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Epilogue Modern Ritual at Bent's Old Fort
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Ideology and Ritual

Modern man draws a line between religion and ideology, but that line is revealed as a fuzzy one if carefully examined. At first, unreflective glance, the difference seems clear enough. Religion assumes the intervention of supernatural forces in the world, while ideology must make its case for the order of things without recourse to the supernatural. After a more sustained look at the matter, we might notice that those who subscribe to an ideology, tend to behave as if supernatural or, at least, sacred forces were at work in the world. Often they seem to be striving for the attainment of some sort of earthly paradise and to regard their lives as meaningful only insofar as they are contributing to that end.

After all, what is regarded as supernatural depends upon one's definition of the natural. In previous chapters I have argued that such notions are socially constructed. "Natural law" often serves as a paradisiacal model. It is what the world was like before the connection between heaven and earth was sundered. The natural order would again be realized if all would behave correctly. A model for correct behavior was provided by the gods and the ancestors—in the case of ideology, one may regard the founders of countries, business or social organizations, schools of thought, movements in art, or countercultures as the gods and ancestors. Present-day leaders are those who most closely emulate such behavior. Human neoteny provides the basis for ancestor veneration and plays a large role in the selection of leaders and our attitudes toward them. The ancestors and gods, as well as present-day leaders, share many attributes with the


primary caregivers we knew as children. They tend to appear to be larger, more powerful, and more knowledgeable about the arcane than are we.

Whatever the differences between religion and ideology, they are structured similarly. They are socially constructed models of the ideal. As such, they provide the basis for value and belief systems that motivate the behaviors of individuals and groups. In this way (among others) they are different from theology and philosophy, which deal with the intricacies of value and belief systems themselves. Religion and ideology are in this sense more practical, and theology and philosophy more abstract. As Geertz said of religion, and I think the statement applies as well to ideology, it is the "placing of proximate acts in ultimate contexts."[1]

What I have been arguing for, while describing the history, ethnohistory, and material culture associated with Bent's Old Fort, is the recognition of a means by which both religion and ideology are shaped and propagated that is most essentially nonverbal. I have called this ritual, or fugitive ritual, the means by which the proximate and mundane is imbued with the sacred or sublime, and placed within an ultimate context. Ritual is inseparable from either religion or ideology: Religion and ideology are what we do, while theology and philosophy are what we think about what we do.

I have been arguing even more specifically that ritual was a crucial factor in the "winning" of New Mexico and the Southwest. As a part of doing so, I have tried to illustrate the essential aspects of ritual as they occur in both religious (traditional) and ideological (modern) societies. All ritual shares the basic structure of the Sun Dance, in that it refers to an ideal pattern that provides the model for the current social configuration and one's place within it. As we have seen, rituals are liminal. They persist precisely because there must be some means by which to adjust for the tension between the ideal and the world at hand. The ideal, the unchanging, sometimes must change because it becomes drastically out of tune with contemporary conditions and possibilities. More frequently, one's status in reference to the ideal changes. Both sorts of transitions are accommodated, and facilitated, ritually.

Clifford Geertz's view of ideology was that it provides a symbolic framework to replace the one lost as parochial religious symbolic structures are discarded. Such religiously based structures are abandoned as the world becomes less parochial, and religious symbolism can no longer accommodate the phenomena observed in the larger world. Sense is made of the world, after all, by matching up internalized symbolic structures with external experience. These structures may be thought of as a variety


of Kant's a priori assumptions. Making sense of the world by means of these assumptions is the first order of business for humans. If such sense cannot be made, anxiety is generated that precludes effective behavior. Anxiety of this sort is unbearable and explains the mad scramble for a workable ideology that Geertz described as occurring in modernizing countries. He gave as an example the French Revolution, which he said was, "at least up to its time, the greatest incubator of extremist ideologies . . . in human history."[2]

There is an urgency here, an intensity that is entirely understandable from a Kantian point of view, a viewpoint more lately called phenomenological. The intensity is acknowledged in both popular and scholarly attitudes toward ideology. To call someone an ideologue, for example, is not to be flattering. It implies that the person is close-minded, that he or she is willfully nonreflective. Such a person clings to his or her beliefs desperately since to lose them, he or she fears, would produce unendurable chaos in his or her life. For similar reasons, any change in the ideology to which he or she subscribes is feared and resisted. The person or group and the events associated with the origin of the ideology assume almost sacred status. Here is one area, as I have discussed just above, in which the line between religion and ideology becomes very blurred.

Freud and Marx, for example, are often regarded as kinds of demigods, beings touched by the infallibility of genius (itself a word with supernatural overtones). Their followers occupy a kind of privileged position and are permitted insights denied to others. Thus, for example, Marxist thought emphasized that ideology obfuscates and prevents an understanding of true social conditions, particularly power relationships between socioeconomic groups. Marxism itself, however, is not recognized as an ideology by Marxists. As Mark Leone explained in his "Time in American Archaeology": "Ideology in the Marxist sense simply does not exist in societies without classes."[3] Geertz commented in a tongue-in-cheek manner, "I have a social philosophy; you have political opinions; he has an ideology."[4]

Similarly, Freudians believe they alone see the world without illusion. Eric Berne, author of enormously popular books based in Freudian psychology (among them I'm O.K.—You're O.K.) said in a recent book that

the human race is split during late childhood into the Life Crowd, who spend their lives waiting for Santa Claus, and the Death Crowd, who will spend their lives waiting for Death. These are the basic illusions on which all scripts are based.[5]


This statement prompts this question: If half of the human race believes in one sort of illusion and the other half another, who is illusion-free? Only the Freudian analyst . . . and his patients (who, it is important to note, look upon the analyst as a surrogate parent):

The therapist, with full humanity and poignancy, and with the patient's explicit and voluntary consent, may have to perform . . . surgery. In order for the patient to get better, his illusions, upon which his whole life is based, must be undermined. . .. This is the most painful task the script analyst has to perform: to tell his patients that there is no Santa Claus.[6]

If the "surgery" is completely successful, the patient will achieve a kind of modern nirvana, known among some psychologists and a large portion of the general public as "self-actualization."

These points do not refute self-actualization, nirvana, or the cultural awareness required to see behind the masks of capitalist ideology as ideal conditions to which humanity might aspire, but they should be seen as just that. And what this highlights is that the enterprise of pursuing ideal states, even of the modern sorts, is inextricably bound up with ritual. The patient emulates the analyst (the embodiment of the ancestors), the spiritual novice the sage, the student the Marxist teacher. Because human enterprise (Freudian, spiritual, Marxist, and in general) is entangled with neoteny, there is a tendency to see "our" small group (the surrogate family of origin) as the only one that has access to ultimate knowledge, and one which must battle "their" much larger and potentially overwhelming group that would, if they could, snuff out the flickering flame of truth.

Neoteny in this way colors our perception of all human transactions, even perceptions informed by scholarship. The concept of cultural hegemony was offered by the Marxist Antonio Gramsci to explain how a culture can dominate other cultures or sub-cultures without recourse to overt coercion.[7] Because it assigns central importance to values and beliefs, cultural hegemony might be used as a key to an enhanced understanding of the events and, especially, the material culture associated with Bent’s Old Fort; it might explain how the "hearts and minds" of the members of he various cultures of the Southwest were won, and thus how Kearny's Army was able to walk virtually unopposed into Santa Fe. Cultural hegemony could enable the construction of an appealing story for Bent’s Old Fort (and elsewhere) with clear-cut heroes and villains all acting according to ideological scripts with which we, from hearing similar stories, are familiar. Nonetheless, such stories ignore problems of motivation and intentionality that a phenomenological approach finds quite relevant to an under-


standing of collective human behavior. Characters in dramas scripted in accord with cultural hegemony theory are either battling or in league with a diabolical force. The complexities of making real life decisions in the context of competing and conflicting value and belief systems are not well represented in these tales.

To begin with what is a relatively minor point, the Bents and Ceran St. Vrain were not intentionally advancing modem ideology. They were extraordinarily skilled socially. They demonstrated a high level of competency for communicating well, verbally and nonverbally—nonverbal communication including ritual. They honed and exercised these skills to advance their own interests, financial and otherwise, which to some extent coincided with the interests of other groups, including businessmen, and politicians in the East. That these interests were not compatible in the end with their own is evidenced by the demise of Bent & St. Vrain Company, the death of Charles Bent, and the tragedies that befell William Bent and his children. By the end of the fur-trading era, William Bent's interests coincided as much with those of the Cheyenne as with any other group.

More important, by the cultural hegemony model, the Cheyenne and the Mexicans, as well as the principals of Bent & St. Vrain, would be seen as dupes: they were "co-opted," and they sold out for the industrial goods of the Western world. I would say, rather, that they became engaged in a modernization process that began in Europe, reached the Southwest in earnest in the early nineteenth century, and is still occurring in most parts of the globe. Faced with the unavoidable impingement of the modem world, the Cheyenne and the Mexicans replaced at least some of their traditional and more parochial symbolic system with elements of the ideology that was proffered to them by means of the Bents, their fort, and the exchange of trade goods. The rituals involved were, after all, those of inclusion. At a liminal moment in their history, the rituals eased a transformation that most had chosen. This is what ritual is supposed to do, no less in this case than when a Sun Dancer seeks a new vision for a reformed life. As to being dupes—well, there are advantages to modernity, after all. And though the Cheyenne were undone, it was neither the rituals nor modernity, per se, that were their undoing. Tragedy occurred when ritual ceased.

I hasten to make two additional points. I am not saying that the annexation of the Southwest was done for purely ideological purposes or by completely ideological means.[8] Ideology is never pure—it is interwoven with all other strands of culture. The political and economic situation in North America in the early nineteenth century was more complex


than I have been able to deal with fully in this book. I have mentioned almost not at all the happenings in Texas, for example, or California. Nor have I dwelled much on the threats, perceived and real, from other European powers who might have had designs on parts of North America and how the Mexican War was in part a reaction to that. David M. Pletcher has observed that:

If the United States had not won the [Mexican] war decisively, the power of Britain and France might have increased in the Atlantic and the Caribbean. Thus, the war was a ruining point, not only in the internal history of the United States and in its relations with Latin America but also in the relations between hemispheres. Victory in the Mexican War did not launch the United States as a Great Power—this would require another half-century of growth—but it certainly helped to promote the nation from a third-rate to a second-rate power that would have to be reckoned with in its own neighborhood.[9]

The United States had economic and political motives, which were advanced through political and military means. The standard presentation of history, however, leaves out the role of value and belief systems (in this case, ideology) in both setting and achieving such agendas. I am saying that our understanding of history, is deficient without a fuller appreciation of how value and belief systems operate in these regards.

My second point is that I am not offering an excuse or apology for the military invasion of Mexico. Quite aside from questions about the morality of the Mexican War, resistance to the American presence in and then its annexation of the Southwest was minimal. Had there been resistance, it seems doubtful that New Mexico, at any rate, would have been won and held.

What transpired after the war, I think, strengthens the case being presented in this book for the importance of ritual in the construction and maintenance of what Richard White has termed a "middle ground," and which I regard as a common world.[10] A resistance or separatist movement did not develop among the New Mexicans. Among the Native Americans it did. The reason for the difference in reaction had to do with more than just economics. The federal government expressed its willingness to support the Cheyenne and other Plains tribes if they would abide by a new set of rules. But life under these terms was meaningless. The new life being proposed was so far outside of the symbolic framework that had organized their lives that it evidently made little sense to the Cheyenne.

It is important to remember, too, that the symbolic structure being used by the Cheyenne was not developed by the Cheyenne and other tribes


in isolation. Although it contained ancient elements, it had been shaped in large part by interactions with the Europeans since they intruded upon the continent three hundred years earlier. The Plains Indians' culture often seems strangely familiar to Americans of all sorts, including Anglos, because Americans and the Plains Indians created it together. During its creation, the Plains Indians were partners with the newcomers from the Old World. The traders respected Native American traditions, participated in Native American rituals, and, in so doing, gradually transformed the Native American culture. We have seen, for example, how the Plains Indians thoroughly adopted individualism.

With the end of the fur trade, the opportunity to live in meaningful ways was suddenly removed. Meaningful behavior for Native Americans was reenactment of ideal behavior, the behavior of the ancestors and gods. The Native American perception of such primordial behavior, however, had been shaped by three hundred years of ritual trade with the Europeans. The "traditional" preoccupation with buffalo hunting and raiding had developed in tandem with European and then American interests in the West and Southwest and had found its fullest expression in the relationship between the Cheyenne and Arapaho and the Bent & St. Vrain Company. Without trade, the connection—the ritual exchange—that linked the traditional realm of meaning with the new one was also taken away. From a traditional point of view, the cessation of opportunities for Plains Indians to participate meaningfully in exchange with their White Father constituted a betrayal.

New Mexicans, on the other hand, were not deprived of their traditional activities, nor were their connections with the modern world, based in ritualized exchange, severed. Not only did they remain involved with the Santa Fe Trade, for instance, but their involvement increased just prior to and after the war in a number of ways. David J. Sandoval has estimated that half of the goods moving over the Santa Fe Trail in 1838 were being transported by Mexicans.[11] Other scholarship in progress presents similar business enterprises on the Chihuahua Trail at about the same time.[12] By the time of the Mexican War, many Hispanics were mercantile traders as well. Their more complete acceptance of modern ideology rendered these activities meaningful in their culture. Acceptance of a wider spectrum of modern beliefs and values came quite readily to the emerging middle class in New Mexico, perhaps because they could emulate the traditional behaviors of the elite in their society in regard to mercantile trade.

This argument is the one central to this book: Bent's Old Fort served as a model of modern ideology, and that ideology, or essential portions


of it, was then propagated in a ritualistic manner to the more traditional cultures of the Southwest. More of this ideology was adopted by the New Mexicans than by the Native Americans, in part because ritual interaction between the Americans, who were bearing the new ideology to the Southwest, and the New Mexicans was sustained after the Mexican War. Ritual exchange between Americans and Plains Indians decreased drastically after the abandonment of Bent’s Old Fort and virtually ceased after Sand Creek. One effect of this was that the Native Americans became anomalous figures in the modern world.

Bent’s Old Fort, reconstructed in 1976, operates again today as "ritual ground." In investigating present-day ritual, we have the advantage of being able to observe it firsthand, which allows us to identify some fine points in the operation of ritual that are often lost to historic and ethnographic accounts, as well as to the archaeological record. Treating these fine points constitutes a step along the road suggested by Geertz, toward a reasoned examination of symbolic frameworks—to my way of thinking, these frameworks are rituals. Such examination might lead to the more informed application of ritual. Ritual is inevitable because it is a part of the social structure by which essential cultural meanings are conveyed, manipulated, and altered. A society devoid of ritual is impossible because ritual establishes the connections among individuals, and groups, that are necessary, to a society. The question is only how ritual will be employed.

In what follows, I direct the reader's particular attention to two aspects of ritual at the restored fort, which is now known as Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site. The first is the tendency in a modern high-grid, low-group, ego-centered society. such as our own for the development of what has been called an "evangelical" faction by Rhys Isaac.[13] This faction is one that, Mary Douglas says, "discards existing rituals and looks for a radical new rite which will usher in a golden era."[14] At Bent’s Old Fort, this faction comprises the employees of the history association that is affiliated with the park and some of the volunteer interpreters. Evangelicals, as the name implies, seek direct access to communion with the primordial past, whether the ideal or the sacred, depending upon how one looks at it. They believe that existing, formal structures of ritual impede immediate access, and they do not acknowledge their own behavior as ritualistic. The other ritualistic phenomenon I address is the way interpretation, obviously a kind of reenactment, is being used in an attempt to reform society. There is a very. conscious effort to "write in" to the "script" the activities of minorities. The reformation is being attempted by minority employees of the National Park Service, with encouragement from the agency itself.


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Epilogue Modern Ritual at Bent's Old Fort
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