Sobre la muerte

“‘Yo no voy a morir de enfermedad, ni de vejez, de angustia o de cansancio. Voy a morir de amor, voy a entregarme al más hondo regazo. Ya no tendré vergüenza de estas manos vacías ni de esta celda hermética que se llama Rosario. En los labios del viento he de llamarme árbol de muchos pájaros.’”

That comes from this article. Now, in the culture I was raised in the attitude evinced in this quotation would have been considered arrogant or naive; something to be looked down on, sneered at. I’d like to bury that idea in a deep grave and walk on it well to make sure the earth is tamped down.

*

I keep being told I am “too hard on myself” but this often refers to interest in work. That bears thought:  is the exhortation not to be “so hard on oneself” a form of sabotage? Because when a man says he’s going off to do work, people say “good for you!”

*

I was also told recently that having had a small inheritance that allowed me to choose my own college was “too much responsibility.” I have heard this before — I should have let someone else choose for me. I should have stayed closer to home, or gone to a smaller school, or to a private school.

Me, can you imagine? when where I went corresponded precisely to who I was and am.

*

Yet women are not allowed to know themselves, and joy is not allowed.

*

“Rosario, que vivió entre estudiantes, hoy se quedaría fría ante las cifras que confirman que más de 10 millones de jóvenes entre 19 y 23 años, no estudian ni trabajan.

“Y ante la falta de oportunidades les pediría erigirse en jueces inapelables de sí mismos, de la sociedad y de su país y mirar de frente al sol, porque después de todo, lo dijo Rosario, después de todo esta vida no puede llamarse desdichada. Y porque los muchachos son nuestra esperanza y sólo ellos pueden enseñarnos ese otro modo de ser humano y libre que tanto anheló la gran escritora….”

Axé.


46 thoughts on “Sobre la muerte

  1. Part of it is that nobody is allowed to know themselves. Babe, I tell you, your culture is very, you know, messed up. Actually it is just a culture, not a system of meaning, or truth or anything like that — at least not in its primary sense. But it IS totally f*kt, and there is nothing you can do by criticizing it, or pointing anything out, because it is part of the culture’s strength to be able to filter out and resist these kinds of criticisms by making them sound like sour grapes or madness or something like that. Every culture remains one by having built up such an immunity to criticism.

    But males are not quite expected to know themselves either. GENERAL statistics, I tell you, inform us that those who take an emotional interest in their PhD dissertations are less likely to finish them. Hence the injunction towards all sexes being a bit more robotic if you please, and let’s get some work done around here.

    In any case, people’s ideas, as they are formed by a culture, are 100 percent nonsensical, wherever you go. What is good for you is what is good for you, and you have to ignore all the cultural K*rp.

    In Zimbabwe I crossed boundaries between different cultural groups very, very fluidly indeed, simply because I have 100 percent contempt for any sort of culture. I respect individuals and I respect the possibility of having new and different experiences, but “cultures”? — not so much.

    And weirdly, nobody looked at me oddly, no matter where I went.

  2. “In Zimbabwe I crossed boundaries between different cultural groups very, very fluidly indeed”

    Perhaps this is why I like being abroad — not at home — and in California which is criticized for having too much cultural fluidity or something.

    It’s interesting because the ideas I thought came from patriarchy, fundamentalist Christianity, the 12 Steps and so on, you say come from Western culture generally.

    Yet I know so many people who DON’T believe in these things, and I’ve never been to a non “Western” country.

  3. I think that had I gone back to Zimbabwe prior to writing my thesis and allowing my mind to become shamanised, I would have returned to Zimbabwe as a “Western” country — that is, the filters I had on would have caused me to see the same things I had always been seeing. As it turned out, I saw some very strange things and some things that made me very jubilant indeed. But this return was very different to my return 10 years ago. Then I saw only Westernised people who entertained very Western concepts.

  4. I’m still not entirely sure what you mean by Western and whether you think everyone in what one can call Western countries are. I still think it’s far too broad a generalization, especially since it implies an opposite – Eastern – and a binary opposition, and so on.

  5. No, I wasn’t implying any binary opposite such as Eastern. It seems really difficult to get out of the framework of Western metaphysics, with its binary oppositions, doesn’t it?

  6. Anyway, it seems that everyone in Zimbabwe freely uses the term, Western. So it actually indicates something over there, and it does not mean “opposite to Eastern”. But I think that logo-centrism and binary thinking does not help us here, and I am unsure what can help us at all, unless you can try to describe why every place you’ve ever come across seems “Western” to you. What are the defining characteristics of “Western” in your view. Once these are known, perhaps we can work towards a definition of “non-Western”.

  7. Western — imbricated in the modern world system, the economy, and so on; Christianized; having state school systems which use European languages and read the Western canon; where non Western cultures are folklorized but otherwise not included in the space of the nation; etc. — I’m talking about policies and facts, not how things “seem to me.”

    A huge element in Western civilization seems to me to be Christianity, though; this makes the least Western place I’ve been Morocco I suppose; you have non Western or not entirely Westernized places way up in the Andes or in those pockets of Brazil where they practice ancient African religions; none of this is non Western, though, the way the Native Americans were before 1492; if you look at their texts you see they’re in an entirely other world.

    Then there’s the question of science and reason. I shocked some scientists the other day by mentioning that my whole department is comfortable with magic and the presence of spirits; they found this very foreign whereas we find it as normal as making coffee; I found their finding of it foreign to be foreign; perhaps we are actually not Western but then there are some very superstitious Westerners, so that may not apply.

    My point is, I never quite know what people mean by Western because they sometimes mean Christian, or “Cartesian,” or capitalist, or modern as in Enlightenment/scientifically modern, or something else.

    A hot question here is, does Latin American literature count for the Western or the non Western requirement? Current policy is, if it’s written originally in a European language with references to European traditions, it’s Western; if it’s in Tzotzil or something and the intertexts are Native, then it’s not … but, to what extent is ethno-techno music Western or not? How to classify that?

    I tend to figure I’m living in the Western world, and I notice that it is not at all homogeneous. You have to realize I’m looking at 500 plus years of colonial domination over here, and those Spaniards didn’t just put on a European overlay, they reorganized deeply and recreated the Christian late middle ages over here and then things developed from that.

    I have the impression you’ve got a clear idea of what’s Western, where it starts and ends; I don’t really; but as a rule of thumb I’d look at political structures and the languages the laws are written in, the dominant religion and the school materials. I’d look at what systems you have to get involved in to register your land so it can’t be taken by the oil companies. But you’re talking more about mindsets I think. What are the baseline elements of the Western mindset? This hemisphere is so variegated, and so structured and restructured by Western institutions, that it’s hard for me to separate things into just two sets, Western and not.

    When Zimbabweans say “Western,” what do they refer to specifically?

  8. Also — back in the day you had the city, which was Western and modernizing, and the country, which wasn’t Western entirely but was organized as a set of European fiefs. Then those distinctions started breaking down. And of course you had, in Haiti, the Duvaliers running things, who were U.S. puppets, but one hears also practicing vodun to keep control, so everything is so very mixed and so many people are living in at least two worlds at once.

  9. Then there was this Bolivian film I saw in Mexico, about servants, where the main butler goes out to a family funeral that is entirely non Western, and then saves the masters’ economy by finding a buyer for the house who wears native dress and all and keeps native traditions; she’s a major entrepreneur, though, and wants to move into a nice Western neighborhood, and brings a suitcase of dollars and a real estate agent/lawyer to close the deal. All Western, and all not, all the time.

  10. But of course, my current interest in this has to do with getting to the bottom of Reeducation. I’ve been investigating it and it REALLY is fringe Christianity; this becomes clearer and clearer, but more than that it’s this Orwellian totalitarian mode of thought. It seems to have the morals of Christian capitalism, basically, but it is utterly unscientific and totally antimodern. Is it key in Westernness, or is it some weird fringe offshoot? What about Westernness in its totalitarian dimension, and it non totalitarian ones? Is either of these varieties part of the base of Westernness?

    At the moment I’d say Western = white Christianity with capitalism taken to be natural. I’ve got a pretty good fix on what the white attitudes are, and the capitalist ones, but Christianity, I’m trying to get a handle on. Enlightenment ideas are supposed to be Western but I notice they are used very selectively and they’ve been incorporated also in a lot of other places.

  11. And finally — in the original post, two attitudes are contrasted; I don’t know that I’m contrasting Westernness and not-Westernness, though. I was thinking more of depression and miserliness, or fear and cynicism, versus their opposites…

  12. aiayai…and you know that my original post was just a spouting forth, and seeing if my fingers and the keyboard still work?

    I like this definition of yours: “Western = white Christianity with capitalism taken to be natural.”

    But (just processing my recent experiences as thoughts), I had experiences in Zim that totally surprised me. Before I undertake to list some of the more surprising ones, I will simply state that “Western” seems directly interchangeable with the idea of being a colonial power, in the way that it is used in Zimbabwean politics. It is a very politically loaded term, of course.

    Anyway, perhaps not totally related to the topic at hand, but hopefully facilitative of me working towards a place where I can address the point of what is or isn’t quintessentially “Western”:

    Amazing facts concerning Zimbabwe:

    1. There is a small white culture there that is still living the colonial way of life established by their forefathers. They have household servants, almost (from what I could tell) unchanged attitudes about the world after having endured a political revolution followed by a period of severe economic decline. They still seem to represent the cross-section of white culture that had existed in Rhodesian times.

    2. USA and Australian evangelical Christianity seems to have blitzed the face of the whiter suburbs.

    3. The colonials have maintained a post-world war two British identity, whereby (in a pantomime production) a Hitler salute was presented as an amusing statement about German identity.

    4. In general, the black population has a greater sense of dignity than it did during the Rhodesian era, and there is a kind of mercantile consciousness which is not quite like full blown capitalism yet. That is: People’s values tend to be humanistic, primarily, and most of the black population see Christianity as the means by which their inherent humanism is expressed. (The whites, conversely, seem to view Christianity as a means to maintain social order and as an ascetic system of ethics.)

    5. Just about every black woman I spoke to in Harare admitted to being a member of the Apostolic church, a Christian sect that has taken large parts of Zimbabwe by storm.

    6. Witchcraft is real in Zimbabwe. People are also afraid of dabbling in it because they believe the powers they call forth turn against them very easily. Christian beliefs are also a disincentive against dabbling in witchcraft. Still, the Mutare paper reports incidences related to witchcraft every day.

    7. You can cross the color barrier, and people do not look at you. Every white person I spoke to assured me that I would be looked at a great deal if I went into an area that was predominantly occupied by blacks. However, I seemed to travel back and forth on the exclusively black occupied buses, and move their neighborhoods like a ghost, nearly all of the time. I was simply not noticed. A black person entering a predominantly white area seems to have more problems explaining himself, though.

    8. If I walk alone in a predominantly white neighborhood, passers-by greet me as “madam”. If I walk in a predominantly black neighborhood (I did not do much of this alone), I tend to be ignored mostly. Also, gender is huge and it very much depends on who you are walking with, whether the males of this population are kind enough to leave you alone or not. Walk with another female — and maybe not.

    9. There are a lot of wealthy black people living behind electrified fences and alarm systems, alongside a much larger population suffering from dire poverty.

    10. One learns to get by with unpredictable and largely unreliable electricity and plumbing — the more so if you live in poorer areas.

    11. Never mind the cost of electricity consumption — lights on all night are a security measure for whites and a remedy for ghosts if you are black.

  13. Interesting — except for #11 and #3 (that I know of) this is a lot like the southern US and Latin America / the Caribbean. #1, #2, #4, part of #6, and #7, #8, and #9 apply to Maringouin, where I sit. Sects that have taken over (#5), oh yeah, but not just one and not every woman. There’s a lot to say about the reasons for this in Lat. Am.

    In Latin America we talk about central and marginal countries within the West, countries that are directing it and countries that essentially have to follow, etc., but we tend not to say “West” but capitalism (which has margins), or better, refer to the “metropolis” and its margins (“metropolitan” is a more current term and it’s more useful for lots of reasons).

    I am just curious as to what you mean by “Western” because you have been referring to it for years as though Westernness were a pretty clear set of cultural characteristics and attitudes.

    1. I wasn’t trying to shock you with the new. In fact we have talked a lot about the term Western, in the past. It does seem that its meaning is inexhaustible and that we could go on forever, and still not be able to define it. I guess we have to accept that this is the way it is — that the word does in fact mean something, and that it has a different meaning to different people, depending on the context, as well as having a multiple of intersections of meanings depending on how deeply you study it.

      If you want to see me as being a quintessentially Western person, I guess that is okay by me, given the way this word is structured, and its multiplicities of meaning.

      I don’t think it has to be a pejorative term, although political Zimbabweans use it with such overtones.

  14. Sorry. I wasn’t trying to shock you with the new. Actually I’m not trying to make any impact here. Just thinking out aloud. I do think that there are no words in the English language that have no meaning.

  15. It’s not a term I use much, it’s one you bring up fairly regularly to identify/describe things. Sometimes it seems quite incisive to me in the way you use it, insofar as it defamiliarizes or de-universalizes some piece of common sense that is floating around.

    So I’m interested in it, in knowing what it is and how you identify it; this is for purposes of understanding it since it sounds as though it could be illuminating.

    I’m thinking you mean colonial power + Christian mindset in its repressive dimension + some form of instrumental reason + capitalist market logic, but I’m not 100% sure.

  16. Oh yes, and also some type of “whiteness” would have to go into the mixture, and something about being a colonial power but not realizing it or thinking of it as a civilizing power.

    Anyway, my question isn’t what it means or what’s “correct” but what you mean by it, because it’s interesting how you use it as a kind of lens.

  17. I believe that when I use the term I am using it primarily in what I take to be its Zimbabwean sense — that is to refer to former colonial powers, Australia, Britain and the US. Only I use the term with my own modifications, that is not really so much as an expletive (in the Mugabe sense), and not so much to designate a category of people either, but rather to describe the intensification of a zone in which particular types of phenomena are likely to be more heightened. (Cf. my face book update status).

    That is, when I discover that somebody is using “Western” modes of thinking and behaving, it always takes me by surprise, by sheer virtue of the otherness of this kind of thinking and acting. I’m not anticipating the behavior at all, and this is why it immediately strikes me as “other” — that is, in terms of my expectations. I am not saying that I see certain people, per se, as “other”. Rather, it is the phenomena of behaving in a certain way that is “other” to me.

    Now, I could find other names for the surprising behavior — specifically, that is to say, for behavior that surprises me in a very particular way by being so unanticipated and different from what I would consider to be natural and normative. Yet no words suggest themselves to my mind so much as “Western” because I also deduce that the reason I am being taken by surprise so much is because (I have strong reasons for thinking) of my Zimbabwean cultural heritage, which leads me to expect and anticipate behavior that would be quite different from the types of behavior that surprise me in a specific way.

    So when this behavior surprises me, I defer to my Zimbabwean roots in order to find a word that can sum up the nature of my surprise, and the word that most logically suggests itself to me (on the basis of my Zimbabwean cultural heritage) is “Western”.

    And this gets me to the point, I suppose, of analyzing my sense of what you are keen to know — that is, what is the substance of being “Western” in the way that I tend to use this term?

    It is abstractly, as I have suggested, the behavior or attitudes that take me by surprise as being non-Zimbabwean. This is part of what makes it hard to define in the concrete, because it requires me to go back into my mind and to try to list all of those attitudes and behaviors that have shocked the living daylights out of me by being, for instance, the exact opposite sort of response to something from the one I would have expected in my originative culture. (Having just returned from Zimbabwe, I was extremely reassured to realize that most people there — particularly black Zimbabweans — do still think and feel in ways that I used to consider to be merely “common-sensical” before the living daylights were shocked out of me in all sorts of ways.)

    So what is “Western”? In the immediate (and still hard to elucidate sense) it is the manifestation of qualities that are alien, other, and defiant of my culturally based notions of common sense. It is also the manifestation of the mindset of a would-be dominator, somebody who will not take “no” for an answer, who insists on seeing things only in their way, whilst negating the validity of my perspectives. It is more specifically the attitude of one who denies my right to have a perspective that is “other” than theirs, whilst at the same time treating me almost exclusively as the other.

    A “Westerner” wraps me up in a double-bind by refusing to allow me to speak from denying me the right to speak differently, from my own cultural perspective (when it suits him), whilst also treating me like someone whose differences are entirely noticeable (and punishable) when it suits him. That is to say, his words say, “You are entirely as Western as the rest of us, and will be treated as such whenever you speak as if you were actually different,” whereas his actions say, “You are entirely alien from the rest of us, and you will be punished until you are brought into line and start to make sense.”

    A “Westerner” then is somebody whose mind and being is entirely political. He will sacrifice any sort of meaning, or friendship or experience for a political advantage. (A “Westerner” is a kind of anti-humanist, in this sense.) He is not particularly logical but likes to make a fetish out of seeming to embrace rationality above all things. (It’s more of an image game for him, and means for political point-scoring, rather than something he takes as a practical or workable ideal.) A “Westerner” is a political pragmatist and ethical sell-out. One side of him screams “consumer’s rights” and the other side shudders in meek servility towards anything suggestive of possessing greater power than he.

    A “Westerner” is a highly emotional and erratic being, who prefers to present his public fact to the world as a creature of robotic servitude.

  18. I believe that when I use the term I am using it primarily in what I take to be its Zimbabwean sense — that is to refer to former colonial powers, Australia, Britain and the US. Only I use the term with my own modifications, that is not really so much as an expletive (in the Mugabe sense), and not so much to designate a category of people either, but rather to describe the intensification of a zone in which particular types of phenomena are likely to be more heightened. (Cf. my face book update status). That is, when I discover that somebody is using “Western” modes of thinking and behaving, it always takes me by surprise, by sheer virtue of the otherness of this kind of thinking and acting. I’m not anticipating the behavior at all, and this is why it immediately strikes me as “other” — that is, in terms of my expectations. I am not saying that I see certain people, per se, as “other”. Rather, it is the phenomena of behaving in a certain way that is “other” to me.
    Now, I could find other names for the surprising behavior — specifically, that is to say, for behavior that surprises me in a very particular way by being so unanticipated and different from what I would consider to be natural and normative. Yet no words suggest themselves to my mind so much as “Western” because I also deduce that the reason I am being taken by surprise so much is because (I have strong reasons for thinking) of my Zimbabwean cultural heritage, which leads me to expect and anticipate behavior that would be quite different from the types of behavior that surprise me in a specific way.
    So when this behavior surprises me, I defer to my Zimbabwean roots in order to find a word that can sum up the nature of my surprise, and the word that most logically suggests itself to me (on the basis of my Zimbabwean cultural heritage) is “Western”.
    And this gets me to the point, I suppose, of analyzing my sense of what you are keen to know — that is, what is the substance of being “Western” in the way that I tend to use this term?
    It is abstractly, as I have suggested, the behavior or attitudes that take me by surprise as being non-Zimbabwean. This is part of what makes it hard to define in the concrete, because it requires me to go back into my mind and to try to list all of those attitudes and behaviors that have shocked the living daylights out of me by being, for instance, the exact opposite sort of response to something from the one I would have expected in my originative culture. (Having just returned from Zimbabwe, I was extremely reassured to realize that most people there — particularly black Zimbabweans — do still think and feel in ways that I used to consider to be merely “common-sensical” before the living daylights were shocked out of me in all sorts of ways.)
    So what is “Western”? In the immediate (and still hard to elucidate sense) it is the manifestation of qualities that are alien, other, and defiant of my culturally based notions of common sense. It is also the manifestation of the mindset of a would-be dominator, somebody who will not take “no” for an answer, who insists on seeing things only in their way, whilst negating the validity of my perspectives. It is more specifically the attitude of one who denies my right to have a perspective that is “other” than theirs, whilst at the same time treating me almost exclusively as the other.
    A “Westerner” wraps me up in a double-bind by refusing to allow me to speak from denying me the right to speak differently, from my own cultural perspective (when it suits him), whilst also treating me like someone whose differences are entirely noticeable (and punishable) when it suits him. That is to say, his words say, “You are entirely as Western as the rest of us, and will be treated as such whenever you speak as if you were actually different,” whereas his actions say, “You are entirely alien from the rest of us, and you will be punished until you are brought into line and start to make sense.”
    A “Westerner” then is somebody whose mind and being is entirely political. He will sacrifice any sort of meaning, or friendship or experience for a political advantage. (A “Westerner” is a kind of anti-humanist, in this sense.) He is not particularly logical but likes to make a fetish out of seeming to embrace rationality above all things. (It’s more of an image game for him, and means for political point-scoring, than anything like something he takes to be a practical or workable ideal.)

  19. Also the issue of “human nature” has come to have a particularly negative meaning, along with justifying the status quo in “Western” cultures. Once gain, English speakers whom I have encountered on the Internet (I cannot say what is the case for non-English speakers) tend to be very quick to wring out their hands after hearing mention of any kind of abuse. They sigh and say, “Ah…. human nature. Nothing we can do about it.”

    I have to say that one of the things that shocked me most about Zimbabwe, and made me think that this was a place where I needed to be, was that this attitude has not grown roots over there.

    Actually nobody has that attitude over there at all (none that I met). People are still capable of being shocked over there about abuses. And they still think there is something they ought to do about them individually. Which is why I say that, despite my sense that Christianity seems to have permeated everything over there, the underlying system of values is nonetheless humanistic. People are still keen to make reasonable (non-political) distinctions about right and wrong.

    When I reflect upon my associations with people in the contemporary world, however — I refer to online acquaintances as well as those I have met in Perth, in everyday life — I cannot think of one person who sees ethics as primarily an issue of ethics rather than politics. This relates to a different sense of ordering, a different sense of what has priority, between the two cultures. In Zimbabwean culture, ethics (loyalty, etc) are more fundamental than political affiliation. In “Western” culture, it is the reverse. For instance, somebody here (let us say in Perth) will evaluate the legitimacy of a claim to have experienced something NOT on the basis of the content of the claim, but rather on the basis of whether they feel any affiliation with you on the basis of identity. If you are viewed as being the wrong category of person, then justice is not for you. Rather, you will be peered at very skeptically, as if you engaging in political rhetoric, rather than simply communicating.

    Levels of cynicism here are deeper than words can tell.

    1. That thing about “human nature” is the standard conservative defense of conservative irrationality, and it is very irritating. The issue about ethics as such rather than politics is really key, too. It seems very few people now think that way although I seem to remember it not being that way before about 1973-4 or so … that, however, may just be my experience. Off the cuff I’d say the lack of ethics is a *particularly* “white” thing but I couldn’t of course say that scientifically. For those in power, expediency is key…

      1. Yes, yes. Actually one of the things I had been inclined to put down to childhood mis-remembering was that the world used to be a nicer place. Actually, this was not a mistake of memory. It did used to be that way. Also its much greater niceness was not directly related to my situation of privilege as a white in a colonial society. This helped, but only on an economic level, and not to the degree that my later exposure to identity politics caused me to doubt the memory of my own experiences. The psychology of the Shona is that they are very gregarious and empathic people. Under extreme stress (such as political provocation) they may become violent, but this is not really who they are. They show an extreme degree of consideration to each other. Their society is basically communitarian rather than individualistic. (I’m not idealising the Shona here, by the way. I know they also have patriarchy and other problems.)

        So, logically, if that which we (in terms of our own culturally inculcated notions of common sense) take as “human nature” is contradicted by Shona behaviour — well, it was never human nature in the first place!

  20. P.S. The question I have is the broadness of the categories — “Westerners,” “Zimbabweans” — and the attribution of psychological characteristics to these. If one is Zimbabwean and doesn’t fit the model, is one then not Zimbabwean or … ?

    My youngest brother thinks “Latin@s” (by which he means all speakers of Romance languages, native or not, and their descendants, throughout the Americas) all have certain psychological characteristics; that “Anglos” (by which he appears to mean white people who were raised speaking English) have certain political views; and that “Louisiana Creoles” (a category he broadens daily) have a certain set of intellectual capacities.

    I’m of course comfortable with the idea of epistemologies, philosophies, points of view, analytical lenses, different religions and cosmological systems, etc., etc., but I’m less so with statements like “All French people think…” except when made [casually] about something specific (as in “French people consider food quality very important”).

      1. Yes, I know, I’m just curious as to how far you’d take it. I’ve got my own set of those but don’t know whether they’re about a national or regional culture, or not, or a combination. I *think* they’re about — speaking very imprecisely — the consumerist-suburban cultural attitude combined with verbal abuse. I tend to associate this with the US East of the Rockies and with Europe, but I’m not sure that’s fair. I wonder whether my the term I am looking for might be something more like “global consumerist imperialism and whiteness,” and I am wondering how close that might be to what you call “Western.” 😉

  21. It could be the same or close. But if you want to know if you are zoning in on something actual, you will have to call it by name and see if its lizard brain reads this NAMING as an attack, and starts to defend itself. A lizard brain counterattack can be coordinated using more than one human brain. That is the nature of lizard consciousness — it does not differentiate individuals. It responds more like “you are attacking the group identity from which we draw our power and justification in life.”

    Fascinating that when I use the term “Western” in even a slightly critical sense, lizard brains all around me have tended to go ballistic — thus indicating that I have hit the nail on the head with this particular terminology.

  22. Maybe, or just that it’s loaded / means different things / could use a footnote. Western civilization, it’s a site of struggle and so… 😉

    The immediate question that has always come to my mind — I think the first conversation we had about this was when I was in Peru — is, who is and isn’t in Western civilization? Because there are these figures that are in it and resist it, or made major contributions to it without being European, and who might want to be recognized for those as members and not as outsiders. Like Martin Luther King, going to the mat against the government and hardly WASPish, but also heavily invested in “American” ideals. Like Langston Hughes (“I, too, sing America”) who didn’t want to be shut out. Like the mestizo builders of Baroque churches in New Spain, erected more or less contemporaneously with the famous cathedrals of Europe. Like the great scholar of the Italian Renaissance, the Inca Garcilaso, born in Cuzco. Like so many others who both are and are not. Like Toussaint L’Ouverture, who might say hey, I’m an important contributor to the Enlightenment effort, give credit where credit is due, but might also say hey, I was duped by those Westerners, I deployed Western culture and engaged with it but its faux universality never really included me, f*** it. Vallejo was a mega-student of European culture, but Arguedas said “I am not acculturated.” So my reaction was hey wait, all these people have complicated claims and stakes in the project of Western civilization, they have spent their lives working on, with, and in it, they have been produced by it even if they are not of it, they may want some credit for all that as opposed to be excluded because they’re not white or don’t have a mainstream perspective on it.

    So that’s where I come from. I think the things you see and call “Western” are real and that it is interesting.

    I think things really was more humane before the 70s in terms of people being able to have ethical views that weren’t political in the sense in which you’re using that word. And yes, there is no human nature, at least not that one can find — it’s all culture; study after study shows this to be true and it’s logical, too, one is born into a culture.

    1. I have to read this later, as I am off to the gym, but I think we are really talking at cross purposes. I am referring to lizard brain territory, and phenomena that seems to emerge at this level. I’m not trying to provoke or indict whole masses of people. That has to do with a whole different level of intellectual processing (what you have written above). I don’t disagree with it. But intellectual struggle and the zones in which it is permitted to take place is not the same a lizard brain (psycho-political) boundary guarding. The two levels don’t necessarily always overlap.

      Cf. My comment in moderation.

      1. Cross purposes, I don’t think really. All of that is just why I wasn’t sure what you were pointing at when you started using the term Western, although I later started to get an idea of what you meant and now have much more of one. I’m not used to using Western as an indictment, just as a descriptor that can be multivalent, the way “modern” can. But the analogy I can see here in daily life is with the words “racist” and “racism.” Everyone is using them for all sorts of different things, e.g. the person who thinks it’s “racist” (against African-Americans) to mention slavery since this may remind them of their ancestors’ condition, which would allegedly be a put-down. But if you call racism where it really is, people get *very* upset.

  23. …and it is the lizard brain — not the intellect — that seems most decisive in today’s climate.

    So I always prick up my ears when somebody defends their position as “not monolithically part of Western consciousness/identity”. I ask” Why the intense emotional investment in defending something that you are asserting is not monolithic? If it is not so, then one hardly needs two words to dismiss what I am saying as irrelevant. But instead, there is huge emotional investment and vindictive and punishment all attend any vague critique of “the West”.

  24. What I was trying to say is that there are always at least two levels of understanding. Additionally that these two can be deliberately confused with one another as a debating tactic.

    For instance, there are those who do not understand why feminism is necessary. They point to “facts” at the level of the law and so on to suggest that women are free to do whatever they decide to. And indeed, if society were based entirely on rational principles of fairness and justice to all, as they suppose it to be, then their argument would stand up.

    But the other level — the level of women’s actual experiences — says otherwise. This level concerns political pressures against women’s self-actualization, and is experienced as practical and concrete limits.

    So, all I am trying to say is that my particular use of the term “Western” is limited to describing something about the second order of knowledge. It has to do with power relationships at the level of actual experience. What “Western” means in terms of mapping historical facts (of colonial exploits), and so on, is of course of interest. But what is of greater interest is the degree to which people self-identity as Western in order to (self-contradictorily) defend the term “Western” as not being “monolithic”. This is what causes me to draw a breath.

  25. Second order of knowledge, I see that.

    I’m not entirely sure what you mean by this: “But what is of greater interest is the degree to which people self-identity as Western in order to (self-contradictorily) defend the term Western’ as not being “monolithic”.

    Does this refer to comments by me or by someone else? Me, I wouldn’t defend a Western identity, but I am pretty sure Western culture is the one I’m in. And if you look at all of it, then it is very heterogeneous. If you look at just the modern era, and just metropolitan countries and metropolitan pockets, then it’s more homogeneous, yes.

    But I don’t think this is what you’re talking about. I think you’re saying something more along the lines, of, colonialism (in its modern form) really is one thing, and racism also really is one thing, even if these are expressed in different ways or take different forms. I’d agree with that.

  26. More like the colonial thing, as you say, although here I am doing the shamanistic doubling and interpreting, as it were, from my own “lizard brain”.

    Like I have already said, it is not about cultural or intellectual heterogeneity, which is present, as I freely concede. What I am commenting on, rather, is the way that people who share commonalities close rank when they sense the kind of difference that I represent to them. Only at that point, on the boundaries of different cultures, does the awareness (not intellectually established, but emotionally and therefore ultimately politically), appear. So people freely talk about and celebrate a certain degree of heterogeneity, but then close ranks when it really matters, when financial resources or intellectual credibility is at stake. I notice this phenomena well, and I comment on it, saying that this takes place at the level of the lizard brain, and that most people seem blithely unaware that they are even doing it.

  27. In moderation, again.

    I mean that few, (apart from yourself), in my more than 20 years of living in “the West” have engaged with me in any other way than that which smacks of “correcting my errors”. It’s sometimes subtle, but other times in the most heavy handed way possible. I can honestly say that only whites who share my colonial past, and black Zimbabweans who have become convinced of my sincerity, have treated me differently. Other than this, it is always the case that those who come from these countries — Britain, Australia and the US — will get around to “correcting my errors” in a way that denies the validity of my cultural perspectives.

    This has happened with such regularity that I now do not doubt that it will happen. It always does. Just a matter of time.

  28. Maybe they really are like that and maybe I really am transculturated. I consider this characteristic to be just part of my foreign language training but it seems it is more. I also don’t just have a kind of colonial past, I’m also in a neocolonial present. And I really don’t have a metropolitan point of view and I really am accustomed to the idea that people will be different. I also really do not get a lot of the “natural” concepts mainstream types seem to have, and this is why I became so curious about that lens, “Western.”

    *

    Now, my little brother, he is convinced he’s a border person and I am trying to contain and correct him by pinning him down!

    But really I am trying to say look, don’t fight with other Creoles about how they see themselves, you’re all trying to preserve the language and culture, go to it, you don’t have to legitimate it or direct the culture by coming up with all these wild and vaguely offensive, not well historically based generalizations about what “Latins” and “Anglos” are, and resurrecting anachronistic cultural nationalisms borrowed from elsewhere.

    His emerging cult leader characteristics are really bothering me today, especially since he wants to enlist my professional support for this aspect of the project when really the support I can give is for the preservation project tout court.

  29. “Western” is also the need to maintain a defensive self-image, linked to ego. I find people whom I discover to be “Western” are really comfortable with me so long as this appears to be the logic behind my behavior, but start to feel really uncomfortable if I am not relating in such a way that I both defend and consciously project an image. Then they feel like they are unable to calculate what my next actions will be. I have concluded that this is fine with me.

    1. I may also confuse people for some related reason. A friend has this as his Facebook page: “Try as you might, I escape definition.” And it’s sort of true.

  30. I think you are different like that, it is the reason we can relate. You can step aside from your ego, from your self identity, in order to try to understand somebody else’s point of view. Most westerners perceive the ability to do this to be pathological, but I think it is normal.

  31. “Most westerners perceive the ability to do this to be pathological, but I think it is normal.”

    Apparently many do and I think it’s why I confuse people and am confused by them. But in my experience that kind of egocentrism is mainly a whiteman thing! 😉

  32. Ok, but is it even “ego-centricism”? I think that what is expected of us in order to fit in is not ego-centrism so much as vanity. Because if we are not oriented towards life on this basis, we become much harder to predict and control. This unpredictability is what many people find disturbing.

  33. OK, vanity. It *is* the unpredictability that upsets people.

    I remembered today that I made a conscious decision as a small child not to have that kind of vanity. I guess I was rejecting that Western gaze!

  34. Yeah, it is unpredictability that bothers people, and then they start to inquire about your health in a way that is at best patronising and at worst downright coercive.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s