|I am reading several books at once--I don't know why I do that, exactly--but, well, first, Wild Swans by Jung Chang, which is a book everyone should read who wants to understand 20th century Chinese history.|
I'm farther into The Last Imaginary Place: A Human History of the Arctic World by Robert McGhee. It's quite wonderful that combines some personal memoir, and a well-documented history based on a variety of cultural media (material artefacts, stories, later literature like Poe, and current social patterns of tribal peoples) and and a very lucidly written, balanced history of all the peoples of the Arctic, and the way more southerly people have imagined them and their climate, that challenges lots of simple ideas about life in Arctic zones--often traced through the evolution of his own ideas--he's now the curator of Arctic Archealogy at the Canadian Museum of Civilization but has had an arctic fascination since childhood. He's passionate about his subject, demonstrates a warm scholarly humility and is a great companion for a cold journey.
Just read most of Black Hawk: The Battle for the Heart of America, by Kerry Trask, a professor of history at U of Wisconsin. I'm working on getting a better understanding of trading and human migration patterns as they involved North American Indians and others, so that's the basic thread in these last two books.
I'm interested in the complexity of tribal peoples--the more I study the more I see them as fundamentally traders. I found myself somewhat unfairly wanting more about the French-Indian fur trading relations (and even the early British relations with these interior people, which he touches on as a pretty different relationship from the one that developed between the rapid colonizing of the later US settlers), but that's not the focus of this book.
I'm interested in how, if there are so very few people in your world--as all tribal people pretty much lived--you have no choice but to value each person you have contact with; you can't just cut off from them or readily kill them; you probably depend on even your personal and tribal enemies for vital needs; they are vital links in some trading chain or process of getting basic life support.
We live in a post-empire world and human relationships are cheap and expendable. Most of the schmucks we meet have no direct role in getting us the things we need to survive, and--even if they do, e.g., ring up our sales at the check out counter, we can find a different clerk if we don't like that one. We can get that asshole fired! Fuck him. Or we can just structure our lives away from them. Stop going there. Human relations become so much less weighted. I can walk away from any of you. I can pretty easily walk away from my family, and still survive.
This is not to say that murders or bloody wars never occured between people, or that they never said the equivalent of "fuck you!" to each other (I suspect that they said that a lot. And then still had to deal with the bastard to bring down the mastadon.) It's not to romanticize them as always getting along, just that typically they had to husband human relations more, not go quite so easily into or out of killing or wars; that's pretty well documented amongst most small tribal groups. It's empire cultures kill on massive scales, not so much tribal people. And when they did ritually kill people, earliest people in many cultures--mine and yours--often either literally or figuratively cannibalized them in order to absorb the energy of that person, to retain it.
Anyway, I'm interested in the way that human relationships are so cheap for us moderns, and what that means. I _think_ it makes our ethics and our etiquette more "primitive." Which tickles me.
I'm also reading Romola by George Eliot. Eliot is just a brilliant writer, but this text is a bit slow going.