The Biggest Little Beings: A Paper on Climate Change.

There is no concept of “creator” in Blackfoot ideology. The modern creator concept is a consequence of colonization and the residential school system. Christian missionaries came to “the new world” with the intent to convert indigenous populations of the Americas. With the concept of an omnipotent monotheistic God; the colonists also brought the concept of the Devil. Often, the monotheist creator concept is adopted and used by contemporary First Nations individuals, and often those who use the concept have little or no idea that it is essentially a Christianised view of reality. They often do not realize this, because the assimilative practises of the colonists were insidious, violent, and for the most part effective. To really appreciate where First Nations perspective is from, one must appreciate that First Nation’s locality. This paper will not focus on or speak for all First Nations in Canada and the United States, but rather that of Blackfoot People. Blackfoot territorial boundaries are at the North Saskatchewan River in the north, to the Yellowstone River in the south, from the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains, to the confluence of the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers in the east. This territory is roughly the size of Great Britain, and this territory is where one must begin.

Blackfoot People did not name themselves “Blackfoot.” There is an extensive nomenclature for the people who live within the territory, the main tribe being Apaitapii. Apaitapii literally translates to “The White Robe People.” However; there came a mistranslation by colonists, who saw the people wearing red paint during a ceremony. “Apai” is close to “Apaan” in pronunciation, “Apaan” translates to “Blood” and the colonists, seeing the red paint, figured that the people were covered in blood. Due to the appearance of the people, and mistranslation, the name of the tribe was then known officially as “The Blood Tribe.” The other tribes are Aamskaapipiikanni, Apatohsipiikanni, and Siksika. Originally, Aamskaapipiikanni and Apatohsipiikaani were one tribe, but as they were separated by the Canada/U.S. border they became two different tribes. Each group has their own dialects of the Blackfoot language. Each group is connected by their speaking of the language, the territory they are in, and the ceremony that they practise. Each group has their self-referential names; but each group falls under the categorization of “Blackfoot,” as the Crown has a particular system of organization and categorization that is hierarchical. The name “Blackfoot” was given by the enemies of Blackfoot people, as every season Blackfoot would burn the grasslands of their territory in controlled burns. As they walked through their territory their footwear became blackened by soot. From that controlled burning and venturing forth, they earned their name from their enemies.

Prayer in Blackfoot ceremony begins by calling on four main entities, which together make up a fifth concept. Blackfoot prayer begins often enough; with variation depending on the one praying: “Aiyo Napi Naatosi, Aiyo Ksahkkomitapii, Aiyo Kipitaaki Kokomikisomm, Aiyo Iipisoowaahsi, Aiyo Ihstipaitopiyopah.” These in order are “Calling upon the Old Man Sun, Calling upon the Earth Being, Calling upon the Old Lady Moon, Calling upon the Morning Star, Calling upon the means by which all life exists.” The first four entities are the Sun, Moon, Earth, and Morning Star. Each is considered to be an entity onto itself, though altogether each have their stories and parts to play in Blackfoot mythology to make up the fifth concept of Ihstipaitopiyopah: “The means by which all Life exists.” This concept can also be called “The source of all Life” and most recently due to Christian infiltration; has been mistranslated as “creator.”

Prayer in Blackfoot ideology is not necessarily ritualized; ritualized as treated in the Abrahamic faiths; such as the “Hail Mary” of the Catholic Church. Prayer is often public in Blackfoot ceremony, and there is no one form or one correct way in which to give prayer. The spoken prayer is in the form that the speaker sees fit with no set time or time limit in which to speak it. Though prayer is not ritualized, the daily life of a Blackfoot person is inundated with moments of prayer especially before the taking of resources. Every part of a historical Blackfoot person’s life from food, shelter, and clothing was taken from local resources. Pre-colonization these resources were plentiful, and were not taken lightly. For example, there is the use of the “forked stick” in ceremony. If one were to look in museum collections of Native American artifacts the “forked stick” is unique to Blackfoot people, as they were the only ones to use it. This is a giveaway to the trained eye as to what artifact belongs to what people. If a “forked stick” is included with the piece or pieces then it is most certainly Blackfoot in origin. The stick is made from Saskatoon berry shoots. The person searching for the particular shoot will be in the river bottom, find an area to where Saskatoon’s grow, and see if a forked shoot is growing on one of the branches. Only someone with a transferred rite can take the shoot and make a “forked stick.” He would then most certainly pray before he cuts the shoot out of the main bush. As he prays he would leave an offering of Tobacco. Prayer is given in reciprocity before the taking of any resource that is to be used; and exchanging that resource with an offering of himself which is often Tobacco. The Tobacco is an offering in place of himself. This is the closest to ritualized prayer that a Blackfoot person would take part in.  The purpose of the “forked stick” is to take coals from the fire, and “smudge.” “Smudging” is taking a coal from the fire, resting the coal in the centre of a mound made of raw white clay that was taken from a badger hole. The mound of clay is always on the western side of the lodge, between the fire and the sleeping area of the lodge owner. Once the coal is on the mound, sweetgrass is placed upon it and prayers are spoken into the smoke, and the speaker then using their hands bathes themselves in the smoke from the smudge. Since one needs coals for this process, one needs a forked stick to take them from the fire.

There are some 6000 uses for a single Buffalo by Blackfoot people. Not all of them will be listed, but one of the main uses are for the hide is to cover the lodge. The hides are elegantly tanned, sliced, and sewn in a particular fashion to make a lodge. The lodge is made of the buffalo hides, and 21 poles of Lodgepole Pine that are skinned and dried. Four main poles make up the base and are tied together to create a quadropod. From this point five “ribs” are rested at the top in a particular order on the north and south sides of the structure. Then, the front and back door poles. Once this structure is raised it is called the “skeleton.” From here the pole with the hides attached at the top of the main pole is raised and rested on the “skeleton” and this is called the “spine.” The “skin” which is the Buffalo hide is wrapped around to the front and buttoned shut. Then the “skin” is pegged to the ground, as tight as a drum that one could actually hit the skin of the tipi and it would resonate like a drum if it were put up correctly. The whole process of putting up a lodge can take fifteen minutes to an experienced person. To finalize the process there are two poles on each side of the lodge that are placed through flaps at the top called the “ears.” Once the outside structure is finished, the liners are attached inside. These liners are tied to a rope that is wrapped around each pole, about five feet above the ground. At the top, the liners are tied, and at the bottom they are tied to the pegs on the outside. All Blackfoot lodges face the east, to face the rising Sun. If the wind is blowing from the west, then the “ears” are open and pointing east. If the wind is blowing from the south, then the northern “ear” flap is open and pointing north, and the southern “ear” flap is closed and pointing north as well. The “ears” in tandem with the liners create a vacuum inside the lodge that takes the smoke from the fire up and out of the lodge. The fire place is in the centre of the lodge, and is made of a circle of stones. Seven stones arranged from the east from largest to smallest on the north and south end of the hearth are arranged, and symbolize the big and little dippers, as well as the circle of the fire symbolizing the Sun. Even at night, the Sun is in our presence. Fuel sources for the fire were often Poplar branches that had fallen, or dried Buffalo dung. It is said that if a lodge is raised correctly, then the strongest wind will not blow it down. Recently there was a flood in Southern Alberta, and many areas along the Bow River were overtaken with water. Houses were lifted off of their foundations and washed away. Interestingly enough, there were Blackfoot lodges in Siksika along the river bottom that remained in their place the entirety of the flood as houses were washed away.

There is no funeral ceremony for Blackfoot people. There were however, steps that could be taken by the loved ones of the deceased. If a spouse died, the surviving spouse would cut their hair, and cover their clothes in ashes. This would begin the grieving process, which was finished when their hair grew back to its former length. Perhaps in a year. During this time, they would not go to social functions such as dances, feasts, or ceremony. They would remain mostly in their own company and mourn their loss. When a person died, their body would be cleansed, and they would be wrapped in an Elk robe made of tanned Elk hide. Then, their possessions such as clothing, weapons, pipes, war honour trophies, and other personal items were taken to their burial site. Now, the word “burial” does not refer to the act of being buried in the ground. Blackfoot people buried their dead in the sky. The wrapped body would be left atop a scaffolding made of cotton wood logs, on top of a high hill. Or, and most often, they were left with their possessions in the branches of a sturdy tree in the river bottom. The purpose of this is a practical one, as birds need to eat as well. A self-referential name of Blackfoot people is Kakotositapii, literally translating to “Just a small Sun being” but meaning in English “Star Being” or “Star Person.” As we say in Blackfoot: we come from the Stars, and when we die, we go back to the Stars. This is also a reason for sky burials, though not the main reason. After colonization, the people built “burial lodges,” replicas of their own cabins on a smaller scale, where they were laid out with all of their possessions. However, as the colonizers were Christian, they imposed their burial practises upon Blackfoot people, by burying the dead in the ground. This is not explicitly for hygienic purposes. This practise is Christian in origin, as they believe that Jesus will return, so the body must be preserved and laid with the head to the west and feet to the east. For when Jesus returns, he is coming from the east, and they will rise from their graves in order to look upon him when he arrives.

Robert Hooke was the first scientist to observe the microscopic structure of what we call today “The Eukaryotic Cell.” Hooke observed the structure of the eukaryotic cell and found it akin to the cell of a monk. A wall, a bed, a table, and a chair are generally what could be observed in a monk’s quarters to which he bestowed the name unto what he was observing. Hooke observed what were later identified as the cell membrane, a phospholipid bi-layer. Encased within the membrane is cytoplasm, an electro chemical conducive protoplasm which is mostly water. The various organelles such as the Golgi Apparatus, the Smooth and Rough Endoplasmic Reticulum, and Mitochondria all perform various tasks that when associated together and are mutually beneficial to the metabolic process. Then encased within the Nuclear Envelope is the Nucleus. The eukaryotic cell is performing various functions and interactions within itself in order to maintain homeostasis. Within these basic intercellular interactions and processes operate Ribosomes and Lysosomes. Lysosomes digest a plethora of “waste” materials and breaks them down to structural components of simple molecules. They are fundamentally the recycling system of the cell. Ribosomes, alternatively, build proteins. Their main function is protein synthesis within the cell, where there exist in tandem Free Ribosomes that travel anywhere in the cytosol and perform their function anywhere in the cell, receiving information from mRNA to build proteins. The Ribosome is found within every eukaryotic cell. The cytoskeleton is part actin and microtubules that are the micro fiber protein structural foundation of the cell, surrounded by cytoplasm. These fibers interact with the Cell Membrane, and their detailed structure is not known.

Reflective of the continuum of life, one can establish the relationship between the eukaryotic cell, and that which we call human. The cell membrane is reflective of our skin, the cytoskeleton is reflective of our skeleton. The various organelles of the cell are reflections of our organs, the heart, liver, pancreas, spleen, intestines (large, small, duodenum etc.). Like all of the components of the cell working together to maintain homeostasis and metabolism our organs work within our bodies to do the same. The organs function cooperatively in order to maintain homeostasis and metabolism, they cooperate and conspire to maintain our Lives. It is intuitive to reason that humans as being part of the continuum of life are much like the simplest structure of their manifested bodies. That is to say an expanded expression of the eukaryotic cell itself. The structure of the human body then is reflected in its smallest living component. We can then view the eukaryotic cell as reflective to that of the entire systems of the planet. The cell membrane is akin to the atmosphere and water, the organelles are reflective of the various continents and land masses, the ribosomes and lysosomes are reflective of the plant and animal species all living in tandem to maintain the homeostasis and metabolism of the planet.

A fundamental difference in worldview exists between colonists and Blackfoot people. This worldview can be illustrated by how water is viewed and interacted with. Water, as treated by Blackfoot people, is an entity unto itself. Water is all connected as one being, from the rivers, lakes, oceans and rains. Water is such a central part of life for existence on the plains, that in a particular Blackfoot ceremony while praying, water is offered to the earth to drink. In prayer, the person calls upon the Sun, Moon, Morning Star, and Earth to protect water. The prayer is often spoken to the effect that water is always clean, that water is always present. This is not a deification of water, but an acknowledgement of how important water is to all life in general, and of its importance to ourselves as Blackfoot people. From the colonist’s point of view, water is a single molecule, H2O. Therein is the illustration of difference. To the colonist point of view, water is treated as an unconnected singular molecule with a mathematically based chemical description. To Blackfoot people, water is one connected entity throughout the entire world and all that lives within it.

The point of the sharing of information of Blackfoot people in this paper is to illustrate fundamentally different methods of living between Blackfoot people and the colonizers. Burning the territory before the snow falls encourages new grass growth, and hearty grass growth for the following year. In turn, the Buffalo will be more attracted to venturing north to pasture. This practise also encourages growth of various plants. Practically, this burning encourages biodiversity to the plains as the Buffalo would migrate, bring seeds along with them, and other fauna to follow their path. California Condors were at one time a common sight on the plains as they followed the Buffalo, however, after the Buffalo were intentionally exterminated by colonists, the Condors ended their migration pattern.

References to Blackfoot prayer in this paper is to illustrate two points, that quite literally for this planet the means by which all life exists is the Sun and to illustrate reciprocity for the taking of resources. Our planet is in just the right place to be held by the Sun. There would indeed be no life without our Sun. We pray not to worship, and not to be unworthy before the Sun, but to acknowledge that our life is not made possible otherwise. The Tobacco is prayed with and left as offering to first show respect for the process. That the plant being taken is a living being in as much as we are as Blackfoot people, and that plant serves a function to us as Blackfoot people as well as to the environment as a whole. To ensure that not too much is ever taken, there is always something left behind from the one taking the resource. This offering is left not only in gratitude, but also as a psychological gesture of maintenance. My Kokom (grandmother) was a doctor for her tribe. She knew of many plants and their medicinal uses, and taught my Sister a way of plant collecting. She said “When looking for a plant you need, never take the first plant you see. Look around further and find another. The first one you see might be the last of its kind.” This practise, along with the reciprocity of offering Tobacco, encourages a culturally inborn maintenance of the environment. A constant awareness of the fragility of life, as all life from the very beginning has been fragile.

The Blackfoot lodge is a reflection of the body, and serves to illustrate for this paper the connection between the territory, the people, and the universe. The resources for the lodge are taken locally, and the lodge itself is named in structure for parts of the human body. The hearth is the connection to the Stars and Sun. The Blackfoot lodge illustrates the most efficient way of living with minimal resources, respectful of the flow of energy available to the people. The lodge is not considered the home of Blackfoot people, it is a climate controlled temporary shelter for survival. The home of the Blackfoot people is their territory.

The burial practises of Blackfoot people are written to illustrate the acknowledgement that everything must return to the Earth, and everything must survive. To hoard resources is a considered a character flaw among Blackfoot people, and that extends even into death. The birds need to eat, and nothing is permanent. This practise is documented here as well to show the fundamental difference in worldview. Now, the argument for burial in the ground is made for the purposes of hygiene, though the practise is Christian in origin.

The passages in this paper regarding the eukaryotic cell are written to illustrate where me must collectively go as a society. Taking modern science and its worldview of discrete mechanical processes and analytical dissections, while at the same time illustrating the grander interconnectedness between them. This is viewing the information of cell biology with a Blackfoot heart. That indeed, reflections of the connectedness of life are in the very basis of the eukaryotic cell, all the way up in scale to the Earth as a living entity. That all of this is on one grand continuum, that not only extends from the smallest portions of that which we recognize as living, but to the planet and entirety of the universe as a whole. Eventually, there will be a time when the universe is recognized as a living entity, though modern scientists at this point struggle to even recognize the Earth as a living entity itself. Our society, if it is to survive, needs to undergo a fundamental worldview alteration and redirection. No longer can we take from the Earth without reciprocity, no longer can we view the Earth as discrete mechanical abiotic parts of an abiotic thing. To appreciate our lives, we must extend them outwards into the environment, into the planet, and into the universe. That we are reflections of the universe, the Sun, the Earth, and the environment. That we are the biggest little beings that ever could be, because what we collectively decide to do, can make or break life itself.



Anything relating to Blackfoot people and/or ideology in this paper is either taken from first hand knowledge, or oral history passed to me by my Father, and various other Elders which over the time of my life are either too numerous to name, and quite frankly I don’t remember who told me what. All of the information regarding Blackfoot people’s history belongs to Blackfoot people in common.

The science relating to the eukaryotic cell and its various processes was given to me in biology classes in school over my life, and this science as it is, belongs to the people as well.


A Different Way of Being.

We aren’t given any directions when we enter into this world. As babies, we merely experience.

Then at some point, other people tell us who we are, what we are, where we are, and what is going on.

This is really, the beginnings of our social cognition. Who we are is decided upon the reference that other people gave us, how they identify, and most importantly how they were taught by other people. In Blackfoot, we have many self references. Our enemies named us “Blackfoot” as it was a practise of ours to burn the grass of our territory in the fall, before a big storm. This way, the old dry growth burns away, and in the spring time there will be new and rich growth that will attract buffalo back to the land. As we walked through our territory, our moccasins would turn black. Our self referential name is Kakao’tositapii, which means “Star Beings” as in our stories we say we came from the stars, and eventually we will go back to the stars.
Who we are in a general sense is “Human.” We are relatives of the other great apes. We are great apes ourselves. What we are could easily be explained in this way too. Where we are is on a planet, in English called “Earth.”

In Blackfoot, the name for the planet is Ksahkomitapii. This means Ground Being. In general Blackfoot prayers, we being with “Aiyo Napi Naatosi, Aiyo Ksahkomitapii, Aiyo Kipitaaki Kokomikisomm, Aiyo Ipisoowaahs, Aiyo Ihstsipaiitopiyoopah” and begin the prayers. This means “Calling upon the Old Man Sun, Calling upon Earth, Calling upon Old Woman Moon, Calling upon the Morning Star, Calling upon The Means by Which all Life Exists.” The last word Ihstsipaiitpiyoopah is The Means by Which all Life Exists. This has been mistranslated to be “Creator” as the colonists were used to the hierarchical one leader style of being. All together, what we are praying to in Blackfoot makes up the means by which all life exists. The Sun, Moon, and Earth have had such a deep and intimate interplay between one another that the form of life taken on this planet is seemingly unique and interrlated. Life could not have happened without one of these things in existence.

The colonists were used to the concept of there only being one leader for any given group of people. When they came to what is now known as “Blood Tribe” they asked us “Who is your leader?” Where the People said “We have many leaders” and indeed, many leaders stepped forward. Akainaiwa became the name, which means “Many Leaders.” However, when the colonists saw a Ceremony where the people were covered in red ochre paint, they said “They are covered in blood.” So the name “Blood Tribe” was given to us, again, a misidentification.
When Blackfoot people would camp, they would collect fire wood in the trees. What they would take were the dead fall branches from the ground. Once those were taken, they would collect the dead branches from the tops of the trees leaving the trees intact. Soon, the entirety of these excess resources would be used, and the people would move on to a different campsite within the territory.

Blackfoot territory is south of the North Saskatchewan River, down to the Yellowstone River, from the western slope of the Rocky Mountains, to the confluence of the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers. All told, this is an area larger than great britain. For somewhere between 8,000 to 11,000 years, Blackfoot people made our home within these boundaries.
Taking the resources as we did, is a kind of symbiotic relationship with the environment. The trees remained in place, and were pruned by the taking away of dead branches. This helped the tree grow richer and fuller, as it didn’t have to waste excess energy on dead branches. This is one of a myriad of examples.

I tell these stories mainly to illustrate a different way of being. Not only among Human groups, but with the planet as well. Blackfoot people view the world as being alive. Not only the planet as a single entity unto itself, but all of the other beings in existence, such as the Sun, Moon, and Stars. In a Blackfoot worldview, all of these beings interact with one another, and in turn with us as people.

Does it really matter if the trees can think? Does it really matter if the trees have feelings? In these examples, no of course that doesn’t matter. What matters is that we found a way of living in the world that ensured our survival. We ensured our survival for 8,000 to 11,000 years living with the same practises.

What’s really important about this way of living is the reciprocal relationship between us as Humans, and the rest of the Universe.

The main difference between the colonizers and Blackfoot people is that there are no hierarchies of power in Blackfoot culture. We are at once a whole Tribe, and individuals at the same time. Our lives were individually remembered, but also meld into the continuum of who we are as a group. Power over others was not the driving force of our lives, whereas in a western hierarchical capitalist system this clearly is the case.

The entirety of my blogs revolved around power, and evil. Ingrained in these two imaginary concepts is “the hierarchy.” The pyramid scheme that may have been born in Sumeria, but who knows. Wherever this concept has been brought, the people have fallen by the very nature of the system. The top minority lives off of the blood of those below.
So as Humans, what are we to do in response? In my opinion, it really comes down to the narratives we keep of ourselves and one another. Yes, we are social creatures, and yes there are fundamental needs that all Humans have. However, the methods to achieve those means are literally an ocean apart.

If we are to survive as Humans on this planet, we need to seriously reconsider what our prerogatives are. What priorities we have.

Indigenous Peoples of the Americas have contributed a vast amount to the west. COrn, Potatoes, Beans, Tomatoes, Tobacco, & Cocaine. Knowledge of plant medicine became the foundation of what modern medicine is today. Though the Indigenous knowledge that provided for those medicines are not given credit to the Indigenous Peoples, but rather the first white scientist to extract them. Tomatoes are considered domain of the Italian people and so on and so forth.

The best contribution however, the one that will really make the difference, is the indigenous perspective of “progress.”

Progress is not how fast you can go. How easy and comfortable life can become. How “advanced” technology will be. Progress is what YOU as an individual becomes. What YOU as an individual learns. What YOU as an individual contributes to this world and this Universe.
Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, the world has never been more polluted with the waste and effluence of technological “progress.”

There is over 400 ppm of Carbon in the atmosphere as we speak. The climate change catastrophe we face as a planet is directly the result of unmitigated and unbridled capitalistic growth. This is the inevitable result of hierarchies, and the false sense of power that is involved with them.

This of course is not the only way of being. The world was not paved and sidewalks were not always there. Property was not always a concept.

A truly progressive idea is to take the infrastructure we have today, and clean away the old ways of being. Clean away the hierarchies and the false power involved within. Create a world upon Indigenous principles of reciprocal relationships with all living beings. WIth the planet. With the Universe.

What this boils down to, is how we see ourselves, how we see each other, and what narratives we bring in to the ever present now.

That of course, will take connection to the Universe by all people.

It’s a world waiting to be born.

We can have it if we so choose.

The inevitable result of this current way of being, within rigid conceptual frameworks and false Machiavellian power dynamics, is a way to watch Rome burn.

It’s been happening that long.

On a positive note, I already know what direction I’m heading in.
I think, you already know which way you’d rather go.

So please, my dear friend, best of luck to you.

Best of luck indeed.

The Power of Christ Compels You.

My Mother would often tell me that “children don’t have a choice.” She and I would get into conversations that lasted all day. She would tell me this, because, the reality is that children don’t. They don’t choose who they are born from, they don’t choose their circumstances. She would bring this up because in her line of work she saw a lot of “underprivileged youth.” She brought it up because she was a survivor of residential school. She would bring it up to me, so that I could be aware that children are powerless and need protection. They need guidance. They need to be shown love. For many of us, that seems to go without saying. If you the reader believes that goes without saying, then recognize that you live a privileged life, seemingly from the get go. Your parents probably instilled this same knowledge, or similar within you, if not by being told then by being shown. If you have made it to university, made it through life to get here, then you certainly have a lot of privilege that most never had a chance of seeing. Most of the children of the world live and die from, as Hobbes would say, nasty short and brutish lives. Many starve, many have been bombed, many have been neglected and abused.
Here in Canada, for almost 100 years, which easily encompassed four generations of people was the residential school system. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada have made their findings public. They have documented many awful stories of the violent physical, sexual, and emotional abuse that had gone on in these schools, affecting generations of people. You can look into those histories for yourselves.

However; I’d like to tell you the story of my aunt’s experience.

My Aunt was 11, and she with two other girls were called into Mother Superior’s office. Mother Superior, who was a grey nun of the Catholic Church, had told the three little girls that “you three are chosen to be on a holy mission from god.” Being little girls, and coming from the mouth of Mother Superior, this was such a great honour. What a great thing to have happened! Mother Superior said “your holy mission is to take this bag down to the incinerator and burn it. Part of this holy mission, is that you must watch it burn.”
So my aunt, and her two friends, all proudly walked the bag down the hall. Holding their heads high for all the other children to see. They were very proud, to be specially chosen to be on a holy mission from god.

The girls went to the incinerator alone, and they put the bag in, and stayed to complete their mission.

They watched the paper bag burn.

Inside the incinerator, the paper burned away rather quickly.

The contents of the bag, was a freshly aborted fetus.

The priest would get the kids pregnant. So, the clergy, representatives of god, would perform in house abortions in order to cover the priest’s tracks.

The three little girls, each one of them, were good Catholics. So, they stayed and watched it burn.

Something fascinating to me is that my aunt stayed being a Catholic. She was even a devout Catholic. For years she was married to an abusive man, and put up with it because she was a good Catholic and made special vows. She eventually wrote to the Pope about her situation, explaining that she wanted a divorce and that this man was abusive. She waited years and finally the Pope wrote back to her, giving her permission to leave this man to which she promptly did.

For the rest of her life she prayed with her rosary, and recited the Hail Mary and the Our Father.

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name, thy kingdom come…
thy will be done.

I find what was her faith, fascinating.

This is just one of thousands of stories, from one of thousands of days at these schools. She was one member of one generation of four generations to go to these schools. Every single one of the Residential Schools in Canada has a cemetery beside it. Just thinking of that makes me wonder, the longer I think, the more fucked up it is to me.
How many schools, private or otherwise have adjacent cemeteries full of the students who went there?

All that being said, all of my blog postings for this class have had a common thread within them.

The thread is power.

Power, as it is in the present societal iteration, is inherently a social phenomena that pervades our daily lives. What we do with it, how we interact with it. The dynamics of our relationships. How we treat each other. How we navigate our proximate and ultimale experiences are tied very closely to the notion. Power in itself does not exist physically. There is no neuron, or neurotransmitter, no region of the brain, no place where power actually exists within the physicality of human biology. Power, as a concept and interplay between individuals is a seemingly cross cultural concept, if not cross species. However, it does suit well to ask if we are projecting the concept of power upon reality. Is the concept of power so intertwined with human experience, that we see interplays of it within the rest of the animal kingdom? That we see it in varying degrees, stratified, specialized, and diffused throughout most every human society and culture? Is power, as a concept, so integral to the human experience, that we have spent years over powering one another, because there is a higher power who has willed it?

Indeed, whether or not this higher power be named Jesus, Ganesha, The Universe, Consciousness, God, Enlightenment, Allah, Hashem, or Dawkins, is the concept of power so pervasive that we create it externally form ourselves to be something part and parcel of the entirety of reality, or something existing all powerfully outside of it?
Within our social group, as humans, children, the elderly, “minorities,” the disabled, are generally viewed as “the weak.” That is to say, the most powerless of all of our fellow human beings.

We say this, often pejoratively without knowing it, while at the same time rarely stopping to think about what the concept of power is in terms of our daily lives.
We are seemingly conditioned to its existence as a reality, however, power exists within this reality in as much as we allow it to, and seemingly is meaningless without an audience, or at least one other entity.

A sub thread to my blogs is the effect of hierarchies. Western culture is full of different iterations of hierarchical structures, which are not cross cultural. In turn, different cultures have different conceptualizations of power. Does the culture of the actor depend on their conceptualizations of power, or, do the conceptualizations of power depend upon the culture? Are they one and the same?

In the story of my aunt that I shared with you, there definitely was power at play on all levels, from Mother Superior, The Priest, The Abusive Husband, the orgnization of the (one true) Church, The Pope, and the God himself. The powerless, were the three girls. A tool, was the fetus.

This story no doubt had a “powerful” effect on my life. I hope, on yours as well. I never want you to forget it.

I will not cite any literature for this particular blog. I submit the story for itself.

After a story like that, there isn’t much to be said anyway.

Totalitarianism and abusive relationships or “How very much I’ve loved you.”

“How very much I’ve loved you, how very much I’ve tried my best to give you a good life. In spite of all that I’ve tried, a handful of our people, with their lies, have made our lives impossible.”

These are the first, of the last words spoken by Rev. James Warren Jones to the over 900 members of The Peoples Temple of the Disciples of Christ.

The church was founded in 1955, as a progressive church that was the first in the United States to desegregate. Jim Jones was a charismatic leader. He gained his following over a period of time ending on November 18th 1978. Jones had taken his entire congregation to Guyana, to live in a compound.

The church had become a cult many years before. When they were being discovered and labeled as such, Jones brought the congregation to Guyana. Eventually, Congressmen Leo Ryan was petitioned by the families of the church members, to go and visit the compound, where he was given a tour and saw a nice happy healthy place. He was leaving Guyana with his entourage, when several of the church members had tried to escape the church along with him.

Rev. Jimmy Jones sent a posse of gunman to the airport to kill the congressman, and the escapees. Meanwhile, at the compound, Jim Jones had talked the entire congregation into drinking a sugar crystal juice mixture called “Flavor Aid” laced with cyanide. This is acutally where the popular cliche “don’t drink the kool aid” comes from.

909 people were murdered, with 304 of them children. Many call this a mass suicide, however, as these people were unable to psychologically control themselves, one cannot in good conscience call what happened in Jonestown as such. This was clearly murder. All drank the poisoned flavorade by the psychological manipulation, coercion, emotional, and mental abuse of Rev. Jimmy Jones.

A man speaking through his tears proclaims to Jones “If you tell us we have to give our lives now, we’re ready.”

During this mass murder, one woman tried to protest giving the poison to the children. Jim Jones, in a long discussion with this woman, told her “I’m gonna tell ya Christine, without me, life has no meaning. I’m the best friend you’ll ever have.”

There are five criteria for cults, that are identified by Dr. Alexandra Stein in her study “From Social Structure to the Mind: Disorganized Attachment as a Means of Control in Extremist Organizations.”

Stein escaped a political cult herself. Stein identifies these five criteria as:

Leadership: The existence of a living charismatic authoritarian leader.
Structure: A hierarchical closed structure.
Process: the use of coercive persuasion/brainwashing.
Ideology: a total ideology.
Outcome: exploitation of deployable followers, and potential for violence.

The emotional abuser in a relationship employs remarkably similar methods upon their victim. An emotional abuser will say things to their partner like “No one will love you as much as I do” or “You are nothing without me.” Stein writes further in regard to cults: “The lack of consistent security caused by alternating love and fear in the isolating group relationship creates an anxious dependency on the part of followers.” A dictator of a closed society, a cult leader, and an abusive partner employ the very same methods. They will dominate their victims totally, closing their victims off from the rest of society, and in turn make their victims dependent on them, or at the very least brainwash them to think that they are.

The followers of Jim Jones called him “Dad.”

Stein illustrates Bowlby’s attachment theory: “Bowlby’s evolutionary based theory posits that attachment to a particular other for the purpose of protection (and thus survival) is a fundamental building block of interpersonal relationships. A child seeks its parent when ill, tired, frightened, or in any other way under threat. The parent then functions as a safe haven for the child, providing protection and comfort. But once comforted, the child eventually wishes to explore its world again, and now the parent functions as a secure base, from which the child explores and to which they can return when protection and comfort is once again needed. Similar dynamics take place with adults in their close relationships with spouses, partners or very close friendships.”

As Stein illustrated, in a healthy attachment scenario, the individual terminates their attachment to their parent (authority) in order to seek out their own life. However, there exists what Stein refers to as “disorganized attachment” where Stein writes: “In disorganized attachment, the participant never achieves complete comfort. They thus are not able to terminate their attachment behavior. In effect they keep seeking comfort that will never be adequately delivered, as, at any moment, the group may instead introduce threat. The participant remains in a state of hyper-arousal, constantly seeking comfort from the only available source, and never fully achieving it.”

For anyone who has been in an abusive relationship, the parallels to cult behaviour are obvious. The cult leader has isolated the followers from society, much as how an abusive partner would isolate their victim from family, friends, and work. Much as how dictators close their societies to where the only information available to the public is designed and filtered for consumption by the people. Basic knowledge of Hitler’s third reich shows the same. The German people were suffering, and along came a charismatic leader who built them up. Who told them they were good and beautiful. However, as soon as he was in full power, Hitler employed the same psychological manipulations as the cult leader, separating the victims and closing the society in order to fully dominate and wield their abuse. The same as an abusive partner would, on a macrocosmic scale.

Stein in a taped interview says “you’re frightened the leader of the cult will come and get you…fear of retribution…the worst bit for me is what I call existential fear, you feel like you’re about to walk off the edge of the known world into a black void, and it’s very hard to describe to someone who hasn’t been there but you’ve been made to feel that the rest of the world is terrible, that there’s nothing out there.”

The dictator, cult leader, and abuser share the sentiment that you as the victim are nothing without them. That you as the victim need their protection from an unsafe world.
You can look at Tr***s speeches and current legislative actions yourself, and analyze them as you please. We all know what the republican administration is trying to do and what they mean by: “Make America Great Again.” We all know what the republican administration of the USA is doing by trying to “save” the public from the bad hombre immigrants. The world saw it before in 1933.

However, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had the taste for kool aid. It’s bad for you.

The dying words of Jim Jones and the victims of Jonestown were recorded, and you can listen to them and their children dying in pain here:

You can find an interview with Dr. Stein here:

And her published study here:


“Jet fuel doesn’t melt steel beams” is a popular phrase among the “9/11 truth” movement. The argument being; that in the 9/11 commission report, the jet fuel burned so hot that the steel support structure of the two buildings was compromised leading to the collapse of both buildings. The conspiracy theorists have several arguments prepared, the main being that jet fuel, at it’s hottest temperature, is still 300 degrees less than what it takes to get steel to begin to melt. Furthermore, the buildings were designed to withstand two airplanes each hitting the buildings, and therefore the whole process must have been a controlled demolition. To add fuel to the fire, so to speak, “Building 7” was not mentioned in the 9/11 commission report, and was also not hit by planes, but had also fallen the same day. However, that’s neither here nor there. The really interesting intersection of this topic is the concept of authority and the legitimacy we give to it.

After the 9/11 attacks, there came a group called “architects and engineers for 9/11 truth” where a few thousand architects and engineers signed a petition to have a more thorough investigation into what happened. The American government had already performed the official 9/11 commission report, and were on the move towards invading Afghanistan and Iraq. Today, the “architects and engineers for 9/11 truth” exists, but as far as the political conversation goes we Humans and fenceposts alike are socially fixated on trivial arguments such as if there are more than two genders, and who is racist or not. The 9/11 commission report outlines the official government authority position on what had happened, while educated authorities in the realm of architecture, engineering, and structural design argue otherwise.

Really, it doesn’t matter who did what that day. What actually matters, and still affects us as ordinary people, is that every oppressive regime used 9/11 (and every other “terrorist attack”) to further its oppressive agenda. Today we have accepted the scapegoating of “muslim extremist” terrorists, as if there are terrorists to be terrified of hiding in every dark corner. Interestingly enough, to be “Muslim” is to believe that everything is subservient to god.

As humans, there seems to be an inborn need for authority. This illustration is simple enough to see within just about every “culture” of humans. In every “culture” there exists a deity or deities. Whether this be a magical man who can walk on water, or an eight armed goddess, or a god who lives on a planet far away with three classes of heaven, who dictates magical underwear, no alcohol, and a 10% tithing to other “saints,” there are psychological authorities in place that serve to reward or punish, much like eternal mother and father figures. In the paper “Religion as Attachment: Normative Processes and Individual Differences” the authors write “substantial empirical support has been obtained for the idea that the developmental pathway to religion for individuals who are secure with respect to attachment runs through extensive experience with sensitive, religious caregivers and leads to the development of a security-enhancing image of a loving God. Moreover, in such cases God, like other good attachment figures…is implicitly seen as available in times of need, although secure individuals are unlikely to need to habitually use the perceived relationship with God to regulate distress.” The focus of their paper is connecting Attachment Theory to religiosity, andthat perhaps the concept of god is there to serve in place as a common and comforting authority figure in a world where none exist.

If one were to look at “holy books” as a kind of codex of property law and acceptable social behaviour wrote down to manage otherwise unmanageable populations, one can see with much more clarity the useful purpose of having talking snakes and a dozen wives for the bishop. These books serve to introduce to the mind certain parameters of behaviour and expectations of adherence to whomever the authority is, whether they be god “himself” or his chosen appointee, who is usually a man with a funny hat.

The most famous authoritative study on obedience and authority is “The Millgram Experiment” where Stanley Millgram tested ordinary people’s obedience to an authority figure by seeing how far they’ll go when someone in a uniform is giving orders while simultaneously taking responsibility away from the perticipant. If you’ve taken psych 1000, you’ll know that consistently in most every experiment performed, up to two thirds of the participants push the button to a lethal dose of electricity when someone in an authority position is telling them to do so.

Edward L. Bernays is known as “the father of modern public relations” for his work and writing on propaganda. He was instrumental in the CIA’s South American coups where he was contracted to use his knowledge in order to foment “revolutions” and establish American approved governments in that continent. The term “Banana Republic” comes from those overthrows. At any rate, Bernays was contacted by a meat packing company to increase their sales of bacon. So doing some research he found that most Americans have a light breakfast. He and his compatriots then contacted a doctor to endorse the idea that a heavy breakfast is better for physical health, to which the doctor agreed. Then, Bernays drafted a form letter saying as such, which was sent out to 5000 other doctors. 4500 responded in agreement. So, Bernays wrote a press release saying “4500 physicians urge a heavy breakfast” as better for health while casually writing that bacon and eggs is essential to this diet. The meat packing company then saw bacon sales rise.

Here again is an illustration of the power of authority. We tend to see doctors as legitimate professionals who are knowlegable and interested in our personal well being. If a doctor says it, of course it must be true. After all, more doctors smoke Camels more than any other cigarette, and that Camel is cool.

For information on god, see the bible, koran, book of mormon, torah, talmud, jehovah’s witness, Benny Hinn ministries, Victory Church, snake oil salesmen, and/or local psych ward.

For more information on the Millgram Experiment look here:

To hear a craggy Edward L. Bernays tell his bacon story look here:

For “Religion as Attachment: Normative Processes and Individual Differences” look here:

For a legitimate authority figure, look inside yourself.

The Exercise of Power

Searching, working, and attempting to gain power is in the writer’s opinion, pathetic. Yearning for power is a waste of time. A truly powerful person, to quote Tywin Lannister (or George R.R. Martin), does not need to say “I am the king.”

“I am in charge here” as a statement is an automatic signal of vulnerability. Indeed, as Machiavelli wrote to the prince about the dynamics of power, he wrote it full well knowing he was mocking the prince and those who thought as he. Machiavelli wrote his words as satire. The prince on the other hand, full well believed Machiavelli was right and wise. The prince on the was too dull of a blade to understand a slap in the face when he read one.

A social studies teacher and his student were speaking together one day. The student was worried about dictatorship in the west. The social studies teacher simply replied “Even if someone did attempt to become a dictator in either the US or Canada, they just wouldn’t be recognized by the public.”

This of course, gave the student an insight into what power actually is.

A false sense of power is achieved through insult and coercion. A false sense of power is achieved through seemingly disempowering someone else considered vulnerable. If the ingroup has one member of the outgroup nearby, the ingroup will attempt to disempower that person. This is a false sense of power of course. This false sense of empowerment seems to pervade society.

Where people see a gang being scary and tough, upon closer inspection, one could observe a group of scared individuals who support one another and feel stronger together.

Alone, each individual might be terrified.

A bureaucrat who enjoys telling the person seeking service may revel in their false sense of power and authority. The bureaucrat may say “I can’t release the document you need until document 4051-9 is signed and notarized” and as the service seeker dejectedly returns to find the correct paperwork, the bureaucrat licks their lips at another wasted afternoon.

In the writer’s opinion, bureaucracies can and should be automated.

In a human context, a display of power can and should be viewed as weakness. In the study titled “Authorities’ Coercive and Legitimate Power: The Impact on Cognitions Underlying Cooperation” two concepts of power are defined as “coercive power” and “legitimate power.” Coercive power being antagonistic and coercive on part of the authorities in the study, and legitimate power being based on reasoning and knowledge of said authorities. In the study, the conductors write: “Power is conceptualized as the capacity of an organization or person to influence another parties’ behavior.” The study analyzes behaviours and power dynamics between authorities and the general public who cooperate with them. The study asks the participants of their willingness to engage in a taxation system of a fictitious country. The conductors of the study also seek to apply their findings to the broader scope of social behaviour in the real world. The conductors came to interesting and pertinent conclusions as they write “Findings reveal that coercive power increases an antagonistic climate and enforced compliance, whereas legitimate power increases reason-based trust, a service climate, and voluntary cooperation. Unexpectedly, legitimate power is additionally having a negative effect on an antagonistic climate and a positive effect on enforced compliance; these findings lead to a modification of theoretical assumptions.”

That is to say, when dealing with others, if power is exercised with dominance and antagonism, much like in a totalitarian state, people would cooperate grudgingly if threatened by coercion. If power is exercised by authorities who are viewed as knowlegable and trustworthy, then people cooperate willfully with implicit trust in those who are then consensually regarded as powerful simply by being in high esteem. As can be read further the conductors write “coercive power damages implicit trust…as coercion signals authorities’ distrust, it may weaken affective and social bonds with authorities, thereby interrupting habitual and implicit cooperation…Legitimate power, on the other hand, strengthens trust…when authorities are perceived as knowledgeable and legitimate in their position, reason-based trust increases.”

In the writer’s experience, truly powerful people are more concerned with the universe, and how they themselves fit into it. Truly powerful people spend their time building other people up, and seek to create a better world for those around them. They seek to leave a better world behind them for those who are coming after.

Truly powerful people have no time to play insecure Machiavellian political games of dominance. They are too busy working toward meaningful ends.

The most powerful person the writer has ever met, was a little old lady who spent her life as a Nun. She spoke to the writer, while visiting in her office: “Once you are aware, you cannot be unaware. Can you sit there and say ‘I am’ without adding anything to it? Instead of saying I am a son, I am a student, I am a human, or I am whatever your job is…just sit there and say ‘I am.”

For whatever it is worth to the reader, she was powerful because she lived her life rejecting whatever false senses of power this world gives us. She was powerful, because all she owned were the two words:

“I am.”

The study can be found in the following link, if that doesn’t work, there is the citation available thereafter.


Hofmann, E., Hartl, B., Gangl, K., Hartner-Tiefenthaler, M., & Kirchler, E. (2017). Authorities’ Coercive and Legitimate Power: The Impact on Cognitions Underlying Cooperation. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 5.

Spell Evil Backwards.

“People of the Lie” is a book written in 1983 by Dr. M. Scott Peck.

Peck was a psychiatrist interested in developing a “psychology of evil,” as evil in general terms has been a topic divorced from secular and scientific discourse. However; within the realm of daily living, “evil” is pervasive, boring, ever present, localized, and persistent.
Peck offers as part of the definition of evil as simply “spell evil backwards.” Anything that is fundamentally opposed to life and the continuation of life is a candidate for consideration. Peck furthers his definition to include scapegoating, laziness, and ultimately lying as conditions for evil to flourish. Part of his exploration of the topic was to disprove the nature of possession and exorcism as real, that this “paranormal evil” is an archaic superstition that can easily be explained by the scientific method and common psychological practise. Peck ended up during the course of writing this book an exorcist himself, taking the lead role in three separate exorcisms. The details of those experiences are neither here nor there for the purposes of this post, however, remain a fascinating snapshot of life and experience.

“Evil” in regards to social cognition is within Peck’s examination of what he terms as “group evil.” Much of his book focuses on individual and interpersonal evil in case by case studies, giving examples drawn from his work as a doctor treating patients in a psychotherapy setting. With these parameters set for what he illustrates “evil” as being, he offers the reader the example of “group evil” in the context of the “My Lai Massacre” During the Vietnam war, some 600 people who were not Vietcong, but rather civilians (such as unarmed women, children, and old people) were murdered by American soldiers of “Task Force Barker.” The soldiers being indoctrinated and heavily stressed, began shooting and just didn’t stop. One helicopter pilot attempted to intervene, but was ignored by the leadership and protested no further. The massacre was covered up, as most massacres are, and wasn’t investigated until some time later. Of the 200 people who witnessed and took part the massacre, only 26 were brought to trial, with one conviction.
Peck offers the illustration and example of how “the stratified hierarchy” enables conditions for evil to flourish, namely in the ability for scapegoating within the hierarchy to take place.

In a passage of the book; Peck considers that if he were to ask in a military organization where weapons are made and how they’re put to use, he’d be directed within the hierarchy to different offices, different places, and ultimately different organizations civilian and government. Each organization and office not taking full accountability for the manufacture and use of those weapons. The gun manufacturer makes the weapons because the military asks, the military needs the weapons because the government is going to war, but the government is going to war because that other government wasn’t doing things right, etc, etc. To more contemporary real world terms for illustration, Canada spent $20,000,000,000 on the defence department in 2014-2015. In January of 2015 a Canadian airstrike in Mosul allegedly killed somewhere between 6-27 Iraqi civilians, as reported in an interoffice memo of the Pentagon in the USA. Given that there are 35,000,000 Canadians each paying into the GST where defence spending comes from, each Canadian citizen contributed around $571.43 to the deaths of those 6-27 civilians. Here is where Peck’s illustration of scapegoating is most useful. The government at the time chose to send bombers, the bombers chose to be in the military, the bombers chose to obey orders. The Canadian public chose to elect that government, the Canadian public chooses to be capitalist and interact with commerce thereby consenting to be taxed. The tax dollars fund the defence department. In all of this, somewhere between 6-27 people die on the other side of the world. Was the man who pushed the button repsonsible? No, he was following orders as a soldier. Was the government in power responsible? No, they were following the prerogative of other more powerful governments. However, as all of these facets of society are connected as a whole, the linkages of responsibility fall upon the organization itself. Though as these deaths occurred on the other side of the world, and direct connections are hard to conceive of, we as the public relegated our responsibility elsewhere rather than taking an active role of accountability, if we thought of it at all.

The Peter Principle is a theory of management studies that is concerned with stratified hierarchies. The theory illustrates that if an organization promotes candidates from within, based upon the performance of the last job the candidate had, that eventually the candidate will reach what is called “the level of incompetence” where the candidate is completely incompetent in the position s/he is in. The theory postulates “managers rise to their level of incompetence” and if any one of the readers has had the experience of a “stupid boss” you’ll understand fully why The Peter Principle was formulated. In theory, an entire organization can become incompetent as a whole if every station of power within that hierarchy is populated with a person who has reached their level of incompetence.

In 1970, H. Tajfel published a study “Experiments in Intergroup Discrimination” where Tajfel coined the term “Ingroup and outgroup.” The findings of the study show that when people are grouped at random, being a member of a group is sufficient enough for the person to show biased affiliation and favouritism toward their fellow group members. Ingroup and outgroup manipulation was most obviously, and arguably famously, put to use in Nazi Germany where Adolf Hitler scapegoated and persecuted Jewish people. Ultimately this scapegoating and persecution of the outgroup beginning in 1933 culminated in the Shoa (Yiddish word for “calamity”) where some 6,000,000 Jewish people were systematically murdered in one of the largest genocides of human history. Ingroup and outgroup politics are not conditional on any one particular trait of humanity, but can be as arbitrary as religious belief, skin colour, or geographical location, as is suggested by the findings of Tajfel.

All of this culminates in the question of how we function as a culture of humans. Genetically, we are less than 1% different than Chimpanzees. This means that we as humans are more closely related to one another than we really can conceive of, yet the arbitrary and nearly meaningless differences that form our ingroups and outgroups affects our daily lives to the core. Our entire society is structured in different iterations of stratified and specialized hierarchies for one purpose or another, and our parameters for ingroup membership separation remain as meaningless as membership to a nation state, how much melanin is in the skin, morphological features of one another, and to what invisible man in the sky the other group of humans is worshipping. That being said, “evil” can also be considered as whomever we have arbitrarily chosen to be a member of the outgroup, given the political preferences of the day. If we are to have a society of specialized and stratified hierarchical ordering, it would serve to be aware of our personal and collective responsibility within that hierarchy, inorder to prevent the peter principle from happening on a grand scale as well as to be cognizant of how wide our parameters of ingrouping can be so as to accommodate reality.

“People of the Lie: The hope for healing human evil” by Dr. M. Scott Peck is available from the U of L library, and I do recommend reading the book.

Information related to Tajfel’s ingroup and outgroup experiment can be found here:

A news report on the Jan. 21st 2015 Mosul airstrike allegedly killing Iraqi civilians can be found here:

A news report that includes information on Canadian defence spending can be found here:

What used to be “Shared Delusions”

“Folie a deux” is “madness of two” where it was believed that two or more people share delusional beliefs and or hallucinations. This is not in the newest iteration of the DSM. The new iteration of the DSM does not distinguish “delusional disorder” from “shared delusional disorder” either. The new iteration of the DSM, the DSM V, takes into account the cultural environment of the person experiencing the phenomena. So if then, two or more people share the same delusional belief, it’s technically not a disorder if the shared belief is present in the person’s particular culture.

Tibetan Buddhists go on very long “prayer walks” where with stylized “shoes” on their hands they walk in a straight line. They place their hands together in front of their chakras; then lay flat on the ground, get up, walk a few steps, and repeat for many hundreds of miles. In Tibet, when someone sees this person on a prayer walk, they may say to themselves “There goes a very holy person on a very holy mission.”

Take this behaviour out of context and let’s say this person does a prayer walk in the middle of Lethbridge, Alberta. The police may be called and the person attempting the prayer walk may soon find themselves in the drunk tank or local psych ward. Taken out of the cultural context, their behaviour may not be viewed as holy or prayerful by any means.

Previous to modern science, when someone had a seizure or had taken ill, the immediate diagnosis was that they were possessed by the devil or devils. If the person was lucky, they would receive an exorcism. If not so lucky, as in during the Spanish Inquisition, they would be burned at the stake.

Possession is where an invading entity, not living or dead, hijacks the body of a person in order to wreak havoc in reality and hopefully propagate itself by possessing more people. Post modern science, we now know that often disease has a much more physical explanation. Take a viral infection for example. A viral infection happens when a virus, a non living or dead entity, invades a cell. The virus hijacks the cell in order to propagate itself in the host.

See what I did there?

Whether or not a person believes in invasive entities as the root cause of the phenomena of possession is irrelevant. With or without your personal belief of “the spirit,” many people, cross culturally and world wide, experience the phenomena. The Catholic Church has a “Rite of Exorcism” in the Rituale Romanum, along with Rite of Marriage and Last Rites of Death. The Vatican takes the phenomena so seriously that there is an exorcist training course available to priests. Exorcism as a cure is ingrained within Catholic ideology and has been since the beginning. St. Michael the Archangel can probably be attributed as the first exorcist, as he, according to John Milton in “Paradise Lost” cast Lucifer out of heaven in a great battle, that in a lightning flash created hell and the devil all at once.

The differentiation between what is religious belief and shared delusion is a fuzzy line indeed. Reality is not entirely made up of atomistic facts, and neither are atoms atomistic themselves. We have increasing ability to theorize and search for smaller and smaller bits of reality to only find we need to search smaller and smaller still. Eventually, a wall of thought is hit. Perhaps the underlying structure of reality are “strings” at various vibrational frequencies. Perhaps we exist in a holographic projection. Whatever hierarchical and linear conclusions can be made within the worldview, there still exist non-binary, non point by point reductionist concepts and phenomena, that science and philosophy must “silently pass over” as Wittgenstein says.

It’s probably not the devil that is possessing people world wide. However, the people being possessed think it is. If they experience a cure to the symptoms by undergoing exorcism, one must ask why is that method less valid if indeed the afflicted find their resolution?
However, given the almost unquestioned legitimacy given to the DSM (especially among students), and almost universally unquestioned legitimacy given to the “chemical imbalance of the brain hypothesis” one must also ask, are we really doing anything any different than reinforcing the prevailing “scientific” consensus until knowledge of the facts change? Should technology progress far enough to disable what we contemporarily consider to be factual, would our present knowledge be considered as valid as a diagnosis of “hysteria” was in the 1930’s?

Eric Idle says “The fact’s don’t change, it’s our knowledge of the facts that do.”

In opposition, Albert Einstein says “If the facts don’t fit the theory, change the facts.”

What do you say?

For information on “delusional disorder” see the DSM-V, available for reference at the U of L library.

If you need an exorcist, god help you.

The Bystander Effect

Kitty Genovese was murdered March 13th 1964. On the street, in front of her apartment building, Winston Moseley attacked. Moseley stabbed Kitty several times, and Kitty called out for help. According to witnesses, her scream was loudly heard echoing through the neighbourhood: “Help me. I’ve been stabbed.”
“Help me.”

The New York Times published an article highlighting the murder. According to the Times article, there were 37 witnesses who did not respond to her cries for help. During the attack on the street, a neighbour was heard to call out “Get out of there!” where Moseley ran away. Kitty made her way indoors to the foyer of her apartment, and lay bleeding on the floor. After a few moments of waiting in the car, Moseley realized that no one would do anything in response. So, he followed Kitty to her apartment where he raped Kitty in the foyer, robbed her of 49 dollars, and left her to die. During this attack, a neighbour named Karl Ross opened the door at the top of the foyer stairs, saw Moseley standing over Kitty, and closed the door again. Moseley immediately knew that Ross would do nothing, as Moseley later stated “Because People never do.”

The Times article, reexamined 40 years later, was found to be greatly exaggerated. There were 38 people interviewed, and of those 38 there were maybe 35 who heard her pleas. Of those 35 there were maybe a dozen that actually witnessed the attack. Of that dozen, two had called the police.

New York City, in response to the murder, then instituted the 9-1-1 emergency system.

The story of Kitty Genovese has been over time exaggerated, and in a perverse way romanticized. The Times article reads as if there is some sort of ongoing moral social decay in America. Many have used the incident to illustrate their political views of “human nature” as being apathetic and unwilling to care for others.

Kitty didn’t die alone. Her friend, Sophie, cradled her in the foyer to her dying breath.

The story of apathy and indignation riled up the American public. Two social psychologists, John M. Darley and Bibb Latene conducted and published a study called “Bystander Intervention in Emergencies: Diffusion of Responsibility” where they coined the title “The Bystander Effect.”

The psychologists invited students to participate in a study, under false pretenses of what was being studied. Each one would be interviewed alone in a room, by someone in a separate room, via microphone and speaker. The person in the other room would feign a seizure, though to the participants the seizure was presented as being real. Then, the response time for the participant was measured, as per how long of a period of time passed before the participant reported the emergency to anyone.

The study showed, across gender, that response time was inversely proportional to how many people were known to the participant of being aware of the emergency. If the participant thought s/he was the only one aware of the emergency, s/he tended to report in a relatively quick manner if s/he chose to report. However, if the participant thought that up to 4 other people knew of the emergency, the response time to report was much longer, and reporting itself was less frequent.
The psychologists identify several key components of the phenomena, one being “diffusion of responsibility.” The more people that are witnessing the emergency, the less likely a person will take action.

Though the story of Kitty Genovese has been misrepresented over time, the phenomena of the Bystander Effect remains. Many other occurrences of equal moral ambiguity on a local level have taken place over time. However, when we look into worldwide atrocities of oppression such as war, genocide, patriarchy, and racism, there are obvious iterations of the Bystander Effect on a much grander scale.

The original New York Times article text can be found here:

and text of the 1968 Darley & Latene study can be found here: