The Abstractionists


Wilfred Peltier – Odawa Elder said: “I have always heard it said that the people of the western world are materialists. I do not think they are materialists at all. They are abstractionists. They spend their whole lives manipulating abstractions rather than handling, shaping and using real materials. They are trained to do this, for that is the essence of western technology. And the results of their combined efforts is called “management.” Spelled out, this means that forest which grew since time began without being managed, are now managed. Rivers which flowed forever without benefit of management, are now being managed. Fish are managed. Game is managed. Birds are managed. Even insects are managed. People are managed also. More and more of them don’t like it. And they are beginning to react with violence. Management is the by-product of regulation. Regulations are abstracted from reality. Life flows in curves. And the flow is balanced and rhythmic. Those who would “bring order out of chaos” in the Canadian Arctic or elsewhere, should remember that. That is reality. Clocks and calendars regulate the flow of time in the same way that the military goose-step regulates the flow and rhythm of walking. Survey lines regulate the flow of space and fences violate the rhythmic waves of hills and valleys. Money regulates the flow of abundance.Education regulates the rhythm of learning.Games are the regulation of play.Marriage seeks to regulate love.Religion tries to regulate wonder and kills it in the cradle. Contrary to popular opinion, regulation begets deprivation. The monetary regulation of abundance creates vast stockpiles of produce on the one hand, and a deprived class on the other. The regulation of time causes the chronic and universal complaint: “I never have enough time.” The regulation of space through real estate dispossesses most of us, ruling us out of 9/10ths of the world’s land mass. The regulation of learning has made most of us so educated we may be too unlearned to survive.


All my life I have heard non-Indians complain about the “system.” But I have never heard any of them express the desire to get out of all systems. They all seem to have a better system they want to promote and impose. And the systems referred to have always been political and economic. A world of abstractions – that is the real oppression they feel – that is the actual system. A web of abstractions. And they are all caught in it like flies. Abstractions mask reality. Abstractions mystify and confuse people so badly, they don’t know when they are being robbed and enslaved. And they don’t know when they are robbing and enslaving others. They don’t know they are locked into educational institutions, locked into professions and jobs, religious denominations, marriage contracts, political parties, timetables…locked into a system of living – and locked out of life. My people have always been materialists. They have always lived by gathering, hunting and collecting the materials of environment – and processing these, personally, with their own hands and with tools fashioned by their own hands, into food, clothing, shelter – the elementary means of survival. And for my people, time is also a kind of material – as tangible as air or water…as real as mud. For them, time is a kind of living history, held between the latest infant born and the oldest resident – a living flow of experience, issuing from what has happened, into what is happening now, and on to what is about to happen. And there is no point at which anyone can lay a yardstick of units on that river and accurately measure its flowing. For my people, time is implicit in environment and experience. We are never going to join the dominant white society back there, where it was, in their historical, rear-view mirror. Nor are we going to be sucked into their beautiful, wide-screen, full-colour projection of where it will be. We are going to stay where its at. In environment – which is here, and in experience – which is now. Time is all there is. There is no way it can be split off from the rest of life and hung on the wall or put on anyone’s wrist. Abundance is all there is. And no amount of money will ever measure the bounty of the great spirit. Learning is all there is. And learning will never be captured in classrooms or organized between the covers of books. Religion is all there is. And worship will never be limited to one day in seven, or contained within the walls of even the most impressive cathedral. Love is all there is. And marriage contacts will never define or protect or control love. Systems are man-made. Systems are logical combinations of parts. But there are no parts. If that sounds illogical to you – that is because it is a-logical. There is no logic in reality. Logic, like clocks and calendars, exists only as the science of manipulating abstractions


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