The Nature of Balance
By Jay Taber
A couple of recent events prompted me to reflect on the nature of balance–the natural tension between nurturing and protecting—in our communities and societies. The tension that is reflected in the dynamics of cooperation and conflict necessary to maintain healthy relationships between the four forms of social organization that have evolved among humankind worldwide.
The first event, on April 28, was an exhibition at Radcliffe by Swinomish/Tulalip photographer Matika Wilbur–that depicts images of the dignity, courage and endurance of Native women. The second event, on April 30, was the passing of American antiwar activist Daniel Berrigan—‘The Holy Outlaw’ Jesuit priest—who confronted the Roman Catholic Church, other Christian bodies, and the synagogues of America with their silence and cowardice in the face of our country’s crimes, and was treated as an enemy of church and state.
Reflecting on the connection between these two events, I recalled the strength of Berrigan’s leadership in reaching out to those who, ‘out of deep despair’, resorted to violence against the American military industrial complex. His words to them were simple: “No principle is worth the sacrificing of a single human being.” Wilbur, a former tribal school teacher–who turned to photography to inspire her Native students, after burying 19 of them–remarked, “Our kids need to see ourselves differently, not as the subject of poverty porn.”
In his 1996 treatise Tribes, Institutions, Markets, Networks, RAND analyst David Ronfeldt proposed a framework about societal evolution that viewed the conflict between these primary forms of social organization as something akin to growing pains. Each form, having come about to accommodate human needs or desires, had to adapt to the others as they themselves evolved as a result of both conflictual and cooperative dynamics.
At the 2008 UN climate talks in Poznan, Poland, the four social forms delineated by Ronfeldt met on the field of ideological battle, in what might be called a preliminary infosphere skirmish, as prelude to the December 2009 UN Climate Change Conference held in Copenhagen. Excluded from participating in the talks themselves, tribal delegates from around the world arrived to observe the institutional negotiations (based on market assumptions), to voice objections to their exclusion, as well as to offer their unique perspective as an Indigenous caucus.
As my colleague Paul de Armond ruminated in 2006, “The tribe–bound by kinship and personal relationships that connect all members of the society in very direct ways—is highly egalitarian, in the sense that political power is broadly distributed; frequently reflected in consensual and consultative group decision-making.”…“Markets are driven by zero-sum games of directional flows of resources and wealth. Like institutions, they tend towards concentrating wealth, power and access to resources.”
The changing forms of social organization–brought about by the empowerment of networks through rapidly falling costs of communication–mean we now have a chance to right wrongs toward Indigenous nations, and to seek a natural balance between conflict and cooperation.
[Jay Thomas Taber is an associate scholar of the Center for World Indigenous Studies and a contributing editor of Fourth World Journal. Since 1994, he has served as communications director at Public Good Project, a volunteer network of researchers, analysts and journalists defending democracy. As a consultant, he has assisted Indigenous peoples in the European Court of Human Rights and at the United Nations.]