Following the Trail of the Red Man

Ten years ago I had an opportunity unique for a retiree – I spent a month on a remote Indian reservation in Brazil. At the time I thought it was no more than an exotic and exciting adventure which had no bearing on my life. It appears now that the Indian experience presages that of the millennials, and even more my toddler son’s generation. The Indians’ way of life seems destined to end in tragedy, and I fear the same for our progeny.

The Kayapó roamed wild through the Brazilian Amazon until 1967, battling other Indians and avoiding Brazilians. The government finally convinced them to accept a reservation. Not a bad deal – the size of Virginia for 5000 Indians.

The Kayapó are as remote as possible from Brazilian society, both physically and socially. The Brazilian Law of the Indian restricts their interaction with the mainstream society. There are limits on trade and travel, rules against alcohol, and protection of their indigenous society and languages. The men my age – born in the 1950s and before –had totally traditional childhoods and even in adulthood have only been minimally affected by modernity.

The men my age were a splendid bunch of people. They knew the forest intimately, and were proud to show it to an American who spoke Portuguese. They knew how to catch fish with their bare hands, how to kill wild pigs with war clubs, how to find everything edible in the Amazon forest, and which herbs, vines and barks were good for which ailments. They laughed easily, and were at ease with themselves. They loved children, and romped with grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

They had given up their nomadic ways, settling in permanent wooden shacks built by the government, living on well water and using a modern septic system. A small generator powers a radio and water pump. There is a landing strip for single-engine planes such as the one we flew in on.

The younger Indians’ lives are very different from the men my age. They did not learn the forest from their elders because they did not need to. They hunt wild pigs with shotguns and fish with fishing rods. There is a Brazilian nurse in the camp to cure their ills. They seem to spend their time playing battery-powered video games and listening to popular Brazilian music on boom boxes.

Simply put, there is nothing in the lives of the young Indians that demands the human characteristics of intelligence, dedication, courage, physical labor or self-sacrifice. Everything seems to be given to them. They are forgetting how to be Indians, and in losing that, they are losing their humanity.

The Kayapó are traveling a trail of tears forged over the past four centuries by Indians throughout the Americas. They do not adapt to Western culture. They are not individualistic. They don’t particularly want to work for wages, they are not competitive, and they don’t see much point in the way the white man does things. Disaffected, they succumb to alcohol and dissipation. Rape and pederasty are rampant on Indian reservations in North America. Their society has fallen apart.

Not coincidentally, a famous series of rodent studies by John B. Calhoun in the 1960s made the same observation. Rats and mice that have everything given to them, and do not have to use their wits to obtain food and avoid danger, likewise fall apart. The resulting “behavioral sink” spells doom. They forget how to be rodents, how to breed and raise young, and, in the midst of plenty, they go extinct.

I read today that only 44% of working-age Americans have full-time jobs – 30 hours a week or more. Only a fraction of those 44% are truly satisfying and remunerative. The rest are just marking time, keeping bread on the table.

Increasing numbers of young people stay in school as long as possible, taking student loans they will never be able to repay in order to forestall the day of reckoning when they must attempt to find work. For a great many, work will simply not be there. Youth unemployment approaches 50% in some southern European nations and among some demographics within America.

Technology is racing at breakneck speed in the wrong direction. Millions of jobs have already been lost to automation. Warehouses are automated, self-checkout reigns in grocery stores, ATMs have replaced tellers, email has replaced postman, and online shopping has replaced retail shop clerks. It will get worse. Self-driving vehicles and companies such as Uber and Lyft will eliminate millions of drivers, insurance agents, carwashes and others in service industries. GPS guides driverless vehicles through tilling, seeding and harvesting our food. Cryptocurrencies and automation will continue to decimate the legions of clerks in the financial sector. Artificial intelligence, driven by neural networks and the like, will reduce the doctor’s judgment in the practice of medicine, and most clerks and associates in law offices. We are encountering a future in which opportunities will be vast for the highly intelligent, but there will be nothing much meaningful for the rest to do. For a preview of the result, one has only to look at life in the ghettos and barrios of today’s American cities, the zones sensibles in France, and the African enclaves in Scandinavian cities. The things which made life meaningful to these citizens’ ancestors are simply not part of their contemporary existence. They are at the end of the process of which I saw the beginning during my visit with the Kayapó. With nothing meaningful required of them to survive, they have lost their humanity.

The human animal is resourceful. We react, though not in healthy ways. We white people in Asians are simply not repopulating ourselves. Why bring progeny into a meaningless existence? Sex has swirled down the above-mentioned “behavioral sink”. Asexuality, homosexuality, and hyper sexuality are rampant, while few parents seem interested in or capable of raising normal families. Normalcy itself has lost its definition.

The Indians first confronted the loss of meaning in their lives with the arrival of the white man. Harvard and Dartmouth were dedicated to educating Indians – a project that never got off the ground. Indian culture has been a disaster. There has not been a successful Indian society after their contact with the Europeans.

It would be nice to say that we are different, that there are signs of hope for the future of Western civilization. It does not appear to be so – life for the bulk of mankind is becoming meaningless. One reads this gloomy prognostication from more and more of our wiser heads. It appears that we are traveling the path of the red man, simply with a couple of centuries’ remove. The reprieve may be longer for the smarter among us, but who can, in the long run, outpace progress itself?

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3 thoughts on “Following the Trail of the Red Man

  1. Cheer up ! There is hope, after total economic collapse and the third world war, humanity, whats left of it, will again will be personally productive. Mostly joking, but seriouly, a really great article.

    There is always a new grand trend to solve or progress out of our problems. The libertarians come to mind, earlier the communist and the progressives etc. etc.. Your article brings up essential questions. Even if a political- economic system was devised that provided well beyond everybodies desires, then the questions raised would still need an answer.

    It seems the welfare poor and the children of the rich have the same prooblem, and I believe they tend to vote the same way. From some experience, these two groups are into watching sports and entertaiment. I almost never do. Between productive hobbies and of course reading great non-fiction stuff on the internet I am almost never bored.

    When I recreationally traved in Europe years ago I had to find a cheap place to stay. The process had some anxiety beacause you did not know if you would find one. But it gave me the thought of how boring a rich traveler would be not going thru the adventure of not knowing. If you look at fashion advertisements the models many times have a dissastisfied look on their face, and many people with money have that look.

    Today on a intimate scale many people know what is going to happen, from hour to hour and day to day. That is what most of modern technological society is all about. Perhaps that’s why gambling has become such a popular past time. People need to have an adventerous feeling. In ages gone by, farming and in cottage industry there was more adventure, although the effort was much greater. But on a grand scale today there is a feeling that with all the interdependence and the use of debt, things could get unconltrolable adventurous very quickly to the point that you have little controll over events once they start happening. Once we had both, personal controll and adventure in our lives. Of course weather, war and disease tended to disrrupt that personal controll.

  2. An excellent read and succinctly put. I fret about this myself as I witness the general direction of things. I am however, delighted from time to time in certain young people. Me being in my 50’s and considered a senior level technician in my day job often engage with young people that have much more on the ball than I did at that age. They also seem to care about doing a good job.

    It could be that the highly technical nature of the job attracts motivated, capable and conscientious young people, but I am buoyed by their energy and morals. What I read, see and hear in the media and Facebook etc etc makes me worry but seeing these young people at work and my own young adult children and nieces and nephews gives me some hope.

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