Siege Diaries 7/1/2021

Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt: As a Stoic, what is my job?

“It was this idea–this sense of an interconnected cosmos–that underpinned their (the Stoics’) sense that every person and every action was part of a larger system.”

This has come on a day when I’ve spent close to five hours going through the first five modules of the University of Alberta’s free course on Indigenous Canada. I decided that with the emphasis on spending Canada Day in a more contemplative or learning mode regarding Indigenous issues–particularly, given recent events, the legacy of residential schools–I would finally spend the time to take this course and fill in my considerable knowledge gaps. Since I did not grow up in Canada, I never learned anything about the Indigenous peoples living in the area we now know as Canada, which has positive and negative results. Positive, in that I never encountered attempts to whitewash this past, but instead began my learning as a an adult with a history degree; negative in that I’d never much made it a priority to fill in gaps.

One of the things that the first five chapters have highlighted for me is the vastly different focus in Indigenous society on the community, rather than on the individual–although in some ways, there is much more freedom for the individual–especially the young–to learn and discover on their own. And by “community”, we are not talking about just other Indigenous people of a particular nation or tribe, but humanity in general, and even broader–to the land and nature.

So “as a Stoic” — although I am not claiming that I am a pure Stoic–my job is to realize how I can put a philosophy that does share quite a lot with this Indigenous sense of community–into action. And taking a course like this one is doing that job, or at least beginning to do it. One other key learning so far has been in the module on Indigenous law and justice. I’d heard of the idea of restorative justice and healing circles, but was missing a key concept: the belief that this approach to justice begins with the admission of wrongdoing. Then, and only then, can discussions of the impact on the community take place, including the impact on victims, and only then can healing occur. That’s a key step. And I think it’s key to understanding the path to reconciliation. Those of us who are settlers have to be willing to acknowledge the wrongdoing of our society. That’s the key first step. Then come the discussions and healing. This is why we had a Truth and Reconciliation Commission–that’s the discussion part. But the healing comes with action.

But an awful lot of settler folk are still stuck at step 1. They don’t feel any sense of responsibility for what happened. “It wasn’t me. Why should I feel guilty? Canada has been wonderful for me!” Because we have so emphasized the rights and responsibilities of the individual in Western society, I don’t think a lot of us “get” the idea of communal responsibility. Meanwhile, the whole emphasis of Indigenous societies is on the community. And almost all of the areas where it doesn’t work so well? They’re the result of the clash with a system that is diametrically at odds with so many fundamental aspects.

I think there are plenty of us who have grown up in the dominant White culture who, when reading this, realize that this is a tragedy for our society as well. I know most of my friends have embraced the importance of community–but yet there’s still so much emphasis on “personal responsibility” and “personal accountability” as some kind of quasi religion–partially because in so many cases there is no framework of positive community ties to draw on. It’s us against the world. We have to fight to justify the idea of chosen families. Communal living? That’s hippie stuff–or worse, it’s “communism.” We value our “freedom” — but only freedom as narrowly defined by a late capitalist mindset. Freedom so often is defined in terms of money, because money (and access to it) has a stranglehold on our society.

Anyway, I still have seven more modules to get though, which I want to do in the next four days. I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts as I go along.

Since I’ve spent a big chunk of the day going through the Indigenous Canada course, I haven’t done a lot of other things today. However, I’ve got the fabric ready and the pattern trimmed for my 1930s suit, and as soon as I post this I’m taking it to the upstairs hall, where I can lay things out on the hardwood and get it properly cut out. It’s been raining off and on most of the day, so I haven’t been outside at all.

The other big news today: The SMASH scavenger hunt is coming back towards the end of the month! I am super excited!