As I continue to read Tyson Yunkaporta’s Sand Talk, I learn of digital hyperobjects like “boids.” Apply three or four simple rules to these objects, he reports, and complex patterns emerge in their behavior, their movement together in groups. Yunkaporta claims that these patterns “cannot be programmed, but must emerge within the system organically — a process that is called ‘random’ in western worldviews but is in fact following the patterns of creation” (135). Patterns of right relation can arise in any complex, self-organizing system, he suggests. Kevin Kelly wrote of such patterns in his book Out of Control. For Yunkaporta, however, such patterns are excuses not for free markets but for heterarchies: complex, self-organizing learning communities where members “operate autonomously under three or four basic rules” (136). Heterarchies are systems “composed of equal parts interacting together” (137). There’s a moment in the book when Yunkaporta says, “If the world ever experiments with an actual free market rather than an oligopoly, this would be the perfect system to facilitate sustainable interactions” (144). In no way, though, should this be read as a defense of what capitalists themselves mean by “the free market.” I admit wanting to tug a bit on this part of Yunkaporta’s yarn. The Marxist in me wants him to turn up the base.
Yunkaporta describes his book Sand Talk as “an examination of global systems from an Indigenous perspective.” This is what we need, is it not? The Marxist literary theorist Fredric Jameson proposed that we call this thing we need a “cognitive map,” but Yunkaporta calls it “a template for living.” Reading the latter’s book, I’m reminded immediately of “songlines,” or “maps of story carrying knowledge along the lines of energy that manifest as Law in the mind and land as one, webbed throughout the traditional lands of the First Peoples.” Yunkaporta’s is a cosmology that allows for Elders and Ancestors, as well as “sentient totemic entities” and non-human kin. That cosmology clarifies, its form shimmers into being, when he writes, “Beings of higher intelligence are already here, always have been. They just haven’t used their intelligence to destroy anything yet. Maybe they will, if they tire of the incompetence of domesticated humans.” Most of us, he argues, have been displaced. History is a narrative of global diaspora, as most of us are “refugees” severed from the land-based cultures of origin of our Ancestors. Progress or healing occurs by revisiting “the brilliant thought paths of our Paleolithic Ancestors.” The ancients possessed cognitive functions that remain part of our evolutionary inheritance, but most of us remember no more than a fraction of these functions, our capacities stifled by our separation from the knowledge systems of Indigenous, land-based people. Through reading Yunkaporta’s book, one encounters “yarns.” Oral culture provides a lens through which to view the print-based knowledge systems of the Empire. Yunkaporta recognizes the challenges involved in such a project. “English,” he writes, “inevitably places settler worldviews at the centre of every concept, obscuring true understanding” (36). To communicate with the global system, Yunkaporta must write with “the inadequate English terms of his audience” (38) — but he makes the language work through “the meandering paths between the words, not the isolated words themselves” (37). “Dreaming” is an example of such a word: necessary, Yunkaporta notes, “unless you want to say, ‘supra-rational interdimensional ontology endogenous to custodial ritual complexes’ every five minutes” (38). Yunkaporta introduces “the dual first person…a common pronoun in Indigenous languages” (39) — and just like that, the Cave is behind us and we’re beginning to see the light. He translates it as “us-two.” Us-two’s fingers type those letters while with our mouths we say ngal.
Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor opens the evening’s set, though I can’t say much of the 1972 performance of it by Dutch prog group Ekseption. It all feels a bit too tight, too clean, too controlled. I stick around nonetheless for the rest of the A-side on the band’s album Trinity. Flute, organ, and synthesizer solos on “The Peruvian Flute” reach across the frame a bit. “Dreams” is a track that could be sampled, as is “Smile.” And “Lonely Chase” features a lovely organ solo. Heard between episodes of Exterminate All the Brutes, however, it can’t but be a bit repulsive. Tacky, uninspired peacockery. I find myself wanting instead to read Tyson Yunkaporta’s Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World.