Message from the Amazon is a recent post by one of my favourite writers on corporate social responsibility, Christine Arena. It includes a summary of the ‘oil wars’ occurring at present around purported oil-reserves in the Amazon basin, the work of groups such as the Pachamama Alliance, and in particular the worldview of indigenous peoples such as the Achuar, Shuar and Kichwa:
The Achuar, Shuar, and Kichwa peoples have one thing that oil companies don’t: ancient wisdom. If effectively leveraged, it is hypothesized that such wisdom could translate to a groundswell of public support for the ‘save the rainforest’ cause. Ancient wisdom could potentially build bridges of mutual understanding between indigenous communities and mainstream Western culture. Ultimately, it could help win the ongoing “Amazon oil war” in a way that benefits all humanity.
With one key exception, I would agree entirely with the article. Its description of the Achuar worldview also aligns exactly with my own experience and understanding of the Australian aboriginal context and its concept of the Dreaming. One of the most interesting points, for example, was about the Achuar’s view of the respective roles of men and women:
“Achuar women’s role is to say when,” says Lien. “They tell men when they’ve cut down enough trees, hunted enough animals, taken enough from the earth. And the men listen.”
To me that makes perfect sense – when it’s in balance. I’ve seen similar descriptions in other indigenous societies, such as the Plains Indians (Sioux et al, I think?) structures for dealing with major decisions: the male Elders (and only the men) discuss the issues, each from a single perspective, after which the Grandmothers (collectively, without discussion) make the decision – and their decision is final. But that’s where the exception comes, because Arena blows it completely here by adding the fatuous remark:
Imagine if Western women wielded that kind of power.
I’m sorry, but I get really annoyed at the underlying implications in that kind of comment, and the selective myopia that drives them. (Very much a ‘Green’ perspective, in Spiral Dynamics terms, rather than the ‘Yellow/Gold’ that’s actually needed here.) The point is that Western women already do wield that kind of power – and that’s exactly the problem, because at present they use that power just as irresponsibly as do Western men. If not more so…
For example, take a look at who really drives Western consumerism. Yes, no doubt at all that we could point a finger or two at ‘men and their toys’: but just note also which sex spends more of their time in the shopping-malls and flicking endlessly through the TV shopping-channels? It’s common to claim that men earn more than women (which in fact they generally don’t in Western societies, as is shown in any real like-with-like comparison), but rather more important is that fact that Western women spend far more than men – something like twice as much as men, in fact. (The huge transfer of wealth from men to women somewhere between earning and spending somehow fails to be noticed in most current feminist studies of economics… strange, that…) So who has the real purchasing power? – and the equally-real responsibilities that go with it? That’s a serious question, which needs a serious answer – which, rather noticeably, we don’t get in that quote above.
Now add into that mix the probable source of that fatuous comment, the all-too-convenient ‘essentialist’ myths that arose with the modern variants of feminism. All of these summarise to a single vain, vapid, self-serving, self-congratulatory assertion that women are somehow inherently ‘better’ and ‘wiser’ than men, that “men are the problem, women are the solution”. If we go further back, to a rather more honest and intellectually-rigorous period in feminist history, one of the main concerns of the 1848 Seneca Falls women’s convention was a demand for acknowledgement by all of each woman’s responsibility for her own life; yet present-day feminism seems far more concerned with evasion of any form of responsibility for women, instead seeking to offload all responsibility onto others via what one rather more aware feminist commentator (Naomi Wolf, I think?) described as “a religion of Other-blame”. And blame itself is a key form of social violence. If we want to resolve these serious world-level issues, we need to be a lot more honest than that.
The physics definition of ‘power’ is the ability to do work; most social definitions of ‘power’ – including those of most modern feminism – are closer to ‘the ability to avoid work’. Therein lie some huge problems for individuals, families, communities, organisations, nations and the world as a whole; it also doesn’t help that most of the so-called ‘rights’ discourse lies on the wrong side of that balance. What we need here is not convenient gender-blame or Other-blame, but some real honesty and real responsibility. That’s the real ‘message from the Amazon’ – and it’s one we all need to learn, and fast.