on quite another, but joined-at-the-hip topic: "you don't understand quantum mechanics, you just get used to it."   [Quotation approximate but close.]   So how about "you don't understand God [or the universe], you just get used to it." 

The Sikhs, and many Muslims, conceive of God as all there is, and some Christians do, too; me for example.  Mathematician and theoretical physicist Fred Hoyle considered that the physical universe (presumably along with anything else that may exist) has a creative principle, a dynamic that can be thought of as resulting in all the enormity of structure, activity, beauty, and majesty of the universe.  As far as I'm concerned, that's about as close to defining God as humankind is likely to get.  The rest is a matter of sifting for details, which is good but secondary, and part of what we're expected to do.  (Not all of us; some of us choose not to.)  (Don't ask me to prove any of this.) 

John?  John?  JOHN!  Get to the point, blast you!

Right.  So, it's as simple as this:  the euro-american civilization took over an already occupied continent, at times appearing to bargain and trade for the land, buying it you might say, but not really.  Because dealing from a position of power, what they exchanged for the land was land that the Indians already had.  It was a matter of, "if you let us have this region we very much want, we'll let you keep this other land we aren't particularly interested in.  It will remain yours— 

as long as the moon shall rise

as long as the rivers flow

as long as the sun will shine

as long as the grass shall grow

Unless and until some euro-Americans decide they want it after all (which would happen repeatedly).  Then we'll make a new treaty, until all you have left is the gut pile; the offal.  Or until we're sufficiently embarrassed that we decide to leave you this forest, or this piece of grassland, to remind you of what you've lost. 

Some reservations still have some pretty good land — the White Mountain Apache for  example — while others have been nibbled totally out of existence.  And there was little they could do about it.  Some people assume the Indian drinking problem is genetic.  May be.  But a prime explanation for addictive behavior in general is futility.

And you know, there are euro-Americans even today who literally hate Indians, something I've heard explained as resulting from long-ago Indians murdering settlers.  I personally know some euro-Americans like that.  I even call some of them friend!  The outstanding example in my life is a Swedish-American who is generally thought of as an exemplar of the "good Christian": soft- spoken (though he admitted he'd been upset with me because I write science fiction, but decided that maybe I wasn't so bad), and generous, going out of his way to quietly help some of our community's more unfortunate,  chauffeuring them to their doctor appointments, Swedish class, lodge meetings... And genuinely friendly, asking gentle and convincingly sincere questions about issues.  A truly good neighbor.

But when the subject of Indians came up, he did the old Jekyll and Hyde switch, quick as a wink.  We humans are interesting phenomena, to be cherished.

The differences and similarities between the rez and Palestine are instructive.  And perspective is useful.  The 18th and 19th centuries were the culmination of the Imperial Era, in the sense of conquer, plunder and rule, all over the world.  And the beginning of its end, with the American Revolution, the Boer War, and Irish Independence as examples and inspirations.  Also the arising of unfavorable public opinion as an important factor in the imperial homeland, notably Great Britain.  Gandhi's conscience-driven "non-violent" activism was another major influence, gaining traction after World War Two, with the decline of colonialism.  With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the era of military empires died.  The one-world economy built the coffin.  China is the remaining empire, and awaits further development of public conscience in a people who are beginning to see the world as an integrated humanity. 

Neat, huh? 

Not so fast, Kemo Sabe!  America has a colonial empire you've overlooked.  We overlook it because the conquered people lacked effective unity and military technology.  They lacked modern (for its time) industrial power.  And they lacked powerful allies.  I'm talking about the indigenous Americans, the mis-labeled Indians.

The European intruders found America an alarming place, like no other in their experience.  Wild, with wolves, mountain lions, bears, rattlesnakes…and native peoples who initially were more curious than anything else.  In the beginning the natives didn't realize how voracious, greedy, ruthless and zealously religious/self righteous those newcomers were.  Or how many more were available across the ocean, to sail west and occupy the "empty" new world. 

"Hell, them injuns ain't hardly usin' the land!"  And they're heathen!  And lazy!  All they want to do is hunt and fish!" 

Manifest Destiny

This is a good time to examine "Manifest Destiny."  Because it's real!  It really is!  And understanding it is a part of that "evolution" I keep bringing up.  Not evolution in the Darwinian sense, but evolution in the sense of ever-ongoing, directional change.

The universe is a system.  It operates according to intrinsic natural laws, physical, chemical, biological, ecological, and spiritual, if you believe in spirit.  We even know some of those laws, and we keep learning more, sometimes even understanding them, sort of.  But it's my impression that the most interesting laws have scarcely surfaced in serious scientific circles (ooo! how's that for alliteration?).  It's even been hypothesized that the universe has a creative principle with unknown (though much speculated upon) attributes that jointly might be considered…God! 

At any rate, it's now widely accepted that the universe operates according to intricate, orderly, interacting natural laws, very incompletely and imperfectly known, that communicate and mesh in ways we commonly have little or no knowledge of (though progress is being made.).  And Homo sapiens has become not only a major causative factor, on this planet, this ecosystem; it's become a wild card, a factor in all kinds of processes.

God is claimed to be omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient — existing everywhere, with all power and complete knowledge. 

According to that paradigm, the entire universe can be said to constitute God, and changes over time, presumably due to changes in the overall system: changes gradual, and changes abrupt.  Changes orderly and changes seemingly chaotic. 

Which suggests that the universe evolves; or at least that parts of it evolve.  And that "Manifest Destiny" is something the past has set up to happen, intended or unintended, unless something else intervenes with sufficient force.  Something else not sufficiently evident, not factored into human predictions.  For example suppose the Yellowstone volcanic field had blown again in the year 1800.  Humankind and today's living conditions would be enormously different.

But it didn't. 

On another scale, might it not have been manifest destiny that some of those curious, clever, acquisitive — aggressive! — primates would venture far enough out on the Atlantic to discover the Americas?  In sufficient force and variety to create colonies here?  And not yet having evolved an adequate sense of brotherhood, would undertake to conquer the indigenous primates, who'd evolved a different set of cultures in different sequences of circumstances. Manifest Destiny!

Generally we've judged them all — conquerors, indigenies — and judged each other, in ignorance and arrogance, with deficient compassion and tolerance.  For example, check out And there seems to be no short-cut; we learn the hard way.

But in the process we have evolved.  Check out the old imperial nations — Britain, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium — perhaps Russia.  Our several cultures have become more — call it more civilized toward others. 

Back to Palestine

 Israel is not, of course, imperial.  (In peril but not imperial.)  But she uses the same sort of justification we used a century and a half ago.  Back when empire building was popular.  "Come on!  Jump in!  The water's fine."  Now the game has changed, and the rules.  And the weaponry, which includes nuclear and biological, and newer and uglier chemical weapons.  And the stage and cast have changed: world population right now is 6.9 billion — looks to turn 7 billion this year — and with today's one-world economy… There are no self-sufficient nations anymore.  Visit the History Place site linked to above for the widespread reverberations of the 1845-1850 potato famine in Ireland, which caused major dislocations in North America and Great Britain, as well as devastating Ireland. 

(Some good folks might claim they would survive any catastrophe; we call them survivalists.  And they might, as individuals and small groups, providing a source of future human genetic stock.  But especially for today's urban folk, it would be a tough and unforgiving row to hoe [especially if there is nuclear war].  When the last gas pump goes dry, the last water pumping station goes off line, the last super market gets scavenged out…when pharmacies can no longer provide fixes and comforts, and your 401 Ks have no meaning at all. 

(Whatever became of the Neanderthal folk?)

Wall Street's functional purpose for existence has been hijacked by greed.  And "We the People" are being red-herringed by politics, big-time sports, Rush Limbaugh, and just maybe…just maybe your very own congressman.

Are the new ideas being pushed by Wall Street just variations on a theme by Alan Greenspan?

I tend to be an optimist, but things may have to get worse before they get better, and we may be dancing very near the edge. 

I suspect the best course is honesty, yours and mine to begin with — enough of us to make a difference.  An honesty that recognizes the danger of  industrial facilities on such a large scale, they can't adjust to a world ravaged by medical or military or geological disaster.  The tendency today is to scale everything for maximum "efficiency" — meaning, of course, maximum profit.  "Allt annat går förbi."  Everything else is ignored.

We might even have to look at alternate systems of governance, which is scary, but so is our present course.  Alternate systems of  governance!  Do university schools of political science teach such spooky courses?  Explore it?    Even just whisper about it?  Can you imagine Mitch McConnell's outrage — outrage I say! — at the very suggestion!  Or might he embrace the subject? 

I can hear a chorus of sighs.  John, John, are you ever going to get around to Palestine again? 

I never really left it.  Palestine/Israel is mankind's great geo-political infection, a painful festering carbuncle in the world's body politic, contributing to a much greater and more serious illness, the corruption and distortion of Islam.  Clear the Israeli/Palestinian suppuration, and the larger malaise may well weaken. 

Meanwhile we might want to consider a large, thorough, public discourse on our own performance regarding native Americans, an open discourse as honest as possible, with someone like Jim Lehrer as moderator.  That way we could gain new moral authority, maybe even ethical authority, in a world that still seems to look to us.

Scott Sandridge

May 31, 2010

Me being one-quarter Cherokee, I have to say, John, you hit the target dead-on.