To stay in one place, part 1

We cannot return to prehistory, nor create a new world. We are not utopians. A place without history is no place.

Even ancient tribes had history, recorded in storytelling, expressed in arts, disclosed in ritual. Theirs was a living history, kept alive in traditions that lasted for hundreds and thousands of years, in contrast with our rampant attempts at clean breaks, our revolutions and false discontinuities. Accordingly, tribes tended to call themselves “the people,” asserting their lineage from the original inhabitants of the place, their identity with all who preceded them, whereas we assert our difference, distance, and superiority from, e.g., European colonizers and 19th century slavers.

Our task is not undoing but understanding, not redoing, but redemption. Begin by opening our eyes to the place we are. See how our concepts and values have originated in history to justify domination, how their definitions are contingent on arbitrary circumstances and wielding of power. Feel righteous anger or unspeakable sadness, and let them pass. Before they become inconsolable depression or hopeless cynicism, forgive. This step will be hardest of all, for we know better how to forget.

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