Purchase Endgame
Read more

Excerpt from Endgame

Separative Self (p. 189)

From chapter "A Culture of Occupation"

The conflict resolution methods of a culture of occupation will be different from those of a culture of inhabitation. The Okanagans of what is now British Columbia, to provide a counterexample, have a concept they call En’owkin, which means “I challenge you to give me your most opposite perspective to mine. In that way I will know how to change my thinking so I can accommodate your concerns and problems.” The Okanagan writer and activist Jeannette Armstrong told me why her people developed this and similar technologies: “We don’t have any fewer problems than you guys getting along. But we know that whomever we’re having trouble with, their grandchild might marry our grandchild. So we have to accommodate one another. I have to ask myself how I can change to accommodate you. At the same time, because you, too, are Okanagan, you will be asking how you can change to accommodate me. We’re going to be leaning toward one another.” She talks of how all the people in her community share one skin. They share that skin with all of the people who came before, and all who will come after. This applies in a sense to their nonhuman neighbors as well.

In the dominant culture, familial and sexual relations are relations of occupation, not inhabitation. Rates of rape and child abuse reveal the degree to which the bodies of women and children are considered the property of their masters (husband: from Anglo-Saxon husbonda; hus, house, and bonda, master). Vaginas become resources to be exploited (or at the very least husbanded), and those who live in the bodies containing these resources become pesky inhabitants to be terrorized into giving up the resource.

But something even more intimate than our family lives is infected by this complex of beliefs: our sense of what we consider a self. Who are you? Who, precisely, is the you that you consider you? Chances are good it’s what Catherine Keller called the separative self, an isolated monad cut off from all others by psychological, spiritual, and existential barriers much stronger than skin. If your goal is to attempt to minimize acknowledging damage to yourself as you exploit others, this sort of self is just the ticket. If your goal is to inhabit relationships, this self is a really bad idea.

If you do believe you are a separative self, or act as though you believe you are a separative self, whom, exactly, are you cut off from? Do you consider your self to include your family? Your friends? The air you breathe? The Aplodontia rufia who live far closer to you than Angelina Jolie or Nicole Kidman? The solitary bees digging their nests in the dirt outside? The dirt itself, the living breathing dirt? The water that acts as intermediary between all of these? Are these all part of you? Are any of these part of you?

Or maybe you include only the parts of you that end at your fingertips. Or maybe you include even less than that. Maybe not even your emotions. Maybe not even your dreams. Maybe nothing but your thoughts. And maybe not even those.

I just got a note from a friend who put it well, “People never leave or even look outside the bubbles they create to meet their own immediate gratification. This is how we’re taught to live: it’s the city model on a micro level. These hollow beings (be they cities or people) suck in everything from around them and create a wall of aggression to keep outsiders outside. The more hollow and empty they realize they’ve become on the inside, the more fiercely they attack, disable, and devour their surroundings. It occurs to me that in a very real sense, we cannot hope to create a sustainable culture with any but sustainable souls.”

She continued, “People see that the culture—and the same is true for many of our relationships—is broken in so many ways, and so unsustainable, but are terrified to probe too deep, because they think if it—civilization, their intimate relationship, whatever—crumbles, there might be nothing left. This is how we enter into these bubbles of perception—they form our earliest passage from a world of love to a world of fear and denial. It begins with wanting connection. And then we settle for something less, because we think the alternative is nothing at all. But our truth is still there—all of it is still there. We could wake up any time and reclaim the whole of our existence.”