Vine Deloria discusses his book "The Metaphysics of Modern Existence"
BROADCAST: Oct. 12, 1979 | DURATION: 00:50:58
Vine Deloria discusses his book "The Metaphysics of Modern Existence", religion, ethics, Native Americans, Native American culture, and Native American history. Includes a previous interview with Vine Deloria at O'Hare Airport.
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Studs Terkel Vine Deloria, I think is one of the most provocative of our writers and certainly one of the most thoughtful. Vine, of Sioux heritage, but an American writer, is the way you describe him, is best known for "Custer Died For Your Sins" as well as "God is Red." And his most recent book, because Vine is interested in theology, science and life, most recent book is, "The Metaphysics of Modern Existence," and Harper & Row the publishers and it's all related to Vine's life, his people for that matter, the world today, and changes that are there that we may not be aware of at the moment. And this is our theme this morning with my guest Vine Deloria in a moment after this message. [background noise] [unintelligible] If I say to you, [and this is ironic?] you know, American Dream. We hear this in school. The American Dream. [unintelligible] When I say to you, "the American Dream," what does that mean to you?
Vine Deloria Well, I suppose in the schizophrenic way, a lot of things. Well, when I grew up in school there were certain attributes that you kind of attached to being American. But the phenomenon that I think I've experienced in my lifetime is trying to put together the Indian and white knowledge about America. So I would say it's resulted in a very funny kind of awareness about history. Because I know a lot of Indian stories about places in America. When I've visited those places, well like the Falls in Minneapolis, St. Paul, it was once a very holy shrine of the Sioux Indians, St. Anthony's Falls. So you go there and see the spot like that and you're filled with wonderment about what did it look like when we had it? And then you look at it again and you say, what did it, what did it really look like before we had television and fast cars and jet airplanes? Because I think that was a definite type of American society, in that, people had left Protestant ethic. They really cared about themselves and they had some kind of dignity. I don't think people have dignity [unintelligible], white people. So I think you know when you asked me about the American Dream, it's kind of reminiscence of American history with was profound questions about, you know, what's happening to Americans. So it's more of a historical process. Two years, three years ago now, I taught at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley.
Studs Terkel [background noise ends] And Vine, remember you and I were at O'Hare Airport? For those listening. Our conversation was at a table, lunch, about O'Hare Airport. The planes were zooming in and out and you were talking of another time. A place, the speed. And the waitress, a middle-aged waitress, was refilling a cup of coffee, "You guys talking about the American Dream? Come on guys." [unintelligible] crooked lawyer the other day. Remember that? That was sort of a [unintelligible] 6:00 in the morning. So as you would, from there we take off with your thoughts about your book. The thing you're talking about, you're talking about two cultures.
Vine Deloria Indian and Anglo. But, I think more important in this current book that I see a real opportunity now to bring out the best of the American Indian thought in a philosophical historical sense and link it to the most profound thinkers in Western tradition today. Some of them regarded as heretics at the present time who will be blessed men of science 100 years from now.
Studs Terkel You know, we talk about the holistic approach to health, a holistic approach, nature today, and in a sense this is reflective of something happening that hither to it's a European approach. This is truth. This is science. This is a fact and you're saying, and what has been left out in this whole approach is tribal myths, ancient myths, societies, a certain wisdom that was there that doesn't fall on this particular box.
Vine Deloria Right. You know, what history's been up to this point I think is the story of how Western civilization developed. Which, in my opinion, leaves out not only the other peoples on the globe, but the probability that we all experience common events as members of the planet and that the early stories of Western civilization relate to certain things. And if you look in Indian and African and Polynesian traditions, they also relate similar instances so that there are a number of things that we really can get together around to date have a much more mature view of who we are and what life means.
Studs Terkel In the similar ways that the phenomenon that is approached by European and say by the Indian the American Indian is the same phenomena. It's done in a different way.
Vine Deloria Right.
Studs Terkel And you're saying there is no one way, perhaps a fusion of the two.
Vine Deloria A fusion of the two to describe historical process greater than any particular culture. But since writing this book and trying to explain some of the more complicated points, I always tended to draw examples to American society and post-Civil War period where you had small towns and town squares and you didn't need a lot of law and order and government programs because everybody knew who everybody else was. And that's the same way an Indian tribe, except we have clans and relatives, but you didn't have impersonal institutions like we've developed today.
Studs Terkel I doubt that that was the long house. And that was the extended family. Perhaps, go ahead [unintelligible] go along, just reflect we won't stick [unintelligible] we'll use your approach. The long house is where the family, their families. But there was a grandfather, grandmother, the grandchild. Everyone connected.
Vine Deloria Yeah, one of the things I think Indian cultures do better than Western European or some Asian cultures which have now I think gotten big and institutionalized themselves, it is they take account of age and gender differences. In other words, you don't have either political or economic theory which treats people as if they're interchangeable. So in the application of law and in allocating status, a grandfather or a grandmother is much more meaningful to society as a whole than someone in their younger years who may be more physically active or mentally alert and traditional young adult rational sense that they can figure out technicalities. But that society recognizes stages of growth and allocates increasing respect as people get older so that you really have a lot of customs build up where you give deference to people older than you or people of the opposite gender who may have different responsibilities. I was trying to talk about this the other day and I came down to what I think is an easy way to communicate. And it is the smaller tribal societies. Their basic political theme is your responsibility to the group. And I think Western civilization has gotten away from that and Western civilization today talks about your rights against the group. If you preach that to people then you first you got a lot of lawyers out there trying to do all this legal right stuff. Second, you don't generate in your individual's real concern for their community. They're approaching that community with the expectation that the community is going to be hostile to them. And I think you've produced all these fragmented individuals.
Studs Terkel Well, you see it today, don't you? We're taught, by God I'm going to make it. [unintelligible]
Vine Deloria Yeah, this is my land if I want to build a condominium.
Studs Terkel Proposition 13 may be a reflection of [unintelligible.] But we're talking, that has other implications but idea is, yeah it's me by God it's mine and the help of the [to hell with?] the community. It's me against the community you're talking about a society in which the individual and the community are one. Individually respected for his uniqueness, but he's part of something else.
Vine Deloria Right. And he has status because they look at him and say well now you're a middle-aged adult man and this is your responsibility to us. And if everyone fulfills their responsibility in the community, then you don't have to worry about anybody's rights being trampled on.
Studs Terkel Coming back to age and the young. I remember during our conversation at that airport, you know, one of the big problems with our country. And you see the great hope, by the way, in this time you're calling this the French guy, John Francois Revel. Right. "Neither Marx nor Jesus" [sic]. And [unintelligible] about that you see America as in a sense the the real hope the whole new thing from the beginning new getting here. Before that he was saying the problem we have is the fear of growing up. You know, that is a fear of growing old and why don't you describe how it is, was, and is in Indian societies. And one of the old, one of the old chieftains said--
Vine Deloria Oh, when we were having this--
Studs Terkel Yeah, that's terribly important I think.
Vine Deloria Yeah, we talked about that in about two years ago we had a conference at Regis College and we brought a number of Jesuits who are very interested in Indians and a variety of Indians of all age groups and everybody, including myself, got up and made very complicated theological arguments and tried to contrast the two ways of looking at things. And finally an old man, probably the oldest of the medicine men were there. He got up he said, "Well, I'd like to say something before the conference breaks up." And so everybody said well we hadn't from you, and he said, "I think the problem with you people is you don't act your age. He said, "You all want to be young. You want to be adolescents and you're afraid to grow old, you're afraid to face life." He said, "In traditional society, as you grow old, as you grow older, you take on added responsibilities and by fulfilling these responsibilities you get more and more people's respect," and he said, "particularly you Indians. You're following the white men and white men are afraid to grow up. He always wants to be young and so his attitudes always adolescent." He said, "You are the people that are destroying the Indian country. You Indians who won't grow up and be old." And he said, "I'm old." And he said, "I've accumulated wisdom and I've done my share. And now you have to do yours."
Studs Terkel This goes back to your new book lead, "The Metaphysics of Modern Existence," of facing nature too. That is not bucking nature.
Vine Deloria Yeah, just go with it. I think that, a lot of, one of the reasons I wrote the book on metaphysics, which has driven my publisher crazy and a lot of people who thought I was going to write protest books the rest of my life. One of the reasons that I deliberately used the word "metaphysics," I think there's an awful lot of non-Indians out there that recognize this too. And I think today a number of us, regardless of background, are concerned about what's happening in this country, realizing that nobody is going to survive if we all don't get a shot at it. And it's a gradual transition over to forming a responsible citizens.
Studs Terkel It's funny how in metaphysics, the word is used today so promiscuously too.
Studs Terkel [unintelligible] I'm a metaphysician you know [unintelligible] And I realize, [unintelligible] the desperation is there for something that is beyond what we would call rational, that isn't working out too well.
Vine Deloria Yeah. Well, I think for a long time it was a very pejorative term because people in the last century got carried away and they thought if they took either a religious experience or a scientific experiment and insisted that the results of that could describe all of reality then they call that metaphysics. And I think the word fell into disrepute for 100 years. I notice more and more people using the word basically as an umbrella to try and uncover what process responsible adult people in communities can use to kind of give hope to the rest of society, that there is a reality out there, and we are responsible for things, and that we can resolve a lot of problems we have. And I think it's an umbrella word today.
Studs Terkel It's an umbrella word, but it's also used by charlatans here and there too.
Vine Deloria Oh, no question about it.
Studs Terkel But it's a question, you're talking about an awareness of a need, sometimes in cohort. It can't quite be expressed, so it goes off in a goofy way, perhaps, but nonetheless, it reflects this hunger for something, that is over and beyond what the word that's been handed down. Well, it has been.
Vine Deloria Yeah, I think I use it more to, as a word of hope, to say look there is a reality out there and we are responsible to live with, I guess, the rhythms of the universe. No single person or single tradition has a grasp on this thing. But if I talk about metaphysics, I can tell other people it's your responsibility to find out for yourself and become useful to your community and to, in effect, grow up and become wise.
Studs Terkel You had a very provocative chapter in here dealing with a book that caused quite a bit of talking, that has been misinterpreted [quite obviously?] by the Frenchman, John Francois Revel, "Neither Marx nor Jesus" [sic]. And you're saying, that he is saying, and correct me if I'm wrong, that the Vanguard. Kind of hate to use the word "Vanguard," it's been misused so often, but the country decided that can really lead the way is the United States.
Vine Deloria Yeah. There's no question about that. And his book came out right at the midpoint of anti-Vietnam? protest. And what he really, I think, suggested was that America had so much ability to allow experimentation in thinking and lifestyle and creative art, that if all of the creative freedoms in America were turned loose and people were really allowed to experiment with all kinds of alternatives, you could put the current energy questions, ecology question, that the change in America would be so phenomenal it would be revolutionary in terms of what any other civilization or country had ever accomplished. Now coming out into the middle of the Vietnam War, of course, and having "Without Marx or Jesus" The New Revolution" [sic], everybody assumed that he's talking about some leftist conspiracy with guns.
Studs Terkel Yeah, it was interpreted as an ultra-right wing book. And that's not what it is at all, you're saying.
Vine Deloria Yeah, or a call to, just some kind of violent overthrow. But if you read the categories of the book very carefully, he was saying that America is the only place where we can use the best of scientific and poetic thinking to examine the basic assumptions that we make about the nature of society and that we're the only society can really do that.
Studs Terkel Because of the various changes that have happened here. The material aspects [unintelligible] research.
Vine Deloria Yes, we have an affluent enough society so that you can support a variety of experimental forms.
Studs Terkel Which leads to this [unintelligible] growing up. Come back to the matter of growing up. You see, overcoming this adolescence, the banality is that, you know, that weigh us down every day watching TV.
Vine Deloria And getting over all the plastic surgery where you take all the wrinkles out of your face.
Studs Terkel By the way, do you know that story? You can take off from here. I must tell you this story. I've been waiting to see you to tell you this one story. Take the wrinkles out of your face. Bernard Shaw, when he was a drama critic. So the two great actresses of the day, the Italian actress, Eleonora Duse, and the French actress, Sarah Bernhardt [unintelligible] drama critic, and they both were old women. And they were doing the roles of a young person, young prince [unintelligible] I think, and he said the French actress, Bernhardt, used all sorts of makeup to get all the wrinkles and Duse did it without makeup. "I prefer the Italian, Duse. Her wrinkles are her credentials of humanity."
Vine Deloria Yeah, that's good. There's a part in this book, "Lame Deer." It's about the old Sioux medicine man, died about a year ago, and one of the people, he recounts a conversation where someone says, "You people, when you get old, just seemed to get all wrinkled and shriveled." And he said, "Well, we're so close to the Badlands, that our faces take on its contours after we live there and we represent the land in our old age. And then it just emerged into the two. So we're not afraid to die. We go right into Mother Earth, because we already look like Mother Earth."
Studs Terkel Coming again. There it is. Man and nature. There's a play in Chicago right now by the Nigerian playwright, Wole Soyinka. It's right up your alley, called "Death and the King's Horseman." It's this very thing we're talking about. About a certain view of life, death, the unborn by the Yoruba people and the English colonial people who are trying to say hey, this man can't kill himself. They interpret it as the guy's going to kill himself. We've got to stop them! And of course a tragedy ensued. The imposition of one [unintelligible] we have the answer on another wholly alien society. We come back to the, I guess, the white man or the Indian.
Vine Deloria Well, we come back to modern discoveries that a lot of Indian relationships, the land, like allowing forest fires to burn through and kill the underbrush so the trees could grow and the large animals could come in, that they weren't from any superstitions; instead a very sophisticated way of land management.
Studs Terkel So we're coming at this moment in our history, you speak of the planet. And one of your chapters is called "Planet in Transition."[unintelligible] The time has come for the recognition of old wisdoms that is non-European. At the same time, you're not saying go back. You're saying fusing it to the discoveries made by Western science.
Vine Deloria Yeah, I think what we're really saying is that these other traditions have a great deal of knowledge of what we call prehistory. And they do have a history that extends prior through European contact. In fact, there's a lot of good books that have come out recently. I think you can identify a number of tribes as having lived either in Africa or Asia. Now, there's very good studies coming out. But then we can learn a great deal from other cultures, in terms of how we adjust to things today. One of the favorite examples I'm using right now, Studs, is the Indians populated that South West area where I live. Tucson. Phoenix. They had the best technology of the time. Water and everything. But they died out.
Studs Terkel Now, why was that?
Vine Deloria I think, and this may sound kind of mystical, but I think that I could demonstrate it in a few years. I think when you put people too close together in an arid land and live with technology you bring in there, that you begin to generate psychic problems for them. And a lot of times these turned into cancers and respiratory diseases. I noticed down in Arizona, respiratory diseases are on the rise. And there's no reason for that. It's dry, desert air. I think what we've got to eventually learn, is that you can't put a lot of people too close together. Human beings have a lot of energy. They have to have a lot of room.
Studs Terkel You know, what you're saying, it's funny how this all connects. Everything else and the whole point of your approach and those who think as you do, and more and more I'm happy to say, is that this matter of room, room allowing. There was an urban-anthropologist at Northwestern, Edward T. Hall. He wrote some several great books.
Vine Deloria Yeah, he's a very good writer.
Studs Terkel [unintelligible] These people need, what he calls a "space bubble," and he says when something happens, when people are too close, well, take the high rise housing projects. Where as the low rise projects, the same people. There was a tremendous difference. He's saying that as they're coming closer and closer together, of course we know of experiments with, I didn't say sub-human, I said non-human, animals, creatures. This is what you're talking about.
Vine Deloria Yeah, in fact, I forget, which one is it?
Studs Terkel Yeah, it's called, "The Hidden Dimension," is one of those books.
Vine Deloria Yeah, he mentions experiments where you put too many individuals of the same species together, you start a radical rise in psychic diseases, in certain types of cancers, and the population starts to do strange things.
Studs Terkel And of course psychologically and socially what happens to people close together on a hot day. Why we fear long, hot, summers during the times of racial unrest. And so the whole matter of space. Space and the human nature coming back. Of course, this directly concerns about ecology with the anti-nuclear protests, I suppose. All related, isn't it?
Vine Deloria Yeah, and I think what I'm trying to do, and I see a number of other thinkers in different fields trying to do too, is that we can't if we're going to reform movements in the future, we can't jump from fad to fad. Somehow we have to make sense of what it is we want society to be and devote equal energies to reforms in a number of areas. We can't with a single reform movement. It was good in the '60s to break some of the old thought patterns. But today we can't just jump from reform movement to reform movement and hope by changing one element we're going to change conditions.
Studs Terkel Here again, [unintelligible] your theme, the matter of a the fusion. [unintelligible] Now, sure there have been movements and they've been necessary quite obviously, we're talking about the the black liberation movement, the gay, the women, the old people. You're saying now the time has come for a fusion.
Vine Deloria A fusion or a general, I guess, the emergence of community and neighborhood identities. Kind of coming to peace with ourselves and then deliberately accepting responsibilities at the local level.
Studs Terkel Again, coming back to that theme that will always recur, specifically in our country which is technologically the most advanced and the most affluent that changes the individual. You know, we've been told all of our history, that as the Europeans came here, the whites, you make it and the Log Cabin idea. And it was true for a time. There was space. We come back to space again. The guy with the axe, and the will, and the covered wagon, and the family, is going to make it and that was true at the expense of other people. It will come to that quite obviously. But they make it now with no frontier. [unintelligible] Now, the community is more important, so to learn from those who were here, the Indians and the longhouses.
Vine Deloria That's right. I think a number of people, a surprising number, is trying to do that. But I think that we have to have a philosophical overview so they can orient themselves and make sense out of things and maybe help affirm that the direction they're going is the right direction. And I think it's a new idea of history. But in order to get that new idea, you really have to communicate to people with Western European tradition. Exclusive individualism and a narrow view of history [unintelligible] have to be given up at this point. If they look at their own emotions they'll realize they don't act solely as individuals anyway. So they really are members of groups. I think it's ideas in a certain proportion of the population's head that they act emotionally one way but when they look out at the rest of society, they vote, and they purchase, and they have recreation as if the world were that other way.
Studs Terkel Yeah. You mentioned a moment ago about now, the overview. So now we'll take a pause. Vine Deloria is my guest. [unintelligible] of overview as you offer it in your book, "The Metaphysics of Modern Existence," modern and human existence. The idea of a theology, of science, of changes, of that which was accepted as fact, hard and fast. Vine Deloria is my guest and we'll resume in a moment after this message. So picking up, resuming, Vine, with the idea in your book. [unintelligible] We can take any one of these chapters. Levi Strauss talks about arrogance of the West [unintelligible.] You can take off anywhere here where you want. Young and trivial memories. So why don't you just take off?
Vine Deloria Well, I think the most important chapter I have there is the one on human personality. And in that I try and distinguish what I think was the religious personality of most societies, which is an extremely charismatic person. Not necessarily a morally and ethically pure person, but someone that communities look to for leadership. And if that type of person entered the room, people had respect for him and they drew respect because they had integrity of personality. Carl Jung says that this type of personality has charisma flowing through it and that people recognize that charisma and attach themselves to the personality. And I think that was the original purpose of religion. I think that's where priests came from, I think that's the type of characters that Jesus, Moses, and other religious founders were in the chapters preceding the human personality, I go through what I think were incorrect intellectual developments in the West. Where, if you were attached to a religious personality after that person died the impact was so great that subsequent generations kept talking about how great this person was. And then you got scholastics, academics, lawyers, the people who deal exclusively with logical processes they began to take this material and transform the story of individual lives into doctrines. So then you believe the doctrines and eventually you had catechisms and creeds. And I think that religion in the West got away from the growth of human personality and started to short-circuit things so that if you were saved or went through certain ceremonies, immediately you were supposed to be a new personality. And they eliminated personality growth.
Studs Terkel And so institutions, it became that the religion became the institution, and it's the institution you're talking about.
Vine Deloria Religions became institutions. And in fact, you might you might look at Western civilization as a question of first institutionalizing and then trying to make it efficient. And I think those are two things that really ought to be critically examined.
Studs Terkel It's something else that hits me, because of the oral histories I'm working on, that you're in, by the way. Vine Deloria is one of the figures in a forthcoming work I'm on [unintelligible].
Vine Deloria Well see, you're my kind of historian because you're a tribal historian. You're not a Western historian.
Studs Terkel Now, I think as you talk about this charismatic figure, even though this person had that extra something, what he was articulating was what the great many, the anonymous ones, felt but couldn't bring out. It was not elitist, you see . It became something elitist. It's precisely the opposite, is what you're talking about.
Vine Deloria Sure. If you go back 100 years, a lot of men of science were common citizens who simply had an overwhelming passion to learn certain things. And today that's all specialized and we call them consultants and we pay them. But see, a lot of people out in America that are experts on different things that have no institutional status but really no considerable. And this book tries to reach out to them and say "hey you're really the mainstream." The institutional people are the people that are following things out.
Studs Terkel [unintelligible] Talking about a clergymen without a church.
Vine Deloria That's right now.
Studs Terkel That's what we're talking about. Coming back to Indian culture and life and religion. I know you came, your family, your father was fully equipped with the law. He was a medicine man and your grandfather was. And you're not saying that they were outside the community, they were very much in the heart of it.
Vine Deloria Right, and you see, if you look over the last 20 years different people in America have suggested different portions of this. When Mayor Breslin ran for mayor of New York, they wanted neighborhoods, neighborhood police, resident powers in the neighborhood. And that's part of what I'm talking about.
Studs Terkel [unintelligible] By that you're saying, this is interesting, again it's something I've been working on at this moment. There is something going on that the news [unintelligible] headline writers, on the 6:00 news you don't get. In communities, in neighborhoods today, [the phrase is?] blue collar housewives leading it, or a Chicano woman in Fresno, Jessie De La Cruz, Land for People, or a young Irish-Catholic nurse up in Boston, Fair Share, or a black lady and Caruthersville, or Mary Lou Wolfe, or Italian-American woman in Williamsburg. They are working toward a certain sense of autonomy in their community. And it's not racist. It's not exclusivist, but it's a sense of autonomy. And that's what you're talking about.
Vine Deloria It's a practical way of setting down new roots that can grow. And part of what I do in this book, the reason I cite people like you [unintelligible] Carl Jung is to support local community movement, who at a certain stage, will be told by experts what you're doing is not scientific, it's not theological, it's not historical. So I take what I think are very frontier thinkers in a number of sciences and show if you put them all together what they're saying is what people are doing in neighborhoods is really the only way to do it. So I'm trying to cut through a lot of academic specialization and jargon to say look, the best thinkers are suggesting this. Don't be afraid to do what you ' re doing.
Studs Terkel You just hit the other word, "specialization." Now we know that specialists are needed. It's true in certain sciences. But specialization is going to kill us to o .
Vine Deloria That's right. Yeah, because a specialist will come in and consider maybe three of twenty possible factors and make recommendations and if you act on those without considering the human dimension of what you're talking about, you end up creating a worse situation.
Studs Terkel Without considering the human dimension. Now specialists. Let's take a young scientists for the fun of it for the moment. This to me is a big metaphor. The Vietnam War. A young scientist works for the government and he's brilliant. He's just so good at what he did. He says this step leads to that step and something sensational. He's as excited as hell. The end result is napalm and that's going to kill women and kids. That doesn't matter. He has done his task as a specialist . It doesn't matter. No response for that. What is the end result? The end result has to involve human beings, doesn't it?
Vine Deloria I think there has to be a big move in ethics because you get to supporting ethics today they're very bad. One is the statement, "if I don't do it somebody else will," and the other is, "don't blame me, I'm just doing my job." You put those together. You create an amoral society in which no one ever takes the blame and which terrible things can happen to people. And that's what they're fighting in a lot of areas. I was on a national science foundation committee and we were terribly concerned about DNA research. You see the scientists are arguing that this is pure research, that we're not responsible for social implications. And the layman saying wait a minute we don't know what kind of viruses and things you're turning loose in the neighborhood, this does affect us.
Studs Terkel You know it's funny? I have here marked: "notes on the book of Vine Deloria: Limitations [unintelligible] recombinant DNA.
Vine Deloria Yeah.
Studs Terkel I had that marked.
Studs Terkel I just had a hunch you're going to bring that up. [unintelligible] Now we're talking. Now someone's going to say, you know, someone is going to object to what you and I say are saying. You mean you want us to stop the quest for knowledge? That's going to be the response. You mean, you say don't go into that DNA which is genetic engineering. We're going to make, create a new--Don't stop. We're not saying that.
Vine Deloria No. We're saying you take us along and whatever experiments and let us participate and let us contribute our concerns about what's the ultimate product. Why are we doing these things? No, we're not saying stop it.
Studs Terkel And I think we're also saying, [unintelligible] don't confuse yourself with God. Don't play God with me.
Vine Deloria Right.
Studs Terkel If you're going to play God, there's gods in all of us. Let's all play it together.
Vine Deloria Yeah. We don't want a mad scientist up on the hill because we're the villagers who are getting upset down low in the valleys. But I think there are a lot of good people in the country that are trying to approach a lot of these problems. And the reason I emphasize metaphysics, I try and draw in all of fields and say look they're really interrelated. And if we not only do our practical work, but if we are more thoughtful about what the whole thing means, it really does mean something.
Studs Terkel And even as you say this, another thought comes to mind. It 's a note I marked here. Vine Deloria is my guest and is best known, probably most people know him for, his quite powerful book, "Custer Died for Your Sins," and another book of his, "God is Red," and, "The Metaphysics of Modern Existence." The title is a little [unintelligible.] It's not that difficult a book to get through.
Vine Deloria No.
Studs Terkel Harper & Row are the publishers. But something you said about these guy's DNA experiments. I know we're going to run the danger of younger scientists, "We were listening, calling up, now wait a minute. You're not going to anti-knowledge, anti-curiosity, anti-science, that isn't it." So we'll simply quote a scientist. You quote Einstein. And Einstein in another context said, "God does not play dice."
Vine Deloria Right. And I quote a number of scientists in there and a well-known ecological lawyer, Christopher Stone. Almost all of them say that whatever we do in science, has to be translated into the language of the layman. Christopher Stone came up with a great ecological ethic: should trees have standing? Should we not let natural objects themselves defend themselves in a court of law through the medium of interested supporters so we can preserve parts of the inherit of the natural inheritance for everyone. And he says. None of this theory will be any good unless the language leaves the courthouse and becomes the common language of the common man.
Studs Terkel The trees have legal rights, legal standing, and of course that's your chapter here about the reconsidering animals that matter. Flora and human behavior. We're talking about that, aren't we?
Vine Deloria And we're not talking about allowing one fish to hold up a gigantic project. But we are talking about that fish has rights in some sense and we must accommodate some of our human desires to other life.
Studs Terkel [unintelligible] my thoughts fly again. I saw you at O'Hare Airport a year ago. I went to Seattle and I saw Ramona Bennett, you know, from Washington. But on the tip of Oregon, northern most northwest tip of Oregon in Astoria, a town called Knappa, I met this logger Bob Zeke? and Bob Zeke is talking about the forest of what happened. He said, "These trees, I know these trees. I know them as though I knew my father." And he speaks of the life and the destruction of them, you know, the bulldozers and then he speaks of the elk and animals and the life of them and the hunter, just for the sake of hunting, not even for food. So he's saying somehow they have a right. [unintelligible]
Vine Deloria Right. Yeah and there's a big movement. But what I fear about individual movements is they're not connected to other movements. And so you can get two parties that are vitally concerned about sub-issues or smaller issues fighting each other over one particular incident who shouldn't be fighting at all.
Studs Terkel Boy, doesn't that happen all the time. The internet and warfare were then movements , one movement against the next . And so we have it now, and you're saying there should be one holistic way.
Vine Deloria Right. It should be a broader view of things that we don't fight each other.
Studs Terkel So again, learning from other societies. This was the view, theologically, of Indian society generally, was it not?
Vine Deloria And I think it was the view of Western society. When you had this overarching discipline called "Natural Philosophy." When all the sciences were together and talk to each other. Then I think as individual fields break away and we have this specialization and professionals that we eliminate the Renaissance man and the enlightenment man and the cultured man and we produce people who know a great deal about one little thing.
Studs Terkel We use the word "Renaissance" so often about certain guy who knows a few things as a "Renaissance man." Now, Renaissance meant precisely that. It meant general. He was a generalist.
Vine Deloria Right. And some of the latest things in medicine. Now, you've gone so far above specialists that people are specializing in a number of fields and they're back to General Practitioner although they have a very fancy name they charge more. But basically you're back to a synthesis approach.
Studs Terkel I met a guy who was so depressed he didn't want to be in the book yet. I know him. He won the Nobel Prize for chemistry a number of years ago, Dr. Albert Szent-Gyorgyi who discovered vitamin C. He's working now, maybe he's off he's working on his cure. What he thinks maybe a way of finding out what causes cancer. Hardly any discovery been made since 100 years ago. [unintelligible] It occurred to him that these guys work in this thing as specialists and he has set up, with his limited income, laboratories in various parts of the world with different sciences and arts. He thinks of a fusion just as one movement instead of different movements that may be necessary at a certain time of one movement to find out the various million causes, mainly one, and out of that evolve. And he's getting very little dough. Yet, even though he is wrong this is a guy who has the credentials and is being ignored though. But what he's saying is what you're saying.
Vine Deloria Yeah, there is surprising combinations. Last year I met Fritjof Capra who did this "Tao of Physics" which is very big. And he's now going into holistic medicine. So he's moving from Zen Buddhism and modern physics, and he's a physicist moving into community health care. And so he sees all manner of holistic relationships between advanced theory and very practical community thing. I think everybody's doing it. This is really an exciting time to live. If we could get over the pessimism that we inherited from the past.
Studs Terkel And the cynicism. You said community health. Of course, we know them more and more. They have a difficult time. We know but the need, the urge is there, and the word "community" always comes up in your conversation.
Vine Deloria Well, I suppose I hit the bottom of cynicism and pessimism at about 73 or so and since then I keep getting increasingly stunned to find that other people are still pessimistic and cynical about things.
Studs Terkel I'm going to ask you though, this is personal a question. When we met a year ago at O'Hare Airport you were in between the two.
Vine Deloria Right.
Studs Terkel You felt kind of like with some of the students were bothering you. That lack of interest and lack of humor and you were saying outrageous things just to get them started. Nothing happened. But that was a year ago. And at the same time you said you don't despair because you never despair of growing up. You feel a little better now than you did last time we met?
Vine Deloria Yeah. Since then I've organized a graduate program in political science at the University of Arizona. And I have three full time students. I have a waiting list of seven students to get in if I could find scholarship money for them. I am teaching one regular course in a seminar and they're so excited about the material we're going through, that they hold the class an hour and a half after we meet and kick me out and have a discussion on what we've covered. So they're driving me nuts in a good sense.
Studs Terkel That's marvelous.
Vine Deloria They're just racing ahead with the material and they're all very excited. It's very progressive thing.
Studs Terkel So that is happening.
Vine Deloria Yes. I think a lot of places the transition has been in this last year. [unintelligible]
Studs Terkel I don't want to just soft [unintelligible] people it's true that you're a certain kind of teacher. The kind of person that, you expect. What is one of the big troubles in schools today, particularly in schools of low income kids, the ghetto kids, as the teacher sits there. You know, not that I'm not blaming the teachers.[unintelligible] No expectations. If you have great expectations to expect, some of the kids feel it.
Vine Deloria Sure, yeah my students read probably 20 books in one semester and maybe 50 law cases.
Studs Terkel Not because they have to, not because they're compelled to, but because somehow, you excited them.
Vine Deloria Yes. Once you get the enthusiasm generated. I start to worry now that they're not doing their work in other courses because they spend so much time on mine.
Studs Terkel Coming back, Vine Deloria as my guest and we're returning to the theme. The book is, "The Metaphysics of Modern Existence," don't let that title throw you. Harper & Row. Science or something you see, the last chapter is called, "The Transformation of Science," and before that you were talking about young calling upon tribal memory. Not individual memory, tribal memory.
Vine Deloria Right.
Studs Terkel And there again we come to the word, we come back to the Indians don't we?
Vine Deloria Right. And I think all people had this, but kind of the intellectual mind, which when it's not connected to the community begins to develop knowledge as if it belonged only to that intellectual set. I think the folk traditions of America 100 years ago were very close to Indian tribal memories. And it's a common awareness of the world that's passed down in communities and it's common knowledge of people. I don't see how you distinguish between Egyptian priests or monks in the Middle Ages or some of our academic specialists today, in so far as they try and take knowledge that should be community knowledge and make it a special thing in which they alone are the experts.
Studs Terkel The Gnostic monks who were obviously very intellectual but it was so narrow. I mean who else knew the word "gnostic" itself, I suppose. It's very mystifying and special. Experts . We come back to experts, don't we. [unintelligible] We always say that man, or that person behind that desk, knows more than I do. Because if they didn't know more than I did, they wouldn't be behind that desk, right? Or that guy wouldn't be in the White House. And here we are. So you're saying to come back to our neighborhoods and these people we've met, hey I know something too . know It's not that complicated.
Vine Deloria Right. Yeah. You don't have to use fancy language and you don't have to hold yourself out as knowing something that no other people do. You may know how to do something that not very many people do. But if you look back at the founders of America, Jefferson said within three generations every person in America will be a cultured person because we have such a rich country that we can easily provide for physical wants and we can develop the spiritual side of our nature. I think development after Jefferson moved so fast that people only concentrate on accumulating material wealth. Today it's very hard to accumulate that. So we finally have the opportunity to get off the accumulation. And I think the big thing we should accumulate is knowledge and experience from now on. It's certainly not going to hurt the environment to grow smarter instead of buying a new car every year.
Studs Terkel Some people whom you call upon, refer to in the book, are a great many in number. But as I'm thinking out loud, I'm thinking of Schumacher's "Small is Beautiful." I'm not saying that's and that's the only answer but one answer. That is one approach.
Vine Deloria It's one's contribution to a larger pool that you can learn from.
Studs Terkel You're saying there's a pretty large pool and that pool is not simply one kind of water.
Vine Deloria Yeah, I think if you had to say that I was saying anything in this book it is that no single thinker has the answer. And the tendency of modern American intellectuals is to jump from thinker to thinker and say well this guy didn't have it, and this guy didn't have it. You have to take the best ideas of all them put them together for yourself and you see it makes sense.
Studs Terkel And again we come to this theme that repeats itself. Jumping to one kind of thinker to another kind of thinker. And you spoke of fashion. There's intellectual vogue as well as Vvogue and clothes and movie stars and rock stars, there's intellectual vogue.
Vine Deloria Right.
Studs Terkel One kind of thinker. And again we come to the fusion. That all of them one or another, some may have more than others in this respect, and some may have others in that respect. So cultures, East, West, I suppose we haven't talked about myths. Primitive myths and the and the importance of them as being connected.
Vine Deloria Well, I end the book saying, we have to now unify this fields of knowledge and work toward planetary history. So I'm really hoping to follow this volume with another book showing that if you put the whole thing together around the theme of planetary history that the sciences do unify and the thing makes sense. You don't have to know in-depth things in any science to read the best writings in any particular field and say hey this put together with something else tells me a lot about what the world is.
Studs Terkel Vine Deloria, it is a delight seeing you again.
Studs Terkel And perhaps, anything you feel like saying now a postscript of some sort. Any thought, a passing thought for now.
Vine Deloria Oh it's just good to see a tribal oral historian, Studs.
Studs Terkel Vine Deloria, thank you very much indeed. The book is, "The Metaphysics of Modern Existence," and Harper & Row are the publishers. And any number of other books are available. You can get some in paperback and they're very exciting reading. But more than that, they have that extra. That residue is there that makes you feel, hey something's going on here, something's happening.
Vine Deloria Right.
Studs Terkel Thank you very much.