What is civilization?

With states closing their borders left and right, shutting down services and institutions for obsessive fear of spreading disease, the damage inflicted on the globalized economy has already reached epic proportions. The costs of one single month of partial shutdown, with no end in sight, is predicted to result in national GDP losses of min 3.5 to 4 percentage points, driving states into negative growth across the board. Stock market bubbles are ready to burst, currencies like the Euro and the Dollar teeter at the edge of major devaluation anyway, and the reduction of the aerosol masking effect, better known as global dimming, following the closing of numerous factories and reduced traffic, may increase global average atmospheric temperature by 1°C or more within weeks. Among the many pressing issues that our culture has brought about and is troubled by, these are but a few hopefuls (sic!) pointing at a near-term demise of the system of the locust, global industrial civilization. Don’t hold your breath, though; evil rarely dies that fast, but there is a slight chance that this might be my last blog posting before the lights go out.
Since civilization has become the central topic to this blog so many years ago, have we ever defined what we mean by it? The description of its origins, its workings, and its implications for the future might have done the job thoroughly already, but it may help if I summarize the essence of it all in a few sentences.
 
What is civilization characterized by?
The illusion of separation (in general), especially into Me vs. Other, and culture vs. nature, creates fear of Other which results in the Program of Control: the projectto measure, name, appropriate, domesticate, manipulate, coerce, commodify and consume the natural world, and to defend it against all that is not (yet) under control.
This, in turn, leads to accumulationof all kinds, individually of e.g. stuff, power, or money, collectively to societies characterized by growth, with expanding populations, cities, economies, knowledge, regulationsetc.
Civilization (consequently) manifests inthe growth of settlements too large to sustain themselves (cities); this is where the word derives from, etymologically, in the first place.The dependence on a huge hinterland supplying indispensable goods to the cities creates the peculiar relationship between center and periphery, of structural violence, most obviously social hierarchies in which permanent institutions are formed, with a tendency towards ossification. Structural violence, of course, works only so long as it is backed by physical violence. Hence the permanent threat and fear of harm ordeath, resulting in the absence of freedom, equality, brotherhood. As these are the indispensable birth rightsand everlasting conditions of the existence of all living beings (to the point where wild humans have no name for thosebecause they are, to them, like water to fish), we elevate them to the status of divine values, but we are unable to achieve them through the system which causes their absence. Historically, mass war, mass oppression, mass famine, mass slavery, mass poverty, patriarchy, and large-scale habitat degradation, among many other issues, have been constant companions to civilization from its very beginnings.
Why have we never been able to solve those problems? From the analysis of civilizations’ origin, history, and current manifestation, regarding the logic within its workings, I cannot help but disagree with the notion that we were “not civilized yet,” because as far as the above mentioned definitions matter we have reached the ultimate apex of our culture, the maximization of separation (social distancing, anybody?), knowledge acquirement (science our religion, surveillance state), population size (8bn), energy consumption, and territorial expansion. The wild, the divine,and the mysterious havebeen diminished to negligible size, tomarginal existence. Not much more seems possible in terms of civilizing the world – and we are suspended over a cliff. From here on, downwards.
 

[public domain]

This is true even for Auroville, a township developed to manifest the Divine within physical civilized existence. The relentless forces built into our culture’s mechanism are dragging the community-at-large along without mercy. It shows that the basic condition for joining Auroville, “to be of good will,”does suffice neither to halt nor to reverse the accelerated transformation of the world into goods and services, the spiritual impoverishment, or the psychological sliding into insanity. Attempting to swim against that powerful current, on the individual level, comes at the expense of one’s standing, livelihood, and eventually membership in this club.
So to say that all the damage done was avoidable – could be avoided in the future – means that one overlooks the nature of the project called civilization. It’s not despite our best efforts that we have reached a breaking point, but becauseof them. All of this does nothappen because of ill-informed decisions, bad luck, or evil intentions on the side ofthe ruling elites but because of regularities baked into the cake. Every civilization has developed a bit differently, but every single one of them which has not been swallowed by the Western model has collapsed as a result of the same shortcomings that our culture possesses. Don’t blame it on the wild, the untamed, the un-civilized which seeks to liberate itself from the shackles of our culture; blame it on this culture which has oppressed freedom, equality and brotherhood for ten millennia in a row.
Wild peoples have always been aware of the problem with our ways; they rarely gave up their ways for city living voluntarily. Early states, as we know today, had to forcefully conscript their population into staying put, and they habitually disappeared from the map as a result of people defecting in avoidance of slavery, drudgery, repetitive work, sickness, malnourishment, famine, and oppression. Contemporary neighbouring tribals, archaeological evidence shows, fared much better; they grew stronger and larger, lived longer, had less skeletal deformations, less signs of sickness and hunger and seemed to suffer lower mortality rates at a young age. 
 
The other day I had a few conversations which indicated to me that the word civilization, despite the all-encompassing harm it does to the conditions of existence both of humans and their habitat still, in the mind of most people, is connected to positive views, values, and hopes: civilization, the guarantor of life, liberty, and harmony, as well as arts, rational science, and a thriving economy.
From the times when the term has been coined as a descriptor for our “ascending”culture – as opposed to the “primitive tribals” ithas colonized– which informs today’s (mis-) understanding of what life is about within or outside of civilization, it is understandable that people feel concerned when thinking about the end of the world they have grown up with. Youmay regard it as a fallback into inferior ways of living, or youmay look sorrowfully to the turmoil that the transition to another way of living almost certainly brings about. I do understand those concerns, yet it must also be clear that civilization is inherently unsustainable; it will collapse anyway. So what do you mean when you say we must build a better civilization? It is basically the same question as, What is it that youwant to sustain when youare talking of sustainable living?
The answer might be that it is not civilization which is worth saving, but some of the above-mentioned values, and those are, as indicated, the birth right of every man, animal and plant. Not only do they notrequire civilization, they require its absence. In the absence of civilization, life – nature – thrives.
While every major change does indeed feel uncomfortable and bears the risk of violent outbreaks the one to blame, in this case, is civilization itself. No matter the good that you may attribute to civilization, ask yourself whether that justifies the quadrillion-fold suffering imposed on man, plant, animal, land, and sea, constantly, like that Orwellian boot in the face – forever.
 
I liken this to what my grandparents have related from their youth under the Nazi regime. Stating that not everything about Hitler had been bad they may simply have tried to convey the feeling that pervaded society at the time. It left me with the impression, though, that somehow they wanted to justify their silence in the face of surveillance, injustice, tyranny, eugenics, political murder, genocide, and war, as if economic success, autobahns, boy scout expeditions or the restoration of national pride had been worth all of that.
Seeing the world of today as it presents itself to me I cannot avoid noticing how much toward worse than back in the mid-20th century the situation has evolved. Considering the price this world pays for our food preferences, egocentric attitudes, computer obsession, mobility addiction etc., where am I standing in the overall picture? Personally, as much as I like to read a good book in my bed after dark, I would gladly give away scriptures, mattresses, pillows, electricity, lightbulbs and all the rest of civilized technology as the price for the restoration of humanity’s nature and place in the Universe. But that’s just me, one man wielding power over his own life alone.

Telling numbers, missing stories

Almost half a billion animals have been killed in Australia’s raging wildfires with fears entire species may have been wiped out. Ecologists from the University of Sydney now estimate 480 million mammals, birds and reptiles have been lost since September with the figure likely to continue to soar. Devastating fires have ripped through the states of Victoria and New South Wales in the past couple of days alone,“

Zoe Drewitt wrote on Jan 2nd 2020 in an articleon Metro online.

pic: Pexels, free to use
They are estimting the vertebrates only, I guess. The staggering numbers don’t mean much, though, in the face of each and every death being a tragedy of its own. Imagine your pet and multiply the heartache half a billion times, coming from the Australia wildfires alone.
Add to this, among others 300 million cattle, 440 million goats, 540 million sheep, 1500 million pigs, and 45000 million chickens slaughtered every year for human consumption, which does neither include the wholesale destruction of wildlife in the name of progress, nor the victims of global warming all over the globe.
The body count you never hear about might be in the -trillions- per year.
Again, each and every one a tragedy both for the victims and for those left behind.
As we the civilized begin to understand that plants, forests, rivers and soils, as well, are conscious sentient intelligent beings we become hard-pressed to rethink our attitude towards our own place in the Universe and towards non-human life on Earth.
I’m not saying that death as such or feeding on another being were in themselves somehow inacceptable. My point here is the industrial scale on which it’s happening, the exploitative manner, the huge collateral suffering and killing (such as these wildfires, or the slashing of the Amazon forests), and, worst of all, our complete indifference towards it all.
If this is the price of civilization – and indeed it is – then it needs to be taken down and abolished forever.

Pulling the plug (Yurugu series #9)

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. This is the last blog herein.

pic: Bijay Chaurasia (cc 3.0 by-sa)

[previous article]
Adyashanti, a teacher with Christian and Zen Buddhist roots, once described awakening as a process of chipping away everything that is not true or real. The many concepts, beliefs and material things our culture has accumulated over thousands of years require a lot of chipping before glimpses at its underlying drives and axioms become possible. Still far from having reached ultimate reality the work for us, then, becomes the disempowerment of the power-seeking asili, first and foremost the meme of separation. We’ll see in a moment why that is so.
Members of Western civilization perceive themselves to be fundamentally separate and alone and therefore constantly under threat; they – we – lack balance and completeness. Consequently,

Material accumulation becomes the tool of an assurance against the hostilities and attacks of others. The individual becomes obsessed with the negative and threatening possibilities of the future – with accident and with death. He lives in a culture diseased with thanatophobia and one that provides him with insurances “against” every kind of physical or material possibility imaginable, yet knowing that no amount of financial gain can redeem his soul. He is truly Faustian man – but he did not choose to be so. The “choice” is already implicit in the asiliof the culture: the bio-cultural, ideological core.

European culture, then, fails in the primary function of a cultural construct, i.e., to provide the human being with the emotional security brought by spiritual communion. This sense of security, which the European fails to achieve, in majority cultures [“non-European” peoples] is created out of the spirituality of human interrelatedness and a concept of shared human value; an arena that transcends the material. (Yurugu, p380)

What is true for the culture as a whole does not fail to affect its members. The lack of true community goes hand in hand with a lack of deeply-felt love:

While the conception of love as the desire and ability to merge or unite with “other” may be accurate, “expansion” of the self is not the same as unification of self and other. And this is crucial to understanding the problems that beset, not “humankind,” but the European specifically. If the ability to love is predicated on the capacity of identifying “self” with “other,” then it is clear from this discussion that European culture does not provide a basis for the love-experience; instead it imposes an utamawazo[culturally structured thought, philosophy] that inhibits (devalues) identification and emotional participation and an ethic that complements and is consistent with this cognitive structure. We have come full circle to Plato. For him “knowing” was more important than “loving,” and “to know” meant knowing as “object,” something separate and distinct from self. Europeans, perhaps, do not love themselves and have no basis from which to love “others,” Norman Brown says. (Yurugu, p394)

Marimba Ani 2008

In other words, within European culture as expressed by its cultural core, it is impossible to create healthy relationships to the world in general, other living beings, other countries, other members of our culture, to our “loved” ones, or even – and especially – to ourselves (our Selves). If we are ever to overcome the many difficulties and life-threatening crises we are faced with, this is where the root causes lie, and this is where we need to work for change. Yet,

Intra-culturally, there is no basis for morality. Instead, there is merely a competitive ethic. The well-being and “success” of each disparate “self” (or ego) is threatened by that of others. Instead of being dependent on their well-being, European social structures depend, for their proper, efficient functioning, on mutual aggression, distrust, and competitiveness; i.e., fundamentally hostile relationships. If love were to enter into these micro-systems they would break down. But they are ensured against this occurrence, since they breed for cold calculation and reward competitiveness and aggression. (p 559)

This is what “love is the answer” means. While some may understand it in a fluffy sense, a woo-woo notion of irrational elevation from physical reality, love’s power to soften the stranglehold of civilized life from the inside is truly immense. It is both the force that weakens our culture’s foundations, and the result of its progressive inability to exert power over us. In the case of citizens of civilization, to love means to revolutionize what-is.

The only way of negating (short of destroying the culture from without) the inherently paternalistic nature of European interaction with other peoples would be to alter the European self-image, and that would mean changing the character of the utamaroho [collective personality] and the values dictated by the ideology: The ideology is, of course, embedded in the nature of the asili. That is a frightening truth for the European “humanist”; it’s neither pleasurable nor rewarding in any immediate sense. Moreover, it is the most morally difficult task Europeans could undertake. The call for a world culture is an escape from such an unpleasant prospect. It has been, in the main, a way of procrastinating – of putting off a painful, but necessary, ordeal – much as one puts off tooth extraction, knowing full well that the tooth will eventually have to come out. The issues are how long it will take the decay to cause untenable pain and how extensively it will be allowed to spread. There can be no viable process of European self-criticism, because this goes against the nature of their utamaroho. The decay will spread until the infection is expunged by the world’s majority (those external to the culture), otherwise the culture will simply rot. (Yurugu, p539f)

As a human of German descent I shouldn’t begin to criticize my culture, some may think. But what Marimba Ani is talking about in her eye-opening book Yurugu is not the eternal condemnation, or the eradication, of the Caucasian race. While the lack of melanin, as some authors speculate, may have played a role in developing our obsession with power, the psychological condition can be healed fully after it becomes conscious and the person – or culture – is sincerely willing to overcome her condition. My own awakening has been triggered, and my awareness has been sharpened by Buddhism and other wisdom traditions whose roots are based in non-European soil. I can see the culture I have grown up with from a different perspective today. The words of a Native American like Jack D. Forbes, or of an ethnic African like Marimba Ani, do make sense in a very deep way. How deep I have reached in my search for truth is, of course, unfathomable to myself; but I can sincerely say that I have been chipping away quite a lot of substance from the asilii’s manifestation within me; which means to say, change is possible.

The measure cannot be words alone; talk is cheap. We need to understand the workings of our culture on such a level that we cannot help but to translate our understandings into consequent tangible actions and coherent behaviour. There are things we would, and some we wouldn’t do from then on. As the place which those actions get motivation from is just as important, a to-do list – starting with, 1.) change lightbulbs – cannot be the answer to the question of what is required from an aspiring revolutionary. We need to work this out with our local community. It is in the process of reconnecting with others and with our true Self that we mustdiscover what our new culture will look like. One cannot know its specifics from before the paradigm shift. It would likely not resemble any of the habits currently lived by any of the world’s cultures; but it would, for the first time in ten thousand years, be compatible with the continuation of life on Earth.

The World as a stage (Yurugu series #8)

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]

In my book, Mach was!?,i.e., Do Something!?, I entered a chapter by the headline “Empire of Loneliness.” This refers to the enormity of the edifice erected by civilized philosophy; an edifice according to which you are a flesh-encapsulated separate mind in a world of meaningless material objects, of Otherness. There is no beingness and subjectivity other than human beingness and subjectivity, no intelligence but human intelligence, no meaning but human meaning, no purpose other than human purpose, no art and beauty other than human art and beauty, no importance other than self-importance. Others, be it other (especially non-civilized) humans, be it animals, plants, or the “inanimate” world, become hindering or even threatening objects at worst; at best resources valuable only for their usefulness to ourselves.

What’s more, no matter which philosophical direction you choose, its teachings are completely hollow and devoid of meaning. You may pick any phrase you like, and what you find is shallow conceptsand lip service. “Freedom” is indeed a kind of slavery, the war abroad guarantees“peace” in our homeland, and ignorance of the illusory nature of civilized life means “strength” in our efforts to survive as Yurugu souls. There is no spirit within our religions – be it Judaism, Christianity, Islam, or Scientism – and our “social networks” are the opposite of what community once meant. Marimba Ani writes,

The symptomatic and severe loneliness characteristic of Europeans is an effect of the lack of communal function of their culture. Europeans are bound to each other by virtue of a shared utamaroho[collective personality] of power, domination, world supremacy, and expansion. The inner cultural dynamics of aggressiveness, competition, and mutual distrust are all separating, not binding. The outer-directed drives bind them into a tremendously efficient machine of aggression. The culture is supremely successful in this regard. European culture is not based on a vision of the essentially human. It does not serve human needs because it is not “designed” to do so. (Marimba Ani: Yurugu. An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior, 1994, p390)

It is really important to understand that the culture is not meant to benefit its people. When institutions do us wrong, when taxes are unjustly waived or imposed, when our friends let us down for profit, when laws impair our wiggle room, when weapons are delivered to those who wage war – all that is not happening incidentally, out of sheer incompetence or ignorance or without relation to all the other instances of wrongness.

European culture is an arena in which separate selves agree to compete without destroying the system and agree to cooperate in the destruction and consumption of other systems (e.g. cultures). One of the signs of the breakdown of the European system is that more and more Europeans begin to treat each other as they have heretofore only “ethically” treated the “cultural other.” (Yurugu, p400)

Ariadne’s thread leads straight into the heart of the matter, which is the asili, the cultural core of globalized European civilization. What makes this culture different from every other culture on Earth is its uniquely single-minded strife for power. It is Marimba Ani’s merit that she developed the concept of asili and applied it to European cultural thought and behaviour. Others before her did point out significant features, such as the meme of separation and its workings which modern Spirituality inspired by Asian religions clearly described, but none managed to explain why Christian values, or Humanism, never stopped structural and physical violence. Yurugu, the book, enables us to understand the power drive behind seemingly benign movements. The values purported serve to deceive Europe’s victims. “To bring freedom and democracy to Afghanistan / El Salvador / Guatemala / Haiti / Iran/ Iraq/ Libya / Mali / Nicaragua / North Korea / Somalia / Sudan / Syria / Venezuela / Vietnam / Yemen” etc pp, ad infinitum,belongs into the realm of “Rhetorical ethics.” At a closer look we discover geopolitical considerations and greed behind amoral hypocrisy:

To begin with the Platonic-influenced utamawazo [culturally structured thought] provides the theoretical basis for a conceptual ethics; an ethical system, the themes of which are considered to be valid, as long as they are consistent in terms of the logic of that system. What is “ethical” becomes what is “rational” and “logical.” The most “ethical” statement is the purest abstraction. As Havelock correctly observes, the individual “thinking” psyche becomes the seat of morality and the individual’s ability to act ethically is based on his ability to think “rationally”; i.e., “abstractly.” The result, again, is “talk.” The European idea is that words divorced from action, feeling, commitment, from human involvement can themselves be relevant to (and properly inform) human interaction – as long as they are part of a consistent syntax; an approved semantical system. This pursuit itself is an exercise in self-deception. Primary cultures are characterized by an “existential ethic” (Stanley Diamond) that is based on and refers to actual behaviour. European culture gives rise to semantical systems and instead of being concerned with the inconsistency between “word” and “deed” (which could conceivably be the determinant of ethical behavior), the moral philosophers are merely concerned with verbal and what they call “logical” inconsistency. One result of this characteristic of the culture is a tendency to make philosophers the most irrelevant of people and to effectively divorce their work from any decision-making capacity or role that in any way influences the ethical behavior of European peoples. What this tradition has done instead is to support the culture in its ability to use words without meaning, and to support Europeans in their quest to deceive others and themselves as well. The body of literature known as “ethical theory” has to a large degree been conducive to the growth of moral hypocrisy in European culture. (Yurugu, p328)

When the World is portrayed as a “stage,” it’s not just meant as a metaphor. One only has to watch or read the news, to see how empty words define the relationship between governments and populations, and between nation and nation.

Joel Kovel writes,

We have noted that power has accrued to the West through the yoking of energy and reason within one cultural ego. Other cultures had the energy, still others had the control, and some even combined the two; but no culture carried the combination to such extremes. The very passion expressed by the western drive to power is representative, on a cultural level, of the tapping of deep infantile desires. This culture, at once the most advanced, is also the most infantile… The deeper one returns into infancy, the more profound and limitless becomes desire. (Joel Kovel: White Racism. A psychohistory, 1971, p130)

No surprise, then, that the drive to power is present in interpersonal relationships even, right down to the level of families. Rhetorical ethics lead to insincere expressions of emotions, thoughts, or solidarity, in which a sentence like “I love animals” is enough to mark a person as an animal lover, despite the fact that she is eating meat from industrial production. This magical relationship to words corresponds to the immature stage European culture is stuck in.

[next article in the series]

Everything

On leaving the village shop I pay my purchase with fiat currency. Fiat currency is the kind of money that comes into existence through debt, which means, an interest was attached to it that was owed to the central bank issuing the money. Someone had to work for it, to create a value that enabled them to pay this interest; it is the reason why civilized humans of this time and age pillage the planet. I don’t know what they did for the money I just spent. Perhaps they strip-mined the Deccan, or they razed some old-growth forest in Assam. I will never know. I understand, though, that the form in which the shop keeper receives my dough – as bits and bites via an online network connected to a bank – required massive infrastructure investments, from rare earths for computer parts, to copper in the wires, to cement for the buildings the bank and the network components are housed in – just to name a few of incredibly many raw materials needed to enable me to go shopping in this place or any other. One key component in our deal is electricity, the energy required to run the shop computer, the network hubs, and the bank computer; electricity is also needed for the transmission of the transaction signals. Think of nuclear reactors (uranium strip-mines, forever-radiating waste), coal-powered plants (more strip-mines, carbon dioxide), or “renewable” energy plants (yet more mines for silicates and rare earths, petroleum for the plastic parts, plastering of hillsides and plains with rotors and solar panels, ruining of river valleys with dams). And, on a side note, I know that,

if there were no computers, the process of engaging in war would be much more drawn out, with a lot more time for human beings to change their minds or seek alternatives. It is only because computers do exist that a virtually automatic, instant worldwide war, involving total annihilation, even enters the realm of possibility. [Jerry Mander: In the Absence of the Sacred]

Being constantly aware of details like these, I sigh as I walk out through the shop’s front door. I used to buy a lot of sweets and crunchy stuff before I decided to reduce my dependence on money and to prevent the production of plastic garbage. I buy only bread and spreads. The bread comes in a compostable paper wrapping, which is a rather revolutionary feat in a world gone crazy for petroleum-containing plastic packaging. But paper has issues of its own, from the consumption of forest ecologies to the poisonous chemicals needed to produce the stuff, and a lot of those chemicals end up in rivers and aquifers – or in your compost pile. Perhaps the paper is

made of 150-year-old Engelmann spruce and Cariboo fir from British Columbia. Cooked into pulp in a stew of sodium sulfide. Bleached with chlorine dioxides that exhale deadly dioxins. Printed with petroleum-based resins from California, carbon-black from oil drilled in the Gulf of Mexico, colored inks produced in the industrial suburbs of Seattle. Delivered in a van fueled by gasoline from Saudi Arabia. Bound by a petroleum-based rubber band made in Hong Kong. Sheathed in a polyethylene bag from New Jersey. [Chellis Glendinning: Off the Map]

by Maggie’s Camera on flickr.com (cc by-nd 2.0 generic)

The spreads – peanut butter, mixed fruits jam, and chocolate cream – come in glass jars. The glass itself is recyclable, but its production and recycling requires high amounts of fossil fuels. The lids are made of composite layers of rubber, tin, and paint; hard to separate, if at all possible. The peanuts have been harvested from a degraded landscape denuded from all kind of vegetation but hectares of monocrops. They are local, though, meaning, I save pollution from transportation, and receive only the poisonous industrial chemicals residing in soil, air, and water just about everywhere on the planet. Same goes for the jam and the chocolate spread. The latter is nagging my conscience a little more, since I don’t know what the fatty ingredients consist of, the chocolate comes from one or two far-away continents, and has likely been produced by grossly underpaid wage slaves and children. Let’s also not talk about the sugar in there, a legal drug that I have become addicted to already when drinking my first sweetened tea as a baby.

Anyway, one has to eat. When I was born I have been one of about 3.7 billion hungry mouths. Today I share the planet with more than double this amount, 99.99% of which belong to the same culture: global industrial civilization.

So I cycle home, carrying my purchase in a certified-organic cotton bag. That the shop doesn’t provide plastic carriers any longer helps them cater to the image of ‘green’ business. Yet, as a matter of fact, you cannot trust the certificate because the providing agency needs to create surplus which means, they need to satisfy their customers… and you can’t keep your customers happy when you ruin their businesses by attesting them bad practice. One lesson from AAA ratings for defaulting crap papers could have been, to take a closer look at all kinds of certificates, from safety guarantees for electric devices to organic labels for food. The more convenient path, though, is to confide in the neat-looking logo on the package, lest you would inspect the global supply chain leading from resources extraction through materials processing to assembly, packaging, transportation, and sales systems. I prefer to have a life. That means, I buy as little as possible, and when I do I don’t give a bleeding damn about what the label says; it’s a lie anyway. Which brings me back to the cotton bag I carried along: at least part of the cotton is genetically modified, Glyphosate-treated stuff, with a high likeliness of having been grown in a place where one or more farmers have killed themselves because they couldn’t repay their loans after the chemically annihilated fields refused to produce as much as the Frankenseed company promised. But at least I may reuse the bag a few more times before its weak seams sloppily tailored in a Bangladeshi sweatshop disintegrate and I have to buy a new one.

Once you start looking a little closer at how you live, what you use and who you interact with, you will notice without effort that exactly everything contributes to polluting the planet, to the destruction of habitat for all life forms including humans, and to causing the disintegration of communities, violence, death, extreme injustice, spiritual impoverishment, and decrease in human capacities. This is not because you were especially focusing on negative aspects, or that I was a defeatist, nihilistic, miserable-minded cynic. What you see is real. Do not, for one second, believe in human ingenuity being able to create a techno-fix for it. The “Digital age,” for instance, will not result in a well-informed unified activists front prevailing over the destructive power of the Megamachine. Jerry Mander writes,

This society upholds a fierce technological idealism. We believe we can get the best from a given technology without falling into worst-case scenarios of the sort described above. We maintain this idealism despite the fact that we have no evidence of technology ever being used at an optimal level, or even being sensibly controlled. This is certainly true of automobiles, which have virtually destroyed the natural world; and of television, which creates a common mental denominator; and of electrical energy generation, which is vastly overdeveloped to the detriment of the planet.

and:

What is romantic is to believe that technological evolution will ever live up to its own advertising, or that technology itself can liberate us from the problems it has created. [Jerry Mander: In the Absence of the Sacred]

I find both Mander’s and my own considerations echoed in another paragraph from Glendinning’s book “Off the Map” in which she reflects,

This white linen shirt. Constructed in a sweatshop in Indonesia. Or Lithuania. Or Saipan. Everything of this world. Shoes made of Brazilian cattle whose grazing lands were once rain forest. Eggs on the plate: they come courtesy of hens buckling in boxes not twice the size of their bodies, shot up with antibiotics and hormones. These petrochemical lawn chairs. Earl Grey tea. Everything. The raw materials of our lives mean one thing as we obtain them glistening at the mall, via the Internet, in mail-order catalogs, as gifts from friends. They mean something else in the naked sober world of their origin. They are literally made of the oppression, pain, grief, sacrifice imposed by the global economy.

Or I could have opened Derrick Jensen’s “The Myth of Human Supremacy” at pages 178/9 where I find a similar notion expressed by an author who is “just” sitting in a wooden house, on a winter day, with a computer on, snacking from a plastic bag of cashews. I trust you to play through the implications of that by yourself.

Often times when I talk to people, they use to respond, “O well, this means you cannot trust anybody, cannot believe anything written, cannot buy, eat, or touch anything.” And this is exactly my point. When it comes to our culture/ society/ economy, everything is tainted because everything has been created from matter violently ripped from the Earth, with no respect for ecosystems or living beings. Everything runs through a poisonous process of transportation, chemical treatment, packaging, insincere labeling, and finally trashing, all of which is performed by a planetary network of wage slaves who get alienated from the produce of their hands by division of labour, and who sell their lifetimes in exchange for fiat currency that creates more and more extreme social disparity. Everyone has become violently selfish from having to survive in a violent and greedy society, everyone’s traumatized, everyone has been turned into a zombie, or a jerk, or a victim.

Just look at us. Everything is backwards, everything is upside down. Doctors destroy health, lawyers destroy justice, psychiatrists destroy minds, scientists destroy truth, major media destroys information, religions destroy spirituality and governments destroy freedom. [Michael Ellner]

“Don’t hate your oppressors;
they need liberation, just like you.”
 

In today’s world where every square inch of the Earth can feel the impact of our culture’s activity there is no escape from the Empire of Evil. There is no such thing as walking away, no such thing as dropping out. Our minds have been programmed for functioning in the context of this Empire. We are civilization, and civilization is who we are. You can’t walk away from yourself.

Does that mean we have to give up trying? I don’t believe so. Nature – and that includes humankind – possesses a tremendous capacity for self-healing. There is a real chance that once we brought down the physical manifestation of the system – or it collapsed on its own, which is more likely, given our current state of mind – the Planet, and humanity, will quickly bounce back to their former degree of aliveness. (Well, perhaps not.)
To unburden oneself from the acculturated need for things may not suffice to fully liberate the mind from its ties with our civilized upbringing. Independent of whether we’d be able to achieve anything tangible I see it as a morally necessary step, though, a step which also helps us reconnect with life how it truly was meant to be. We need to empathize with the sickness within ourselves, we also need to have patience with each other.

And maybe (just maybe) life still has a chance of blooming and spreading once again – after our sick culture has vanished from our minds and its practices are discontinued for good.

The arts are no exception (Yurugu series #7)

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]

As my readers, by now, may assume – and rightly so – that no part of European thought, life, and culture has escaped Yurugu’s influence, it is safe to say that the arts do have a role to play in exerting power over the “Other.” The forms of expression and the institutions of our civilization are thoroughly shaped in the image of Yurugu.

John Zerzan writes about the origins of art,

Art, like religion, arose from the original sense of disquiet, no doubt subtly but powerfully disturbing in its newness and its encroaching gradualness. In 1900 [Yrgo] Hirn wrote of an early dissatisfaction that motivated the artistic search for a “fuller and deeper expression” as “compensation for new deficiencies of life.” Cultural solutions, however, do not address the deeper dislocations that cultural “solutions” are themselves part of. Conversely, as commentators as diverse as Henry Miller and Theodor Adorno have concluded, there would be no need of art in a disalienated world. What art has ineffectively striven to capture and express would once again be a reality, the false antidote of culture forgotten. – Running on Emptiness: the Failure of Symbolic Thought

As art must reflect the nature of the asiliwe can expect a society deeply split into the haves and have-nots, to produce an equally split-up arts scene. Indeed, observing developmentsover the millennia, we can seea clear division between an elitist “sophisticated” conception of arts on the one hand, and the “kitsch” itemsthat ordinary folkscreate on the other. Of folk music, I once heard somebody say that, “Pigs can’t help oinking.”
While professional forms of art historically often served to establish a certain story of people’s nature and place in the (hostile) Universe, namely their position in a society’s hierarchy, today’s arts degrade the vast majority of people to consumers. The artist, though, cannot perceive herselfas a pure dominator. She, in turn, is subject to the overarching power of economy, and she is, thanks to the strong premise of separation, fundamentally alone with herself. When she expresses her visions in her art she will help to proliferate that premise. Her expression is perceived as uniquely hers. Whether she can reach anybody else, and whether anybody else is able to deeply relate to what she expresses, cannot be made sure. Following the fashion of the day is the only way how she hasa chance that she can make a living from her work. Marimba Ani writes,

European art becomes increasingly “a commodity manufactured for the market” tending toward the vulgar. We should point out that the interesting contradiction in European culture is that its art may be commercially inspired (“the artist must live, after all”), geared to consumption, inspired by the desire for recognition, and at the same time remain an elitist form, that is, essentially separated from the people, because the art, like culture, creates (controls) the people, rather than the reverse. According to Sorokin, in the artist’s tendency to disregard religious and moral values, the art itself

“comes to be more and more divorced from truly cultural values and turns into an empty art known euphemistically as ‘art for art’s sake,’ at once amoral, nonreligious, and nonsocial, and often antimoral, antireligious, and antisocial.” [Pitirim Sorokin, The Crisis of our Age, 1941, p56]

(Marimba Ani: Yurugu. An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior,1994, p205)

Strolling through Indian villages, the only obvious kind of art we can see consists of expressions of the religious. The notion that people, nature, and gods are closely interrelated, is still very strong in rural areas. Yet in the cities – the gates through which the floodwaters of Western civilization press into the lives of average Indians – the scenery has become overgrown by a jungle of industrial design – advertisements, economic buildings of concrete, steel and glass, and political monuments – to which the spectator is no one but a subject to power: the power to dictate order, and the power to trigger desire. Bearing only few reminiscences to India’s pre-colonial culture, the form which art, music and design take are dictated by international standards nowadays.
It sometimes seems impossible to escape the omnipresent public cacophony of such products, and I wonder why all these people here simply accept the violation of their mind space. Perhaps they cannot stand the emptiness of a plain surface, or the loudness of silence any longer. Perhaps the lack of attention-grabbing artifacts would make them aware of that other gaping, hurtful void – the one inside. So, “It’s got to be Rock’n’Roll to fill the hole in your soul.” (ABBA). When the flooding of the senses ceases to work, when one day it “doesn’t bring the same reaction from inside your brain” (Savatage), it’s time to end that specific kind of division of labour which condemns the majority of people to stay passive consumers of the arts.
Let music, fine arts, sculpture, architecture, theatrical play, and storytelling come into existence by using your own imagination. What are the values of your community, what are the stories that connect and empower people in your place, and what is the fertile ground on which humanity’s purpose in the Universe can grow? Wouldn’t you like to express, for once, something that is truly important to you? What would art look like when it works towards the ending of the need for art?

[next article in the series]

What is intelligence?

Regarding the topic of abstraction which was of central importance in the last Yurugu essay I would like to point out today some of its greater ramifications. To be precise, this is about intelligence and the difference between humans and animals.
Discussing the latter – what it supposedly is that makes the human species so special among the world’s species – you will always hear someone say that, “(a) Humans got a bigger brain, (b) which makes them more intelligent, (c) and this is the reason why humans are more successful survivors than any other living being.”
None of these three assertions is true.
The human brain has a volume of 1050-1500 ccm and weighs ~1.3 kg, the sperm whale’s has a volume of up to 8000 ccm and weighs up to 9.5 kg.
The assertion that humans have the best relative brain size is also false; our brain-to-body mass ratio is 1:40; mice or songbirds have a much better ratio. Insects seem best equipped, with brain mass measuring up to one seventh of the total body mass.
Among humans, the Neanderthals had a 25-30% bigger brain than modern sapiens, so brain size doesn’t necessarily help with survival.
Whether humans possess the highest intelligence depends on how you define intelligence, and how you measure it. I would hold that we – ie. civilized man – are not performing well in this category either: From a look at the Wikipediawe learn that there are “many ways” how intelligence has been defined, namely “logic, understanding, self-awareness, learning, emotional knowledge, reasoning, planning, creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving,” most of which belong into the realm of abstract thinking. We’ll come to that in a minute.
Emotional knowledge, also called emotional intelligence or EQ – “the capability of individuals to recognize their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal(s)” – belongs to a totally different category.
Working with domestic animals, but also through observation of wildlife in India, I perceive animals as being extremely aware of each other’s moods. And while civilized codes of conduct usually expect of us that we suppress the showing, expressing, or reacting to emotions, animals often perfectly mirror, or respond to what the human beings nearby are up to. This is not to be confused with techniques like “Non-violent communication” or “Neuro-Linguistic Programming” (how telling!), by which a person’s needs, or their conscious or subconscious thoughts and emotions may become accessible, and – by civilized mindsets – misused for personal gain.
Like with the loss of much of our potential for sensual perception – we see, hear, taste, smell, and feel way less than our tribal sisters/brothers and ancestors – the loss of EQ results in a reduced ability to react intelligently to challenges.
Regarding the ability to think (abstractly), I came to the following understanding.
  1. If the theory of evolution (or some similar process) holds true, the human capacity to think (abstractly) must be present in other living beings, and certainly among our mammalian ancestry as well. In fact, if you look out for it, you will find it most obviously among corvidae, canidae, felidae, elephantidae, cetaceae and many more.
  2. That animals (or plants) are able to think (abstractly), or to develop consciousness of self, cannot be disproven in general.
  3. So-called “primitive” tribal human cultures often do not apply time measuring, maths, arts, or rational logic, nor do they develop complex societies and languages. Most of the times you will find a lack of most abstract concepts with them, concepts that civilized people completely base their behaviour upon. This does not mean tribal humans were incapable of abstract thinking: Abducted tribal babies raised in civilized societies developed just like any of our children. Thanks to Thomas Wynn (The Evolution of Spatial Competence, 1989) we know that at least a million years ago, our ancestors had an intelligence equalling that of the adult human today.
  4. So (abstract) thinking is a faculty available to a large number of species, it seems, certainly vertebrate species, and the use of abstraction is culturally determined, which means it is a choice made by each creature or culture. Tribal cultures must have deliberately refused to apply most kinds of abstract thinking for two to three million years of the genus homo, and continue to do so – on purpose, according to anthropological records from all over the world.
  5. The use of abstract thinking on the scale that civilizations apply may not be found in non-human species and tribal human cultures because it is counterproductive to the survival of the species / culture… The omnicidal (implicitly suicidal) behaviour of civilized cultures – especially our own, I would say with a side glance to the convergence of existential crises we are witnessing today – is proving this point best. On “falling back into savagery,” as the figure of speech has it, civilized man defaults on his true modus operandi; it is himself who is a real savage, not the tribal humans he continues to dismiss as unintelligent brutes and who declare him a sick person, a madman, because he is destroying himself along with everyone else.
pic: Saksham Choudhary, / pexels
IQ tests check a person’s ability to juggle with symbols, ie. to think abstractly. Despite what the phrase suggests, they do not actually measure intelligence. And neither do book reading, chess playing,  academic careers, or working with computers indicate higher levels of intelligence. 
Intelligence, as Jiddu Krishnamurti, in a public discussion held in Ojai, CA, on April 14, 1977, said, “is the capacity to see the truth that thought is limited. It can only come into being when thought has its right place. When there is no ‘me’, attention is intelligence.” And it is this attention that improves a being’s ability to survive. According to Krishnamurti, it requires an integration of reason and love. Cultures based on love and empathy for other living beings, including “inanimate objects” such as the world as a whole, often times perfectly merge with what civilized people call “environment”. Egocentrism and perceived separation, on the other hand, reduce our perceptions, narrow their processing according to personal interest, twist our understanding through the application of dysfunctional illusory concepts, and thus diminish intelligence.
I don’t know whether you, my dear reader, possess the willingness to consider the nature of intelligence from such a point of view. We may not come to a common understanding of what that thing is, or whether it has any existence outside philosophical pondering at all; so the question which makes up the title of my essay may not have an answer to it. But perhaps we might agree on what intelligence is not. Considering where it has led us it cannot be the kind of abstract thinking which is tearing the world into separate, standardized, measurable, lifeless bits and pieces, reduces them to words and symbols, and assumes that these represent the truth accurately enough to derive predictability of the world’s phenomena.
I also don’t know why or how our ancestors began their path towards civilization – the social manifestation of abstract thinking – but I sure know that it helped us to learn a whole lot about self-deception, violence, disconnection, and virtual reality. If our culture were a book, it’s title might run something like, “Civilization, or, How to Wreck Your Habitat As Fast As Possible.” Mistakes, though, are among the most powerful teachers we have. The things which don’t work can give us valuable hints at what might. Let’s take those ten thousand years of misery as a warning. To end our experiment in abstract, platonic living in favour of the return to an empathic relationship with the world would be the most intelligent decision this culture has ever taken.

“…to predict and control human behavior” (Yurugu series #6)

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 this series of articles on decolonizing the mind from European thought patterns we repeatedly bump into terms like “objectivity.” “rationality,” or “universalism,” all of which have close links with how Western civilization defines science. The question how science participated in yoking non-European peoples and helped with bringing about social disparity, spiritual impoverishment, and biological annihilation, can hardly be avoided. Yet the answer cannot stop with science being the innocent enabler of its own abuse. Science has no existence of its own. It comes into existence through the work of scientists alone. Scientists, though, are human beings who are inseparably embedded in the world by any number of factors – biologically, socially, mentally, economically, etc. So how can we talk of universal validity of research results and unbiased objectivity based on rational thinking, when (European) science so clearly is a product of, and entangled in, (European) culture?
Psychoanalyst and eco-socialist Joel Kovel, for instance, explains how the concept of abstraction influenced the development of European culture and thusly the course of history.

One overriding quality determines what is good and bad within the analyzed world: purity. And within the entire spectrum of reality, one aspect of knowledge fulfills this quality: abstraction. An abstract idea is a purified idea, freed from annoyingly concrete and sensuous particulars. Words themselves are abstractions. The non-sensuous senses, sight and hearing, are the mediators of abstract activity. Smell, taste and touch are concrete, syncretic, incapable of making the fine distinctions necessary to sort out what is abstract from what is sensuous. Abstraction means distance from immediate experience, the substitution of a relatively remote symbol for a given sensuous reality. Sight and hearing are thus those senses which best fulfill the possibility of a remote relationship to the world. Western civilization began its expansion with the discovery of perspective, and the perfection of remote, visually organized abstracted activities – whether in navigation or in the development of firearms that could kill from a distance. (Joel Kovel: White Racism. A psychohistory, 1971, p133, quoted after Marimba Ani)

Joel Kovel; by Thomas Good / NLN [CC BY-SA 4.0]
All this goes to show that philosophy, science, and technology are exactly not ethically neutral, but come with far-reaching implications.

In my blog I have discussed such topics a number of times already. There is no need to repeat all that; so please allow me to refer you to previous articles carrying the label Science & Scientism.
Today we’ll focus on an African-centered perspective on this most important tool of European civilization. Marimba Ani, in her seminal book, Yurugu. An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior,obviously cannot avoid this topic. Reviewing European political and philosophical history, she traces some of the relevant values back to Plato, but she also points out that their roots originate much deeper in time than just 2500 years. From her understanding – which I wholeheartedly support – there is a fundamental difference between European and other worldviews:

The African metaphysic, the Native American and Oceanic “majority cultures” (it is safe to generalize here), all presuppose a fundamental unity of reality based on the organic interrelatedness of being; all refuse to objectify nature, and insist on the essential spirituality of a true cosmos. What became known as the “scientific” view was really the European view that assumed a reality precluding psychical or spiritual influences on physical, material being. This view also resulted in the elimination of a true “metaphysical” concept and of an authentic cosmology. (Yurugu, p82)

In other words, worldview translates into behaviour. Societies within the European paradigm fundamentally differ from every other culture, be it Chinese or Indian civilizations before European expansion, be it any of the so-called primitive cultures, most of which have been wiped off the face of the Earth by explorers, conquerors, missionaries, educators, and development aid workers. This historical process developed, naturally, understandably, a situation in which an objective ethnology or anthropology – even if we assume that they were basically possible – has become completely out of reach:

This study was not approached objectively. It is not possible to be objective towards Europe. Certainly the victims of its cultural, political, and economic imperialism are not objective, if they are sane. And Europeans cannot be “objective” about their own cultural history. The question then becomes: What could objectivity possibly mean in terms of human mental attitudes? (Yurugu, p23)

She answers that question comprehensively. Quoting anthropologist Ralph Beals, she points out that,

Ultimately it was hoped to establish a computer-based model that would permit the rapid prediction of various types of outcomes of social change and conflict situations and the assessment of the effectiveness of different action programs in resolving or averting conflicts. (Ralph Beals: The Politics of Social Research, 1969, p197)

concluding herself that,

This, indeed, is what the “advancement of science” means. Its significance is neither noble nor transcendent. Rather it is quite pragmatic, “profane,” and provincial – designed for the sake of prediction and control of revolutionary movements. (Yurugu, p545)

[next article in the series]

Imbalance as collective pathology (Yurugu series #5)

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
 
The other day, in a discussion on the derangement of our World, and how to go about changing its ways, my dialogue partner mentioned Ase,

a West African philosophical concept through which the Yoruba of Nigeria conceive the power to make things happen and produce change […] The recognition of the uniqueness and autonomy of the aseof persons and gods is what structures society and its relationship with the other-world” [Wikipedia]

Ase seems to relate to Jung’s Daimonic, or Paul Levy‘s Wetiko, or Rüdiger LenzAggression (a concept which Lenz might have adapted from Fritz Perls, or from the word’s Latin original meaning, i.e., to address, to approach), all of which are names for a driving force with both positive and negative, constructive and destructive potentiality. Which side of the force expresses itself in each of us, or in our communities and societies, depends on our emphasis, which in turn depends on how we tend to see the world. In terms of Ase, our culture and its members overemphasize autonomy and individuality, from which we derive our perceived separation. From a Yin-Yang perspective, we are tremendously out of balance; from Marimba Ani’s view, we represent Yurugu, the immature male being that has interrupted its own gestation and is forever in search of its missing female aspects. Marimba Ani writes,

What are the characteristics euphemistically associated with this utamaroho[collective personality]? “Spirit of adventure”; “the love of challenge and exploration”; “the conquering mood”; “a certain inventiveness, ingenuity and restlessness”; “ambition”; “love of freedom.” These phrases signify the misinterpretation of an intensely devastating spiritual disease.

Twisted by the ideological demands of the culture into valued characteristics, they are made to seem positive, superior, even healthy. They are, instead, manifestations of a cultural ego in disequilibrium. Created in a spiritless context, the European utamaroho lacks the balance that comes from an informed experience of the whole self. The self that then emerges – defined in disharmony – seeks further to despiritualize its surroundings […] Europe is a cultural statement of Yurugu, the male being, arrogant and immature, who caused his own incompleteness, and so is locked into a perpetually unfulfilled search for the female twin-soul that would make him whole, the part of himself he has denied. (Yurugu., p561)

So I would say, it is not just change that we are looking for, for permanent change is also what our civilization is obsessed with. The change we are talking about is not mechanistic, not utilitarian, not egoistic, all of which represent just one side; it is J. Krishnamurti’s Real Revolution, and the place it comes from is not the rational mind (alone).

Photo by Fancycrave.com from Pexels

The founders of Extinction Rebellion perhaps do understand what I mean by that; at least it’s what I get from their founding documents and some of the talks. As they don’t push it to the foreground the question remains whether the majority of fellow campaigners are sporting a similar understanding… but one can hope – hope that we’ll be able to change our ways; hope that when we are stopping the raping of Gaia she may unfold her self-healing capacities; hope that there is still opportunity to wind up business in a controlled manner before time is over and the end of civilization is upon us.

Happy Puthandu(14 April, Tamil New Year) to everyone, and happy International Rebellion Day on Monday!

 [next article in the series]

Universalism as power (Yurugu series #4)

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]

Throughout the elaborations of this series it shows that universal values take a problematic position in the matrix of European civilization. We believe that values, such as “freedom,” “equality,” “humanism,” “rationality,” etc., are not just the values of our culture; we claim their universal validity, i.e., other peoples must naturally want them and abide by them.

This expectation plays a role in international relations, when our so-called Western “community of shared values” demands of other governments that they respect the civil rights of citizens. Very few governments squarely rebuke that notion, among them China which holds that her culture functions in different ways. Now China is a nuclear power, a state of more than one billion people which cannot be bullied into submission. Other nations for most part cannot afford open rebellion against “universal” values. They usually resort to paying lip service when they rather tend to disagree.
Think of the United Nations’ “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”in 1948: “Of the then 58 members of the United Nations, 48 voted in favor, none against, eight abstained, and two did not vote”[Wikipedia
It’sa case study of cultural falsehood in which neither Mao’s China (aye vote) nor the Apartheid state of South Africa (abstained) nor the autocratic regime of Caríasin Honduras (no vote) dared to disagree. In each of these and all othercases the intent to disregard civil & human rights was clear from before the declaration’s coming into effect. Then why did nobody vote “nay”?

As Marimba Ani explained in her introduction to the book Yurugu. An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior,

The secret Europeans discovered early in their history is that culture carries rules for thinking, and that if you could impose your culture on your victims you could limit the creativity of their vision, destroying their ability to act with will and intent and in their own interest. (Yurugu, p1)

Lip service works fine when it comes to adhering “universal ethical values,” as globalized Western civilization is not based on their proclaimed values; those in power heavily rely on them for veiling their true intents from the general population both inside and outside of their immediate sphere of influence.

Within the logic of European humanism one can talk about “morality” that is not reflected in behavior. One is considered to be highly moral if the language that one uses is couched in the syntax of abstraction and of universality; that is, of disinterest. This makes no sense in other cultures where morality is concerned with behavior only and is meaningless unless it is indicative of a behavioral norm. Which is the more “human” – the way of life that dictates respectful behavior or the one that attempts to encourage an “abstract affection for humanity at large,” which has no relationship to behavior and to which the individual cannot relate? (Yurugu, p543)

Well, the answer seems obvious to me. In the same way, I have no doubt about freedom, equality, and brotherhood, as defined by our culture, being just carrots on a stick, meant to give hope in the light of an everlasting enslavement, inequality, and competition which are intrinsic “qualities” of Western civilization from its very beginning.
I know that words like “freedom” do have a deeper meaning, or else they would not have inspired widespread revolutions; yet the values can never come to true actualization under the paradigm of the forked tongue. As the French of the late 18th century acted from the same basic assumptions as the parasitic elite they overthrew it is no wonder their revolution so quickly turned into immense bloodshed, devouring its own children.
Fanon says in his famous testament which we also find quoted within Yurugu:

Frantz Fanon*

Leave this Europe where they are never done talking of Man, yet murder men everywhere they find them, at the corner of every one of their own streets, in all the corners of the globe. For centuries they have stifled almost the whole of humanity in the name of a so-called spiritual experience. Look at them today swaying between atomic and spiritual disintegration […] That same Europe where they never stopped proclaiming that they were only anxious for the welfare of Man: today we know with what suffering humanity has paid for every one of their triumphs of the mind. (Frantz Fanon: The Wretched of the Earth, 1963, p252)

Europe talks… and kills. And while Fanon, like Marima Ani, speaksto people of African origin, the same logic goes for us Europeans (I assume here that most, or all, of my readers are of Caucasian origin, or, like many people of colour today, live by the same basic “universal” values). Our liberation must start with noticing the harmful European asili, the core of the dominant culture, then continue by its wholesale rejection and its replacement by an asili of sanity.

We cannot mobilize for effective resistance to our physical destruction unless we are ideologically liberated. What impedes that liberation is cultural imperialism. European “universalism” and its attendant spurious “humanism” are very dangerous and effective forms of European cultural imperialism.

Universalism, when translated scientifically, becomes objectification. The illusion of objectivity promotes the myth of universalistic commitment, that is, it is a stance that disavows political or group interest. It thereby services group interest more subtly by calling it something other than what it is. We can conclude that this universalism semantically represents European value, is not a universally valid goal and, as an “imperative” serves the interest of European cultural imperialism. (Yurugu, p551)

Real revolution, which Jiddu Krishnamurti so famously coined as a term, is not concerned with people taking to the streets, in the first place; it is a revolution of the mind – not in order to fill it with new contents, but to make different use of human consciousness. Translated into everyday behaviour, we would livein closely interrelated community, rather than talk about community in terms of a collection of individuals (as in, European Community, United Nations, Facebook community etc.), with similar implications for other words like “prosperity,” democracy,” “brotherhood,” “peace,” “love,” and so forth, which, today, are merely hollow shells, shallow concepts being invokedwithout consequence.

[next article in the series]

* Frantz Fanon (1925-1961), photograph taken by Pacha J. Willka, Wikimedia Commons. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license