The 5 stages of falling in Love again and again and again…..

 

Exploring Terrorism, Love, Climate Change & Puppies

From Rant to Rage to Disbelief to Grief to Love

 

If you got fooled by the title into thinking this post was about something lovely but unserious. I am sorry. I will try to dose some happiness in between with a reward at the end (You can also just skip all the way down).

 

I had to  lie to get you interested. But lies can be beautiful if told well.

 

Just found out all demonstrations against the Climate Summit in Paris were cancelled.
Not sure if this is true or not?

To be honest, I used to think when somebody got murdered: “I hope it is not a Muslim that did it.” Expecting the inevitable backlash. This time however,  I quite quickly got a conspiratorial thought (even before I heard this news):

 

“I bet they orchestrated this to cancel the climate summit protests.”

 

Now I am aware that this might be not true, in fact I expect it to be an exaggeration of mine. These days I believe that most evil in the world is the result of ever increasing stupidity edging towards murder nudged here and there by a small army of psychopaths. Masterminded or not this is the situation we got…

“No Conspiracies Required”

The truth is at once less sinister and more dangerous. An economic system that requires constant growth, while bucking almost all serious attempts at environmental regulation, generates a steady stream of disasters all on its own, whether military, ecological or financial. The appetite for easy, shortterm profits offered by purely speculative investment has turned the stock, currency and real estate markets into crisis-creation machines, as the Asian financial crisis, the Mexican peso crisis and the dot-com collapse all demonstrate. Our common addiction to dirty, nonrenewable energy sources keeps other kinds of emergencies coming: natural disasters (up 430 percent since 1975) and wars waged for control over scarce resources (not just Iraq and Afghanistan but lower-intensity conflicts such as those that rage in Nigeria, Colombia and Sudan), which in turn create terrorist blowback (a 2007 study calculated that the number of terrorist attacks since the start of the Iraq war had increased sevenfold).” Naomi Klein ~ The Shock Doctrine

 

If anyone can help me connect the dots in a more positive way, I would be happy to hear it, or if they can show me faults in my facts or reasoning.

 

These are the facts as I see it:

 

– We protested against going into Iraq, politicians ignored us and lied to us in the process about weapons of mass destruction. Said politicians got rich in the process: Blair, Cheney, Rumsfeld etc.

– Ostensibly ‘we’ went to war to bring freedom and democracy. Our governments routinely break the rules of democracy: Guantanamo, NSA, corruption, censorship etc. etc. etc. etc.

– The people that cause wars never die in them. People that decide to start wars in various countries are usually more closely connected to each other than to the mass of the people in their own countries.

– Within hours of being attacked, the president of a ‘democracy’ (Hollande) had decided to murder many more innocents sparking further future violence. No declaration of war was needed because France (and many (western) powers) have been waging war almost continuously in a variety of places around the world for centuries.

– The more fearful citizens become the more they need a strong leader. The more the leader can keep them afraid the more power he has.

-We also know that politicians routinely manipulate public opinion to suit their goals. One notable example is talking about a crisis so that populations swallow cuts on public services, when in fact we are looking at a redistribution of wealth to the rich. Claiming free market ideologies while providing subsidies to corporations.

That’s because, for the Canadian financial community, the “deficit crisis” was a critical weapon in a pitched political battle. At the time Truglia was getting those strange calls, a major campaign was afoot to push the government to lower taxes by cutting spending on social programs such as health and education. Since these programs are supported by an overwhelming majority of Canadians, the only way the cuts could be justified was if the alternative was national economic collapse—a full-blown crisis. The fact that Moody’s kept giving Canada the highest possible bond rating—the equivalent of an A++— was making it extremely difficult to maintain the apocalyptic mood. ” Naomi Klein – The Shock Doctrine

– The more bombs are thrown the richer the arms dealers get.

– The more bombs are thrown the more terrorists we get.

– The more bombs we throw the more powerful ISIS gets.

– The more fear arises the more violence we get, in the world, in our societies, in our homes and in our hearts.

 

How is this related to climate change?

 

We have known about climate change since the 50’s or 60’s, oil companies have kept this truth from us. Governments have been trying to address it since the early 90’s. They have not succeeded, because while they were busy celebrating the so-called victory of capitalism by promoting free trade. Pretending there was no relationship between increased trade and increased pollution.

In 1945 President Roosevelt signed a deal with King Saud  at the Bitter Lake conference. The Americans agreed to supply arms and money in exchange for Saudi oil. The influx of Saudi money was not regulated very well, it was in part this cash used by Western banks for speculation which played a part in financial bubbles including the crash of 2008.

And I sincerely believe, with you, that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies; and that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.” Thomas Jefferson ~ 1816

Today the Saudi’s are still receiving Cash & Arms in exchange for their oil. They are giving some of these arms and weapons to support IS and other terrorist groups and using a very large part of it to suppress precisely those ‘democratic values’ that are supposedly under attack today.

 

Western democracies have murdered innocents and supported dictators since before they were democracies and the influence of money and power in those democracies makes them anything but democracies.

 

Meanwhile our dependence on fossil fuel is wrecking the world. Those people who are the poorest will suffer the most of the coming flood. It will truly be a watershed moment.

River delta’s where our food is produced will be flooded causing more crises. Already hot places will become much drier. People love their homes. But war and famine might cause them to flee.

If we want to have any chance at all from keeping global warming under the dangerous 2 C* level we have to act decisively in the next year and now our chance to protest is taken away?

We are fighting for more than the deaths of millions of innocents, we are also fighting for what the world will look like after the coming crisis. Some people say we can’t change the world. This is true we cannot do this alone.

The world is changing as we speak. The only thing we can influence (we hope) is what that change will look like. Every thought, action and feeling counts. You might find this a heavy burden.

I know I have done so in the past and will do so again. The good news, there is no failure. Any time you feel like you failed the only thing that helps is to get up and start loving. People do lose however.
All we can do is extend our love to all.

 

The West is not paradise, we are suffering from our own mental illnesses, our own spiritual diseases. Not in the least caused by the cult of individualism. Which is feeding the frenzy destroying our environment. Not coincidentally this same mindset of war, which allows certain sections of society to take control of the resources that belong to us all, is also at play in how we treat the natural environment that we are a part of. It’s called GREED!


From the aluminium industry whose mines which lop off mountaintops filled with rainforest to get to the mineral underneath, poisoning the air and the water of those last peoples in Harmony with nature. To dams built to power Aluminium refineries. To that aluminium being used in bombs for its use in weapons, but also being used in everyday products like deodorant, just to ensure a steady supply to the military.

 

Repeat this chain of links for most other resources, the way we produce our food (MEAT), wasting water and creating dead zones from the nitrogen runoff into the oceans. Meanwhile having cattle suffering just to add up to climate change through the production of methane gas.

 

Or the cutting of rainforest to produce palm oil for products ranging from nuts, to cosmetics.
Or the cutting of rainforest to find metals for our smart phones in the Congo, western multinationals funding warlords and child soldiers.

 

My deepest apologies for summing up all this suffering for you. I am sure you wanted something else. However there is reason to be hopeful. All these problems are connected, these are not random occurrences of fear and terror, These are all policies connected to money making interests. We have a choice!

 

The western society prides itself on rationality, but what underlies all these behaviors is an irrational fear of death. The ego fears extinction so latches to any pleasure it thinks will sustain it. 

We think our actions do not resonate in the world and ignore evidence to the contrary. The hope I see, is that reason and logic demand that we start acknowledging the connections between our actions and our consequences.

Luckily Love has always known this. So our rational mind just needs to catch up with our maturing love! (grannies y’all)


We have a choice to demand other policies. We can choose to care. By being vulnerable we will come out stronger. For the first time in history we are all connected. Our words can reach any corner of the world. Our actions have long since echoed throughout the globe. Previously the suffering caused by our actions was hidden to a greater extent.

We can choose to care. We can choose to keep speaking about love. Unless there is somebody with a gun to your head, the time for love is always…. And even if you move to defend yourself, you do not have to resort to hate. Even in the face of death most will resort to love. 

As I lay down in the blood of strangers and waiting for my bullet to end my mere 22 years, I envisioned every face that I have ever loved and whispered I love you. Over and over again. Reflecting on the highlights of my life. Wishing that those I love knew just how much, wishing that they knew that no matter what happened to me, to keep believing in the good in people. To not let those men win.“Isobel Bowdery

 

Love creates life, hate brings more death….

In fact even death pushes us to create, to create through love the world we want to leave behind. Death highlights the transience of this present moment. It could be all we have to love, best to cherish it for all we are worth.

We can defend ourselves when we are threatened, but what is threatening us right now?
It is the rule of leaders who think other people can be killed to good effect. Leaders who implement genocidal policies in our name.

 

If your response  to this is to justify the bombing by our beloved ‘democracy’, please take a moment to reflect on why you have that impulse.

I believe in freedom whatever it means, I just believe there are better ways to achieve that than war. Even war can be waged much more smartly than it is currently being done. Especially those people that now feel inclined to say, at least here (in the West) we have it better ‘here’ than ‘there’. Ask yourself, is ‘there’ and ‘here’ still a valid category, if violence seeps into every crook and nanny. If our ‘freedom’ is bought with innocent lives.

The development of race (part 7): The UCU debate on racism

The UCU Debate On Racism

To be completely honest my sense of acting on ideals had somewhat deadened during my initial time at UCU, it got lost in a haze of parties. I was forced to take a hiatus and returned to get some high grades and was blessed with the UCU in Africa experience. To some extent this revived my White Saviour complex, but more so it revived my ideals, while making me acutely aware of the power structures in the world (together with some help from Lonia). Thus actually eradicating my sense of any achievement to be had from following existing power structures alone.

Although I do not feel I was one of the alumni that attacked Bryan Miranda as he said in his piece “UCU a school for the white privileged”. I did try to get him to moderate his tone. Something I now see as somewhat presumptuous. I also definitely felt attacked in my sense of self-worth, was I not a gifted individual?
I haven’t looked at the Facebook Alumni page, are the comments still there? In any case I feel indebted to Bryan Miranda for raising this issue.

Although I still feel it is not my place to moderate anyone’s emotion. I do feel that the debate is often had on false terms. I  now understand some the anger that people of colour sometimes display when discussing these issues. It seems to come from not being heard when speaking about injustice and from White people ignoring blatant realities of oppression to their own benefit. That being said, I think sometimes this anger also comes out when people are trying to be understanding.

The reverse is also true. White people sometimes get defensive even when one just states facts about racism in a neutral tone. So on both sides (if there are sides) there is a real and a perceived threat. Sometimes I feel caught between two camps who do not seem to understand or even hear each other. However my sympathy goes mainly to POC for the threat to their lives is real and takes on structural forms. Whereas the threat to White people appears to be mainly imagined, psychological and selfish.

When reading Bryan’s article again, I cannot help but agree with almost every point. Except perhaps that his views seem to generalizing, for there is more in the world than structures. We need people everywhere including in positions of power, to help make change. Although I do feel that to a large extent holding a position of power means acquiescing to existing structures.  This could be my white saviour complex resurfacing, but I think it is just a generic saviours complex (Jezus was black after all). This is also not really disagreement of fact but more of approach.

However when I read Omri’s piece “Criticism, inclusion and mobilisation the shape of things to come” again I run into some trouble:

“The accuracy or veracity of the claims I do not intend to address, but rather the assumptions and conclusions.”

So he is addressing not claims, but assumptions and conclusions? This seems like a smokescreen. It makes it look like he agrees with the claims while hardly addressing them. Let’s see what assumption are being made:

While “whiteness” or “blackness” in this area of social criticism refer not literally to colour but political and identity categories of inclusion and exclusion, it seems dangerous to then apply them a priori to individuals. There seems to be a contradiction in condemning racial prejudice, and then assuming an individual to wish to be defined politically by that category, or to accuse her of privilege or opinion she may not have. Would an Indian UC student from a wealthy background be defined as ‘white’ or ‘black’? Would a Dutch student from an inner-city housing estate be defined as ‘black’ or ‘white’? Who are we to judge? This seems an unsettling and dangerous muddle, which could lead to prejudice on the side of the critic.

So in this section it seems like he is addressing an assumption by Bryan, but in fact he is making his own assumption. While Bryan indeed does not actively define between different categories of colour. It seems clear from his piece that he is addressing three kinds of colour categories.

One being treatment which befalls one because of one’s skin colour (which is an arbitrary biological fact of melanin in the skin, that does not convey any other qualities). This treatment could be privilege or oppression, or a mixture of both. There are other factors mediating this, like wealth, religion or nationality.

Bryan also mentions “their cultural” which is the second way in which race is used in his piece. By which use he accurately points out that this is often a thinly disguised racism.

The political identity of black or white is usually reserved for those people that identify in that way to fight a political battle. Just because Bryan does not make his use explicit, does not mean he is assuming anything about anyone. Historically categories of who is white and who is black or yellow shifts.

Both in the political sense and in deciding who gets oppressed and privileged these categories are a site of contestation. In Britain for instance, people from certain Asian communities were originally part of the Black political movement together with Afro-Caribbean people. Later the movement split and later again the movement rejoined.

Similar things have happened to the Irish and also to poor whites. Sometimes being labeled criminals or being used as indentured servants (near slaves) at other times being drawn into more privileged positions. For instance the Irish’s role in policing black people in the US. There are more examples of categories shifting. The categories you utilize, as Omri rightly implies, depend on your perspective.

Prejudice is always a danger that can befall any one of us and tends to do so a lot. Everybody makes judgments and is partial to implicit racist perceptions. This does not equate to a system of oppression like White Supremacy.

Who are we to judge? Just people I’d say. But people that function in structures that cause suffering. Usually the judgments that sustain power structures win out. That is why I believe the situation Bryan sketches is so problematic. Because while a university should be place of learning and questioning, in this way by representing mainly the viewpoint of the elite, it becomes a site of indoctrination, at least in part.

Reality is a dangerous muddle, people die from too much reality all the time. The thing is, if we truly open our eyes to structural poverty and oppression and our own role as “leaders of tomorrow” in those structures. We can not claim as the Germans did “Wir haben es nicht gewust” (yes I went there). They could have known, and we can know.

“On the other hand, the structural mechanisms of racial exclusion operate on a macro level – through historical circumstance, public policy, political discourse, and economic conditions – education, housing, and social networks. To then attempt to make the accusation that UCU somehow guilty of practicing exclusion, because it is subject to the same social forces, simply does not add up. One would need to examine many more demographic and socio-economic variables to understand why one type of person might apply to UC and another might not. Very partial and rash conclusions do more to offend than they do to clarify.”

Again an assumption by Omri. Racial exclusion is a micro as well as a macro level affair. POC experience micro-aggression all the time, even in the way discussions are held. Bryan no where says that UCU is guilty of anything. However I would say that simply by being part of those structures we bear some responsibility. Which is ironic, because while ostensibly we set out to fight inequality, we end up supporting it as Bryan points out. Responsibility is not the same as guilt.

“Social exclusion and marginalisation, poverty, prejudice, and xenophobia have all been on the rise, and are more important to tackle head on now than ever. They are driven by elements of social class, gender, race, power relations, material incentives, or cultural practices – there is no benefit in omitting criteria from the analysis. Above all it is important to recognise the gobsmacking intransigence and immobility that have been characteristic of our current  politics, and through the bursting seams of that degraded structure, dangerous distasteful currents begin to flow.”

While Omri is right to point out the need for multi-faceted analysis. Something I felt was talked about more at UCU than actually done. All the aspects he names are important factors in marginalization. However talking about race does not mean leaving out gender.

It is now very fashionable to talk about intersectionality and with due cause. Certain groups have always approached oppression in this way, but even though the issues intersect they are simultaneously separate. Distasteful currents are flowing, they have never stopped, they have only slowed down to a trickle. Communities of colour, or of transgender people are well aware of this. Not just current politics are rotten, systems of power are rotten.

“The Right has proven its ideas bankrupt, while the Left has been unable to produce a new narrative to allow it to take political and policy discourse down a new route (yet).”

“What we have learnt, though, is that we have responsibility. If our generation do not aim to do things drastically differently than the way they are being done, we will not be able to tackle the problems of climate change, economic stagnation, and inequality. If we do not engage, these will overtake us. Whereas criticism and reflection are key, active involvement solutions are needed.

This generation needs to be one that is politically mobilised and socially engaged, willing to attempt to grasp and contend with interconnected problems. For those who spent time at UC and have taken these lessons with them can count themselves fortunate.”

I believe that doing things drastically differently means dismantling old power structures, including false oppositions between left and right. We need to move beyond oppositional dualistic thinking into a more holistic future. That means less elites and more community. There is more to Bryan Miranda’s story than criticism and reflection. It is a call to introspection, which can lead to powerful action.

Indeed such initiatives as “zwarte piet is racisme” are doing exactly that. Active involvement solutions of all kinds, can use these reflections, to make the solutions inclusive so that we don’t repeat past mistakes.

The development of Race (part 6): Race and development & What now?

Race and Development?

This blog is supposed to be one view on development. As you can see I don’t really keep to that. We’re good though because everything is connected anyways. My master’s degree was called the social anthropology of development. Funnily or sadly (depending on your perspective) race was not discussed once. We did talk about human rights and indigenous rights. We talked very little about power relations.

If you take into account that as I said in an earlier post, development came out of colonialism and white supremacy this is quite strange.  Luckily I am not the only one to have noticed this (in development) Sarah White (I know right!?!) wrote an article in 2002 Thinking Race, Thinking Development. As the title suggests Race is actually central to the project of development. Which makes not mentioning it, extra strange. Her article is basically a call for consideration of Race in Development and gives some suggestions for how to go about this. I am sure more has been written since in Academia and has been written before already outside of academia. If you know of good literature on this please let me know.

The relationship between race, ethnicity, development and other things is very complicated and I have already written too much. We can easily observe a few strange things however:

  • White people in foreign countries are called expats. POC are called (im)migrants.
  • White people working in development tend to make much more more than their non-white counterparts even for the same work. And have better benefits.
  • White people tend to be in charge of projects.
  • White people can be experts or consultants on regions, even when local people obviously have much more knowledge.
  • The economic relationship between countries often remains one of exploitation.
  • Even though there are ghettos and poor people in the global North/West, you don’t find people from let’s say China going to Harlem to ‘develop’ it.

Of course development can be many different things, but in my experience it is very hard to do it right. Even the people I know that are doing it responsibly (taking local needs as guidance etc.) are still attempting to use their privilege to help others. A laudable attempt but one that easily ends up confirming said privilege. A situation that is way better than previous ‘civilizing’ attempts but that is fraught with some of the same and some new issues.

What now?

To be completely honest, I don’t really have a good answer. The world is a vast place, complex, with many different views.

Akala performed at SOAS a while ago. A lot of his work deals with the effects of empire, white supremacy, colonialism etc. He pointed out also during his performance that spies used to be trained at SOAS to go into the colonies. They probably still are by the way.
I asked him about something he refers to in one of his rhymes: “How do you feel that a lot of your fans will end up perpetuating this system of oppression?” he replied: “I ask myself that everyday and a lot of people smarter than you have been trying to crack the questions of how to deal with this oppression for a long time.”

Akala is one of the most vocal and effective speakers/thinkers on this topic alive today (as far as I’m aware). So on the hand it feels disheartening to have him say something like that. On the other hand I also think it indicates two things. 1 This problem will not be solved by intellect alone but requires compassion. 2 It requires a lot of people working together and coming into awareness.

Having said that I don’t really have a good clear answer, I’m going to venture the one that I do have.

Recognizing white supremacy! The first step to any problem is seeing it for what it is.

Why do we think it is okay for SHELL to abuse the Nigerdelta and cause deaths there, but drilling for gas in Groningen is not?

Recognizing racism means acknowledging how you got where you are. If you’re white this might mean toning down your sense of accomplishment somewhat. It definitely means questions some of the values that you have been fed since birth. What are the so-called liberal values like democracy or freedom of speech worth if they do not apply equally to all?

If you really believe in these values you should fight to uphold them for everyone, or create the societal structures that will.
It also means monitoring your responses and feelings towards people around you. Why do I think that guy is a drug dealer? Because he is Moroccan and drives a BMW? Might have been the wrong judgement there.
If you find yourself getting defensive when the topic of racism comes up; ask yourself what I am defending here? My sense of self worth? Why is that so fragile to begin with?

To my mind it also includes listening more than you talk especially when POC talk about their experiences. It also means being willing to be uncomfortable.

It also means distinguishing between the facts that are being said and the emotion behind it and realizing there is probably a connection between the two. There is no  need for you to police or solve somebody’s feelings. They are entitled to have them (if you are a man, this might apply to your relationship with your partner as well, just listen, don’t always offer solutions).

I think all of this is premised on the understanding that comes out of compassion. We all have a right and desire to live.

This can also mean not turning away from people that seem ignorant, but trying to forgive them for being idiots and helping them think differently. While preserving the courage to speak out or actively fight oppression. Remember that you never know a person’s history or his future.

This is not an issue of guilt. But I do think it is one of responsibility. We all have something we have done in this, but more importantly there is something we can do.

That being said it is important to avoid paternalism, POC are not children that need our help. They are human beings and there is something to be gained through our collective effort. The least we can do is not actively oppress them or get in their way.

Furthermore I think there is a place for meditation and general well-being in all of this. The happier you are the less likely you are to abuse someone. The more aware you are of your perception, identity and inner state, the more you can be of service.

I also think there are many things politically that need to change or could help this issue (and others). Less focus on competition, debt relief, global basic income, an economic system that values things intrinsically instead of their profit potential etc, etc, etc, etc.

Compassion does not mean some sort of tree hugging hippie philosophy although hugging a tree can be quite nice. Here it is good to look at history again.

The reasons slavery was abolished was multi-faceted: In part the reason was economic (paying slaves a salary means they can buy your product). In part their was some do-goodery involved from various elites and solidarity from white working classes.

A very powerful drive for change also came from violence. Slaves rising up to fight for their own freedom proved too costly eventually. So depending on the world we want: We have a choice to promote slaughter and bloodshed, or the slow death of poverty and structural violence. Or we can start acting like we mean it when we say: “every life deserves a chance”.

We could start multiversities that actually speak to all perspectives, not just one as is implied by UNI-verse, “one verse to rule them all”. We could do many things. Time to get creative.

The Development of Race (part 5): Why talk about racism today (or why not)?

Why talk about racism today (or why not)?

“Until the philosophy which hold one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned everywhere is war, me say war.

That until there no longer first class and second class citizens of any nation until the colour of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes me say war.

That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all, without regard to race dis a war.

That until that day the dream of lasting peace, world citizenship rule of international morality will remain in but a fleeting illusion to be pursued, but never attained now everywhere is war – war.”

Bob Marley: ‘War’

Some people love to claim we live in a post-racial society. They feel that talking about something which is a construct, a fantasy, like ‘Race’ will only make it more real. I have some sympathy for this view. I’d also rather not have to talk about these issues and there is a real danger of talking about something in the wrong way and thus creating new problems. However I think events of the past years and the #blacklivesmatter movement have brought to public attention that this post-racial reality is more of a fantasy than anything else.

Usually I think you will find people that say this, themselves have a certain level of privilege or a lack of historical awareness. Often when I discuss issues of race with my white friends who hold this view one of the following things come up or in my opinion is likely to underlie their standpoint:

  • “The way things are” hypothesis. Also related to people claiming things to be ‘natural’, to me it betrays a certain laziness in thinking or perceiving, a dangerous one in fact. Many reactionist movements (including fascists, anti-abortionists, anti gay movements) use this completely opaque argument to defend their position. In this case it comes down to claiming that people have an innate tendency to categorize people (on some level this might hold true, but does that mean change is impossible?). This is often goes hand in hand with the next hypothesis:
  • “Things will stay the same” hypothesis, people have a tendency to view (against all evidence) the situation they find themselves in as semi-permanent. This is why it so hard to quite smoking (that craving feels like it will extend into eternity), why break-ups suck so much (“I’ll never find anyone ever again”). And why people keep believing going to war is a solution to things (“Really wars cause untold suffering to millions?, I’d have thunk(!?$) we’d just go in and take care of business.”). Probably this hypothesis is some kind of psychological help to convince ourselves we live in a stable and secure world. Billions of years of change kind of speak against this hypothesis. It also prevents us from actually building a relatively stable and secure world.
  • The last one I came across is the “things will sort itself out” hypothesis. One some level this might be true. Things do happen and when they do, we end up calling it reality, the place we call home. However what this home looks like is profoundly an effect of our joint interactions. And related to this last one and the previous we can also hypothesize the following: “Things will change” and possibly “Things will get worse” or “Things can get out of hand fairly quickly”. Just ask anybody alive in Europe in 1939 or any of the black people killed by police recently (if we could).

Racism is everywhere, nonetheless it is only one of many societal problems that face us. I see climate change and capitalism (which is a major cause for both issues) as the three biggest threats to wellbeing. Besides that they are many other private, personal or familial issues beseeching us. Where is the rent coming from? Will I be able to feed my baby? Will my mom beat this cancer?

We can be excused for not wanting to think about issues that make an already precarious existence more so. Or not having the mental space to give time to all these things.

Or preferring to give attention to things that actually make us feel good, to focus on the positive.

I know I have some friends that might read this and say: “Is he having a go at capitalism again?” I don’t believe in simple classifications of things. Any classification is just a tool to think with. Capitalism like Racism or Love can take many forms.

As I have said in a previous post, the old meaning of object is ‘thrown against the senses’. To me, at heart capitalism is a philosophy (and there are many other philosophies which do the same), an ideology, which treats reality and what is found within as essentially separate from everything else, separate from itself. As objects appearing to the self.  A schizophrenic world view.

My philosophy simply entails trying to extend that sense of self, that sense of feeling and empathy to other people and beings to the extent that we share a dependency with whatever kind of being we find ourselves confronted with. This does not mean to ignore science or objectivity, it entails being capable of more than one way of looking at the world.

That means saying #blacklivesmatter, that means realizing that all of reality is connected. It means recognizing we are a part of nature and we depend it. That when we mistreat or abuse each other, we are also doing damage to ourselves.

So even though I am all for letting sleeping dogs lie, I think letting them sleep on a nest of vipers is unwise. Hard as it is to think about these issues, imagine how much harder it is for the people experiencing them. Imagine the horror that could continue to occur if we do nothing, imagine the new holocausts waiting to happen. And they are waiting as climate change is bound to wipe out exactly those communities of colour that have historically been colonized.

Imagine if the people in your life that have extended a helping hand or simply a warm hand of compassion had not done so. How bleak a world would we live in, if nobody cared, if nobody tried to fight wrongs?

Ask yourself, when you act, Do you not do so out of a belief in something greater? A belief or a hope, that something good will come of it?

That was the emotional and cognitive side of things, now let’s consider some facts. The case of Holland:

After reading this piece on slave wealth in the UK, I became curious about the Dutch situation:

A few facts;

-75 % of the slaves in North America were transported there by Dutch slavers.

-When slavery was abolished in Holland in 1863 all slave owners were paid 300 guilders compensation per slave (6787,21 in euros today). Also all slaves had to continue working for 10 years for free after this. This is why descendants of slaves say slavery ended in 1873.

-If we take the 45000 slaves that were property in Dutch lands (including the colonies) and multiply that by 6787,21 (300 guilders of 1863 in euros today) we arrive at a sum of 309,519450 euros. If we add to that 10 years work by 45000 slaves for a minimum wage of 1507,80 per month we arrive at a further 814,212000 euros. If we add these two figures we arrive at a sum of 1,123731450 billion euros.

So just looking at the amount of money paid to former slave owners after abolition of slavery in one country, we find a sum of more than a billion euros. We have not counted the profit from the hundreds of years of slave trade before abolition, nor the cost of other types of exploitation (of resources for instance). Nor have we counted the costs of permanently damaging the economies in countries of origin, making them ripe for exploitation which continues to this day.

We also have not considered the psychological damage to both slavers and slaves, in the effort to dehumanize slaves. Imagine being the son of a man who makes his money by treating human beings as less than cattle. Imagine the trans-generational effects of violence, rape and murder. Imagine large swaths of populations effectively suffering from PTSD.

We have mainly talked about negative effects in the sense of costs. Every action has an effect. You can call it karma or basic physics. Now imagine all the potential snubbed out, all the people wanting to love and be free, but killed or hurt instead. All the lives that could have been.

We don’t have to look far to see white supremacy at work today. The migrant crisis in the Mediterranean or lack of attention for the fact that most people killed by ISIS are muslims. Or discrimination in the job market or by police, things that happen in Holland, not only in the US. We like to think that Holland is more progressive or tolerant than the US. Possibly in some ways it is, but on the topic of Race the discussion is long overdue. When POC start this discussion as with “Zwarte Piet is Racisme” we can see them being policed for simply wearing t-shirts that support their view. When Charlie Hebdo happened everybody was defending free speech. But when black bodies are on the line. Free Speech is not important suddenly.

The reason we have to deal with this legacy is precisely because the racial contract keeps taking on new forms, and finding new ways of exclusion and suffering.

The Development of Race (part 4): What is racism?

What is racism?

Below (in previous posts) I have already hinted at various forms of racism both individual and institutional. Although racism takes many different forms and will continue to find new forms for a long time to come. Crucial is understanding the development into its modern forms.

One of the most insightful and intellectually (academically) rigorous books I have read in this regard has been “The Racial Contract” by Charles W Mills although many other creators cover the topic of race from novelists to historians to philosophers to prophets.

In this book he juxtaposes the imaginary “Social Contract” which underlies the political philosophy of such renowned philosophers as Hobbes, Locke and others with the racial contract. Generally the “Social Contract” is seen as a contract between citizens and the state to guarantee the social order against the chaos, the state of nature out of which the contract arose.

His most poignant insight is that both the social contract and viewing nature as a state of chaos are fictions. Assumptions, premises these philosophers needed to build their “rational” systems of thought. This would not be so revolutionary (as thought experiments are quite common in philosophy) were it not, that he goes on to show that there is another contract which is far from fictional, and whose development can be traced in treaty and treatises: “”The Racial Contract”.

So on the one hand we have world famous philosophers building doctrines of social order and universal freedom. On the other hand we have at the same time the start of colonialism and slavery.

These same philosophers were providing the intellectual basis for the enslavement and eradication of native peoples. Sadly this should not surprise us, in many societies, the freedom of some is premised on the unfreedom and oppression of others. It starts with Plato and the ancient Greeks, the “Free” citizen has mostly been the White/Greek wealthy able adult male.

They were conferences on whether native peoples were humans or not. For the natives of south and central america, that meant, deciding they did have a soul and were worthy of salvation. After having been nearly exterminated this brought new problems in the form of missionaries. For Africans it meant they were now about to be enslaved. Even the Irish served as near-slaves for some time in North-America.

Old prejudices started to merge with scientific methodologies, especially after Darwin published his theory, ‘scientists’ set out to prove the inferiority of other races and other undesirable social classes (‘the poor and criminal classes’), one of Darwins cousins was instrumental in this. Slowly a global system of oppression came into being. The chaotic state of nature that had been imagined as the European past out of which European ‘Civilization’ arose, was projected unto the rest of the world. This projection became the justification for the eradication and subjugation of other cultures, this eradication became the hallmark of so-called civilization. The economic, political and cultural subjugation of different kinds of peoples continues in many forms to this day.

It is hard to overestimate how commonplace racial ideology was across the world’s halls of power. The many hundreds of millions of people that were murdered as part of this project all had relatives and family. They are not abstractions, they and their oppressors echo, even in their absence, through the world of today. A very dark thread of history runs from colonialism, to slavery, to darwinism, to capitalism and to nazism. It is time to unravel this hateful tapestry and make sure history becomes something else than tragedy or farce. A distant memory of hate and suffering which we have overcome.

The most important thing to take from all of this is that there have always been sub-persons. People who were deemed by some as less than others, and thus not worthy of empathy. Also important to note, is that categories of Whiteness can expand or contract. These categories differ from place to place and time to time. Although there is a broad racial hierarchy running from whites, to jews, to slavs, to asians, to ‘reds’, to black people. Historically these categories have expanded to include or exclude certain races as was deemed handy.

What we see in fact is a racial system, which is not based in biological meaningful fact, but a system of oppression of which the parts can be replaced. It is a set of behaviors as much as anything else. We can see this in the example of the Irish who went from being slaves to being oppressors in North America. Or in the example of Korean kamikaze pilots, who were allowed to die for the emperor as WW II started to turn bad for the Japanese.

The racial contract has different classifications and organizations and effects all over the world and affects different people differently. It keeps changing form. As is evidenced by Michelle Alexander’s book, “The New Jim Crow” in which she shows (among other things) that there are now more African-American people in jail, than were previously enslaved. However in many countries by many measures, people of colour have worse life chances than White people.

In summary racism, can affect health, stress, housing, happiness, education, jobs, self-worth, perception, thoughts, feelings, love, relationships pretty much everything. But in order to avoid making it a too vague catch-all phrase for any kind of judgment (which I do think it also is), There are links that connect, governments, corporations, arms dealers, dictators, resource extraction and global private prisons (G4S) and private armies (Blackwater). All operating under the principle of Profit before People & Nature.
Racism also means that as a White person I can choose to be a part of the struggle or I can choose not to be. And enjoy unabated privilege. Of course this an illusion, because these corrosive ideologies affect us all.

One last real world example of racism today, although the examples are endless, Muslims are terrorists, Black people are thugs, White murderers are emotionally unstable. What struck me about the manifesto of the murderer in the recent Charleston Massacre, whose author I’d rather not give attention by naming him: his manifesto although obviously hateful and spiteful was not incoherent or irrational in fact it showed a lot of resemblance to the terms of the racial contract. It is an expression of the hateful logic kept alive by the structures of White Supremacy.

The development of Race (part 3): What makes it so hard to talk about racism?

What hinders discussion of racism?

Racism is most commonly seen as personal beliefs about the qualities of a certain group of people you see as a race, and acting on these beliefs. While it is true that this a form that racism takes (and we could add privately held before personal) this hides the truth of the matter. Racism was once a widely held belief, an ideology, a doctrine with near sacred tenets. This ideology is called white supremacy. The effects of this belief still shape our society today in the form of institutional racism.

Institutional racism is often not acknowledged although knowledge of it is becoming more widespread. This means acknowledging that not only do people hold racist beliefs, but that structures and institutions of society are constructed in such a way to benefit the White race and oppress other races (however you construct membership).

I used to hear the term White supremacy on the Discovery Channel when they did documentaries on gang culture in US prisons. For this reason (and others) I understand that a lot of white people get turned off when people talk about White Supremacy. Most people do not self-identify as misogynistic racists sporting confederate flag belt buckles and dealing in meth.

This and several other difficulties hinder discussion of racism, I hope the above part about race helps somewhat in discussing this topic, but before we can properly discuss racism there are several other difficulties and misconceptions that stand in our way. I will list them here (not in order of importance) a full discussion of them seems impossible, but I want to encourage you to do your own research and will try to list resources here so you can inform yourself.

Language co-option: How can America go to war for Freedom and Democracy? Right, by claiming freedom is best represented by coups, killing and arms trade.

Language confusion: People will use the same word to talk about wildly different things. Racism is case in point. To one person it might mean: a thing of the past like lynchings in the American south. To another it might mean his brother getting shot yesterday.

Related to language co-option is political correctness: which term are we supposed to use. Although a valuable part of any struggle, because language plays a part in shaping reality. The meaning of words can always change. There is also the phenomenon of policing where more energy goes towards people using the right terminology than actually dealing with racism. Even in writing this article I was wondering do I say , or people of colour? Most white people have figured out we should not say the n-word, even though we might still use it among our white friends (as do I sometimes more so when drunk, I am ashamed to admit).

However this can be a problem because if the reality of racism is still around, but people have simply learned to hide it for fear of reprisal or difficult conversations. Then it never gets tackled. That is why you see a lot of private racism. I have a good friend, who loves to egg racists on, by feeding them racist comments. Because usually a racist will test the water to see if he the comments he is about to make will land well.

Nominal freedom vs actual freedom: Related to language problems in what could also be called theory vs reality, we see that in many places there is legal freedom for everyone but actual oppression. We see this time and time again. Black people in South Africa had better living standards before the end of Apartheid, because economic freedom was never achieved (under pressure from financial markets). In many other countries there are legal freedoms, which can make people think there is actual freedom, when in fact many things still prevent people from exercising their freedom. Even existing rights are not safeguarded, did you know the UN declaration of Human Rights contains the right to shelter, food and education?

This difference between actual freedom and saying people are free usually has to do with the type of people whose freedom is guaranteed (White people).

Lived experience: People’s lives look vastly different. That is why to the person of colour who has dealt with racism everyday in his life racism means something different than to the white person, who almost never consciously registers racism even though he benefits from white privilege (and enjoys black culture).

Lived experience also plays a role in shaping our consciousness, the images that are broadcast about POC are vastly more negative and reinforce negative stereotypes and realities.

Psychology: People of colour are often perceived differently than white people. They are perceived as angry when they bring up the topic of racism. This is related to the previous point of lived experience, because your life goes differently and hence you develop a different psychology (a different way of dealing with things) based on your experience. If you start paying attention to this you see it everywhere, white men generally feel much more entitled to speak on issues, case in point myself (even when they know less about issues than others). White people also perceive Black boys as more mature than their white counterparts from quite a young age onwards. They also feel less empathetic to POC experiencing physical pain. Quite relevant when POC are being shot by (White) police officers for being threatening or when young boys are being sentenced as men.I have several personal and general example of this:

*In classes I took, when I decided not to talk, everybody else started talking, apparently I took up a lot of space.
*In my old job, the boss saw me as a logical successor and assumed some of my non-white co-workers did not want to progress. This is an amplifying effect of racism/privilege, because I am more comfortable speaking it is assumed I have the qualities needed in a role requiring more speaking. But this is not a quality I necessarily inherently possess and others do not, but something which structures propel me too be perceived as.
*One can notice the same thing with women: in group settings you can sometimes observe a woman saying something without raising much dust, watch a man say the same thing minutes later and everyone will notice.

* This list could go on and on.

We are not done with psychology yet. Interestingly there is the well-documented phenomenon of White Fragility, which is basically white people getting on the defensive whenever race is brought up. Looking at lived experience again, it is understandable that POC get disheartened in discussing race with white people. Oppression that affects their daily lives, is not only not seen by white people (who have a different lived experience), they get accused of being angry and have to take care to avoid white people’s feelings. So why do white people get so upset?

Two reasons seem likely to me:

Firstly everybody wants to feel good about themselves and acknowledging that racism is something which affects everyone. Including themselves means admitting that they profit from white privilege and that means either giving up some of that privilege. Or the uncomfortable realization that some of their achievements are not due to their efforts, but due to their place in an oppressive system. Admitting this clashes with another of our deeply ingrained beliefs of individualism.

Secondly part of White supremacy has been to put everything bad about our psyches and project it as an attribute of being Black. We equate whiteness with goodness and light and darkness with evil and bad behavior. Hence White people have sincere blockages in viewing things differently.

Politics of power and capitalism: this is kind of a vague one because I can’t fully put my finger on how this operates, nor have the time to discuss it here. But some of the same expediencies that pushed people towards implementing racist ideologies, objectifying people in the process, are still around. As long as it will serve somebodies  (economic) goal to have lives that are worth less, we will experience racism-like forms of exclusion. It also makes sense that power structures will support those ideologies and knowledges that support their continuation.

Forgetting the past: related to the previous point (and to the next) is the process of forgetting, what do we remember and why? Since ideas of nationhood are deeply intertwined with ideas of race, and since how we remember the nation’s past, influences how we see the present. This is a big hurdle to understanding and fighting racism. An example of this is how Nazism is painted as a singular evil, when in fact anti-semitism and other racist ideologies part of White supremacy were common throughout the world for a long time. Other genocides by other White perpetrators do not get the same attention. The soldiers of colour that fought for western powers are also rarely remembered.

rational and consciousness OR irrational and unconscious

Before we finally get to discussing what racism is (although you might have some idea by now) I think it is important to discuss  how we view human beings. We tend to think people are rational and conscious as opposed to irrational and unconsciousness. Although viewing the human intellect as the crowning of creation is a quite old christian tradition (correct me if I’m wrong) the viewing of people as mostly rational (economic) beings is a relatively new one. Especially against the backdrop of billions of years of evolution to get life to the point where we are today.

These billion of years of evolution have left an imprint on our (collective) (un)consciousness (they have created it) according to Jung. Experiences accumulated throughout evolution  have left certain templates of thought and certain ways of experiencing the world in our minds. Sounds logical right?

In my opinion we tend to overestimate the size of our rational conscious mind compared to the (not necessarily irrational) unconsciousness part. Now it is important not to misconstrue this point as either determinism (we are on a path and no matter what we do we follow that path) or as saying (in a related manner) people have natural categories for judging others (so racism is inevitable). While we might have certain categories, this is all a product of evolution and evolution is change if anything.

Things can be brought to consciousness from the unconscious (and vice versa), and we might be able to interact with the unconscious in a number of ways. Why is the relative overemphasis on the rational problematic?

This is because it leaves a large part of human nature out of consideration. It is also problematic because it hides the possible irrational nature of the universe. Why is this related to race?

As we shall see in a bit, those enlightenment philosopher who were the pinnacle of enlightened reasoning played a huge role in justifying and creating racial ideology.

The problem with constructing rational systems of thought is this: One must always make an assumption of an irrational premise, to start off one’s reasoning. Much intellectual effort goes into covering one’s tracks in circular reasoning to somehow hide this irrational premise.

The human irrational mind wants security and thinks that logical  coherence, and lack of contradiction can achieve this. But in fact contradictions, paradoxes, mixes, appetite, emotion, intuition, poetry and shades of grey are as much or more part of humanity as oppositions, logic, reason and efficiency are. As much as we make them be.

Now the focus on rationality is particularly troubling, with regards to the unconscious and forgetting the past. For in a mere generation, ways of being, thinking and remembering can be overturned. Let alone what happened in the 400 years of colonialism and slavery or even the millions of years of struggling for survival before that. This focus gives us the illusion that this troublesome history can be overturned with some new legislation or exclamations of support (nominal freedom). But rational understanding alone cannot undo the past, if anything can, it must take the form of transformational healing. Being present for each other in all shades of life in the present moment.

Once you make an irrational choice for a certain belief: whether it be science, patriotism, capitalism, nationalism, racism, religion. You can make (relatively) rational choices on the basis of that belief, but you can never choose to be fully rational. The reason I choose to believe in a common humanity which is yet to be realized, is because I believe that we will destroy each other. If we do not extend our compassion to every living thing, possibly the whole of creation, the universe, the world or whatever else you want to call this place we find ourselves.

The Development of Race (part 2): What is race?

Race and Racism

Before continuing with this story and arriving at the UCU discussion. Let’s take a look at the following two questions:

These questions appear relatively straightforward, and you might know the answer I’ll give you already. Yet in some cases a lot of confusion arises because people are using the same terms differently.


What is race?

There are a lot different views on what race is. These views have changed over time. This makes it clear that like most things in the world, it is a social construct. Although there are some that would argue that race is a biological fact. People who believed this (false) idea in the past created a ‘science’ called eugenics, and its adherents had a field day when Darwin published his theory, for they believe that certain races are inherently (genetically) superior to others. Although eugenic theories have been disproven, they still have a lot of adherents.

People still make judgments about groups of people based on their ‘race’, claiming there is something to that race/culture, what that unique thing is, is often left unsaid, because racism is no longer popular. What is at play when we call a whole nation of people lazy, as in the Greek case (again a claim not borne out by facts)?

When certain people say a certain fenotype (how people look) is a race, (biologically speaking) they are wrong. There is often more genetic difference between people in a ‘race’ than between certain members of different races.

Sometimes there is an association between the prevalence of certain physical features and a geographical region. This is sometimes seen as a racial identifier. However not all people in a group usually possess this feature and it does not qualify them as human beings in any way. Importantly all people have mixed backgrounds and common genetic ancestors.

Next there is the cultural idea of a race, culture here implies a certain way of being, certain behaviors shared by members of a group that make them a distinct entity. This is also a problematic idea, depending on how it is used. There is of course the simple fact of having people be, in this and other senses, what they claim to be, what is called self-identification. In reality however, no group behaves uniformly in the same manner and behavior and customs always change over time.

Perhaps this would not matter, if people only identified themselves as such. However certain identifications impinge on other people. We see ‘culture’ being used a lot as a justification for what is commonly understood by racism. A certain group is then said to have certain inherent qualities in their behavior which are deemed negative.

Finally (although there might be more) there is the political construct of race. Where people identify as a certain race as a political statement, usually for the furthering of a political aim.

So here we have 3 different instances of labels historically applied race means:

  • the biological (fenotype or genotype)
  • the cultural
  • the political

Although I thoroughly believe that race is a social construct, this does not mean it is purely fantasy. What we construct socially becomes a reality. That is part of the reason racism is so hard to battle. It is ingrained into many societal structures. These social constructs take on reality as they are incorporated into society and people are forced to respond to them. We could see the political concept of race as a response to the earlier injustices forced upon people of colour by ‘scientific’ racism and concomitant conceptions of race. Interestingly Whiteness is often not explicitly discussed as such, because it tends to be the norm.  What we consider cultural is the layering of eons of human behaviours and interactions with our environment.

What we see in all these cases, as in the whole of reality, is that the categories we construct are never as clear-cut as we imagine or want them to be. By its very nature, all of reality is in a relationship with everything else, and boundaries are porous. Over time everything becomes everything. To make it less philosophical, there are often intermarriages between different groups (however they are classified), or people start to identify or behave differently. They might also ascribe to any of the above categorizations of race simultaneously in varying degrees to themselves or others. The boundaries between race, culture, religion, nationalism and other group affiliations are sometimes unclear to me, partly because people tend to use them interchangeably. Of course they serve different explicit aims and cover different aspects of (human) reality, but the caveats about the relative ex- or inclusivity of the various racial categories apply to religious and national affiliations as well. They are not static and they are means to make claims about the qualities of people and separate them.

There is a good likelihood that the things we die or kill for today won’t mean a thing to people in the year 6000. Unless of course the internet works like some kind of magical potteresque time capsule forever sending ISIS, Big Brother, Chet Haze and Iggy Azaela together with Gandhi and Mandela into an increasingly hybridic future. But let’s focus on surviving this century first.

The Development of Race (part 1): Growing up White but not Quite

The Development of Race

Usually, as a good anthropologist should, I would put such contentious terms as race and development in inverted commas. But for today’s purpose, I chose to forego a doublespeak intended to show that I am in ‘the know’. Intended to show that I am not one of those backward people, who does not know the complex reality behind concepts in everyday use, and the porous boundaries that lie between them.

In this post (which might be split up in to several pieces) I want to deal with Race. In the first part I will discuss my own history with this issue, to show how my perception of it has evolved, and to illustrate in the process some aspects of our society. In the intermediate parts I hope to clarify the terms and obstacles that are part of the conversation somewhat. In the last part I will turn to a public online discussion held in the UCU University College Utrecht community. At various points I will try to succinctly answer the following questions:

  • What is race?
  • What hinders discussion about racism?
  • What is racism?
  • Why still talk about racism today?

My hope is to add to the debate, which in my opinion is a crucial debate which is related to many other issues and has a large part in deciding what our future looks like. Sadly I expect that the discussion will become uglier before it yields positive results. I hope I am wrong about this but I wish we will at least listen to one another. It is not my intent to speak for anyone but myself. Although it is my intent to speak to people who have had a similar lived experience as me (at least in the sense of being White and privileged) as I feel there are certain psychological blockades in paying full attention to this topic with one’s full sensibilities, especially when people of colour talk about their experience.

My focus on race here is not meant to exclude other types of oppression based on sexuality, gender or ability. In fact all types of oppression are tightly linked and need to be opposed together. So please see this piece as part of a larger discussion that should be had. This is a complicated and controversial topic. So my usual disclaimer in saying that this piece is as full of inaccuracies and imperfections as I am holds, I welcome comments…

Growing up White (but not quite)

Generally (when I am not moved into thinking I am a somewhat useless narcissistic being) I find my own life very interesting. This is not the main reason for talking about my own history. I do this to explain the evolution of my thinking, to give an indication of how race operates in our society. In doing so I wish to move beyond simplistic condemnations of right and wrong and instead open up discussion to understanding. I believe this issue is not one of guilt or even sympathy (although it is one of compassion) but one of responsibility. What is it that we can do to have the world we want to have? For each of us the answer might be different.

Bio:

As a 6 year old my mom took me shopping in Utrecht, the closest (fairly) big city next to the village of Cothen where I grew up. Cothen had and has about 3000 inhabitants of which one family was non-white. In Utrecht Overvecht I asked my mom, “Why are there so many dark people here?”

My young mind had discerned a very obvious visual fact, which adults seemingly accepted without much question or deep thought. Of course I had no idea about the social realities underlying this obvious visual fact.

I was an outsider in Cothen and outsiders (or the kind I was) were not treated well; I was teased, bullied and excluded. Those who associated with me suffered the same fate. Unlike a racial designation, this bullying was something I could escape. When I was not in the village, I did not experience it. Later when I returned and adults treated me kindly in my function as mailman. I realized that this cruelty was limited to the world of children to a large extent or at least that the office of mailman somehow extended a sheen of normalcy to my being. When a former bully approached me to apologize at age 23 I was apprehensive at first but felt great relief afterwards. One of the spectres of my past from whom I thought I needed no recognition, apologizing to me, meant quite a lot.

Not being kind to outsiders easily translates into not being kind to foreigners. This was confirmed when I was preparing to permanently leave said village at age 26 to study development: “Development? So you’re gonna cuddle ISIS!?!”.  Hate begins with exclusion and exclusion begins at the doorsteps of our homes, even in our own hearts. The things we do not know we label as strange and dangerous.

When I was  nine years old, my sister gifted me the 2pac cd the “Greatest Hits”. A skater boyfriend of hers gave me a unmarked burned CD with Hip Hop which I loved (it later turned out to be Mos Def’s Black on Both sides). My sister decided she’d rather have a Hip Hop loving brother, than a Happy Hardcore gabber loving one. I think the world should be grateful to her for that.
Through 2pac I was infused with political messages and journalism from the streets:

“My stomach hurts, so I am looking for a purse to snatch”

some of which seem more accurate today than ever:

“Cops give a damn about a negro? Pull the trigger, kill a nigga, he’s a hero.”

More money has been raised for cops shooting black people than for the families of the victims.

Although I wasn’t able to understand all the implications of his message, let alone’ 2pac’s long term plan to appeal to gangs in order to politicize them, I did feel drawn to the energy of his music. The sense of fighting for the underdog that pervades his music.

Mos Def I understood even less. I loved the beats, but had no idea of the intricate exposees of America’s political system in songs such as “Mathematics”, again as relevant today as it was in 1999.

40% of Americans own a cell phone

So they can hear everything that you say when you ain’t home

I guess Michael Jackson was right: “You Are Not Alone”

or

The white unemployment rate? It’s nearly more than triple for black

At 11 I left elementary school in my village and went to a more diverse school,  my best friend there was  Indonesian. We would play basketball, video games,  speak English and listen to Hip Hop. I mention this not to play the ‘I am not racist I have brown friends’ card, but simply to add some confusion into what it meant for me to be (W,w)hite… I here distinguish between white (without capital W) to indicate skin colour and White to indicate membership in a system of racial oppression.

At 12 I still naively wondered why the US did not simply liberate Tibet. I still believed that the values of Freedom espoused by the West were truly supported in practice. I thought the UN was an amazing organization. I did not know there was a difference between what you said you believed and what you did. Although by then, I had learned to hide my intentions, to hide my inner world. I was expelled from one mostly white high school for not working enough and went to another.

The male chauvinist, substance abuse aspect of Hip Hop started to appeal to me more as puberty progressed. I rolled through high school disinterestedly, past mentions of slavery (which left out how European industrialization was premised on suffering, genocide and exploitation of the colonies) but we did manage to spent a lot of time on WW II and Hitler’s singular evil (without explaining prevalent European racist doctrines out of which Nazism sprung) after briefly describing a war of attrition in Indonesia as internal “policing” (luckily our history teacher hinted at shades of grey between good and evil, and horrors committed by the Dutch in Indonesia). I wrote my High School dissertation on Max Havelaar’s ‘Multatuli’ without understanding the irony of his legacy being used to promote a plantation like “Fair trade” system.

I eventually arrived at the “Arbeit Macht Frei” gates of UCU in 2007 to the declamations of our Prime Minister  Balkenende espousing societal values and the ethos of those good ol’  VOC colonial days.

I fell deeper into substance abuse, was expelled again, and returned to successfully complete my degree. At UCU I had some questions; Why are there so few non-white Dutch people here? Why are we studying philosophy divorced from the lived realities of people? Why are we not studying philosophers lives? I never believed in objectivity, but I believed the closest we can get to it is by acknowledging our own subjectivity and by incorporating multiple perspectives. Obviously these questions were not constantly on my mind, at least not as much as girls and partying, they did however contribute to a certain hollow feeling throughout the whole experience. A hollowness I tried suppressing and filling, but which resurfaces at almost any level and activity of society, except those actively engaged in trying do good. A hollowness fed by abuse of such words as Freedom and Democracy.

Finally I arrived at that great bastion of activism SOAS, where the service staff is again mostly white, black students get marked down, and many non-white students belong to (relatively) rich elites. Where we learn to become the next global ‘helper’ elite. Nicely obscuring and transforming existing power relations even as we are trained to be aware of them.

I apologize to the reader for this tangential autobiography, please bear with me.

I want to point out a few more things, which make my life not typically White, while at the same time pointing out some of the privileges of being white.

I was partly raised as a universal Sufi. To me this means acknowledging each person as on the spiritual path of becoming a fulfilled being. I remember meditation sessions in which we were asked to imagine a bubble of compassion expanding slowly from around us to encompass the whole world.

I fought, a lot, as a kid I was bullied and my mom always taught me to fight back. But after every fight she would also sit me down and make me understand both perspectives.

When I was 13 there was a schoolyard fight in which a non-white person threatened my friend and I protected him.

When I was 16 two non-white guys attacked me on the street.

At several points white people attacked or threatened me on the street.

Any of these events could have me made actively angry with non-white people or white people for that matter, had I been raised differently. Nonetheless racism infuses my thinking and perception and feeling, as it does for nearly everyone alive. Racism is the expression of oppression in our being.

Racism is more than ideas about a group of people. It is a reality of differential treatment of different groups of people. Individuals might like to distance themselves from this reality, but can’t do this alone.

Here is a number of things that would have gone differently for me had I not been white:

– Less likely to obtain university level degree education (and be marked down if I did). My general attitude of defiance and disinterest towards learning and rules in schools would not have gone down well for a non-white person. Furthermore the knowledge offered in schools writes non-white people out of history or misrepresents their role (logically the same goes for whites). Had I been a person of colour I would probably have been told to do ‘something with my hands’. Intellectual prowess is generally not ascribed to non-whites, that is why non-white footballers are called athletic and white ones technical or strategic.

– When I was 16 I was drinking and smoking in the city centre of Utrecht. A police officer told me to throw away the drink, I defiantly downed it before chucking it. I got away with it.

-When I was 19 I went joyriding in my parent’s car with 4 white friends, no one had a license (sorry mom and dad, if you are reading this for the first time). We were getting high, when the police stopped and asked us for ID. We got away with it.

-2 years later, I was speeding on my moped going 60 km/h on a bicycle lane, when I was stopped by police. I was given a reduction on my ticket. Because according to the cop I looked ‘responsible’ and was not their ‘target audience’.

-2 years later I was skating on the road in Amsterdam and got stopped (maybe because of my mohawk). They ran a background check, which if my privilege previously had not gotten me of the hook, might have gotten me in trouble.

This is not a very interesting story, because it is mainly a story of things not happening to me because of my skin colour. However I think it is indicative of two things:

-Firstly it hints at the type of abuse, which non-white people are subjected to non-stop. And from which they cannot escape.

-Secondly it gives a kind of indication of why white people think racism does not exist any longer, simply because it does not happen to them.

-Thirdly it shows that racism does not only work against black people, it works for white people.
This story could list many more  privileges experienced by me, however it was simply meant to give an indication of what privilege meant to me, what racism might mean to others. Race is not a Black and White story of neatly fitting identities and exact same stories, but its structures enclose all of us in ways which we often  do not control consciously.

In Pursuit of ……

About LoveConsciousness………………… and confusion

I chase myself around in circles, the longer I chase the deeper the rut, the more empowering the escape, and the longer the trek back to the mountaintop created by my encirclement. Circles speak of balance, like any geometrical shape. As if the lines are not postulated but really there…

Lately I’ve written one blog every several weeks instead of every two weeks. This is partly due to business, partly due to laziness and partly because it is better to write when I have something (inspiring) to say. Partly also due to unfolding events. My friend Ion is dying. I can’t really express what this means to me. I simply don’t know. I also don’t know what he means to me. I have a feeling I will continue to find out for the rest of my life.

He wrote a beautiful poem describing his death (which I don’t have acces to now), about how he fears not the nothingness that is coming, but only fears for his family and friends and how they might suffer, beseeching them to start to say goodbye while he is still alive.

I went to say hi/goodbye the other day (although hopefully I will get to do so again), he seemed somewhat morose, now that he is sedated and no longer working on his book, the news of the day no longer interests him (for the first time in 92 years). Every day is the same for him as he slips slowly into a world of less and less consciousness, or more and more (who knows, although he would surely disagree). No urgent decisions are to be made by him any longer.

I have sometimes behaved in a similar fashion lately, even though for me it is different. I am very young, and although all my decisions feel important, I don’t treat them as such, and fret over little insecurities. Don’t waste time, Ion would say, what’s the worst that can happen. He also told me, 1 year is nothing, you have a whole life in front of you. From the perspective of a 92 year old that is indeed the case.

Still lately I can’t help feeling trapped. Its not really a trap, more that I trap myself in a gilded cage but still, I feel trapped. I consume news and academic papers and music which tell of the sorrow in the world. In this way I create a picture of doom. I still experience happiness and laughter but when I think of my place in this madness I can’t help but feel trapped.

So much privilege I can barely see straight, I have to squint my eyes against the glaringly shining reflections of all the golden faucets, tea and coffee streaming out of them at my whim, I don’t even have to move a limb. The very keyboard I am typing on now, is made of liquid gold. I am actually to lazy to type so I just swirl my left pinky through the liquid, and my thoughts appear on the screen, as even the inside of my head is rich.

See I am fortunate, less fortunate than some, but more fortunate than most. If I work very hard, I can reach top positions possibly (although some are by now out of reach, never really wanted to be a banker but still). Not everybody can reach those positions, but some can, some with less work than me, some with more. What would this accomplishment then mean? Is it due to my hard work, or my whiteness, or my maleness, or my beardedness, or my tallness? Who placed this idea of accomplishment in my head?

I cherish experience mostly, and in some sense also accomplishment but not really. I like creating things, I like touching people in some way. I like smiles. I like warmth, I even like cold showers. I like learning new things. I like being alive.

More and more, I realize how very little I know. I keep building knowledge anyway, but I don’t really like knowing more than people anymore, or outsmarting them, I used too, and I still do a little. But more and more it seems like we don’t need more knowledge, but more compassion.

I don’t think the answer is giving everybody a career, which to me is basically jargon for knowing the rules of progression in society. I don’t think the answer is simply creating more jobs. An answer might be totally redefining what work is. Sure it would be better, if there was more equality, and more jobs for everybody. But so long as your worth is defined by your job status and jobs are created by exploiting nature, these things are no real solution.

I am aware, that I am privileged enough to be able to have these musings, I am aware that white guilt, or the white burden of going out to help the so-called poor people are all not the answer.

I just fervently wish that there would be some purpose, more than vain glory, to provide me with hope. I think this hope is what Ion started to represent to me, which is part of the reason I am struggling a bit at the moment.

For Ion, surviving the war, and writing to save the world was his way of escaping the trap and I think he did more than a fair job of it, he saw his life’s goal and pursued it. The world he painted for me, for us, is beautiful and I hope many of you will one day be able to read it, or better yet see it.

I am not so sure, we can out-reason the world or death for that matter. We can face it perhaps, but not through words and reason alone, we can only turn towards it as it approaches us. Perhaps that is the real meaning of facing something, turning towards it. Right now I am turning to face many different directions at once. In the turning lies the swirling interaction as we stir the world around us by moving with and in it.

Many of the wise people tend to say things like: Pick your battles (that is what Frieda Menco told me and Spencer Heijnen). I can’t help but feeling that choosing to do battle on one issue means losing another battle elsewhere. Still you can only do one thing at a time, if you want to do it well. But what if that one thing could be loving awareness, that you bring to whatever you do?

The last part of the book which we were busy writing when Ion fell and became too ill to work much more was supposed to be about the future, and the road there through love. In other places he has written about this, and he always told me he took his lead from all the great writers and poets. So in many ways, it is not his work alone, his voice is one of many, hence the pseudonym I Anyone. It is also an invitation to all of us, to carry on this work, this work of being transformation through love, bringing transformation through love in whatever way we can.

In our last work sessions we were a bit more free, than usual, I sensed he wanted to talk freely, to get in the mood for working, and recalibrate after some time spent apart. He asked me what questions I still had about the book.

He believes that humans used to have collective consciousness before they developed an individual consciousness and that humans created the world. So I asked him the following two questions which had been on my mind:

 

How does collective consciousness function? How did humans come on the earth i.e. if they conceived it?

 

The following conversation ensued, which was mainly him talking and which I present here as a kind of monologue. The energy when he was speaking, was one of pure aliveness. Now reading back, I realize more and more how much he strayed from his intellectual rational mainstay and into the realm of spirituality. Although a firm supporter of being rational, I believe this was because of his tendency to assiduously cover all the options, to be specific and concrete, so in that sense he found this text to be too general. However the most important thing was always for him, to be understandable. Language and rationality were always a vehicle for communication and interaction, not necessarily a goal in themselves, although they could serve the goal of beauty.

It is a talk on love and consciousness and towards the end, he strays into the economy while somehow staying on the same topics. Even though he covers many seemingly disparate topics in an ambling manner, to me it feels like he is saying something very true, not in the absolute sense, but in the way of resonating deeply:

“Individual consciousness, originating from human interaction (between people in collective consciousness) by seeing that other people and organisms have needs like we do. From human interaction also came time and so the awareness of death, and from this awareness came love.

Love is the possibility for another existence. Here you have everything:

Love, finititude of existence, and the existence of other people.

Love means the possibility to exist for other people. Not only for one’s self. Not only for your coffee lets say , but to exist for other people, this is essential. This is the very origin of love. Because love originates by this necessity to exist for other people.

Its always a play to what extent you exist for other people and to what extent you exist for yourself, It becomes a kind of dialectic that is very complicated. Really complicated.

 

Essential is to be able, to help the existence of other people, to experience the existence of other people. Can we experience the existence of other people? How finite is this existence?

Because over time when we experience the existence of other people, we cross the boundary, we go the other side of our own existence.

 

One has to experience these things, one has to go from one experience to another. From one’s own existence to another existence. To what extent can we exist the existence of another being? This is what means to be human. The possibility to exist the existence of other beings. Everything: you have love, you have finiteness, you have communication, you have dialectics. (Dialectics here being, the running up against limits, moving beyond these limits to new limits and beyond; the limits of existence, the limits of concepts and knowledge and using this limitation to learn, to leave this limitation behind.)

 

One should be prepared to compromise, love is compromise.

 

Consciousness, a problem is: is the way you imagine consciousness the same as I imagine consciousness? A very big problem. That gets solved, by interaction between people.

 

One way to imagine the world, outside our existence, then is to come to a consciousization of reality that is beyond our individuality, that is one way. The other way, that is quite different, is again coming back to love. Can you identify with the other being to such an extent that you don’t feel different from the other being? You can identify with this being, and you should not be afraid of losing one’s individuality.

Democracy and knowledge

 

In democracy there are some perimeters (of knowledge). What is important is that in knowledge we go from one limitation to another and then we transcend this limitation, knowledge builds up like that.  One thing we don’t know is to what extent one limitation connects with another one and how it goes on like that.

Then there is the other thing, the fact that we live the economy, its a matter of compromise as well, economics in a way is something precise and its a kind of exchange. To what extent we compromise in this exchange? This is again love.

 

What is the exchange that takes place in economics? What is this exchange? Why this exchange? We have to try to make them simple. What people in the street mean by exchange is simple and good, we should not be afraid of it.

The fact that humans are ready to exchange their experience and to have an exchange with the experience of others. But there are many characters that intervene and sometimes they are together, sometimes they retire, they withdraw, they go back. I am ready to compromise, I shall make it simple, you exchange your experience for my experience, not so much complication. Its enough, maybe tomorrow I get more, I do this compromise.

 

Another dimension that comes into it, that I often think, is the dimension of power. Because and this is very delicate, even in love, even in transcending one existence to experience the existence of another being, there is some power, there is the need, to affirm one’s power, to what extent you go with this affirmation, is very delicate. To what extent in the simplest love relationship, to what extent you impose your power, to what extent you are aware of imposing this power, to what extent you are ready to renounce this power. This is fantastic for me, if you are ready to renounce your power, you are near to love.”

Although its feels awkward to pose here now my own imposition, my own creation, here is a poem I wrote for Ion, after meeting him in the hospital right after he fell (before we had the above conversation).

 

“The absolute incommensurability

of trying to put

a you on you

 

The Handshake

of a young man

of 90 years old.

 

The face wrinkly

and decrepit, almost ghastly

the one seeing eye clear wise

and foxy.

 

a supple springy

arm in a hand

that thrusts through

the waves of

life

evoking pictures

of a young

handsome man

with wavy hair

as sunny smile

and sunny lake.

The waves lapping

at the shore

your intellect

arriving home.

You do not

believe in god.

 

But hey! that miracle

of life and consciousness

which sparked

a soul like

yours is something

to be in awe

of.

So then with true sensitivity

to finally speak of

we.

and  not only speak

but feel it

in every vibe

of our bodies.

to be aware of

this sacred

creation.

 

not otherworldly holiness

but the magic

of togetherness

running through our veins.

running over into

reinstituted plains

flooded insane.

The mind heart

connection feeble.

but you knew that

neither the heart

nor the mind is

where consciousness

resides.

So when in the swelling tides

birds and humans

will sing in one

harmony of what

is what was

and what will be

breathe

breathe

see the nothingness

as release

of fear

and embrace

of she.”

 

While not knowing the truth of things, I entertain the notion that god is everything, God as the collective consciousness out of which individuality arose and of which it is still a part. This individuality is located in the prefrontal cortex, which people who have psychedelic experiences  (DMT) bypass to experience a sense of unity. The prefrontal cortex came later in our evolution, so perhaps when people experience this unity, they are experiencing this earlier stage of our evolution of collective consciousness, an earlier stage that is still a part of our reality.

I am not religious but I choose to believe in the possibility of togetherness, perhaps I need to. Perhaps the limits of knowledge show us also the possibility of there being limits and demarcations in the first place. What is necessary for that to occur? I don’t know, but sometimes this not knowing, makes me very happy!

For the love of Lumen!

On the worth of innocence in our society, mixing cultural concepts: objectivity and karma as blood money.

 

I have an 7 month old niece, who is just learning to speak and stand. She has featured in this blog before. I honestly believe the miracle of life as exemplified by such a fragile resilient happy little critter is amazing. Today I found myself thinking about setting examples, and explaining the world to such a wonderful one.

Explaining certain things would seem easy to me, for instance dancing, you just pick her up and dance. Smiling can be part of this same lesson, just look at those beautiful eyes and smile at her. Then food is slightly more difficult, you have to wait for the right age, but otherwise it seems to be a matter of putting the food in her mouth and hoping she likes it.

foto 1

A lot of life is exploration, which she’ll get to do on her own, mostly using the tools we give her. So how will she go about acquiring tools? Will she sit up in her crib one day and ask to be handed the remote control? What of these tools? Some tools are necessary to achieve a goal, but do not necessarily have a value in themselves. Learning to tie your shoelaces, learning to sit still in class. Learning to pimp your CV. Learning to be racist. Learning to be selfish.

Do you tell your child: “well these things I’d rather not teach you, you know, but this is how the world is, so you will need these tools to survive in this specific environment.”

She might ask you: “but why did you not try to change those conditions?”

You can quickly try to stomp out those questions with authority, saying I am this and that person, I am your father/mother, because I say so, because I’m older. So far so good. If you are lucky she might not even notice the corruption in your lessons.

But how would you go about explaining to a baby, that another baby in another continent is dying as we speak. Do you go into explaining structural poverty and colonialism? What would be a good age for that….? 5 years old maybe?

Do you say well baby, mommy and daddy also did not choose to be born, we were tossed into this world just like you were. Some things you just have to accept.

When she then starts asking questions about the world? Why this daddy? What’s that mommy? The eternal question mark that children possess. To which you can then answer creatively, partially or truthfully and say I don’t know.

All of this is assuming that you actually get to influence all of the things your child picks up. In so far that you do get to influence that, it might be more your actual presence and behavior than the lessons you are intent on teaching her/him.

 

Karma & Objectivity

 

I know very little of both of these terms, although objectivity is slightly more clearer in my understanding, simply because I have studied it. Both words however seem to me, like all words, simply a blanket term, for the multiplicity of understandings that exists between all people that have ever used them.  Of course, both terms might have a reality outside of the people understanding them, and some people might understand this reality very well, without ever having used the words.

I am certain to err, in talking about karma, as I have little or no knowledge of it, but I will consider it now simply as it has been presented to my senses in my lifetime, which is also the older meaning of the word objective “tangible thing, something perceived or presented to the senses,”.  It has become very normal to talk about good or bad karma, I am not sure we actually understand what it means when we say this.

Objectivity is generally perceived as measuring reality to produce knowledge, measured reality representing a truth, a truth that our subjective mind does not allow for. Karma is often seen to be situated in the realm of spiritual or even hippy knowledge.

I would like to suggest combining both  karma and objectivity in 2 ways. Both ways aiming to break down barriers between the subjective and the objective, and between eastern and western types of knowledge, western science often being seen as on the side of the objective, ‘spiritual’ knowledge often seen as hogwash. If anthropology has taught me anything, it is that reality is complex and interconnected, and the categories we construct for it, fit it very badly, kind of like me trying on Lumen’s diapers. Furthermore the history of colonialism has produced a type of racism that permeates ‘Western’ thought.

Whether the misrecognition of great thinkers of other cultures, was a necessary accompaniment to the dehumanization and wholesale destruction of those cultures and their peoples, whether it was in part a problem of language and prejudice and thus misunderstanding, or whether so called ‘knowledge’ is mostly institutionalized (institutional lies) as a necessary accompaniment to power, remains to be seen.

 

Type 1

 

Objectivity is what is perceived by the senses (either technologically constructed or part of our physical sensory apparatus), in this material world of moving matter every bit of formed matter is connected to all other forms. When I smile at Lumen, that smile gets stored in her and she carries it with her for her entire life. The same goes for many other people I meet and smile at, making them more inclined to smile at others and treat them kindly. The process of mirroring each others emotions, takes place between all humans, and forms the basis for empathy. Of course these emotions are not all that is influenced. The same smile I give my neighbour in the morning, by evening might have travelled throughout the world, and reach a CEO just as he is considering where to invest his stock. With his spirits lifted by the arriving smile, he gets nudged to divest from a banana company and into a mining company. A decision he might have been pondering for a while.  Now that decision, might cause a lot of harm in one part of the world, people losing their jobs, because their employer is relocating or by enabling a highly destructive mining operation to be set up in the rainforest. Simultaneously this decision will cause certain accounts to swell. In this way, even our best of intentions might not have the effect we want them to have, and our intentions are only part of the larger shockwave which is the universe.

 

I probably smile less at people of other races, dehumanizing them in the process, because I have been brought up to unconsciously do this. This is the world Lumen is growing up in. This is just one example of how karma might be seen to operate, a flow of actions or events which we can call both subjective and objective. We could call karma, that intention that I set for myself, and how I focus myself to my environment and in that way influencing, how that environment interacts with me.

 

Type 2

So far we have only explained things we can see and measure, the ‘tangible’. A second feature of this karmic flow I might propose, is to incorporate that which we cannot see.  There are many features of reality which we generally cannot directly perceive in their actual form, but only in their cumulative effect such as: fine particles in the air, molecules, politics, love. Now we are looking at this same flow of the universe, but now we have created space for that which we do not yet know, to explain the relations between the things we do know. This is also called theory. Once we have established a certain theory we can start to explore practices and experiments that support or falsify this theory.

One way that a theory of everything has been suggested is string theory,  I know even less about physics than about karma so excuse my possible misuse of this term. String theory posits (as the name suggests) strings as fundamental aspects of the universe, whose oscillation at a certain frequency causes specific types of particles to arise. While I am not sure if I did it any justice in these 2 lines. What it does seem like to me, is that such a theory does not provide an explanation for such a thing as consciousness.

 

Many mystical and religious traditions start their account of the universe exactly with sounds and vibration and frequencies and often their healing techniques spring from this same idea. I would like to suggest that it is also possible to look at karma in this way, that we are all part of one massive vibration of consciousness, the energy we add to this vibration gets fed back to us.

 

It was not my intention to make truth claims about either string theory or karma. I simply wanted to explore how ideas that we consider ‘objective’ and those that we consider ‘spiritual’ might very easily to co-exist and even intermingle in the world. I believe our cultural and personal biases often prevent us from properly examining ideas and their effects on the world before discarding them.

 

I would also like to point out that under the theory of conceivism as proposed by I Anyone, both theories about the world do in fact coexist, as it is the common creative power of all humans and their theories that shapes the world. Imagine the force of all humans realizing this together.

 

Capitalism as Ancestor Worship

 

One of the ways we might see these principles of the complex mixing of cultures and intellectual blind spots about this at work is in the derogatory way a phenomenon such as Ancestor Worship gets talked about. It is usually seen or talked about as a primitive or backward practice. I will not go into the practice of deeming whole swaths of humanity as primitive here, nor the simultaneous glossing over differences that exist between various cultures but let’s take a quick glance at ancestor worship.

My friend Akwasie who is Asante and who I asked about ancestor worship told me, that for the Asante, ancestor worship means, venerating everything in existence as alive, that means the plants, the trees, the people etc. To see everything as a living connected whole is a much more sophisticated way of viewing the world than early capitalism’s way of conceiving nature, which was as a raw infinite resource to be used as Man wills.

It is not hard to imagine how the Asante’s ancestor worship might have served us and the earth better, than the extractivist mindset of capitalism, which is based on taking and taking, but not on giving, and definitely not on inter-connectedness. One can perhaps also see how the idea of Ancestor Worship seems similar to the idea of Karma sketched above. One might even see a more mature morality arising from this, not as in Capitalist Christianity where we are all sinners, or x behavior is bad, x behavior good. But instead an opening up to the complexities of the world and a realization that our actions influence everyone including ourselves.

 

This comparison takes a hypocritical turn, when we realize that even in the West we still maintain a variety of methods of Ancestor Worship, firstly in the way we glorify history and its figures, while in fact these men have often been very violent and murderous.  We can look at many statues of historical figures and see the lives of murderers immortalized. Or one might consider the dead presidents that rappers are so keen to possess, which takes our story to a more macabre perspective.

Most families in the West (except the aristocracy) have very little sense of who our actual ancestors were, our communities are often spread out, non-existing or being eroded. What we do have which brings us close to our ancestors is money. Under the rules of capitalism money represents exploited nature and exploited labour. So when you hold a money bill in your hands you are holding the destruction of nature, and the blood, sweat, tears and oppression of your ancestors in your hands and also the debt of you or your contemporaries. We dedicate our lives to achieving the means of our own enslavement.

 

There are better ways to honour our common ancestry and connectedness than enslaving each other in creative, intellectual and financial indebtedness. Is life worth living without the freedom to love, create and think? By failing to honour each past, we mis-re-cognize the present, and destroy the future.