Original Politics: Making America Sacred Again—the second book from educator, ecopsychologist, and political philosopher Glenn Aparicio Parry—aims to facilitate a seemingly impossible task: unifying a socially and politically fractured United States.
However, Parry, founder and past president of the SEED Institute and director of the grassroots think tank Circle for Original Thinking, remains optimistic about the future, noting that looking to our past can help us chart a course forward.
Publishers Weekly caught up with Parry to chat about his latest book, the state of the world, how the founding vision of the United States was inspired by Native American cultures, the surprising origins of America’s women’s suffrage movement, and what he’s working on next.
It seems the aim of Original Politics is to unify the United States at this time when it’s particularly divided. How do you see that unification happening? And what prompted you to write Original Politics?
I was moved to write Original Politics because of the dysfunctional state of American politics today. This has been building since the 1990s, but in the past decade, we are approaching a near Civil War atmosphere.
The aim of Original Politics is to heal the divisions within our nation and ourselves. Unification will come when we reframe cultural diversity as essential ingredients to be utilized in harmonious synergy.
Can you explain how much of the founding vision of America was inspired by Native American cultures?
A lot of our founding vision came from Native America, even if the usual historical rendering ignores this. Euro-Americans lived side by side with Native Americans for a century and a half before the founding fathers ever began to consider creating the United States. They didn’t realize what would happen when the colonists got an up-close look at how the Iroquois Confederacy worked. The Iroquois societies, like other Native societies, were truly egalitarian. The founders came to call this “natural law.” This alternative way of living—so different from the class societies of Europe—planted the seed of revolution.
I think most people are familiar with our founding fathers, but in the book you discuss “founding mothers.” Can you talk about those women and how they fit into the 19th-century women's movement?
Nineteenth-century American women were not permitted to participate in politics at all. They could not vote and could not run for office, but they still had to pay taxes. They could not divorce, and if they separated from their husbands, they would be returned to them by police like runaway slaves. If they left their husbands, they lost all custody rights to their children. They weren’t even permitted to speak aloud in church. They were completely second-class citizens. They might have accepted this fate had they not met up with Native American women. The Iroquois, like many Native societies, were, and still are, matrilineal. Women controlled the use of property. Moreover, women in Native cultures have long been revered as the life-givers in tune with the rhythms of the Earth. Women did not just work in the home. They were responsible for agriculture as well.
The Native women inspired them to aspire to full equality, not just the right to vote. They later scaled back their demands to focus on suffrage, but that was only a strategic retreat, not their first choice.
How can the current state of the world—which seems particularly grim right now—serve as a catalyst for reigniting what you call our “sacred purpose”?
The current state of the world, even prior to Trump, was in crisis. We were in a multifaceted ecological crisis, not just a climate change crisis, but a time of rapid degradation of our waters, our soils, the Amazon rainforest, among other ecological woes. We were also mired in multiple refugee crises, particularly but not only in Europe and Latin America. The refugee crises has led to a rise in xenophobia and the authoritarian style governments they tend to inspire.
The election of Trump, the first American president with no government or military experience, shook the establishment to its core. Trump has proceeded to unravel all the norms of polite society and government. But as bad as this may seem, there is a silver lining to what is unfolding. In my book, use a White Mountain Apache story to demonstrate what I mean by this.
An old woman has been long at work weaving a beautiful rug. As she nears its completion, she pauses to stir a soup. When she stirs the soup, however, her black dog, asleep in the corner, awakens, pulls on a loose thread, and causes the rug to unravel. Where there was beauty and harmony, there is now confusion and chaos. But the old woman, returning from stirring the soup, is unfazed. She stares into the disorder, picks up a loose thread, and reimagines a new way to restore beauty and harmony.
Donald Trump is the black dog. He is a trickster figure who takes apart the world, but gives us an opportunity to recreate it in a better way.
Your first book was the Nautilus Book Award-winning Original Thinking: A Radical Revisioning of Time, Humanity, and Nature. Did Original Politics build on Original Thinking?
Original Thinking was more of a philosophy book that laid out the broad context I could build upon. It addressed “easy” questions such as “Is it possible to have an original thought?; What does it mean to be human?; and How is the world now emerging?”
Original Politics builds from the origin of thought to examine how this applies to the actions of human beings.
What’s next for you? Is there another book in the works?
My next book will be called Original Love, which will be the third part in this three-part series—Original Thinking, Original Politics, and Original Love. It will focus on our original love for Mother Earth. It is a more universal form of love, and this is the love we most need to rekindle.
Can you tell us a bit about your relationship with the environmental advocacy group Ecology Prime?
Ecology Prime is a new organization, but their goals and mine have been aligned for some time. I am seeking to redefine what it means to be human, not in separation, but in collaboration with the rest of the more-than-human world. This is where I feel humanity took a wrong turn: when they redefined the greater good as being the good of human beings alone. This limited vision is destined to fail because we cannot be well on a diseased and distressed planet. I hope to redefine politics to include the natural world.
My publisher, SelectBooks, has been working with Ecology Prime to develop the Ecology Prime Publications platform. They are responsible for introducing me to the Ecology Prime organization, for which I am very grateful.
What do you hope readers will take away from Original Politics?
First and foremost, I wish for them to gain a greater appreciation for the true history of our nation, a country born as a hybrid of Native American and Euro- American values. It is essential to adopt a wider perspective on how we got to where we are if we are to envision a brighter future.
Secondly, I want readers to gain an awareness of the complexity of seemingly opposite views and reframe them as complementarities. In other words, reframe seeming opposites, such as light and dark, male and female, liberal and conservative, as two aspects of one whole.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, I want readers to be introduced to a new definition of politics and a new definition of what it means to be human. For too long, human beings have only thought of themselves in their politics. But it won’t do any good to further human goals if the planet is unsuitable for sustaining life.
As the Cree Indian proverb says, “Only when the last tree has been cut down, the last fish been caught, and the last stream poisoned, will we realize we cannot eat money.”