Go to YouTube.
The kinds of games people play against “The colonial”:
“Ah, you WANT to be mysterious… you fail to communicate your problems. Please, tell me again, what were they?? Oh! I see, rather petty compared to the natives that suffered under you, old chap, haw, haw, dontcha think?? And if you really expect us to “understand” you, as you keep begging us to do, well wouldn’t a little effort on your part be worth the cost, you little high and mighty Lady of the Manor, haw, haw, haw.”
“The Colonial” has to do penance to prove his or her humanity, otherwise it is presumed not to exist. Asking me to work overtime to communicate beyond what I have done in the book is part of this. “Your humanity still hasn’t quite come across to us over here. Keep trying.”
There are some feelings that are politic to have and some that are not so. One of the strongest political feelings emanating from the newborn to the former colonialising countries is that people who are evil (i.e. whites who lived in the actual colonies) do not suffer, or if they do, one ought not to acknowledge this, for this would undermine the value of the suffering of those who were “genuine” victims of the colonial regime.
I know I am not deluding myself as regards the moral reasoning stated above. This is profoundly ubiquitous, pervasive, and has seeped into most people’s unconscious to become a form of “common sense”. So, if you do not have any element of that reasoning in your consciousness, well done. You are exemplary, have passed the test of being a decent human being with flying colours, and you are out of this world. But, in any case, and if you haven’t manage to escape the plague of contemporary reason, then this is just what I had expected, and it is normal, and too bad.
The direction of this movement is away from positing an ideal state of unity connecting the whole of humankind, which is to be facilitated by “moral understanding”, and towards an expectation that even the best friendships and relationships will have elements made up of irreducible political differences. Such differences must be understood to be as fundamental to the other’s constitution as their biology in fact is.
Whereas one’s morality may be based on principles of ethics, one’s politics are almost always based on implicit senses of belonging or not. This means that the two facets of one’s thinking are rarely ever in direct synchronisation. One can sometimes feel the effect of the two principles working at odds when a relationship with a foreigner is suddenly disrupted by a sudden certainty that each of you has a different sense of allegiance to different peoples or places.
The temptation, when this sense of differences suddenly becomes clear, is to try to solve “the problem” moralistically — that is, by attributing the cause of the sense of disagreement to “misunderstandings” or undesirable emotional states. Often, however, no “misunderstanding” has actually taken place. Rather, the political boundaries that circumscribe the other’s identity have suddenly become much more apparent. In fact, rather than considering a “misunderstanding” to have occurred, one should consider that what has occurred in such cases is “clarification”.
This clarification involves understanding the ‘soul’ of our political nature or what Nietzsche called an element of what is “unteachable” in us.
I am mysterious, only in the sense that we are all mysterious, or ought to be, to others and ourselves, as per Levinas. I do see (and experience) the locus of morality as being in the protection of this inviolable mystery of being in ourselves and others. I certainly do not see most of identity politics as being anything other than a false morality and false epistemology which violates this quality of essential mystery in others.
Life is hard to understand. But that is as it ought to be. If it were easy to understand, then it would lose its sacred essence and become worthless. I certainly hope that you find yourself as mysterious to you as I find myself to me.
To lay claim to such mysteriousness is not to claim any higher moral ground — and is certainly is not a “power play”. Rather, this is ethics as immanence.
There is nothing you can do or say, (or I can do or say for that matter), which will take away my essential mystery in relation to me, nor yours in relation to you.
We are all very, very mysterious.
Psychological normality might be conventionally defined in terms of one’s capacity to act as if one’s social and political environment were entirely neutral. That is, one is psychologically normal if one does not react defensively in relation to one’s environment. If one does, however, have defensive reactions, then this is taken as a sign of abnormality in an individual.
Yet, it is neither philosophically necessary nor justified that one must see normality in these terms. Rarely are experiments performed to determine whether the status quo is in fact rational, rather than being insane. The status quo is normative, only in the tautological sense that it is the status quo. This by no means indicates that it is healthy, or even reasonable, to embrace the status quo.
When discussing the need for feminism with men, I generally find that most men see no need for it. Their own experiences tell them that their social environments are generally impartial (to them, as men). They do not feel the discriminatory practices that are leveled against women. Therefore, they can’t imagine that these practices are taking place.
Putting this in another way, men who are skeptical about the existence of gender bias in the general social environment tend to assume that men and women inhabit the same social realm, where attitudes are gender neutral. But this is only because men experience social attitudes towards them — as men — to be gender neutral. In reality, men and women do not actually experience the same social realm, even though it may seem the same in all sorts of concrete and tangible respects, for what seems to be the “same” social environment is one that simultaneously treats men in a gender-neutral fashion whilst treating women in a gender-biased fashion.
A psychologically normal man, therefore, is one who views his environment as being neutral towards him. A “normal” women, in the tautological sense of embracing the status quo, is one who sees her environment as being neutral towards her. But a woman who experiences a gender-biased environment as being neutral towards her is not, in fact, normal in the sense of being psychologically healthy. Rather, she is somebody in extreme denial about the nature of a patriarchal society and the harm that it directs towards her.
MINUS THE MORNING embraces Bataille’s concept of formlessness. “Informe”, concerns the animalistic side of humanity, which is defined by him as sacred. It also has to do with transgression, rejection of the elitism of architecture, defying categorisation and embracing whatever has been excluded by systems of authority.
The way I see it, the book has moved me from a place where I was subjected to my superego in the limited sense of being a disenfranchised white Zimbabwean, to a place where I have possessed my history in the fullest sense. It’s a psychological possessiveness that involves both suffering from my history and inhabiting it, and somehow paying the price in terms of guilty knowledge, that my father was unable to pay.
And this is really what it has all been about for me. This is its subjective meaning.
As for what other people can make of it, I think that they have the residue of my psychological transcendence, in terms of this book. I think they will read different things into it.
I am really not keen to have any kind of “criticism” made whereby somebody says “the structure ought to be altered”, or something like that, because it makes of the memoir something conventional, rather than a byproduct of personal transcendence. I know this assertion goes against the grain of everything logical and rational and what it means to be a commercial success. The point is that this was never the nature of the project to begin with.
So, I am actually not asking for anything along lines that would recommend the book as being somehow something that has formal value. I would be far more gratified to get a response that was at the level of inter-subjectivity — but self-reflexively so. This approach would respect the property of formlessness that the book attempts to achieve.
Conversely, the wrong sort of interpretation would be: “This is a book about a white, Rhodesian girl, who is responding to the world as a person of that category does.”
This is to impose a form where I have deliberately broken down the form. My success, with regard to this project, is in having done so. To read form into a place there is no longer any form would be an error.
When speaking to right-wingers you do need to realise that you are both speaking different languages. The most common cause of confusion when speaking across the chasm of the political divide is that the right-winger will hear your ironic musings as if they were suggesting serious causal relationships between things.
The right-winger is always on the look out for causes. In particular, he considers the issue of moral corruption as having a cause, or causes, that can be very easily traced and understood, through simple logical equations.
The use of irony implies recognition that aspects of life do not follow a logical course. The right-wing ideologue sees such a suggestions and nonsensical, or “silly”, because he believes that life has to follow a narrowly logical pattern and that people always get their “just desserts”. Except — if it is he who isn’t getting his. Then, he is the one who is being victimized by life.
That’s why, in some other instances, one’s use of irony is taken to imply that one is mocking one’s own causes.
I’m far from being someone who theorises that the unconscious mind is largely a negative force, which mitigates against civilising processes. I’m not a Freudian. Rather, I see that in many cases, the unconscious minds of others are on my side. They are capable of telling me something about the others’ experiences that they would never feel free to tell me themselves.
It seems strange to say, but bullies, when they have appeared in my life, have always taught me something about the world in general, through sharing with me their world views. This is not, as I have suggested, an intentional sharing, but rather, one that always tends to happen inadvertently, and despite the self-image that the bully is trying to create.
So, in one instance, I learned from a particular bully that he had been unsatisfied in his work for 40 years. His expressed ideology might have been: “So, suffering is normal. Suck it in. We’ve all had to endure it.” Yet, the situation we were enduring was clearly contrived to make us suffer. This particular boss could have alleviated our suffering, but he chose not to.
The contradiction of imposing suffering whilst acting as if this suffering was inevitable is expressed in the idea: “I had to suffer, so you will have to suffer as well.”
This is the unconscious mind of the bully speaking, and it is on my side. It warns: “If you follow the path in life that I have followed, you will be miserable. Don’t follow it by any means! Look — I am increasing your suffering as a disincentive for you to even stick around in this workplace. Trouble resides here.”
A bully, in general, makes not conforming a lot easier than conforming to the status quo. A bully is one who is exceedingly troubled by the costs that conforming to others’ expectations have imposed on him. Had he had his life to live over again, he feels he ought not to have made the choices that denied him freedom. He nonetheless suspects that his character is just not strong enough to have made choices in favour of his own dignity and freedom. His suspicions about his own lack of integrity lead him to bully others. “At least, if I am not happy in myself, I have this compensation of extracting pleasure by watching others suffer,” he says.
As for me, I have always learned from the bully, by what is spoken to me by his unconscious mind. That, alone, is his “true self”, as Bataille has suggested. That is the goodness that remains in the bully, despite himself; the part that yearns to communicate truthfully.
“The costs I am imposing upon you now should make you think again about the path that you have chosen!” the bully says. “I care about you, as I care about the self that I ought to have fought for, but have lost. Accept this disincentive I am offering you now, which is all that remains of my capacity to speak honestly. Turn away, please. For the sake of humanity, turn away.”
Naturally, one become obsessed with identity in instances where one is devalued. But I also think that one identifies with one’s own interests as a matter of course, too. What I am considering is that Buddhist “detachment” and shamanistic dissociation from morally identifying with one’s egoistic interests have something in common — although shamanism is ultimately less consistent in this, as compared to the Buddhism, because the shaman only wishes to dissociate from ego in order to make himself freer, and not in order to “transcend” or build a moral system through his dissociation. So a shaman may even choose to take a more egoistic approach at times, if that seems to suit the situation. The difference between shamanism and Buddhism — although both practice detachment — is that shamanism is basically a perspective that concerns amoralism, whereas Buddhist training still seems to be somewhat oriented towards morality.
Entering a realm where experience is less mediated by language or culture can be quite scary. Language is kind of like a barrier against falling off your “cliff edge”. So long as you can pin the other person to language, and what they are deemed to have said, you do not feel existentially threatened, but rather as if everything in life were firm, and always had been.
The opposite to this is to remove the barrier of language, not in terms of denying that there is, or can be, or ought to be such a barrier, but in the sense of not relying on it so much. That it is quite possible to do so is shown by sparring, wherein social conventions do not matter, but only the movement of the body and its apparent intentions are considered.
They are definitely two very different levels of relating to the world. I would not have been able to go to Zimbabwe and achieve anything like I did, had I been concerned to lock meanings into place in any kind of rigid fashion. I think “identity politics” is precisely concerned with locking into place these kinds of meanings, so that others can seem more solidified than they are. However, you can’t go under, over and around identity, if you are thinking in that way. I would have had to stay in the white suburbs for the duration of my stay, instead of passing freely between different realms.
Shamanic regression has nothing to do with morality, in either a positive or negative sense. Shamanic observations about how societies are structured are in terms of amorality. One is not “better” for being at the top of society, for instance — one just appears that way due to being able to pass off one’s failings and guilt as belonging to somebody lower down in the social hierarchy. This is a fundamental shamanistic insight.
Ultimately the core insight of shamanism is that the realm of society is not structured on the basis of morality, and nor can it be. This point is related to another point, concerning the main way in which shamanistic practice can be misunderstood. That is, if it is associated with a system of morality, or a way to become morally pure, or a way to prove others to be morally in the wrong, then this is about as extreme a misunderstanding as is possible concerning what shamanism is.
So it can be associated with identity politics only to the degree that these are a system of knowledge. But it is strongly separated from identity politics insofar as identity politics represents, or acts as, a system of morality.
The paradox of all things Colonial is that they involve movement, change, conquest, and ultimately, revolution. Conversely, the lack of change, such as the acquisition of land through inheritance, is considered to embody the ideal of “the good” in non-Colonial societies. Change is evil: Satanic. This is something that shamans who resisted colonization were able to sense, for they were already in the realm of change, and just had to take it some steps further; to push the process beyond the comfort levels of their masters.
Shamanism is the opposite to Kantianism. Instead of the the rule of morality being based on abstraction, the drive towards freedom is based on spontaneity/impulse.
The power invoked here is in the instability of matter, or in terms of Bataille, “Base Materialism”.
An outsider will need to read between the lines, very often, to work out what cultural misunderstanding are taking place, as they are rarely stated directly, but instead operate as false premises. One has to work backwards from the stated conclusions in order to conjecture how false premises might have been introduced. The cultural logic of one particular group, brought up in entirely different historical circumstances, is not the cultural logical of another. The “in-group” is not disadvantaged by a system of cultural logic that relates to their own historical circumstances, but the “out-group” member is very much disadvantaged by an approach that disregards their own particular set of historical circumstances.
So it was that I have had to find out what Westerners think of me by indirect means, through never knowing for sure which essential bit of historical information they have left out. “Their calculations seem to be wrong. But, how precisely have they gone so wrong?” This is the fundamental question of my life; the one I’ve learned to live with.
I learned indirectly, for instance, that it was considered by one Westerner that I could not keep friends. How was it he came to that conclusion?
Reflecting on our different historical circumstances, I came to understand that the false premises introduced on this occasion were: “Societies are basically stable. People are not profoundly uprooted. Cultures stay the same; friends remain in touch. Only those individuals who are themselves unstable do not experience life this way.”
Trying to make sense of his perspective, I realised that my memoir depicts a kind of loneliness. Somehow, because I have never had a yardstick of social normality to define my life, I had neglected to mention that I lived through a period of extreme historical disruption of my culture. I had not noted down that my colonial culture had been judged to be an invalid one, such that people I had known and grown up with had fled the country, within two or three years, to all parts of the Earth.
And, somehow we had not kept in touch. Perhaps the traumatic circumstances of the leaving of one’s place of birth had led to this?
More likely, it was down to youth, and the happy-go-lucky attitudes we had developed at that time, which embraced a sense of fatalism. “Everything would surely be okay. Our fates were in God’s hands.”
It seems my lack of connection with the culture I’d grown up in became a mark of Cain on me; a sign that I had done some wrong. But, I was not to realise I had been marked in this way, apart from indirect comments that let me know that this was so.
After all, I did not have access to Western cultural logic, and so I did not know, from personal experience, what premises were likely to be applied regarding me. That is, they made so sense immediately, but I could only gauge what these might be through working backwards through logic.
Going beyond this is a partially hidden facet of political attitudes, that my account of cultural misunderstandings above does not include.
Of course, my culture was expected to die. Of course, this was considered necessary, for the sake of having good morals.
The idea of fixed identities is a plague upon contemporary societies. I see how this ideology can make things seem simpler, more predictable, in societies that are relatively static. However, if one’s society, or the people in it, have experienced a lot of change, the ideology that identities are basically fixed and remain relatively unalterable throughout one’s lifetime, seems plainly wrongheaded.
Much of my contention with these ideologies, that hold that our identities remain fixed, stems from personal experience with them. As an ideological force, they seem to exert a very reactionary effect on social relations.
In my life, I have been categorised in various very unhelpful ways. It has seemed to me that categorising me according to a “type” has inevitably hindered communication, and has sometimes been used with exactly this intention by those who have a political agenda.
Categorising me in a particular way prevents me from communicating things that do not come from the perspective of one who sees the world according to the category. It’s Procrustean. Anything that goes outside the lines of the ideologically determined cookie-cutter persona is deemed to be irrelevant, unintelligible, or just plain crazy.
I’m had legitimate concerns for my well-being dismissed because I speak as “a female” — only not nearly enough, apparently, since women are considered to be most quintessentially themselves when they do not speak at all. (Having said that, a woman who speaks much, but without much consideration to the content, is considered, in Zimbabwe, to be expressing her normality. Go quiet in that country, and as a female, you will be considered to have become “depressed”.)
I’ve not been able to express my sense of loss of my culture, identity, and country, because a white African’s perspective has long been deemed socially illegitimate. It’s supposed to be transcended by a righteous black’s perspective.
I’ve been told that if I want to communicate at all, I must represent myself as a “white woman”, when the Western cultural history that has produced this category of “white woman” is not my own cultural history at all. Even this brief post should be enough to indicate that I have not had the same, or similar privileges, as the U.S., British, or Australian, middle class female, who happens to be Anglo-Saxon. I think differently, because I am already different. I cannot choose this historically engendered category of identity because it has no predictive power over my behaviour, and as an epistemological category, makes little sense when applied to me.
And then there is the idea that the leopard does not change its spots. This is a particularly noxious ideology, since it is based wholly on an oversimplified idea of historical determinism. The assumption here is that experiences do not, or ought not to change one’s nature. One is destined always to remain the same, just as one’s parents had determined one to be. There’s no thinking; there’s no responsiveness; there’s no will power. One is like a billiard ball to be directed by another, or an historically produced blob.
For those who do not believe that there are mechanisms of oppression, or that these are not “objective”, I have a simple way for you to measure whether or not you are living under domination. All it requires is for you simply to express a certain degree of caution, verging on distrust, in relation to your authorities.
This attitude attracts punishment like an open bottle of Fanta attracts bees in a Harare park.
On a feminist blog, any expression of cautious distrust, which nonetheless hasn’t grown yet to become a fully intellectual state of knowledge, is a lure for patriarchal trolls of every shape and size. One must not express distrust with the system as it is. One must embrace it. This is the distilled message of trolls, and those who take their side.
Express cautious concern that patriarchy is not the best way to go for women. Express cautious concern that one’s government or local authorities do not have one’s best interests at heart. Reveal evidence that one is grappling to discover an intellectual position, but hasn’t quite obtained one yet.
Enter the trolls, who will always tell you their truths. A troll’s belief in authority is always absolute.
If postmodernism is not a program for the future, then those who teach its ideas ought to be extremely aware of this. The future ought not to be left in the hands of those who do have a program for it, such as those on the extreme right.
What is good about Nietzsche is his injunction to “live dangerously”. Bataille, who in turn proclaims “I am Nietzsche” suggests that we depart from what we know into a realm of experience where nothing is decided. Bataille’s injunction, although mystical sounding, was for people to break out of the impasse made up of ideology and convention.
Postmodernism, although having links with Nietzschean “perspectivism” is devoid of the logic of the overall Nietzschean project, which was to create a different kind of human being for the future. It kids itself that it is revolutionary, whilst remaining in a Prufrockian bubble, separated from the realm of experience:
“Do I dare
Disturb the universe?”
By contrast, shamanism has the nerve to want to experience the “thing in itself”. This is impossible, according to Kant. But it is this very impossibility that is attractive and which somehow gives shamanistic practitioners their sense of meaning. There is a wish to explore “the abyss” and if necessary become wrecked within this void.
The spirit of shamanism and the spirit of postmodernism are almost opposite. The first is incautious, audacious and foolhardy. The second is accepting of convention, timid, and often moralising.
Letwin Gurupira’s patriarchy and Chipo’s patriarchy are very similar to my patriarchy. The difference is that there is another level of oppression they have to face due to their skin colour. Terms like capitalism and patriarchy point to the way that power is structured in society. Certainly, we will experience the impact of this power in different ways, but not so differently that it warrants having a different category for “a white woman’s experience of patriarchy” and “a black woman’s experience of patriarchy”. I believe that there is a real danger in overemphasizing perception and the perceiver to the point that the power structures that oppress seem to disappear, or seem to be totally different depending on whether you are “black” or “white”.
There is a background to my opposition to postmodernist theory. I swallowed postmodernism whole as an undergraduate, back in the eighties. I left University and went on to be bullied in the workplace. I said to the bosses there, “I seem to have the perception that I am being bullied, but please correct me if I am wrong. Perhaps it is not your intention? After all, this is merely my perception and may have nothing to do with reality, at all, since reality is something we cannot know.”
The bullying did not stop but simply intensified at that point.
I learned the hard way that sometimes it is better to address reality as if it actually existed, otherwise there is no way of combating its particularly negative manifestations. If you try to address the issue as if it could be merely something happening in your own mind, you are ideal fodder. They have you where they want you, with your belief that the bullying is simply a product of your way of thinking.
In retrospect, I see that there is a certain logic in treating whites who must have been born into a colonial country during the colonial era as if they must be conservatives. Although it is an oversimplification, the assumption that a white Zimbabwean must be a conservative is perhaps generally true enough to make it a predictive principle.
Yet, I am not, nor have ever been, a political conservative. I am even less of a cultural conservative than a political one. My cultural training was in line with principles of stoicism and irreverence, in about equal proportions. Although the stoicism might seem to imply a right-wing state of mind, it has no such political homeland. It can just as easily be lobbied against the establishment as for it, or on its behalf. There is no telling, from my character structure, what politics I happen to embrace.
Throughout the years, however, people have assumed that I must be a conservative, and have treated me accordingly. This leads directly to misunderstandings, particularly if I should happen to express any of my intrinsic irreverence for power structures or ways of thinking that do not develop and thus self-transform. I am impatient with everything that stays in the same position. Character-wise, I am no conservative.
To the degree that I have remained lacking in knowledge about politics, and indeed about my own identity as others see it, I have left myself open to being misunderstood in ways that seem to have been quite extreme.
I have not expressly denied that I am a conservative, because I have not understood that this is what was being assumed. For much of my life, I would not have had the terminology, even, to name the error.
My path to understanding conservatism, as well as to understanding many other political movements, has been on the basis of errors that others make about me. My principle of epistemology is as follows: “If you want to know what others are really thinking about you, observe their errors.”
There are always going to be those who will blame me for their perspectives. This has happened many times. They will say, “We assumed you to be a conservative and now you have turned out to be something other than that!” They will say that I have tricked them into believing one thing about me, when I was acting according to a different sort of logic altogether.
In reality, when this happens, I have never had any notion of the direction of their thoughts until they proclaim that they have been deceived. I can’t be held responsible for what they had been presuming.
A recent British pop survey had parents conveying what adjectives they thought described boy children and girl children in general. Whilst boys were considered to be playful and enterprising, girl were considered to be “serious” as well as “stroppy” and “argumentative”.
Let us think about the contexts in which people are “stroppy” and “argumentative”. These responses normally come about when one is denied the right to have one’s own views or to follow through on one’s own course of action. It is apparent that an estimation of the impact of existing patriarchal social systems on the personality of women is expressed in the adjectives that are applied to girl children in general (rather than to any girl child in particular). This systematisation of thinking about gender in terms of gender stereotyping replicates the systematised nature of material patriarchal systems. (Observe, in terms of gender, the typical structure of a corporation, for instance.)
Is the acquisition of this negative character-set the anticipated destiny of the girl child, in the subconscious minds of British parents? If so, it would seem that these parent’s anticipating an inevitable outcome of internal maladjustment in relation to an artificial and externally imposed role of subordination to males.
Since parents were asked to apply these adjectives to boy children and girl children in general, the characteristics of any particular individual were conceptually subordinated to overarching notions about gender. What would be the ramifications for the individual child’s development, if the parents really did subscribe to such gender stereotyping?
Further to this, my earlier post concerning ways of thinking influenced by a capitalist-patriarchal ideological matrix, I wish to add something that is perhaps, at least on the surface of it, on a more personal note.
The point I wish to take up is what I have sensed to be true in terms of the ways of thinking produced by this matrix — that is, that one has an identity on the basis of self-assertion. A slight variation on this idea is that one has an identity on the basis of asserting one. The first principle implies that one is charged with expressing one’s power, and by this means, one obtains others’ recognition about who one is. The second principle suggests that there is logically an element of fabrication to the aspect of having an identity within this ideological matrix; that the identity that one expresses may not have existed prior to the act of self-assertion. Rather, it is the act of self-assertion that brings it into being.
These are ways of thinking that I take to be pervasive in terms of how people come to think about the nature of identity within the patriarchal-capitalist matrix. To dissect the logic of this approach even further, it is as if the holder of these ideas about identity desires to leave a visceral impact upon the psyches of other people, which will consolidate and reinforce his sense of being a person of importance. (To be “important”, at least to oneself, can be understood as a basic human need. If one is not at least a little bit “important” then one’s life is meaningless.)
For some reason, perhaps linked to my different mode of upbringing, I have never been convinced by attempts to establish self-identity on the basis of self-assertion. The expectation that one can obtain recognition of one’s value, in this way, seems to be based largely on the assumption that human beings respond viscerally to threats, without undertaking to analyse or understand them. This is true only in situations where the one making such a threat has a captive audience — such as, for instance, in the hierarchy of a corporation, where the one asserting himself is a manager. Within the military, as well, one is trained to respond viscerally to the barking of an order. Yet, to mistake for “human nature” as such the kind of visceral response of those whose training socialised them to accept hierarchy, is an error.
Outside of the context of hierarchal power relationships, (which is to say, in contexts where one has no need to accept them due to contracts and issues of survival), attempts to assert identity on through visceral impact have no place. The logic of power relations that circumscribes “human nature” in one context does not reach into another situation, where such power relationships have been transcended, or were never in place.
In such situations as these in the second instance, where dominance has not been established on the basis of contractural or financial coercion, responses to attempts to obtain recognition via self-assertion will be more more variable. The material conditions that guaranteed a predictable response in the former situation do not pertain to the latter. Rather, argument by assertion makes the patriarch seem ungrounded and unguarded. Should he persist to assert himself in this way nonetheless, he seems to be spinning out of control, into narrower and more intense whirlpools of madness.
In the final analysis, it is the patriarch’s crude disregard for the intellect of others than will undo him.
Professor Z and I are discussing the kind of cultural matrix wherein the only attitudes that are considered possible are those produced by either ego-inflation or ego-deflation. These states seem to correspond to particular moral positions. The desire to represent leadership might be expressed as ego-inflated posturing, whereas the desire to represent willing servitude or to embrace “reality” might be expressed though ego-deflation. In the first case, one proclaims that one knows exactly who one is, and that this is self-evidently and clearly defined. One expects that others will have no choice but to recognise it, too. In the second case, one does not know who one is, or what one is. One knows that one has certain feelings, but one waits for orders.
Organising or interpreting those feelings, or allowing them to press one towards any goal of one’s own is certainly beyond one’s capabilities. Whether one accepts the former or the latter attitude is related to “creating a balance” between oneself and one’s world. Presumably, one senses the presence of other egos as “forces”, and one makes corresponding compromises with oneself, one the basis of one’s overall feelings.
Professor Z tells me that this exaggerated ego-emphasised approach to life may not be so quintessentially “Western”, as I had suspected, but may perhaps be better understood as the product of a confluence of patriarchal and capitalist forces. Quite probably, one adapts best to late capitalism by assimilating oneself to this ego-oriented way of experiencing the world. At the same time, there may be a more meaningful layer of culture hidden underneath all of this, which the ego-emphasised attitudes tend to obscure somewhat. A genuine “America” and a genuine “Australia” may yet exist, if capitalist and patriarchal attitudes are put aside.
If one considers an ego-emphasized approach to life as a kind of yeasty growth on the surface of more authentic layers of culture, then it becomes clear that the issue at hand is not to be understood so much in appraising the peculiar qualities of any particular culture, but rather in terms of measuring the quantity of this pathological growth that is afflicting it.
What suffers most, within a cultural matrix where an ego-based approach is emphasised, is genuine epistemological enquiry. It is logical and automatic that this should be so, since a limitedly ego-based approach to life does not consider the individual and her needs apart from narrowly, in terms of ego.
A human being intrinsically craves knowledge of his environment, and a sense of identity that is based on something more profound than one’s own self-assertion. Yet, even the possibility of having such a need is denied by the overemphasised ego-based philosophy. Rather, undisguised cynicism comes into play: “You just want ‘knowledge’ so you can have power over others!”
Under such a system of anti-intellectual tyranny, the worst statement you can possibly make is to imply you feel that you are “different” in some way, from those around you. In fact, there is no room for any genuine cultural, intellectual, or experiential differences within the closed system of ego-based philosophising. So such a statement concerning “difference” throws the computer-mind of ego-based assumptions into a state of panic. The potential complexities implied in the use of the term “difference” must immediately be reduced to the product of binary thinking: An assertion of “difference” must be interpreted to imply an assertion that one is either “better” or “worse” than everybody else.
An assertion of “difference” thereby automatically becomes a minor league crime, something that suggests either overweening arrogance, or alternatively, acknowledgement of a failure to match up to others’ expectations. To be innocently “different” is viewed as being a road to nowhere, when in fact it could just as easily be a road to somewhere useful — to discovering the innocent differences that reside in all of us, perhaps.
The narrowly ego-based approach to life is fundamentally and militantly anti-epistemological, however. It doesn’t trust individuals to search for, and find, their own answers and meanings. It acts as if such searching is, at best, useless activity. At worst, it is some kind of evil; some expression of a will to sin.
This way in which sin and a search for knowledge are made equivalent, suggests that there is also something deeply Christian about it. After all, Christianity associates the possession of knowledge with the eating of forbidden fruit.
All in all, it seems that the cultural and philosophical paradigm by virtue of which I am most misunderstood is ego-oriented psychology. The misunderstanding occurs in the sense that I am presumed to do things, say things and behave in the way I do, in order to get other people to accept me. In terms of this same logic, I am also supposed to say things, do things and behave in certain manners in order to compete with others on a moral level. Therefore, in every sense the meaning of my behavior and actions is presumed to reside in self-advancement.
I shall take care to clarify at this point, less I be misunderstood in an even more drastic way than the initial misunderstandings, that I do not, by any means, eschew self-advancement. I do set out to achieve it, but it is one of my values among many others. It should not be concluded, by any means, that because I eschew ego psychology, I eschew self-advancement. I reject only that ego should be the vehicle in which one advances. I reject this as a particular cultural orientation. As a practical orientation, enabling one to compete on the economic market, I give in only half marks. One can certainly, as it has been proven, compete on the market without the force of ego motivating you. The Japanese economy is evidence enough for this.
Overall, my whole orientation towards the world has been in terms of epistemological enquiry. I will do almost anything to enhance my knowledge, wherever I sense that it is lacking. I will even go so far as to look stupid, to look naïve, to present an image of failure. None of this matters very much to me, so long at the outcome is epistemological gain.
When I first encountered ego-oriented culture, at the age of fifteen, it was so very alien to me that I could make no sense of it at all. I vaguely perceived that there were popularity contests and that these were oriented around fashion sense. I felt nothing positive nor negative about this orientation towards competition through fashion. I only had an extreme feeling that the vitality had gone out of life, that there was no longer anything out there that was particularly challenging or inviting to my own style of character. I had moved from a culture that had made sense to me emotionally, to one that no longer did. To seek to make those whom I couldn’t understand like me and approve of me would not have made any sense, either. It wasn’t a matter of choice, or of conscious decision not to “play along”. It wasn’t in me to be able to relate to games that were so purely oriented around ego.
My inability to relate to this game of ego has, more than anything else in life, fueled my epistemological drive up until recently. At times, this drive to know and understand my world has been extremely intense. I’ve had to try to understand more for my own survival — because, if I do not understand the “game” and whether it has a justifiable command over me — then how am I able to survive? At other times, my epistemological quest has been driven by playfulness and stems from relative idleness.
During the happy episodes of my research, I have even forgotten that the dominant culture is so ego-oriented. Then, all of sudden, this will become clear again. Somebody will have totally misread my motivations, and I will have to wash my hands of them. Sometimes it is the abruptness in manner that will tell me I have been misread once again. At other times, it is necessary to wait longer, to hear through the grapevine about misreadings. Should these occur at too frequently or with too much intensity, it becomes necessary to move away from whatever cultural milieu one may have inadvertently entered, and back into a more intellectually driven environment. There, one can always find companionship, even across cultures.
My approach to life is rather Nietzschean. I take the good with the bad that life dishes out to me, so long as I am not forced to conform to that which is both alien and incomprehensible. I prefer to be alone rather than mingle with the herd, to obtain its approval. When I am misunderstood for this strategy, I take it as inevitable. As much as possible, though, I try to avoid life-disrupting misunderstandings.
Overall, I prefer to be alone. I like companionship with those who have similar inquisitive attitudes to life as mine. Mike is one of those types. I also like the kinds of cultural experience where ego psychology is not the norm. I can harmonise with a typical Japanese personality remarkably easily. The Zimbabwean character structure and the Japanese one are not too far apart.
I have to confess that it is only lately, and very, very belatedly therefore, that I have come to catch a real glimpse of the elephant roaming my lounge-room — the one that calls itself USA.
No, I am not talking about Mike, here. I’m considering, rather, how much American cultural attitudes and values have influenced my experience of the Internet. I’m talking about American misogynists mostly, and American feminists, and how they go to war with one another.
Truly, there are some attitudes and ideas that some Americans espouse that I would not have had understanding of (apart from the fact that they seemed vaguely malicious) had I not encountered American feminist sites. On these sites, such attitudes and ideas are treated directly for what they are: Part of American politics, in particular the “culture war” against women, left-wing values and minorities.
Of late, I watch with Mike, the American comedy shows featuring Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. “These are [American] liberals,” Mike tells me. By this he means to say that their political position is slightly left and reformist, rather than being intent upon criticising the system as it is.
I find the shouting man and the slick man to be vaguely amusing — but not for more than a couple of episodes. Really, they are both too intent upon being entertaining and avoiding offended their base, so that their comedy does not seem to represent an entirely different genre from middle school teaching, in my mind.
I’m left with the impression that Americans do not like to eschew the notion of being entertained, in order to deal with any issues seriously and directly. It could be that I am wrong here, and I’m just experiencing the sensation of hating Western concepts of “middle school”.
In general, USA culture seems to be very much to the right of Australian political culture. To give you a clue, the boy campaigning very much to the right of Julia Gillard, for the position of Prime Minister, recently, was still to the left of Obama, in terms of his policies. This is according to Mike.
Cultural politics in the USA seems to be very influenced by a religious mindset, even where the views espoused are somewhat secular. For this reason, there can often be a certain amount of moralising and puritan ethics linked to some strands of American feminism. Apart from this puritanical ascetic strand, another aspect of American feminism that I really do not understand is that which goes for an emphasis on feeling. “The patriarchy is trying to make us feel badly about our weight, our figures, and/or our proclivity for shopping. The patriarchy has no right, and ought to butt out of our individual affairs.” This American cultural attitude, which defines freedom as being based on rights, is a little hard for me to understand. My own view concerning patriarchy is that if you give it an inch, it will take a mile. So, you just have to keep pushing back against it, pragmatically. Patriarchy is really an evil beast that lurks around the underworld of the cultural unconscious, in order to influence and pervert life on Earth. It really doesn’t “think” in terms of rights, as it has no conscience. If it can, it will drag us all down into a pit of eternal sorrowfulness, and wounding.
The USA treatment of patriarchy is often too nice, too polite and formal.