I am catching up with watching documentaries I missed when they played in the theaters, or that didn’t play around here (Theremin, Derrida, Fog of War).
The most recent one was Keep the River on the Right, about a New York artist and anthropologist who lived with tribes in New Guinea and Peru.
As with all of these movies, it is the human story that is most touching and interesting to me.
And then other things coming up as well.
Fog of War and parallels to Iraq
For instance in Fog of War, some of the parallels between the Vietnam and Iraq wars.
(a) In both cases, the US got into it partly through a serious lack of understanding the historical and cultural background and filters of the Other. In Vietnam, reading into a civil war something far beyond just that: as one more body falling victim to the virus of communism, ready to spread everywhere if not stopped there. In Iraq, not taking into account its history with the British empire, and how a destabilized Iraq inevitably would go in the direction of civil war.
(b) Apparently believing in each case, or at least pretending to believe, that they can “win the heart and minds” of the people they slaughter and who’s country they illegally invade and (try to) occupy.
(c) The US going into it, in both cases, with very little support from the international community. As McNamara said, if even your friends and allies don’t think it is a good idea, maybe you should cool down and see if they have a good point. They are most likely seeing something you don’t.
(d) And finally, how an obviously very intelligent and well-intentioned person can get into trouble through setting loyalty over his own judgment.
The draw of primitivism
At some point in Keep the River on Your Right, the topic of a draw to primitivism came up, and I got curious about what it is about.
For me, what is in the foreground now when watching these types of anthropologically themed movies is just the diversity of human cultures, world views, experiences and filters. But I also remember that in my childhood and early teens, the primitive was fascinating to me in itself. What is it about?
Two things came up for me…
:: Free from beliefs
The first is a draw to a natural, unhindered state of mind. A freedom from the shoulds and rules of civilization and culture. A more open and receptive way of being, more spacious, just doing what comes up next to do.
This is of course a projection.
All cultures have believes, norms, shoulds, rules, unquestioned assumptions, including tribes living in New Guinea and Peru.
And the freedom we are looking for is available right here, by allowing the shoulds to fall into the background for a moment through dance, ritual, nature, mystical experiences, drugs, sex and so on, or more stably and deeply through questioning beliefs and allowing them to fall away.
It is not only available right here, it is here right now. It is the awake emptiness right here, which we usually don’t even notice, or just take for granted, or don’t explore enough to see what is about – how it can transform what we take ourselves to be and how we live in the world as human beings.
:: Meeting and getting to know the shadow
The other aspect is meeting and getting familiar with the shadow.
In our civilized culture, the “primitivism” we project onto these tribes is not allowed, not OK, held at bay by our shoulds, outside of our conscious or ideal identity.
Yet, we yearn to be more whole, to allow all of us into our identity, to be OK with all of who we are, so we seek out the shadow in many ways. We want to meet it, get to know it, become familiar with it, befriend it. Some of the more acceptable ways of doing this is through stories, such as movies, books, dreams, fantasies, and more consciously through active imagination.