OPINION

Cultural Archaeology: Finding Your Past

May 08, 2006
Richard Marcus

I am beginning to have less and less patience with people who want to lay the troubles of the world at the feet of someone else. It's all George Bush's fault; it's all the fault of Muslims; it's all the rich people's fault; or those bum on welfare are to blame. Sure some of those individuals or groups who we point fingers of accusation at have things to answer for, but how long can we continue to use them as an excuse for our own inaction in the areas that we can control?

How many times have you heard people complain about the homogenization of the world? Everywhere you look there's a McDonald's Restaurant or other such evil example of the spread of American culture. It's the end of the world as we know it, cry the defenders of civilization.

Or the ones who decry the lack of spiritual focus in the world today brought about by the crass consumerism of our society. The very same people also seem to have the money to afford to go on retreats costing thousands of dollars to pay someone to help them find their own personal guardian angel, or listen to some faux guru tell them how to achieve enlightenment through the lightening of their wallets.

Both groups point their fingers pretty much in the same direction, away from themselves. Now to be fair there is validity in their criticism, outposts of the North American consumer society are this generation's Hudson Bay trading centres. Although instead of selling the natives cheap whisky and pox infested blankets for furs, they are selling them cheap carbohydrates and the fast buck, high stress world of the quick profit.

For some countries, barely recovered from years of colonial oppression, it must feel like they've only just begun to reclaim some of the ground they'd lost, when a new threat to their identity has appeared. But others, whose hands are not clean when it comes to a colonial past, and are the most vociferous when it comes to complaints, have no such history to overcome.

What do nations who have been around for thousands of years as the dominant culture from the Atlantic Ocean to as far East as Hong Kong, and as far South to the atolls of the South Pacific have to fear from a few MacDonald's stands and movies? It's their own damn fault anyway, if they hadn't been so hell bent on destroying the existent cultures of the lands they travelled to, perhaps they never would have created the "monster" that plagues them today.

The colonies of North America were mainly established by men seeking to make fortunes, for themselves and for their country. They were also seeking to spread the word of civilization and God to all those who were so obviously lost. Sound familiar to anyone?

The so called American Dream of making good, is merely an extension of the old explorers motivation to find new worlds to plunder and secure one's fortune. In a continent where settlement and expansion were dictated by men's desire for money is it any wonder that North America's values are still dictated by consumerism?

Learn to read between the lines of your history textbooks and you'll see that economic forces drove expansion and exploration on the part of the European nations. From India to North America, it was all about taking what you wanted, and ensuring the least amount of interference from the locals.

The end result was the destruction of some cultures, sucking the core out of others, and a dominant culture that existed for the pursuit of individual fortunes. As the colonial powers withdrew, from the mid twentieth century mark onward, they left behind arbitrarily defined borders based on where their territories had existed, ignorant of past tribal and cultural differences.

The cost of this carelessness, and of their attempts to obliterate unique cultural identities, is still being paid today. Whether in the form of genocides like those of Biafra and Rwanda; the need for people to reclaim their identities out of the mists of time; or even the feelings of spiritual angst experienced by some people in the West; all are legacies of the old expansionist, colonial mindset.

There are no easy solutions to any of these problems. You can't solve generations of racial and ethnic hatreds, give people back their languages and observances that have been lost, or fill an emptiness in people's lives, overnight. There are no twelve-step programs towards this type of recovery.

The Indian author Ashok Banker uses the term cultural archaeologist to describe what he's attempting to do by retelling the old stories of India for a modern audience. Digging into the past and uncovering the living relics that were buried alive by an occupying culture that tried to superimpose themselves over what had existed for thousands of years.

Unfortunately it is far easier to destroy than rebuild, and it is made even more difficult because of all the false trails and misleading information that is now being generated by those wishing to cash in on people's quest for identities. Nobody seems to want to know about where they came from, it's nowhere near as exotic as learning the secrets of the ten shamanist chants to enlightenment, or how to invoke 25 angels and 15 ascendant masters through your navel.

The real answers to identity could probably be found in some old, dusty, boring, history book that deals with pre-Christian Europe. Or even better pick up a book on archaeology, a book of traditional stories, and an atlas. It's amazing what you can learn about your ancestors that way. It just takes a little effort on your part.

Don't cheapen somebody else's beliefs by thinking you are learning how to be like them by reading a teach yourself ritual book that you picked up in the New Age section of your bookstore. Most of those cultures are still desperately trying to rebuild on their own and don't need anybody taking a free ride on their beliefs. Unless you are willing to do the work involved in dedicating yourself to a belief system, don't pretend to be something your not.

Human culture does not grow like a bacterial culture for yoghurt. It takes more than a couple of weeks in a sealed container for it to mature. We in the west are spoiled in that we can pick and choose from a variety of cultures that we want to sample and decide whether we like it or not.

Do you ever stop to think how this type of grazing could be insulting to the people's beliefs you are toying with? Instead of looking away for your answers why not look inward and ask some questions. Why are you dissatisfied and what are you looking for would be good ones to start with.

Be your own personal cultural archaeologist; dig and sift through the past of your race and see what you can find there. Look for the answers to your questions within yourself. We of European descent have no reason to blame anyone but ourselves for cultural and spiritual woes. It a simple matter of doing something about it yourself for a change instead of looking for an easy answer elsewhere.

Richard Marcus is a long - haired Canadian iconoclast who writes reviews and opines on the world as he sees it at Leap In The Dark and Blogcritics
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