A Magazine about the Hudson Valley’s local economy, published by Hudson Valley Current.

On Villaging: Is the US Too Big to Succeed?

This July Fourth, the United States will turn 244. You might choose to celebrate, with fireworks and other explosives. I prefer not to—partly because I hate big bangs, and partly because I take no pride in our supposed independence.

I’m not sure what this country is for, or why it endures. Whom it serves, whom it protects. What we humans of Turtle Island gain, by propping it up.

In an interview in the June issue of Chronogram, fantasy author N. K. Jemisin details how immigrants from various European countries sacrificed their heritage, after arriving in America, for the benefits of “whiteness”.

“Basically, before Europeans came to America, before colonization,” she says, “Europeans regarded each other as not the same people. The French did not like the Germans. The Germans did not like the English. There was none of this ‘we’re all white’ shit. Whiteness is an outgrowth of colonialism. It’s an attempt to homogenize people from very different ethnic backgrounds and very different traditions and give them a single agenda, and that agenda is, ‘Hey, at least you’re not black,’ or ‘Hey, at least you’re not one of these other people.’”

What might de-homogenization look like? How might “white” people begin to remember, and re-honor, the lands and living webs that shaped our ancestors?

Dissolving the United States—and with it the myth of America (as the land of the free and the home of the brave)—could play a vital role in this process. 

Scale matters. So does DNA. And while I applaud the colonists for overthrowing their imperial overlords, I can’t forget that they were simultaneously wiping out Native settlements and holding half a million people of African descent in bondage—while incubating an empire of their own that could not help but wreak havoc on the web of relationships, in the name of building wealth. That is what empires do; that is the job of an empire.

Cults do something similar. And they too tend to show what they’re up to, right from the start, if you know what to look for: yes, most cults begin as loose knots of people, gathered ’round a charismatic leader, who might not, at first, exert strict control. Gradually, however, the knot tightens—into a noose—as the original power imbalance grows.

Healthy groups and communities, on the other hand, usually start with a number of partners who work hard to develop, articulate, uphold, and emend patterns of shared governance. 

You can tell whether an entity harbors deadly toxins by probing its roots.

In the roots of the United States, I do see a desire for self-determination—alongside a lust to enslave and remove that doesn’t jibe with real self-rule.

In her book Bounded Choice, cult researcher Janja Lalich explains that people who enter cults don’t surrender their intelligence, talent, skill, or brilliance; rather, they learn to apply these assets within much narrower parameters. For example: in my cult, instead of asking, “How can I most efficiently and effectively generate income?” I asked, “How can I get better and better at foisting our magazines, music, and T-shirts on unsuspecting strangers?”

Looking ahead to the November election, featuring a choice between Slippery Don and Sleepy Joe, I propose that presidential contests have little to do with choosing a leader—and everything to do with training us citizens to eschew polyculture (along with true sovereignty) and bow to bounded choice. 

To leave a cult, you must step out of the story that governs it—the story you’re trapped inside. You can’t just tweak scenes, or shuffle characters. Beneath the many false binaries the US offers its people (jobs vs. ecological stewardship, Biden vs. Trump, safety vs. eliminating prisons and police) lies the myth that it must prevail. That it must last. That it is too noble, and too big, to fail.

But what if the US—this monstrous hybrid—is actually too big to succeed? Too riddled with ancient poisons to achieve good health? And what if—as in any forest—succession is, in fact, inevitable? Why would this empire merit eternal life, when every other has died?

I say, let’s dissolve the dis-union. Return unceded territories to their Native sovereigns. Liquidate the federal government’s assets and distribute the proceeds to those whose land and liberty it’s stolen. Regroup along bioregional lines, acknowledging water- and foodsheds. Allow ourselves to de-homogenize, and re-indigenize, by turning in awe to our local living webs, and letting them tell us what to do.

Helen Zuman—author, chocolatier, reweaver, walker, wife, daughter, sister, and witch—details her first (ill-starred) attempt at villaging in her memoir, Mating in Captivity (She Writes Press 2018). Get in touch via email (madgelma@hotmail.com); read more at helenzuman.com; find her on Twitter @HelenZuman. Use either Federal Reserve Notes or Currents to buy her book!