The old Lakota were wise. ... They could despise no creature for all were of one blood, made by the same hand and filled with the essence of the Great Mystery. They knew that man's heart, away from nature, becomes hard; they knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans too. So they kept their youth close to its softening influence.

Chief Luther Standing Bear, Land of the Spotted Eagle (1)



Jacob Needleman, in the previous chapter, has opened our eyes to what we might term an integral grounding of the "West", that is the United States of America in this case, rooted in its indigenous ("Southern" African and "Eastern" Indian) as well as exogenous ("Northern" European and "Western" American) worlds. One of us authors, Louis Herman (2), currently a political philosopher in the University of Hawai'i West Oahu's Department of Political Science, takes this story on from here, building on what he calls our "wilderness origins" to take a "future primal" politics forward. Herman was born into an orthodox Jewish family in South Africa, emigrated with his family when he was 12 to England, studied medicine there at Cambridge University, then went to live on a kibbutz in Israel, thereafter studying political science at the Hebrew University. He finally ended up as a political philosopher at the University of Hawai'i. Interestingly enough Hawaii is the only American state where Caucasians are a minority. It is also located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean between East and West. Herman, by historical heritage and by current residence, beautifully represents the trans-cultural nature and scope of the emergent realm, as does the trans-disciplinary character of his medical, anthropological and political pursuits.

All past cultures and civilizations, for Herman,[1] have had some intuitive sense that humans lived within a larger process – a story whose ultimate origin was the most profound and sacred mystery. Each had cosmology, a story of origins that formed the foundation of its way of life and guided its economics and politics. The viability of a society depended on the success of its cosmology in tuning its way of life to the larger ultimately unfathomable reality that created and sustained all of life. Today, though, the story we tell ourselves about our politics and economics has run its course. It is exhausted. Humanity enters the 21st century then in a state of tremendous crisis.

It is a crisis of planetary dimensions involving every major social and biological system, affecting almost every aspect of our individual lives. Most of humanity is oblivious to the depth and breadth of the destruction. In the words of Van Dusen Wishard "we are sleepwalking through the apocalypse".

In our new millennium, then, the primordial experience of the mystery of our earthy origins has ceased to be a moral force in our lives. All our dominant institutions, from the global marketplace to the factory model of industrial production, were constructed on the basis of a radically constricted understanding of the place of the human in the cosmos. We urgently need a new vision of politics and economics that is attuned to our larger reality.

From where might such be derived? Herman points out that early hunter-gatherer societies, immersed in an unpolluted wilderness on which they depended absolutely, recognized the critical importance of a primal resonance between the natural world and human consciousness. They explored it through their shamanic systems of religion and mobilized this understanding in the service of healing the individual and the community. Politics, economics, religion and philosophy were inseparable. When we approach contemporary politics from such a perspective, he reckons, magnificent possibilities open up: of ways of life profoundly better, truer and more beautiful. His vision of a future primal politics is rooted in an understanding of the order of these first human societies. It also draws from other models of politics throughout the history of civilization but differs from them, and distinguishes itself from all ideologies in one fundamental respect: at its centre is awareness of the ultimate mystery of our origins, and with it the necessity for grounding any political order in an ongoing process of creative searching – the truth quest.

  • [1] Thanks to New World Library for permission to uses excerpts from Future Primal in compiling this chapter.
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