2019-01-21

How to identify imperialistic thought (Yurugu series #2)

The Yurugu blog series attempts to uncover some of the myths the dominant culture is based upon. As we have a hard time seeing the things we take for granted the view from outside, through the eyes of a different culture, may help with discovering our biases and enable us to act more consciously.
Marimba Ani, the author of the book "Yurugu: An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior", is not involved in putting up the series and does not necessarily agree to its contents. The series is also not meant to present the book's central thesis, or to agree one-hundred percent with it; rather the blogs are inspired by the deep thoughts Marimba Ani has put forward, and offer some of them for consideration.

[previous article]

With all the many groups of people and their many ideas on what it means to live a good life, it has become increasingly harder to tell who are the ones we would like to identify with, help along, and promote in their efforts to make this world a better place. With so many people lying through closed teeth, so many others pretending to be someone they are not, and with yet so many others not understanding the implications of their own words, how can we tell the real deal from fake and delusion?
The answer could be something like this: look out for the imperialist mindset.
Why is this important?
European rationalistic ideology has “created” a particular kind of person who can be expected to behave in certain characteristic ways. If the uniqueness to the culture is not understood, the positive possibilities of other cultures will get lost, and, whether consciously or not, this is a thoroughly Eurocentric objective. For this reason, we assume the particularity of the European form and therefore the need to explain its development, not as the result of some “universal” process, but by understanding its asili [cultural core] – a unique combination of factors that in circular relationship generate the personalities and ideological commitments that form the influencing matrix.
This explanation is all the more compelling since Europeans represent an extreme minority culture. It is the realization that Europe is in fact a culture in which imperial domination of others does indeed become a “comprehensive world-view” that is important. This is unique in the world and the characteristics (themes) of European culture – its “rationalism,” violence, and lack of spirituality – are not merely isolated pathologies; rather these characteristics are linked to each other in a developmental matrix (asili) that is itself “pathological” in the context of human societies.
(Marimba Ani: Yurugu. An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior, 1994, p392)
While the drive for power permeates all of European-based thought, philosophy, and religion its presence, in most people, goes unnoticed by its carriers. In any case, apart from rather rare displays of unmasked power tripping, it hides behind a shroud of idealism, altruism, alleged necessity, or “universal” values such as humanism, humanitarianism, equality, freedom and democracy.

Nevertheless, there are quite a few signs by which the imperialist mindset can be identified in somebody's speech or behaviour, one of which is againstness, which results in kind of a war mentality. When you notice someone pointing their rhetoric against evil politicians and mad scientists, professing to be Anti-this or Anti-that, concluding that a certain group of people or certain circumstances were the cause of all evil and need to be singled out and fought against, exterminated even, you may already be on to recognizing the imperialist mindset's workings.

Saito Musashi-bo Benkei,
the Buddhist warrior monk
But be careful: there is also such a thing as legitimate, productive criticism, a legitimate form of liberating rebellion, and the spirit of the consciousness warrior as described by Joanna Macy and others. Today, I will not go into describing what they are about. Instead, I want to point out in relatively simple terms how to identify the imperialist mindset. Here we go:

1) Differentiation
As a first step, the imperialist mindset is looking for differences in opinion, clothing, preferences, size, religion, or anything else people (and other beings) may differ in. There is no problem with this in itself. People do have different skin colour, accents, opinions, possessions, etc. The imperialist mindset is actually different from every other mindset, and any serious analysis must point this out. Yet people also have many things in common; basically we are the same, or even one. And this is what the imperialist mindset denies when it takes the next three steps, which are almost always veiled in moral statements or rational argument:

2) Separation and Othering
In the second step, the imperialist mindset seeks to separate itself from the 'Other', claiming to not be (like) that, and to overemphasize differences to the degree where differences overshadow any common ground one might have with the 'Other'.

3) Devaluation
In a third step, the imperialist mindset devalues the 'Other', makes it a less-than-human object, seeking not only to compare its own values with those of others, but to devalue and negate the latter. So we could also talk about objectification and dehumanization.

4) Crusading
As the 'Other' has become something bad, a less than human object, there is morally no problem with trying to control, oppress, or extinguish it. The 'Other' can now be fought against by all means available, from ridiculing to verbal character assassination, to torture, to literal slaughtering of its body.

Daniele Ganser. Photo: Ingo Wösner
Daniele Ganser, a Swiss historian and peace researcher, describes the process in three steps only, “Teilen – Abwerten – Töten,” (Divide, Devalue, Kill) when he talks about how governments, with the help of mainstream media, convince us of the necessity of warfare against “terrorists”, “dictators”, and other evil-doers of the day. In short, this is Ancient Rome's two-step programme divide et impera, but I found it important to indicate that its first necessary step is differentiation, that differentiation is also a necessary step for us in evaluating a situation, and that it can have a positive effect when diversity inspires us to create a new synthesis of pathways and views.

Were I to say, To liberate our communities from imperialist rule (the enemy without), and our minds from imperialist thought (the enemy within), we must destroy Elitist agency, you should by now be able to identify such a statement as speaking from an imperialist mindset. This is what we need to become conscious about. What we seek is not elimination, but deep understanding that inspires us to act from a different place. Marimba Ani who could be described as a warrior for decolonization and African self-determination says about that place:
While one functions pragmatically within a profane reality, that “reality” is never thought to be the essence of meaning. In spiritual conceptions there is always a striving for the experience of a deeper reality that joins all being. Learning is the movement from superficial difference to essential sameness (Na'im Akbar). This “sameness” is spirit; beyond and ontologically prior to matter. It is the basis for human value. One's spirituality involves the attempt to live and structure one's life on national, communal, and personal level in accordance with universal spiritual principles. (Yurugu, p368; emphasis mine)
 [next article]

P.S., Bébé Vundermann has written a companion article titled, A Yurugu Mirror & the Role of Consciousness Warriors for our Time, which I recommend reading.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

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pax said...

Great thing you like it. Thanks for the appreciation. A few minutes ago I just posted the next article in the series. I am hoping it will be helping you in the same way this essay did.