Rational Agriculture Incompatible with Capitalism: Gendered rationality and Iroquois Constitution

Posted May 2, 2015

Note: This was originally posted on the COMFOOD list-serv (April 15, 2015), in response to Hank Herrera's posting (April 9, 2015).

Thanks for posting the very welcome analysis of capitalism, using the double lens of "rationality" and "agriculture".

Megdoff's analysis of agriculture deserves to be widely disseminated and discussed as one of many "capitalism debunking" analyses that speak in 21st century language — and that go into the "machinery" of capitalism.

For those who haven't read it, here's the link again:
by Fred Megdoff, Monthly Review

Megdoff goes a long way in cutting through the confusion that we Americans have about our ideals and assumptions. And it's great to have every sector weigh in on capitalism.

IROQUOIS ANALYSIS OF CAPITALISM. For my money, the best systemic analysis of our disfunctional U.S. economy comes from a Native American scholar who looks at "rationality" itself in the context of land, economics, distribution, decision-making (democracy), etc Barbara Alice Mann (Assistant Professor of Humanities at University of Toledo) is a member of the Seneca nation (one of the original nations of the Iroquois League, whose Constitution predated and informed the U.S. Constitution). Dr. Mann has written a number of books on history, democracy, women's authority, literature, and more.

In the context of rationality, ecology (earth systems) agriculture (land), and economics (capitalism) , Dr. Mann reminds everyone that "rationality" — ways of knowing and thinking — is gendered.

Here are two short sections from two of Dr. Mann's books. I hope they are useful in this conversation.

Iroquois Women: The Gantowisas (clan mothers)
2004, Peter Lang Publishing

D. Hillman notes:
— Apologies for not being able to spell the Iroquois words precisely; I don't know how to access all of the proper diacritical marks on my computer.

p. 212-13
…the economic balance was tipped towards women. Their constitutional ownership of the land, households, implements of production, goods, food, and surplus, along with their right to apportion the use of it all, ensured that restive bully boys could not seize control, for the social structure had effectively put the economy into the hands of their grandmothers.

It is interesting to me that, in all of the debate furiously raging ever since Bruce Johansen's Forgotten Founders (1982) rubbed academia's nose in the fact that the authors of the U.S. Constitution had been strongly influenced by the Iroquoian Great Law, few have noticed the main disparity between Iroquoia and the United States. It was not the political presence or absence of women, or trial by jury, or a standing army, or any of a dozen other, readily spotted political differences that marked the distinction. It was, instead, the failure of the Founding Fathers also to adopt and adapt the Iroquoian system of grass–roots economics that complemented its political base of Ne'' Gashasde'''sa' (popular sovereignty).

The true failure of the resultant hybrid lay in the unthinking assumption by the Founding Fathers that European war-lord economics and Haudenosaunee Ne'' gashasde'''sa' could operate in harness without the plunder economics of Europe throwing the political system of Ne'' Gashasde'''sa' into disarray. By furthermore ignoring the sibling principles of Ne'' Sken'no" (Health) and Ne'' Gai'ihwiio (Righteousness) as practical tools of economic prosperity (as opposed to mere moralistic pieties), the Founding Fathers sabotaged hopes for real participatory democracy by writing the proprietary economics of Europe into their Constitution. It is this mismatch of popular but unfunded sovereignty bound to the naked exploitation of capitalism that is short-circuiting American Ne'' gashasde'''sa' today, subverting the political will of the people through the undue economic pressures exerted by a financially privileged elite. No such unbalancing access was possible in the prototype, however, for the clan level where Ne'' Gashasde'''sa' was fomented was also the level at which the confederated economy was managed. Power, will, and weal did not trickle down in Iroquoia; they percolated up.

p. 236
Gifting, whether domestic or international, was obviously a crucial expression of Iroquoian economies. Nevertheless, Euro-American scholars are still interpreting the gifts of Gifting — the Keeping, selection, and distribution of the gift-goods and the management of the feasts associated with them–from an adamantly sexist perspective, presenting women's roles as secondary and supportive, the housewifely duties of cooking and washing up afterwards. The gantowisas were not the scullery maids of the League, however. They were its Federal Reserve Board.

"Slow Runners" by Barbara Alice Mann
in Make a Beautiful Way: The Wisdom of Native American Women
Barbara Alice Mann, ed. (Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2008)

D. Hillman note: This book and essay discusses issues facing 21st century American Indians from women's perspectives as women.

p. 96
…I look at the fine fix Native America is in and realize that this is exactly why the old Clan Mothers refused to let the men discuss anything that the women had not first canvassed thoroughly. In fact, the women even gave the men the preferred possible outcomes of debate, restricting them to discussions of that preset agenda. Looking about today, I attribute the nightmarish morass of federal laws and "tribal" policies to the fact that they are male constructs of female issues. This upside-down situation will not be righted until women resume taking care of their Mother, which simply will not happen under Euro-American law.

…in the East, anyhow, Native women are the sole, appropriate arbiters of land and identity, for it is women's feet that always remain planted firmly on Mother Earth, whereas men's fly up to Brother Sky.

p. 97
When men attempt to manage Earth matters, like land and identity, they confuse themselves by applying Sky principles of height and distance. The outcome is as predictable as it is disastrous: Flighty rules result from their eagle's-eye view, obviating ground matters, which look too small to make out from the vantage point of Sky. Unable to feel the rumblings of ne gashedenza (the sacred will of the people), which traditionally originates at the roots of the grass, they grab for the wind and blow hot air.

Women are the ones who feel the vibrations of the growing grass, through the soles of their feet and the waters of their wombs. They are the ones who know their descendants, arrayed by clan, through the generations. It is the women who keep the names and pull the ancestors out of the ground, back into life, even as they pull the crops up from seeds. It is the women who can tell the ordinary dirt from the dirt made of their ancestors, the first five feet down. They can sense the land, for the land is a woman. It is, therefore, the Daughters of Mother Earth who make the best decisions regarding the children and the land of Mother Earth.