What am I doing here?

Returning from Pine Ridge, I feel as I did returning home after four months in Bolivia. Both times rocked by the culture shock of reentry,  I’ve never felt so disillusioned by American mainstream culture. But this isn’t a culture shock that I’m looking to shake. To do so would mean a return to complacency, apathy or worse yet forgetting. Our discussions this week about western academia made me consider CC’s culpability in the power dynamics that have been in effect since the release of the Papal Bull of 1493 that James Fenelon argues initiated the widespread genocide of North American indigenous peoples. While we pat our backs over how progressive we are, over our immense capacity for critical thinking, I can help but feel the limits of our critical facilities are not as far reaching as we claim them to be.

I just got back from returning a dress my mom bought me at Banana Republic. I drove North, to the deep burbs, down this parkway and that corporate drive until I arrived at Briargate Shopping Center at the gates of which,  plastic evergreen reindeer strung with Christmas lights stood guard.  As I entered the store I was greeted by Deck the Halls which had it not been for the intermittent jingling of bells would have passed my notice as another electro-megatrong song.  Now I’m no stickler for dates (is it thursday or friday?) but something seems amiss when I haven’t even begun to have my sequence of drool provoking dreams leading up to Thanksgiving about encountering man sized turkey’s and there’s already someone telling me that it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. 

Jean Baudrillard in Simulacra and Simulations posits that our existence occurs amongst layers of representation upon representation, that we have become so reliant on models and maps that we are no longer in contact with the real world. We exist in the “hyperreal” a point at beyond artificiality because artificiality implies a knowledge of the real in comparison, a point where we can no longer distinguish between nature and artifice. After being on Pine Ridge where economic and cultural circumstances render Lakota people incredibly vulnerable, returning to Colo Spgs. I felt hyperaware of the decree to which we insulate and isolate ourselves with wealth, residing in these enclaves of luxury, largely unaware of how manufactured our social and cultural motives truly are. We say that we’re the best country in the world yet we’re one of the unhealthiest and the most spiritually deprived.

While this lifestyle is, needless to say, unsustainable, I question CC’s commitment to upsetting these cycles of dependency on the consumer-patriarchal-capitalist system.  I wonder what we are truly progressing at CC. The opportunities to engage with the local and international communities at CC are relatively few and far between experiences that I believe to be imperative to altering worldviews and inspiring social activism. That’s why I am so greatful for this experience. I’m so desperately trying to continue stoking the fire that was sparked in me first in Bolivia and then again on Pine Ridge, to not lose my critical eye to complacency and comfort. Even so, I can’t help but fear losing this momentum.

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