May 22, 2024

The Ontological Violence of Engaged Pluralism (Luke Barnesmoore)

In many cases, by documenting the way settler colonial power ascends to unquestioned normalcy and recirculates as natural and given, the decolonizing project becomes one of suggesting counter realities or alternative ways of knowing and being. – Sarah de Leeuw and Sarah Hunt, “Unsettling Decolonizing Geographies”


It is important to begin this discussion by describing my positional orientation to the topics at hand. My vision of feminism is grounded in the lessons I have learned from the Matriarchs/Grandmothers/Medicine Women of the Salish Lands on which I work and live as well as from Radical Black (Panther) Feminists and Queer Theorists from the San Francisco Bay Area where I was born and educated at San Fransicso State University. In my expereince, the vision of feminism I have grown in relationship to does not cohere very will with the more mateiralistic/anti-essentialist (often white-liberal) strains of feminism that I have encountered in the geographical literature/ geographical culture.

Though a reviewer once asked me to explain how urban geographical feminist critiques of Planetary Urbanism (PU) support the decolonial project I am promoting, I am not convinced that the underlying metaphysical assumptions that from my limited perspective seem to bind the culture of mainstream geographical feminism into coherence support the divine feminine grounded decolonial project that is being lead by the Indigenous Women of the Salish Lands in which I work and live.

I also have some doubts as to wheither materialistic, anti-essentialist strains of academic feminism effectively avoid privileging what might be generalized as ‘western’ (often Euro-white) knowledges over ‘southern’ (often racialized) ways of seeing and knowing the world’, as de Leeuw and Hunt express it. (3). Though such an oversight would simply stand testament to my lack of authority in speaking about feminism and the validity of my inclination to avoid analyzing feminist critiques of PU, my sincere appologies go out to any urban geographical feminists/ mateiralistic, anti-essentialist feminists who do indeed move from grounding in divine femininity/ Indigenous ways of knowing and being and have been left out of this discussion based on my ignorance.

I dont move from a positionality that gives me much of a basis to speak about feminist literature as a heterosexual white man. I usually opt to collaborate with radical divine feminists when addressing feminist literature/critique. In any case, my critique is aimed at Brenner & Co. and their strain of Marxism and does not really speak/respond/relate to the urban geographical feminist literature critiqing PU. I think it better for me to avoid speaking about the debate between the Planetary Urbanists (PUs) and urban feminist geographers and focus this article in on the questions of worldview(s) that I have been wandering through in recent years.

My focus is the shared ground that Brenner and Co. are calling for in their calls for dismissing theoretical differences (i.e. differences in worldview assumptions) to find ‘shared ground’ and the tension of this call for engaged pluralism with the notoin that decolonization of the geographical discipline and postcolonial theory requires placing and engaging Indigenous worldviews.

At the heart of my discomfort with Brenner’s call to set asside theoretical differences lies the politics of decolonizing/fostering relationships among communities with radically different, often incommensurable worldview(s). (I understand worldview(s) as the nexus of both metaphysical and historical cosmology and ontology. Worldviews consist of the cosmological origins of relationships and the orders of things/ relationships between things that emerge from these cosmological origins.) How can we heed calls to decolonize through ‘placing and engaging Indigenous worldviews’ if we begin our discussion by setting asside our theoretical differences (i.e. setting asside our worldview differences)?

No matter how dominant a worldview is, there are always other ways of interpreting the world. Different ways of interpreting the world are manifest through different cultures, which are often in opposition to one another. One of the problems with colonialism is that it tries to maintain a singular social order by means of force and law, suppressing the diversity of human worldviews. The underlying differences between Aboriginal and Eurocentric worldviews make this a tenuous proposition at best. Typically, this proposition created oppression and discrimination.

Culture comprises a society’s philosophy about the nature of reality, the values that flow from this philosophy, and the social customs that embody these values. Any individual within a culture is going to have his or her own personal interpretation of the collective cultural code; however, the individual’s worldview has its roots in the culture—that is, in the society’s shared philosophy, values, and customs. If we are to understand why Aboriginal and Eurocentric worldviews clash, we need to understand how the philosophy, values, and customs of Aboriginal cultures differ from those of Eurocentric cultures. (77)

The first chapter of Young’s dissertation on Cedar Pedagogical Pathways towards Indigenous Land-Based Pedagogies begins with a quotation from Smith that aptly characterizes my intentions in engaging with Indigenous Worldview(s): ‘Rather than study Native people so that we can know more about them, I wish to illustrate what Native theorists have to tell us about the world we live in and how to change it’ (569).

I don’t wish to collect facts about Indigenous peoples. I don’t wish to speak for or, for that matter, about Indigenous peoples. I wish to humbly weave the voices of Indigenous theorists, knowledge keepers and elders into my writing because Indigenous Worldview(s) have the power to heal our understanding of the world we live in and the way that we relate to other beings therein so as to provide new ideals of direction that open up new ways of thinking about how we might transform the world towards a healthier, happier more resilient, reciprocal and fulfilling place wherein humanity upholds its ‘covenantal duties’ to the rest of creation.

Indigenous Gift Giving practices stand as an example of how we can virtuously relate to each other when we are free from the colonial dogmas of western (and other such hierarchical) civilizations.  As with feminism, my positionality does not let me speak with authority about Indigenous Worldview(s) or Indigenous Gift Economies and so I rely upon the words and teachings of Indigenous Theorists who can speak to these topics with authority.

According to Paulette Regan, ‘the promise of working within a transformative framework is that our dialogue about history—our stories and our myths—beckons us not just to understand our paradoxical past, but to finally take that ‘genuine leap of imagination’ to guide our steps today and into the future’. (10) The aim of the paper is not to put Indigenous Gift Economies, which rise from some shared worldview assumptions and visions of human nature that exist across many nations and the difference in cultural expression that arrise from being in relationships to different landscapes, into conversation with PU (or for that matter to have a conversation with PU…).

The goal is to note that the ‘shared ground’ (i.e. worldview assumptions) asserted by the PUs in their calls for engaged pluralism through setting asside theoretical differences (i.e. setting asside differences of worldview) seems to be incommensurable with the ground upon which many people (not least the Indigenous peoples whose lands we are living and engaging with eachother in) live.

The ‘shared ground’ of commonsensical western-modernist worldview assumptions that the PUs assert is colonized land. Can you ‘share’ something that has been stolen/perverted/(re)created through conquest and colonization? The colonized land (colonial/colonizing theoretical model of reality, which is to say worldview) the PUs call us to stand upon in their dismissal of theoretical differences for the sake of finding shared ground denies the potential for alternative economic systems like Indigenous gift economies in its hierarchical-domineering assumptions about human nature and the potentials for ‘exchange’ established therein.

Even worse, this colonized/colonizing theoretical ground denies the existance of (Indigenous) people who do (right now!) relate to eachother within such alternative economic sytsems. What does it mean when you describe the actual nature of an individual/community’s way of life as a ‘romantic’ fantasy’? Is that not an assertion that said individual/community does not actually exist?

The question of gift economies is a case study for PU’s colonialism because the potentials for a gift economy lie in a vision of human nature that is wholly incommensurable with the vision of human nauture assumed by the colonized/colonizing theoretical ground upon which the PUs stand.

The area that I come from has a lot to do with what I’m going to talk about. It is one of the only areas in Canada that is considered to be a desert. It means we have very little rainfall. This is because of the two mountain systems on both sides of our valley. The ecology is very harsh and dry in the summertime, and therefore the learning that our people have had to accomplish and achieve over many generations, in order to survive, has a lot to do with scarcity. In a land where there is not a lot of abundance, where the fragility of the eco-system requires absolute knowledge and understanding that there must be care not to overextend our use of it because it can impact on how much we have to eat the following year, or years after in terms of your coming generations, we have developed a practice, a philosophy and a governance systems are based on our understanding that we need to be always vigilant and aware of not over-using, not over-consuming the resources of our land, and that we must always be mindful of the importance of sharing and giving. (Armstrong, 41)

Where the ‘dominant western worldview(s)‘ that the PUs stand upon make assumptions concerning the ‘evil’/self-interest of human nature and the subsequent dependence of virtue/justice upon hierarchical dominion that lead to dreadful discourses like ‘the tragedy of the commons‘ which assume scarcity leads to evil/self-interest and evil/self-interest can only be mediated by hierarchical systems of domination like the western legal system , Armstrong’s experiences of how her community actually (presently!) relates to scarcity paint a picture of human nature as good/generous. To claim that the potential for establishing gift economies is ‘romantic’ is to claim that Armstrong and her people do not actually exist…

The Stories/Rage From Which This Article Emerged

Now, having oriented myself to the topics at hand, I would like to begin this discussion with a story. I recently had a conversation with ‘Colonial Marxist A’ (a sociology graduate student working with one of the Colonial Marxists at 1984 West Mall [AKA the UBC Geography department]) who was committing assimilative genocide in reducing Indigenous gift giving on Turtle Island to the vile strategies of hierarchical domination that structure the Trojan gift giving praxes of the MegaMachine (i.e. the invisible social, economic, legal, etc. technologies that produce hierarchical civilizations/ hierarchical subjects) civilizations structured by ‘A.D. Worldview(s)’ (Artificial-Domineering Worldview(s))…

I first came across this perverse narrative in the foul works of William Cronon, (Cronon the Barbarian…) which I was obliged to read in my work as a Teaching Assistant at 1984 West Mall under ‘Colonial Marxist B’. Cronon argues that pre-colonial Indigenous societies on Turtle Island were akin to hierarchical-domineering Feudal, Romanized societies in Europe. ‘…Gift giving was a crucial lubricant in sustaining power relationships within the [Indian] community’ (62). I use the term Indian only because it is the colonial epithet used by Cronon.

How I shouted with rage in my office at 1984 West Mall as I read these genocidal words… Colonial Marxist B rather angrily defended Cronon’s genocidal words from my critiques of his ‘ontological violence’ with the assimilative-genocidal argument that ‘Indigenous people fought wars and had slaves, so there is no typological difference between western and Indigenous worldview(s)/cultures’.

According to Barbara Mann, ‘in the late twentieth century, it was not unusual for Western scholars even to claim that the gift economy was no economy, at all, while some grumblers still seek to denigrate gift economies as con games, which, presenting a seeming reciprocity, actually work as a form of disguised extortion’ (1-2). Not much has changed in the early 21st century… Cronon is surely one of these grumblers who perverts our understandings of Indigenous gift-giving praxis by framing gift-giving as disguised extortion, who enacts assimilative genocide of Indigenous peoples through this perversion.

He cannot escape the perversities of his own culture and the A.D./C.M. Worldview(s) (Barnesmoore) from which it rises, even in interpreting the culture and worldview(s) of people who are othered by his culture/worldview. Cronon, like the Colonial Marxists described in this paper, is clearly lost in what Foucault described as ‘the stark impossibility of thinking that…’

Colonial Marxist A made the same basic argument as we chatted over drinks—’it is human nature to give gifts for the sake of wielding power over/dominating the person to whom the gift was given.’ Colonial Marxist A tellingly described the relationship between real-estate developers in Vancouver and the settler colonial nation state that continues to baselessly assert sovereignty over these unceded Salish lands in terms of gift giving’. The real-estate developers give gifts to the settler colonial government (e.g. in the form of ‘concessions’ like mixed use buildings where the rich kids have their own playground at the top of the hill and the poor kids have a different playground at the bottom of the hill next to the dumpsters) and then the settler colonial government gives the developers gifts when it comes to getting clearance for future projects.

Investment, bribery, corruption, fascism (i.e. neoliberal corporate governance)—all of these terms come to mind, but ‘gift giving surely’ does not… Anyway, the assumptions about human nature and the potentials for exchange embedded in the above described strain of Marxist discourse are quite clear—’Human nature is materially self-interested and domineering, and so gifts cannot but be given for the sake of personal interest/domination.’ What irony that some Marxists sound so very much like the Christians and Neoliberals they so deride when it comes to the colonized ground of their basic worldview assumptions (particularly as they pertain to human nature, hierarchy and domination)…

The disturbingly homogenous chorus of the Colonial Marxists (I am not describing or attempting to categorize all Marxists as I know there are some people who identify as Marxist and agree with this critique) rang through the voice of Colonial Marxist A— ‘it is dangerous to romanticize Indigenous peoples’ by asserting that they do not fit to the foul conceptions of human nature and associated conceptions of the potential for relationships that undergird western civilization… It is dangerous to romanticize Indigenous people by saying that they relate to each other outside the domineering frameworks of the MegaMachine and it’s A.D. Worldview(s)…’

The term ‘romantic’ is used, as it has been through the history of Colonial Modernism, to other the stories of those who exist beyond the hierarchical-domineering relationships that arise from the MegaMachine and the hierarchical-domineering sickness of consciousness it propagates through A.D./C.M. Worldview(s). The term romantic embodies the hierarchical relationship between mind and heart established by the twin myths (Four Arrows) and canonical texts of western civilization like Plato’s Republic wherein virtue is understood as dependent upon subjugation of the lunar/emotional twin by the solar/rational twin:

…Consider the phenomenon of twin motifs throughout mythology. Every culture has stories of twin heroes, with the twins reflecting the complementarity of body and spirit; of solar and lunar; of male and female principles. For example, the Navajo stories about the twins Monster Slayer and Child Born of the Water show how important it is for these opposing energies to work together in harmony. In fact, most American Indian cultures have similar stories about twins; one is direct and ‘solar’ and the other is indirect and ‘lunar’, and they work together to fight the monsters that reside within. However, many of the twin stories from Western cultural myths have evolved in such a way as to have the twins fighting one another with the solar twin dominating. For example, Cain slew Abel, Romulus overshadowed Remus; Hercules became more honored than his half brother, Iphicles.

Thus, playing out the myths of the separated twins, Christianity has emerged primarily as the ‘solar’ twin: active, heroic, intent on mastery. Adherents must believe in the physical resurrection; only Jesus and belief in his physical reality can bring eternal salvation. This ‘religion of the sun’ prevails over Gnostic Christianity—the spiritual ‘twin’ that reveals ‘God’ in all things and accepts the spiritual mastery at the heart of creation. Native spirituality may be the force that can reunite these twins! ‘In essence, I offer that Western myths have split the metaphorical twins, making dominant the solar one who either kills or diminishes the lunar twin. In Indigenous twin hero stories, the two work in complementary harmony.’ (5). The term romantic is used to assert the emotional, irrational (i.e. lunar) nature of any conception of human nature as good, virtuous, generous, non-domineering, etc., which is to say any vision of human nature that does not fit to the colonial dogmas of western civilization…

The category romantic seems to imply that the knowledge to which the category was assigned was derived from an epistemological paradigm that is not structured by the enslavement of emotion by reason that is assumed as necessary for the attainment of virtue in the ontology of heart-mind relationships established by western twin myths… The category romantic seems to imply that knowledge that is not crafted through the dominant epistemological pathways of western civilization and the subjugation of emotion by reason therein is invalid.

De Leeuw and Hunt argue “…geography remains at risk of normalizing non-Indigenous ways of knowing and being and perpetuating colonial power,” (3) and the violent operationalization of the term romantic by some Marxist Geographers in order to delegitimize non-western/rationalist ways of being and knowing clearly demonstrates that this risk remains a manifest reality in contemporary geography.  Such use of the term romantic clearly fails to attain to decolonization as described by Smith, Radcliffe and de Leeuw & Hunt in terms of unsettlingly banal privileging of western ways of knowing and being over non-western ways of knowing and being.

According to De Leeuw and Hunt, “…geographers should pay far more attention to Indigenous peoples and places in order to decolonize ourselves and our colonial privilege…” because “Decolonization demands acknowledging multiple ways of knowing and being…”, “undoing the privileging of non-Indigenous settler ways of knowing above those of Indigenous peoples” (6). From calls for setting aside worldview differences for the sake of engaged pluralism to use of terms like romantic to dismiss alternative ways of knowing and being as ‘unreal’ and, or ‘illegitimate’, the PUs are—far from supporting decolonial processes—perpetuating the geographical discipline’s storied legacy of colonial violence.

The rub, of course, is that general material practices like war or gift giving or hunting have no inherent substance. The substance of material practices arises from the worldview(s) that enliven them and the contexts in which they occur. As David Petersen points out “there’s nothing inherent to the act of hunting that promotes moral erosion or incites bloodlust, as hunting’s harshest critics, having no personal experience, choose to believe.  Rather than creating personalities and worldviews, hunting merely reflects them, good and bad, as shaped by the overarching human environment. In order to reform hunting, therefore, we must reform… Mother culture.” (82)

War for the sake of settling a dispute over borders is not the same thing as war for the sake of genocidal conquest and colonization of ‘the other’. As they have been described to me, the protocols for war in the Iroquois confederacy—as established by the peacemaker—are incommensurable with genocide, (Gibson) which stands in stark contrast to the protocols of war established by texts like the Old Testament where the ‘God’ figure orders his chosen people to commit genocide against the Indigenous people of Canaan in order to be delivered into the Promised Land (Warrior).

Israel’s new dream became the land of Canaan… The land, Yahweh decided, belonged to these former slaves from Egypt and Yahweh planned on giving it to them—using the same power used against the enslaving Egyptians to defeat the indigenous inhabitants of Canaan. Yahweh the deliverer became Yahweh the conqueror.

The obvious characters in the story for Native Americans to identify with are the Canaanites, the people who already lived in the promised land. As a member of the Osage Nation of American Indians who stands in solidarity with other tribal people around the world, I read the Exodus stories with Canaanite eyes. And, it is the Canaanite side of the story that has been overlooked by those seeking to articulate theologies of liberation. Especially ignored are those parts of the story that describe Yahweh’s command to mercilessly annihilate the indigenous population. (262)

 “The covenant… has two parts: deliverance and conquest” (262).

“No matter what we do, the conquest narratives will remain. As long as people believe in the Yahweh of deliverance, the world will not be safe from Yahweh the conqueror” (264).

Sharing generally described practices like war or gift giving does not imply that the practices hold the same substance and/or value. Gift giving is sure to include a domineering intent when enlivened by the worldview(s) established by western twin myths/canonical text wherein success and the attainment of virtue is dependent upon domination of ‘the other’ and in contexts scared by colonial violence, but, when enlivened by the worldview(s) established by Indigenous twin myths where the twins work in reciprocal harmony to attain success and in environments where the natural order has not been destroyed by the colonial violence on such vivid display in the sterile ‘straight lines of modernist improvement’ (Blake) that structure modern cities, gift giving need not (and indeed does not) include a domineering intent…

I live and work on the lands of the Salish people. I know people who still exist within Matrilineal gift economies, and others who are working towards resurgence of Matrilineal gift economies. They do not give gifts for the sake of wielding power over others. They give gifts because it is our duty to care for all beings by ensuring that each being has what it needs. They give gifts for the sake of reciprocity, for the sake of fulfilling our sacred duty of preserving equilibrium/balance. My observations are in line with the literature on Indigenous gift economies that has been written by the Indigenous women who have acted as the locus of authority in Matrilineal gift economies since time immemorial.

This whole discourse stinks of what Mario Blaser describes as ontological violence:

A brief example will help me illustrate what I mean by ontological conflicts. In June 2004, in the province of British Columbia, Canada, the Mowachat/Muchalaht First Nation botched a carefully staged and scientifically approved plan by Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans and environmentalist groups to return a young lost orca whale, Luna, to its pack. The First Nation insisted that the orca was Tsux’iit, the abode of the spirit of their recently deceased chief, Ambrose Maquinna, and that his desire to stay with his people should be respected. This was not a conflict between two different perspectives on an animal but rather a conflict over whether the “animal” of scientists, bureaucrats, and environmentalists was all that was there. Ontological conflicts thus involve conflicting stories about “what is there” and how they constitute realities in power-charged fields. (548)

Be it through reduction of culture to general material practices like war by denying the role of worldview in articulating the substance of such general material practices or using terms like ‘romantic’ to other visions of human nature that do not cohere with the hierarchical-domineering assumptions of western civilization, this Marxist discourse of reducing the ontology of Indigenous gift giving to the colonial ontologies of Trojan gift giving western civilization is an unabashed act of ontologically violent, assimilative genocide. It is not acceptable to ask people to set aside theoretical differences to stand upon the colonized shared grounds of western civilization…

Engaged ‘Pluralism’

As I learned at the recent inaugural meeting of the Canadian Sociological Association’s urban cluster, the debates surrounding Planetary Urbanism have created a buzz among Canadian Urbanists. Setting aside the task of describing the debate itself for people who are closer to its center of gravity, I am struck by the ontological violence inherent in Brenner’s rather dismissive response to of urban geographical feminist critiques of PU with calls for ‘engaged pluralism’.

Brenner discusses the potentials of ‘engaged pluralism’ for pursuit of common ground among scholars by sidestepping “theoretical or empirical incommensurability” as described by Kuhn, Peck and von Meeteren et. al. Though I sympathize with the urban geographical feminist critiques of PU, this debate is not my concern in this article—my concern is for the worldview assumptions of the colonized ground upon which Brenner & Co. stand.

The overall assumptions of modern rationality remain largely intact, and even geographers doing ‘postcolonial’ studies remain largely unwilling to step out of their epistemological frameworks for a moment and consider different ways of understanding the world… The colonial mentality holds: the modern worldview is ‘real’ even if it is socially constructed; other worldviews are not. Thus the critical turn has yet to decolonize the discipline truly and still leaves us in a disenchanted world without inherent values. (Herman, 76)

…the discipline has yet to achieve much semblance of decolonization. …Despite good intentions, efforts at decolonizing geography are inherently limited because colonization continues to structure the field of geography and the academy more broadly. (de Leeuw and Hunt, 1)

Postcolonial theory does not adequately account for, nor seek to grapple with, the material and intellectual nature of colonial power in settler colonial contexts, contexts in which Indigenous peoples continue to assert their self-determination despite ongoing dispossession. (4)

Setting aside theoretical differences and accepting the colonized ground formed by the hierarchical materialism of Colonial-Modernist Worldview(s) might work for differing Colonial Modernist camps, but this model of pluralism does not work if our goal is to foment pluralistic engagement that includes the voices of non-colonial camps… This model of pluralism also does not work if our goal is to foment active and virtuous participation in processes like ‘truth and reconciliation’ that strive towards creating a healthier world:

There are basic assumptions about western systems of government, economics, class structure, education and spirituality that will continue to stifle authentic and widespread efforts to teach college students to become virtuous and active participants in the process of creating healthier communities. (1)

The colonized theoretical ground upon which the PUs stand consists of the assumption that human nature is ‘evil’/domineering, the assumption that humans are thus dependent upon hierarchical authority for virtue, the assumption that reality is limited to passing time and physical space, the de-spiriting of the world through imposition of animate/inanimate binaries , the denial of the flows of energy that bind manifest and unmanifest worlds into a contiguous whole that made Modernist exploitation of the land possible (Herman) and the reduction of truth to social construction made possible therein.

As Herman observes,

in Indigenous sciences, the world is often understood in terms of flows of energies (and sometimes entities) across a permeable boundary between manifest and unmanifest realities. Working relationships with forces deemed “superstitious” or “irrational” in modern science are significant aspects of social processes and healing practices. Maintaining these worldviews and practices is an uphill battle against the hegemony of modern scientific thought and the legacy of missionaries and educators who tried so hard to dismantle Indigenous knowledge systems. Even among scientists today, those who try to work outside the mechanistic paradigm in ways that approach Indigenous science are denounced as crackpots. (75)

The separation of humanity from nature follows from the bifurcation of the world into mind and matter. It is an essential condition of capitalism that nature loses its animation and becomes mere raw material for industrialization. This commodification could not go forward as long as nature was understood and experienced as being part of the extended community imbued with consciousness. (76)

The colonized theoretical ground of the PUs is the very ground asserted by DFO in their conflict with the Mowachat/Muchalaht first nation (Blaser). Setting aside incommensurable theoretical differences (i.e. differences of worldview) may foment engaged pluralism among groups who share basic worldview assumptions like the animate/inanimate binary and visions of human nature as ‘evil’/domineering, but setting aside incommensurable theoretical differences negates the potential for engaged pluralism that includes groups who do not share these hierarchical-materialist worldview assumptions.

Setting aside theoretical differences means sidestepping worldview incommensurability (incommensurability of cosmological and ontological assumptions) to find ‘shared ground’… The irony, of course, is that by ‘sidestepping’ these authors actually mean accepting the domineering-materialistic worldview assumptions of the dominant western paradigm (Four Arrows and Narvaez) and seeking the shared ground that is possible between different contextual manifestations of this dominant worldview.

Setting aside theoretical incommensurability can work if two camps hold the same basic worldview assumptions, but setting aside theoretical incommensurability means stifling the voices/ denying the existence of people who move from different worldview(s)… Engaged pluralism is fine among colonial white folks, but it does not work if we wish to foster reconciliatory engagement between, for example, Indigenous and settler communities…

As is the story of liberal multiculturalism, setting aside worldview distinctions actually means accepting dominant western worldview assumptions and setting aside the worldview(s) of ‘the other’. Finding ‘shared ground’ means finding the shared ground that is possible if we accept dominant western worldview assumptions. Integration means assimilative genocide. The PUs’ calls for engaged pluralism are just another iteration of the nightmare that is ‘multicultural’-liberal-assimilative genocide….

The Foucauldian power-knowledge pathways within are singing! Common ground/ commonsense regarding the intention to promote social justice is indeed important (and often speaks to the essential goodness of human nature), but common ground/ commonsense in the sphere of worldview assumptions are very often products of the hegemonic physical and ideational landscapes in which we have been socialized.

For example, it would be very easy to find common ground at the level of materialism (i.e. the reduction to reality to passing time and physical space and the reduction of epistemology to material reason) or at the level of conceptions of order as dependent upon domination (i.e. the notion that social order is to be produced through hierarchical domination that is implicit in western religious, legal, economic, etc. systems), but the theoretical outlooks of hierarchical-materialism are the essential causes of the privation of social justice that too often disgraces our world.

As such, accepting the dogmas of hierarchical-materialism as ‘theoretical common ground/ commonsense’ is simply accepting the worldview assumptions from which our world’s deprivation of justice (social, environmental, economic, political, legal, etc., etc., etc.) emerges…  

We should indeed remember (myself most of all as I am sure has become clear to the reader) that we can find collegiality and cooperation in shared practical goals like the cultivation of social justice, but we ought to remember that our theories of the world (i.e. worldview assumptions)—theory, as I see it, is an attempt at mapping worldview assumptions—expand and constrain our potentials for thought, feeling, behavior and conception of being in a manner that can have direct and dire impacts on the way that we walk towards practical goals like cultivation of social justice. As Patrick Geddes puts it, “idealism and matter of fact are… not sundered, but inseparable, as our daily steps are guided by ideals of direction.” (vii)

We should try to avoid allowing theoretical incommensurability to prevent us from collaborating with others in work towards social justice, but we should not allow this desire for liberal collegiality to blind us to the reality that (1) many if not all of the social injustices we are seeking to ameliorate are rooted in the A.D./C.M. Worldview assumptions of the MegaMachine and (2) the potentials for conceptualizing pathways towards social justice are expanded and constrained by our worldview assumptions.

For example, we can agree to work towards ameliorating social injustices that arise from a lack of access to affordable housing, but visions of how we should walk towards this goal (through social housing provided by the settler colonial nation state or through dismantling the settler colonial nation state and returning to Indigenous sovereignty/governance/gift economies) are dependent upon the worldview of the visionary…

Engaged pluralism, if it is to avoid the colonial violence of simply accepting the underlying assumptions of dominant western worldview(s) concerning the evils of human nature and the subsequent dependence of virtue/justice upon hierarchical domination that draw projects like Roman Christianity, Marxism and Capitalism into a unified whole, (Four Arrows and Narvaez; Four Arrows; Barnesmoore; Springer) requires that we strive for collaboration through addressing incommensurable worldview assumptions rather than simply setting them aside.

This call for engaged pluralism rises from the shared ground of a worldview that axiomatically denies the existence of “singular, all-encompassing causal mechanisms or covering laws” (Brenner) by reducing reality to the material world of passing time and physical space. The singular, all-encompassing causal mechanism of reality is timeless/eternal (i.e. Spirit, the Nothing-Infinite Eternal and its emanations force, form and consciousness)—it exists beyond time.

From this all-encompassing causal mechanism and the Forms it emanates arise the covering law/structure of reality, The Natural Law as it is described by Matriarchs of the Salish Lands like Dawn Morrison, which emerges in manifestation through the natural order of difference and irregularity in manifestation’s reflection of the eternal (of eternal forms)… .

Spirit is the one and only all-encompassing causal mechanism, and the eternal forms of The Natural Law that emerges from Spirit (from the liminal space between time and the timeless) is the one and only covering law. The notion of eternal form reflecting through the natural order of difference and irregularity is essential—the covering laws (forms) of reality exist as pure potential, and actual manifestations of this pure potential are all different.

Many different contextual manifestations emerge from the same eternal forms—attraction, love, gravity, community. Understanding this paradoxical relationship between unity and difference requires that we open what the Daoists describe as the ‘mysterious pass’ so that we can see from the relative-finite and universal-infinite/nothing perspectives (i.e. the perspectives of difference and unity) without either interfering with the other.

Colonial Modernist assumptions about reality are aptly captured in Barnes and Sheppard’s title ‘Nothing includes everything’ and their discussion of ‘local epistemologies’ therein. As the Soldiers of Jah Army so eloquently state, ‘Everything is Everything.’ Undergirding the exchange of local epistemologies and shared ground asserted by Barnes & Sheppard and Brenner is the overarching, totalizing assumption that there is no Truth (which is to say that there is no Spirit, no all-encompassing causal mechanism or associated covering laws).

Beyond the ontological violence of unproblematically accepting this nihilistic denial of Spirit and the The Natural Law that emerges from the liminal space between time (manifestation) and the timeless (spirit), the theory that there can be no totalizing or overarching theory is an incredibly totalizing and overarching theory and thus at very best self-defeating…

Anyway, this colonized theoretical ground from which the PUs seek shared ground, while clearly commensurable with the colonized/colonizing ground upon which the DFO stands, is incommensurable with the ground upon which many non-dominant/domineering people/cultures stand and cannot thus foment engaged pluralism with communities that exist beyond the theoretical constraints of C.M. Worldview(s)…


…colonial (ethnocentric and/or sociocentric) thinking can be found even in the works and behavior of ‘postcolonial,’ left-wing social scientists.

Overcoming tokenism in academic recognition and engagement with Indigenous protocols, theories, methods, concepts, etc. is in one sense dependent upon meaningful recognition of and engagement with the underlying worldview(s) from which Indigenous ways emerge. We can indeed see with the two eyes of western-scientific and Indigenous ways of knowing, but when we turn to interpretation and policy prescription we must in certain cases—as with the ontological conflict over Tsux’iit (Blaser)—select one worldview’s assumptions concerning the nature of reality; two eyes, two ears, one heart/mind/mouth.

Social justice for Indigenous peoples and indeed all the beings of this earth is in one sense dependent upon transcending the tokenistic form of reconciliation that proceeds when the assumptions of C.M. Worldview(s) concerning the nature of reality are granted a place of supremacy in interpretation of reality and policy prescription therein. We cannot just set aside these theoretical differences if we wish to facilitate pluralistic engagement with communities who move from radically different worldview(s)….

One of the first steps in facilitating pluralistic engagement across worldview(s) is problematizing the banality of the worldview(s) we have received through socialization in the western incarnation of the MegaMachine.  Colonial-Modernist Worldview(s) (C.M. Worldview[s]) were in one sense birthed from the hierarchical twin myths of western civilization. Be it Romulus and Remus, Cain and Able, Hercules and Iphicles, Prometheus and Epimetheus, etc., the ‘solar-light twin’ always rises to ascendency through hierarchical domination of the ‘lunar-dark twin’ (Four Arrows).

Many of the most troubling trends in the contemporary era emerge from this imbalanced narration of the relationship between light and dark: Capitalism’s vision of perpetual growth in a finite space; Liberalism’s vision of perpetual linear progress; Modernism’s scientifically supremacist vision of rational knowledge as the only legitimate form of knowledge and of virtue as dependent upon domination of the heart by the mind to excise ‘romanticism’ from epistemological processes; Modernism’s reduction of reality to the ‘world of light’ (to passing time and physical space); Fear of death and the quest for physical immortality; etc.

Non-dualistic phenomena like ‘good and evil’, which should be stated in non-dualistic terms as good and the privation of good as ‘evil’ has no self-subsistent existence in the eternal, are often framed as dualistic so that they can be fit to this unbalanced narration of the relationship between the light and the dark (i.e. good = light and evil = darkness).

Patriarchy can be traced to this unbalanced narration of the relationship between sun-light and moon-dark in western twin myths and the A.D. Worldview(s) established therein—the darkness of the soil, of the womb, of sleep and death, of leisure and contemplation, emotion and intuition, etc. are understood as evil/chaotic and attributed to the feminine, whereas light, life, wakefulness, labor, growth, reason are understood as good/orderly and attributed to the masculine.

Normative human relationships with the rest of nature in Colonial Modernity have clearly been structured by this imbalanced narration of the relationship between light and dark—nature is associated with darkness/chaos, and our deliverance into the Promised Land of light and order is understood as dependent upon conquest and colonization of the darkness/chaos (Warrior).

The (mythic) twins have been sundered and dissociation prevails; the sands of time have been sequestered; Cain (Life-Light) kills Abel (Birth/Death-Darkness); Vishnu is caged, disfigured by the disconnection that arises from the hierarchically imposed solitude of the throne, perpetually attempting to manufacture an artificial replica (simulacra) of the Eternal in manifestation through perpetual obsessive domination of the natural order of difference and irregularity, perpetually fearing the return of Shiva because he has forgotten that Brahma emerges from her womb, the masculine archon perpetually fearing the feminine divine/goddesses, perpetually fearing the overcrowding brought on by Brahma when unbalanced by Shiva—Brahma and Shiva are in chains, brought into the light of day only when their force can be enslaved to Vishnu’s perverse fear-based quest towards perpetual sustention in passing time and physical space arrest the creation-destruction dialectic. Vishnu’s throne lies in the Natural History Museum, the physical embodiment of the C.M. Worldview’s drive to sustention in passing time and physical space through domination of the natural order of creation-destruction.

Many discourses surrounding reconciliatory notions like ‘two-eyed ways of seeing’ in colonial spaces like UBC seem to reflect this imbalanced narration of the relationship between growth and destruction. Much attention is given to the places where fruitful collaboration between Indigenous and western-scientific ways of knowing can be grown, and not nearly enough attention is given to the points at which destruction of the hierarchically domineering C.M. Worldview(s) that undergirds ‘scientistic supremacism’ and settler colonial states (particularly their legal/economic systems) is necessary to create the potential for this new growth. As in the forest, wildfire must burn away the underbrush before there is space for new growth.

Hall, a physicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, explains that wildfire is an integral part of the boreal ecosystem. Indeed, the high northern latitude forests would be quite different were it not for frequent fires (Hall 1999). ‘Fire is the mechanism by which the forest is continually regenerated,’ states Hall. Fires consume dead, decaying vegetation accumulating on the forest floor, thereby clearing the way for new growth. Some species, such as the jack pine, even rely on fire to spread their seeds. The jack pine produces “seratonous” (resin-filled) cones that are very durable. The cones remain dormant until a fire occurs and melts the resin. Then the cones pop open and the seeds fall or blow out.

There are certainly aspects of the scientific method that are useful for knowing certain types of phenomena and can be fruitfully harmonized with Indigenous ways of knowing, but there are also aspects of the C.M. Worldview(s) that undergird scientistic supremacism (the paradigm in which the scientific method is normatively operationalized in Colonial Modernity) that are ‘dimensionally incommensurable’ (Ouspensky) with the essential principles that unite Indigenous Worldview(s) .

While we see with two eyes and hear with two ears we interpret with one heart-mind and speak with one mouth, and so as much as it is necessary to grow fruitful relationships between Indigenous and western-scientific ways of knowing it is also essential that we isolate and destroy the aspects of C.M. Worldview(s) and it’s A.D. antecedents that undergird the scientistic supremacist paradigm in which western-scientific ways of knowing normatively function (as in the case of the PUs…) if we are to heal-purge this world of the domineering-materialistic sickness of consciousness that emerges from A.D. Worldview(s) (particularly from C.M. Worldview[s]). In short, engaged pluralism requires that we confront rather than set aside differences in our theoretical models of the world (i.e. in our worldview[s]). 

We need to stop fetishizing perpetual growth and creation, stop fetishizing the building of bridges among and from settler colonial spaces steeped in the hierarchical-materialistic disease of consciousness afflicting our world as a function of socialization in the MegaMachine, stop our liberalism infringed focus on reconciling with colonial subjects, settler colonial states, the western legal system, western economic systems like capitalism and communism and the sickly, hierarchical-materialist worldview(s) embodied therein.

We must instead turn our attention towards destruction of the hierarchical-materialist C.M. Worldview(s) that form the colonized grounds the PUs call us to share with them, particularly its dogmas concerning hierarchy and the nature of reality. Meaningful and sustainable pathways towards environmental justice like resurrection/resurgence of Indigenous sovereignty will not be possible until we see the death of C.M. Worldview(s) and structures like settler colonial states and the western legal system that emerge therein.

Only then will we transcend aspects of the C.M. Worldview like the animate/inanimate binary that prevent us from growing the ‘respectful, reciprocal and resilient’ (Young) relationships with the rest of nature that are necessary for attainment of virtue in human-nature relations wherein we uphold our sacred duty to protect the sacred (which includes the natural order of the lands-waters-skies and our nonhuman kin).

Until we destroy the reduction of reality to passing time and physical space and denial of Spirit therein and thus free policy prescription from the shared ground of the PUs and DFO there will be no justice for communities like the Mowachat/Muchalaht First Nation. Until the wildfires and floods sweeping our earth consume the C.M. Worldview(s) there will be no justice. There can be no social or environmental justice without worldview justice, for our worldview(s) expand and constrain our potential for relating to other beings.

A true revolution in praxis is dependent upon a revolution in the worldview(s) from which we create praxis. Anyway, the point of the above discussion as it relates to this article’s argument is rather simple—engaged pluralism cannot include the voices/existence of people who stand on grounds that are not tainted/desacralized C.M. Worldview(s) if we seek to foment engaged pluralism through setting aside rather than confronting differences in our theoretical models of the world.


My recent conversation with Colonial Marxist A ended with his making an effort towards engaged pluralism after I suggested that his use of the term romantic was a genocidal-assimilative attempt to other non-western visions of human nature and that it was not sufficient to only read what white westerners have to say about Indigenous peoples and their economic systems… He said something like ‘well, I agree with you that we need to get rid of capitalism.’ I responded in what I hope wasn’t an overly offensive tone—‘see, this is why I like the Marxists, at least we can agree that capitalism needs to go…’

The problem, however, is that shared ground in viewing capitalism as a problem does not foment shared ground concerning the solution to capitalism, and the ontological incommensurability between Marxist visions of human nature and the potentials for gift giving therein and non-colonial visions of human nature and gift giving therein like those of many Indigenous peoples from Turtle Island—like the ontological incommensurability between the Mowachat/Muchalaht first nation and the DFO—cannot beget a shared solution… Rather than setting aside our theoretical differences (i.e. our differences of worldview), we must address the sickly worldview(s) that undergird colonial camps like Marxism and colonial institutions like the DFO.

This article has a couple theme songs that aptly characterize the conclusions of this article as manifest in my orientation to colonial geography and the shared ground that binds colonial camps like PU to settler colonial institutions like the DFO: Jo Mersa Marley, “Burn it Down” and “Lions” by Skip Marley.

Luke Barnesmoore is an independent scholar and case manager for Castro Youth Housing Initiative in San Francisco.

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