Saturday, 4 June 2011

Les Derniers Humains (or Qallunology)

I must admit outright that the title I choose for this entry comes from two sources: the french part comes from Richard Desjardins' album; and, the Inuktitut part comes from Zebedee Nungark (sp?).

As a conscientious observer of my contemporary society (both Inuit and non-Inuit), I am still sometimes struck (though rarely surprised) by how little either side seems to comprehend the other. Much of the "discourse on Inuit" is rarely by Inuit themselves, granted. Most of the endless studies and reports are written by non-Inuit for other non-Inuit who are in power; oftentimes much of the "Inuit leadership" seems to be only there to legitimize the wishes and edicts of non-Inuit (with their need to leave their mark in history).

I'm not being cynical or bitter here, just stating an obvious fact.

Thucydides, the Greek historian (c. 460 - c. 395 BCE), wrote of a conference between Athens and Melos where the Athenian representatives spoke frankly:

"But you and we should say what we really think, and aim only at what is possible, for we both alike know that into the discussion of human affairs the question of justice only enters where the pressure of necessity is equal, and that the powerful exact what they can, and the weak grant what they must",

and that this law was not made by them but by the very nature of men, and that they (the Athenians and Melians) are not the first to act upon it, and were the "weak" only be as "strong" as their betters would act exactly the same.

This unfortunate truism is rarely acknowledged neither by Inuit commentators nor by their non-Inuit counterparts. But this is a logical starting point of understanding to make not only Inuit-government relations but also personal relations more humane, for it (might is right) was vigorously condemned by Plato as barbaric and uncivilized. Only in acknowledging the power inbalance can one see with clarity and act with wisdom.

Our society is a very complex and differentiated, stratified one. There are many things that are good and noble about our founding democratic ideals, but there also dark and tumultuous tendencies at work in this great human endeavour which we ignore or don't acknowledge directly at our peril (all of us). This discourse is an on-going one and to be treated with vigilance and with constant appeal to humanity for it is not just politics at stake here but our very sense of morality and will to enlightenment, fragile as they've been proven.

In order for this important discourse from degrading into mere congeries of opinion (as Athenians and rightwing ideologues would have it) we should fight against our natural tendencies to merely enumerate the relative value of this and that culture in relation to another but to consider each represented body at the table as having equal value and equal contribution to the discourse that is far more continuous and interconnected than expediency would suggest.

I've never been able to reconcile myself fully with either side of the Inuit-government relations/divide, and I think that's a good and necessary thing. But to fully understand that blaming and boo-hooing without providing insights and alternatives on the one hand, and dismissing any and all alternatives and robing oneself with attitudes of superiority without critical thought to how one would appear on the other, is a lonely place to be when rational discussion is a rare promise and seemingly not much wanted by either side.

But I still maintain that unscrupulous (and unconscious) will to power and unbridged lust for self-assertion is the greater evil of the two sides and in need of more rigorous vigilance because it can see no value in unique things and aspects of culture (even its own) that challenge or hinder (even if only imagined) the "hard-won" sense of entitlement and superiority.

We must remember that the dominion of Canada was devalued as a back-water of the realm for the longest time with nothing of value to offer but its humongous real estate - sugar and sugar production was of more value than all of Canada back then. Though a part of me wishes this valuation had held true, I know only of our history and would not change it for wishful thinking. The challenge to our humanity is harder and much more messy but promises to prove all our worth and calls upon us our best.

Given Thucydides' realism vs Plato's faith in human reason, I'd take Plato any day.


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