James Giago Davies: True believerism and comic book solutions

The following opinion by James Giago Davies appeared in the Native Sun News. All content © Native Sun News.

Entrance to mass grave burial site at Wounded Knee. Photo by Christina Rose / Native Sun News

Comic book quality solutions
The tragic truth of True Believerism
By James Giago Davies

Back in the lost history of primitive human beings, the first true believer converted the deluded, and they seriously hurt some folks. The exact specifics don’t matter, the true believer became impervious to reasoned argument, proselytized where people once respectfully discussed, and eventually reached the point where he saw any variance from the strict doctrine of his sacred truth as an evil to be destroyed.

San Francisco longshoreman turned profound philosopher, Eric Hoffer, coined the term “true believer” in 1951. His book asserted “the radical and the reactionary loathe the present.” The idea was a true believer group idealized a past group identity, deemed the present day circumstance wrong and evil, and zealously sought to impose their doctrine of radical change, through whatever means necessary to achieve an ideal, and in many cases, like the one we are about to get into, an intractably sacred change.

Hoffer posited the true believer could harvest converts best from people poor and powerless and desperate for hope and change. True Believer doctrines would promote faith over reason; serve as fact-resistant “screens between the faithful and the realities of the world.”

A quarter century later, M. Lamar Keene, a charlatan fake psychic came clean in a bestselling book, wrote: “The true-believer syndrome merits study by science. What is it that compels a person, past all reason, to believe the unbelievable? How can an otherwise sane individual become so enamored of a fantasy, an imposture, that even after it's exposed in the bright light of day he still clings to it — indeed, clings to it all the harder?… No amount of logic can shatter a faith consciously based on a lie.”

Even after admitting that all of his psychic exploits were faked, many of those he duped, refused to believe Keene was a fake. True Believerism attacks cognition: the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses. This cognitive disorder is expressed individually and collectively, and is intensely compelling to those downtrodden and desperate and to those giddy with newfound power and influence.

By the mid-Sixties, young, idealist First Americans were organized and determined to fight back against the dominant culture, against what they rightfully saw as the systematic, institutionalized destruction of the traditional values and virtues of Indian cultures. Called the American Indian Movement, it was initially a purely grass roots political movement, fighting for social justice and sovereign nation status.

By the mid-Seventies, it had militarized, and radicalized to the point True Believerism began to alter the basic operational mentality of many rank-and-file, and poison the vision of leadership. This culminated in the tragic death of Anna Mae Aquash in 1975. Blamed on the FBI for years, Aquash was actually treacherously murdered by AIM members she trusted, most likely acting on orders from the very top, because she was an alleged “government informant.”

One of the hallmarks of escalating True Believerism is paranoid group-wide suspicion. If they did not trust her, all they had to do was tell her she was out of the movement, but True Believers view life through a prism distorted so only their priorities shine through, everything and everyone are expendable in pursuit of those priorities. People have to pay for “betrayal.”

In the April 15, 2015 issue of Native Sun News, 96-year-old Sidney Bird, the last surviving member of the 1939 Oglala Community High School graduating class, and active in the civil rights struggle of the 1960’s, wrote: “I was taken to task by an AIM member. I never convinced him Dr. Martin Luther King’s fight was a struggle for all people including Native Americans. But I never got through to him and was called a @^#%* lover.”

Once True Believerism takes pernicious root, there is no room for macro-perspectives, for universal truths which address the humanity of all men—doctrine is narrow, intractable, uncharitable and increasingly dystopian. In this case, the cause of First Americans was unique, separate, inviolate, because First Believer fanaticism dictated it so.

So, instead of a society wide populist movement that benefited Indian people by principle, AIM sought a comic book quality solution where they emerged utterly victorious, like Crazy Horse scalping George Washington. Had they actually done so, by some cosmic twist of outlandish fate, what a nightmare sovereign nationhood would have resulted with them at the helm. Bodies of the blasphemers would pile high in short order.

True Believerism is not new to First America. Back in 1890, a Paiute prophet named Wovoka brought a True Believer tainted message of power and pride to powerless people trapped and broken on Dakota reservations. These Lakota believed, and led by Big Foot, they rode South, to Wounded Knee, where they died bloody on the snow, by the hundreds.

Nothing they convinced themselves of held true. There was no power beyond men protecting them from Wasicu bullets, there was no truth to the message, nothing sacred to be protected. There was just cold reality and a tragic end to True Believer addled minds, and those that survived did not realize this, and so did not pass on this critical knowledge to the impressionable generations to come.

(James Davies can be reached at skindiesel@msn.com)

Copyright permission Native Sun News