Monday, December 7, 2009

Evo Morales, first indigenous president in the Americas, re-elected in landslide

The UK Guardian has dubbed Evo Morales' re-election as President of Boliva a "rout". The more subdued Wall Street Journal was only willing to venture that Morales "appears" to have won (with over 90% of votes counted he has double triple the number of votes of the second place candidate). The Christian Science Monitor says that Morales is "solidifying the revolution he promises to bring to the country's long oppressed indigenous majority."

Morales is both an Aymara Indian, and a socialist. Paganism has no intrinsic affinity for modern politics of either the right or the left (or otherwise), although the opposite is very often assumed by Pagans all over the political spectrum. Something similar is true, in my opinion, for the indigenous religious traditions of the Americas (setting aside for now what relationship these traditions have to Paganism).

To say the least, leftists have not historically been reliable allies for indigenous peoples. Both revolutionary Marxists and more sedate Social Democrat types have often been under the spell of overtly eurocentric conceptions about historical and economic "progress". Although they may have become more sophisticated in their phrasing over the decades, many leftists continue to promote the idea that being conquered by Europeans was a net positive gain for the uncivilized peoples of the world who lacked the good fortune to have been born in Europe or of European ancestry, and that this net gain more than offsets any inconveniences that may have been experienced during the processes of conquest, enslavement, colonization, and forced religious conversion.

Prominent American leftist Michael Parenti, for example, proudly advances the noxious idea that being conquered by the more "advanced" Chinese was the best thing that ever happened to the feudal, superstitious Buddhist savages of Tibet, by virtue of the fact that the Chinese were acting in the name of the European ideology of Communism, which ideology they then proceeded to generously share with their new Tibetan comrades. Parenti informs us that the Chinese occupiers "promote social reforms", and only wish to help the poor, stupid, self-oppressed Tibetans:
Among the earliest changes they [the Chinese] wrought was to reduce usurious interest rates, and build a few hospitals and roads. At first, they moved slowly, relying mostly on persuasion in an attempt to effect reconstruction. No aristocratic or monastic property was confiscated, and feudal lords continued to reign over their hereditarily bound peasants. “Contrary to popular belief in the West,” claims one observer, the Chinese “took care to show respect for Tibetan culture and religion.”
[Friendly Feudalism]
This sounds like the same kind of crap that President Andew Jackson used to spew when explaining how his policy of "Indian removal" was in the best interests of the Native Americans:
[The removal policy] will separate the Indians from immediate contact with settlements of whites; free them from the power of the States; enable them to pursue happiness in their own way and under their own rude institutions; will retard the progress of decay, which is lessening their numbers, and perhaps cause them gradually, under the protection of the Government and through the influence of good counsels, to cast off their savage habits and become an interesting, civilized, and Christian community ... Rightly considered, the policy of the General Government toward the Red Man is not only liberal, but generous. He is unwilling to submit to the laws of the States and mingle with their population. To save him from this alternative, or perhaps utter annihilation, the General Government kindly offers him a new home.
[Address to Congress, December 8, 1830]
Parenti's attempts to justify the brutal occupation of Tibet also sound precisely like the justifications that the United States government routinely gives for it's military adventures abroad, all of which Parenti has of course dutifully opposed.

Perhaps (or perhaps not) surprisingly, old Karl Marx was far more sympathetic to the "Hindoos" of India as they suffered under the yolk of British Imperialism, than the modern day Marxist Parenti is to the Buddhists of Tibet. In an article published in English in the New York Daily Tribune in 1853, Marx referred briefly to previous foreign conquests of India at the hands of Muslims and the Portuguese, and then categorically declared that
There cannot, however, remain any doubt but that the misery inflicted by the British on Hindostan is of an essentially different and infinitely more intensive kind than all Hindostan had to suffer before ... England has broken down the entire framework of Indian society, without any symptoms of reconstitution yet appearing. This loss of his old world, with no gain of a new one, imparts a particular kind of melancholy to the present misery of the Hindoo, and separates Hindostan, ruled by Britain, from all its ancient traditions, and from the whole of its past history.
[The British Rule in India, June 25, 1853]
One can only hope that a significant number of Latin American leftists are more inclined to Marx himself than to the Marxism of Parenti when it comes to respecting the cultural traditions, including religious traditions, of non-European peoples.


SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

When it comes to justification for invasion, tiene razon. However, wouldn't you agree that Parenti has presented a good critique of Tibetan feudalism? Does it not seem that in many ways it approximated Catholic tyranny in medieval times? A critique need not lead to a justification for invasion. One can support popular sovereignty and at the same time level social critique, don't you think? I'm curious your take on this.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

In Tibet people continued to practice the ancient Bon religion, can the same be said for any of the ancient religious traditions of European peoples under Catholic tyranny?

In Tibet there were also multiple competing forms of Buddhism side-by-side. And within each of these traditions there was a great deal of diversity and freedom of thought and practice.

Parenti refers to conflicts, often violent, between the major sects. So what? These were powerful, wealthy institutions, and they fought with each other, and people died. Big deal. I am not a pacifist, and for that matter Buddhism does not espouse pacifism. Didn't the Vikings like a good fight among themselves, and the Saxons, and the Romans, etc? And wily Odysseus burned and sacked a temple or two in his lifetime - and paid for it. But the Vikings, Saxons, Romans, and Hellenes did not annihilate whole religions from the face of the earth, as the Chinese Communists would like to do with Tibetan Buddhism.

The Kagyus still exist, by the way, and so do the other major sects. There is also a non-sectarian movement that is very popular among Tibetan Buddhists which explicitly encourages people to study with different traditions, and to also study the ancient pre-Christian Bon religion. This movement is called Ri-Me:

Tibet is a nation that has been brutally occupied by people who want to destroy the indigenous culture. Signs, billboards, etc, all have to be in Chinese. Even having a picture of the Dalai Lama results in arrest and torture. In that context Parenti is like those who want to change the subject when the genocide of the Native Americans is brought up -- who want to present "the other side", and tell us about how the Apaches beat their wives, and the stupid Indians were always fighting each other anyway.

Parenti also mentions other Buddhist countries. In Korea there are still active temples to the Mountain God and other Deities worshipped by the Koreans before the Buddhists came along. The same thing is true in Japan and Sri Lanka and other Buddhist countries.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Oops - that was supposed to be "the ancient pre-Buddhist Bon religion" in the fourth para!! Of course, Bon is also "pre-Christian"!