Notable passages from
Sand Talk by Tyson Yunkaporta

The Text Publishing Company, 2019

Well. As I always say, if you want to find the next generation of great thinkers, look in the detention room of any public school.


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Sustainability agents have a few simple operating guidelines, or network protocols, or rules if you like—connect, diversify, interact and adapt.
   Diversity is not about tolerating difference or treating others equally and without prejudice. The diversification principle compels you to maintain your individual difference, particularly from other agents who are similar to you. This prevents you from clustering into narcissistic flash mobs. You must also seek out and interact with a wide variety of agents who are completely dissimilar to you. Finally, you must interact with other systems beyond your own, keeping your system open and therefore sustainable.
   Connectedness balances the excesses of individualism in the diversity principle. The first step in connectedness is forming pairs (like kinship pairs) with multiple other agents who also pair with others. The next step is creating or expanding networks of these connections. The final step is making sure these networks are interacting with the networks of other agents, both within your system and in others.
   Interaction is the principle that provides the energy and spirit of communication to power the system. This principle facilitates the flow of living knowledge. For this, you must be transferring knowledge (and energy and resources) rather than trying to store it individually, with as many other agents as possible. If the world ever experiments with an actual free market rather than an oligopoly, this would be the perfect system to facilitate sustainable interactions. Knowledge, value and energy in truly sustainable networks of interaction are prevented from remaining static and unchanging by the final protocol.
   Adaptation is the most important protocol of an agent in a sustainable system. You must allow yourself to be be transformed through your interactions with other agents and the knowledge that passes through you from them. This knowledge and energy will flow through the entire system in feedback loops and you must be prepared to change so that those feedback loops are not blocked. An agent that is truly adaptive and changing is open to sudden eruptions of transformation, in which the agent may temporarily take on the role of strange attractor and facilitate chain reactions of creative events within the system.


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The narrative of progress is grounded in the myth of primitivism—the widely held assumption that life before the industrial era was brief, brutish, savage and simple. This is contrasted with the myth of development, of advanced societies and people from Europe representing progress and enlightenment. There must be an upward trend to show, to keep the illusion alive. When the masses … begin to chafe at the bleakness of their lives, they are reminded nightly on their screens of how terrible things used to be, how much better and longer and healthier our existences are today.
   Unpacking these narratives and retelling them from our Indigenous perspective highlights a few inconsistencies in the story and a few parts that have been left out. Our standpoint strips away the dogma that constrains our minds and potential, allowing some room for higher order thinking that gives rise to intriguing questions.
   For example, if Palaeolithic lifestyles were so basic and primitive, how did humans evolve with trillions of potential neural connections in the brain, of which we now only use a small fraction? What kinds of sophisticated lifestyles would be needed to evolve such a massive brain over hundreds of thousands of years? What kind of nutritional abundance would be needed to develop such an organ, made mostly out of fat? How does the narrative of harsh survival in a hostile landscape align with this fact? If our prehistoric lives were so violent, hard and savage, how could we have evolved to have such soft skin, limited strength and delicate parts?


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Deep engagement encompassing mind, body, heart and spirit has been replaced by a dogged ethic of commitment to labour, enthusiastic compliance with discipline imposed by authority.


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If you live a life without violence you are living an illusion, outsourcing your conflict to unseen powers and detonating it in areas beyond your living space. Most of the southern hemisphere is receiving that outsourced violence to supply what you need for the clean, technological, peaceful spaces of your existence. The poor zoned into the ghettoes of your city are taking those blows for you, as are the economically marginalised who fill your prisons. The invisible privilege of your technocratic, one-sided peacefulness is an act of violence. Your peace-medallion bling is sparkling with blood diamonds. You carry pillaged metals in your phone from devastated African lands and communities. Your notions of peaceful settlement and development are delusions peppered with bullet holes and spears.


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What we had found was a broad, common description of Indigenous ways of valuing, ways of being, ways of knowing and ways of doing. Mumma Doris knew it as Respect, Connect, Reflect, Direct. She insisted on that order. She also identified that non-Aboriginal people seemed to work through the same steps but in reverse.…
   Invert that [reverse] process and you'll have something approximating an appropriate way of coming to Indigenous Knowledge and working towards sustainable solutions. The first step of Respect is aligned with values and protocols of introduction, setting rules and boundaries. This is the work of your spirit, your gut. The second step, Connect, is about establishing strong relationships and routines of exchange that are equal for all involved. Your way of being is your way of relating, because all things only exist in relationship to other things. This is the work of your heart. The third step, Reflect, is about thinking as part of the group and collectively establishing a shared body of knowledge to inform what you will do. This is the work of the head. The final step, Reflect, is about acting on that shared knowledge in ways that are negotiated by all. This is the work of the hands.


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