I was randomly commenting on some fb posts re. the Hare Krishnas and the Native Americans – yes, I know, just two of my weird obsessions – when it suddenly hit me. What the guru did when he came over to America is nothing less but reverse colonialism.
Colonialism in the sense that you go somewhere and make the natives believe that their own culture is dirty, bad, immoral, inferior. You have, in your causeless mercy, come to bring them something higher. Your own values, your social structure, your prayers, your songs, your morals. Of course it’s not your causeless mercy, but by the time they realise that the belief that their own culture is rotten to the core has already sunken in so deep that there is no way to go back to what they were before.
This has stared me in the face in Nigeria (where there are Hare Krishnas, which must be REALLY confusing to the locals. What now? Whatever you white people told us was superior before was all wrong and that’s why we have to pretend to be Indians now? And yes some still go for it.) Colonialism has always been a major cause for social disruption, but there have always been strong voices against this. Fela Anikulapo Kuti being one of them, singing about the madness of people wearing suits in Africa, bleaching their skin, etc. Even from that point of view, going to Nigeria was a major revelation. And there are no easy answers, but in the entertainment industry it was clear that there was such an amazing sense of identity. There is boundless energy and creativity, and they just keep creating with whatever is available.There’s no club that doesn’t play 99% home-made. That’s a major indicator for me.
Look at the world from that perspective. People have always moved around, cultures were there one day and disappeared the next. Mayans, Aztecs are some we know about. Phoenicians, Alans, Sarmatians are others. We have no idea where bits of our culture come from. There is no logic to any of this. And sometimes we go somewhere and transplant our culture, never mind what was there before. Sometimes killing them wasn’t enough, we also needed massive visual statements. (Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills, sacred and central to the Lakota, anyone?) Some cultures are successful in keeping a sense of identity (but seriously, how many Native Americans are Christians?), others get killed off. Some struggle against losing their land in the face of ‘development’ right now. Do we stand up to it, or do we let it happen because that’s how it’s always been?
(And yes I realise it’s kind of a loaded subject for me because national socialism was a movement originally advertising a ‘get back to your own roots’ approach to being German. That’s why they loved Richard Wagner – he went to the old German stories and brought them into popular culture. But never mind, let’s forget all that.)
And then some guru comes and makes us believe our own culture, the prevalent value and social systems where we live are rotten, and gives us a seemingly superior social and moral construct to live by? And has us all follow the diet and lifestyle of some fictional farmers from a long-gone pocket of civilisation? I think it’s partly the kind of steel balls you need to do this, and the fact it’s survived for so many decades now, that makes it attractive for people.
And like all colonialism it only works as long as you believe in it.