“Well, I wasn’t a rebel when I got into advertising. I became a rebel through advertising.” That’s Jerry Mander talking about the change in worldview that happened to him during his 15 years in advertising. He continues, “It was by being in advertising and realizing what advertising does in the system. I mean I can’t explain why I, unlike other advertising men, saw that as a big problem. But I became involved using those techniques to help, you know, environmental groups and anti-war groups and civil rights groups, using advertising as a technique to help them.”
As examples, Mander managed the advertising for the Sierra Club’s campaign to resist building dams in the Grand Canyon, working with environmentalist David Brower. He also used his advertising skill to resist the Supersonic Transport Project. He may be best known for his 1977 book, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television. His most recent book is The Capitalist Papers in which he argues against capitalism as a viable, sustainable economic system. He holds two degrees in economics.
It is his deep insight into the technologies and processes of advertising and public relations that led him to see the essential wisdom among non-technological peoples. And so he wrote, In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of Indian Nations (1991). Mander’s description of two opposing worldviews—technological and non-technological peoples—gives important information and insight to our choices for survival today amid the glut of technological products and system. His editor had a strong negative reaction when Mander first told him that he was working on this book. I included that reaction in my forthcoming book, From Egos to Eden: Our Heroic Journey to Keep Earth Livable (Feb. 14, 2017).
I am writing this blog during the fabulously strong and spiritual resistance led by Indians to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline for fracked oil. This resistance, anchored by Standing Rock Sioux and thousands of others (including 4,000 veterans) is another example of what Mander understood, but his editor did not.
The opening pages of the book, In the Absence of the Sacred, illustrate a widespread, unthinking prejudice non-Indigenous peoples express to and about Indigenous peoples. Author Jerry Mander tells how his editor initially dismissed the relevance of a book he proposed on Indians. To the editor, a book contrasting First Peoples with technological peoples was a nonstarter: “Indians? Oh God not Indians. Nobody wants a book about Indians…. They’re finished. Indians smindians…. Mander, you’re some kind of goddamn romantic.”71 Mander’s edi- tor expresses well the posture of the MultiEarth paradigm which has positioned itself as superior to the paradigm of Indigenous peo- ple for up to 12,000 years.
Showing all the eloquence of his advertiser background, merged with his activist experience, Mander, born to immigrant Jewish parents in New York, writes of the wisdom of First Peoples:
Contrary to our prevailing paradigms, which assume that indigenous peoples throughout the world wish to partic- ipate in our economy, many Indians do not see us as the survivors in a Darwinian scenario. They see themselves as eventual survivors, while we represent a people who has badly misunderstood the way things are on the earth. They do not wish to join the technological experiment. They do not wish to engage in the industrial mode of production. They do not want a piece of the action. They see our way as a striving for death. They want to be left out of the process. If we are going over the brink, they do not wish to join us.
Throughout the world, whether they live in deserts or jungle or the far north, or in the United States, millions of native people share the perception that they are resisting a single, multi-armed enemy: a society whose basic assump- tions, whose way of mind, and whose manner of political and economic organization permit it to ravage the planet without discomfort, and to drive natives off their ancestral lands. That this juggernaut will eventually consume itself is not doubted by these people. They meet and discuss it. They attempt to strategize about it. Their goal is to stay out of its way and survive it.
Mander exposes key assumptions in the thinking of technological peoples to where, not only does much of the technology lose value, but the thinking behind it becomes unconvincing. Mander has us wondering why the Civilization Project created by technological peoples gave up invaluable wisdom extant among native peoples worldwide. In the liminal space of the heroic journey we see how grievously wrong it is for the MultiEarth worldview to think that First Peoples are relics of the past in a modernization energized by what’s called “irreversible progress,” an egoistic phrase to absolve the bad moral choices involved in establishing MultiEarth globaliza- tion. Insecure egos do not admit this error easily. Such mind-chang- ing moments happen, however, when the alchemy of change so prevalent in liminality does its work.