Primary process thinking and relating

Primary process thinking is the form of adaptive thinking we are all born with. It at the foundation level of human nature. Just as a tadpole turns into a frog, or a worm into a moth, we all engaged in primary processes in our chrysalis stage.

It’s related to an original state in the womb (and later in early childhood), where subject and object are one. The child and the mother are one bio-system, rather than being individualized and separate. Rationality has not started to develop. Nor has the awareness that one is separate from others. This way of thinking lends itself to the feeling that anything could happen. The imagination, and not logic, tends to predominate.

Primary process thinking also has an instrumental role when people have to adjust to larger systems, under strain. Humans are equipped to become one with an organisation, by projecting and distributing various facets of their personalities and needs into other members of the institution. Thus the institution functions as a whole organism, or one mind, rather than as separate people going their own way. This is very adaptive, but at the cost of rationality and individuality.

Humans are extremely adaptive in a positive way too.  We use primary process thinking all the time.  For instance, primary processes are the basis for empathy — the capacity to think oneself into the other’s skin in relation to basic human needs and desires (The lowest rungs of Maslow’s pyramid of needs).  In all, it’s what lies behind our ability to relate most directly with others.


After the Chimurenga

 | Clarissa’s Blog

People have tried to change me ever since the end of the Second Chimurenga, in 1980.  Both political leftists and political rightists have tried it for reasons best known to them.

This eventually caused me layer upon layer of traumatisation.

Once you get pulled into the power of evil people, the effect of their force field is hard to resist.  Other people won’t let you get away. I’ve even had people imply that because I was in such a hard place that I tried to accommodate all the demands for change, this meant I had an unstable sense of self.  If you try to give people what they’re forcing you to give, it means you had something wrong with you from the start.  The ideology of dominance and submission typically reverses cause and effect.   “If you comply with me, I will prove you are evil!” is the ideology of evil and self-hating people.

The good news is, I’ve finally found a way through — by giving up.

You know, if an assailant has you in a bear hug, you can find that difficult to resist, but if he grabs you when you have a lot of air in your chest, you can suddenly let all the air out and make your body go limp. You can then drop to the ground and escape.

This is what I’ve finally managed to do on a psychological level, because I had learned over the years that the more I resisted, the worse it would become for me.

Utterly fundamental to understanding shamanism

1.  Shamanistic usages of language

Shamanisms learn to speak very indirectly about reality.  As Georges Bataille points out in his Unfinished System of Nonknowledge  verbal communication sets itself at odds with the physical body and its vicissitudes.   To communicate completely, one does not communicate with language, but non-linguistically.  “We feel each other through our wounds,” he said, thus suggesting shamanic access to  another dimension of knowledge, not through suffering as such, but through the internalization of knowledge as a result of wounding.  To draw a distinction here between two levels of communication is vital.

Crude psychoanalytic interpretations would tend to make out the shaman to be one who whines about wounding whilst justifying false ways of seeing the world, to make himself feel better.  So, psychoanalysts may set out to defeat what it sees as a competing system of interpretation of the world, by distorting its claims.  The willful nature of this misunderstanding is obvious because it does not distinguish between a wound and the person who has it.  Whereas psychoanalytic distortions would have the wound seem to speak for and on behalf of itself, in shamanism, the shaman masterfully speaks on behalf of his wounds and furthermore uses his incidental wounding and the understanding it brings to heal others.

In the case of Bataille’s form of shamanism, the “wounds” are the sexual organs, which he considered a wound to language itself, as a system that aims to be closed and complete, capable of accounting for everything and making all of reality seem rational.   The physicality of the body itself  prevents the formal dimensions of language to close the circle of meaning, in terms of giving a full account of everything in the world.

This suspicion of language is expressed in all forms of shamanism, which attempt to address the problems associated with the body in a more direct way than via language.   To the end of addressing the body and not the mind, language may be “twisted” so that the shamanic seer can use it to “look around corners”. Marechera uses this expression in The Black Insider, where he criticizes logical formulations for degrading the more human dimensions of reality.

The tyranny of straightforward things is more oppressive and more degrading than such idle monstrosities as life and death, apartheid and beer drinking, a stamp album and Jew-baiting. One plus one equals two is so irrefutably straightforward that the unborn child can see that even if man was wiped off the face of the earth one plus one would always and forever-equal two.

The “unborn child” is one who cannot yet speak, who can be readily victimized by narrow forms of logic that would easily be able to erase humanity.  The “unborn child” is also the non-rational state of the shamanistic seer.   Huge aspects of reality are more readily observable when one has learned not to depend on language.

2.  When shamans work with “energy fields”, they are referring to the ability one needs to have to defend oneself against projective identification.  This term has gained meaning in psychoanalysis as implying that someone has injected their own needs and values into another person to get them to play a particular function on their behalf.   These functions are to express emotional attitudes that area already in another person but which he doesn’t have the confidence or the courage to express.

Shamans work to develop a strong “energy vest”  for the one who has become ill, to enable her to resist future attempts to control her.   A shaman’s incantations are sung to create a sense of wholeness about identity, defined as integral bodily sensations. Future assaults against the integral wholeness of the victim will from now on be understood by her in terms of what they are, and not being unconsciously accommodated.

Having developed a sense of energy fields, one is cured, since one now understands when one’s own energy field has been violated.   Should a “dart” be fired in one’s direction, one can choose to ignore it, or to return the dart to the original owner.  There is nothing mysterious about the fact that darts and energy fields exist, except for the terminology.  The means by which assaults take place, as well as their psychological meanings,  can be accounted for in the earlier mentioned term of projective identification.

Shamans take knowledge of energy fields a step further than others do in psychoanalysis, however.   An advanced shaman will conduct effective ideological warfare by observing another’s energy field and sending “darts” into the field of another to disrupt their mental ability to work. It was said that shamans used to lob mountains at each other.

Don’t try to mold others

Clarissa’s writing yesterday got me thinking.  I hadn’t realized it was possible to suffer from formlessness.  I may have suffered from it in my early twenties, when I craved a rite of passage to test me, teach me the lessons of adulthood and what society means and how it works.   That was a period in my life when it would have been good for me to begin learning martial arts.  More generally, though, she and I are polar opposites. Whereas she agonizes over formlessness, I have had to try to find ways to escape the imposition of too much form.This is why people who come along and try to shape me for any reason earn themselves the status of my mortal enemy. I have my own internal structure and I’m capable of reaching a fever point in self-discipline.   What I don’t need is someone coming along and arbitrarily trying to impose some structure on something they can’t see.   What I need is to extract the heat, to take off some of the pressure of being fully formed and to be allowed for moments at a time to enter formlessness.I have nothing to fear from formlessness, unlike the fear I have of too much structure, especially when the new structures imposed are unrelated to my existing structures.   To calculate multiple opposing principles and conform to all of them means the temperature rises to the point that I can no longer think. I need simplicity and clarity in order to continue to achieve my tasks.

Psychological structure  has always been a part of my life to the extent that I’ve internalized a sense of structure fully.  I never have to fear losing control or devolving into a state of formlessness, because my early childhood life had more structure in it than I’ve experienced since.   Above all, my primary school had an extremely military structure.  We marched everywhere in single file, recited our times table and greeted our teachers by standing up whenever one entered the room.   We were yelled at, threatened and sometimes subjected to corporal punishment — a ruler on the knuckles for inattentiveness.  That was how I grew up, by internalizing the necessity for such discipline.  Should I drink alcohol or move away from places where form is directly imposed, I still retain this form within myself.

But impose yet another layer of form on me that takes no account of my early training, and I’m in danger of losing my cool.   I have a form of my own and I don’t need two or three more layers of someone else’s necessities imposed on top of that.  A Christian cultural tendency for strangers to come along and morally shape others I find reprehensible. Let people be as they are and function according to their identities.   Don’t come along and try to mold or rearrange them!

Handling it on one’s own

After migration, there was an  issue of weird and confusing stereotyping, which fed me the wrong sort of information.  I have since been led to understand that PROBABLY a cultural stereotype was at work, as well as most certainly a gender stereotype.  This information I received, fundamentally another culture’s stereotypes about my identity, made it very difficult for me to get the information I needed to make the necessary cultural adjustments.

It didn’t help too much that I spent the first few post-migratory years not communicating, and then when I did, I spoke about my problems, which had become substantial by then.  I couldn’t understand things fundamentally.  That was my most significant issue. I hadn’t been brought up to understand the world I’d been transferred into.   I spoke English and was white, so I didn’t look like I should be having cultural problems, yet I was.

Ten years down the track and it was becoming clear that I was out of step with all sorts of cultural expectations.   Actually, this may or may not have been true, but it was my sudden analysis, bought on by a heavy episode of dysfunctional workplace exposure.   My project to adapt and adjust, in order to “save myself” became extreme — my motivations became extremely energized.  I looked around for all sorts of advice. I mean, how does one stop the abuse?  Is there some form of conformity that assures it comes to an end?

People told me that there surely was:  I had to get off my high horse and stop being so “sensitive”.   So I took that lesson to heart.  I developed a rude and abrasive manner.  I also tried not to feel anything much at all, unless it was the anger and aggression that had been building up over a number of years.   I sought the ideal solution to defuse this anger and aggression, by joining the army.  I would blow up people, and then the anger and aggression would be out of me and into them.  It was uncomfortable to have so much rage building up, but if I got off my high horse and mixed it with the worst of them, I would surely find a way to move beyond such an uncomfortable inner state.

I learned a great deal from this period of time how it is possible to be extremely calm whilst enduring a state of rage.  I had a bomb ticking inside me and I had to find a way to manually defuse it.  If it did harm in a socially acceptable way, I was fine with that.

I also found it was quite possible to be comfortably alone with my inner state, with no sensitivity at all.  I could respond to people and at times present outward emotions without feeling any inner change at all.

I never forgot, even for a moment, that I had only one goal — and that was an issue of my life and death — to defuse this inner dynamite in the safest way possible.

Undoing identity, undoing fascism

The primitive components of our brains are preoccupied with setting invisible boundaries that are defined by social inclusion or exclusion is .   Nationalism, sexism, racism and all other forms of social identity rely on this primeval mechanism of division and exclusion.

We can’t directly fight these aspects of our thinking, since they are part of our way of structuring the social realm. This part includes certain members socially by exclusion and scapegoating.  “Projective identification” creates negative identities  by scapegoating, whereby those who are perceived to be outsiders of the group are made out to represent the kinds of qualities the group doesn’t want to own as part of its identity.

Fear and pride predominate at this level of consciousness.

  Identity politics, which attempts to make us address our “privilege” has  failed on every level.   It has only led to infighting within the left, which has created a gigantic gap for those who are better organized on the right to perpetuate their agendas.  This they have done ever since the eighties, so that American society is effectively dominated by an extreme right-wing agenda.

Leftist identity politics is just like its right-wing counterpart.  It is wrong-headed because we cannot attack a part of our own humanity without failing.  It is better to understand the workings of the   primitive brain and use our knowledge to become more fully human, and not fight it as snooty moralistic ascetics.

Few people are aware that our brains create basic boundary divisions at an unconscious level.  More specifically, most people take the divisions they meet in the world as natural and logical.   Ethical groups all have essential qualities.   Zionists are crazed and wrong and Palestinians are noble.   That’s just how they seem to our naked eye.  Or, vice versa:   school teachers are leaching off our system and business men are here to help.  That, too, is visible to the naked eye, if one is brought up with the “right” forms of conditioning — that is if one has a pure, religious heart and fears the economic bust.

Just as being aware that the sun rises in the morning is not the same as commanding it to rise, being aware how the mind creates divisions does not mean that one applauds them.

For instance, much has been suggested, in the past, that Georges Bataille, who engaged with the psychology of fascism and understood the psychological states involved in it, must necessarily be a “left fascist” himself.   After all, why study something, unless one in fact is the object one is studying?   If one is not lifting up the sun with one’s eyelids, why claim that the sun actually exists?

I have Michael Richardson to thank for pointing me to Georges Bataille’s shamanism, at least in the sense that Richardson conceives that Bataille’s emphasis on “facing death” was shamanistic and that it was Bataille’s intent to cure himself via this method.

Another trope of shamanism is boundary crossing:

[S]hamans are men in some cultures, either men or women in others, and biologically male transvestites in still others. Some Inuit cultures are especially well-known for their association of shamanism with cross-dressing. If we wish to think about this in terms of symbolic classification, it seems quite logical that crossing one symbolic boundary, that between the sexes, should be made to “stand for” another symbolic boundary-crossing, the bridging of the gap between humans and the supernatural. [David Hicks, quoted by University of Waterloo]

Whereas I’ve heard it mentioned, in a class at university, that Georges Bataille engaged in cross-dressing, to learn about the other side of consciousness he was repressing, I have been unable to trace any written references to this effect.   That is to my regret, for it makes entirely logical sense that Bataille would have engaged in this kind of experience, given his other shamanistic proclivities (documented by me elsewhere).

Dambudzo Marechera, whose writing I’ve also pointed out as being shamanistic, was a  quintessential boundary crosser:

Hell is crossing the railway line

In dark mood on a dark night

This railway line would have been between differently segregated parts of town, in racially segregated Rhodesia.

Crossing boundaries gives us access to experiences we have earlier avoided, but without being aware of our avoidance thanks to the operation of the primitive parts of our human brains.

Shamanistic crossings thus undo the boundary-making that our lizard brains have formulated.   Transgression breaks through the code of primitive thinking, and expands our minds.

There’s nothing necessarily primitive about breaking down primitive unconscious processes, even though the means themselves may seem strange and dangerous to us.   “Watch out!” Primitive lizard brain warns us.  “Boundaries of identity are there to preserve you.  Breaking them down will be dangerous to your health!”

Still, the shaman must be master of the lower mind: This isn’t fascism,  this is the denial of fascism; its undoing.

The trope of re-training

As you can read in my recent posts,  I have become much more aware of the nature of reality and less bedazzled by the promises of benefits in “fitting in”.

To recap:   It was the project my father place on my shoulders, when I first alighted from the plane as a new migrant.   Your task is to “fit in” and to show delight and approval at anything you see, because that’s what people want to hear from you.

So, I was led to understand that I could not express my genuine reactions to anything, because that would jeopardize the all-important, overarching project, which was to appear to conform with everybody else.   Note that I never had an emotional need to “fit in”.   I always strove for independence.   However, I believed  I ought to obey the advice entailed in my father’s stratagem.   I’m not sure why I took his advice so literally to heart, but probably it was due to the absence of other forms of advice, and probably because I am my father’s daughter, and neither of us would bother to fit in too much, unless we were commanded.

City culture had no appeal to me — especially the culture of the eighties.   I didn’t strive to fit in for the first ten years after my arrival.  Instead I often pursued an avoidance strategy.   I tried to grasp little moments of country atmosphere as much as possible, and sought — and failed — to find excitement in art.   (Even art had been tamed into “graphic design” in my new social setting.)

I constantly pursued those things I had already known from my African experience, and tried to expand on those — first by running around the oval field twice a day, then horse-riding, then SCUBA diving.  Martial arts, belatedly came next, and then sky diving.   All this time, I was trying to recapture my earlier relationship with nature as a source of danger and adventure.

The idea that I ought to “fit in” had not yet become a serious project.   That only took on a life of its own after I came to the shocking and traumatic conclusion that the language I’d been speaking to those in the workplace had a different meaning in their ears to the ones I had expected and intended.   I realized I’d better learn to understand how others understood me, otherwise I’d face a tremendous amount of aggression for the rest of my life, and I’d never understand why.

I must say, the sense of humor I still have today is not all that peculiarly African.   At the gym today, I washed my hands, as usual, after training, since we must shake hands with everybody in the class, and this is how colds and ‘flus are spread.   There’s another guy from the class, who always meets me at the basin.  We know we look a little bit aloof, washing our hands, after shaking them with everyone, so we make jokes acknowledging this fact.   “Gotta get those germs off!” we say glibly.   We imply, with our sly smiles, that others are the carriers of all sorts of diseases we don’t want.   After today’s class, this guy smiled and said we had to “remove the gangrene”.  “Yes,” I said.  “We don’t want that slime!”

So it goes, every week.  It’s easy to joke around with someone with whom you have exchanged some sparring blows and demonstrated stoicism and restraint.   These kinds of experiences build trust and an underlying understanding.   By contrast, joking around when one still has the status of “a foreigner”, moreover from a politically dubious country, leads to different effects.   Then, one is retained in quarantine and has to continue to show restraint and seriousness for many years.   Trust has to be earned, my masters taught me, and it doesn’t come that easily.

Along with ongoing trial and error, I learned never to relax and take it easy.  My status was always probationary, and tenuous trust would be withdrawn at a moments’ notice, on the basis of just one error of judgement — for instance, being humorous when seriousness was implicitly required.

Walking on eggshells doesn’t begin to describe my sensations.  I was deeply traumatized by my inability to find a situation where I could simply let down my guard, be myself and expect reciprocal trust.

Then there was the aspect of those who wanted to “shape” me for the kind of clerical position I had entered. I’ve since understood that “to shape” means to break down somebody’s character, in order to form it differently in a way that is more subservient to the structure of the organization one has entered.   I understand implicitly these days what “more training” means, especially when the goals of such training are not overtly or clearly stated:  someone requires and expects the restructuring of your character, and this is not achievable without first breaking down the character in order to make it different.

I’ve studied very hard this sado-masochistic dynamic of contemporary culture, and although I believe I understand it theoretically, I could never find a way to bypass it, to get around it adequately, in order to “fit in”.

Therefore, I’m giving up the project after twenty years, and casting caution to the winds.  I can’t make sense of all these barriers, but that’s because I’m not supposed to.  Or, it doesn’t matter.   Or, my life simply consists upon a different plane.   In any case I won’t be “fitting in”.

Shamanistic learning: my stages of progress

Often I’ve been my own worst enemy in life, because of my intense need for the world to simply make sense to me.   When we are in situations where we are really vulnerable, as I was for a long time as a new migrant,  we have one primary need, that is the need to understand how things work.   To have no control over one’s circumstances whatsoever is extremely frightening.  To have a little control, through understanding how things work, can often mean the difference between keeping one’s head above water and the sensation that one is sinking rather dramatically.

Thus, one tries to read purposes and reasons into people’s actions when one can’t directly make sense of them.    That way, one feels a little “in control” even when the reasons one furnishes to explain the negative situations are themselves of a negative nature.   At least, now, there is an internal logic to the situation, even if the logic one is able to discern seems to be acting against one’s well-being.  Making sense of reasons means one can work within a situation that would otherwise simply be too shocking — not just for its hostile character, but for it unintelligibly.

Reading meaning into situations where one is not really sure of what the situation means, because nobody has  explained it to you, has a downside.   One ends up making people’s hostility seem more logical than it is.   I realize that as a white migrant from Zimbabwe, I attracted a lot of politically motivated hostility.   The trouble was I couldn’t see it for what it was — an abstract style of aggression against someone of my origins.   Instead, I tried to find a personal angle, because if it was related to something I was doing personally, I could  correct that.    To see things in a personal light meant I had more chance of taking control.  And I needed that sense of control more than air itself.

My habit of trying to discern reasons, where there were none, began out of this original state of migrant trauma.    Somehow, my capacity to generate reasons generated a very positive outcome.  I began to see the world as being much more intelligent than it was.  Indeed, everything I encountered seemed to be animated by a very high level of intelligence.   Barring the moments when someone lets you down by failing to live up to the wonderful expectations of high intelligence, the world seemed to reverberate with a sense of living being.   As I was becoming more aware of everything around me, I was projecting my own intelligence and being into things.   Those things radiated back to me my own intelligence, in a way that made all sorts of actions seem to be noble, and striving for something higher.

I still didn’t have explanations for some forms of behavior I’d experienced in my past, but now almost everything seemed to have a logical reason and purpose behind it.   That I was the originator of my sense of  there being reason and purpose in all things escaped me.

This changed as I completed my thesis, and learned about the wide variations of experience that come from altered states of consciousness.  We experience the world as we are, not as it actually is.   Of course, this doesn’t mean good or bad experiences originate from us, but rather that we can develop different ways of coping with those aspects, be they good or bad.

Nowadays, I’m inclined to withdraw my intellectual projections from the world at large.  I see it more as it is — that is, there is a lot of randomness and a lot of people rushing around who sometimes make errors of judgement, since the world obeys no metaphysical principles, as such.

I’m not sure what intellectual shamanism has taught me. I know myself better — but that self is always subject to change.   More generally, I’m not threatened by anything anymore.  I realize that what I was most threatened by before was (1) not understanding anything (2) my own intelligence, projected into others, that then began working against me.

I consider I’ve made satisfactory progress for my age.

torn apart left and right

What Rhodesian culture was is very, very, hard to understand. Even I had a hard time understanding it, because I grew up in it but didn’t recognize what either the Rhodesians or the rest of the world were reacting to. The civil war has already started by the time I was born. Then it finished when I was 12 and I emigrated to Australia with my family when I was 16. Once, I emigrated, it was the start of another war, only on a psychological level. My parents wanted me to be staunchly right-wing, but Australia was a more liberal culture, especially the university system. My tendencies were left libertarian, although I didn’t have a name for it at that time.

So, to be independent, I had to go against everything my parents had an emotional attachment to, in an ideological sense. It felt like a kind of acceptance of death — either mine or my father’s — when I eventually realized how hostile my parents had become toward me, when I reached in my late twenties. I had been bullied at work, for being from where I was from. This labour union workplace considered itself a left-wing social organisation. Someone there didn’t like me because of where I was from, and indeed I was rather socially inept in those days — too much so to see it coming or to defend myself. I had suffered from war trauma, not really my own, perhaps, but that of my father. He had been traumatized by war all of his life — first the second world war, which robbed him of his father just after he was born, and then the Rhodesian civil war, which robbed him of his younger brother and sent him on call-up duty, six months in, six months out.

After all this sacrifice and ideological indoctrination against the infiltrating “communists” (the guerilla groups were trained by USSR and China), my father hated anything remotely “left-wing”. It’s not that he took the time to understand it. He had to immediately assimilate to an entirely different culture starting from a very low status position. He had previously been a lecturer at the Polytech. So, he became even more traumatized.

It seems he attempted to solve the problems of his profound, underlying trauma from childhood and beyond and his ideological confusion by lashing out at me. His mother had always been insensitive to him, throwing him into the deep end of every new experience, and allowing others to treat him sadistically at times, without intervening. So, my father developed the view that I was in some sense his mother. He became the frightened infant lashing out at her for her insensitivity to his needs.

Needless to say, this was extremely frightening and confusing to me and made it much more difficult for me to re-orient myself in Australian culture. I’d come from a rural, tribal culture and very little about modernity made any sense to me. I found it extremely inimical.

My failure to adapt also very much angered my father. He saw his own failure (in his parents’ eyes) in me and my behavior.

However, I couldn’t adapt because I was becoming more and more traumatized. People were treating me like I was a racist and uppity, when I was just extremely shy and didn’t actually know anything about people’s subjective values or beliefs.

So the right-wingers were attacking me for adapting and the left wingers were attacking me for daring to migrate to Australia. And people were still very angry, even ten or fifteen years after the war. Family members had been killed in the war, and many Rhodesians wanted to kill anyone who expressed any left-wing tendencies. This was a primitive rage.To leave the conservative culture of Rhodesia is akin to trying to leave the Aum Supreme Truth Cult. Leftists in demand of their pound of flesh make this almost impossible to achieve. If anything, the loss of the war made my emotions of betrayal even stronger. How could you leave a situation when it was so frail and in need? The war and been tribal and personal as much as it had been ideological.

I developed chronic fatigue syndrome — which took me many years to recover from. My body had totally overheated due to this stress.

Most of the onlookers must have believed that this form of suffering was necessary and good for me, for they took the side of anyone who judged anything against me.


Identity formation as political imperative

Identity formation is really, really interesting. I studied it a great deal in my thesis, most particularly the political nature of identity formation through projective identification. I came to believe that this is the most decisive way in which our identities are formed, because it is really almost impossible to resist a particular identity if a large mass of people are projecting that identity onto you. In effect, they are requiring you to play a certain role for them — and my memoir is an exploration of this. For instance, in terms of white, Western culture, I am the dishonourable “colonial”, whom others can automatically use to mark their own superiority. For my father, who was bound to extremely antiquated and rigid standards of masculinity, I was his “emotion” and means of coping with his loss of his country. And then there are the secondary levels of interpellation and distorted interpretations, whereby my efforts to explain this situation is also seen to be a confirmatory sign that I am merely “whining”, for that is what women do, unless they are happy with the status quo, which makes them unhappy.

I am now resigned and happy that at least I understand it and that these ebbs and flows of political emotion have nothing to do with me. I ultimately disowned my subjective connection to the identity depicted in my memoir by means of an extreme kind of mockery of it at the beginning and in sections of the last few pages.

This was my intention: to rupture and a break from the past through an act of destruction: shamanistic destruction involves destroying the identities that others have projected onto you, in order to be more fully yourself.  I do not destroy the fundamentals of my experience by shamanistic destruction, but rather the false meanings attributed to those experiences.

The subject matter of colonialism clearly remains too emotionally raw for most people to address impartially. Nonetheless, I have quite a lot of confidence that in greater historical perspective,  it will be much easier to see that I am making fun of the ridiculous ideas of my identity that had been projected onto me, rather than quoting them because I thought they were true.

GASLIGHTING by applying preconceived identity categories

AN “us versus them” mentality is a basic part of our brain structure. The more stressed we are, the more we will tend to employ these categorical distinctions unconsciously.

In Western cultures, knowledge is considered to be very important. It is viewed as an indispensable sign of competence, especially in levels of society above blue collar working class (which probably explains why I find blue collar types much more companionable).

Unfortunately, what happens when people encounter some phenomenon that they don’t fully understand, instead of slowing down and giving it their full attention, they speed up, wanting to cover themselves with a sense of competence, by asserting what they think they “know” about it. This is likely done in a state of extreme stress, with the threat of ‘failure’ (in terms of not knowing) hanging over one’s head. The effect is a form of psychological abuse, whereby a person is fit into a particular category of identity and deemed to have certain attitudes and dispositions that they can’t remember ever having expressed. If enough people hold that the category of identity has some independent meaning that determines the thinking of the individual, the subject can start to feel as if they’re going mad. Their own experiences have little in common with projected notion of who they are. It’s the individual versus mob mentality.

I have detected that pattern that when people are not listening carefully to what I am saying, but are instead drawing sketchy and categorical conclusions about ‘identities’, this is usually because they are in a state of stress because they fear being shown up for having a lack of knowledge in certain areas.

A state of stress leads to the imposition of a narrow and categorical identity. The one who does this does not intend to do any more or less than deal with a feeling of urgency and uncertainty, to make it depart. These sensations nonetheless guarantee that one will draw one’s conclusions in an “us versus them” way, rather than rationally and empirically.

You need to realise what is going on — that people are ‘thinking’ about you in a regressive way because your type of existence (or your words) makes them feel their knowledge is inadequate. They don’t like that feeling. They are trying to expel it by means of a primitive form of jiu jitsu. They’re trying to make things seem simpler than they are.

The experience of intellectual shamanism is remedial because it acclimatizes one to endure ‘nonknowledge’, neutral consciousness, or formlessness. One can learn to be at ease with not understanding everything — and that way, more information about the world can be obtained, with a minimisation of the use of narrow-minded defence mechanisms.


The Icarian complex

The Icarian complex involves a determination to reach the heights through moral transcendence. It is not a complex if it is balanced with an ability to stay “down to earth”, or to return there.  If not, however, it is very much a part of patriarchal religious measures.    Let me try to explain how.

One edifice of patriarchal ideology is the always indirectly stated notion on the part of a patriarchal male that “women are responsible for my thought processes.”  As a structure of thought, patriarchal thinking always that it remains itself forever impure because of this tacit premise: the patriarch asserts: “My masculinity would be more pure, more virile, if women were not interfering in my thought processes. Only then would the world really see what I have to offer to it — my magnificence!”

Patriarchal cultures therefore seek to purge, to cleanse, patriarchal society of this putative, insidious “woman influence”.

Various methods are tried, some with greater success at eliminating women than other methods have been. Shaming women, forcing them to cover up, treating them as if they were intellectual infants, killing them because one feels “shame” as a result of their attracting dishonour, forcing them into the house and into silence — all such methods are supposed to release the transcendental male spirit, so that we can see it once and for all.

Despite his often ferocious methods of trying to disentangle himself from his necessary social and historical contingency, which the patriarchal male associates with “femininity”, he is unable to purify himself using his chosen methods. He wants to fly up above the contamination of the fleshly body, but he is heading for a shock. This is because his impurity does not come from women, but from the his own mind, which projects non-transcendent aspects of experience outward and downward and appears to see them as if they came from there.  The insidious influences of life that lead to his sense of “impurity”come from himself alone.

Detachment: shamanic knowledge versus Meltzer’s "object relations"

I now conclude that the “epistemophilic” instinct, spoken of by Meltzer, is something very different from shamanic knowledge, at least as I have studied it in Marechera. The epistemophilic instinct leads to the generation of an ideological framework. You look at the world in terms of ideology — but an ideological framework is really only a framework for an abortive/masturbatory epistemology. Ideology is a claim to knowing that doesn’t come in touch with the real world. It believes it does — and yet it doesn’t.

Shamanistic knowing may encounter the seduction of essentialism (like the epistemophilic instinct encounters in order to produce its ideological outcome — which is overgeneralising about ideologically pre-formulated ‘natures’.)

Tellingly, the perspective of the shaman who RETURNS from natal or early post-natal experience is defined by a capacity for detachment from objects, rather than a state of immersion in them as the object relations school would have it . Thus, shamanistic experience produces a state akin to Buddhistic transcendence of the subjective social relations (i.e. it ultimately transcends the early infant’s consciousness that psychoanalysis describes as  “object relations”).


politics and identities

How central a part identity places in Western thinking! I am now in a position to clarify something I had intuitively registered before.    At least in terms of my generation and its perspectives, identity was a political category but not a real category, in post-colonial Zimbabwe. This was obviously different for my parent’s generation, where society was more static.

My generation could not learn the truth about anybody on the basis of an external identity. There were now wealthier black people and there had always been whites who weren’t as well off as others.  All that the category of identity could indicate was somebody’s capacity to move around, and where those parameters lay. It could tell you the permissions that somebody most likely had to do x or y. It couldn’t tell you how they thought, or what they had been through, or what their attitudes were certain to be. You had to find those things out for yourself.

Much is made of identity in the West, for over the centuries of industrialisation, identity has become an epistemological category here — and not merely a political one.

So much nervous energy is wrapped up in the frenzied issue of identity in contemporary Western culture. Political heads continue to roll around after the ecstasy of their execution. Sado-masochistic excitement about “identities” keeps us in its thrall.

My situation is different in that I so easily revert to benign indifference concerning matters of group identity.  

The role of identity as cultural and political construct

Huge depletion of energy does give you a shamanistic perspective concerning the underside of society, viewed from a rather weakened position.

But I am assured that I’m on track with my views. I think any society which has internalized as normal a rather extreme condition of mind-body dualism will demand that somebody name their identity before they speak. Thus their speech can then be interpreted retroactively into the identity that is already at least to some degree “known” or much more often presumed, merely, to be known. (The mirror stage of Lacan’s psychoanalysis gives us the capacity to make such presumptions. Yet mirror stage presumptions are qualitatively different from the long and hard process of actually ‘getting to know you’. The latter is empirical rather than ideological — hence my reference to the value of studying history, earlier.)

 Perhaps the animism of more primitive societies has more psychological acuity to it than identity politics (engendered by late Modernism). In my view, identity politics puts the cart before the horse and demands that someone prove the merit of their worth as a human being by engaging in dialectical politics. By contrast, animistic thinking and empirical thinking take Being for granted and analyse what is presented by someone’s actions, in a way that can bypass the demand to make artificial or formal claims about identity.

Note this; Note this well!

“Repeated trauma in adult life erodes the structure of the personality
already formed,” notes Dr. Judith Lewis Herman, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, “but repeated trauma in childhood forms and deforms the personality.”

And this is…need I say it?… perhaps the most vicious aspect of Western identity politics in action!

It formulates a constant assault on identities created in some other context (unknown by you) and destroys and erodes personalities.

And I am the one left behind to pick up the pieces!

Identity politics and psychological violence

Whilst I believe in standpoint epistemology — the notion that those who have been oppressed can often read the political system much better than those who are the oppressors, I’m no believer in identity politics as such. I’ll tell you why.

There is too little difference between the position of liberals, who categorise people according to oppressed and oppressors and the position of the right, which has the same demarcations, but uses other terms.

I’m too left wing to be liberal. But also I have standpoint experiences of my own. I understand personally and profoundly how attributing a certain identity to someone can facilitate their destruction. The liberal classification of people into groups of oppressors or oppressed is far from innocent. The harsh divisions of people into social identities may seem necessary in order to fight back genuine oppression. But, like insurgency and guerrilla warfare, it is not free of violence. Nor it is the case that the violence is lessened by being ideological rather than physical in its nature. As liberals themselves know — or ought to know — the two are inextricably linked.

Western identity politics was new to me when I emerged from Africa, and was labelled white as well as western. Of course, I knew that I was white — but I had nothing in common with you other whites. I understood neither you culture, nor your motivations, nor your methods of socialisation. Nonetheless, as I have remarked on before, I was considered “white” — absorbed into a monolithic category, which excused those who found me unusual for my actual cultural background from having to engage with me to find out who I was.

White identity…. In narrow terms, I’d had such an identity when I was in colonial Africa, but this was not in western terms at all — or barely. I was part of the new generation of Zimbabweans who went to school with those who weren’t my colour. (I say this as a neutral fact, but nonetheless the fact that I have said it will seem to appeal to salacious minds, as if I was arguing for or against the reality. Not at all! I’m representing it as a fact.) I didn’t find anything odd about this. Indeed, I didn’t find it odd that some of my best friends were blacks (once again, salacious minds on the left and right will rush to do their ‘moral’ calculations.)

Anyway, when I came to Australia, I discovered that since I was part of monolithic whiteness, that I should feel guilty or at least uneasy about concepts of blackness (Watch my language!), because it was the duty of monolithic whiteness to feel this way. I was reprogrammed and acculturated to watch my Ps and Qs and to lose my ease of associating with people from other cultures.

That was violence. It has taken me a long time to undo the violence wreaked on me by those who remain ignorant about different cultural attitudes towards identity. The additional violence in treating me as an oppressor if I mentioned where I’m from destroyed my health and livelihood for a long period of time — proving that ‘oppressors’ are often not who or what we think they are. They can be nice “liberals” or well-intentioned leftists as well as being from the hard right.

Who is Dambudzo Marechera and what does he mean to me?

Not too many people outside of Zimbabwe have heard the name of Dambuzo Marechera,  while many have heard of Chinua Achebe, whose 1958 work, Things Fall Apart, was hailed as the definitive African novel. For Marechera, as well as for me and so many others of the generation whose parents fought the second Chimurenga or Rhodesian civil war, things fell apart, as well, in more ways than we could have told.

We were the children of our parents – and therein lay a problem. Neither Marechera nor I had any choice in the matter. Marechera was born in 1952, into a rural community in what is now Zimbabwe. When he was about to turn 16, I was born. His awareness of politics and the world around him would have taken form in his teenage years, when the white colonial regime of Rhodesia declared its independence from Britain, thus crystalising the political structure of the society as a system which would probably be white-ruled for a long time to come.

I was born three years after pronouncement of white independence. Five years before I was born, the country had seen the beginnings of a guerilla war – for there were those who wanted their independence from the whites, whilst the whites wanted their independence from Britain. So, I was born into a situation that had a backdrop of guerilla war and suppression of black ‘insurgency’. I was born on the white side of the fence, in glorious and expansive rural style suburbia. Marechera was born into rural huts and ultimately into the black ghetto of Vengere Township. Given these obvious differences, what can we have in common?

The question might well be asked, and the most honest answer is that we were both children of our parents. Black and white we may be, but neither of us decided to afflict war on each other. That was a decision undertaken by those who represented our parents. Marechera and I were both in some sense born on the wrong side of the fence. The global community was for the black guerilla fighters and against the white oppressors, and yet, actually, they were taking sides with one or other of our parents. We – the children of our parents – were never asked about our views. We were never given a choice.

So it was that Marechera, child of his parents, grew up struggling against the tide. Offered an education in English, he was keen to follow through to get out of his ghettoised environment. Meanwhile, his parents raged against him learning English, causing him to burn his school books in anguished confusion or protest. I, however, the child of my parents, was caused to emigrate a few years after the guerilla war had ended with the country falling into the hands of a black majority.

Being the child of my parents, the war didn’t end there for me. In fact, it was only just beginning. For little did I realise that sacrifices do not go unrequited. The Rhodesian war only began for me, upon migration to Australia, when I had come of age. I was 16 at the age of my Zimbabwean exit. It was the year 1984. We had barely found our feet in an altogether different culture, when it was already time for me to requite the parental sacrifice.

It began with condemnation that came about because I was both socially lost on one hand, and that I was seen to be adapting to what must have been presumed to be the nefarious and decadent values of the first world, on the other. Poor adaptation and the cultural values that I had adopted through partial assimilation meant that all my parents’ sacrifices to keep up an ideological purity had been entirely in vain. I was not growing up with the values that they had battled for against Dambudzo’s parents. So, I was worse than a traitor, from my parents’ point of view. I was somebody who was undoing history – and undoing them, in the process. Each difficult step I made towards adaptation to the new and foreign culture earned its punishment. To break me down and make me repent was my parents’ goal – the unspoken agenda they had against my growing up in ways which hadn’t been prescribed.

This brings me to why I relate so much to Marechera. Reading his works, I am made aware of how the simplicities of our parents – and indeed of the global community, in supporting one faction of our parents against another parental faction – have led to intellectually impoverished perspectives. Marechera and I have both revolted against moral, social and political oversimplifications, in favour of a level of understanding that takes into account the human elements of suffering, and what it means to be historically (and socially) contingent beings – the children of our parents.

Reading Marechera’s works, I encounter the complexities of emotional life, in forms which do not compromise the meanings of experiences, in order to please the powers that be. Marechera writes in a complex way and this complexity is his integrity, for as he says:

The tyranny of straightforward things is more oppressive and more degrading than such idle monstrosities as life and death, apartheid and beer drinking, a stamp album and Jew-baiting. One plus one equals two is so irrefutably straightforward that the unborn child can see that even if man was wiped off the face of the earth one plus one would always and forever-equal two. [92]

Emotional compartmentalization

My best metaphor for my impressions of Western individualism and how it often functions, comes from the engineering of the Titanic. I’m not sure why this imagery sticks with me. It surely cannot be that I suppose Western society to be doomed. My selection of this imagery probably has more to do with the idea that Western society is a piece of construction or engineering — more so than African societies tend to be (in ways I will one day go on to describe).

At the bottom of the Titanic were compartments, which made her seemingly unsinkable. These were large walls in the belly of the boat, separating sections of the engine room, one from the other. Unfortunately these walls did not extend up to their ceiling, but stopped some way from it. The purpose of these dividing walls was that if the ship began to take in water, only one or two of the compartments would be filled. The rest would not be flooded as the dividing walls would prevent this. Obviously, for various reasons which I shall not go into here, this engineering safety plan didn’t work.

How are individuals of late capitalism like the individual compartments in the Titanic? Well, for a start, they are emotionally very compartmentalized. That is the force and structure of Western individualism: It has the effect of emotionally compartmentalizing people, which often makes direct communication of emotional ideas and feelings into quite a feat. For instance, I have struggled for ages to get some people to understand some of the experiences I’ve had. It’s very hard for many people to grasp what others want to say to them because the walls of conceptualization of ideas build up around each person, cordoning them off as “an individual”, so that the urgency of a quick, sharp cry, “Help! I’m being abused!” is rarely heard — and if it is heard, it is rarely acknowledged unless one is fortuitous enough to be surrounded by like company.

When walls of ideological meaning grow up around one — as is common in a highly conceptualizing and emotionally repressed society — sometimes it feels as if the only people who will attend to one’s cry are those who have an ideological axe to grind. These may be precisely the sorts of people one does not want to be understood by, least of all ‘helped’.

Westerners, I think, live in a state of great emotional repression, generally. Probably this is a feature of their adaptation to modern industrialism, with its tendency to atomize and fragment otherwise naturally growing communities.

The late capitalist individual must therefore put a lot of emotional emphasis on the few emblems of individuality allowed to him or her. These are those insignia and icons I have suggested in posts below. So much emotional potency, so much unfulfilled human potential is invested in so very little — an external form of some sort, for example the way I wear my hat, or the coloured contact lenses I invest in, or the car I buy. Threaten a Westerner’s belief in his insignia, and you symbolically undermine the whole personality of the Westerner himself.

The bourgeois individual will repress her passions out of a feeling of necessity. It’s common wisdom that this is what it takes to put bread on the table: One submits to the boss and grinds one’s teeth, or quietly resigns oneself to a mechanical necessity of routine and conformity. Yet the more that one represses hope and passions, the more one’s insignia burn with the fateful potency accumulated from all of one’s repressed or unexpressed desires. Within these few signs resides all of the Westerner’s belief in his true self: the underlying passion of his repressed individualism!

Whereas a typical cultural individualist will not feel entitled to object when the boss steps his  famed boot upon the repressed worker’s frail and emotionally emaciated hand, the same person does feel entitled to express his outrage if some unwary stranger manages to inadvertently insult his prized notions concerning his category and status — after all he believes he is this narrow, factional identity.