The legacy of the Peacemaker [the man credited with bringing the Iroquois Nations together under a Pax Iroquois] is best illustrated in his concept of The Good Mind. The Peacemaker believed that a healthy mind naturally seeks peace and that a nation of individuals using reason and harboring good will in their hearts can not only establish peace in the worst circumstances but maintain it forever.
At the time the Peacemaker was born, the region was beset by wars among the five tribes (Onandaga, Mohawk, Huron, Seneca, and Cayuga). In some areas the hatred ran so deep that individual warriors practiced cannibalism on their enemies. These dark times were at least 1,000 years before the Europeans arrived in what is now New York State.
There are noteworthy circumstances surrounding the Peacemaker. First, his grandmother had a dream that a great man would be born who would save the tribes from utter destruction. He was recognized as a youth for his exceptional qualities of mind as someone who would become a leader. But he had a problem—a speech impediment (stuttering)—which later required the assistance of the great Iroquois orator, Hiawatha, to help him accomplish his mission to bring the tribes of his nation together under the Great Tree of Peace—the democracy of constitutional laws and principles that exist to this day.
When I began studying with my teachers in Yuma, Arizona (see previous blog post, The First American Democracy) I was completely unaware of this body of law, the Iroquois legacy of which some passed into the U.S. Constitution, nor was I aware that the Iroquois Confederacy had maintained peaceful coexistence for 750 years before the founding of the fledgling American democracy.
The most important lesson of my four years of study was the reading of Basic Call to Consciousness, written as an address to Western civilization in the 1970’s when the Iroquois were still under threat and domination by the powers that be: the Canadian government and New York State legislature. Basic Call is still relevant in its astute analysis of the values that drive Western societies and how they lead to the destruction of the very basis of life.
In Basic Call to Consciousness Americans have a useful guidebook on how to strengthen our own democracy by broadening our bill of rights to include the natural world and all the life in it as sacred because, everything emanates from our common Creator. Practically, the document gave the early constitutional authors further reason to formulate a bicameral congress and institute a process of checks and balances. For example, the Peacemaker charged the women of the tribe to act as arbiters of peace by choosing the male leaders and representatives and removing them should their thoughts and actions stray from the sacred purpose of the Great Law.
I remember being shocked to find this gem of a small book in whose pages lay all the wisdom needed to solve entrenched political, economic, and relational problems here and abroad. But I realized the document was politically dangerous in the U.S. precisely because it would prevent greed and avarice from being the dominant drivers in our social and cultural enterprises. In fact, when my teachers suggested I read it, the book was out of print and hard to find. But I eventually did find a used copy at the Bohdi Tree bookstore in Los Angeles. It was considered an occult book and probably still is by a society that relegates any true challenge to its economic values as dangerous and suspect.
Today you can find Basic Call to Consciousness on Bookshop.com to support independent book stores. I consider that progress!
2 thoughts on “The Good Mind”
I know I have mentioned to you before the congruity between native American thinking and Thomas Berry’s “The Great Work.” Berry recognizes native Americans and women as carriers of great wisdom of the very kind we need today.
David Korten, in his “The Great Turning,” also recognizes our need for these two strains of human experience and wisdom. Our imperial leadership has failed to recognize this wisdom, preferring instead a drive toward dominance over others, including workers, women, and minorities in our own culture. The results of this attitude in our foreign adventures—e.g., bringing democracy to Iraq—speak for themselves. At home, our imperial ways, and our moneyed oligarchy, prevent a true democracy from flourishing. We are a democracy in our ideals much more than in our reality. And that results not only in the suppression of the middle class (everyone not part of the oligarchy) but also of the environment, for the environment serves as a resource for plunder to protect corporate America’s bottom line.
My point is that, for me, just living through the last few years, and having some of my own observations and readings (Paul Krugman in the NY Times, for example) reinforced and sharpened by David Korten, I have come to understand that American is not truly a democracy at all. Sure, we still use the language of democracy, and we certainly have some of its practices and qualities, but far too much power is in the hands of a few (think Koch brothers) to be a true democracy. For example, one man (person) one vote has little real meaning when four senators representing a couple of million folks scattered across the plains of the Dakotas have the same power in the U.S. Senate as the senators from states like California and New York, which have populations larger than many of the world’s nations. Today, 17% of the people form a majority that can block anything the real majority believes is in the nation’s best interest.
When we sought freedom and independence from British rule, we aspired to become a true democracy, and that aspiration is embodied in the Declaration of Independence. But as we began forming the nation, the ruling class took control and, fearing mob rule, wrote into the Constitution provisions that prevented the establishment of a true democracy. Especially before the Bill of Rights, the Constitution supported a small nation in which the elite had all the power and all others existed at their mercy. As we know, African Americans and women only gained the right to vote after many years of struggle.
If we have made progress toward democracy in my lifetime, we have also had setbacks. Most recently, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling last year defies the notion of one person, one vote. When corporations with vast treasure chests for spreading their influence across the political landscape are treated like people, and when the use of money to maintain their influence is treated as speech without restriction, democracy suffers.
Is the USA a democracy? I think the Supreme Court, in its decision in Bush v Gore in 2000 and last year in the Citizens United case, have given us the answer and it is not encouraging.
Our son Matt teaches at the Washington Episcopal School in Bethesda, MD. Justice John Roberts has two children in the school, and Matt has met Roberts several times. Matt says he seems like a really nice guy and a caring father. I do not doubt that Roberts is a good person who really believes his way of thinking about the Constitution and about the great issues of the day (and how they interact) is essential to keeping the ship of state sailing in the right direction. As a ship captain, Roberts seems to me to operate as though the ship is on a pirate’s mission.
Yes, I think Korten hits all these points so well as did Howard Zinn in A People’s History of the United States, which I intend to reread in light of the current debate on collective bargaining.
There is a book I recommend: Exiled in the Land of the Free – Democracy, Indian Nations, and the U.S. Constitution. It is an erudite history of the influence of American Indians on the development of the democratic tradition in Western culture.
We are a democracy in progress, as all of them are….it requires the active participation of each of us to achieve the ideal.
For a similar time with a conservative Supreme Court I recommend watching the video “Amistad” and John Quincy Adams address to a heavily slave state court concerning the rights of African slaves.
I really appreciate your very intelligent commentary and hope you will continue to visit my blog. You honor me.