Category Archives: Books

Desire for Cruelty

 

Because of their incredibly strong desire to separate themselves from respectable society—the establishment as 1960s rebels would call it—the true believers of totalitarian movements of the 1930s and following in Europe, inculcated a desire for cruelty. They were driven by a desire for cruelty. That desire fueled their passion.

Lately I have been rewatching the mob of Trumpsters on Capitol Hill on January 6th and have noticed the same phenomenon. The similarities to the older totalitarian mobs are astonishing. As Hannah Arendt said in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism in which she described the insurrectionists of the 1930s and 1940s:

“They read not Darwin but the Marquis de Sade.  If they believed at all in universal laws, they certainly did not particularly care to conform to them. To them, violence, power, cruelty, power, were the supreme capacities of men who definitely lost their place in the universe and were much too proud to long for a power theory that would safely bring them back and reintegrate into the world. They were satisfied with blind partisanship in anything that respectable society had banned, regardless of theory or content, and they elevated cruelty to a major virtue because it contradicted society’s humanitarian and liberal hypocrisy.”

 

That applied to Nazi mobs and Communist mobs. I think it also applied to modern American Trump inspired mobs.

Watching the rioters on Capitol Hill on January 6th of 2021 I was struck by how much fun they were having.  It was obviously a blast for them. Literally a blast. It was probably one of the most exciting days of their lives. Running down the corridors of the Capitol in search of Mike Pence chanting that they would hang him and  Nancy Pelosi was incredibly exciting for them. They were filled with passion. Arendt mentioned in her book how the older rebels has a “yearning for violence.” Arendt had said how the revolutionaries experienced

the self-willed immersion in the suprahuman forces of destruction seemed to be a salvation from the automatic identification with pre-established functions in society and their utter banality…”

They were finally loosed from the chains of mediocrity. As Arendt said about the older rebellions,

“What proved so attractive was that terrorism had become a kind of philosophy through which to express frustration, resentment and blind hatred, a kind of political expressionism which used bombs to express oneself, which watched delightedly the publicity given to resounding deeds and was absolutely willing to pay the price of life for having succeeded in forcing the recognition of one’s existence on the normal strata of society. It was still the same spirit and the same game which made Goebbels, long before the eventual defeat of the Nazis, in case of defeat, would know how to slam the door behind them and not be forgotten for centuries.”   

 

Many have been surprised by the fact that Donald Trump could attract support from elites as well as those who had been humbled by globalization. How was that possible?

First, as Hannah  Arendt said, “The members of the elite did not object at all to paying a price, the destruction of civilization, for the fun of seeing how those who had been excluded unjustly in past forced their way into it.” Next, Arendt also said this about earlier insurrectionists: “The temporary alliance between the elite and the mob rested largely on this genuine delight with which the former watched the latter destroy respectability.” The elite wanted to see the cruelty of the mob in action. It was the same on January 6th 2021. The lust for cruelty can be surprising powerful.

Anyone who unleashes these powerful and uncontrollable emotions must be prepared for the unholy explosion that is likely to follow. Trump was prepared for that. Some of his followers were not, for they abandoned him. It is now being determined how many others are prepared to enjoy the train wreck too.

Yearning to Belong

 

Hannah Arendt commented on how early supporters of Hitler in Germany demonstrated astonishing selflessness. She described that this way:

“The peculiar selflessness of the mass man appeared here as a yearning for anonymity, for being just a number and functioning cog, for every transformation, in brief, which would wipe out the spurious identification with specific types of predetermined functions within society. War had been experienced as that “mightiest of all mass action” which obliterated individual differences so that even suffering, which traditionally had marked off individuals through unique unexchangeable destinies could now be interpreted as “an instrument of historical progress.”

 

This desire to be part of a movement—to belong to a group—is of course of vital significance. Humans have strong desires to be part of groups.  Groups are desired to heal feelings of alienation and isolation. They are exhilarating. If you have any doubt about this go to an American football game. You will be convinced.  The feeling is that this is “us” against “them” and the excitement is palpable. These feelings are beyond reason. Cheering for your team has nothing to do with reason.  That is what the rapture must feel like.

Bakunin, the Russian anarchist expressed this feeling deeply. He said, “I do not want to be I, I want to be We.”

To us from afar this seems insane. It is insane. But it was real for those members of the movement. Will it be the same for modern authoritarians and their followers such Donald Trump’s Trumpsters? We cannot know that in advance, no matter what Arendt has told us about earlier mass movements, but it certainly must make us consider what comes next?

Absolute Loyalty

 

As Hannah Arendt said in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism totalitarian movements required and received absolute loyalty. A member might have to let himself be tried, found guilty of any crime, cooperate with the authorities, without objection—all in the name of the movement.

Of course, not everyone is able to give such loyalty. As Arendt said,

“Such loyalty can be expected only from the completely isolated human being who, without any other social ties to family, friends, comrades, or even mere acquaintances, derives his sense of having a place in the world only from his belonging to a movement, his membership in the party.”

Notably, that was also the kind of loyalty Trump demanded of the Trumpsters, and usually got. That’s what he told James Comey who refused to give it. It did not take long and Coney was out of his job as Director of the FBI. That happened to countless others.

Arendt found it interesting who was able to give such loyalty. It was surprising. As she said,

“What is more disturbing to our peace of mind than the unconditional loyalty of members of totalitarian movements, and the popular support of totalitarian regimes, is the unquestionable attraction these movements exert on the elite, and not only on the mob elements in society. It would be rash indeed to discount, because of artistic vagaries or scholarly naiveté, the terrifying roster of distinguished men whom totalitarianism can count among its sympathizers, fellow-travelers, and inscribed party members.”

 

Again Trumpism found similar support among elite conservatives. Trump and Trumpsters expected Mike Pence to overthrow the votes of states despite the fact that courts had refused to do this, and despite the fact that there was no way this could be done and when he refused Trump immediately turned on him even though he had received 4 years of abject loyalty from Pence. And with only the vaguest of suggestions, the Trumpian mob marched to the White House with chants “Hang Mike Pence.” Later. even though his life had been endangered by Trump and his followers at his behest, Pence did not overturn the election results because he thought he could not do that, but after this devotion to the leader was stubbornly persistent

Loyalty is an astonishing thing. Absolute loyalty is incomprehensible. But it is real. It can persist long past what reason would suggest.

 

Zealotry

 

Hannah Arendt looked closely at the supporters of totalitarian movements of the 1930s and 1940s and many of the things she learned are applicable to the current authoritarian movements. She found that the enthusiasm of the true believers was stunning. This is what she said about the totalitarians of the 1930s and following decades:

“They shared with Lawrence of Arabia the yearning for “losing their selves in violent disgust with all existing standards, with every power that be. They all remembered the “golden age of security,” they also remembered how they had hated it and how real their enthusiasm had been at the outbreak of the first World War. Not only Hitler and not only the failures, thanked God on their knees when mobilization swept Europe in 1914. They did not even have to reproach themselves with having been an easy prey for chauvinist propaganda or lying explanations about the purely defensive character of the war. The elite went to war with an exultant hope that everything they knew, the whole culture and texture of life, might go down in its “storms of steel” (Ernst Jünger) In the carefully chosen words of Thomas Mann, war was “chastisement” and “purification”; “war in itself,” rather than victories, inspired the poet.” Or in the words of a student of the time, “what counts is always the readiness to make a sacrifice, not the object for which the sacrifice is made”; or in the words of a young worker, “it doesn’t matter whether one lives a few years longer or not. One would like to have something to show for one’s life.”

 

The true believers were truly zealots. And note the religious significance here. Sacrifice is of course a fundamental religious concept in virtually every religion. It is no accident that the words “sacred” and “sacrifice” come from the same root. You only have to look at that wonderful series, A History of Religious Ideas, in 3 volumes by the Master Mircea Eliade to see the similarities.

 

Arendt also pointed out how

“the “front generation” in marked contrast to their own chosen spiritual fathers, were completely absorbed by their desire to see the ruin of this whole world of fake security, fake culture, and fake life. This desire was so great it outweighed in impact and articulateness all earlier attempts of a “transformation of values,” such as Nietzsche had attempted…Destruction without mitigation, chaos and ruin, as such assumed the dignity of supreme values.”

 

Arendt also pointed out in her book The Origins of Totalitariainism that willingness to go to war for the cause was in itself insufficient. This attitude had to survive the war, no matter how horrific it was:

“The genuineness of these feelings can be seen in the fact that very few of this generation were cured of their war enthusiasm by actual experience of its horrors. The survivors of the trenches did not become pacifists. They cherished an experience which, they thought, might serve to separate the definitively from the hated surroundings of respectability. They clung to their memories of four years of life in the trenches as though they constituted an objective criterion for the establishment of a new elite.”

 

So it is hardly surprising that Trumpsters were not done after the storming of the Capitol. They wanted more. I believe it is likely that. They want to follow their leader into the next battle.

Hannah Arendt said this about the totalitarian believers of Europe:

“This generation remembered the war as the great prelude to the breakdown of classes and their transformation into masses. War, with its constant murderous arbitrariness, became the symbol for death, the “great equalizer” and therefore the true father of a new world order. The passion for equality and justice, the longing to transcend narrow and meaningless class lines, to abandon stupid privileges and prejudices, seemed to find in war a way out of the old condescending attitudes of pity for the oppressed and disinherited. In times of growing misery and individual helplessness, it seems as difficult to resist pity when it grows into an all-devouring passion as it is not to resent its very boundlessness, which seems to kill human dignity with more deadly certainty than misery itself.”

 

Will the same be true of Trumpsters? We have no way of knowing. None of this is pre-ordained. I am not suggesting Arendt was a prophet. I am just saying her remarks about true believers of the totalitarians makes one look at the modern variants with deep trepidation. At the very least we have little justification for easy optimism or over confidence. We should not be quick to believe the troubles are over. It is more likely that they are just beginning. That is not a comforting thought.

Hannah Arendt on Mass Society

 

Hannah Arendt may be the most important political philosopher of the 21st century. She wrote about some of the most important political issues of the times. She wrote about violence, the Holocaust, and the rise of totalitarianism. She lived through totalitarianism in Nazi Germany before she fled to the United States. She knows whereof she speaks. I read her again after about 40 years away and was shocked at how relevant her books were to the current times.

John Wiens an educator from the University of Manitoba and Dean Emeritus of the Faculty of Education described Arendt’s concern about mass society this way in an article in the Winnipeg Free Press:

 

“Mass society, according to Arendt, appears in some rather familiar forms: anti-government rhetoric and resistance couched in perverted claims to personal freedom and/or nationalism; mob mentality laced with racism and fabricated enemies; conspiracy theories and anti-intellectualism; and tyranny and violence fuelled by tyrannical ambitions.”

 

That sounds like a perfect description of Trumpism 60 years before it happened. It also describes fascist supporters around the world. Arendt analyzed these ideas in her magisterial book, The Origins of Totalitarianism. While totalitarianism is not the same as Nazism, or Communism, or fascism, I think her analysis is applicable to all forms of tyranny. She described groups of deeply disenchanted and resentful individuals that were highly susceptible to authoritarians. She also described how modern people 60 years after she wrote the book would be attracted to authoritarians like Viktor of Hungary, Putin in Russia, Xi Jinping of China, Rodrigo Roa Duterte of the Philippines and Donald Trump in the United States.

People attracted to such authoritarians can even be found in Manitoba. Members of the so-called Truckers Convoy in Ottawa have many of these characteristics including deep resentment, an exaggerated sense of entitlement to unrestricted personal freedoms for themselves but which they deny to those who disagree with them. Interestingly, modern evangelical Christians provide strong support for authoritarians in the US and Canada. 60% of them still support Trump, long after his character is well understood.

As if she was talking about Trumpsters, rather than Nazis and Communists, Arendt pointed out,

“The fall of protecting class walls transformed the slumbering majorities behind all parties into one great unorganized, structureless mass of furious individuals who had nothing in common except their vague apprehension that the hopes of party members were doomed, that consequently, the most respected, the most articulate and representative members of the community were fools and that all the powers that be were not so much evil as they were equally stupid and fraudulent.”

 

These people who supported the Nazis and Communists were filled with “self-centered bitterness.” Once more a masterful description of Trumpsters and Canadian Convoy truckers, among others. Those Europeans, Arendt wrote, had a

“Radical loss of self-interest, the cynical or bored indifference in the face of death or other personal catastrophes, the passionate inclination toward the most abstract notions as guides for life, and the general contempt for even the most obvious rules of common sense.”

 

Arendt, along with others, calls these supporters of totalitarian movements mass men. They were mainly men. Trump would call on women too. Women for Trump. I can see them now in with their blonde hair and red MAGA hats often cheering wildly behind him at MAGA rallies. Supporters of tyrants, German, Russian, or American grew out of alienated western societies. As Arendt described them,

“The truth is that the masses grew out of the fragments of a highly atomized society whose competitive structure and concomitant loneliness of the individual had been held in check only through membership in a class. The chief characteristic of the mass man is not brutality and backwardness, but his isolation and lack of normal relationships. Coming from the class-ridden society of the nation-state, whose cracks had been cemented with nationalistic sentiment, it is only natural that these masses, in the first helplessness of their new experience, have tended toward an especially violent nationalism, to which mass leaders have yielded against their own instincts and purposes, for purely demagogic reasons.”

 

The Russian Communist Party had to create the atomized society that Germany, and later the United States, found ready at hand.

As Arendt said, “Totalitarian movements are mass organization of atomized, isolated individuals.” The reason for that is that they demand absolute loyalty. Total loyalty. It is often difficult for married men and women to give such undivided loyalty. Their families distract them from their cause—from their duty.

The key ingredient of mass men (or women) is their total disgruntlement about government and their readiness to jump to support perceived “strong men” even when they are so strong that they are authoritarians.

They claim to want freedom but are quick to give up their freedom to support their strong leaders wherever they may lead.

 

Hannah Arendt: Mass Support for authoritarians

 

Dictators live on mass support. To many people that seems strange, but it isn’t. Massive power comes from mass support. They can’t do it alone. That does not mean a democracy is necessary. Not at all. Tyrants realize that democracy is not important. Mass support is important and there are better ways to get it than messy elections. Hannah Arendt described it this way in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism:

“It would be a still more serious mistake to forget, because of this impermanence, that totalitarian regimes, so long as they are in power, and the totalitarian leaders, so long as they are alive, “command and rest upon mass support” up to the end. Hitler’s rise to power was legal in terms of majority rule and neither he nor Stalin could have maintained the leadership of large populations, survived many interior and exterior crises, and braved numerous dangers of relentless intra-party struggles if they had not had the confidence of the masses.

 

Often it is startling how brazen tyrannical leaders can be. Trump was not the first, though I acknowledge he was not a tyrannical leader-so far he is just a wanna be authoritarian, but he could easily tip in that direction if elected again. Arendt had another important observation here:

“Nor can their (totalitarian leaders) popularity be attributed to the victory of masterful and lying propaganda over ignorance and stupidity. For the totalitarian movements which precede and accompany totalitarian regimes, invariably as frank as it is mendacious, and would-be totalitarian rulers usually start their careers by boasting of their past crimes and carefully outlining their future ones.”

 

Trump did exactly that many times. For example, when he talked openly to Bob Woodward a reporter about how he minimized the risks of Covid-19 and told the American public they had nothing to fear. Later he kept saying, without evidence again, that “the end of the pandemic is around the corner.” He also bragged how he could stand in Times Square and kill someone and would not lose any support. He might have been right.

 

The Origins of Totalitarianism:Blind Obedience and the True Believers

 

Few thinkers understood tyranny, fascism, and totalitarianism better than Hannah Arendt. She has written profoundly about it in a number of books, including The Origin of Totalitarianism but all all of which are worth reading, and worth reading again.

 

She described totalitarianism this way:

“Totalitarian movements are mass organizations of atomized, isolated individuals. Compared with all other parties and movements, their most conspicuous external characteristic is their demand for total, unrestricted, unconditional, and unalterable loyalty of the individual member. This demand is made by the leaders of totalitarian movements even before they seize power. It usually precedes the total organization of the country under their actual rule and it follows from the claim of their ideologies that their organization will encompass, in due course, the entire human race.”

 

Even though Hannah Arendt wrote that more than 60 years before Trump ran for the American presidency in 2016, there is a lot here to help in understanding Donald Trump. I do not claim that the followers of Donald Trump constitute a totalitarian movement. I merely say, that so far, his movement of followers have embraced their leader in such a way that bears a striking resemblance to earlier totalitarian movements. We all must remember that Hitler was first of all elected to power in Germany, considered by many to be the most civilized country in Europe at the time! It could happen again. It could happen in North America.

 

The blind obedience and loyalty of Trump supporters is astonishing. Before he was elected, Trump said he could stand in Times Square in New York and commit a murder and it would make no difference to his followers. Was he far off the truth? It seems that no matter what Trump says or does his fans will accept it. They don’t care. They support Trump no matter what. I refer to that as theological devotion, because only that type of belief is sufficient to maintain the faith in the political leader. They are true believers.

 

In 2019 impeachment proceedings concluded in the American House of Representatives in the U.S. and then passed to the Senate for the trial. As we know, only 1 Republican Senator, Mitch Romney, voted to convict Donald Trump after the hearing in the Senate and that was on only 1 of the two charges.  The evidence of wrongdoing to me seemed overwhelming. Yet his Republican supporters in the Senate and the House of Representatives remained absolutely steadfast. No one cared. They just wanted to be on his side. The political leaders, even those who once said they would never support him, like Lindsay Graham the Senator from South Carolina, remained absolutely loyal. Ted Cruz the Senator from Texas voted to acquit Trump even though Trump had insulted him and his family.

 

The Republican Senators did not want Trump to campaign against them in the next election. So they paid absolute obeisance to him, no matter how unhinged he seemed. Totalitarian leaders would be impressed by the undying loyalty of his supporters and political underlings.

In 2020 the American House of Representatives again approved articles of impeachment against president Trump. That time 10 Republican Senators joined the Democrats in agreeing to impeach him. Undying support hardly diminished. That should surprise no one. The true believers remained steadfast.

The Origins of Totalitarianism: Hannah Arendt and the War on Truth

 

This is what Hannah Arendt said in her magnificent book published in 1951 called the Origins of Totalitarianism:

“Before they seize power and establish a world according to their doctrines, totalitarian movements conjure up a lying world of consistency which is more than adequate to the needs of the human mind than reality itself; in which through sheer imagination, uprooted masses can feel at home and are spared the never-ending shocks which real life and real experience deal to human beings and their expectations. The force possessed by totalitarian propaganda—before the movements have the power to drop iron curtains to prevent anyone’s disturbing, by the slightest reality, the gruesome quiet of an entirely imaginary world—lies in the its ability to shut the masses off from the real world.”

 

This is exactly what Hitler did, Putin did, and Trump is trying to do right now. It is interesting to me that National Review the American conservative journal ranked it #15 in the on its list of the greatest non-fiction books of the 20th century.

 

It is astonishingly to me how Arendt could have been writing about Trumpsters in the early 1950s. It is so incredibly prescient. These words can be applied precisely to them decades after the words were written, showing once again that Arendt was the pre-eminent political philosopher of the 20th century.

Hannah Arendt paid attention to the people who supported totalitarian movements. She did not dismiss them like Hillary Clinton did. This is what she said,

“Totalitarian movements are possible wherever there are masses who for one reason or another have acquired the appetite for political organization. Masses are not held together by a consciousness of a common interest and they lack that specific class articulateness which is expressed in determined, limited, and obtainable goals.”

 

For example, with Donald Trump many people, like me, were often surprised that the masses would support him because it wasn’t really in their best interests. He obviously didn’t really care about the masses. He carried about his rich buddies (to the extent that he cared about anyone). The masses are the people who don’t fit into any organization. His fans just wanted to join a group that would wreck things. It was the same in Nazi Germany where, we should never forget, Nazis were originally elected to power. Arendt noticed this about Nazi Germans and Communists. As she said,

“It was characteristic of the rise of the Nazi movement in Germany and of the Communist movements in Europe after 1930 that they recruited their members from this mass of apparently indifferent people whom all other parties had given up as too apathetic or too stupid for their attention.”

 

In other words the Nazis and Communists found supporters among the “basket of deplorables” of Europe. Just like Trump did in the US in 2016. No one paid attention to these people before in Germany, Russia or the US. That made things convenient. These people were never involved in or even cared about politics before. As a result, the demagogues could use entirely new methods of political propaganda. As Arendt, said they had “indifference to the arguments of their opponents.” Just like the Trumpsters.

As a result the mass movements of Europe put themselves out of the political system and against the political system. As a result

“they found a membership that had never been “spoiled” by the party system. Therefore, they did not need to refute opposing arguments and consistent preferred methods which ended in death rather than persuasion, which spelled terror rather than conviction. They presented disagreements as invariably originating in deep natural, social, or psychological sources beyond the control of the individual and therefore beyond the power of reason. This would have been a shortcoming only if they had sincerely entered into competition with other parties; it was not if they were sure of dealing with people who had reason to be equally hostile to all parties.”

 

Again this could not have described Trump and Trumpsters better. Remember they were equally hostile to Republicans and Democrats. Trump only used the  Republican party  because it was convenient. He was never a Republican. He was never a conservative. His ideology, again to the extent he had one, was fascist racism  (white supremacy) and nationalism. As Arendt said,

“Thus when totalitarian movements invaded Parliament with their contempt for parliamentary government, they merely appeared inconsistent: actually they succeeded in convincing the people at large that parliamentary majorities were spurious and did not necessarily correspond to the realities of the country”…

 

Once again Arendt prophesied Trump and his supporters in astonishingly specific terms.

This is a book worth reading!

Hannah Arendt: Reason and Tyranny

 

I read a number of books by Hannah Arendt about 40 years ago as young lad in university. I continued to read after I left university because I enjoyed her insights so much.  I loved her books then; I love them now. She really understood tyranny, fascism and totalitarianism better than anyone. For quite a few years after that, I thought those issues were behind us. We had solved them. I was wrong. Unfortunately those issues have become important again.

Hannah Arendt was a brilliant political theorist/philosopher, born in Russia and a student of the legendary German philosopher Martin Heidegger. She wrote about what she had learned from the European political tyrants of the 20th century, particularly Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. I particularly enjoyed her book The Origins of Totalitarianism which she wrote in 1951. How could a book on political theory written 70 years ago be relevant to today? I think it is profoundly relevant.

Hannah Arendt understood die-hard fans. She understood fanatical zeal. She understood the followers of totalitarian rulers or populists. As she said, “the ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false no longer exists.”

 

To this the Canadian philosopher Henry Giroux recently said, “Today nothing could be more true than that.” Arendt also said, “thoughtlessness is the essence of fascism.” In a modern America where reason has been abandoned by so many, this is a deeply disturbing thing to consider. Is America on the path to fascism? It may not there yet, but is that where it is headed? More and more of us are convinced that they are well on the way to fascism if they are not there already.

Our species has impressive powers of reasoning. It is what sets us apart from most species. Yet we give up our advantage all the time. Why do we do that? Why do we allow reason to go to sleep? More importantly, why do we do that when it is clearly against our own interests to do that? That is a very big question. One I would like to answer.

It is crucially important not to  abdicate our power of reasoning. If ever we give up our rationale for beliefs we are doomed. In my opinion, we must always insist that all beliefs are based on evidence and reason.

Our reasoning power may be weak. It is certainly far from perfect. For each and every one of us our power of reasoning is flawed, but we never have a better tool to justify belief. Any belief.

Reason goes to sleep whenever we don’t base our beliefs on reason and evidence. For example, the bars to reason are many and varied and include the following among many others: faith substituted for reason, indoctrination, fear, prejudice or bias, laziness, ignorance, herd instinct or wish to conform, wishful thinking, ideological blinkers, and advertising or propaganda.

All of these substitutes for reasoning are dangerous. In politics, as we are finding out now again, as people did in Europe in the 1930s, when we abandon reason we put everything in jeopardy. Abandoning reason is an invitation to tyranny.

The Nightwatchman

 

 

The Night watchman by Louise Erdrich

This Pulitzer Prize winning book tells the story of Pixie Paranteau, a young indigenous woman living on an Indian reservation in North Dakota who insisted that everyone call her Patrice, but very one called her Pixie.  Even her friend Valentine Blue, who was “pretty as a sunset,” would not call her what she wanted. As so often in life, people don’t get to choose much about their own lives. That is particularly true about Indians, as indigenous people are still called in the US. To make such choices they must be very determined. That applies to young people and old people alike.

 

Thomas Wazhashk was a nightwatchman at the jewel bearing plant near the Turtle Mountain Indian reservation in North Dakota. He was also a Chippewa council member who was given the task of trying to understand the “Emancipation Act” that was being considered by the United States Congress in 1953. As happens so often in politics, the name of that legislation is badly misleading. It is not about granting them freedom, it is about reneging on treaty obligations and removing the rights of the Indians to their land and their identity. Again, freedom is hard to come by. Others are deciding what is good for them. A Senator from Utah, a Mormon, discussing, the proposed bill was “filling the air with sanctimony.’

 

One day Thomas was beset by the appearance of two young men approaching his house and wearing white shirts and black pants—the unmistakeable uniform of missionaries who would want to tell Thomas what to do. One of the men asked Thomas if he ever wondered why he was there? Thomas said no, because I know. Don’t you he asked?  This deflected the young men. They wanted to tell him why he was there. Instead, Thomas asked them why the Mormon Senator wanted to do away with Indians.  He said he wanted to “terminate” them. The Mormon men wanted him to read their sacred book. The men were so ignorant they believed their religion was the only religion that originated in America.  But Thomas politely told them he had a religion and wasn’t interested in a new one. The two men walked away “full of mystifying purpose.”

 

Patrice learned religion from her mother Zhaanat. Whereas the Senator from Utah wanted to divide the people from each other and from their land and the creatures on it, she refused to see divisions. She instead saw connections. “Zhaanat’s thinking was based on treating everything around her with great care.” Why would people with such a religious world view need Mormons to tell them why they were there and what they should do? Later Louis told them “We are thankful for our place in the world, but we don’t worship nobody higher than…” as he gestured out the window at the dimming sky.”

Bu the heart of the novel is a love story or really 2 or 3 love stories involving 4 couples. This required contradictory feelings, but what was wrong with that? Millie, another friend, of Patrice understood that one explanation did not rule out anything else. The northern lights could be spirits and also electrons. After all, “mathematics was a rigorous form of madness.” So a man could love two women and a women could reject one man and lose another. Emancipation could be termination. These are just some of the issues explored in the novel by a very fine writer.

I recommend you read this book.