They: the standardizers, the calculators, the settlers. They convert by use of culture, / but cultures need not comply. We can learn other languages, teach other literatures, wise up, rise up.
What is my relationship to US settler-colonialism? For historian Nick Estes and the members of the Red Nation, the US is not a “nation of immigrants” but a “nation of settlers.” My ancestors are said to have arrived to North America from Ireland and Italy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries — after the Civil War. They settled in apartments in urban ethnic enclaves in New York and New Haven, another group in Memphis, TN. After service in the two World Wars, they purchased homes in the new postwar suburbs of Long Island — though “purchased” is perhaps a misnomer, as the banks retained portions of these mortgaged properties, debt in that way a permanent tool of extraction. Both grandfathers launched and ran small businesses. Before I was born, however, both were dealt charges of tax evasion. One settled quickly by paying a fine; the other refused, and may or may not have had minor mafia connections, my parents always denying involvement of that sort (though maybe also hinting at it in secret?). All I know is, expenses ate away at his always-no-more-than-modest wealth, leaving my parents and I no inheritance other than debt. Since leaving my parents’ home, I’ve lived in rental homes on land that was several centuries ago stolen from Native people. My parents sent me off to a settler-colonialist boarding school, a “university,” so that by boarding school’s end I was left with the bill, a bill that in its form as debt has sentenced me to life as the equivalent of Staff at another of the system’s boarding schools. Can a person of my circumstance join the Red Nation? What would that mean? What would that entail? The struggle, after all, is worldwide, is it not? All of us occupy a place in it. Time to decolonize the world, from within and without Occupied Territories. (There’s your microcosm and your macrocosm. There’s your cognitive map. There it is: the totality and one’s place in it. It was there, in a sense, in Brave New World and its reservation system, albeit distorted by the particulars of Huxley’s standpoint and powers of vision.)
The white American settler-state has failed in its stewardship of the planet. Let us return power to the Red Nation. Build and strengthen “caretaking economies” to oppose what Nick Estes calls “the caretakers of violence such as the police and military.” Support the Sanders campaign and demand a Red Deal. Honor relations and kin.
I situate myself amid circles of relatives and kin. Friends and family shower Sarah, F. and I with gifts. Each day is lovely. I wish to give back, give thanks. How do I do that properly in light of settler-colonialism? What happens, too, when we view postal systems in that light? Let our view take into its account Thomas Pynchon’s approach to these matters — but also the idea of mail systems as prehistories of the Internet. Wasn’t the Pony Express an arm of the settler state? What happens when texts replace letters as units of exchange? How do we remove or subtract from these relations guns, money, and oil — the tools, in the Whole Earth sense, at the core of the settler toolkit? Whole Earth Catalog creator Stewart Brand produced a multimedia slide show which he performed called “America Needs Indians.” His wife at the time was a Chippewa woman named Lois Jennings. How did the commune movement that Brand and Jennings catered to with their Whole Earth Truck Store negotiate its relationship to the settler-colonialist project? Were they attempting an alliance with Native people, or did they think of themselves as cowboys, as in Ant Farm’s Cowboy Nomad Manifesto? For Ant Farm, though, the cowboy was distinct from the settler. The cowboy “carried all his life support systems with him being restricted by what his vehicle (horse) could carry.” Something of the same can be said for the hero of Ed Dorn’s poem Gunslinger. Missing from that figuration of the cowboy, however, is his relation to land. Does the cowboy’s migrancy, his refusal to settle down, absolve him of complicity with the settler-colonialist project? By “migrancy,” I mean his life “on the road,” as Kerouac put it — the latter’s Dean Moriarty character nothing if not a cowboy. Poet Gary Snyder described Moriarty as an embodiment of “the energy of the archetypal west, the energy of the frontier, still coming down. Cassady is the cowboy crashing” (as quoted in Ann Charters’s “Introduction” to On the Road, p. xxix). The hippie counterculture at its best, however, was more than just a collection of “cowboy nomads.” It fashioned itself into a Woodstock Nation, a coming together, a global village, a gathering of the tribes.
I sit in my living room admiring this beautiful, brand new human who, according to a scale, has already grown a whole pound larger since last her pediatrician weighed her. By afternoon the sun has moved us outdoors. I honor mothers and mammalian and marsupial kin by carrying her in a front-facing pouch as I stroll through the neighborhood, talking with Sarah about a Nick Estes book that we’re reading together: a history of Indigenous resistance called Our History Is The Future. As readers we find ourselves wondering: How do we join the resistance to settler-colonialism so as to lessen the latter’s hold on lands, peoples, and nations? Perhaps I can begin by rethinking Hippie Modernist art, literature, and culture in light of Indigenous resistance movements of the 60s and 70s like Red Power and AIM. Rewatch counterculture westerns, movies like McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Little Big Man, and Midnight Cowboy. Watch, too, as F. lies on a couch listening to songs from Jeremy Steig’s Howlin’ for Judy, Karen Dalton’s “Reason to Believe,” Amen Dunes’s “Lonely Richard,” and Jessica Pratt’s “Moon Dude.”
Back to the bookstore. The love of books. Extended, now, to children’s books, like Mindful Kids and Henry David Thoreau in the Woods. Story time at 10:30am on Saturdays. Of course, most of that is the future. As of now, most of F.’s desires center around feeding. When she’s rooting for her mother’s breast, the most I can offer is my thumb or my pinkie. I wish the world we’re introducing her to wasn’t one on fire. Natural and built environments demolished and transformed according to the whims of capital. Nick Estes usefully reframes current events as a continuation, as if by law of correspondence, of white settler-colonialist America’s war on the Buffalo Nation. His book Our History Is The Future has me looking differently not just at contemporary US acts of aggression against Iran but also at hippie modernist classics retrieved from Goodwill like Jerry Rubin’s We Are Everywhere. Is it a coincidence, too, that after walking past a building demolition downtown, a friend’s text about “leveling up” leads me away from Estes toward a motivational blog exhorting readers to “Inhale the Future, Exhale the Past”? (“Level Up” is also the name of a conference on videogames that I attended at the start of my career as an academic.) The phrase inspires fears, though, about the creeping libertarianism interwoven in the DNA of transhumanism and human potential. Is self-actualization the same as “leveling up”?
A singsong routine occurs, a beckoning. Guided by voices, I advance, dreaming up games to be played, video-streaming services stocked with programs. Netflix takes the chill out of my basement with its new series Wild Wild Country, about the Rajneesh movement and its leader, the Indian mystic Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, later known as Osho. With crowns come guillotines, says a woman onscreen. Seek instead gentle, meditative gardens, oases amid seas of people. Unless those people are white christian practitioners of settler colonialism, who “settle” with bombs and guns and then defend their stolen land with same, heaven forbid others achieve ecstatic union with other deities. The conservative christians are the life-haters, the pleasure-deniers of history. The ultimate invasive species — over the planet they lay their rule.
Embroidered pulse signals. 24/7 thermals and flannels. A friend who I run into from time to time at Goodwill, and whose wife is one of Sarah’s colleagues, gave me two blocks of imported Scottish cheese out in the parking lot the other day. (And no, that’s not street slang for a new kind of drug. I’m talking about cheese here, people!) There are sometimes whole days when events like the above make up the full extent of my non-work-related interactions with others. Sarah’s bummed about having received so few trick-or-treaters yesterday. I sat in the side yard absorbing brown, orange, and yellow leaves atop the patchy remains of a lawn. Birds, bells, crickets, neighbors. The bark of a neighbor’s dog. Squirrels courted one another in the branches above my head, the female shaking her tail and leading the male on a chase. My brother’s girlfriend texted Sarah and I from Brooklyn; a truck had fatally attacked bikers in New York, she said, but she and my brother were safe. Subway riders sat uneasily beside one another in costume. I imagine it was hard, trying to play-act a nightmare while in the midst of one. I enjoyed sitting on the front stoop, though, listening to the zombie shuffle of children’s footsteps as night fell. And we did end up meeting a few more of our neighbors. “This is what — essentially a diary?” I ask myself. To which I reply, “Quit bullying me. Back off.” Am I allowing others to watch me as I lower myself into a de-conditioned vortex? I have incurred a debt which I can never repay. But why dwell on the absolute horizon, the structure that bounds in on all sides one’s field of action? Why not focus instead on papers one will never get around to writing? “America” has always been a settler-colonialist fort, white settlers descending like a plague, a wedge driven between the land and its native people. How might we avenge this — the crime of our very existence? One has to countenance this in the “new frontier” mythos that pervades the hippie counterculture’s embrace of psychedelics in the 1960s and 1970s. Then again, Leslie Fiedler responded to the psychedelic revolution in a rather different political register, regarding it instead as “the red man’s revenge” and as a “reunion of white and ‘other.'” His argument is one with which I’ll need to engage as I develop my theory.