My Post as Guest-Blogger at Buddhist Peace Fellowship

For those who don’t know, I spent time on staff at the Rochester Zen Center in Rochester, New York in the 80s.

I began Buddhist practice in 1983 in Denver, Colorado, then decided on Zen practice and was accepted as a Staff member at Rochester Zen Center in 1986.  I left to pursue an individual path in 1988, although I continue to practice Buddhism.

My turn to Buddhism, and particularly Zen, worked for me, and continues to, after an attempt to end my life in 1982.  It was no small matter that I decided to go on a spiritual quest and this led to almost ten months of going to different teachers and religious groups, from Christian groups to New Age to Hindu to Sufi and Native American.  I found value in all, but at that time, Zen spoke to me the strongest.  I attended Buddhist-Christian Conferences in Boulder, Colorado, amongst other events.  My essential question was not about comfort or fitting in.  I needed to find the meaning of life.  I saw no point in life experience as it was, at this point.

My interest in the beginnings of a Buddhist Peace Fellowship organization while in Colorado, dovetailed my interests in social justice, anti-oppression, and my personal spiritual practice.

In retrospect, my Zen monastic period was a way to save my life and life itself.  It was a genesis for all of my traumas that I had tried to ‘let go’ of and ‘move on.’  It came crashing.  No pretty belief system would get me out.  Zen spoke to me.

I also attended retreats with various Buddhist teachers including Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Thich Nhat Hanh, Tai Eido Shimano Roshi.  I attended talks and short retreats by a myriad of teachers including Seung Sahn and John Kornfield.  I read more philosophy including spiritual works by Meister Eckart, Thomas Merton, Arthur Schopenhauer, Nietzsche.  I began reading James Baldwin and Frederick Douglass, something I had never done seriously before.

For the issue of ‘stealing,’ I was asked by their editor Kenji Chienshu Liu, if I wanted to contribute to a series at the Buddhist Peace Fellowship blog.

The below post is a short reflection in the spirit of Master Dogen’s ‘Mountains and Waters Sutra.’

What is Stolen in Mappō Empire Buddhism? A Black-Pacific Meditation

Social Justice is not………..

Some people are confused……confused about “social justice” and what it is.

I am not seeking to define it.  I am seeking to carve some intelligence into the word, term, concept, action.

So much of the US notion of social justice is from within the reality of living in the Empire.

It is a crumbling empire, no less.  But it is empire.

When Americans think of people who are “activists,” they think of a whole array of people who seem to be shouting out for things that they feel are morally right, necessary, necessary for their particular concerns and people and political persuasion.

Disconnectedness—it is one of the main effects of extreme individualism.  Individualism, is different from empowered individuality.  Individualism is somewhat of an ideology, something made superior.

With US concerns for individual freedom, communities suffer.  Since most white people and wealthy people in the US, as well as a good portion of the middle class and the homeless, do not think of themselves as being part of any community, it even gets more precarious when working with struggling for a different world. The legal structure and the institutions in the US, provide legal freedoms to some degree, for individuals.  For groups, communities, there is very very very little, if any, recourse.  Case after case is thrown out in favor of 5000 individuals having to file individual claims to right a wrong done to a whole community.  In most cases, these individual cases are drawn out over years.  For the economic and social underclass, funds run out and energy is sapped and the three jobs they may have to go to becomes priority.  The cases become weaker.  Or the powers hire the attorneys that are high-powered and block any power that the underclassed individual may have.

Disconnected individuals (a fair amount of “normal” and not-so-normal people in the US especially–and increasingly in all first-world countries) tend to sabotage works and solidarities and political commitments that could be good for everyone, or at least a larger population of different kinds of people of differing socio-economic, ethnic, cultural, genders and sexual orientations, etc., feeding into division and conflict, violence and rupture.  They become “identities” which are separate from other “identities.”  So goes the ongoing disconnectedness. But I do think there are those forces that create these isolations need rupturing.

And when we speak of activism, those people wanting their “rights” to privileges, and the right to maintain them, are put on equal footing with those fighting for difference, for survival.  Fighting to MAINTAIN PRIVILEGES is NOT social justice.  Privilege and how it operates, makes invisible and priority, over those who have and are considered less, must be looked at and actions taken in regards to what is seen and realized, for a “social justice” to actually happen.  In other words, as many US Americans seek to access privileges of something that is defined as the “freedom to get, the freedom to be….” social justice is diminished because privileges cannot afford an “other.”

Here, we see the link between what many Americans call “Freedom” and the middle class ideals.  As I’ve mentioned before, people often confuse the access to middle-class, European elite (white), masculine and militarized material, emotional and spiritual values, as “freedom.”   Then this gets confused with “Liberation.”  Going on vacations, to “get away from reality” and “rest”—which are bourgeois leisure ideals made socially dominant as a desire in life by elites during the colonial days between the 17th to 19th centuries, becomes somewhat like the popular confusion about “liberation” these days.  Social liberation means, in this scenario, some kinds of escape.  And then guess what? Things deemed “in the way” of this escape, is deemed as some word exaggerated and confused with non-liberation.  We learn to block anything that stands in the way (or seen as standing in the way) of our disconnected and individualized freedom to escape, as needing to be disappeared, violated, jailed, tortured, maimed, stopped, killed.  Psychologically, culturally, intellectually, with the variety of arms and weapons of mind, heart and body that we have learned in the system of continual disconnection and valorized individuality (above solidarity, community, living with difference).

So in these ways of thinking and thrusts of behavior that I have mentioned above, social justice is suffering.  It is definitely not dead or gone.  It is in pain.  It is in pain because fewer and fewer people have the inclination, desire, time, and/or energy, to struggle with self and community enough.  Fewer and fewer people have the creative thinking enough to get out of the box that the Empire holds us in.  As the social-political forces that we have all internalized, confuse us and run our bodies as “spectacles” —as Guy Debord (December 1931-November 1994, French postmodern philosopher) has pointed to for us, we have a harder time interpreting the difference.

It is made worse by the crash of cultures, values, times and places that are incoherent.  Incoherence is NOT THE PROBLEM!!  It is our inability to not do violence to incoherence that is the problem!!!!  We incorporate, assimilate, violate, manipulate, imprison, sequester, make sick, make knowable–and therefore no longer that thing itself but our own other interpretation of that thing–person–place–time) that we create.  Now the world seems smaller and more alike.  Less diversity.

Put them away, make them criminals, make it hard on them, annihilate them, torture them, jail them, make them sick, control those people and those communities, feel sentimental about it after they are dead, it makes us good and holy.  On and on.  Refugees from ourselves—as we see refugees and the stateless, as if all of us were states.  It’s a joke. But we have definitely internalized the state.  There’s no escape.  How about starting with a realistic assessment and then assessing how we may do things differently?

The reactionary definition of “community,” in the eyes of many individualists, is that communities are like herds of cattle and animals, without minds, aimless and not able to think for themselves.  This dualistic notion of community has been developed through years and centuries of learning that the communities our ancestors killed or destroyed in order to create the wealthy “global” in favor of an individualism that was able to “capitalize” on making money for itself (not others).  And furthermore, when we try to make communities and join them (because we sense our loneliness, disconnectedness and isolation), we (US Americans) tend to get very very uncomfortable with the differences, the conflicts, the games, the political jostling, and general psychological violence that is practiced in groups, no matter how lofty.  If we don’t feel those things, it is usually because we have learned to ignore–or perhaps learned to become oblivious because no one is bothering “ME–THE INDIVIDUAL” and this asserts a “satisfaction” in the name of escaping the difficulty of being together with others of differences, and also the higher position of being alone and therefore “trouble-free.”  This is an illusion.

Mourning but knowing that there are so so many in this world who understand enough and care enough about this in the world, to begin steps and to empower toward social justice.  It is arduous and difficult and tedious, but must be done.  Individual heroes will be squashed.  Communities of difference, across different backgrounds of histories, etc. must learn to come together without the escape mechanisms we have all learned well.  Empowering toward social justice is tedious, arduous, precarious, uncertain, not attainable in a finality, but is a pathway that is immensely more loving than the loneliness of dieing in an old folks’ home somewhere in a desolate urban landscape. Some are working now and we must work together, learn how to.  The rest will most likely just wait for those few to do the work while they enjoy the fruits of empire, and maintain global injustice.

Tsunami


Comforting her in disaster and grief.  Courtesy of CBS new york.

 

Earthquake 9.0 on the Richter scale.  Shaking of the ground walked on.  Nowhere to turn.  Deep crevices.

Fear, tight quivering and shaking.  Wondering.  Then fear in aftershocks.

Soon giant waves engulf.  Washing away earth, memory, time.  Brown and black and blue Engulfs.

Houses, offices, hospitals, the places of care and everyday, the places of the heart, moving and washing away.

Loved ones drowned in tears and mud and collapsed buildings and now searched for, to be lost or found.

Relief when faces and voices again reclaim love.

I still search for my cousin somewhere, lost in Sendai.  Not a word.   Fear, longing, regrets, hope, grief, waiting and waiting. Searching.

I see seven, ten, twenty, one hundred blogs that say that it is retribution for Pearl Harbor.   Then Hiroshima is not enough.

Those people claim to know God and to understand their own hatreds and conceptions of their privilege, not to mention a lack of historical knowledge and love.  How can it be?  The whole world,then, is a universe of retributions continuing.  Why not embrace and take care, to even acknowledge the tsunami.

Nuclear fears are not new for the elderly who lived through the war.  The Pacific War that brought the wrath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the sixty-six cities that burned from the firestorms of American chemical weapons.  Then nuclear fears were supposed to be abaited as the US and Japan made nuclear pacts.  But then, we find out that there were secret nuclear deals between the two nations and Okinawa was used to house and transport nuclear weapons and parts for them, unknown to the world, of course–as governments and covert things are going on under our noses.  The Japanese see the rubble of the tsunami and the problems of the radiation waters and explosions and foods now as continuous World War created by their own governments’ relationship to nation, war, power, and the United States.  But to no avail.  This understanding is trivial compared to the power of the needs and the desires and the ignorances that are required to continue the idea of  nuclear power being a ‘necessity.’  Wealth, travel, machinery, going here and there, are all now, questioned somehow amidst the rubble of the washed away and destroyed landscape of much of northern Japan.

Earthquake, tsunami, nuclear power plants, our world.  Should we not question our own actions and to reach out for life and love, peace and other ways of living that do not just benefit a certain few in our world?  Shall the voices of the elders who have warned us of these dangers, be silenced once more?  The Japanese look out over the landscape now and see its eerie similarities to the period at the end of the Pacific War.  The destruction and death are again, destruction and death.  The Prime Minister has said that this is the worst disaster in Japanese history since the Pacific War times.   No wonder people have been reciting Pearl Harbor’s war call and religious mumblings about its place in history. But it’s also the more important fact that people are reaching out and concerned, loving and understanding in a world that is connected.  We are connected.

We are connected.  Reach.  In reaching, we must understand that our earth is changing.  Climate change is not just a phrase and fantasy. Each of us must understand that life is now changing quickly.  What will we put our energies into now?  Do we succumb to our ideas that humanity is ugly or sinful at its heart?  We must combat self-hatreds and hatred of others and to come to grips with how much we need each other and our ecologies.  Every bit.  Let us reconsider our links.  Let us see this tsunami for something other than something that happened far away.  It is our tsunami.

Slavoj Zizek on Charity & its collusions with oppressive results: A commentary

Slavoj Zizek (1949 –)  is a very popular Slovenian-born political philosopher, change-agent, and cultural critic.  Like most of the better cultural critics and revolutionaries, he cannot be locked into, or defined as representing any one branch, sect, ideological framework of any discipline, yet he is most definitely political/cultural in orientation.  He also invokes psychoanalysis as a gate through which he can link dominant cultural actions with psycho-social factors as well, although his psychological analysis seems to be closely linked with his understanding of Jacques Lacan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_Lacan).  I, as you know, do not think of one philosopher or idea as all-encompassing and ‘good’ or ‘evil.’  I think of everything as multiple (remember Chimamanda Adichie‘s talk on multiple stories?) including our ideas and trajectories of action, which come from our world histories and our relations with each other’s histories, thoughts, cultures, and power relations.  I enjoy listening to, and reading Slavoj Zizek.  Many of his best works are within panel discussions or partnerships where he can discuss with others.

In this video, he presents his ideas on the idea of ‘charity,’ being a prioritized ‘good’ action on the part of a globalized dominant Christian narrative and now moral value, that has spread as a tactic of giving and compassion in the eyes of the media and political interest.  If you recall, I have mentioned that I feel and think that things are contradictory.  Within a contradictory reality, we must think of how our actions will have effects and choose accordingly, understanding the complex arrangements and further contradictions that arise from our actions.  Instead of being paralyzed because we are NOT doing ‘good’ or that we may do ‘bad,’ our analysis and knowledge and discussions can lead to better actions that take into account, the multiple stories that arise from our actions.  This, may then, lead to more ethical choices and diverse contexts through which we may analyze what road to take, what decisions we must make, and what processes we use to reach those determinants.

Charity has been viewed as an action that a benevolent and privileged group, family, or person—and now in the case of nations, the ‘good and benevolent nation’ would do in order to be seen as positive for the world to become better, or perhaps enjoy rewards in shape of arriving at a ‘kingdom of heaven.’   In any case, Slavoj Zizek presents a wonderful case for the collapsing of the idea of a ‘charity’ into our nation-state system, whereby charity is not totally what it seems.

Feminist and postcolonial and post-structural analyzers of economic development concepts, have long understood the uses of charity and ‘giving’ as a tactic of powerful nations to control the weaker nations (see the book: The Development Dictionary: The Guide to Knowledge as Power. Edited by Wolfgang Sachs. Published by Zed Books 1991).

With this in mind, Slavoj presents the idea of how our middle-class, comfort and ease-seeking mainstream societies of dominant nations, globally, would want to be charitable without lifting anything but a finger with a checkbook or a vote.  In other words, by being able to be charitable in a very immediate sense, without any contact with those we give to, or without any thought of how those recipients may be affected, we collapse buying as a consumer with the knowledge of our charity.  In buying a certain product, and having that product have a percentage go to some poor family, we feel good about ourselves.  Slavoj also questions if we actually do feel good, or that we are just doing it because it is available for us to do it but do not wholeheartedly believe that this is actually happening.

Slavoj does not mean, as he states, that we should NOT give and be charitable.  He asks us to see this as a contradictory affair, where the charity has oppression attached to it and that while we give, we must think of new and more just and ethical ways of caring for each other, beyond the consumerist and very alienated way of so-called ‘giving’ that we have inherited and reproduce.  It is attractive to our lazy middle-class ways, and also being satisfied with what we ourselves want (a cup of coffee, etc.), and we can ignore whatever else is happening in this case.

How can giving be bad?  Well, there are may ways to ‘give.’  I would say that Christian charity is born of privilege.  First, it may have started out as a moral act, but soon it became much more political.  In a sense, as I have mentioned before, the giving is actually quite condescending.  It is very self-centered and really not about ‘the other.’  It is about ourselves getting to heaven, doing ‘good.’  SEE GOD, I AM GIVING…….I AM A GOOD PERSON……..I’m trying to get to heaven…..See me.    I feel sorry for the person I give to, and may even get a sad look on my face, showing concern.  This may also be quite enraging for the receiver.  In the case of economic charity and the giving machine, the giving is never just giving.  The news that we watch about how the US gives to New Orleans after the Katrina hurricane, or how we give to the Iraqi children during war, or how we set up Offices in Japan after the Atomic bomb for victim relief……are all also fronts for more cruel and cold acts of crime, in some cases, by the American government.  These are no longer secrets.

There has been much lost in this charity game.   We must become more courageous and take our lives back, and in so doing, we take the ways we care for each other back.  First, I think, we must get through a century of fear and isolation that has guided and stunted our identities so that we no longer approach things as mysteries and different.  We must ‘know’ and recognize and be able to define so we can control.  So, I think Slavoj is correct in saying that charity is, in many ways, damaged.   Let us examine how we participate, but we must also not withhold giving where we need to, as we have no other system to give to those far away and the necessities of our privilege in the US or the UK or in Japan, or other first-world nations, can be used to give in whatever way we can.  And as Slavoj suggests, we must , at the same time, be discussing and implementing new ways that may disturb the current mainstream system of oppressions and perhaps pave the way for new systems not born of reactionary patterns born from our current situation, breathing life anew.

Slavoj Zizek overview: http://www.iep.utm.edu/zizek/

Chimamanda Adichie – Single Story Perception & Understanding

Nigerian novelist/writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s writings are among the many good works that present stories of difference.  In the video here, she gives a fantastic talk about how multiple stories of one subject, are important in how we may interact/not interact with that subject; perhaps in a more thoughtful or just way, ideally, than approaching a subject with a single story in conscious/unconscious mind.

This is an important point which I, in its basic way, agree with.  We are multiple, we are not singular.  Our stories have multiple points and trajectories, multiple positions from which we come to life and how our stories are told to self and other, can determine many attitudes and opinions and processes.  If our multiple-ness, is taken into account, then perhaps there is more patience, more reflection and pause, more of a place from which to engage other, perhaps understand positions in relation to culture and oppression, resistance and heritage, privilege and sorrows, joys and questions.  Single stories do cut-off history, cut-off political positions brought on through histories, cut-off the circulation of the realities of life and its movements in time and change.  Multiple stories may open avenues in taking these into account.

This being said, I have a critique of one aspect that may come up in listening to, seeing, and engaging this talk which is so eloquently spoken.  It is what I have mentioned before in my blog posts, and through which I speak on practically every post.  It is this question of how to accept/not accept: Difference.  I do not say that Chimamanda Adichie means one thing or another, but I am certainly opening up a discussion about how she approaches the topic of difference.  She says that people often have single stories and this closes a ‘fuller’ understanding or the realization of the similarities between people, communities and cultures.  She then goes on to say that people have more similarities than differences and there is an assumption that this is ‘better’ or that it is a fact of life that there are more similarities, which means this is more positive.  I am not sure that she means this exactly, but this is certainly one way in which Chimamanda Adichie speaks to the difference/similarities dynamic.  I say that this ‘similarities and differences’ polarity is not eternal, or a set of natural ‘facts’ and that this similarity that is so often prioritized in the world, is not positive necessarily.  To put it another way, I think that valorizing similarities is an act that can legitimize violence based on difference, with the matter of sameness and similarity being measured and applied as criteria for treating someone or a group or thing, with respect or dignity.  This is a problem with liberal thinking as well as conservative in the United States.

The measure of similarity and sameness should NOT be a criteria for measuring respect or how we treat someone or culture or community or history, or how we approach avenues for engagement and/or understanding.  Not understanding should be just as much of a pleasure and accepted space.  In fact, the reason there are more similarities today than ever before, is that there is less diversity.  One can go to any scientific journal and there, it is no secret.  There are extinctions in progress, as well as less species of most of the beings on this earth, as human beings increase their numbers.  There is less diversity not just because of over-population.  I say there is less diversity because of neo-colonization– i.e. globalization, which is an extension of colonial expansionism and what goes along with it in the nation-state system:  homogenization.  Everything is become more of the same.  This sameness has been constructed through history through the colonization of minds and lands, cultures and ideas, killing, torture, coercion and manipulation and exclusion through laws, textbooks, military weapons, covert agents amidst cultures, educational policies, judicial systems, and everything else we know to be our reality.  Assimilation and exclusion have worked hand-in-hand in order to create national cultures in the global system.  This is a continuation of the colonization process.  Difference can only be understood.  It cannot be different and not understandable.  This is the reason we must experiment on people and animals, develop stories around them that make scientists and counselors wealthy and create medicines and psychologies that deem certain things abnormal, inexcusable, sad and assimilatable, or wrong.  Learning to question ourselves and others become wrong.  It is now normal to think of everything as right and wrong, good and bad.  We either know, or are embarassed to say we don’t know.  Or we just repeat what our elders and teachers have taught us, or our parents, or our own reactions to what they’ve said because we have hated them.  In any case, our perceptions of reality do not accept difference as well as we would like.  So if we are to follow Chimamanda Adichie’s path, we come to the same tactic of exclusion and marginalization.  There is not acceptance of difference if we only look for and fetishize ‘similarity.’  Looking for a mirror in others is a sure way to the death or invisibility of both yourself and other.

You can do your own experiment. For instance, go through the history books of practically any culture group through history and pick out pictures of soldiers and their uniforms over time.  So start with pictures and drawings of how soldiers in Turkey or in Guatemala or in China or England looked in the 12th century, the 14th century, then the 17th century, the 19th century, the 20th century early and late and in the present.  See what the uniforms look like for each country.  You can do this with several other aspects of life as well, such as clothing, in general, or food, etc.  The affluent people from various cultures around the world starting in the 12th century to the present should confirm what I get at.   It will not be the ‘same’ in every case.  But there is certainly a pattern.  And do we excuse this as ‘evolution’ and ‘progress?’  Shall we now have to look at who used these terms ‘evolution’ and ‘progress’ and address and analyze for ‘what purpose’ these terms were used and how they were used to subjugate and annihilate?

So I disagree with the tone and assumption that Chimamanda Adichie brings in speaking to the issue of single versus multiple stories.  I like how she approaches the subject and explains it.  I do not agree with her notions of making sameness and similarity a criteria for harmony or a reason to let alone and not molest or control.  Isn’t that the reason colonization was justified in the first place?  Why genocide is justified from its beginnings in massacres and to the present day?  Is our understanding a criteria for killing and maiming, manipulating and giving permission to change the other?  However, I do not condone unethical behaviors and traditions so do not say I condone things like female circumcision and other such things.  However, I do not believe that not understanding someone or some culture group or tradition or history, means that we must.   In order to do this, we must co-opt ‘the other’ into our own understanding.  There are differences.  Why are we so afraid of non-difference (irreconcilable differences that is further than what we think about as ‘different’)?  It speaks more about us than of the other.

So this wonderful talk with fantastic, lucid points about history, education, power, and relations, is as is everything, multiple.  I only take issue with the will to incorporate other into an understanding that allows us to be at peace with difference.  In that instant, we are even further apart and alienated.  And in our present climate, this would give a legitimate go-ahead for a take-over and a make-over; violence as some normal activity.  It is a something we need to de-colonize in our thinking.

In relation to the subject matter and analyzing content while appreciating, we must also look at where this video rests.  It rests in the TED site.  If one has so much money behind it, so much corporate connection, then we must also think of it as towing mainstream thoughts in some ways, perhaps in subtle ways in more of the radical thinking.  Let us not be mistaken, this is not a radical change site.  It gives comfortable, informative, interesting, and safe thoughts.  For instance, for as much great things Al Gore has done in warning the public about Global warming, he does not touch his constituency, his ‘group’ and friends, who have been the ones to engineer the human quotient and engines to the destruction of our ecology.  Until he himself becomes radicalized, he keeps himself and our elites and our patriotisms comfortable, continuing the invisible domination by elitism and privilege without a shift in thinking.

And with all this, I highly recommend this wonderful talk that pushes mainstream thought to the edges of history, colonization of the mind, forgetting, education, nation-state and cultural/historical difference.  Critique is not about excluding and putting down, it is about analyzing its various positions, approaches, assumptions, possibilities reached for freedom and creativity, aspects that need further investigation, etc.  Enjoy, think, appreciate, change!

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie website:  http://www.l3.ulg.ac.be/adichie/

TED (technology-education-design): Remarkable Talks site: http://www.ted.com/

“Beyond” as a problem in Race & Difference work

What are the effects of our truths? – Michel Foucault

There is a statement I hear often, when the topic is social issues having to do with racism, especially, but other social oppression and justice-related identity and relations issues as well.  I have a problem with this:  “let’s get beyond the race issue” idea.  I also have a problem with a statement that I see in the trailer for the new movie: Harimaya Bridge. I am very excited by the movie, don’t get me wrong about that.  But it won’t stop us from thinking about certain things, assumptions, worldviews.  So I want to make a few inter-related points about this.

So there is the line in the movie:  ‘there are there are more important ways to identify with people than color of skin”  or something to this affect.

Now these statements about ‘getting beyond’ skin color and ‘getting beyond’ the ‘race issue’ etc.  are very very dangerous weapons that continue the problem of accepting difference.  The statement above sound as if they are going toward peaceful relations, but are actually couching the very problem itself–that which brings the reality of assimilation and colonialism to the fore, and acted out through the processes of globalization, of course.  The gentrifications of identity.

This gentrifying of identity, of supposedly moving beyond race, is a way to say that race/ethnicity are trivial or superficial trappings that hide the real human being underneath.  Usually, this real human being, that is presumed to be what is being pointed to, that is beyond the difficulties of conflict, looks very middle class, and very materialistic, and very homogenized.  There is an assumption that globally, people are the same:  the same values, the same concerns, the same experiences, the same worldviews and the same way of doing things.  Of course the ‘differences’ are just slight–you know–the way ‘they’ cook and the way ‘they’ wear different kinds of clothes, and the way ‘they’ laugh, and the way ‘they’ do their different religion.  It’s all the same God in different clothes, it’s all the same food with different colors and tastes, it’s all the same underneath.

In this way, there is an assumption of sameness.  The reason this sameness seems more ‘real’ is that our world today, is systematically destroying the different.  Usually, the ‘different’ are the ones that make things seem ‘poor’ and ‘uneducated’ and ‘have different values than the good values of individual pursuit of happiness.’   Partha Chatterjee, in his book The Nation and Its Fragments’ speaks eloquently about the system through which our PRESENT ARRIVES.  The present is not eternal.  The present is MADE from the past.  The past is this moment in the next moment.  Do we understand this?  What you are reading right now, is the past.  I wrote this before you wrote it.  In two seconds, two minutes, two hours, two days, two months, two years, two decades–it is already the past once we have read it, once we have uttered it.  IN THIS PRESENT, what is happening?   So Partha Chatterjee mentions that much of modernization and Europeanization of the world, comes with the effect of the ‘extinction of the peasant.’   What do you think of this statement?  Although he is speaking to India and South Asian history in the context of postcolonial realities, that idea which he speaks to, rings true for the entire global movement.  It is our historical present.  We will medicate, urbanize, nuclear-family-ize, middle-class-ize, and make the whole world UNDERSTANDABLE to us.  The other things that we don’t understand, we are just baffled by, and this is not neutral.  If we are baffled by it,  we seek to change it into a ‘higher’ form–we analyze it from our OWN POINT OF REFERENCES  (i.e. — our own cultural/racial/gendered/ and class realities).  The more privileged we are, let’s say–an American or German or Japanese, or Australian, or any region where there are urban and corporate elites participating in the global market, the more we are willing to ‘lend a helping hand’ for those less fortunate.  In order to make them fortunate, they must enter the MACHINE of globalization and the market system in operation today.

The poor nations were made more poor with the structural adjustment policies that require AID–be it for floods, earthquakes, typhoons, hurricanes, war–be ATTACHED to stipulations and loans and ways of changing the local ways.  So in keeping with this analysis, we have to look at the ways in which we think of racism, sexism, classism, anti-semitism, heterosexism, and the various social oppressions through which our present realities are created.

Getting beyond, means that a person’s ethnic/national/cultural heritage, has nothing to do with skin color?  And is race about skin color?  In the middle class and elite global structure it is very much so but not completely.  If one is educated in Oxford UK, and speaks in a certain way and dresses in a certain way, then they are more apt to be invited to the big boy’s table.  The same goes true for ‘fair-weather liberals’ who pretend to love diversity.  Their friends may be Chinese, Korean, West African, Aborigine, Swedish, Argentinian, Cherokee, Algerian Bedouin, and Finnish, yet they are most likely very much in the same social class, and act in certain ways that are palatable, and perhaps with the same politics and socio-economic level that is evident.  How does urban street African-Jamaican develop in the light of the globalizing world?  Is it ‘their’ culture?  Oppression has very much to do with it.  What has been ‘allowed’ and ‘accepted’ by the dominant is allowed and accepted.  How can one get beyond that which is a history?  A history is not just a bunch of events of the past, no longer alive right now.  Everything has to do with everything.   So a person’s diverse friends are made to prop up someone’s self-image as a ‘good person’ who has a lot of ‘diverse friends’ and therefore he/she is not a racist right?  All of these friends may reject an urban street Latino or African-American or Vietnamese from the ‘other side of the town’ even though his views may be similar to the group of diverse friends.  Of course, we are not supposed to be friends with everyone.  This is not my point.  The point is:  What are we AVOIDING, refusing in our goodness?

Many of us read the many things that are going on in this world, to stay informed, and to critically reflect, and to read things we’re not comfortable with, in order to get the fuller picture.  Many of us do the opposite.  We read what we like, then we believe it to be true, and we ignore the rest.  In addition, we add moral judgement to it.  That’s good and that’s bad or that’s neutral.  But most of the time, we don’t know much about it.  We only know ‘our’ version.  We want to be oh so Good.  And in this being ‘good’ we stay away from what we think is bad.  We are told that certain things are bad.  The school textbooks and many of our teachers and our judges and the police and our corporate managers, and our social work institutions, have already pre-determined what ‘good’ is, and we follow it.  Then we create our own moralities.   So everything is self-evident.  Except that there are many things we have ignored and built opinions and truths about, and form conflicts and evasions and silence about, that may need to be looked at more seriously.

In getting ‘beyond’ something, what assumptions are being carried?  Racial differences are bad, apparently.  If we ‘get beyond’ our racial difference, then we are truly arrived at ‘human.’  This is a big problem with a certain way of looking at ‘human.’  I have had friends who think that everytime I bring up racial/ethnic differences in perspective, and the history of oppression that informs the views and the difference, to call me someone who is ‘bringing up the race issue.’   As if it was not something that SHOULD be brought up.  When it is brought up, what happens?  Conflict.  Perhaps discomfort. Why?  From those friends’ perspective, if I would’ve never brought ‘race’ up, then there would not be any conflict.  They are dead wrong.  There is already a DIFFERENCE.  The conflict happens when there is a REFUSAL on their part, to accept, acknowledge, ADMIT, be concerned with, and be an ALLY to what I bring up.  These ‘friends’ will not accept MY RACE and all it has to say.  Isn’t this right?  The issue is not that I brought up race.  The issue is that these people REFUSE the DIFFERENCE it brings from a supposedly KIND and BENEVOLENT UNIVERSAL human being which is the CORE, apparently.  This CORE HUMAN seems to have No History, No acknowledgements of the power relations that go into decisions and marginalization and empowerments, No differences acknowledged.  The conflict stems from the structure of their assumptions.  It is LOADED with racism, sexism, etc.   It is not that these friends are hateful, or evil, or not nice.  But at the same time it is about that.  IT is because they have chosen to go to the COMFORTABLE location and position of the Universal.

The Universal human being is a tactic of assimilation.  At any moment, after all the poor blacks and homosexuals and mixed race people and the poor white hillbillies and the poor starving Indians and Africans and the reservations and the chemically-bombed and malnutritioned people and all the others, have been successfully annihilated through complete assimilation, that is when they would come after something else for complete control and dominance.  In the mean time, all of us in the DIFFERENCE camp will be thought of as terrorists and nuisances.

So, I refuse to move BEYOND in order to be judged by whom YOU might consider me NORMAL, GOOD, WHOLE and complete as a universal human being which we supposedly are ALL trying to get to (manifest destiny & Christian cultural dominance in our thinking).  Progress, Evolution, change, getting better, being better, evolving, growing, maturing.   These words are great words that I think are helpful and can move us.  However, most of the time, the above words are used to assimilate, destroy, belittle, talk down to, ignore, refuse, forget, and to commit genocide ultimately.  Getting OVER and MOVING beyond are tools for us to oppress ourselves into becoming that which we desire.  We have been made to desire so that will LIVE a CERTAIN way, and to buy certain things.  Nowadays, we’re not thinking it strange that the very people who run the world have gotten us to drink bottled water without a peep.  NO, I refuse their idea of whom I should be.   That would be a SMALL PERSON in my book.  For you….too.  We can become much bigger, more just and more powerful as communities when we do NOT accept difference as CONFLICT. Difference is not the source of conflict.  REFUSAL and ignorance is.

At the same time, I will acknowledge that many people who have been through lifetimes of identities and positions that are ‘underclass’ in this world, no matter where we are, have chosen to want to BECOME the master.  When we do this, we take on many of the masters’ behavior.  We put down, we annihilate difference, we subjugate difference, we assimilate others we think are ‘lower.’

I hope that the success of this model of having us–more and more in this world–internalize the larger and globalizing colonization of the mind, would be deterred and we can change course.  WE may, if we take steps to think, reflect, and watch how we can become more honest with ourselves in a context where history and RESPECT for DIFFERENCE could be struggled with.  In this struggle, we must figure out how to make relations that are ethical and not continually demand everything we want all of the time.  THAT also comes from living in the present system.  Greed and DEMAND and isolation are brothers and sisters of internalized colonization.

Let’s not move BEYOND.  Let us move WITH, struggling to look deeply and to agree to a better world.  We cannot wait for those governing us.  And those governing us are creating new realities for us to be more dependent on them.  Look at our ravaged planet, which is rapidly becoming uninhabitable.  Let us work together WITH difference, to welcome struggle, and to also ask for ethics.

Partha Chatterjee information: http://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/chatterjee/

Commentary on Barry Lopez Post: On HOPE

Imagination.

I think that having a pre-determined imagination and then performing it in the world most-often leads to a colonizing of the imagination with another.

There are layers of justifying and claiming innocence in our will to control.

However, power is always being exercised. Whether one sits still or speaks or takes up arms or sleeps, this takes power.

Social power is the reality of social worlds. Since our social worlds are complex, we must learn to engage complexity.

So Barry Lopez asks us to welcome the ineffable, the unknown, wonder, diversity; to question loss and how it comes to be.

A different imagination begins with questions we must ask ourselves.  What, in our worldview, is assumed to be real, coherent and universal?

If we begin examining, we see that everything is fragile.

This fragility is feared in our present world.  Being fragile can be socially seen as weak.  This also comes into play when we work with identity, gender, and masculinity.  The assumptions of what is considered ‘strong’ and what is necessary to ‘hold things together’ and to ‘protect.’

Protection is something we must do sometimes.  But I feel that in the present realities, we protect way too much.  Often, we do not know that we are protecting anything.  On the other hand, an ‘everything is okay’ attitude is also a way of not committing, not making a mistake, and not being seen as one thing or another.  Often, we may even say we are ‘free’ when we say this to ourselves.  But it masks a value of non-commitment and intensifies alienation and brings nothing deep or lasting because that is what is desired.  It is a slavery to a certain moment when one decides that this is an effective strategy to resist something that has happened.  It is no more free than any other method.

To work with difference, to struggle with how we are complicit in the loss and violence in the world, would make us examine closely, our process of self-making as individuals and communities, and begin challenging our own assumptions and at the same time discovering new things.  These new possibilities may also not be new.  They are often ‘old’ or ‘ancient’ things that have been discarded and killed and excluded in the past.  Indeed, they may be things that have been twisted into something else through the passage of life.  As we begin working, I think that we begin to recognize these things, and to welcome the deepening of our lives.  The way we are now, as Barry Lopez points to, will lead to more loss.

Perhaps this will be a way of making a self-hatred and a misanthropy–a hatred of people, into a global reality for some.  They will be fulfilling their role in the world.  As we begin a journey to change our imagination and imagine anew, perhaps we may change directions.  In any case, it will be a struggle.  And I say that in my own experience, it will be a beautiful challenge for ourselves and we will make new friends on new paths.  We will no longer be colonized by the idea that it should be easy.  We will move with the ecologies of mourning, reflection, recognition, and natural movements of time and the trees and the planets.  It will not look one way.  It could be urban, it could be in a grain of sand.  We cannot know.  All that must be done is to take the steps.