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October 21, 2016

Radcial Hope: Ethics in the Face

of Cultural Devastation 
by Jonathan Lear

A treatise on the moral devastation wrought by colonialist war, deception and murder. Lear focuses on the autobiographical testimony of Crow Nation (Absarokee) leader Plenty Coups, in particular one thought expressed: “After this, nothing happened.” The ‘this’ in question is “when the Buffalo went away,” really a condensation of his people’s displacement by U.S. government authorities, and subsequent loss of tribal identity, hunting grounds, culture and hope. Plenty Coups’s achievement, in Lear’s view, was to recognize the impossibility of continuity in the face of such forces, to literally close the past away and found a new way of life appropriate to their new condition, not capitulation but rather canny adaptation. Lear’s struggle is to comprehend what Plenty Coups meant by entering a time when “nothing happened,” interpreted variously as malaise, or the end of time itself, that when a people loses its identity, all time ceases to exist for them. ‘Radical hope’ is here defined as anti-nostalgia, a drive to continue in full recognition of what has been lost.

-Nicholas Frank