& Social Ethics
by Theodore Walker, Jr.
[bio & cv]
for the 21st Century:
Here Instructed by
Native American Social Wisdom
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[What is This?: Indications & Contra-Indications from a Black Theological Perspective]
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(introduction, part 1)
Basic Elements of Social Ethical Analysis
Throughout this study, we are mindful of the fact that social ethical analysis includes attention to these distinct elements:
populations/circles of concern
- visions (alternative predictions)
Each of these overlapping elements are permeated by
and value judgments.
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[Where the web-browser
displays color according to document instruction:
passages focusing on
interpretative themes are displayed in green;
passages selecting populations/circles of concern are displayed in blue;
descriptions of present and past circumstances
are displayed in white;
predictions and visions of future
circumstances are displayed in yellow;
value language, evaluations, and prescriptions
for changing the future are displayed in red;
and the background is black.]
Interpretative themes are selected based upon
about what is important and good (or bad) and worthy (or unworthy) of attention.
Fundamental value judgments lead us to
the world in terms of selected aspects, features, typologies, and
Social sciences and social ethics are studies pertaining to selected populations or circles of concern.
Here, human populations are identified by time, by geographic space, and by typological distinctions such as tribal and national identities.
Social scientific descriptions are descriptions of present circumstances, or more precisely, descriptions of very recent circumstances, and descriptions of historical circumstances contributing to recent and present circumstances.
That part of social science which describes the past and the past's contributions to the present is usually called history.
That part of social science which describes the present, or more precisely, the very recent past, is usually called sociology.
Sociology, insofar as it is a science, rather than a mere academic account of the "news," goes beyond simply reporting recent and old news.
In addition to offering descriptions of the present and of the past's contributions
to present events, sociology offers predictions.
Social scientific predictions are about probable future circumstances
following from present and past trends.
Social ethics reaches beyond social science
by including explicit and sustained attention to formulating
social ethical and public policy prescriptions.
Social ethical prescriptions concern what should be done to make favorable
differences to the probable future.
Social ethical prescriptions are often guided by heavily value-laden
visions of an alternative and
more righteous future.
These visions of an alternative
partly visions of the differences being and doing as prescribed will make, and
partly visions of differences to be made by other favorable influences.
And of course all social ethical reflection is founded
upon the metaphysical presupposition
that being-becoming-doing differently makes at least some difference,
upon the metaethical presupposition
that we ought to prefer some differences over others,
namely, we ought to
prefer making righteous differences--differences contributing to the good, to shared well-being.
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(introduction, part 2)
This social ethical analysis is attentive to four main
- relations to other life/land
This is largely the result of being instructed by Native American social wisdom.
For instance, in THE NATIONS WITHIN: THE PAST AND FUTURE OF AMERICAN INDIAN SOVEREIGNTY (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984),
Vine Deloria, Jr. and
Clifford M. Lytle
that the study of Native American thought should give
or "conceptual keys."
Foremost among the prescribed "conceptual keys
to understanding how the Indian experiences the world today"
(NATIONS, p. 12) are the following themes:
people, peoples, "the concept of the people," "the idea of the people," "the idea of peoplehood" (NATIONS, pp. 8, 12, 242);
tribe, tribes, tribal, traditional tribal, "tribal peoples," "tribal Indians," "tribal identity," tribalism (NATIONS, pp. 232-235, 235, 242, 254);
nation, nations, "nations within," "nationality," "nationhood," "national government" (NATIONS, pp. 10, 12-13, 242, 246),
national "sovereignty" or "nationalism;" part of tribal visions of "self-determination" (NATIONS, p. 242, chapters 15-17);
"land," protection of the land, "the primacy of land," "land consolidation" (NATIONS, pp. 10, 12, 255);
religion, religions, "freedom of religion" (NATIONS, p. 8, 252).
[See THE NATIONS WITHIN:
THE PAST AND FUTURE OF AMERICAN INDIAN SOVEREIGNTY
(New York: Pantheon Books, 1984) by Vine Deloria, Jr. and Clifford M. Lytle.]
Many other books and essays written by Native American scholars give much attention to these same themes.
[Water is another important theme closely related to other life and land.
Phyllis Young of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation is author of "Beyond the Water Line"--chapter five in DEFENDING MOTHER EARTH: NATIVE AMERICAN PERSPECTIVES ON ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1996), edited by Jace Weaver of the Cherokee Nation.
Weaver introduces "Beyond the Water Line" by observing that "the problem of the water line" is not less important than DuBois's modern "problem of the color line" (p85)
he predicts the problem of the next century "is quite likely to be the problem of the water line" (p87).
Young emphasizes the importance of "water rights" for Lakota people along the Missouri and Cheyenne rivers (pp88ff).]
[Also, African-American historian of religions Charles H. Long describes African-American peoples as "people of the water" because they became significantly new peoples in new worlds by crossing the waters of the great trans-Atlantic impress (from a 21 March 1997 conversation with Long at the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Black Religion in Dayton, Ohio).]
Attention to these interpretive themes will contribute to
more adequate social science and social ethics.
inattention to these interpretive themes will yield
less adequate social science and less adequate social ethics.
By including appropriate attention to these important interpretive themes,
and by consulting Native American reflections on these themes,
social sciences and social ethics will become enriched with new and valuable social wisdom.
social scientific and social ethical studies should
include attention to
tribalism, nationalism, relations to other life/land,
Furthermore, social sciences and social ethics should be instructed by Native American reflections on these themes.
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(introduction, part 3)
Circles of Concern
It is characteristic of Native Americans to understand that basic sociological concepts and themes do not apply exclusively to humans.
Native Americans often recognize the existence of non-human societies, non-human tribes, and non-human nations.
the famous ethnologist James Mooney records the existence of Cherokee speech about "fourfooted tribes" in his book--MYTHS OF THE CHEROKEE.
Here, Mooney explains, "In Cherokee mythology, as in that of Indian tribes generally, there is no essential difference between men and animals" (p. 261).
[See MYTHS OF THE CHEROKEE: NINETEENTH ANNUAL REPORT OF THE BUREAU OF AMERICAN ETHNOLOGY TO THE SECRETARY OF THE SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION, 1897-98 (part one of two, J.W. Powell, Director, Washington Government Printing Office, 1900/republished by Scholarly Press: Clair Shores, Michigan, 1970) by James Mooney.]
Similarly, Ake Hultkrantz finds among Wind River Shoshoni, Zuni and other Native American peoples, "There is no sharp differentiation between divinity and humans, nor is there a clear distinction between humans and animals" (p. 26).
[See NATIVE RELIGIONS OF NORTH AMERICA: THE POWER OF VISIONS AND FERTILITY (HarperSanFrancisco, 1987) by Ake Hultkrantz.]
In accordance with this general refusal to draw sharp differences between human and non-human life,
in BLACK ELK SPEAKS,
Black Elk speaks of numerous non-human nations, including "star nations," a "thunder nation," "horse nation," "geese nation," "buffalo nation," "elk" and "eagle" nations (pp. 5, 27, 41, 166-168, 172, 175).
*[See BLACK ELK SPEAKS: BEING THE LIFE STORY OF A HOLY MAN OF THE OGLALA SIOUX AS TOLD THROUGH JOHN G. NEIHARDT (Flaming Rainbow) (Lincoln: Univeristy of Nebraska Press, 1988/1932) by John G. Neihardt.]
Moreover, Black Elk even attributes religion to birds, saying "theirs is the same religion as ours" (p. 195).
*[See a note about scholarly controversy concerning the authenticity of BLACK ELK SPEAKS: here instructed by Vine Deloria, Jr. of the Sioux nations.]
In traditional Cherokee and Sioux speech,
even religion apply to other than human life.
According to much Native American social wisdom,
social scientific concepts and themes applicable to humans and human societies usually apply (more or less and in various ways) to other creatures and other societies.
However, in this work, our concern is to answer explicitly and exclusively human social ethical questions--How should we human peoples live and die?,
What habits of thought and deed should we human peoples cultivate?,
What should we human peoples do?, and
How should we human peoples understand the world?
*Here, "other life" includes future human life and
other-than-human creaturely life,
including especially the life of the land and Mother Earth, and
including the all-inclusive life of the Creator/God.
Accordingly, we are mainly concerned to receive and rightly appropriate
Native American social wisdom about human populations, human peoples,
human tribes, human nations, and human relations to other life.*
TWELVE CIRCLES of concern are identified in this study.
The first most inclusive circle is the circle of human peoples generically. This circle includes all past, present, and possible human peoples wherever they have, do, will, or could exist.
The second circle, which includes all subsequent circles, embraces all human peoples presently living on planet Earth.
The third circle again embraces all contemporary human peoples globally while recognizing the existence of two main types of contemporary human peoples: traditional tribal peoples and modern non-tribal peoples.
Within the previous circles, there is a fourth circle--the circle embracing contemporary human peoples in the lands of the peoples of the Eagle and the Condor, lands which are also called the Americas.
In these lands,
the traditional tribal peoples are mainly Native American peoples,
the modern non-tribal peoples are mainly hyphenated-American peoples
(including European-American, African-American, Mestizo-American, Asian-American, and other hyphenated-American peoples).
The fifth circle of concern focuses more exclusively upon contemporary human peoples in the land of the people of the Eagle, a land which is known to some Native American peoples as the Great Turtle Island, and which is also recently called North America.
Within this circle, the sixth circle focuses attention upon those parts of the land of the people of the Eagle/Great Turtle Island which are north of the great river called Rio Grande.
Within circle six, the seventh circle focuses even more exclusively upon Native American peoples in those parts of the land of the people of the Eagle/Great Turtle Island north of the Rio Grande where Native American claims to the land overlap and conflict with U.S. claims to the land.
Also within circle six, the eighth circle focuses upon European-American peoples in those parts of the land of the people of the Eagle/Great Turtle Island north of the Rio Grande where Native American claims to the land overlap and conflict with U.S. claims to the land.
the ninth circle focuses upon African-American peoples presently living in areas where Native American claims to the land overlap and conflict with U.S. claims.
Still within Native American and U.S. claimed territories,
circle ten focuses upon Mestizo-American peoples,
eleven upon Asian-American peoples, and
twelve upon other hyphenated-American peoples.
Within each of four chapters devoted to one of four main interpretive themes,
there is a hypertexted circle of concerns menu.
The menu identifies twelve circles.
Each circle is linked to a section of text and/or sources presenting social scientific and social ethical analyses of human populations within that circle.
(introduction, part 4)
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Other Life/Land, or
Read briefly about selected theme.
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Basic Elements |
Color Coding |
Interpretive Themes |
Circles of Concern |
Tribal Purpose |
Mother Earth |
Family Values |
a History of Red-Black Solidarity |
Ben Ishmael Tribe |
NATIONS WITHIN |
Black Separatism |
Oren Lyons |
BLACK ELK SPEAKS |
Oglala Moons |
Christian Supremacy |
[500 years of resistance |
500 years of modernity |
people of the Eagle & of the Condor |
hyphenated-American & Native American |
[What Is This?:
Indications & Contra-Indications from a Black Theological Perspective]
"colored hoop and 4 winds"
(an original electronic graphic) by Theodore Walker, Jr.
original HTML formatting by Theodore Walker, Jr.,
amateur webmaster and Associate Professor of Ethics and Society,
Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas 75275.
NOTICE OF COPYRIGHT: copyright 1997 Theodore Walker, Jr.
This copyright covers all content and formatting (browser-visible and HTML text) in this and attached documents created by Theodore Walker, Jr.
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