A Dialogue with Ishmael

For fans of Daniel Quinn…an old posting stemming from a contention over the difference between Leaver paradigms and Taker ones, a long time ago, at Ishcon. Kudos to Julie Cramer for writing it, and apologies to Daniel Quinn.

in The Constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy, paragraph 80:
When the Confederate Council of the Five Nations has for its object the establishment of the Great Peace among the people of an outside nation and that nation refuses to accept the Great Peace, then by such refusal they bring a declaration of war upon themselves from the Five Nations. Then shall the Five Nations seek to establish the Great Peace by a conquest of the rebellious nation.

Some non-Iroquois folks interpret this to mean: Those who do not accept the Peacemaker’s Great Law of Peace will be conquered by the Iroquois Confederacy and subjected to it by force, as it is the One Right Way for everyone to live, and it is the Confederacy’s sacred duty to spread it across the whole world.

Me: Ishmael, how can the Iroquois possibly be Leavers, according to paragraph 80 of their constitution?

Ish [grumbles and shifts]: I can see we’re going to have to start this one from the beginning.

Me: What do you mean?

Ish: Well, why don’t you tell me what Mother Culture tells you this piece of the Iroquois Constitution is saying?

Me: Mother Culture? What does she have to do with any of this?

Ish: Well, she’s the one who has taught you what is obvious, correct? She’s the one who has convinced you that it’s obvious Iroquois are Takers…so if I’m going to prove any different, I’ll have to speak with her directly.

Me: Okay

Ish: So, in Mother Culture’s words, if you please.

Me: Well, let me see. “When the Confederate Council of the Five Nations has for its object the establishment of the Great Peace among the people of an outside nation”…That means, if the Iroquois see another nation that is not the way that it should be…

Ish: I’m sorry, what do you mean, “not the way that it should be”?

Me: I don’t know. I guess, they aren’t living the right way. Maybe they are too cruel to their women or something, or aren’t living as peacefully as they should.

Ish: Okay, I just wanted to get that more clear. Continue.

Me: Okay. ” and that nation refuses to accept the Great Peace, then by such refusal they bring a declaration of war upon themselves from the Five Nations. Then shall the Five Nations seek to establish the Great Peace by a conquest of the rebellious nation.” That means that, if the wayward nation doesn’t comply, doesn’t see the error of their ways, the Iroquois will be forced to make them see how great peace is…by being forced into it…through war…I guess.

Ish: I guess? Why do you guess?

Me: Well. That just doesn’t make any sense. How could you preach “The Great Law of Peace” and spread the word by conquering, warring, forcing others to accept it? That doesn’t sound very peaceful.

Ish: I agree.

Me: Well, it doesn’t make any sense, but I guess that’s exactly what makes them Takers. That’s just what our country does. We say, you really need to have democracy…and even if you think you don’t want it, even if you were to vote not to have it, we would help you see the error of your ways by demanding you adopt it! Ridiculous! But, I guess that’s what a Taker is. But still, I guess I have trouble imagining the Iroquois not noticing how foolish that sounds…right in their constitution!

Ish: Again, I agree. And it does sound foolish. But, we have already established Mother Culture is guilty of the occasional doublespeak. Lets thank her for her opinion and try moving on. Now, you’re accusing the Iroquois of being Takers, but certainly not of being fools, right.

Me: No, I guess not.

Ish: So, lets start off by assuming they are not fools.

Me: Okay.

Ish: Lets start off by assuming that, somehow, this statement can be made with full sincerity, no hypocricy.

Me: Okay.

Ish: Heck, lets just try reading that quote again, from an entirely different point of view. No Mother Culture this time. This time, you’re going to read it from the point of view of a Leaver. Pretend a Leaver wrote that quote.

Me: I don’t see how that would change anything.

Ish: What?! My goodness, I’m a lot further behind than I thought I was! Do you think a Taker would see the same thing when they looked out on the open prairie as a Leaver would?

Me: Well, no.

Ish: What would be different?

Me: Well, a Leaver would see grasses, homes for various animals, probably all sorts of things like that. The Leaver would see all sorts of relationships, interacting with each other, a place full with abundant Life.

Ish: And the Taker?

Me: Empty space, I guess.

Ish: Perfect for 1,000 acres of potatoes, or a mini mall or something, right? Just empty space good for the taking.

Me: That’s right.

Ish: Okay, so we’ve reestablished that Takers and Leavers have a completely different frame of reference for perceiving the world, and that would lead that when they expressed what they perceived, even using the same words, it would mean something different, wouldn’t it?

Me: I suppose it would. I don’t completely understand.

Ish: Just give it a go.

Me: Okay, I’ll try.

Ish: [grumbling a bit] Now, try again. Read that quote from a Leaver point of view.

Me: Okay, here goes nothin’. “When the Confederate Council of the Five Nations has for its object the establishment of the Great Peace among the people of an outside nation” Well, that’s a tough one. A Leaver would never do that! A Leaver nation would never have for its object ANYTHING for another nation. Its, live and let live. As long as you don’t bother me, I won’t bother you.

Ish: Exactly. So, from that point of view, why would a Leaver take it for its object the establishment of their international policy of Peace on an outside nation? If they are only concerned about being able to live their own relatively peaceful lifestyle?

Me: Well, I guess, they would do that if they weren’t able to live that peaceful lifestyle…

Ish: Yes…and what would infringe on a peaceful lifestyle?

Me: War?

Ish: Yes! Pretty simple, huh?

Me: Oh! I see. So, for a Leaver, its not that they would see that others were living in a way that was wrong and not seeing their own errors. A Leaver would be concerned that another nation’s warring lifestyle was making it impossible for them to live their lifestyle of peace!!!

Ish: Excellent. [after settling down and nibbling on a branch for a bit, he resumes]: So, do you think they would go to all of this trouble over some stolen horses?

Me: No, it seems like it would have to be a bigger deal.

Ish: Not some missing bushels of corn?

Me: No.

Ish: Not some philosophical differences of opinion?

Me: As I said, it seems like if they were going to commit to war, which is expressly against the whole point of the Great Law of Peace, and since we are assuming they are not fools, and would only do that when they had no other option, it would have to be something much much worse. Something worth dying over. Full out attack against them. It would have to be violence, not just a missing horse or bushel of corn. It would have to be the kind of violence they worked so hard to move away from in their own history.

Ish: So what is at stake here?

Me: Something a Leaver would value.

Ish: Which exempts…?

Me: Well, they wouldn’t value the annihilation of a competitor. I imagine they would value an improvement in quality of life…more peace. So, I guess, that’s why they give them the option of adopting the Great Peace, which basically means, not fighting the Iroquois, and leaving them to live their peaceful lives.

Ish: Exactly! Not so foolish, eh?

Me: No. But.

Ish: What?

Me: Well. Even so, even if they said to their aggressors, Hey, we’re trying to be peaceful over here. Would you mind just playing nice with us? It makes sense that they would then be forced to use war if their offer were refused, simply for self defense…but, it sounds like they plan to engage in a borg-like assimilation of the outside nation as a result of that war. That doesn’t sound like a Leaver thing to me.

Ish: Me neither. A Borg-like assimilation sounds very Taker, indeed. Lets find how you came to that conclusion.

Me: Well, it says, “Then shall the Five Nations seek to establish the Great Peace by a conquest of the rebellious nation.” They intend to CONQUER the other nation and force their One Right Way of peace on them! Even after they have won the war and gotten them to stop fighting. If they were truly a Leaver culture, they wouldn’t try to conquer another nation at all.

Ish: Well, there’s two bits in there. Firstly, how does erratic retaliation work?

Me: You fight me to show how strong you are, kill one of our sons or something, and then we show you how strong we are by killing one of yours, and so on and so forth.

Ish: So, it continues. You don’t end erratic retaliation by winning a squabble.

Me: No, I suppose you don’t.

Ish: So, just winning a war does not preserve your peace does it?

Me: Well, I guess not.

Ish: Okay, so now you’ve decided to conquer, and include them in the confederacy. What does conquest look like?

Me: Mother Culture says it means you take over the land of those you conquer and make them adopt your worldview, your lifestyle…and give up all of their resources to your tithe.

Ish: I thought we were done with Mother Culture. What does a Leaver’s conquest look like?

Me: I didn’t think Leaver’s had such a thing.

Ish: What do you suppose conquest might mean to a Leaver? Keep in mind, this is a Leaver who values the “Great Law of Peace”.

Me: Well, involvement, I suppose.

Ish: What do you mean by that?

Me: Well, if the confederacy is a coming together of nations to solve matters peacefully in council, to avoid losing so many sons, conquest would simply mean being involved in that.

Ish: Interesting. Lets take a look at what the Iroquois thought of as conquest. Read paragraph 84 of the Iroquois constitution, which reveals their evil plans.

Me: Paragraph 84?

Ish: Yes. You have read the whole thing, haven’t you?

Me: Well…

Ish: You didn’t just excerpt one paragraph out of context of the whole?

Me: Well, someone else told me about it.

Ish: Well, lets give you something to tell THEM about! Read paragraph 84.

Me: Ahem. “84. Whenever a foreign nation is conquered or has by their own will accepted the Great Peace their own system of internal government may continue, but they must cease all warfare against other nations.” What…Is that all? That’s the consequences of being “conquered” by the Iroquois?

Ish: It gets even more Machiavellian. Read 99.

Me: “99. The rites and festivals of each nation shall remain undisturbed and shall continue as before because they were given by the people of old times as useful and necessary for the good of men.”

Ish: This isn’t to say there were no other consequences of resisting “the Great Peace”. In another paragraph you will read :”The conquered nation shall have no voice in the councils of the Confederacy in the body of the Lords.” So, conquest does not necessarily mean full involvement, simply compliance. This may simply have been leverage to encourage nonviolent participation from the outset, however. Essentially saying, listen, sooner or later, your going to have to stop fighting us, and if you go along willingly, we can all play together. That sort of thing.

Me: Wait…

Ish: Yes?

Me: So, if they keep their government, they keep their culture, what exactly are they “losing” by joining the Confederacy? They must lose something.

Ish: It’s not what the outside nation is losing. Again, you keep going back to Mother Culture. That’s what war is about for Mother Culture, fight ’til someone loses, and winner take all. Leavers just want to live. That’s all. For the Iroquois, it was about what they would be gaining. Think of it yourself…what exactly is all this “Great Peace” and “Iroquois Constitution” fuss about…what exactly is it all driving at? Keeping in mind that we are assuming it was invented by Leavers.

Me: Well, it was established because of an intense ongoing cycle of blood feuds that no-one could stop – erratic retaliation gone amuck, I’d think. And if the Confederacy itself consists of little more than agreeing to a “Great Peace”, with no loss of culture or religion or self-government, and if done willingly provides full participation in the Confederacy government, then…holy shit…

Ish: And, just to add, notice they mentioned that adopting the Great Peace ONLY means you swear not to fight with the nations of the confederacy. You can fight with others all you want! So, are the Iroquois telling anyone how to live?

Me: No, I suppose they are just telling them how they insist on being treated themselves.

Ish: Sounds pretty Leaver to me.

Me: Me too!:

Ish: It sounds like you have it.

Me: Well…I first should say that I’ve never been completely happy with the concept of erratic retaliation. That’s not it exactly…it’s not the concept, I know it works for Leaver cultures, it’s just that, I always thought that there could be a better way.

Ish: “Better?”

Me: Well, by “better” I mean, a more nonviolent way. A peaceful way.

Ish: It sounds like you’re about to make a leap.

Me. Yes! I mean, my god, obviously I’m not the first one to think that erratic retaliation is not the only way to relate to other native nations. If the Iroquois Constitution is the product of a Leaver culture, a culture dissatisfied with their current experience of erratic retaliation, and they wanted an alternative to violence, raiding, and chest beating as ways to maintain cultural boundaries, then this was the result of it!

Ish: You’ve got it. The Iroquois are not “one” culture either, they were a Confederacy of cultures – Mohawks, Onandagas, Senecas, Cayugas, etc. Each is a distinct culture with its own language and traditions, which can be easily seen today, as the Confederacy has been through the grinder. If anyone doubted the lack of interest in assimilation of the Confederacy nation-members, the proof is that each culture even after 300+ years of European extermination is still distinct. Would this be possible if Takers had written this document?

Me: No, the Takers would have quickly begun hierarchical infighting between each other, and needed a way for everyone to live – they would have had to invent laws that applied to everyone, to force workers to support the internal hierarchy. But the Iroquois Constitution seems to mainly apply to relations between nations, not within. It really is a Leaver anti-dote to the unpleasant side effects of erratic retaliation. Amazing.

Ish: So, would you say that this paragraph, then, could have been written by Leavers?

Me: No.

Ish: Excuse me? Come again?

Me: I would say it HAS to be written by Leavers. Thats the only way that it makes any sense!

Written by Willem