Saturday, April 30, 2011

Review: Look for Our Mother and Our Father

Author: Anonymous
Genre: Spiritual
Pages: 237
Warning: Fiction
Rating: 1/5

In the interest of full disclosure, I received this book through the Librarything Member Giveaway.

"Look for Our Mother and Our Father" is a series of related essays about how European-centric culture is all that is wrong with the world. Most of the author's criticisms are directed specifically towards the United States of America, but a certain about of blame for the state of the universe is laid on it's European predecessors.

First and foremost, I found the writing style to be consistent but jarring. The extensive use of parentheses was distracting. It was not uncommon for there to be several sentences in parentheses on a single page, which doesn't lend itself to coherent essays. There is little logical connection or narrative flow between paragraphs, and it took me a long time to distinguish the point the author was driving at. The style and organizational structure are very similar to preaching. This is effective when the author is trying to evoke emotional responses, but I confess my own responses were primarily negative.

Despite this there were some passages that I resonated with me, and my understanding of truth. For instance, there was a portion of a paragraph that explains how the American/European viewpoint towards animals is barbaric. This is illustrated in part by the historical slaughter of the plains bison in the 19th century. If you don't know what I'm talking about, American settlers killed bison to the point of extinction, ostensibly for their skins. This hunting was subsidized by the railroad industry to starve plains tribes. While I was not personally responsible for this event, I feel great shame to be part of a country that felt this was an appropriate response, and for all the benefits I have received since being born that are a result of the subjugation and destruction of the Native American Nations. Throughout the essays there are several more current examples of wrong-doing perpetrated by America which I also think all of it's citizens should recognize.

On the other hand, there are some things I just blatantly disagree with, like "Gravity and other natural laws are culture-specific phenomena, just like human nature; they are not universal laws."(pg 36) I cannot agree that gravity is a cultural construct, there is nothing that supports this.

The following passage was one that I found particularly frustrating, which illustrates a concerning trend in the logical premise of "Look for Our Mother Our Father". It suggests that only European-ish cultures are the only ones to use irrigation. For clarification purposes PEOC stands for "Person of European-Originated Culture"(pg 8).
PEOC's, on the other hand, would like to control everything and every part of the environment. To control water, we use concrete canals, dams, pipes, and faucets. Instead of letting water flow freely, as it used to move through the world, we try to capture it and direct it's course. The natural water features which used to grace the harshest deserts have all but vanished in PEOC countries (and countries we are forcing to develop). (pg 149)
Awkwardly, many South American civilizations used irritation. The Chimu Empire, which was in power from roughly 800 to 1470 AD, built a canal between the Chicama and Moche valleys to artificially boost the amount of water which would reach their capital city of Chan Chan. While I would agree that Americans have done all of the things referenced in the quote, and we alter the landscape to do so, the author's assertion that this controlling nature is a direct result of having a European-derivative culture is factually untrue. It also suggests the author has made some broad generalizations about human nature that zhe can't back up.

I suspect that some of the authors's assertions arise from a Noble Savage complex. It is possible that the author has chosen to generalize about all Native American cultures in order to preserve the anonymity of the tribes zhe knows intimately about, to which I applaud zhe's respect. However the sheer number of sweeping statements in the text about Native American lifestyle makes this unlikely. The majority of the author's statements about Native American culture are broad generalizations, which suggests zhe knows very little about the individual tribes. Zhe also fails to specify any tribe, although there were many different Native American cultures that existed across time and geography. It seems improbable that every Native American tribe exhibited all of the characteristics the author ascribes to them. My favorite example of the ridiculousness of the author's claims is "If it doesn't break down and need replacement, it needs maintenance. Everything needs maintenance: buildings, roads, landscaping ..."(pg 127) I can only think of two interpretations of this statement: a complaint about everything, or an implication that Native Americans are better because nothing they built has ever needed repairs. Ever. I make this point because if I'm correct and the author is placing Native American culture on a pretty inhuman pedestal, without bothering to learn anything about the cultures zhe claims to revere.

I believe the author's fundamental argument is untrue. European-centric cultures commit wrongful acts, but this has less to do with some inherent flaw in only European-centric cultures than with a basic flaw in powerful agrarian societies. The author constructs Native American culture as the opposite, and in doing so ignores their complexity and humanity. The author just generally has an inability to tell reasonable critiques of agrarian societies from nonsense. While I am aware, at it's heart, the argument that American society has problems is true, "Look for Our Mother Our Father" is a terrible critique of it. This book is little more than one disappointed individual complaining about their lives, and indiscriminately laying blame.

I struggled through 162 pages of this book, but now I'm just happy I've given up on it. It's a lovely day outside, and I'd much rather enjoy that.

Questions or Comments Welcome~

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