The following is the video and transcript of the first of “Critical Conversations”, a monthly Zoom seminar with advance registration sponsored by The New Polis and Whitestone Publications and involving international scholars. The seminar took place on August 18, 2020.
The next “Critical Conversations” on the topic of “Subjectivities Since the Sixties” is scheduled for Tuesday, September 22, 2020 at 10 am MDT, 6 pm European time. You are encouraged to join us. More information is available here.
Roger Green: Okay. Welcome everybody, my name is Roger Green, I’m general editor of The New Polis and Carl Raschke, my co editor, is here as well. This is the first of a series of “Critical Conversations” that we’re running, and I just want to make some opening remarks here to kind of setup and frame things for us.
So we have two distinguished guests today. We have Herman Westerink and we have Miguel de la Torre, and I’m pulling from recent books by both of them. Herman’s book, Modernity, Melancholy and Predestination: Cultural Historical, Philosophical and Psychoanalytical Perspectives on the Modern Religious Subject (2019), and the remarks I’m pulling from Miguel here will be from Embracing Hopelessness (2017), which is a recent book of his.
Just to set things up and I’m kind of reacting to Boaventura de Souza Santos’s The End of Cognitive Empire (2018) as well, so I might read a quote from that. So here we go. I’m going to just start with some opening remarks and some questions to get us going. The respondents don’t need to necessarily address these questions, they’re going to talk on on things that we’ve already prompted them with.
Herman Westerink’s Modernity, Melancholy and Predestination, from 2019, largely traces the historical trajectory, by which modern Euro-Christian anxieties or melancholy develop into the language of psychoanalysis. Quote: “melancholy subsequently works in psychiatry, psychoanalysis and the related interpretations of the early modern era” … and …”psychoanalysis can make an important contribution to the psychological understanding of religious experience” (27).
He particularly notes Foucault’s work on ancient notions of the care of the self and counters the too facile characterizations of a breakdown between medieval, early modern, and modernity, while emphasizing the persistence of internalized hermeneutic subjects in the Euro-Christian traditions.
Miguel de la Torre has described the necessity for embracing hopelessness in his book of the same title, from 2017, particularly as a response to Euro-Christian liberal framing. For example, de la Torre wrights:
To occupy white bodies is to be complicit with oppressive racist social structures; regardless of how that white body feels about people of color. It matters little if one voted for a black man, or even marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. Social structures remain racist for white bodies regardless how loudly or forcefully those bodies might object. At the end of the day, in spite of protestations, the overall culture formalizes and legitimizes the power possessed by white bodies who can expect to be hired before applicants of color, be paid a higher salary, be provided with greater opportunities, and face little or no harassment from the police. (106)
From W. E. B. Dubois’s notion of double consciousness to Frantz Fanon’s psychological descriptions of Pan Africanism and the emergence of black pessimism, to a growing body of research on intergenerational trauma for indigenous peoples with an ear towards discourse of the global south and what Boaventura de Souza Santos has called the end of cognitive empire, we might might ask some of these questions.
First of all, how are we to distinguish de la Torre’s call for embracing hopelessness from the historical trajectory of melancholia, especially if that tradition of melancholia is consumed with Euro-Christian narcissism? Is melancholy necessarily part of a Euro-Christian cognitive empire of the global north? What are we to make of the iterative or reiterative protestations globally, following the lynching of George Floyd and the broader movement for black lives in places less framed by the binary racial politics of the United States? What, if any, part does ongoing US hegemony and American exceptionalism play in these iterations of global unrest?
So without asking either speaker to respond directly to these questions, allowing them rather to speak their own prepared remarks freely, I simply advanced these questions as a shared frame to begin our discussion today. Each speaker is going to take about 20 minutes, sharing some initial thoughts and then we will let them interact with each other—just for clarifying questions or things that might have come up in between them. Then we’ll open the virtual floor to everybody for Q&A.
I think we decided that Herman is going to go first. So I’ll turn the floor over to you, Herman.
Herman Westerink: Thank you, Roger. And let me first start by thanking you, Roger and Carl for inviting me to reflect on the topic, the end of the cognitive empire. I included in my associations, when I was thinking through the cognitive empire, also, the notion of the new polis. And I noticed that the title, which puts such important issues on the table, was without a question mark.
So you have the title of the book, But I would have expected almost, if you will reflect in a webinar on the end of the cognitive empire, a question mark, and it’s the lack of that, which suggests that there was a kind of self evidence that there is the end of the cognitive empire. It remains to be seen, of course, because we need to ask a lot of questions concerning this empire.
For example, where is it situated? And I must admit that I have had little time coming back from holidays to prepare. So I put some initial thoughts on paper and I hope that that contributes to an interesting conversation and discussion. I mainly want to raise some questions and maybe make some blunt statements that I will later withdraw.
Anyway, I think that at the center of the complex of issues that we are discussing today is the critical reflection of Eurocentrism, at least that is what I saw in the description. Eurocentrism in philosophy and theology, in particular, and in the social sciences and the sciences in general.
De Souza Santos is certainly not the first and the only one to make the claim that in the context of intercultural philosophizing, or post colonial and decolonial theory, it is inevitable to question the status of the way in which the European tradition defined an organized knowledge—in a specific way, rationally, systematically, through texts and numbers, as the de Souza Santos mentioned, while excluding oral traditions or everyday and spiritual practices. It is my impression that, notably in African philosophy—this is just the first association, you can say—that is, more specifically in the African ethnophilosophies, this has been highlighted very often, and often also set up against the rationalistic the textual tradition of Europe.
I think scholars such as de Souza Santos, with a focus on interactions between epistemologies, move in a more productive direction in which various traditions, including epistemologies learn and benefit from each other—can be made fruitful for each other. And this seems all more necessary, I think not only in the face of a global pandemic, but more importantly a global ecological crisis. What we probably need is all the practical knowledge that we have around the globe.
At least since the writings of Michel Foucault, we know that this organization of scientific knowledge, this will to knowledge that is at the heart of Western scientific project, at the heart of Western modernity, is inherently related to power. That is to say, not necessarily to a brutal and oppressive hierarchical order, in which some dominate other suppressed others, but of power in the form of a network of interactions between subjects, a complex interplay of strategic and tactical forces and counter forces, alliances and resistances, voices and counter voices, institutional orders and protest movements.
And then the question is, who are the ones having or given voice and who and for what reason reasons will be excluded from a productive interaction between narratives. I think this perspective on power, in which the protest movements and the resistances are included in the interaction that constitutes power as such, is a very important idea because it makes it possible to pose this question, who is actually excluded and who is actually not given a voice. And the answer to that is not that self-evident.
With regards to the topic of this seminar and also with regards to the notion of a new polis, one might ask, who are the parties in such a global power interplay concerning the cognitive empire. It is not immediately clear and self evident what precisely eurocentrism means or points to in this respect. When I look at the description of this webinar there is mention of Europe, notably European Enlightenment, but there is also mention of the north and the south and more specific areas, North America, the USA and Latin America.
Just a few short notes on these geographies and maybe we can come back to that in the discussion. The term Eurocentrism obviously refers to Europe, but what is Europe? In any reference it remains unclear what Europe is. This is in fact maybe central to the European tradition.
From the Greeks and Romans onwards, itself is the question of its boundaries, or maybe more correctly it center and it’s periphery. The center in Eurocentrism is a moving center throughout history, at least, and consequently there are also moving peripheries and boundaries. We can even imagine the extreme case of the euro-center being outside of what is generally known as Europe, and this has consequences. I come back to this point later on.
First, in the relation between Europe and Latin America, Europe originally refers to the Spanish and Portuguese empires that “discovered”—conquered and defined—the Americas, South and Middle America, as the territories that were there to satisfy the Spanish and Portuguese needs and also as territories for Catholic mission. The Americas where the territories that met the European imagination of a natural wealth that provided the basis for its own progress and the strengthening of its own position in Europe.
That is, vis-à-vis contesting powers in neighboring countries, the discovery of the Americas as territories providing goods, is nothing but a discovery and growing awareness of a European centrism itself. From now on, I think—and this is something that Enrique Dussel highlighted—from the discovery of the Americas onwards, Europe can think of itself as center, with transatlantic territories in the periphery of the actual world politics because politics take place in Europe.
The relation between Europe and North America is very different. And here it is the Northwest Western European countries, England and Holland in particular, that in the 17th century, become the new political and economic center of Europe, and to a large extent will shape the contours of what will eventually become the USA. The founding myth is not that of conquistadores occupying cities made of pure gold, but that of the pilgrim fathers who allegedly flee religious persecution, crave for religious freedom, and therefore move to the Hudson area in order to establish society and the political order that meets the Puritan expectations, that is, a political order that first and foremost guarantees and safeguards religious freedom.
At this point, I think it is crucial to understand some of the aspects of this Calvinist Puritan political agenda because I think there’s still a very strong echo of that, even in contemporary US imaginary. That is notably the way in which these Calvinists interpreted the Augustinian notion of the two cities or realms in which the believer participates. The typical Calvinist twist to this notion was different from Luther’s in the sense that the individual’s conscientious response to grace and the divine law did not correspond with a submissive obedience to the actual political order.
To the contrary, the social and political activism of Calvinism stems from the idea that the conscientious response to the law and to grace is continued in a relation to a political order that is ideally supposed to be, itself, guided by the same divine law. It is therefore a religious obligation on the side of the individual believer to interfere in the political realm and to protest, for example through acts disobedience against any political order that acts contrary to the divine law.
One could say that this is a condition for the possibility of political revolutions, striving for the establishment of a new ideal political order. Calvinism does introduce a new constellation, I think, regarding the idea of access to another world and another political order, a world of which the theological paradigms were always the paradise lost, and the kingdom of God to come—so a reference to the past and a reference to the future. The focus is not on religious perseverance and conscientious abiding to the divine law, while accepting the established political order and the final reward for this attitude, namely being among the elect in the afterlife. The focus is on an active social and political engagement, in which the Calvinist asceticism goes hand in hand with an active pursuing and establishing of God’s kingdom in this world.
And we find this in particular, I think in the 17th century and the idea that you find in Holland and in England, of the new Israel or the New Jerusalem and, of course, also in the idea you find of the USA as God’s own country. I think that from this we can begin to see how a Christian tradition shapes the political imagination, notably in the USA.
Let me give a few rough further statements to identify some problems involved in this tradition. First, as a kind of a footnote, this legacy is not purely Christian since Christianity is itself, to a large extent a continuation of antique philosophies. So Christianity is Platonism in that it continues the idea that through knowledge, notably contemplation, one can have access to an other better world of ideas, of God. From the Cynic and Stoic traditions Christianity inherits the idea that knowledge itself is maybe not enough, one should change one’s way of living also. One needs to live another life and change the world in which we are living in order to have access to another world that is yet to come.
Second, I think the reference to Plato that I make here is important when it comes to the aspect of the Paradise Lost or also the Pauline intuition that the kingdom to come is always already a kingdom that is present, the better world is never simply situated in the future, the way towards this world never only a linear progressive. This other world, the Empire and the polis, is always already there, and hence also present in the past, you could say. I think this is maybe an underestimated aspect of the Christian legacy in US narratives and imaginary.
And yet it can, I think, easily be shown through popular movies such as Independence Day, if I may—I watch movies sometimes. There is political order, then there is a catastrophe creating a dystopia, the world is not only attacked from the outside, but also, through corruption and pride, threatened from the inside. And then there is not the creation of a new world, but a reestablishment and reaffirmation of the old order, but now infused with a new vitalism and enthusiasm.
The new polis is a revitalized old polis, the new world order is a repetition of the already established one. It has the same constitution and the same political, in this case liberal, profile. What is reaffirmed is the order that guarantees freedom, hence Independence Day.
Maybe this example is also informative when it comes to the issue of the Christian contribution to deconstruction. Once the Calvinist project is established, that is, the religious freedom guaranteed by a political liberal order, it is inevitable that this order will always be contested since any order always necessarily interferes with the individual freedom. This is a very actual issue, I think, but also a classical one and we come across a fundamental paradox here, that is, a paradox in western modernity—so, not only in North America, but also Europe.
Namely, the problem is that the political order guaranteeing individual freedom will always have to set boundaries and establish regulations, that is limit freedom, in order to guarantee freedom. And at the same time, an individual who is discontent about these limitations of freedom cannot but accept this political order, since it is the only safeguard of its individual freedom.
As there is always discontent, but no fundamental contestation of a democratic, liberal political order, the discontent finds relief, I think—that’s my intuition—in emancipation movements of specific groups, whereas the fundamental problem of growing social inequality and an increasingly problematic division of wealth does not lead to a fundamental critique of the constitutional principles of the political order or the rise of a large scale socialist or communist or even fascist movement. This is contrary, I think, to Latin and Middle America, where the decolonial theories are strongly supported and inspired by a Marxist agenda.
In order to conclude with a more or less provocative statement, the following: maybe the New World, more concretely the USA—we always call that the New World—has become the old world. Still imagining itself in terms of a new polis or empire, it has for the last hundred years been the center of Eurocentrism. Strangely enough, it was here—that is, there with you—that the scientific and philosophical agendas were set in a stable political, liberal order. The political experiments were in the periphery, not only in Latin America or in Africa and Asia, but also in Europe itself—if you look at the European Union project, that is a huge political experiment.
It is not easy, in this context, to answer the question, how we should rethink or reimagine decolonized spaces and future epistemospheres. Who is “we,” in this respect? Will again the sphere be defined from the intellectual and political center that sets the agenda, directs the podia, legitimizes and invites those who are allowed to speak and be heard? Is it again from the center that thinking and imagining starts?
If so, The power structures and political orders and networks fundamentally remain intact while emancipation movements and parties of interest struggle for access to the center, in order to be part of that polis or that empire, which is in fact more of an old empire and an old polis. And yet, maybe it is true that this old empire and his old polis unravels—how and with what consequences?
Maybe a crucial factor will be language, apart from the economic factor—the dollar. As long as English is the scientific lingua franca the humanities and sciences will have to be able to express themselves in the established conceptuality. That is also, let’s say, molded into this sphere of text and numbers. The utterances in the periphery de Souza Santos refers to are not necessarily utterances in English.
To claim that these utterances should be taken serious and heard should not imply the obligation on the side of the speaker to express him or herself in English, but the willingness on the side of the listener to make a translation effort, that is, an effort to hear another speak in his or her own language and conceptuality.
Okay, I think maybe I used a little bit more than 20 minutes—I’m sorry about that—but these were my thoughts on the topic.
Roger Green: Thank you very much. Herman. I don’t think that you took too much time at all, so you’re fine there. I just wanted to let folks know that you can write questions into the chat as they come up for you and then Carl will help mediate those as we move along so that you can capture your thoughts as they come and then we’ll kind of take questions in the order that they appear first and then break into more organic kinds of conversation.
So now I’m just going to turn it over to Miguel de la Torre. Thanks very much.
Miguel de la Torre: Well, thank you. Thank you, Carl and Roger, for inviting me. And Herman thank you so much for priming the pump and getting us thinking about these topics. So I’ll go ahead and add my own thoughts to it and we can hopefully have a larger conversation.
It seems to me that whether this is the end of the cognitive empire, or if it’s not the end, really is not so much the issue because even if the Empire dies the philosophical foundation of that empire will continue, manifesting itself in very detrimental ways. This is why, following Herman’s liking for making provocative statement, let me make my own provocative statement by arguing that all Eurocentric philosophical, theological thought and movements are detrimental to communities of color and the marginalized throughout the world.
And in fact, there was nothing redeemable about it when the French cried out, Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, these beautiful words of liberation. They never intended it for their subjects in Vietnam or Haiti or Algiers. Liberation was only for white French people. As a small boy saying the Pledge of Allegiance in first grade, when I got to the part of liberty and justice for all, I knew it did not apply to me. You know, even as a first grader, I knew that these beautiful words of hope and liberation were not for me.
So, I guess I want to begin by arguing that as beautiful as some of these terminologies are, we are still left out of this. And I wonder if sometimes we create very abstract ways of thinking to hide the fact that a large majority of the world is being excluded from these beautiful terms dealing with liberation. Once I had a student who went to an AAR meeting and said, “oh, the speaker was fantastic. They must have been brilliant because I didn’t understand what they were saying.”
And I’m wondering if part of that is a way of trying to hide the fact that, when we say Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, we are basically leaving people out. And how do we say something liberative, and at the same time make sure it’s only exclusively for a group of people.
So let me give you an example. I’m not going to go into Hegel’s metaphysical historical dialect. I’m going to assume we’re all somewhat familiar with that, and we’re familiar with how, for Hegel, the end of the Spirit resides, it just so happens, in central Germany, where he happens to be from and it goes through all the other parts of the world, which you know are underdeveloped, which are primitive until, it goes to its height.
And then, I’m sure we all know that most historian historians reject this type of salvation history, this movement of history through dialects. Most historians kind of seem to adopt more Foucault’s nonlinear movement of history. But even though this idea of a salvation history is rejected, I will still argue that the undergirding principle of excluding the other remains, even while the actual system, may be questioned.
And that’s my concern about the end of the cognitive empire. We may all agree, yes, it’s over with, but if we don’t really understand the undergirding of what caused it in the first place, it’s going to remain in a new form, in a new way of retelling our philosophical story.
So, before I talk more about the Empire and why it needs to be rejected, I really need to spend at least a moment confronting my own colonized mind. I would argue that my mind is so colonize that, even as I’m now trying to to reject Eurocentric philosophical thought, I am still using Eurocentric philosophical terminology. I’m still using the tools, by which to communicate this, in a way to try to reject it—which shows how colonized my mind is that I have a difficulty even using my own language, or my own way of thinking.
And one of the things that want to talk about in a little bit more detail later, is this whole concept of hope, which I think is a very middle class, Eurocentric concept that provides me some spiritual liberation, while excusing my physical oppression. So, I want to at least begin with José Martí, from my country who said “el vino, de plátano; y si sale agrio, es nuestro vino.” And to translate for those of you who have yet to master the language of the angels, let me go ahead and translate him. He says, “let us make our wine out of plantains and even if it comes out sour, it’s still our wine.
And I guess what Martí is trying to help me understand is how do I make my own philosophical wine from my own indigenous roots. And even if I get it wrong, and even if it comes out sour, it really doesn’t matter because it’s mine. It’s a reflection of my contents. That’s the type of work I’m trying to do in my first step of decolonizing my mind.
That is, to see my reality through my own eyes, by rejecting this Eurocentric philosophical supremacy which makes me, a Ph.D. recipient, have to master the Eurocentric cannon when my white colleagues at my university never had to read Martí or San Juan de la Cruz or Miguel de Unamuno, or any of the writers from my own culture. And yet they’re considered intellectually rigorous, while I continue to maintain an interesting perspective from the margins.
Let me talk about hopelessness for a second and try to tie this into this whole Eurocentric way of thinking. Several years ago Tink Tinker and I took a group of students to Cuernavaca Mexico—and Tink is on the line, so he may remember this moment—where after going to a squatter village, one of the students in the group said, “you know, when I looked at the little girls I saw the hope in their eyes.” And what went through my mind is, I’m not quite sure what she saw in the little girls eye, but that little girl will probably be turning tricks to put food on the table within the next five or six years.
But by embracing this concept of hope that particular student didn’t have to deal with how her particular social location is directly linked to the neoliberal economic policies that are causing this girl to live in the squatter villages. And from that point on, I began to wonder how much this Eurocentric concept of hope, rooted in Eurocentric Christianity, really becomes a way of silencing the voices that come from the global south.
I think of Moltmann, basically the theologian of hope, who says that at the end of history we’re going to look back and it’s all going to make sense. But I really think more of Primo Levi, a Holocaust survivor who said there was no God only Auschwitz. In other words, what happens when the God of liberation fails to liberate? When the God of liberation doesn’t show up, and instead, what you have is death?
And there’s the type of history that I’m trying to wrestle with, where the stench of bodies that have been decomposing because the years of Eurocentric conquests, has really suffocated all hope from my nostrils. So I call instead for the embracing of, if you’re a Christian, what we call Holy Saturday, this point between death and resurrection, where you have no idea if there even is going to be a resurrection. I would argue, that’s where the vast majority of my people are residing, in this liminal space of not knowing if there is going to be a hope of any resurrection whatsoever.
I say this because I feel like sometimes hope domesticates. Going back to Auschwitz that sign that said, work will set you free, provided a hope that if I keep my head down and don’t make waves, I might survive this Holocaust. But as we know, that wasn’t the case. So hope domesticate, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m so against hope.
So, let me go back to something that Herman talked about. He gave an illustration I want to give it a little bit more flesh and try to understand why this rejection is important, when he was talking about the global south, the conquistadores, you know, trying to live in the cities of gold and the Calvinists up in the north.
Obviously, when my conquistador forefathers came over, we wanted the gold. So we needed to keep the Indians alive so they could mine the goal, we needed them as slaves. The Calvinists and Protestants up North didn’t really care about the gold, they wanted the land. So they had to make sure you killed all the Indians and genocide them so they could get the land. So we had two very different projects in North America and South America and each of them had very different religious justifications.
And we had objectors to those, whether it be Bartolomé de las Casas, the so called defender of the Indians in the south or Calvinist ministers in the north like Roger Williams in Rhode Island trying to be in solidarity with the Indians. But the bottom line remains that these so called defenders still maintain the undergirding Eurocentric philosophy that tried to make oppression a little bit more humane. And for the Indians who were either enslaved in my country of Cuba, or in North America we’re being genocided, for them it didn’t matter, our philosophical and theological differences, the end result was their oppression.
So this is why I’m saying that, no matter how benign I tried to make my Eurocentric Christianity,—whether it be from Catholic or Protestant, whether it be evangelical or conservative—it’s still detrimental to communities of color and therefore it really needs to be rejected.
So how do I respond? What becomes my way of dealing with this? And obviously in my work I look at Foucault’s analysis of power—that’s very important to me—and I try to help bring him into conversation with James Scott’s concepts of hidden transcripts, very aware that Foucault’s analysis of power was what people of color have been saying before Foucault ever wrote this but, because Foucault finally got around to writing it, we now give him a lot of the credit while ignoring the scholars of color before Foucault who were saying similar things about how Eurocentric power operates.
And John Scott, again, basically looking at how African American communities and Latinx communities have always dealt with power relationships only he’s now putting it into words. So I want to be very clear that, while I’m looking at these two speakers, there is an appropriation that went on from the communities who have been suffering under Eurocentric power, who have been having these conversations obviously before them.
So, Maybe to answer the question Roger was wanting to us to begin thinking about, how is my hopelessness, different from melancholy. Now, if melancholy is more of a feeling, something that that I’m dealing with that may lead me to think deeper about the particular situation I’m in, that has nothing to do with my concept of hopelessness. See, for me, hopelessness is an as an action. It’s a praxis.
Hopelessness does not mean I feel melancholic. Hopelessness does not mean that I somehow place myself in the fetal position and gnash my teeth because there’s nothing I can do. Hopelessness, on the contrary, propels me to action. I’m an ethicist, I’m not a philosopher, I’m not a theologian, though some of my best friends are. I am an ethicist, I basically work with how to actually bring about change within social structures, and for me, hopelessness is not so much a philosophical concept of self reflection.
Hopelessness is a way of getting people to get to the point where they realize they have nothing to lose. And when they have nothing to lose, that’s when they become radical and that’s when they become dangerous to the prevailing social structures. And for me hopelessness is more of an action, less of a way of thinking or a resignation that there’s nothing you can do.
And here’s my whole concept or idea, if neoliberalism has won—and it has, it doesn’t matter if the Empire collapsed, neoliberalism will continue in some form for decades, if not centuries to come—if neoliberalism has won, how do we stand in solidarity over and against the present structures? What I’m trying to argue is, that the way to do it is by what I’ve been calling an ethics para joder. And again, I’m making my own ethics out of my own wine, but for those of you who don’t understand the word joder in Spanish, a certain English translation will be a certain four letter word that begins with “f” and ends with “k.”
It’s an ethics stuff screws with power structures. And again, I’m not inventing anything new, this is what slaves have always done. This is what Latinx folks have always done. That is what the oppressed of the world has always done. Because, to come out in a directly frontal approach against the power structure means you’re going to get killed. So instead you screw with the structures as a way of creating new opportunities that may bring about change.
In other words I argue, right now we have domesticated oppression to the point that we have to go to the police department to get a permit from the police department to protest the police department for police brutality. And what I’m arguing is that once we follow those steps we have basically domesticated any type of resistance so that the structures do not change.
And I have about two minutes left, so let me just give you just a quick example of what this looks like. Again, nothing new, that I’m inventing. I’m going back to the Young Lords. This was a gang in New York City, during the time I lived there, that was a turf gang. And what the Young Lords did—these were Latino gang members—their consciousness was raised, so they went to the local church, la Primera Iglesia Metodista in Spanish Harlem, and the talked to the pastor and said, “hey, Pastor, we’d like to have breakfast for our children before they go to school, we want to have attorneys here to help families with the legal cases, we want to have a clothes drive, we want to have classes about our culture” and the pastor looked at them and said, “ah, you bunch of commies get out of here.”
So the Young Lords showed up the next Sunday and they picked up the pastor and they threw him out of the church, and they nailed a sign on the door saying “the people’s church” and all these things they implemented. And for the first time, the church was packed Sunday after Sunday—it only lasted three weeks until the cops came and threw them out. But the point is, they were screwing with the structure, and the way they were screwing with it, is that they were holding the institution accountable to the rhetoric that they were saying.
The church was saying that it was there to serve the people. So what the Young Lords were doing was saying we are holding you accountable to this. In ethics this is a new way of thinking, which we’re calling civil initiative, contrary to civil disobedience. Civil disobedience assumes that the laws are bad, and you’re going to break the laws to try to change them, civil initiative says the laws are good and we’re going to hold those who are responsible for maintaining the law to live up to what they say the laws are.
In this case the churches law of serving the people is good, they just want doing it. It was the church that was in civil disobedience. In the same way, when our nation basically says that we’re supposed to sign international treaties to provide assistance to refugees, and yet, instead we lock them up in cages on our southern border, it is the US government that is in civil disobedience, and what we do with No More Deaths and Ajo Samaritans and other groups, I’m involved in is civil initiative.
We provide the health care, the water, the food because the government is supposed to do so and they’re not doing it. We’re holding the government responsible. So this is what I mean by an ethics, para joder. It’s not a new invention. It’s what marginalized people have always done and it moves away from Eurocentric concepts of how to deal with oppression.
And 10:51, exactly 30 minutes I’ll stop there.
Roger Green: Thank you, Miguel. I wanted to just give our speakers, a chance to ask each other, clarifying questions or interact and then we’ll move on to other questions. I’m not seeing anybody’s questions in the chat right now but you’re welcome to post them into the chat as we move along. Or we can move organically as well.
Herman Westerink: Maybe I can start with a comment on your exposé, Miguel, because it struck me—and it’s just a question—I mean, how does it work, on the one hand you have a severe critique of Eurocentrism and at the same time, you say, well, we have to accept that neoliberalism won and it will be there. But our these two not inherently linked?
I mean Eurocentrism, if you take it as a project, or a construct, or complex, does not neoliberal political machinery belong to that. And why would we exactly accept that? I mean, I could also imagine the other way around, using the old fashioned—maybe also a little bit racist—philosophies of Kant and Hegel in order to criticize and neoliberal politics and economics, which is maybe far more disastrous, than the philosophies of Hegel or Kant.
Actually, I’m inclined to argue the opposite, to say, well, maybe we need these classical, great Western philosophies, in order to find arguments against what has apparently or supposedly won and cannot be refuted—a neoliberal order. But why would we not refute that? There are a lot of problems linked to it, and social inequality is one of them. And we are both concerned about that.
Miguel de la Torre: Thank you for the question, because maybe I need to clarify what I said. When I say “accept neoliberalism has won,” I’m not accepting the concept of neoliberalism. I’m just recognizing that the power of neoliberalism is so embedded in the global fabrics right now that to think is going to be overturned, anytime in my lifetime, might be a bit naive. Now, do I want it to be overturned? Absolutely. Do I want to see a new economic, social order? Definitely.
But, what I want and what I dream of can go ahead and box me into a place where I don’t do the necessary praxis now that could bring that eventual collapse that I’m hoping and dreaming one day will occur. I can only deal, as an ethicist, with what’s going on now. So, when I say that I accept neoliberalism, I’m accepting the reality of the power of neoliberalism in our lives today.
And because I recognize that power, the response then for me becomes, how do I screw with it to begin to weaken it, to begin to to show its inconsistency that maybe future generations can then build on until we have a new system. And you talk like, maybe we could accept Hegel and Kant, and if I were white European I would totally agree with you because maybe Hegel and Kant can speak to me as a white European as to how to find new subversive ways of dealing with this.
But the question is, why do I as a Latino from the Barrio really need to still care about Hegel and Kant when they have constantly been used to exclude me from conversations, when they have constantly been used to justify the oppression of my people? So, in a way, when I say that we need to reject them, I’m speaking mostly about those within my own community, and other marginalized communities, that we need not look to Europe as our savior but rather we need to find our own voices within our own community.
Herman Westerink: But I would, if I may react to that, I will say, well, maybe you find allies here on the in the Eurocentric side. I mean, for example, the following: last year we had a little riot at our university because there was a teacher teaching Kant and suddenly, some students came in and said you cannot teach Kant because he’s a racist.
But of course that may be true, and that is probably true—and it’s also difficult to imagine how he could not be a racist in his time and age because that was the general cultural context, you could say, in which that was not even questioned, fundamentally—but at the same time, Kant is, of course, the one who says that human beings are reasonable people and that modernity or enlightenment consists in people having the capacity and the ability to raise their voice as reasonable people and to speak out freely.
In that position you find an ally, of course. In that sense you can read Kant against Kant, or Kant against a Eurocentric position. Because there is this, let’s say, this universal idea of the ability to speak and think freely. Right? So I think it’s a little bit the child and the bath water problem. But I think there are many allies to find among a philosophical tradition that may be to easily put aside and said well, we’ve heard enough of that. I think there’s still a lot to be heard in that tradition.
And it is a discussion that we don’t only have here. I referred in my small introduction, to African philosophy, where you have a similar fundamental discussion between ethnophilosophies on the one hand and people like Paulin Hountondji on the other hand, who say, well, we have to ally with the Western modernity in order to advance Africa. Also, we have to find an African way of embracing the positive aspects of Western modernity and even of the Eurocentric tradition. So I know this is a complex discussion, but I wanted to put this forward also.
Miguel de la Torre: I think that, and you made a very good point, that allies are definitely needed. I mean, I obviously would love to have all types of allies from different societies, including Europe. But then again I have to ask, who gets to define how an ally is to act?
Example, I am a recovering sexist. I mean, there’s no way I cannot be a sexist, growing up in this society. And no matter how feminist I may sound, my culture is sexist for me. So I recognize that. Now, I try to be an ally with women’s movements. Again as a sexist, a recovering sexist, I am an ally, and every once in a while I fall off the wagon.
It would be a little bit presumptuous of me, I think, to tell women which white men, which males, they need to be reading to be able to find their liberation. Now, I should be reading them to, like you said, deconstruct them, to use them against themselves. But it seems to me that women should find their own voices and not me, tell them which voices they need to be in conversation with.
And, secondly, as an ally, I could never talk about what it means to be a woman. I have no idea. I mean, I could read a lot of books about it, and I could be very educated about it, and I could definitely understand the argument. But at the end of the day, I cannot speak about what it means to be a woman in a sexist society.
The, the only thing I could talk about with integrity is how, as a man, I benefit from sexism and misogyny in our culture and our society. That’s the only thing I could ever say with any integrity whatsoever. And I think by doing that is how I can be an ally.
So going back to your suggestion about using Kant against Kant, Absolutely. And as an ally, you need to do that work. You know, I don’t need to do that work, that’s the work you need to do. So I’m not saying that that Europeans need to reject Kant. I’m saying that as a Latino, I have to reject Kant—as well as my community—for our own survival and our own well being.
You need to read Kant against Kant, and by all means please continue to do that. And as you read Kant and Kant talks about how all people a rational or reasonable, I mean that’s when I need my white allies in Europe to say, of course, when he said that he never meant black people in Africa, he never met Indian people. He didn’t mean women, either.
And that’s how I think Kant needs to be read. So, I’m against this protest that we shouldn’t be reading Kant at the University. We need to read Kant correctly, I think. And again, that’s for my white allies in Europe to do that’s not for me to do.
Roger Green: There are a number of questions and dialogues and thoughts that have been showing up, and the first one comes from Tink Tinker and he says, “Herman” and this was before Miguel’s initial response to your question, “isn’t that like expecting technology to solve the life threatening problems introduced to humanity.” And Tink, you’ve said a number of things, lower down in the chat, so now that you’ve heard more exchange, do you want to sort of build on what you initially asked?
Tink Tinker: Only briefly, Roger. Thank you to both of our speakers for engaging in a very useful discussion this morning and I’m appreciating what I’m hearing. I’m speaking as an American Indian, Herman, who taught Indian Studies at Iliff School of Theology for 35 years, and we’re constantly pressing against that Euro-liberal mainstream majority—what I call the Euro-Christian cultural whole, trying to encompass religion, politics, and civil discourse into one term, other than using the color code white.
I can’t get a Ph.D. without learning to think white, without learning that Euro-Christian discourse, as Miguel was saying. Yet once I had the Ph.D. I spent the next 40 years of my life trying to unlearn being white, unlearn Euro-Christian discourse to decolonize my own mind, because I had to allow it to be captured by that neoliberal model of discourse, just in order to pass exams and get a dissertation done that my committee though was credible for granting of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
But there are other ways of thinking, other worldviews. And it’s those other worldviews that I want to press others in the world to consider. I do not think that we can flip a switch and change the worldview overnight. I think we’re stuck for a long time into the future with this Euro-Christian worldview, which you all might call neoliberal discourse, neoliberal thought forms.
It’s going to take a long time to find our way out of that worldview. And the problems we’re dealing with now, problems that technology have caused, problems like the climate crisis problems like the the COVID-19 pandemic are not going to go away. They’re going to get worse before they get better.
But there are other ways of looking at the world that might be beneficial. Do we simply give those up in order to get the degree and move forward into the economic world of earning a living and having a career? It’s important to me because I’ve got an 11 year old daughter who is Buffalo Clan in our nation, and I want her to have that choice to be a Buffalo Clan woman as she grows into adulthood.
Carl Raschke: Can I follow up—not on privilege—but the question that I put in there, and I think that fits with Tinker’s? You know, as I’ve written, my own book, Neoliberalism and Political Theology: From Kant—who I claim is the first neoliberal—to Identity Politics, is in many ways the consummation of my analysis of Eurocentric cognitive empire, because it co-opts emancipatory strategies under the false flag of a new and subtle—one might say Foucauldian—system of oppression. Cornel West’s ongoing and provocative critique of the Obama administration is an example of how that works on a day to day basis, because Obama’s message was hope and change.
But what de Sousa Santos argues is that resistance comes from incorporating and undermining, through affirmation of alternative epistemic frames, the neoliberal system. It undermines it not by accepting it, nor in the classic emancipatory way of resisting it, which very often becomes discursive—you know, or the term popular slactivism and so forth.
He says it’s actually the epistemological strategy, which is going to work in the long term—though as Tink says it’s going to take a long, long time. And this kind of multiculturalism that is not multiculturalism but in an epistemic pluralism, brings about something different. So, do you think that’s possible, the way de Sousa Santos talks, or do you think that’s just kind of a pipe dream?
Herman Westerink: Is to question to me Carl?
Carl Raschke: Its to both of you. Well, actually to Tink too, if he wants to answer it.
Herman Westerink: Well, let me start with this critique of Cornel West. I think that is a provocative critique and I was reading something today on Facebook, which was in the same direction again. And I think it is important that there is maybe a tendency within the various emancipation movements that you have in USA—but you also have in Europe, of course, black lives matter is a USA based phenomenon, but you also find it manifesting in Europe and various countries with the whole critique of the statues, in particular historical statues, that were torn down in England and also in the Netherlands and other countries.
But it directs towards symbolic issues such as statues and at the same time not fundamentally criticizing the fundamental structures in society or a given political order. I think that is one of the issues that Cornel West put on the agenda. If you really want to criticize, or think through protest and resistance, you will also have to question the political order and economic order that is set in place, and not only claim access to that podium.
And I think that is an important message. Certainly, also in academics—now, maybe I’m not making a lot of friends here but—in Nijmegen we have, in the philosophy department, a growing group of very strong activist philosophers who want to decolonize the curriculum, who strive towards more diversity among staff, etc, etc. And that’s all justified in itself. And it’s very important.
But what makes me skeptical about this—I mean, I support this in principle. To make that clear, I think the diversity issue is important and equal opportunities are important. But at the same time, it is the podium where it happens that makes me a bit skeptical, namely academics. So you already have intellectual people, that are already part of what Foucault would describe as the power structure.
And now I am on the verge of making enemies, maybe, but then there is this tendency within the activism to speak very generally about the white man’s domination and racism. Certainly that is there, but when I look at the Netherlands, and probably also in USA, the racism, the most blunt racism, you don’t find among the intellectual elite, but especially in the lower social strata, where people don’t have access to the intellectual podia and the academic sphere.
So here you have the problem that people are said to be dominant who are, for a large part, not even heard or have no access to the podia where the discussion takes place. Right? So everybody can speak in our faculty, of course, about diversity, about racism, about white dominance, but the people who are excluded from the discussion are the trailer park inhabitants of West Virginia. Right?
These are the white racists, but they are not in the center of the power in the way that Foucault defines power also as an intellectual, academic power. Political power is always entangled with the intellectual and academic power. And so, in this I find an a complex phenomenon, and this is one of the reasons why I would give—let’s say—a certain twist or so to Cornell West maybe.
Let’s say, well, if we want to have diversity, if we want to have equal opportunity for everybody, we should also be concerned about a much broader social injustice than certain specific groups that traditionally are excluded from a Eurocentric structure and organization. We should also look at other people that have no voice and no access to these podia and to these structures.
I hope I made myself clear, I was trying to say something nuanced, but my English is not that perfect. But this I think is an important thing. So, I know that this issue of diversity, racism, etc. is hugely important—and I am very much supportive of that—but I think the crucial question is that of a much broader social inequality, problems with the division and access to wealth. And that, I say, should be the starting point for a much more fundamental critique of the political orders and economic orders that we have
Carl Raschke: We’ve got several questions and comments now.
Miguel de la Torre: Carl, can I answer your question also real fast.
Carl Raschke: Yeah.
Miguel de la Torre: I’m sorry, I just want to answer your question as well. First of all, yes, it’s a pipe dream, and I’ll explain why in a second. But more importantly, on the Obama critique by Cornel West. A few years ago, before Obama got elected, I wrote a an op-ed that basically said, what does Obama, McCain, and Hillary Clinton have in common. And the answer was all three are ontological white males.
And what I’m basically arguing is, it doesn’t matter who the president is, they could be black, they could be a Latino or Latina, they could be gay, whoever the president of the empire is, is first and foremost the emperor or the empress, and therefore they will defend the rights for McDonald’s and Microsoft to operate throughout the world, even at the detriment of people of their same skin color, their same ethnicity or their same gender.
So, the critique that Cornel West makes of Obama assumes that this is a conversation within the black community. I really think it’s more conversation of power, that Obama is just the emperor and he will defend white privilege and white global structures, just as well as any other white president would have done.
But, as to the pipe dream, why, I think it’s a pipe dream. Basically, I’m old enough to remember the 60s—you know, make love in the park, don’t trust anybody over 30, that whole generation of people who were going to literally change the world—and today, most of them are supporters of Trump. So, no matter how much of an epistemological break we may have and we really begin to see the world differently, once we inherit the power structures that have been designed for us at the foundation of the Republic, our views will begin to radically change to justify where we now sit.
So I hear the hope that, yes, maybe if we start thinking new ways, the epistemological advancements made may lead to something different. I think that at the end of the day, those who get to do the thinking are the ones who inhabit the power structures to begin with, and they’re going to continue to justify that. They may nuance it, it may be, as the first George Bush, said a kinder, gentler form of oppression, but at the end of the day is still going to be detrimental to the communities of color.
Herman Westerink: I’m much more optimistic about the end of the neoliberal order, by the way. I think the ecological and climate crisis that we are facing, which sets an end to the—let’s say—limitless use of natural goods and the exploitation of the earth, also sets a limit to a main principle of that neoliberal order, namely that of limitless growth progress, and whoever benefits from it. It might happen actually much sooner than we expect, facing the reality of an ecological crisis in which simply the fundamental principles of neoliberalism, will be contested.
Miguel de la Torre: It could occur a lot sooner, but before it comes to that end it will become more savage as it tries to have that growth among those of us who don’t have much more room to grow in.
Herman Westerink: Yeah, I see that, that’s possible.
Miguel de la Torre: I mean, it will come to an end, there’s no question, it’s is unsustainable. I’m not a Marxist but maybe Karl was right when he said that—you know—the internal contradiction is that it’s unsustainable. But, before it becomes totally unsustainable for that 1 percent, it will become devastating for the rest of us.
Herman Westerink: That’s the problem. Yeah, I feel you’re right. Yeah.
Roger Green: On that question, I’m going to ask two more questions just to get some more questions.
Carl Raschke: Hey, Roger, Cleo asked that question, but if she’s satisfied with the answer then she doesn’t need to follow up
Roger Green: Yeah, Khanh Nguyen says, “what’s a better system than neoliberalism that we should be striving for, even though it will not happen anytime soon.”
And then Sarah Pessin asks—so this is a bit more of a praxis related question following in particular on Miguel’s analysis of hopelessness, with which she entirely agrees:
Can each speaker talk about the promises and or dangers of forgiveness? Let’s take for example, forgiveness not being used to block social change, as it often is, along the lines of hope of the example Miguel shared. Let’s imagine a case where we are moving in solidarity with marginalized people against neoliberal frames. Is there “any” role, even at the small inter-human level for forgiveness within such a revolutionary frame? Again, not as a way of saying, don’t worry about it, no action needed, but in some other sense.
One action oriented question and one worldview question or—sorry—world happening question. There’s also one about psychedelics down there in the 60s, I was seeing in there but feel free to skip through. I think that resonates with what Cleo said, too.
Miguel de la Torre: Let me just quickly touch on the forgiveness one, only because I wrote a book called Liberating Jonah which was an ethics of reconciliation—and that was a shameless self promotion there. But in that particular book what I argue, basically, is that when we talk about issues of forgiveness, of reconciliation—you know, not to go through all the different things I talked about, but just the punch line at the end—it’s basically that there were two ways of forgiving.
Number one, there’s the individual forgiveness and then there’s the communal forgiveness. On the individual forgiveness, many studies show that if I forgive my abuser I could heal faster. So I’m saying if it’s going to help the one abused to forgive, then they should. It has nothing to do with the abuser.
By the same token, if they simply cannot forgive, then they should not and that’s okay. It may take lifetimes before they can come across that. And I say that because all too often the abused are forced to forgive quickly because that’s the Christian thing to do. So really, there’s no easy answer. If it will heal the abused, then by all means, we should help them achieve that forgiveness. But if it’s going to cause more psychological damage, then they absolutely should not forgive.
Now, there’s the other form of forgiveness, that’s the communal forgiveness. That’s when a community who has been abused by another community offers forgiveness. Number one, no one can offer that forgiveness. Katie Cannon, who was my mentor when I was at Temple, always would say that before black people can forgive, we have to ask all the bodies in the Middle Passage to rise up and offer their forgiveness first, that we have no right to go ahead and offer forgiveness to another community in their name.
So, that’s in the back of my mind. And I would probably nuance that a bit and say that a community forgives once justice has been established. In the meantime we could definitely be allies, we can work towards that justice, we can work towards that forgiveness, but that doesn’t mean that we let people off the hook now.
And that’s okay. That doesn’t mean we can’t work together. You know, as a forechild of conquistadores, I don’t expect Indian people to forgive me or the Spaniards anytime soon. That doesn’t mean I can’t work towards justice in solidarity with my Indian brothers and sisters. It just means that I don’t get off the hook by how I am still benefiting from what my forefathers did.
Herman Westerink: Maybe there’s another perspective on forgiveness also possible, related to the issue of an alternative or resistance to a neoliberal order, and that is forgiveness in the sense of releasing somebody from his guilt. And I don’t mean the oppressor being forgiven, or the abuser being forgiven, but actually, the other way around. And I think of that very practical also, you could almost say Old Testamentical, were you have the system that once in seven years you release that person from his debt, in order for that person to make a new start and a good starting position for the advancement of his business, or his family life, or whatever.
Economically speaking, that would take the form of the release of debt of poor countries, for example. And that would be, I think, a more generous financial course or compensation for things happening in the past, that is releasing the burden of poor countries. Now, that’s not a very neoliberal act to do, since in that world we are all competitors and rivals.
But that would be a good idea. And I came up with this idea because of a conversation I had with the Senegalese colleague, discussing the return of African artifacts to African museums. And he said:
Well, we built the museum in Dakar for the African art, but the only people that visit are Western tourists. So it doesn’t make sense to give back African art. If France, wants to return the African art to Senegal other African countries they are free to do so, but it’s not very necessary. What we need is generous financial compensation for the fact that we have carried the burden of a financial debt and financial guilt.
Now maybe that is also a way of looking at—in a certain sense—forgiveness, in relation to a critique of neoliberalism.
Miguel de la Torre: To add to that, maybe we should change the Lord’s Prayer back to forgive us our debts in stead of forgive us our sins, which was originally reinterpreted in English so we don’t have to deal with the debt of other nations.
Herman Westerink: Yeah, yeah.
Roger Green: Cleo, you have said a number of longer things, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro comes up, and I just wanted to give you a chance to chime in—and Sarah or Khanh, I invoked your names, but I haven’t heard you speak directly. So I just wanted to give any of the three of you a chance, just to to put words onto the screen. Anybody want to clarify or push the conversation there?
Sarah Pessin: I’ll just say that I appreciate both of the speakers, and everything that they’ve said, including their very helpful comments on forgiveness in these different senses. I think that’s all very helpful. I’ll also add—just sort coming to my mind—I like the way that Herman invoked, and that Miguel talked about, changing the prayer in a way that maybe invokes pieces of this so called “Old Testament” in ways that work against different kinds of hegemonic, sort of …
[there was a brief disruption in the Zoom meeting, here, involving an unmuted mic. Unfortunately, a small part of Sarah Pessin’s comments were therefore garbled beyond decipherability]
… I like the idea of a kind of, not in the spirit of multiculturalism, but in the spirit of what Carl talked about and Cleo talked about—whether we’re talking about multinaturalisms or epistemic pluralisms—I liked the idea of bringing up a Hebrew biblical idea of letting debts go out and integrating that into Christian prayers.
And something about that seems all very helpful, also to the role of the Jew in all of this as well. So I very much like taking a Jewish texts, lifting it up in a purpose and service of anti-neoliberalism as part of the formula. So thank you.
Roger Green: Khanh or Cleo, did you want to chime in?
Carl Raschke: Christine had a comment which maybe we should allow. Christine you kind of came in here and said something. Do you want to state what you just wrote?
And unmute yourself. Is Christine still here?
Cristine de la Luna: Sorry, I am, I’m multitasking right now so… So I’m back. So, I just heard my name.
Carl Raschke: Yes. Good. So do you want to elaborate?
Cristine de la Luna: Yeah. So I’ve been a student of Dr. de la Torre’s like for three years, and so I’m very, very clear on what his argument is, and this is my epiphany recently as I’m getting ready to transition into this PhD program. Within the academy and particularly within theological thought, schools of theological and religious studies, there are all these experts at deconstruction.
And yet, our colleague Herman Westerink was talking about the optimism of this collapse of the neoliberal order, right. And then we heard Dr. de la Torre say, okay well let’s let look at Obama and what he has in common with these presidents. And so what I’ve realized, is that what’s not happening in the academy, and particularly in schools of theological thought, is what is the reconstruction model.
Because we can deconstruct in perpetuity for 100 years about colonialism, about occupation, about imperialism, but unless we give something to these new thought leaders—and I have returned to school later in life—I’m thinking in terms of Reverend William Barber. You know, he’s calling for a third reconstruction, which is taking over from where things didn’t fully get fulfilled regarding The Civil Rights Movement, let alone the controversial issue of reparations regarding the transatlantic slavery occupation, and we can go globally around the planet.
So, where is that doorway for epistemological development about reconstruction? Because I feel that I’m just continuing to go within this matrix of oppression, a continual deepening, a layering of deconstructing, from various perspectives within the academy. But we’re not moving forward. And that’s perhaps, the reconstruction epistemological opening, where we’re going to move the dial, or even have an, an option for seeing a post capitalist reality, a post colonial reality and I’m going to leave it with that.
Carl Raschke: Do one of you want to answer?
Miguel de la Torre: Yeah, I could begin. I do agree that deconstruction is the new buzzword that can sell books and there are some academics that like to use those terms to try to sound like they’re woke and that the into the conversation, and I get that. And I think that’s one of the things that you seem to be critiquing and I’m agreeing with that critique.
But at the same time, I want to be also careful in realizing that to try to have this paradigm shift—you know, to think of a new way of being—is not an easy process. And some people in history have come up and been able to do that, and we still remember their names centuries later.
So the issue right now, at least for me, is that the deconstruction is not so much an academic exercise that I enjoy my ivory tower that lets me sell a few more books. For me, it really becomes a way to tear away the layers of conditioning that have occurred in my life for the last roughly six decades now. It becomes a process which I probably will not finish.
So the frustration of, you know, “I’m always just deconstructing, deconstructing”—I am because of so much of the damage that has been done in forcing me to see through other people’s eyes. So, for those in power, in the academy, it might be more of a neat academic exercise, but those who have suffered—psychologically, I would even add, because of this imposition upon their very identity—it becomes a form of self healing.
So I don’t want to rush this part of it because I need to heal, I still have a long ways to go. By the same process that’s not to say we shouldn’t be thinking about what comes next, where we should be moving. And I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that wherever we need to be moving towards, each context will be moving in a very different direction, in where we may have some things in common, but we will probably be arriving at a different way of seeing.
So while definitely my African American siblings, and my queer siblings, and my Asian American siblings, and myself may find agreements in many, many areas—especially of how power works within our communities—by the same token, we will be using different ingredients to make our own wine and we will probably have very different tasting wines and that’s okay.
The hope—you know, and again for someone who’s hopeless, I’m very careful when using that word—might be that whatever new wine is develop will be more just and more liberative from the past, but also very cognizant—it will quickly become oppressive in and of itself—that this is not an end product that we’re going to achieve it’s going to be a constant struggle.
Cristine de la Luna: So, it sounds like to me, Dr. de la Torre is that the marginalized need to continue to deconstruct to continue to locate oneself within the dominant culture.
Dr. Miguel A. De La Torre: I hesitate to Respond, because unfortunately within the dominant culture is definitely part of it, because that’s where we are located. But I would also want us to start moving about within our own culture, speaking over and against that dominant culture. But if we don’t know where we are now, it’s kind of hard to try to figure out how we could operate within our own community.
Because even when I’m with other Latinx, we still use the language and the philosophy and the thought patterns that we have learned. It comes naturally. And, it’s so legitimize that it’s natural. And that’s the danger right there.
Carl Raschke: Can I ask both of you to go back to the question of the end of cognitive empire and at least focus on the epistemic? There is James Scott, the anthropologist, he wrote a very interesting book where he says, basically neoliberalism is what he calls High Modernism. And of course, people like Mignolo and others who were familiar with—some of us are, at least—have made this point, you know Mignolo’s the dark side of Western modernity.
But the question of emancipation, liberation, perhaps survival among the ruins, reconstruction among the ruins, whether neoliberalism, if it is indeed high modernism, takes five years, 10 years five centuries, 500 centuries to come apart. What about de Sousa Santos—and this is also another version, I think it’s a more sophisticated version Mignolo’s decolonial option—does that really make sense at all.
You know, because it’s like as Herman pointed out from the beginning, what we call European thought is in many ways an evolution of classical thought Greek and Roman thought, imperial thought. The original Northern European barbarians, people that lived in Germany, the Netherlands, Britain, and so forth, they were considered the marginalized of their time and they were treated by the Romans that way, but gradually they became absorbed and Christianity had a lot to do with that. Is some kind of process like that going on and we just don’t want to realize it or should we encourage it or how would we encourage it?
Herman Westerink: Encouraged what, precisely, Carl? Just for clarification.
Carl Raschke: The kind of transformation of what we might call neoliberalism as high modernism, as the dominant form of European discourse.
Herman Westerink: I think maybe yes, because you can ask the question, what are the central elements of that European tradition that eventually evolved into a neoliberal order. One of them is this course, the notion of the polis and politics as the government of people but not of, for example, nature or the environment or ecology. One of the other elements would be the individual or the modern subject.
But there are, of course, also cultures that start not from the subject or the individual, but from the community. Miguel already addressed this, I think also, implicitly in his exposés and his and his reflections. But, for example, very popular now in Africa, the notion of Ubuntu. So the very idea of starting to reflect on social justice and politics from the perspective, not of the individual and its freedom, but of the community and it’s coherence.
Now, there are all kinds of problems attached to that. But there are, of course, in that whole discussion, openings to find, to question the very fundamental ideas of what makes the European and the Eurocentric tradition—politics, that is confined to a government of people and does not include a relationship with the animal world or with ecology and nature.
We should question that, in view of the ecological crisis of our day. We should redefine our relation to nature and to animal life, for example, and to biodiversity, being a part of that—and knowing that does not necessarily lead to consequences, apparently—but also rethink the status of the modern subject vis-à-vis the primacy of a community and intersubjectivity.
It’s a bit more nuanced than the notion of ubuntu. So I think there are other options and other positions possible. In this case, I would just like to remind us that this reflection on the end of neoliberalism, of course, is a global issue that touches upon what is happening today, the very status of the USA as a moral and political force—and there’s a military force and economic force—in this world.
I mean, you are seeing this these past years under the Trump administration in particular, but before that already the declining dominance of the USA as setting the political agenda—also as a moral agent, you could say—in the world. That has been largely questioned, very much put into question the last few years. So, in that sense, the end of neoliberalism or changes within the US society might well be forced upon it from global developments and outside forces, in which the economy and dominance of the USA is contested.
This Week in the United Nation council the US was asking for support from their allies for an act against Iran and they didn’t get it. Now, that was unthinkable 10 years ago. So something is happening there, and that is also a contributing factor to the question that we are raising here, the end of neoliberalism, the neoliberal order, the critique of the political order in USA. It comes from within, but it also comes from without by contesting the very position of USA in a global context.
Roger Green: Go ahead Miguel and I’ll draw our attention, after that, to a couple of questions that have shown up in comments at the end here.
Miguel de la Torre: Just to answer Carl’s question real fast. Speaking as one who is considered one of the barbarians on the margins of the Empire of Rome, I don’t want to be absorbed. I don’t want to be taken in and become part of this new Roman future. But saying that, I also realize how impossible that also is.
We can talk about this neoliberalism, this post modernity, as just the higher parts of modernity, and I would think that they are because these are concepts that we’re talking about within the Eurocentric concept, and there are other voices throughout the globe that would have very different understanding of these terms that we’re using right now. But saying that, it doesn’t matter how much in decolonized world, you may live—I’m thinking of the shanty towns and some of the places I’ve visited in Central America—they still have wires hooked up to the electrical grid that gives them the TV to watch Hollywood movies, which defines modernity for them.
So part of the problem is, if we forget about universities and colleges and professors and intellectuals trying to come up with an epistemological breakthrough on how to define these terms and how we see ourselves and what the future should be, Hollywood, the news media, magazines are already defining what is legitimate and what is normal throughout the world. And that’s why I’m hesitant that any change is going to happen anytime soon. That we will continue polluting minds, colonizing minds to a point in where the damage is so deep that, just because I say I want to drink new wine and I want to make my own thoughts—sounds great—but I’m not quite sure how to get there yet.
And I will be honest about that. I mean, yes, I want to see with my own eyes and think my own thoughts from my own culture, but there’s so much baggage up here, I’m not quite sure I can get there yet. And it may take a couple of generations before we undo some of that damage.
Roger Green: Thank you. I’m going to turn to a couple of things, and I know we’re getting towards the last 10 minutes so first of all, I want to invite anybody who is watching to contribute more thoughts to The New Polis. This video will be uploaded, and we take submissions all the time. We’re always looking for people to write more, so I don’t want the conversation to necessarily end here.
Also on the question of debt and indebtedness, I want to do a shoutout to our colleagues Cleo Kearns and Joshua Ramey over at Insight Seminars, who have been doing similar things. There’s a whole seminar that Cleo has done on sacrifice and a whole ongoing seminar that Joshua Ramey is doing on debt as original sin.
And so I want to turn back to the comments here, and particularly Kevin Johnson’s posts here “if we survey the voices that are not in this conversation, we will have a better idea about where we need to be.”
And Philip Peacocks question, “while, I agree that hope can be domesticated, isn’t hope at once judgment and subversion? Is it not judgment because it categorically says that I hope for another world, because this world is not working, and isn’t it subversive because it imagines another world?” Also, he says, “while I really liked the idea of ethics para joder, how do we do away with the entire system?”
Miguel de la Torre: I could jump in on that last question real fast. The hope as imagining a new world and a new possibility, obviously, is something that someone like Gustavo Gutirérrez has been arguing, that hope becomes the ability to dream of a new reality, and that’s what we’re going to strive towards. Honestly I don’t buy it. And I don’t mean to be disrespectful.
My fear is that, all too often, hope gets in the way of doing the radical things that need to be done. To dream of a new world is to then start moving to reformed the president world, so that we could move to something new. I’m wondering if this, what we have now, is so corrupted it’s beyond reform. And as we dream of something new, what ends up happening is that neoliberal structures are 10 steps ahead of us and trying to subvert whatever new thing we’re dreaming about now.
So in a very real way, I’m very—I don’t wanna say pessimistic—but I’m very pessimistic about bringing about any type of change by hoping and dreaming and then moving towards that. I think history has shown us that that doesn’t always work. I mean, I’m thinking of civil rights movement, which had a lot to do with issues of economic distribution of wealth, and instead, it was co-opted to be nothing about voting rights, which then got co-opted, as we see now, by the suppression of votes. So I’m very aware of this concern of simply hoping as an act of subversion, I would rather argue subversion is an act of subversion.
How do we begin to subvert what we have, not necessarily knowing where it’s going to take us? One of the figures that influenced my thinking is the African Dia de Elegua, in were Elegua is the trickster image in the Yoruba tradition. And the trickster tricks, not because they know where they’re going, but they trick because it creates enough chaos that new opportunities may arise.
So my ethics para joder is not necessarily because I know where I’m going. It’s more like, where we are now is unattainable, and there’s no way of resisting. So, by playing the trickster, you provide a possibility for new opportunities to arise that may lead us in a new direction, or it may not. I mean, that’s just the way life is.
So, I think that a part of that question was, how do I do away with what we have now. I’m not sure we could ever do away with anything, it will still be part of us, even as we move to new structures.
Roger Green: Herman, did you want to respond, too?
Herman Westerink: No, no, I don’t think so.
Roger Green: So we’re kind of nearing the end, and I wanted to mention that this is the first of an ongoing series and it looks like next month Carl and I will be talking about subjectivity since the 1960s. And so this question of psychedelics, and some people might know that my work has been on psychedelics recently, and particularly indigenous issues of equity around Ayahuasca religions and their diaspora, up north. And I’m quite critical of the kind of liberal narrative that psychedelics can deculture us and uproot our deep framing. But that’s my own perspective.
So if you want to hear more about that next month, or you can shoot me emails about that. Joshua Raimi has shared some info about about seminars that are going on over at Incite. And, I believe that in October—although it’s kind of tentative right now—that Sarah Pessin has agreed to come back and talk about her projects on Levinas, as well.
So just a couple of upcoming things. I want to give each of our speakers a hearty thanks, but also just a chance to have any closing thoughts in the last five minutes here.
Michael Livesay: Hey, Roger…
Roger Green: Oh, go ahead, Michael.
Michael Livesay: Yeah, I just had one thing, coming back to Christine’s point about reconstruction, which I think is very important. In the sense of what Jason W Moore calls reparation ecology, where we remember the past structural violence and the current structural violence going on, especially within disaster communities, communities especially in the global south who are struggling for survival, it is a very important for us to look at how these autonomous communities are beginning to repurpose and rearrange some of the structures. And that is part of that struggle.
So maybe you look at the Deleuzian concept like bricolage, where you take things that are within the system and you repurpose them in liberatory ways, so that then praxis comes out of this ongoing struggle. So it’s not so much just screwing and fucking with the system, but how we begin to repurpose within that process. Looking toward those autonomous communities to do that, you know, we’re seeing that in the Zapatista communities in Chiapas you’re seeing that in the Kurdish struggles, you’re seeing that with indigenous people stopping pipeline construction.
Many of these laboratory movements, I think, give us a little bit of understanding of how we can begin to envision what reconstruction is and what reparation will look like, which is a total transformation of the way in which we live right now.
Carl Raschke: Okay, Roger, It looks like we’re done. I want to thank everyone …
Cleo Kearns: Oh…
Roger Green: Sorry?
Cleo Kearns: I was putting my hand up there, hoping to have one word.
Roger Green: Go ahead—we’re ending right at noon, so I just want to be conscious of people’s time. Yeah.
Cleo Kearns: Oh, sorry. Yeah, I’ll be really quick. I just want to draw people’s attention to Cristine’s entry on the chat about the quality of repose, and my interest in listening to all of you and the kind of subjectivity that is required to even think these things through. End of rap.
Carl Raschke: Well, that’s gonna be the topic next month, September, we don’t have an exact date, but …
Cleo Kearns: I hope so, I hope so.
Carl Raschke: Well, we have everybody’s email, now, so you’ll be notified of it, and of course we want to expand the seminars within the technological limits of a Zoom call. So thank you. I’ll let Roger close.
Roger Green: Yeah, so once again, this is our first time doing this as a live thing and I have some other discussions that are not live that are showing up on The New Polis, and there are lots of great essays, so people who talk today, like Tink Tinker, has multiple essays that are up on The New Polis, as well. So, just once again to invite you all, and please don’t feel that if you’re not an academic or don’t have an academic post that you can’t contribute to The New Polis.
In the spirit of some of the repurposing stuff that Michael had just mentioned and and Moore’s book as well, which I happen to be teaching this semester, feel free to contribute. There is contribution stuff on The New Polis site. Thank you all very, very much, and thank you to our speakers, especially from different parts of the world, today.
Herman Westerink: Thank you.
Roger Green: Thanks very much. Hopefully, we’ll see you again next month. Okay.
Carl Raschke: Thank you.
Herman Westerink: Thank you. Thank you.