Tag Archive for: colonialism

It shouldn’t surprise me anymore, but it still does – how the ripple effects of the decisions of rich, European landowning men continue to fuck things up for all of us.

Warning: small history lesson incoming – but be aware that, in school, history was my least favorite subject, so I will do my best to be concise.

Have you heard of the Valladolid Debate? While you can read up on it at Wikipedia, and learn that it was basically a set of arguments between Spanish colonizers and Christian theologians that took place in the 1500s to decide whether or not it was ok to basically enslave and torture Native Americans, ultimately it was the decision that was handed down at the conclusion of the debates that continues to make life suck in colonized places of the world.

You will likely NOT be shocked to hear that both sides claim to have won the debate (turns out rich men in power have never been able to imagine a world in which they don’t prevail), but the damage was done. The idea that natives were “closer to nature” than they were to being human stuck in the minds of European colonizers – and extended to women as well, thanks to their ability to give birth and their monthly menses, and it justified many atrocious, horrendous acts against them for centuries to come. It was around this time that the philosopher René Descartes was making his ideas about humans as machines popular, and thus, the beginning of ideas about medicine and “humanity” were shaped as well.

It is not a leap to say that the value judgment that was made was that things that were closer to nature (and thus, much harder to tame or control) were less than human, while things that could be described as mechanistic and predictable were better. Humans have always looked for safety and security, so this isn’t terribly surprising, but the fact that those ideas led to the curbing of human rights (well, for pretty much everyone other than rich, White, landowning men) as well as the creation of things that helped control our world and continually sever us from our connections to nature has done a great deal of harm.

How many of our systems and structures are breaking down and causing active harm now simply because they are built on the notion that humans ought to be more machine-like and less “natural”? How many of these systems rely on the binary system of good/bad, right/wrong, controlled/chaotic rather than understanding and acknowledging the complexity of what it means to be a biological creature?

Our school system was created with the idea that we all learn in the same way (or at least we should), but the increasing understanding of neurodiversity is straining that notion, and keeping us from being as creative and vibrant as we could be.

Our medical system is made up of specialists who compartmentalize knowledge and treat symptoms far more than treating the whole human and acknowledging the interconnectedness of not only all of the systems within our bodies, but the way they interact with food, water, the environment, and our cultural norms and social contracts. We parse out teeth for dental care and emotional health for mental health care and eyes for vision care as though they don’t exist within the larger whole.

Our system of currency is not about understanding what resources human beings truly need to thrive, but about zeros and ones and accumulation of wealth in a very strict, controlled way that ignores the fact that this puts stress on all of the other systems because perpetual growth of one system cannot happen without exhausting the resources of all the other systems.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

The continued push to pretend that human beings are separate and apart from nature, that it is our job to have dominion over it in one way or another, to completely disregard the fact that we are biological creatures is harming us all. Often, in my Grief & Rage Workshops I will ask participants to check in and discern whether they are letting their mind or their body run the pace of their days. It is incredibly rare for folks to say that they let their body be in charge of the pace – not only because it is nearly impossible to do so in this capitalist world, but because we have been taught, conditioned to believe that our minds have supremacy over our bodies. But letting your mind continually be in charge of your pace is like driving your car for weeks on end without ever checking to see if there is gas or oil in the engine, air in the tires. Eventually, it will break down and fall apart. Pretending that we are not biological creatures doesn’t mean we are automatically machines. Just because it would be easier to live that way doesn’t mean it’s true.

How different would our lives be if the outcome of the Valladolid debate had been that being “closer to nature” was actually the preferred value judgment? What if these “scholars” had determined that those who lived in harmony with the land were doing something right by noticing and responding to the complexity of their relationship to their surroundings, by working together and paying attention to cycles and rhythms of day and night, seasons of the year, only taking as much as they needed and not trying to control or dominate just because they could? And how do we turn that around now?

Ragesoss / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

If you have ever lived in Western Washington or Western Oregon, you know about Himalayan Blackberry – a plant that grows wild everywhere and is the bane of any homeowner’s existence. When I was a kid, I can recall Mom pulling over to the side of the road to park in July or August so that we could fill any empty container in the car with the enormous berries, often covered in road dust, and head home to make cobbler or freezer jam. The invasive, thorny vines grew at the edges of fields, sprouted out between gaps in a rock wall, could take over an entire back yard in one season. Years after they were introduced to the Pacific Northwest by a man named Luther Burbank, they are listed as one of the most invasive species in all of Washington state.

The Himalayan Blackberry is the botanical colonizer, eroding soil and crowding out native plants, thriving in rural and urban areas, in rainy and in dry climates. And yet, come July and August, the consolation prize is that we get juicy fruit, often for free, if we are willing to brave the thorns and brambles.

We are reaping what we’ve sown, in more ways than one.

When White Europeans began colonizing other parts of the globe, it was with the idea that white men deserved to own land, own women, own black and brown bodies, and use them to further their own agenda. For generations, in places from India to South Africa to the United States, we have embraced that idea and embedded it in to the psyche of white men everywhere. It should come as no surprise, then, that there are currently white men arming themselves to push their agenda in capitol buildings and public spaces across the United States. We taught them that they have the right to use whatever tactics it takes to assert their dominance, especially if the person in power is a woman, especially if she is asking them to stay home for the good of all.

In colonialism, there is no “good of all.” There is only the good of the white man, and the white women who choose to align themselves with the white men. It is no surprise that, given what these men think they stand to lose, they are furious. If you have been shown, in a myriad of ways, your entire life, that it is your birthright to own land, to take property from another by force, to use black and brown bodies and female bodies to enrich yourself, it could be hard to wrap your head around the notion that you are part of a collective that includes these other people. If you have been taught that competition is the natural state of things and that the winner deserves all the riches, I would imagine it’s difficult to believe in sharing resources or viewing the whole of the natural world as one symbiotic entity. But men are not blackberries, even if the ancestors of these white men were transplanted to a place where they didn’t belong but they somehow managed to thrive.

The only way we will emerge from this pandemic and be able to move forward without fear is together. If we use fear (and force) to emerge from it, fear will be the water we swim in for a very long time. We are reaping what we’ve sown in this country, and it is time for a different way of being. We can root ourselves in the belief that we are a collective, that we are one symbiotic entity, and that all parts of this collective can and should be cared for, none at the expense of the others. We can center the well-being of all rather than the economic prosperity of some because we have learned, time and time again, that those who become prosperous at the expense of others will not ever take care of the collective. It is counter to the purpose and process of capitalism and colonialism to care for the good of all.

But in order for this to happen, those white men who have armed themselves have to believe that they are part of the “all.” They have to see themselves as not superior to or entitled to dominion over the rest. They have to examine their fear of losing something and decide that anything you have to harm other human beings to get is not worth it. And that will require unlearning much of what they have been taught for generations was their birthright, uncoupling the idea of themselves and their place in the world from the capitalist, colonialist waters they and their fathers and their fathers’ fathers swam in from the moment they were born. That kind of work takes courage, and while courage does not exist without fear, fear can unfortunately exist without courage. Storming a public space to threaten others with an automatic weapon is not courage, it is a desperate attempt to assert dominance and an expression of fear.

Our stubborn adherence to principles of “Independence” fuel that fear more than any other country on the planet. Our lack of universal health care and paid family leave, our mistrust of anything that smacks of social services and the celebration of “private enterprise” have brought us a school-to-prison pipeline and a broken public school system and workers with two or three jobs who still can’t afford to feed themselves and their families. Americans are loathe to imagine that they are not unique and exceptional and our ways of being reinforce the (erroneous) idea that our well-being is not intertwined with that of our neighbors’ each and every day.

We are reaping what we’ve sown. The real question will be whether or not we have the courage and the intelligence to do things differently from here forward or if we are willing to continue sacrificing black and brown bodies and women and children on the altar of capitalism and colonialism because we are too afraid to ask the white men to give up their “freedoms.”