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Leviathan
John Mohawk,
Native American chief

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John Mohawk
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By the end of this century there will be more and more people who have less of what they need than there were seen at the beginning of this century.
 



I think we'll see more and more horrors in the future, manmade horrors in the future.
 



There's every evidence that an inappropriate use of technology has created chemical changes in the environment which will need to be addressed.
 



Whole groups of human beings will fall easily into conditions of madness that enable them to rationalise horrible behaviour toward other human beings.
 



I don't believe that you should blindly let people go off and do all kinds of crazy things without knowing for sure what the outcomes are going to be.
 



We need to get back to basic principles of what it means to be human.
 



People have to have relationships with the universe itself, with the earth, with the plants, the trees,
 
Q: Looking ahead to the new century, what do you think will happen? Where do you think the white man is going culturally? What is happening with technology? Is it going to proceed destructively and end in ruining the world or do you think it will cope?

A: Most of mankind will be struggling to make a living and they'll be struggling to make a living under ever more difficult conditions.

There has been a century-long drift in the direction of the higher and higher percentage of people who don't have everything that they need in order to live and I think that that percentage will grow.

By the end of this century there will be more and more people who have less of what they need than there were seen at the beginning of this century.

I think what it will produce is more of the kinds of energised what we call 'revitalisation movements', that people have when they feel that they are oppressed or that they are desperate. They dream of a better world and they go on these terrible, terrible marches to achieve a better world in which they really lose track of humanity and the things that we think of as the limits of what is acceptable for people to do. That was the history of the 20th century.

The 20th century saw the rise of Stalinism, of Hitlerism, of Fascisms of all kind all over, I mean not just Europe but in many places has led to holocausts, exterminations, extinctions.

In each and every case it was started by a people who felt like the Germans did, that they were somehow left out, somehow not given their due. People who took a conscious effort to reform their culture, and in so doing gave themselves permission to commit murder. That has been accelerating in this century and I think it will continue to accelerate into the next century.

That is going to be a result of the side effects of the combination of the globalisation of economy and all the social changes that have diminished the value of human labour and diminished the value of people's relationships and their symbiotic relationships with land.

All of that is accelerating, all of that is coming as a by-product of technological social change. I think all of that is going to continue to happen. I think we'll see more and more horrors in the future, manmade horrors in the future.

Beyond that, there's every evidence that an inappropriate use of technology has created chemical changes in the environment which will need to be addressed and I don't see the will to address it in the major wealthy countries of the world who have created the problem.

The changes that appear to be impending are daunting changes. They're almost biblical in their force and beyond that are wildly unpredictable. Our scientists generally think that global warming will cause a melting of the icecaps and that will raise the water level and so on and so forth, but that might not be the worst thing that happens.

We don't know what will happen. When you change whole system in the way that a few degrees of temperature change is likely to produce, it is very possible that areas that had been desert will cease to be deserts; places that had been warm could become cold; and areas that had not really been buffeted by the energies of the surface of the planet - meaning places that didn't use to have hurricanes and didn't use to have tornadoes - could very well have those things. As we have been noticing, those things have already begun to get more and more common.

Now if I was paid enough and if I was a scientist, I suppose I could tell you that there's no evidence that any of this stuff is related to global warming. If I was paid enough and if I was a scientist, I could probably tell you that there's no relationship between cigarette smoking and bad health, or sugar eating and bad teeth, or whatever. And so we'll always have that going on. There will always be people who are either paid to do that or who are so hopeful of our positive future that they're unwilling to look at evidence.

The other thing is that the 20th century did not stand out as a century in which rational behaviour triumphed. The 20th century was most remarkable for the fact that rationality went out the window, nationalism went off the chart and racism went off the chart. But if you were hoping that humankind was going to go in the direction of Mr Spock of Star Trek fame, it didn't happen and that is because humans essentially are not as a group willing to accept realities all the time. They would rather create their own version of reality. Sometimes that version of reality requires them to do horrible things.

I predict that the 21st century will see more of that kind of irrationality. Whole groups of human beings will fall easily into conditions of madness that enable them to rationalise horrible behaviour toward other human beings and that this has been the 20th century's most notable development and the 21st century is the child of the 20th.

Q: Is there a different perspective that your culture might have? I've heard that there's an idea in your culture of thinking seven generations ahead.

A: I would point out first that Western culture has a long tradition of utopian thought. By this I mean that there's been an expectation of some millennial event.

For the longest time the millennial event was the coming of the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God, or second coming of Christ or whatever it was but there was that. Now if you believe in that, then it follows that everything that's happening between now and then is a step that's taking us from here to that.

It has to be by that thinking and that's the theory of progress. We've moving toward something and the something has usually been utopian. Utopia is left and right in Western culture; you know all the way from the whole idea of salvation and what was going to happen to the people who died on the way to the crusades; and what was going to happen you know to the thousand year Reich - just throughout Western culture. And this is where the theory of progress originated from. There's a theory of technological progress - we're moving from here, an age in which we're subject to the limitations and vagaries of biology, in other words we're going to die, to a place in the future where we have enough technology to see to it that we don't die and so on and so forth, so there's all those beliefs.

Because nowadays people are raised in science fiction fantasy, that it has become a sort of substitute for religion amongst some young people who kind of look at the Star Wars trilogy as, the Star Wars things and they think there's some reality there. So I say Western culture believes in utopias and to believe in a utopia forces you to believe in progress.

I think the true ancient native American didn't believe in that, he believes in cycles. If you believe in the cycles of nature, then you don't necessarily believe in a linear progress towards utopia. So by and large people thought that things are the way they were before and would become that way again and so they were mostly celebrations of cycles of life whereas Western culture is mostly - an expectation of miracle, a hope that something supernatural will intervene in human affairs to contradict the laws of nature.

I think our native American cultures have always believed that we had to be in synch with nature and that doesn't really give you rights to harm or damage other people or other species. One had to be really careful about how one, or a whole group addressed the issues of nature and always understand that we come from that. We're made out of that, it's part of us. It is a whole different way of seeing the world - one group rushing away from nature, the other group rushing to a place, one group seeing linear time, the other group seeing circular time -very different ways of being in the world.

Q: And is there a specified way of understanding the future in considering your actions or is that not formalised?

A: The Iroquois, for example, thought that what we do today will reverberate for a long time in the future so there was a true conservatism, not conservative in the right/left politics but conservative in the sense you would be very careful about what it is that you did now because you would understand that it would have magnified effects down the road. There was that idea that people had to act today in responsibility for things that would happen seven generations into the future.

Q: And how do you deal with this? Do you feel that's something, not a way of thinking that you are a part of or is that something you do relate to?

A: I don't believe that you should blindly let people go off and do all kinds of crazy things without knowing for sure what the outcomes are going to be. And if you don't know the outcomes, you should be very careful. That's what the seven generation thing is about. You have to be careful, you don't send biological organisms out into the world and then ask later 'oh what does that do to the rest of the world?' You don't do it that way. You find out what it's going to do first and then you ask yourself whether you want it to do that or not. But you don't send it out there just because something's going to make some money and hope for the best.

And of course the theory here, you can only hope for the best if you believe that the best is going to happen, and if you believe that without any evidence, then you don't know what you're doing. That's not scientific, that's you know that's utopian vision. I don't believe in utopian visions. I think that that has proven to be in history a really bad thing.

Q: We've been hearing from one of our interviews about his predicting that within the next 50 years we will be able to download our minds and our personalities into computers or the Internet. How do you feel about that?

A: I think that a lot of people have a lot of dreams, hopes. We all do that. Every single one of us wishes the world was a certain kind of way and that we act as if it was that way sometimes. The whole culture acts as though the idea that you could commodify everything in the world will turn out alright. We don't know that it'll turn out alright. There's whole bunches of places where it's not turning out alright at all and in predictable ways in which it's going to turn out very badly for a lot of people in the world. When we talk about "we", like I said in the beginning, we have a very limited definition of who we is.

We don't really care about the people who aren't we. We don't care about them at all and so we're not responsible for them but they're the future too. I mean they are, they are the future, and they are part of us.

The other thing is that when people talk that way, when people say this is how the world's going to turn out, when they don't know how it's going to turn out. When people predicted that some technological thing was going to turn into a nirvana for humankind, it never did. It never did turn out to that.

It isn't going to do it this time either, it's not gonna but if somebody wants to say that they should prove it to us. We should have the right to demand that they give us concrete evidence - in the same way when you went to the bank and said you want to borrow money and 'here's how we're going to make it back' - I want them to come to my bank and your bank and tell us 'here's how we're going to borrow the future and here's how we're going to pay it back, by doing this'.

Q: And if it did turn out that way, would you see that as a nirvana because I think that might be a nightmare scenario?

A: I think the most interesting thing about the 20th century psychology in the cosmopolitan West is that the basic theme of the culture is that, is that you should be fulfilled with commodities and possessions. If you have enough money, you will be fulfilled.

This is one of the, one of those areas where wisdom is not present in that way of thinking. People who are well off are not necessarily happy. They're not necessarily sane, they're certainly not necessarily well. But the myth of the culture is that the person who dies with the most toys wins.

All this stuff is irrational but then I was saying that the 21st century is irrational. We have a whole, a whole profession of people whose only job it is to convince us that we need things that we don't need and that we will be fulfilled by things that won't fulfil us, and that our primary goal in life is to buy their product and that once we have bought their product, we will be fulfilled. And this is of course such nonsense on its face we shouldn't even have to argue about it.

Q: Speaking from the perspective of a traditional native American is there something that you would want to say to our society about how it should be thinking on the first day of a new century.

A: I think that, that the culture socialises us to wants and desires which are unhealthy for us and we all know it. We're all somewhat aware of that and that we need to get back to basic principles of what it means to be human, and what it means to be human isn't, isn't limited to our relationships with other people.

It's not enough that you have relationships with the generation before you, your generation and the one behind you. One has to have relationships also with people outside of you, in the next colony over or whatever it is. You have to have that kind of relationship and you have to have relationships with things that aren't people. Really, in a way people have to have relationships with the universe itself, with the earth, with the plants, the trees, whatever is here. That's what being here is about and I think the traditional Indians have that clear.

They're clear about that. When you ask them about it, when they say all my relations they don't mean their cousins or whatever. They mean the buffaloes, the birds, the grasses, and the trees. People are going to say oh that's romantic. The Indians were never romantics. Couldn't be, had no idea what that meant. What the Indians were, they were people who enjoyed their relationship with nature.


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Leviathan