Terebess Asia Online (tao)



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There is actually some scientific support for this Indian point of view. Experiments have shown that spiders fed LSD do not wander around doing purposeless things as one might expect a 'hallucination' would cause them to do, but instead spin an abnormally perfect, symmetrical web. That would support the 'de-hallucinogen' thesis. But politics seldom depends on facts for its decisions.

Behind the index card for the PEYOTE slips was another card called RESERVATION. There were more than a hundred RESERVATION slips describing that ceremony Dusenberry and Phaedrus attended — way too many. Most would have to be junked. He'd made them because at one time it looked as though the whole book would center around this long night's meeting of the Native American Church. The ceremony would be a kind of spine to hold it all together. From it he would branch out and show in tangent after tangent the analysis of complex realities and transcendental questions that first emerged in his mind there.
* * *
The place can be seen from U.S. 212, about two-hundred yards from the highway, but all you see from the road is tar-papered shacks and grungy dogs and maybe a poorly dressed Indian walking on an earth footpath past some junked cars. As if to make a point of the shabbiness, a clean white steeple of a missionary church stands in the middle of all this.

Away from the steeple, off by itself (and probably gone by now) was a large teepee that looked like it might have been put up as a tourist attraction except that there was no way you could drive to it from the road and there were no billboards or signs around advertising anything for sale.

The physical distance to that teepee from the highway was about two-hundred yards, but culturally the distance bridged with Dusenberry that night was more like thousands of years. Phaedrus couldn't have gone that distance without the peyote. He would have just sat there 'observing' all this 'objectively' like a well-trained anthropology student. But the peyote prevented that. He didn't observe, he participated, exactly as Dusenberry had intended he should do.

From twilight, when the peyote buttons were passed around, until midnight he sat staring across the flames of the ceremonial fire. The ring of Indian faces around the edge of the teepee had seemed ominous at first in the alternating light and shadow from the fire. The faces seemed misshapen, with sinister expressions like the story-book Indians of old; then that illusion passed and they seemed merely inscrutable.

After that there was a scaling down of thoughts that occurs whenever you adjust to a new physical situation. 'What am I doing here?' he wondered. 'I wonder how things are doing now back home? . . . How am I going to get those English papers corrected by Monday?' . . . and so on. But the thoughts gradually became less and less demanding and he settled down more and more into where he was and what he was watching.

Sometime after midnight, after he had listened to the singing and beating on the drum for hours and hours, something began to change. The exotic aspects began to fade. Instead of being an onlooker, feeling greater and greater distance from all this, his perceptions began to go in the opposite direction. He began to feel a warmth toward the songs. He murmured to John Wooden Leg, the Indian sitting next to him, 'John, that's a great song!' and he meant it. John looked at him with surprise.

Some huge unexpected change was taking place in his attitude toward this music and toward the people who were singing it. Something in the way they spoke and handled things and related to each other struck a resonance too, way deep inside him, at levels that had seldom resonated favorably to anything.

He couldn't figure out what it was. Was the peyote just making him sentimental? He didn't think so. It ran deeper than sentimentality. Sentimentality is a narrowing of experience to the emotionally familiar. But this was something new opening up. There was a contradiction here. It was something new opening up that gave the sentimental feeling someone might get from his childhood home when he sees a tree he once climbed or a swing he used to play on. A feeling of coming home. Coming home to some place he had never been before.

Why should he feel at home? This was the last place on earth where he should feel that.

He really didn't. Only a part of him felt at home. The other part still felt estranged and analytic and watchful. It seemed as though he was splitting into two people, one of whom wanted to stay there forever, and the other wanted to leave immediately. The latter one he understood, but who was this first person? This first person was a mystery.

This first person seemed like it must be some secret side of his personality, a dark side, that seldom spoke and didn't show itself to other people. He guessed he knew about it. He just didn't like to think about it. It was the side with the sullen, scowling, outlook; a side that didn't like authority, had 'never amounted to anything,' and never would, and knew that, and was sad about it, but couldn't help it. It could never be happy anywhere but always wanted to move on.

This wild side was saying for the first time, 'stop wandering,' and 'these are your real people,' and that was what he began to see there, listening to the songs and drums and staring into the fire. Something about these people seemed to say to this 'bad' side of himself, 'We know exactly how you feel. We feel this way ourselves.'

The other side, the 'good' analytic side, just watched, and before long it slowly began to spin an enormous symmetrical intellectual web, larger and more perfect than any it had ever spun before.

The nucleus of this intellectual web was the observation that when the Indians entered the teepee, or went out, or added logs, or passed the ceremonial peyote, or pipe, or food, they just did these things. They didn't go about doing them. They just did them. There was no waste motion. When they moved a branch into the fire to build it up they just moved it. There was no sense of ceremony. They were engaged in a ceremony but the way they did it there wasn't any ceremony.

Normally he wouldn't have attached much importance to this, but now, with the peyote opening up his mind and with his attention having nowhere else to go, he bored in on it with intensity.

This directness and simplicity was in the way they spoke, too. They spoke the way they moved, without any ceremony. It seemed to always come from deep within them. They just said what they wanted to say. Then they stopped. It wasn't just the way they pronounced the words. It was their attitude - plain-spoken, he thought.. .

Plains spoken. They were speaking in the language of the Plains. This was the pure Plains American dialect he was listening to. It wasn't just Indian. It was white too. It was a kind of Midwestern and Western accent you hear in Woody Guthrie songs and cowboy movies. When Henry Fonda appears in The Grapes of Wrath or Gary Cooper or John Wayne or Gene Autry or Roy Rogers or William S. Boyd appear in any of a hundred different Westerns this is how they talk, not like some fancy college professor, but Plains spoken; laconic, understated, very little tonal change, no change of expression. Yet there was a warmth beneath the surface that you couldn't point to the source of.

Films have made the whole world know the dialect so well it's almost a cliché, but the way these Indians were speaking it wasn't any cliché. They were speaking the American Western dialect just as authentically as any cowboy he had ever heard. More authentically. It wasn't something they were putting on. It was them.

The web expanded when Phaedrus began to consider the fact that English wasn't even the native language of these people. They didn't speak English in their homes. How was it that these linguistic 'foreigners' spoke the Plains dialect of American English not only as well as their white neighbors but actually better? How could they possibly imitate it so perfectly when it was obvious from their lack of ceremony that they weren't trying to imitate anything at all?

The web grew wider and wider. They were not imitating. If there's one thing these people didn't do it was imitate. Everything was coming straight from the heart. That seemed to be the whole idea - to get things down to a point where everything's coming straight on, direct, no imitation. But if they weren't imitating, why did they talk this way? Why were they imitating?

Then the huge peyote illumination came:

They're the originators!

It expanded until he felt as though he had walked through the screen of a movie and for the first time watched the people who were projecting it from the other side.

Most of the rest of the whole tray of slips, many more than a thousand of them before him here, was a direct growth from this one original insight.


Tucked in among them was a copy of a speech made at the Medicine Lodge council of 1867 by Ten Bears, a Comanche chief. Phasdrus had copied it from a book on Indian oratory to use as an example of Plains speech by someone who could not possibly have learned it from the whites. Now he read it again.

Ten Bears spoke to the assembled tribes and specifically to the representatives of Washington, saying:


There are things which you have said to me which I do not like. They were not sweet like sugar, but bitter like gourds. You said that you wanted to put us upon a reservation, to build us houses and to make us Medicine lodges. I do not want them.

I was born on the prairie, where the wind blew free, and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures, and where everything drew a free breath. I want to die there, and not within walls. I know every stream and every wood between the Rio Grande and the Arkansas. I have hunted and lived over in that country. I lived like my fathers before me, and like them I lived happily.

When I was at Washington, the Great Father told me that all the Comanche land was ours, and that no one should hinder us in living upon it. So why do you ask us to leave the rivers, and the sun, and the wind, and live in houses? Do not ask us to give up the buffalo for the sheep. The young men have heard talk of this and it has made them sad and angry. Do not speak of it any more. I love to carry out the talk I get from the Great Father. When I get goods and presents, I and my people feel glad since it shows that he holds us in his eye. If the Texans had kept out of my country, there might have been peace.

But that which you now say we must live on is too small.

The Texans have taken away the places where the grass grew the thickest and the timber was the best. Had we kept that, we might have done this thing you ask. But it is too late. The white man has the country which we loved and we only wish to wander on the prairie until we die. Any good thing you say to me shall not be forgotten. I shall carry it as near to my heart as my children and it shall be as often on my tongue as the name of the Great Spirit. I want no blood upon my land to stain the grass. I want it all clear and pure, and I wish it so, that all who go through among my people may find peace when they come in, and leave it when they go out.
As Phaedrus read it again this time he saw that it wasn't quite as close to cowboy speech as he'd remembered - it was a damn sight better than cowboy speech - but it was still closer to the white Plains dialect than is the language of the European. Here were the straight, head-on, declarative sentences without stylistic ornamentation of any kind, but with a poetic force that must have put the sophisticated bureaucratic speech of Ten Bears' antagonists to shame. This was no imitation of the involuted Victorian elocution of 1867!

From that original perception of the Indians as the originators of the American style of speech had come an expansion: the Indians were the originators of the American style of life. The American personality is a mixture of European and Indian values. When you see this you begin to see a lot of things that have never been explained before.

Phaedrus' problem now was to organize all this into a persuasive book. It was so radically different from the usual explanations of America, people would never believe it. They'd think he was just babbling. If he just talked in generalities he knew he would lose it. People would just say, 'Oh yes, well, that's just another one of those interesting ideas people are always coming up with,' or 'You can't generalize about Indians because they're all different,' or some other cliché like that and walk away from it.

He'd thought for a while he might come at it obliquely, starting with something very concrete and specific such as a cowboy film that people already know about, for example, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

There is an opening scene in that film where everything is shown in brown monochrome probably to give a historic, legendary feeling to it. The Sundance Kid is playing poker, and the scene is slowed a little to give it a dramatic tension. The Kid's face is all you see. Only a fragment of one of the other players is sometimes seen, and an occasional wisp of smoke passing before the Sundance Kid's countenance. The Kid is without expression but is alert and self-controlled.

The voice of an unseen gambler says, 'Well, it looks like you cleaned everybody out, fella. You haven't lost a hand since you got the deal.'

There is no change in the Kid's expression.

'What's the secret of your success?' the gambler's voice continues. It is threatening. Ominous.

Sundance looks down for a while as if thinking about it, then looks up unemotionally. 'Prayer,' he says.

He doesn't mean it but he doesn't say it sarcastically either. It's a statement poised on a knife edge of ambiguity.

'Let's just you and me play,' the gambler says.

A showdown is about to occur. It is the cliché of the Wild West. It has been repeated in hundreds of films shown in thousands of theaters and millions of TV sets again and again. The tension grows but the Sundance Kid's expression doesn't change. His eye movements, his pauses, are in a kind of relaxed harmony between himself and his surroundings even though we see that he is in a growingly dangerous situation, which soon explodes into violence.

What Phaedrus wanted to do now was use just that one scene as an opening illustration. To it he would add just one explanation which no one ever notices, but which he was sure was true. 'What you have just seen,' he would explain, 'is a rendition of the cultural style of an American Indian.'

Then would be seen, identified for what they were, the famous old traits of the American Indian: silence, a modesty of manner, and a dangerous willingness to sudden, enormous violence.

It would be a dramatic way of making the point, he thought. Before you are alerted to it you don't see it, but once you become aware, it's obvious. The source of values that Robert Redford tapped and that the American public overwhelmingly responded to is the cultural value pattern of the American Indian. Even the color of Redford's face in the sepia monochrome was changed to that of an Indian.

Certainly it wasn't the intention of the film to personify an Indian. It came 'naturally' as a way of showing the Wild West. But the point of Phaedrus' thesis was that the reason it came 'naturally' and that audiences responded to it 'naturally' was that the film reached into a root source of American feelings for what is good. It is this source of what is good, this historic cultural system of American values, which is Indian.

If you take a list of all the things European observers have stated to be the characteristics of white Americans, you'll find that there is a correlation with the characteristics white American observers have customarily assigned to the Indians. And if, furthermore, you take another list of all the characteristics that Americans use to describe Europeans you'll get a pretty good correlation with Indian opinions of white Americans.

To prove this point Phaedrus intended to reverse the situation: instead of showing how a cowboy resembles an Indian, he would show how an Indian resembles a cowboy. For this he'd found a description by the anthropologist, E. A. Hoebel, of a Cheyenne Indian male:


Reserved and dignified . . . [the Cheyenne male] . . . moves with a quiet sense of self-assurance. He speaks fluently, but never carelessly. He is careful of the sensibilities of others and is kindly and generous. He is slow to anger and strives to suppress his feelings, if aggravated. Vigorous on the hunt, in war he prizes the active life. Towards enemies he feels no merciful compunctions, and the more aggressive he is the better. He is well versed in ritual knowledge. He is neither flighty nor dour. Usually quiet, he has a lightly displayed sense of humor. He is sexually repressed and masochistic but that masochism is expressed in culturally approved rites. He does not show much creative imagination in artistic expression but he has a firm grip on reality. He deals with the problems of life in set ways while at the same time showing a notable capacity to readjust to new circumstances. His thinking is rationalistic to a high degree and yet colored with mysticism. His ego is strong and not easily threatened. His superego, as manifest in the strong social conscience and mastery of his basic impulses, is powerful and dominating. He is 'mature,' serene and composed, secure in his social position, capable of warm social relations. He has powerful anxieties but these are channelized into institutionalized modes of collective expression with satisfactory results. He exhibits few neurotic tendencies.
Now if that isn't a description of William S. Boyd playing Hopalong Cassidy in twenty-three or fifty or however many films, there never was one. With the single exception of the Indian 'mysticism' the characterization is perfect.

Whether the American cowboy ever really was like William S. Boyd is not really relevant. What is relevant is that in the 1930s, during the darkest days of the Great Depression, Americans shoveled out millions of dollars to look at his movies. They didn't have to. Nobody forced them to. But they went anyway, just as they later went to see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

They did so because those movies were a confirmation of the values they believed in. Those movies were rituals, almost religious rituals, for transmitting the cultural values of America to the young and reconfirming them in the old. It wasn't a deliberate, conscious process; people were just doing what they liked. It is only when one analyzes what they liked that one sees the assimilation of Indian values.

Others of the thousands of slips in Phaedrus' trays continued this analysis: many Europeans think of white Americans as a sloppy, untidy people, but they're not nearly as untidy as the Indians on the reservations. Europeans often think of white Americans as being too direct and plain-spoken, bad-mannered and sort of insolent the way they do things, but Indians are even more that way. In the Second World War Europeans noted that American troops drank too much, and when they got drunk they made a lot of trouble. The comparison with Indians is obvious. But on the other hand, European military commanders rated the stability of American troops under fire as high, and that is also an Indian characteristic.

That steady 'When you say that, smile!' look the cowboy movies love to portray (and Europeans tend to abhor) is pure Indian, except that when the Indian looks that way it doesn't necessarily mean he is threatening. What causes that steady look comes from something much deeper.

Indians don't talk to fill time. When they don't have anything to say, they don't say it. When they don't say it, they leave the impression of being a little ominous. In the presence of this Indian silence, whites sometimes get nervous and feel forced as a matter of politeness or kindness to fill the vacuum with a kind of small-talk which often says one thing and means another. But these well-mannered circumlocutions of aristocratic European speech are 'forked-tongue' talk to the Indian and are infuriating. They violate his morality. He wants you to either speak from the heart or keep quiet. This has been a source of Indian-white conflict for centuries and, although the modern white American personality is a compromise of that conflict, the conflict still exists.

To this day Americans are mistakenly characterized by Europeans as 'like children,' naive, immature and tending toward violence because they don't know how to control themselves. That mistake is also made about Indians. To this day white Americans are also mistakenly characterized by Indians as a bunch of snobs who think you are so stupid you can never see how phony they are. That mistake is also made about Europeans.

This anti-snobbery of all Americans, particularly Western Americans, is derived from this Indian attitude. The Cheyenne name for white man is wihio, meaning 'spider.' Arapaho use niatha to mean the same thing. To the Indian, whites seemed like spiders when they talked. They sat there and smiled and said things they didn't mean, and all the time their mind was spinning a web around the Indian. They got so lost in their own web-spinning thoughts they didn't even see that the Indian was watching them too and could see what they were doing.

The American politics of isolationism, in its refusal to become 'entangled in the meshes of European polities' comes from this root, Phaedrus thought. Most of American isolationism has come from regions that are closest to the American Indian.

The slips went on and on detailing European and Indian cultural differences and their effects, and as the slips had grown in number a secondary, corollary thesis had emerged: that this process of diffusion and assimilation of Indian values is not over. It's still with us, and accounts for much of the restlessness and dissatisfaction found in America today. Within each American these conflicting sets of values still clash.

This clash, Phaedrus thought, explained why others hadn't seen long before what he had seen at the peyote meeting. When you borrow traits and attitudes from a hostile culture you don't give them credit for it. If you tell a white from Alabama that his Southern accent is derived from Negro speech he is likely to deny and resent it, although the geographical congru-ity of the Southern accent with areas of huge black population makes this pretty obvious. Similarly if you tell a Montana white living near a reservation that he resembles an Indian he may take it as an insult. And if you'd said it a hundred years ago you might have had a real fight on your hands. Then Indians were fiends from hell! The only good one was a dead one.

But even though Indians were never given proper credit for their contribution to the American frontier personality values, it's certain that these values couldn't have come from anyone else. One often hears 'frontier values' spoken of as though they came from the rocks, the rivers or the trees of the frontier, but trees, rocks and rivers do not by themselves confer social values. They've got trees, rocks and rivers in Europe.

It was the people living among those trees, rocks and rivers who are the source of the values of the frontier. The early frontiersmen such as the 'Mountain Men' deliberately and enthusiastically imitated Indians. They were delighted to be told that they were indistinguishable from Indians. Settlers who came later copied the Mountain Men's frontier style but didn't see its source, or if they did, denied it and credited it to their own hard work and isolation.

But the clash between European and Indian values still exists, and Phaedrus felt he himself was one of those in whom the battle was taking place. That was why he had the feeling of 'coming home' at that peyote meeting. The division he'd felt within himself and thought was something wrong with himself was not within himself at all. What he was seeing was a source of 'himself that had never been formally acknowledged. It was a division within the entire American culture that he had projected upon himself. It was in many others too.

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