April 2, 2001
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What would happen if we intentionally forged our social solutions in the fires of creative chaos?
Daniel Quinn's latest novel, After Dachau,* ends with scenes from The Croatan Gallery, thereby introducing the word "Croatan." Why Croatan?
In 1590, Governor John White returned from England to the Roanoke Colony; there is Roanoke Island in present North Carolina to mark the site. White found no one there, the colony abandoned. The only clue was a word carved in a tree: Croatoan, now rendered as Croatan. There is today's popular Croatan Beach some 50 miles away. There was a tribe of native peoples, now extinct, which was called Croatan or Lumbee in English. Speculators imagine that the Roanoke Colony people may have gone native.
In Quinn's series of novels, Ishmael, The Story of B and My Ishmael, he unravels western history, by "history" meaning the relatively recent past, maybe twenty five thousand years, within which much of humankind developed artifacts and communication methods, alphabets and writing, capable of passing certain aspects of that past into today. Quinn interprets or translates the accepted, conventional wisdom, versions of rulers, dominators and heroes into a broader context within which the emergent patterns of warfare, conquest and patrimonic systems are blips on the millions of evolutionary earth/sun cycles underlaying humankind's development.
He suggests that having once found other means to organize ourselves than into those systems which now dominate, we may again find systems featuring and celebrating tolerance, neighborliness, civility, cooperation and diversity. In his collection of essays, Beyond Civilization, Quinn suggests possibilities without falling into the trap of creating them as imperatives. He calls his suggestions "New Tribal Living" or "The New Tribal Revolution."
Key to new tribal living is good old-fashioned self-reliance, common sense, adaptability, fellow-feeling, if you will. Quinn likes "scuffling" to describe some of its aspects. He notes, "In a study of gypsies and other itinerant people, anthropologist Sharon Bohn Gmelch [Groups That Don't Want In: Gypsies and Other Artisan, Trader and Entertainer Minorities, Annual Review of Anthropology 15 (1986): 307-330] lists some reasons these groups survive. They keep overhead low and have little interest in 'material accumulation and capital expansion.' They are willing to 'exploit marginal opportunities,' to 'fill gaps' in the economy and to 'accept a narrow profit margin from multiple sources.' In short, they're experienced scufflers."
And as a scuffler, I can recognize myself better. The New Tribal part is elusive, however. A commune is not a tribe. Living together without making a living together is not tribal according to Quinn's perceptions. "Tribes are about working together and may or may not involve living together." "The tribal rule of thumb is: Can you extend the living to include yourself? In other words, if you want to live out of the tribal occupation, you have to extend the group's earning power to the point where it covers you."
In the buzz words of more formal economics, you create your own work and work your own creations. The grand enigma of over-population and expansive technologies boils down to ever fewer bodies needed to supply needs and ever-created wants which result in more people with nothing meaningful to do in terms of wage-generating employments. As even the most affluent political states are reneging on social support systems for the increasing numbers of unemployed and unemployable, a new social class of The Disappeared is rapidly evolving.
Governmental statistics have no classifications for those who have dropped through the cracks in the systems, exhausted benefits and qualified for no new ones, dropped into the underground economy and become scufflers whether they know it or not, if they are to survive.
Another word for scufflers is Croatan. An emergent understanding of Croatan, then, refers to those who make a conscious, informed (if you will) choice to drop beyond statistics. Quinn advocates the conscious choice of a prepared mind as a positive rather than negative alternative.
Puna District on the island of Hawaii is home to many Croatans. They follow the general pattern I have advocated for many years: find local resources to convert locally in ways which foster community and create economic surpluses for local reinvestment. That is, there is little or no participation in the global or export economy. And there are various new tribes hereabout. We have blond rastafarians complete with dreads, second and third generation counter-culturists of many colors and configurations, artisans and artists, numerous closet Ph.D.s, a community resource center, ethnic restaurants galore along with tribal outlets featuring locally made goods, natural foods and the like. Crowning it all is the Pahoa Sunday Market, recently expanded yet again and immediately filled with eager local entrepreneurs offering the bounty of their creativities and crops to one and all--at very fair prices.
Look up the word "Croatan" with any search engine of the web and find a rich mine of new tribal folks around the planet. There are books such as Gone to Croatan and Bolo'Bolo, art forms and music rampant. It is called by some The Autonomous Society. There is a publisher, Autonomedia in New York. There are circuses, theater groups, entertainers, activists and organizers, a vast range of scufflers implementing New Tribal Revolutions -- and, yes, a Reverend Billy. And websites and websites and websites. How we need the internet!
And, round robin, may we speculate that the Roanoke Colony folks who carved Croatoan on a tree were the first of a breed, the dropout inspiration which is taking 400 years to catch on? Or are we simply catching up gypsies and nomads in a more static way?
Quinn, with After Dachau, notes that no one cares about whatever rants and raves and rages are running around. Moral: stop the rants, raves and rages and go Croatan! Disappear from statistics. Be with those who do care.
* Beyond Civilization
Three Rivers Press, 1999; ISBN: 0-609-80536-3
* After Dachau
Context Books 2001; ISBN: 189395613X
These books can be purchased from BookSense.com. You can either have the book(s) sent directly to you as other dot.coms do or you can have your book(s) held for you at your local independent bookstore. BookSense is the only online ordering system that allows you this choice.
Milo Clark, a founding member of Swans, had it all: Harvard MBA, big house, three-car garage, top management... Yet, once he had seemingly achieved the famed American dream he felt something was missing somewhere. As any good executive he decided to investigate. Since then, he has become a curmudgeon and, after living in Berkeley, California, where he was growing bamboos, making water gardens, listening to muses, writing, cogitating and pondering, he has moved on to the Big Island in Hawaii where he creates thought forms about sunshine. Milo can be reached at Swans
Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, © Milo G. Clark 2001. All rights reserved.
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