Jun 05 2012

Grad School (part 20)

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I spent the day with some depressing reading for class. Most of it has to do with the long-term psychological effects of colonialism on indigenous peoples. Some of it I knew. Some of it was a bit worse than I reckoned.

The immediate, quick, knee-jerk resonse is to feel shame, guilt, and an overall attitude of “white people suck”. Unfortunately, I don’t feel any of these things, other than a knot in my stomach from reading about said long-term psychological effects of colonialism on indigenous peoples.

Another immediate, quick, knee-jerk response is to over-sentimentalize and elevate to “Noble Savage” level, the very indigenous peoples who’ve been colonized.

This doesn’t help matters either.

I don’t have solutions to the problems. If anything, those who’ve claimed to have solutions in the past (whether well-intentioned or ill-intentioned) have only really managed to fuck things up even worse, as far as I can tell. This, on some level, is why I have a difficult time with the idea of “We fucked up Iraq, so now we have to stay even longer to try to fix it.”

The problem comes in trying to “fix” something with the same outside mentality and worldview that fucked things up to begin with.

A few weeks ago, someone came to my door asking for money for their cause, which they insisted was a noble one. It had to do with human rights in Iraq (or so he claimed), in that they were trying to “free” the society by dismantling the foundations of Wahhabi Islam (or other fundamentalist mentalities). In essence, “girls” (his term) “shouldn’t be forced to wear veils”. The evidence he offered me that action was “urgently needed” was that it was a short step from headwraps to “beating little girls and selling them to other men for sex and marriage at the age of 9 years old.”

Well, I don’t think anybody reasonably wants anybody else beating up 9 year old girls and selling them into marriage. I certainly don’t support it, nor do I support an Islam that sanctions the stoning to death of a woman in Afghanistan (as I see in the news today), or the situation in Saudi Arabia not long ago, where women were forced back into a burning building because they were acting “indecently” by not covering their heads.

However, the veil/headwrap/whatever is a long and complicated issue. What we might think we nobly see as a tool of oppression, has a long cultural history in the Middle East, and, if put into it’s proper historical and social context, isn’t necessarily what we think it is. Interestingly enough, many Muslims would claim that having Christina Aguilera prance around in some of the things she prances around in are more sexually oppressive of women than a scarf. I can’t entirely argue with that logic, but I’m not saying one is right over the other. Maybe the truth lies somewhere in-between, or maybe I’m just feeling slightly post-modern today (don’t worry, I’m sure it’ll pass).

The article I was reading today was from Native American Postcolonial Psychology by Eduardo Duran and Bonnie Duran (yeah, yeah, “Duran Duran”), both Native Americans themselves. I’d known about the ideas of the “internalized oppressor”, and the “soul wound”, though reading about them again today didn’t do much to put me in a good mood. I’d also known about (what they call) “The Boarding School Period” –

“Beginning in the late 1800s, the U.S. government implemented policies whose effect was the systematic destruction of the Native American family system under the guise of educating Native Americans in order to assimilate them as painlessly as possible into Western society, while at the same time inflicting a wound to the soul of Native American people that is felt in agonizing proportions to this day.

“…The destruction of Native American families was, in part, carried out through the coerced attendance of Native American children at boarding schools designed to forcefully remove Native American culture. The child had to live away from the parents for the duration of the school year and was not allowed to speak the native language or engage in any activities that were remotely connected to the child’s culture. The child was often forced to practice Christianity and was taught that any religious belief that s/he had from his/her own tribal belief system was of the devil and was to be supplanted by the Judeo-Christian belief system. During the acculturation era there were a few white Christians who questioned this practice, but for the most part the boarding schools were effective in their effort in destroying traditional Native American culture.

“Once the idea of family is eradicated from the thinking and lifeworld of an individual, cultural reproduction cannot occur.”

While I’m sure some of this policy was well-intentioned…I don’t think it was entirely thought out.

This is also why I become wary of people knocking on my door asking me to help eradicate head-scarves in Iraq, no matter how “well-intentioned” they may be.

It would be, again, too easy at this point to pin the damage on “the white man”, “the patriarchy”, or even “Christianity”. And, no doubt, most of the perpetrators were and are a combination of some or all of these. Yet, I think there’s something deeper going on here.

What makes “the white man”, “the patriarchy”, or even “Christianity” behave in such manners? I think it’s more than the amount of melanin, a Y chromosome, or a religious belief that feeds our desire to subjugate others. Some are quick to pin the blame on Descartes. “Oh, it’s all that Cartesian dualistic thinking! Once you realize ‘we’re all one’, then all of this goes away.”

Except it doesn’t go away. Dualism, whether you like it or not, does have some important insights to offer. It is a perspective, a point of view, a tool, if you will, for understanding reality. However, it is not the only tool. Systems theory, or the like, that posits a “web of life”, where we’re all “interconnected” and “part of a dynamic whole” is an attractive alternative for many, but again, it’s only a perspective, a point of view, a tool for understanding reality. Both are equally valid interpretations and methods for navigating reality. But -and here’s the important bit- both are inherently limiting. Any paradigm, weltanschauung, or what have you -no matter how “holistic”- any act of interpretation is limiting (think Goedel’s Theorem here).

Why do we feel this need to universally define reality in our own terms?

I have my suspicions, but I’m still trying to organize my thoughts on this. Maybe more in a future post.

“Great, Kev, so what do we do now?”

Fuck if I know.

Obviously, we need to create interpetations and definitions for ourselves in order to navigate our day. To even entertain the idea that we can have isolated pockets of culture unsullied by each other because we’re busy “respecting” or “honoring” them to the point of not wanting to “colonize” them with “foreign” ideas is ludicrous. The very essence of communication will inevitably result in some form of “imperialism” and “colonization”. (I put these terms in quotes, because I think to an extent, they are hyperbole when used in this context).

Yet, forcing our ideas, ways of life, etc, be it “spreading democracy” (if we’re so gung-ho on “democracy”, why can’t we leave Venezuela alone? Chavez was elected democratically), or “setting up programs to educate Iraqis about the evils of the head-scarf” doesn’t seem right either.

I’m not here to offer solutions. I don’t have any.

The Boarding School thing -to me, anyway- is a tricky issue for me, as well.

No, I don’t think for a moment, that what happened was “right”.

But in a way, it’s happening to “us”, as well. Read John Taylor Gatto’s Underground History of American Educationsometime, for a rather startling look at education in the U.S.

So what are our options?

Home schooling?

At first, I want to say “yes!” because I want to be able to give my children (not that I’m in any danger of having any) the opportunity to not have to deal with the lies and the bullshit I had to go through in my own education growing up.

On the other hand, I’m not an expert on everything I want my child to be educated in. Math? Fuhgeddaboudit.

In addition, I want my child/children to at least have some sort of social skills, as well. Many home-schooled children I’ve met are slightly lacking in this department.

After all, shouldn’t we be able to raise our children how we want, culturally, intellectually, etc.?

Sounds good to me.

So, what about the flip-side? Where you have any number of home-schooling companies selling materials to indoctrinate your child into a way of thinking that runs rather contrary to how we know (and no, I’m not going to go into epistemology here, because it would take forever – just work with me) that the world works? Evolution is a lie. God created the Earth in 6 days a few thousand years ago?

Is this “bad”?

Is this any different from how Native American children would have been raised if they hadn’t been forced into boarding schools?

When do you interfere in a life, and when don’t you? I’m also thinking Elian Gonzalez, Terry Schiavo, and the cases where Jewish children were abducted and raised by Catholics in order to “save” them.

I’m partially playing devil’s advocate here, because I do believe the boarding school thing was bad, but when I try to apply it universally, I get stuck.

And, maybe that’s part of the problem. Maybe there aren’t universals that can be applied transculturally. But if that’s the case, then why do I feel nervous about fundamentalist Christian home-schooling curricula?

Again, do we retreat, and isolate, or do we communicate?

Does one “culture” deserve “respect”, while it’s okay to “bash” another one (even if it’s a dominant culture)?


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