"Must read" is putting it mildly for me.
I have yet to see another book unpack the current situation of the Gaels with more clarity. A stunning political analysis.
BIO: Michael Newton was awarded a PhD in Celtic Studies by the University of Edinburgh in 1998. He has written a number of books and articles on Scottish Gaelic culture (see below), and has recently focused on the hitherto untold story of the Scottish Highlanders in the United States.
He has given lectures and taught workshops on a number of Scottish topics - from Scottish Gaelic language lessons to Scottish cultural geography - at venues such as the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, Slighe nan Gaidheal in Seattle, and the Toronto Scottish Gaelic Learners' Association.
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Dear Tad -
From reading your blog, we clearly have common values and ideological orientations.
I entirely agree with your assessment of the direction of the world, and I fear what fallout will come of it. There are many people around the world whose oppression and dispossession rightfully makes them want to resort to violent means to overthrow the institutions (often masquerading under names such as “free markets” and “democratic reform”) that keep them poor and powerless.
I had hoped that 9/11 would wake Americans up to the reality of the lives of people outside our hall of mirrors, but, alas, the current war-mongers in power in the US exploited the event to peddle fear and militarism and entrench their own hegemony.
I don't think that violence is a valid solution to violence. Plenty of post-colonial societies show that too often the revolution only replaces the oppressor rather than removing the pattern of oppression.
I expect that as the man-made technosphere further spreads across the globe in our vain pursuit to become the "Lords and Possessors of Nature" (in Descartes’s words) the whole system (and the resources upon which the infrastructure is dependent) will collapse due to the detrimental environmental and social side-effects. These and other things I tried to hint at in my Handbook, but was not able to fully express them, as they would have been somewhat tangential, not to mention controversial.
My own intuition is that the redemption of the world will come from what we will be able to salvage from indigenous cultures. And as I wrote in the Handbook, by "indigenous" I mean cultures that are rooted in and sensitive to their environments. It has nothing to do with skin colour or the number of body piercings or tattoos you have.
My own involvement with Gaeldom has given my life depth and a tangible connection to those things that are real. It has made me more human. It has also increased my capacity for empathy, but empathy with a beautiful but endangered thing is not a comforting experience.
I’ve talked to many Scots who belittle the tragedy of the decline of Gaeldom. To them, it is but an insignificant blip in the suffering in the world. Of course, if we look merely numerically, it is a small number in comparison to, say, the number of Jews killed during the Holocaust. However, just as every human being is a miracle of God and an expression of that divine spark, so is every human culture the creative gift of generations of imagination and experience rooted in the real world.
Why is a culture with 60,000,000 people more valid than one with only 60,000? I think the criteria by which people judge “civilisation” is severely stupid. Apparently, a human society which makes an enormous environmental impact and leaves behind huge rubbish piles (variously labelled “pyramids”, “coliseums”, or “ziggurats”) is an "sophisticated civilization" while those who tread lightly on the soil - those whose cultural foci are storytelling and hospitality, for example - are treated as not worthy of study.
I would rejoice if I saw the end of mass media, petroleum-based transport, and consumerism. It would mean that I could follow closer to Thoreau's goal of "sucking the marrow out of the bones of life" - there would be more time for dancing, singing, being in and of a community of real (and not virtual) people, being aware of the cycles of the seasons and the state of the moon. I look at people whose identities and life energies are submerged in corporate culture, whose whole personal experiences are mediated by consumerism (following the lives of celebrities or the cache of marketplace logos) and I feel pity for their lifestyles. Not that they are always conscious of the choices...
Unfortunately, few Gaels have been given the intellectual tools to question the Anglocentric grand narrative around them; they have been brainwashed in schools that denigrate the local and celebrate the Imperial. In the US there is a sense (at least amongst the educated) that ethnic minorities have a legitimate point of view and cause for grievance. This is, I believe, a natural consequence of extending America's ideals of liberty and justice to all people (not that this hasn't happened without a struggle!). The rhetoric of the inherent worth of every individual and their capacity for self-realisation is at least there to be argued. No such "liberation theology" exists in the British political mindset to empower the Celtic "fringe" - it is and has always been "Progress = Anglicisation : Celticisation = Barbarism".
In my last book "We're Indians Sure Enough”: The Legacy of the Scottish Highlanders in the United States I write further about racism and whiteness and cultural amnesia and oppression. It is something of an extension of the Handbook into American territory.
One of the reasons why I was compelled to write the Handbook was because I didn't think many people (inside of or outwith Scotland) saw the big picture of Gaelic culture and why it matters. I had been inspired by books about other indigenous cultures, or critiques of colonialism, and was amazed that so little had been written in defense of Scottish Gaeldom. Books in particular that inspired me included The Cultural Conquest of Ireland (Kevin Collins), In Absence of the Sacred (Jerry Mander), Stolen Continents (Ronald Wright), Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Paulo Friere) and The Myth of the Machine (Lewis Mumford), as well as the whole dialogue that opened up in the US in 1992 regarding the legacy of Columbus.
Being a writer can be a very solitary pursuit. It is reassuring to know that the ideas that emerge from the chaos of my brain actually have an impact on people!
Is mise le meas,
You can learn more about Michael At: