I don’t know about you, but I know nothing about pastoralism. A few days ago, I had a chance to listen to Lalji Desai, a pastoralist from India. The whole time I was listening I kept thinking how much pastoralist ideology and culture reflects the kinds of values and goals that anarchists are working towards.
Interdependence, customary leadership, knowledge sharing, egalitarian community relationships, sustainability, commons, solidarity, direct action, art/culture as transformative…All the things that anarchists talk about are part of the pastoralist tradition. Of course, a lot of that tradition was lost with colonialism. Interdependence became dependence. Customary leadership became hierarchical/political leadership. Knowledge sharing became intellectual property. Community relationships and units were replaced by the nuclear family model. According to Desai, patriarchy, exploitation, disempowerment, the loss of social status…it all came with colonialism and capitalism. And, unlike many of our theorists, the pastoralists are close enough to their history to remember what things were like before.
I haven’t had time to process everything, but I have a few thoughts to throw out here.
Mutual Aid – How can we better help each other. We could learn a lot from people that aren’t so far away from living by the values that we would like to see spread. And many of those communities are in constant struggle over rights and resources. If nothing else, they could use some more attention, especially during moments of crisis. Clearly, there has been a lot of anarchist solidarity with people in Chiapas. But there are so many more communities in the world.
Property – Many of us have a big blind spot when it comes to property. No matter what side of the debate someone is on (and here I am going beyond anarchists), the focus is almost always urban or agricultural. Too rarely do we talk about access to resources that are necessarily contradictory to the kind of private property model we have in the US. In other words, talking about land that can be fenced in is ridiculous when you are talking about fishing communities that need to manage ocean areas as commons or pastoralists who rely on the kinds of animals that can’t (and shouldn’t) be confined to a box.
Animal Rights – Undoubtedly, a big reason why most of us don’t know anything about pastoralists is that there aren’t many in or near our communities. But I wonder if another reason for our blindness is that there are too many people in the animal rights/vegan fundamentalist worlds who ignore cultural issues. In India, some pastoralists were kicked off of their land in order to provide a reserve for lions. They had been living with lions for generations, but suddenly the government made them out to be a danger to them. Now only lions and tourists get access to the land that pastoralists used to use and manage sustainably. How many animal rights folks would have fallen squarely on the side of the government story?
Environmentalism – Lefties in the US love our national parks. Rarely do I hear anyone on the left being critical when other countries start delineating territory as national parks for reserves. Yet those lands are almost always somebodies territory. Environmentalist movements have a horrible record with indigenous communities on those kinds of issues.
Feminism – The person before Desai spoke about indigenous rights, sadly leaving out any mention of North America. But worse than that, she mentioned the double oppression of indigenous women. She said that “traditional” beliefs sometimes negatively affected indigenous women’s rights. What she did not mention, and Desai did, was how many indigenous communities had much more egalitarian relationships before colonialism. That is definitely true with many North American indigenous communities. The belief that “western” women have more rights and that rural communities are backwards is so pervasive and so incredibly inaccurate. We need to get over that.
Taxes – One of the things he mentioned in his talk was how the government wanted them to give up their pastoral lifestyle in order to collect taxes. It is difficult to tax people whose territory is so large that it can take five years to get back to where they started. Of course, that got me thinking about libertarians and conservatives who hate taxes and love a certain conception of private property. I would love to hear an anti-tax debate between them and a pastoralist who would point out that their belief system is in opposition to itself.
That’s it for now, I think. Forgive any spelling or grammar errors. I’m typing this on a kindle with a shit wireless connection and very limited functionality.
P.S. That photo is of a worldwide women pastoralist gathering that I also spoke to Desai about briefly. The photo is linked from here. Haven’t read through the site yet, but it looks interesting.