Conversations with Greg
20 January 2013
there is nothing wrong with tribalism in and of itself...racism, however, is like small pox. it infects and is very difficult to cure. south africa is the logical product of years of colonial racism and it will take years before the cure is found, if at all. in my opinion, the only way to cure racism is by examining its ideological roots and exposing them to sunlight (inspection & critique)....adopting a western normative sociality is NOT the path to cure racism or its consequences. affirmative action, while admirable in theory (everyone deserves a shot at becoming a good little capitalist) backfires because capitalism agitates existing animus and creates some where none exists....it creates an uneven playing ground and then demands everyone conform to it. the problem is only partly racism but it is also capitalism both of which emerge from a hierarchical rationality that privileges verticalized power differentials.
Thank you for your comments. I am always glad when people challenge me and force me to justify what I have written. I think Jewish people have a Talmudic tradition of debate in which they are constantly refining and clarifying their beliefs and understandings. It is no wonder that they have produced so many geniuses.
When I say that we are all racists, I refer to the fact that in South Africa we were all born into a racist set-up which became fixed and formalised under apartheid. All of us accepted the hierarchical ordering of races, the separation into group areas, and not mixing with people of other races. Though that is changing, attitudes of superiority and inferiority still persist based, as you point out, on economic status. (Feelings of inferiority are as racist as
feelings of superiority.) Unlike Nelson Mandela, who knows who he is, many of the rest of us are still struggling to affirm ourselves, struggling to throw off racist attitudes.
Under apartheid tribalism became entrenched; we all belonged to tribes, white, brown and black tribes and the differences between us were emphasised. And our differences became the bases for prejudice.
So I think we are caught in a bit of a double bind: in order to affirm ourselves we (especially black – African, Indian, Coloured – people need to embrace our differences, our individual cultures. But cultural chauvinism often leads to prejudice.
The Hindu concept of Karma recognises that existence in the universe is paradoxical because it has no beginning and no end. So that makes all our actions ambiguous – having both good and bad consequences.
Like everything else, capitalism has both good and evil consequences. I think now with the kind of speculation and gambling that goes on in the financial world, the negative side of capitalism has come to the fore. The way I have come to see it (my reading of Alvin Toffler) both capitalism and democracy,
products of 19th century industrialisation, are based on the industrial principles identified by Toffler, principles of centralisation, standardisation and massification which created the working class and deepened the divide between rich and poor. Both democracy and capitalism are coming under fire by poor people who are beginning to see that neither works for them.
21 January 2013
thanks for replying.
see, my issue is with the paradigmattical frame being used to make these assessments (capitalism can be good, tribe = cultural chauvinism). it is a western (colonial) cognitive framework...capitalism is the product of colonial attitudes regarding human value, sociality, ownership, the role of the earth in human life, etc. the "need" of othered peoples to express pride within colonial contexts by mimicking colonial othering is, i agree, a child of racism, but it is not racism itself. even the term "racism" is not accurate to describe what is going on. capitalism, othering, anthropocentricity, racism, sexism, classism (and all of their various
configurations)...these are all expressions of an oppression ideology and while power and control are universal aspects of human sociality, the ways in which they are defined, expressed and understood are not necessarily so. the western paradigm, the colonial paradigm, is configured (or primed) to reinforce and perpetuate oppression ideologies that form its substructural rationality. to
advocate that othered peoples can rise above their oppression by becoming themselves oppressors (through adopting an oppression rationality in the form of capitalism and emulating western social processes structures and institutions) is as such deeply flawed in many ways.
the evolution of humankind on earth is not to be found in such rationalities, in fact, it is an atavistic step backwards.
Okay Greg, I see what you are saying; capitalism is all encompassing and includes racism as one of its means of perpetuating itself.
I agree with that and I agree that my focus on racism is out of context and misses the point that it emanates from the overarching governing structure of capitalism; that prejudices, racial and other, that we experience at an interpersonal level are symptomatic of a wider control and to blame one another for our intolerance is short-sighted and an indication of the extent to which we are victims of
That would apply to all the governed everywhere in the world and not just to those of us in third world countries. It would apply
in all capitalist societies. That would mean that ordinary people in Western countries are as much victims of economic barons as the colonised of other countries. And watching a TV programme on how drug companies exploit ordinary people and keep them overdosed on medications, I accept that we are all being constantly manipulated and exploited.
How do we dig ourselves out of the hole we are in?
27 January 2013
marx (and later fanon) wrote on false consciousness, gramsci on hegemony, bourdieu on statusconservation....what if all the assumptions we have been conditioned (some might say "socialized") to make about the world have been seasoned by false or distorted variables? is it possible that the notion of race and the social realities it has produced isn't only a false consciousness (for both the perpetrator and the target), but is the product of a specific rationality that has been passing itself off a universal human experience for about 8000 years?
what im getting at is a reference to plato's allegory of the cave and the necessity of power to convince those it would dominate of the necessity of being dominated (the fundamental premise of hegemony)...more, how convenient would it be for power if people were taught how to be slaves without the explicit violence and destruction of the process of enslavement?
what if everything we are being told about what it is to be a "normal" human being is actually the opposite of that? i just read an article that racism is hardwired into the human neural networks...what the article left out is the probability (and i need to read the actual dissertation to see if the researcher addressed this) that because existing neural pathways related to response to stimuli can be conditioned or new pathways can be created through conditioning, that the "hardwired racism" thing is more likely the result of people being immersed in a social environment that treats race as though it is real and attaches meaning to it, thus creating cognitive synchrony with a false idea.
my point is that there is something going on that is beyond the scope of typical theoretical frames to encompass---all that is being "analyzed" are the superficialities...people focus on the shadows and are distracted from what is casting them. capitalism is such a shadow, as is racism.
plato suggested that the pursuit of true knowledge is undermined by those with an interest in keeping the focus on the shadows; if we only focus on that, then we can never hope to address the real issues (and by real im referring to causality, after all "the things men believe to be real are real in their consequences") and continue to buy into the artificial versions of freedom and self-determination democracy
and capitalism claim to be able to deliver. freedom within the modern world can be measured by the length of our ideological chains.....capitalism only increases the links on that chain, thus increasing the illusion of freedom; more capital = more room to move about in a bigger cage. democracy is a conservation strategy, a form of social control....it allows the masses (the ideologically enslaved) the illusion of autonomy.
there has been no true freedom in the world for a very long time...the last holdout of authentic freedom (the indigenous homelands of the so-called "western hemisphere") fell in the 1800s with the last shot in the last Indian War. and, just as africa, has been infected with the sickness, the false consciousness of westernity and colonialism, which are really only code words for a species of slavery.
im not a marxist, though i think marx was describing the dynamics of the issue and was pretty on target with his descriptions....material relations and class and capitalism are only expressions of the issue. there is no word for the issue because it has not been theorized, at least, not in explicit terms (various indigenous scholars have begun trying to describe it, francis cress welsing way back in the 70's and 80's in her isis papers work was the first to attempt a comprehensive and coherent articulation of it, various scholars from different regions in africa
have likewise articulated that it is a problem, but no one has breached the boundaries of its cognitive dominance to produce a coherent, articulated theory of it). so how do you construct a strategy to deal effectively with something that the vast majority of people do not even know exists? how do you even begin to talk about it? i dont know...all i know is that what we are told is the truth is not, at least not entirely, and that i am encouraged to accept this partial reality and incorporate it into my life such that i continue to make flawed assumptions based on false premises which only work to keep me on the hamster wheel.
the discourse has to change, for one. the scope has to be both deeper and wider than a dialogue about how to wield a flawed tool that in the wielding makes one its tool.
i have no illusions about the current capacity of the general world's population to begin to grasp a discourse that locates them as social actors acting out a false script based on a flawed consciousness of reality. in my own community people are fighting to become colonialists...they call it "economic development". they are fighting to get a "piece of the pie" and rub elbows with the same kind of people who 100 years ago were advocating for our total extermination so that venture capitalists, speculators, entrepreneurs, land barons, etc. could have free access to extract and exploit our ancestral homelands for their own self-aggrandizement. they've bought into the lie, and, like pigs in a wallow, are immersed in it, completely, willing participants in their own enslavement.
really, i do not believe there is hope to change the paradigm right now, and the "if you cant beat them join them" adage is inadequate. all i know is that in this world as it is now the only real freedom is in how we think, the depth of our thought, the veracity of it, its incisiveness and unwillingness to be seduced by falsity or dogma or demagoguery and that as technology and profit margins increase, true human freedom decreases.
i think, that if you are going to promote participation in this thing, that you should be brutally honest as to what it is, the scope of its capacity to deliver on its promises, the limitations and predictable consequences (capitalism is not simply a value free exchange of services and products, it is a transformative ideology that will strip every last vestige of original self away) of it and to move away from idealizing it.
29 January 2013
My understanding of human existence is based on the African principle of ubuntu, “I am because we are,” which for me means the interdependence of individual and community; the individual is a product of society and society is a product of the individual. And interaction between the individual and the
group allows for mutual development.
Some individuals are able to maximise their potential and become leaders in the group. In general, leaders are people with greater insight; they have a holistic understanding of how a society operates and they set up institutions to regulate relations between individuals in the community. And that leads to division of power and creates the divide between governors and governed.
All people in authority, politicians, industrialists and so on, are in position to abuse the power that they hold and to exploit the governed and to enrich themselves. And for me that is really the problem everywhere. I don’t believe it really matters what ideology you subscribe to, the problem remains that people in power actively or passively abuse their power. And conquest can be obvious and vicious as with dictators or it can be subtle as in democracies and take the form of indoctrination. Capitalists indoctrinate by creating needs for material goods. I was recently made aware that drug companies have reversed their function; they are now in the process of creating medical conditions that require their products.
All kinds of products, clothes, cars etc, go out of fashion very rapidly so most people, who don’t wish to be considered old-fashioned, are manipulated into buying the latest. And so global economies continue to develop to keep the majority of people dependent, exploited and colonised. And all the latest modes of communication are a means of ensuring continued colonialism. Colonialism has always been inspired by capitalistic visions. And ordinary people everywhere, including people in Western countries, are victims of economic colonisation.
Even revolutions are being manipulated through the latest technology. And it is sad to see people all over the world crying for democracy as though that means people power. The problem with government is that it concentrates power in the hands of the few. That is what the vote means; it means mandated dictatorship.
Dictators hold on to power through divide and conquer strategies. Racism is one of the most powerful strategies.
i have heard of ubuntu. there is a similar philosophy, but also very different, where i am from...this is wahkotowin and refers to the interrelatedness of all things, not just as intrinsically connected by a shared environment, but through direct tangible kinship and it includes non-human people. i find that many world philosophies tend toward an anthropocentricity that is fatal. in the tribal context of wahkotowin, "leadership" is not seen as an entitlement; traditional concepts of autonomy (it is carried in each individual body not subject to any sovereign) precluded the notion of a "right" to assume authority over others, regardless of individual gifts, talents, or insight. in other words, while people were recognized for their abilities to contribute to the well being of the community, it was no guarantee that they would maintain positions of "leadership" (really, they were chosen through consensus to act as the spokesperson for the community, not the leader, nor chief as is erroneously believed; their positions were no greater and no less than any other social position in the community). the checks and balances were such that any perceived abuse of power (which was unlikely in and of itself since individuals were socialized to think about their roles in certain ways) was addressed through community action. such is the capacity of social relations defined by community consensus rather than elite rulership.
i dont buy into your universal interpretation of the inevitability of abuse of power. i see it as an expression of a particular rationality that promotes itself as universal in order to undermine other rationalities that have operated for far longer than the "dog eat dog" mentality that defines the western sphere and the sphere of men guided by a strength/power rationale that allows them to justify the abuse of power you mention as "human nature".
most people are so immersed in that rationality that they cannot comprehend that anything else exists, let alone imagine it.
tell me, what is your definition of freedom?
05 February 2013
From what you have written about wahkotowin, I see it as a wider interpretation of ubuntu as it includes all of life – plant, animal and human and the environment. It does not express only our responsibility to one another as human beings but also real respect for all life. I think it is a wonderful ideal and I shall find out more about wahkotowin, make it a guiding principle in my life and try to live by it – just as I have adopted karma, ubuntu, ummah – ideas which help me to understand existence.
But these are all ideals. A society in which every individual treats every other individual with respect is not within my experience so my understanding of human nature is that it is fallible. We create ideals in order to try to be respectful of one another and of all life but it is a struggle, what Muslims call jihad (not holy war but the individual struggle that we each go through every day of our lives in order to be true to our ideals.)
I think with democracy, liberal as well as socialist, in which we as individuals mandate representatives to administer our lives, we put a great deal of power and authority in their hands and it takes people with a commitment to wahkotowin not to succumb to a sense of entitlement. I am not sure who comes to your mind when you think of great people but the ones I think of were never in government even though they were leaders – people like Mother Teresa, Gandhi, even Mandela. Though he was president of South Africa, Mandela remained above politics and so there are people in South Africa who are ambivalent about him. He filled us all with hope, inspired us to love and forgive one another but he made little difference to the conditions
under which most of the oppressed live.
To come to my definition of freedom: for me freedom is knowing the truth.
Those people, chained in Plato’s cave, are chained by an illusion of the truth so they are in darkness with shadows. I don’t believe I am any better than they are except that I am aware that my understanding is incomplete and I must continue to search for the reality beyond the shadows. I have to become aware of my conditioning, understand why it was necessary and how to operate without being enslaved by it.
The search for truth is the pursuit of freedom; that’s what Hindu meditation is about – searching for enlightenment to free oneself from maya (illusion). God is another word for enlightenment, for truth, for freedom.