In recent weeks and months it has been a rare privilege to observe and support Idle No More. It has successfully awakened, informed and radicalized at least two generations of indigenous youth.
Such widespread social groundswells are rare in anyone’s lifetime. Idle No More has even made cracks in the wall separating everyone else from those curious creatures with a relentless faith in perpetual material growth.
Most “everyone else,” indigenous and otherwise, can appreciate the usual music of Idle No More. One can even hear there rhetorical echos of the “Diggers” and “Levellers.” These social movements from the 1650s were a last wave of indigenous resistance native to England. Centralization, technological science, modern capitalism and a severe commoditization then ground it down as English colonialism took shape first within the United Kingdom.
Idle No More renews a long struggle against the devotees of rationally calculated self-interest, material gain, private property and consumerism as the best life. The real spiritual and material harm suffered by the dishonoured, the oppressed, the dispossessed and the natural environment has been incalculable.
While indigenous communities have been one of the great reservoirs of resistance, one does not have to be indigenous to value duty before rights or measure above personal license. Yet, the culture around us systematically devalues all those as weak, lazy or disabled by character flaws who choose lives pursuing honour, truth or natural beauty and the principles of noble simplicity or moderation.
But how to turn the future to a more sustainable path? How to take action today so that our grandchildren will enjoy lives no more deprived than ours? Is it a good bet to risk their lives on a perpetual triumph by human innovation mixed with technological optimism?
Do we find a shelter somewhere and wait out the wreck as many indigenous communities in heavily colonized areas, like Canada, have done? All the while rebuilding strength from within while waiting on empires to collapse from their own overreaching. For, if you dissipate finite resources on undisciplined consumption, nothing is more certain than that, one day, there will be a sudden end to it. All too-good-to-be true schemes end with a bang not a whimper. Will your children know what to do?
Or does one enlist all the allies one can find to seize the wheel, boldly and rudely if one must? Or, at least, to deliver enough economic force against the right backsides to deflect a reckless social entity from its current path? But there is the rub. While one cannot argue with the power of number or with “the enemy of my enemy” logic, do allies sometimes require more care and feeding than one has available, in the moment, to spend? And, not receiving it, may they do mischief, however well-intentioned?
As it happens, two older movies treat some of the challenges occasionally seen within Idle No More. Each explicitly addresses the problem of allies newly disaffected by their privileged lives.
One is Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Zabriskie Point” from 1970. It is set within the American civil rights or anti-Vietnam War movements of the 1960s. Here a prospective ally hungry for immediate direct action through violence refuses the creator’s implicit solution. He is then gunned down by the police, almost inadvertently, having accomplished nothing.
It would take more space than this to articulate Antonioni’s implicit solution and how he presents it. In short, he argues that the best future requires a spiritualism that embraces the earth as sacred, just as the indigenous spirit everywhere usually has so tended. And that the best way to get there is not physical violence but a rigorous critique and spiritual irreverence toward the status quo worthy of the best comic poets. Well-entrenched authorities often fear satire, irony, laughter and persistent non-violent actions more than they do guns and breaking glass.
The other movie is Robert Bresson’s “The Devil, Probably” from 1977, set among the French student movements of the late 1960s. Beginning with a scene purposefully reminiscent of “Zabriskie Point”, Bresson went out of his way to critique Antonioni.
Bresson is even more pessimistic about those newly disaffected from their privileged lives. On his implicit view, these are badly damaged souls. They need rehabilitation before they even can begin undertaking duties, families, communities and saving the future. His explicit example is so corrupted by a habit of commoditization that he purchases his own suicide. That another human being would casually accept his price, and perform this service with a too-ready dispatch, is just as telling a victory of an inhumane culture.
Bresson, however, did not like Antonioni’s implicit solution. He mocks the value of dialectical thinking that is usually necessary to rigorous critiques. His title’s reference to “the Devil” suggests that his own implicit solution is a return to traditional European, post-indigenous, spiritualism. The kind of spiritualism once embodied, say, by the saintly country parish priest of another Bresson movie.
In the years ahead, we can look forward to movies and other art forms digesting Idle No More’s short and long term contributions. However that may turn out, it seems probable that Antonioni will have the last laugh between these two. Of course, as one might suppose, neither movie ever played well in North America. Idle No More is not yet a force even temporarily played out and it is too soon to predict whether the movies it inspires will resonate with a larger audience.