Immigration and Cultural Homelessness | Stephen Jenkinson (Orphan Wisdom)
On this episode, our guest today is Stephen Jenkinson, activist, teacher, author, and farmer. In this conversation, we explore the themes of weekend warrior tourism, the so-called freedom to travel, and the abandonment of place that tourist towns endure. Tourism has a particular history, and we discuss the idea of modern tourism as a cultural grandchild of European immigration to the Americas. Stephen explains what it means to be indigenous, what tourism does to that capacity, and what we might do about it.
Stephen Jenkinson has masters’ degrees from Harvard University (Theology) and the University of Toronto (Social Work). He is the founder of the Orphan Wisdom School in Tramore, Canada and the author of four books, including Die Wise: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul, the award-winning book about grief and dying, and the great love of life. In 2015, he created Nights of Grief & Mystery with Canadian singer-songwriter Gregory Hoskins. With a 5-piece band, they have mounted international tours and released three albums, the most recent of which are "Dark Roads" and "Rough Gods."
I first encountered Stephen in 2014 at a chocolate shop in Toronto. In the midst of a life-changing, 3 hour-long story, he whispered to us, that “in this place, they eat teachers.” Later on, digesting the fact that I was, very much, one of the hungry, I decided to join his teaching school in the Ottawa Valley. Since then, Stephen has travelled here, to Oaxaca, Mexico, mostly as a “pulmonary refugee,” as he refers to it. Alongside his wife Nathalie and others, I have been witness and accomplice to much of their co-conspiracy, here. Over the years, many of those conversations revolved around tourism, exile, and radical hospitality, which are the themes of these two episodes.
Part 1 is entitled, “Immigration and Cultural Homelessness”
Throughout the episodes you will hear what are cicadas, emerging after a 17 year underworld life to die. Their songs, as I’ve heard it said here in Oaxaca, are prayers to local Gods, asking for rain to once more kiss the parched soils of this place.
New “Rough Gods” and “Dark Roads” Recordings
What the different parts of life include / Track Introduction “Roar at Dawn”
Track from “Rough Gods”
The River of Abundance and Time / What it means to live in a free country
Rights and responsibilities
Seasonal tourism and the end of the neighbourhood
No place in tourism / utopia and ectopia
The success of humans means suburbia everywhere
Tourism as a distraction from what drove you to the tourism in the first place
European immigration as proto-tourism
The time between Kings
Story of Stephen’s plea to younger people
There’s no fix / What sanity asks of us today
The meaning of “indigenous”
How to translate the crisis of conscience
Chris: Good morning, Stephen. Welcome to the show. On behalf of our listeners today, I'd like to thank you for joining us and being willing to wade into such such waters.
Stephen: Thank you, Chris. Here we are.
Chris: Stephen, would you be so kind as to tell our guests where you and I find ourselves today?
Stephen: Oh man. If I only knew, well, we're in the country, thankfully, so it's a little cooler and it's early morning as, uh, people might be able to hear coming through the window.
And, um, we're waiting on the rains, I guess. Things are harsh and hot in a lot of ways. It feels like the, the bend of the season, the suppleness of the thing is yet to appear and maybe this is the sign of things to come, because it takes longer and longer to come, and less and less of it appears when it does.
And, uh, the morning gives you a softer version of some kind of pre drought time, and we're in the midst of a plague. So, so we're carrying a lot this fine morning.
Chris: Thank you for that Stephen. In November of last year, you alongside your band released two new albums from your project Nights of Grief and Mystery. One is a live recording, entitled "Dark Roads" and the other is a brand new album, entitled "Rough Gods." I've had the great opportunity of being able to listen to each many times and, uh, I find each one striking, beautiful and heartbreaking in its own way.
I'd like to offer our listeners a little taste of the new recordings. So we have a track lined up, entitled "Roar at Dawn" from the new studio album, "Rough Gods." Perhaps Stephen, you might be willing to offer a little background on the track for our listeners today.
Stephen: You know, at some point you have to decide what you can't include - like life - on a recording because the, the, the DNA of the story takes some time to appear before you enter into the story, officially. It's like throwing your kids on the stage. You know, you want to try to do something preparatory, for their sakes too.
So the gist of it is, I had this notion, years ago, that there's three acts to life. Not my invention at all, but the first act is the first half of your life. The second act is the second half. How can there possibly be a third part? Well, that's how it ends. You know, it's usually not nearly as long as the other two parts, hopefully.
So, what occurred to me when I was championing this idea was the obligations that ensue from recognizing where in your life you are, that rather than turning it into a white knuckle run because you don't have the same amount of time as you used to have, you could understand this as a sort of a task, a task-determined time of life.
Yeah, which has nothing to do with peak income generating or anything like this. It has a lot to do with why you were born. And then with whom you would propose to live out the reasons for your birth. That's the first half, that's the second half. Very, very crudely put.
So this, this story is how I found out what the second half of my allotment was for. There's a bit of a spectacle involved and then you add the music to it and it's, and it has a kind of filmic quality, almost. Just what happened, you know, from the telling of the story, to the band, to them taking to it and turning it into what you're about to hear.
I'm, I'm actually not very secretly, very proud of the rendition and of the notion that you could come to the second half of your life borne along by something larger than your own plans. That's what it is I think.
Well, I don't do that very often. Listen to myself.
That's a stilling thing, though. I mean, I hear it as a, as a newcomer, to be honest, I haven't listened to that in months and months and, uh, I'm glad I did it, but man, that's weapons grade stillness, there.
Chris: Certainly is and I'm glad you did too, Stephen. That was "Roar at Dawn" from the new studio album, "Rough Gods." Stephen, the themes of water and wakefulness arise throughout that track and they've helped me to craft my questions for you today.
In your book, Die Wise: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul, you speak of the river, that graces your land. When translated into English from Anishinaabe, it can be called the River of Full Life or the River of Abundance and Time. As you have come to know it. Half a century ago, you tell us, the river was damned. A lake was created that has since seen the arrival of tourism and of what some people would call "weekend warriors." Escaping the cities in the cemented heat of summer, they arrive among many other places, in your neighborhood.
In Die Wise, you tell a story of a holiday weekend in which you stayed home, perhaps to reckon with the madness that arrives from afar. That weekend, you write, you encountered the mostly deafening and endless rip roar of boats and jet skis, which more often than not cause erosion and pollution of all kinds to those waterways.
One of your neighbors responding to this mayhem, responded to you by saying "it's a free country."
Stephen: "free country," yeah.
Chris: Likewise, you hinted that most of the locals tend to leave town on such holiday weekends. Now, there seems to be a strange congruency between your neighbor defending the destruction and disregard of his own home and subsequently leaving it in order so that what we call tourism can happen, undeterred. His response seems to carry with it a kind of tragic hospitality, a silent surrender to what might otherwise be the defense and deepening of a love affair with home. Would you care to reckon what this neighbor meant in the context of this often unconsidered form of tourism, the weekend warriors, when he or she remarked that "it is a free country?"
Stephen: Well, it's not guesswork because I've seen the guy in action. So, I mean, he was saying it with a degree of, I mean, there's no defeat in his take on these things at all.
He was, as far as he could tell, and he was happy to be a beneficiary of this open season. It's interesting phrase, eh?... the "open season" that constitutes the summer, "and from his point of view, "free country" meant that everything comes down to this:
is it against the law or isn't it? If it's against the law, you should think about it. If it's not against the law, by definition, you have permission to do it. Now, permission doesn't mean somebody in a suit, you know, waving the magic wand. It means that the system corroborates the activity, benefits from it, charges for it and all the rest.
Right? So it's a, I mean, if you, if you stop and wonder about this allegation of a "free country" and the, the summary declaration that "free country" means you get to do what you want as long as it's not against the law, you might be further still by the prospect that this is a prejudice masquerading as some kind of celebratory declaration.
It's a prejudice. And it's the principle reason that we can't do anything about our climate change problem. I mean, it's a knowable thing, right? What the climate change problem is, what contributes to it, the measures that must be undertaken, oh I don't know, 40 years ago. So what's the, why don't we ever get to it? But just these five-year plans of that governments' back off of, you know, depending on the election cycles and all the rest. And the answer is, um, the measures that we have to take run headlong into our rights, rights that are granted to us by virtue of these things not being outlawed. So it's madness, obviously, masquerading as freedom. It's the freedom of kids in a sandbox.
I mean, if there's no teacher around, just wait to see what happens. It goes from, you know, kids conducted themselves as if there's an adult close by and then when there isn't, eventually the Lord of the Flies scenario will come to call. And who's bigger and who's stronger, and who's got a forceful personality and all these things then, and this is who this guy was.
He was a, he was a sandbox bully, you know, who had taken the edges off long enough that he, he believed he could speak intelligently about what prevailed and what prevailed was: you can do whatever you want if it's not forbidden. So there's no calculations of conscience involved in any of these activities that you've talked about, the roaring up and down the river and so on. The only calculation is whether or not, um, there's a speed limit, which I don't think there is actually. And whether or not, um, there's alcohol involved, which more recently has fallen into disrepute and so finally, is against the law. But there's not much else that governs leisure from a legal point of view.
And this is the, the most beggared response to the excesses of leisure you could possibly come up with. The idea that you have to institute statutes that govern behavior, because when you do, you're replacing conscience and you know, the, the obligation you have as a citizen of a free country to conduct yourself, regardless of what the, I shouldn't say, regardless that you take the measure of the law and then you calibrate its shortcomings.
So you go further in the direction of becoming a magistrate unto your own behavior. You take it upon yourself to internalize the obligations that come with knowing about degradation. You know, the intentions are irrelevant. This kind of thing completely falls by the wayside in a legalistic orientation where everything is down to what's forbidden and whatever's not forbidden is automatically allowed and by inference, warranted.
Right? So, so the free rein of recreational activity, by virtue of not being legislated against in any way, turns into a program that quote the government unquote underwrites, right, by not challenging it. So, I mean, how do you start fixing an obscenity like that arrangement I just tried to describe? What, how do you, and, and I have an answer for that because I've, I'm doing so and the consequence is: you don't have any neighbors, in the sense of what the word neighbor should mean. You have adversaries, you have kind of, I would say cultic adversaries, whose disorganized religion is their affiliation with their freedom, which asks nothing of them and grants everything to them.
It's a child's understanding of what it means to be walking around and in the case of my corner of the world, of having money, disposable money, and having no limitations until very recently visited upon your self jet propulsion across the countryside. Yeah. So in case it's, anybody's wondering, am I aware that I have a contentious relationship with this arrangement?
You're damn right I'm aware of it. Um, you know, the compromise of the relationship of neighbors is the end of the neighborhood, if there ever was one. I don't think there is a neighborhood in a circumstance that's dominated by the seasonal comings and goings of leisure seeking people, to be honest, because there's something about neighborhood that requires a sense of response ability, not a sense of open season freedom. Minus that, what do you have? You have all of these seasonally derived, biblically proportioned invasion of plague like, this an awful characterization, of plague like locust like, tourists whose principle entitlements come from how much money they have, and they've rented this place and everything that comes with it, which apparently includes the front of my place.
I could go on and on, but so obviously this makes me sound like the grumbling old man standing on the shore who wants to throw stones at people as they go by. Um, I haven't thrown any stones, but the characterization is stone enough.
Chris: Well, I think you've managed to break down that grumbling and turn it into nuance and sense-making for our listeners. And this is really one of the main goals of the pot and finding ways to listen to the voices people squarely on the receiving end of this thing we call tourism, voices that for the most part fall on deaf ears, because they're seen as grumbling.
So thank you, Stephen, for sharing that with us and your response, your commentary, as well as the stories in the "Roar at Dawn" track remind me of a town, a small town that I visited often in my childhood, in the 1980s.
My uncle bought a property on a lake in the region of Muskoka, north of Toronto, that has since become famous for its summer cottage industry. He built a house there and we would often visit him in the summertime. As a child, I remember Jimmy's hardware and Vern's video and countless other mom and pop shops that dotted the towns main streets.
Over the years, as the lakes became more populated, those stores began to disappear. More tourists seem to mean less locals or at least less locality.
Stephen: And less hardware stores.
Chris: The last time I was, there was about 12 to 15 years ago. I was in my early twenties. We drove in and I found that Jimmy and Vern were gone. The town library had been reduced to an internet cafe with a few bookshelves and the newly renovated grocery store seems, seem to be the last remaining bastion of success in town, in part, because it was alongside the liquor store and beer store. The place seemed to have become for the majority of the year, a ghost town. Over time, that lake, that once housed a handful of seasonal urbanites and year round locals had been transformed into a jet skiers' paradise, replete with Airbnb combinations and adventure excursions.
Jet-skis and ATVs, much like the story you told of the River of Abundance and Time.
So my question is, what do you think happens to the soul role? Have a place and the livelihood of rural life when tourism development and the desire, or so-called need to escape the city of usurps a people's capacity for coherence and community?
Stephen: Well, I mean, the thing to wonder about in your question, first of all, is does it do that? Rather than assume that it does it and then just, you know, roar off into the distance angrily about the whole sorted mess?
Is that what happens? And maybe even more importantly, is that what happens from where the locals sit? Is that what they actually see? Because they're short-term beneficiaries, right? And I mean, I made the reference to the phrase, the crack cocaine of tourism that's got everybody jumping.
So in the early days of the onset of a drug problem, these are glory days, man. I mean, you know, neither one of us should be in the position of fantasizing about what local life was like before the onset of money. Right? Rough ride and not all of it chosen, necessarily.
I mean, there's a reason that the countryside is depopulated of young people, because they got a whiff of some other possibility in quotation marks from the internet years ago, from MTV and you know, on and on, and now, I mean the old saying you can't keep them down on the farm, couldn't be truer.
It's true. Or, you know, w at home and sooner or later it's going to be true exactly where we're sitting right now. The least achieved way of life is to sit and serve a place. That'll be like a sucker's game. In many places it already is. So what's happened instead with tourism is you're not serving a place.
There is no place in tourism. Most people refer to it as utopic. Right. But it's not utopic. That word, in it's Greek derivation means "a good place," utopia, a good place, but it's ectopic really. And that means, I mean, some ladies who've had ectopic pregnancies recognize the word. It means something's out of place desperately and in some sense, it's fatally out of place.
Ec - "Out," topos - "place," out of place. So that's what tourism is. It has no place and it visits ectopia upon every place it descends. The locale ceases to have the character of place and becomes a stage. It's a set for self - name it: self pleasure, enjoyment, distraction, relief. Not so much relief as temporary setting aside of the ordeal of being a responsible human being.
These are all gone. That's not what you're paying for. Eventually what happens is what's happening, where I live, which is the town, the voted constabulary and so on and the Alder men, if that's still the term they use, um, begin to reconsider what it means, what the tax base is, and that reconsideration changes their understanding of what the land is for, and it becomes potential.
And so they're going to begin to tax accordingly. And how do you do that? The answer is you got to take the land out of agricultural zoning, which produces virtually no tax base for any locale and turned it into preferably either residential or residential recreational, which is the very ectopia I just described.
And this opens the flood gates for street lights, sidewalks, sewers, all of which are top heavy, you know, financially speaking, to run and to maintain. And so the tax base goes up and so suddenly who can afford to live there? Not the people who are they're servicing this onslaught. They have to move out of town.
The very thing that's benefiting them in the very short run is forcing them out of town. They're going to be living in trailers on the outside of town, and who's in town? The people who can afford it and who are they? Nobody local. And I mean, these, these situations have a life of their own after awhile.
Nobody seems to find the capacity to object. And when they do, they're basically relics, they're nostalgia buffs they're, you know, that's who the objectors become. And then if you're trying to do something about it, you have to find a way to stay there. That means you have to live outside this situation or contend properly or well with the shift in the tax structure. How do you do that?
Well, only well-off people can power glide across these kinds of changes, right? So then you find that the people, this is over the space of no more than a generation, I'm talking about. What happens next is the people voted into these municipal positions, which is where most of the taxes get decided, change, and virtually none of them are local. None of them were born there. They're all the people that we're talking about and their priorities as land owning people in that area couldn't be further away from what drew them to the place in the first place. There's the irony, right? That the thing that was so compelling to them once is the first casualty of them obtaining it, and then maintaining it.
So I could go on and on, but the sad truth of the matter is nowhere on earth, it doesn't seem to me, has been able to survive the success of humans. There's something about us being successful and proliferating. I don't mean just birth rate proliferating. I mean, at the level we're talking about now that no real place can sustain.
And so they have to become unreal places, set pieces. They have to look like some other place. So suddenly these people who are refugees from the suburbs are recreating the suburbs in the countryside by their tax shelters, by their mill rates, you know, for property tax and so on. And that this might sound very boring and uninspiring to anybody who is listening.
But I promise you this, if you have any concern about the possibility that a vaguely populated place could remain vaguely populated, you have to know that this is how it's undone. This very ordinary, banal, a one generation scaled make-over, this is how it happens. Yeah. So then you have to become a very moneyed person to live a simple life.
Chris: Hmm. Wow. Thank you for that, Stephen. You know, often when the consequences of tourism are spoken of, especially the dire consequences to places we often hear about cities like Barcelona or Venice and the shrinking populations of locals or the shrinking populations of people who speak local languages.
But none of this seems to be that new. Two centuries ago, the industrial revolution in England grew up in part by inviting and sending its newly crafted factory workers on vacation. These people, many of whom still had a lived memory of peasantry or living in rural places went or were sent almost always to the beach.
These places included Southport, Brighton, Blackport, and Scarborough, the namesake of the place you grew up in. Classes in cultures, mixed and mingled at the beach and being on or near water was a way for people to forget where they were coming from, and perhaps to celebrate that forgetting.
And so it seems the weekend warrior trend is nothing new. It appears to have a long history that roots itself in the way that urban people survive the urban world or survive going back to it.
Given that the cultural descendants of those English workers are today vacationing on another continent, in another time, with practically the same troubles and coping mechanisms. What might this tell us about who we are, and where we are, and when we are in a tourist, the world?
Stephen: Well, this conversation is threatening to be, to be a downward spiral of "you're kidding," and "Oh my God" and so on. But, you know, you can get distractions from that just about anywhere. Isn't that finally, what uh tourism is, is a distraction from what drove you to the tourism in the first place? I think that's what it is.
So in this talk, we either participate in the distraction or we volunteer to be distressed. Okay. So here's your volunteer. So, so on with it then, well, you know that before there's tourism, you know, in terms of the North American situation, there's immigration, and do they have any relationship to each other?
Oh man. Immigration is proto-tourism, right? And it's tourism before there's such a thing as a tourist. And I mean, the ragged and despicable record of the behavior of Europeans when they washed up on shore here is the, uh, the manifesto of tourism before there, there was any such language for it.
Meaning what. Well, you own the thing by virtue of appearing. You have no obligation to the local circumstances, even to learn them in order to undo them. None whatsoever. They're instantly negotiable by virtue of your ragged, sorry ass appearance on the scene. And you're not there of your own accord, which I think is important and obligate, excuse me, uh, observation to make about tourism is that virtually every tourist is not a tourist by choice.
That's a strange thought. No, I mean, it seems like it's, it's the alternative you've crafted to the life that you thought you chose. Why would you possibly need a holiday from the life you chose? Well, either it didn't quite work out the way you thought when you were choosing it or what you chose carried the germ of this need for distraction, which I think is much more likely the second one.
So immigrants are practicing for the touristic behavior of their great grandchildren. That's what they're doing. They're laying the groundwork for unfettered, pointless, distraction, addicted, wandering. To be any place, but the place that their great grandparents chose as the great alternative to the battle days of the old country.
Are you really serious? Do you think, this is me asking myself, do you think you can make such a glib case and that this somehow describes everybody? I don't have to make a case that describes everybody, but I'm, you know, I'm a great grandchild of the very thing I just described. I'm not bullshitting about this. You know, I, I know how homeless people behave, homeless people with mortgages, okay.
The mortgage doesn't soothe the homelessness. It's an aspect of the homelessness and the seeking out, you know, three or four weeks a year of some kind of break in the action, is not you finally achieving some sense of home that you couldn't pull off in your place. You bring your homelessness with you and that accounts for your behavior, which is what your great, great grandparents did when they got here, when it was allegedly a free country, meaning there was no law whatsoever. And there was nobody here to dislocate. All of which is palpably, manifestly, a lie, nevermind untrue. It's an active, very useful lie, right? That we dispossessed people according to a legal system that we were governed by. So our dispossession was legally undertaken, so we believe.
But the investigation of the historical record is clear that in the early days, when the huge swaths of land were being summarily stolen, there was no legal presence. Sorry, say it differently. The law had no ongoing presence. The European legal system hadn't been instituted. There was this great interregnum, as they call it, for "the time between the Kings," is what that word means. And between the King that either sent you or you fled from, and the "no King" of the place that you found yourself in, in North America. And that interregnum bred...that's the wild West notion that we have where anything goes, survival of the fittest, and so on. So the irony is that we actually stole the land by the description of our own legal system.
We were thieves before we were settlers or anything else. Retroactively the legal system exonerates the thievery. That's how it works in North America, right? It exonerates the thievery by establishing itself as the heretofore civilizing presence.
Does this have any consequence for what you're asking me about? It's the mothership of the consequences for what we're talking about now. I haven't studied this nearly to the degree that you have, but for what it's worth, you know, quickly imagined, forced and involuntary immigration is the crude form of tourism and the irony is it never got less crude than that. So the tourism we know today is the crude, unmitigated, unclaimed bastard child of the immigration that gave rise to us being here in the first place.
This, I should say, is not a manifestation of some kind of unsuspected self hatred on my part, either culturally speaking or personally. I don't say this with any satisfaction that I am somehow above the fray because I've glimpsed these things. I'm no less the color that I am, and the accidents of birth don't benefit me less by virtue of recognizing any of this stuff, right.
What I'm doing and where I live, where I farm is, if you can imagine such a self-imposed task is trying to translate everything I've said in the last half hour into how I conduct myself as a part-time farmer in a place where farms are quickly disappearing and surrendering to cottage lots.
I'll tell you a little story.
So some years ago we're in the midst of a ceremonial cycle on the farm and it struck me in that moment to tell the following, well, it was actually to lay upon the people who were there an obligation that would rise in the near future as far as I could imagine it, and it was this.
So we're standing in a particular place by a fire pit that was quite close to the river, the river that you mentioned. And I said to the people who are there, "now, the day's coming, not long after my death, when, from the river, this place is likely to be unrecognizable."
"What do you mean?" "You know what I mean? I'm talking about the changes that are already visible, further up the river, and further down that the pressure is going to be brought in all the things that we've talked about here to change the land, the tax base and so on and so on. So this is going to be 40 foot cottage lots where we're standing someday in the foreseeable future."
"So, I could ask you to do everything you can to prevent that here in this very place."
"Or I could acknowledge that this is the likelihood, anyway. I'm going with the second one and charging you with the following obligation because you haven't had the good sense to walk away from what I'm saying. So, now it's binding upon you. I'm asking you to come here, by river. Okay. Hopefully by a non-powered thing, like a canoe, that you come up from the highway and the bridge that's down there, that you come up river and do your best to find this spot."
"It may be under, it may be a, a parking zone. There may be, you know, whatever it is, but you're going to have to try to find it. And you're going to have to be a little careful because you're going to be trespassing by then. You see, and you're going to do everything you can to relocate the very place we're standing right now."
"You're going to bring with you a young person who's not alive as I'm sitting here telling you this story and asking you to do this thing. You bring them with you without a lot of explanation. You trespass in a kind of cunning sort of way, so as not to visit too much trouble upon yourself, and you tell them the story of what we've done here these last few days through this ceremonial time, and it includes the story you tell includes the story I'm telling you now."
That's what I'm "doing about it."
In other words, I'm trying to cultivate a memory that can survive the overwhelm of the place. And I'm not sure that I'm taking my marching orders from anybody in particular. This is my effort to try to translate, but just as I'm thinking about it now, I don't think there's any doubt that any indigenous group that is still in some nominal way on their quote "traditional territory" has a thousand times over been obliged to undertake some similar, you know, memory reclamation project and contend with the changes that are already visited upon a place, making them unrecognizable to their grandparents.
Yeah. And, and how do they make a life given all of this? I mean, where I'm living right now is in the midst of sustained and very close to finished land claim negotiation between the federal government and provincial government and the Algonquins. And they're getting, you know, significant swaths of land "back," quote unquote.
And, um, of course they'd been subjected to all kinds of settler use programs, right? There's no return. That's the point. There's no return. There's no good old days to come back to when ectopia descends upon a place, you're looking at some kind of post-apocalyptic, you know, thermonuclear survival scenario, in which case there's nothing to go back to either because of the radiation of the place and so on.
So there's no, there's no fix. Ladies and gentlemen for any of this. Okay. Sanity asks of us not to imagine a nostalgia solution. Sanity asks of us some way of living out the consequences that we are the unwitting beneficiaries of. And it's trying to find a way to lay down the privilege and the benefit, trying to find a way to do it. Yeah.
It's extremely challenging thing to sort out, but the, you know, the wondering after tourism is a remarkably apt place to wonder about these things.
Chris: Mm, absolutely. We might, as you say, start with the poverty and see where it takes us. The, the story reminds me of a time I was in a local market here in Oaxaca City that was recently renovated and uh, I had sat down to breakfast and the local eatery owners had pasted old photos of the countryside on the wall, probably from the fifties or sixties. I looked at one and it was hard to make out, but I could finally tell that there was farmers, peasants, in their fields, just outside of the city here, and their farmland was flooded. And I did the math and I figured out that the picture was taken near the Rio Atoyac, a river that today, some 60 years later, has been reduced more or less tragically to a sewer. So I think people are living these consequences, but largely unaware of how it might've been just even two generations ago.
Stephen: That's the memory I was talking about. You know, one of the first casualties of mauling a piece of ground is that all of the terrestrial memories that humans have that helped them locate themselves in time and in place and it purpose and meaning in life and so on... all the markers are gone. They have to internalize them instead.
Right. So these become all personal association projects instead of, instead of place recognition projects. You know, once upon a time, the word indigenous meant to be born inside. That means that the quality of being an indigenous person is the quality of being able to locate yourself, the meaningful your life and the occasion for it in a particular place, in the form of your birth place, which we kind of goofily record on our birth certificates.
But what does it mean though? You know, is there meaning that derives from it and the best part of the answer is, "you're joking." But indigenous people once upon a time, if they're living the meaning of the word did so constantly, they knew themselves to be children of a place. So the center of their identity, to use a terrible modern word, there was no human in the center of their identity.
So their, their lineage brought them constantly back to place, not to, uh, a mythical hero figure like Campbell would characterize it as the, you know, the beginnings. The beginnings where the place, in other words, the beginnings were prehuman. The beginnings of all humans were prehuman places. So, what happens to any capacity to live accordingly and to take upon yourself the radical etiquette of being a guest, you know, in your home place? What happens to any of it, when it's mauled by people in their lifeways who've so long ago forsaken a capacity to belong anywhere that their lack of belonging becomes their lifestyle?
So, you know, the story I just told you was my response to try to do something about this, that wasn't rehabilitative, because I'm acknowledging that the days of rehabilitation they're, they're done. They were over before they started. There's no purity to hanker after .
What you got to do, not that I'm much of a solution guy, but what you gotta do is, is revisit the, the gross limitations that come with your way of life and then begins the act, the slow, painful, heartbreaking act of translating what has been done in your name by your predecessors into a way of life that's not self-serving and doesn't prolong the dilemmas that have brought you to this crisis of conscience. You have to translate the crisis of conscience into an action that is neither guilt delivered or escapist. Hence, I told you the story. That's my one moment's way of trying to translate that imperative that includes other people and that it's not an act of interior rehab.
I asked them to do it in the world, to include another generation that knew nothing of any of this stuff and couldn't care less probably on the way up from the river, on the river, in the canoe. Couldn't care less. Will there be canoes by the time? I don't know, you know, canoes are a little slow for tourists, right?
Not that much fun. Too much work.
Chris: I'm reminded of a passage in your book Come of Age. You reflect ever so eloquently on a rendering of a canoe in water and the feeling of its body and the feeling of us being inside of it as a quote "seismograph for the subtle motion of the water" and its ways.
The canoe teaches us and pulls us into the wake of each little movement we might make inside of it. It can teach us of where we are in the water, where we are in time. And you ask the reader to consider that it is not necessarily the water itself that teaches us about the torrent or the tide, but what lies below it.
I feel like uh, that's what you've offered to us today.
Stephen: Yeah. That's a well chosen quote. It's almost like we coordinated that..