The creation of an illegal Indonesian state in the sovereign nation of West Papua has brought death and unprecedented catastrophic destruction to Papuan ancestral homelands. The Indonesian government, along with the complicity of the Western government and institutions such as the United Nations (who supported the atonement of West Papua to Indonesia in the 1960’s) are guilty of crimes against humanity. Yamin Kogoya specially for the Pan Pacific Agency.
These are crimes are not isolated events – these are a continuation of the great war that has been waged against the natural world by man and machine, beginning with the dawn of the industrial revolution in Europe.
Given the inseparable existence between human and nature in the pre-industrial society, the industrialisation of the Earth was a direct assault on the culture, history and wellbeing of the First Nations people. We saw this destruction in the name of progress repeating itself across the world, with Indigenous Australians and New Zealanders, and North American Indians. When European travellers sought the discovery of new land, they ignored the already established societies, uprooting entire cultures to build their cathedrals, universities, courthouses and estates.
Land is important to people. It is integral to cultural and societal networks – it is where we build homes, families, traditions, history and rituals; it is the home of religion, language, deities and ancestors. When land is stolen, so are the people, and so is their culture. The First Nations people must watch on helplessly as their land is sold, traded, destroyed and rebuilt, again and again. It is a grim reminder and a quintessential representation of how their freedom was stolen.
We see these devastations mirrored in modern times, as rich industrial powers abetted by corrupt local politicians continue the over-consumption of local resources and drive local communities to the margin.
Mankind’s Pursuit of Power Over Nature
To decide the way of the future, one must look to the past for answers; if we do not learn from history, then history is doomed to repeat itself.
During the Renaissance and leading up to the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth century, Europeans began to question the world around them. Their attitudes and beliefs toward nature, God, and existence were shifting. God became irrelevant, authority of the church was rejected, and the natural world was sacrificed in the pursuit of science, education and progress. A framework began to form, in which the living, breathing Earth became nothing more than dead matter entangled in a sophisticated, mechanical universe. The human intellect, expression, and material gratification were glorified and prioritised as the central tenet of human evolution.
The value of human cultures, languages, traditions and sanctity of ancestral homelands was forgotten or destroyed. This was a coup d’état against the natural order of creation, brought about by a dramatic paradigmatic shift in Western mankind’s conception of the world. The earth became a commodity that must be exploited for power, especially power over nature, and those who disagree with the ego-centric paradigm. And so, history continued, with mankind exhausting natural resources, oppressing and alienating marginalised societies, and driving species of flora and fauna to extinction in the name of industrialising the modern world under capitalist ideals. These behaviours weren’t coincidence: the idea of man taming the wild Pagan land was imbedded in Western thought and doctrine and it appears in the book of Genesis that help shaped the Western civilization.
Francis Bacon, an English Renaissance thinker puts special emphasis on these Western behaviours, which he takes to be the guiding principle of his new vision of science and practical knowledge.
A Paradigmatic Shift in Human Philosophy
Religious wars, famine and natural disasters that engulfed Europe during the earlier periods of our modern world convinced enlightened intellectuals and pursuers of knowledge that man is alone, and God has abandoned humanity. Hence, man must choose his own path, navigating his world through scientific method and rational mind.
Philosopher Fredrick Nietzsche argued that not only did God disappear from the universe, but man killed him. A profound statement that is taught to this very day was made by French philosopher Rene Descartes: “Cogito, Ergo Sum.” (I think, therefore I am).
This notion signified a shift in the what would become the collective attitude of Western civilisation over the past five hundred years. The entire history of mankind and the universe, the meaning of existence, and how one should live and behave was redefined in this era of philosophy of the self.
The universalisation of definitions and explanations about almost everyone and everything legitimated Eurocentric worldviews and their pursuit of colonisation. Pursuing new doctrine, theology and theory for everyone and everything, with no regard for pre-existing cultures, languages, networks and values was a predominant feature of this Eurocentric mindset that guided the colonisation of indigenous societies and cultures.
In 1853, Governor Burke proclaimed the great continent of Australia to be Terra Nullius, which means nobody’s land. In one simple, political move, a millennium of ancient wisdom, culture, and deep connection between man and nature that had been cultivated by the First Nations people was rejected and ignored. Colonisers used their power over nature to rewrite history – they became the great discoverers who conquered virgin land.
The impact of this declaration of Terra Nullius was consequential. Suddenly, the entire world was unnamed, undiscovered and uninhabited. Only the Western colonisers had the power to discover, occupy and rename these continents. To this very day, the exploitation of natural resources and devastation by industrial machines are undertaken in the name of this doctrine, which has been proven fatal to the marginalised societies and the natural environment.
The crimes committed against creatures and the environment in the name of progress have never been resolved, and the perpetrators of these crimes have never been brought to justice.
Moving Forward Requires Forward Thinking
As the Coronavirus pandemic generates fear among the world’s population and forces humanities day-to-day rituals to cease indefinitely, this is a time for getting back to what is truly important: family, relationships, a shared purpose, union of ideas, respect. For the first time in a long time, the industrial world is quiet with inactivity, as we are left with nothing but time and space to think.
This is the time for humanity to reflect on our poor treatment of our only home, and how we have treated those who live here. We need to ask sincere questions about fundamental ideas that shaped the mind of modern man, and how we blindly accepted this indoctrination without pause.
Just as the philosophers of the past challenged the paradigm that guided mankind for thousands of years, we too must challenge the current paradigm we find ourselves trapped in – the industrialist, capitalist world order.
The pandemic is revealing the cracks in society, about how unprepared the system is when it comes to uniting people against a common enemy, and how the broken system favours the rich and the powerful institutions that keep people indoctrinated. We are on the brink of the first major paradigmatic shift that will influence civilisation since the Renaissance.
We need to critically re-examine the framework that legitimates our thinking, as our current system is failing at every turn – health care, housing, unemployment, education, privatisation and commoditising the natural world.
“It seems inevitable, then, that we must move from a discussion of history to a discussion of nature if we are to address seriously the question of the end of history.” Francis Fukuyama (The End of History and The Last Man).
“We cannot solve our problems using the same thinking that we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein.
For the First Nations people around the world, instead of joining the industrial countries and helping them destroy the world in the name of progress or development, it is the best time to get back to cultural roots, knowledge, and connection with nature – who we are, where we come from, what we have endured. And most importantly, acknowledge the systematic powers that induced our cultures into a coma for the past five hundred years.
We urgently need to shift the legacy of the colonial paradigm from “I think, therefore I am,” to “The Earth lives, therefore we are.” Else, we continue to ignore the cry of our fellow humans and animals across the world, from West Papua to Rohingya, From Yemen to Palestine, from Afghanistan to Syria, and many other nations who are victimised by the global enterprise of exploitation, slavery, and death.