Coloniser or Egophrenic?

columbus

Just as South Africans are ambivalent about Jan van Riebeeck, so Christopher Columbus is an enigma for America. For some, both are heroic explorers who brought civilisation to benighted continents. But for the native inhabitants of Africa and America these “civilisations” also brought a form of disease that turned us into cannibals. That is the theory of the late Jack D. Forbes, former professor of Native American Studies of the University of California at Davis.
In his book, “Columbus and Other Cannibals: The Wétiko Disease of Exploitation, Imperialism and Terrorism”, Forbes argued that Europeans brought a mind virus which Native Americans already knew and had named “Wétiko”.

Those infected by Wétiko manifest attitudes where, Brutality knows no boundaries, Greed knows no limits. Perversion knows no borders. Arrogance knows no frontiers. Deceit knows no edges.” It is the opposite of what Africans call Ubuntu. In Xhosa it is Umoya omdaka (Bad spirits).
As one who doesn’t believe in the reality of a physical being called Satan, or in evil spirits, I find the notion of a mind virus intriguing. Even more so when I read the work of Paul Levy who builds on Forbes’ work in his book “Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the curse of evil.” (2013). Drawing his insights from Jungian psychology, shamanism, alchemy, spiritual wisdom traditions, and personal experience at the hands of traditional psychiatry, Levy shows that hidden within the venom of wetiko is its own antidote, which once recognised can help us wake up and bring sanity back to our society.
Levy translates wetiko as “malignant egophrenia” (ME). The acronym “me” is not coincidental because the disease causes psychic vision to focus on “me” rather than on the needs of anyone else. This is not mere narcissism or self absorption either. Malignant egophrenia is the disease of industrial civilisation, an economic, political, and social arrangement which requires violence to maintain itself. Every inhabitant of industrial civilisation is infected with the ME disease, but Levy notes that “full blown” Wetikos “are not in touch with their own humanity and therefore can’t see the humanity in others.”

The disease propagates through the ego’s self preservation system which projects its own darkness onto others and then destroys them with sexism, racism, xenophobia, tribalism… the list is endless. And while it is important to name evil as it manifests, its eradication begins with ourselves. We need to become intimately acquainted with our own shadow and the difference between what Jung called the daemon (guardian angel or muse) in us and the demon.

“The daemonic,” says Levy, “is the urge in every human being to affirm itself, assert itself, and perpetuate itself; it is the voice of the generative process within an individual.” Loving our creativity and nurturing it is an enormous asset in transforming both internal and external darkness. But our fears of imagined threats from others stifle us from allowing the daemon to lead us and instead we become the demons of destruction in the lives of others.

How to avoid being President.

notpresident

Having been overexposed to the election and inauguration of the 45th president of the United States while being simultaneously overwhelmed by last year’s reportage on the president of this fair land I have come to a decision. I hereby give formal notice that I don’t want to be the president of the USA, RSA or any other country,… ever.
So determined am I never be nominated, let alone elected to the office, I have made up my mind to develop the following range of characteristics that will disqualify me from consideration.

Firstly, I will work hard at not being a bully. No matter how much power I may have, I will never use that power to strong-arm people into submission. My money, resources or position will never be a reason to humiliate and abuse weaker people or groups.

Secondly, I will continue to be inclusive of all ideas especially those that differ from my own. Aware that I have learnt most from people who challenge my thinking, I will consciously open myself to hearing views and opinions I don’t enjoy or agree with. I will try to understand how my opposers came to believe as they do.

Thirdly, I am not going to trust my ego to guide my decisions and behaviour. Suspicious of my tendency to be selfish and self serving and aware of how much I like to be liked, I will choose truth over popularity and fame. I will also remind myself that praise and blame are both imposters who don’t stick around for long.

Fourthly, I am going to see women, gay, LGBTQ persons and disabled people as deserving of exactly the same consideration as heterosexual men. Cognisant of my uniqueness, I will afford others the courtesy of being their own unique selves too. I know that gender, sexual orientation and physicality are not the measure of worth in people. Oh yes, and I will not mock or mimic people from these groups in an attempt to be funny.

Fifthly, when I do something to assist another it will not be to get something in return or to privilege someone from my family or friends. My guiding truth will be that every person is equal before the law and should have equal opportunity to compete for positions and profits without prejudice or preference.

Lastly I am going to sustain interest in the diversity of all people on the planet. Their cultures, languages, religions and customs fascinate me and I will try to learn from them without trying to make them conform to my code and my creed.

I believe the six values and habits outlined here are a sure way to avoid being a candidate for president. Being a person like this I know no one will vote for me and I will avoid having what some have described as the most stressful jobs on the planet.

I will never be famous or followed but perhaps I will live peacefully with my soul.

A Tale for Twenty Seventeen

brokentoolsWith all the rage about decolonising and stripping all signs of our European past, I am not sure we should speak about colonial history in 2017? Let’s do it anyway, for despite our hindsight smugness there are inspirational tales worth remembering.

by George Charles Beresford, platinum print, 8 October 1913
by George Charles Beresford, platinum print, 8 October 1913

One of these is of Leander Starr Jameson (1853-1917). A successful British medical doctor, Jameson had Paul Kruger and Matebele chief, Lobengula as patients. Sadly he is best remembered for an abortive raid he led against Kruger’s wealthy Boer Republic, in an attempt to bring the Witwatersrand Goldfields under British control.
The raid took place from December 29th 1895 to January 2nd 1896, one hundred and twenty one years ago. The strategy was to use the unhappiness of expat foreign nationals on the goldfields, rudely called “Uitlanders” by the boers, to back Jameson’s Rhodesian police raiders.

mapJameson set out from Pitsani in Botswana and marched through the night, but by the time he reached Zeerust, Kruger already knew of the raid. The riders managed to get past Randfontein when they were confronted by over 400 boers and were forced to surrender 30 kilometers from Johannesburg.

The failure of the plan meant Joseph Chamberlain and Cecil Rhodes couldn’t admit to colluding, so Jameson was scapegoated as a renegade and shipped to England for trial. His reputation in tatters, this honorary Matebele induna, and Administrator of Mashonaland was sentenced to fifteen months imprisonment by a British High Court. His life seemed over.

Noted for his “Jameson charm”, the disaster did not get him down and after serving just three months he was pardoned on grounds of ill health and returned to Africa. Jameson went on to lead the Progressive Party in the Cape Colony and on winning the election, became Prime Minister of the Cape from 1904 to 1908.

This depth of character led the famous British writer Rudyard Kipling, a frequent visitor to the Cape, to pen a poem for his son John based on Jameson’s example. You know the poem well. It is titled “If”.

kiplingHere are some excerpts. “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too; If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, or being hated, don’t give way to hating… If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same. If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, and stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:… If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, yours is the earth and everything that’s in it, and—which is more—you’ll be a man, my son.”

Sadly, Kipling’s only son died in WW1 aged 18.220px-my_boy_jack_john_kipling

We’ll do anything to appear normal

homeostasis-300x209It’s called homeostasis and describes the process of living organisms to balance their physical and chemical environments to maintain life. It is homeostasis that maintains the hydration of the cells in our bodies, our blood pressure and even the rate at which we perspire.

The concept was described by French physiologist Claude Bernard in 1865 and the word was coined by Walter Bradford Cannon in 1926. Despite originating from the study of human organisms the term homeostasis has expanded to physical control systems like thermostats and even to social systems in psychology and sociology.

What these studies have revealed is that dysfunctional or diseased systems may continue to function with an imbalance through adjusting to disease as if it were a normal state. This happens in the case of smokers and substance abusers where body chemistry adapts to the foreign chemicals ingested allowing the system to function despite the presence of life threatening toxins.

Similarly in family and social systems homeostasis is achieved by the dysfunctional family adjusting to destructive behaviour as if that were the norm. This adjustment is referred to as “equilibration”. Just as we calibrate the instruments of an aircraft to reflect the actual altitude, level and speed that a plane is travelling, so a dysfunctional family will equilibrate to addiction or violent behaviours and assume that is normal life. Imagine an aircraft that has been flying with its wings tilted at forty five degrees for so long that the pilot has adjusted the instruments to define that angle as level. That’s equilibration. The naming of what is abnormal as normal. The problem arises when the plane does eventually fly level and all the instruments start screaming that it is in trouble!

It is because of equilibration that rehabilitation programmes seldom succeed. The “sick” person is removed from the distorted system and “cured” only to be reintroduced to the off balance family where homeostasis demands that the person return to their previous behaviour so that everyone can feel normal again. As bizarre as it may seem this eqilibrating behaviour can be seen all around us.

This past week saw the ANC’s national executive committee equilibrate to the dysfunction of its maverick and unmanageable president, by adjusting for the deviance and pretending that everything is normal within the party. The party that has been losing credibility and contact with its constituency for years decided this week to adjust all its instruments to say that this is the new normal for South Africa. “The fact that we have not forced a president of the ANC to step aside means that we have affirmed him as president of the ANC and the Republic.” Secretary Gwebe Mantashe said in a press statement on Tuesday, after a marathon NEC session where Zuma’s recall was suggested.

Such denial is symptomatic of a diseased system. It’s what stops couples coming for marriage counselling, families of addicts from kicking them out, and what keeps recalcitrant presidents in power. Fasten your seat belts!

Food or Shopping? Black Friday blues.

black-friday

If Black Friday’s shopping frenzy leaves you as frazzled as it does me every year, you may be interested in its counterpoint called, “Buy Nothing Day”?
Founded by artist Ted Dave in Vancouver Canada in 1992, Buy Nothing Day or BND is an international day of protest against consumerism. In North America, Britain and Sweden the day is observed on the same day as Black Friday (the Friday after Thanksgiving) and in other countries it is on the Saturday after Black Friday.

Promoted by the “not for profit, anti-consumerist, pro-environment”, Adbusters movement, BND wants to raise awareness about the destructiveness of blind consumerism and how it affects people and the planet.
Some of the activities BND participants undertake are the public cutting up of credit cards, dressing up as zombies and wandering aimlessly through malls as a parody of shoppers, as well as public protests.

At this time of year we watch our mailboxes and magazines bulge with advertising flyers all convincing us that we cannot possibly live without the wares displayed within. So we do know just how powerful the search for bargains and special deals is. Do we ever stop to ask, “Do I really need this?”

The BND organisers realise that one day will not change consumer behaviour but they do hope to raise awareness about the insidious power of advertising to manipulate our consciousness and unleash frenetic spending. So in addition to the Buy Nothing Campaign, Adbusters also runs anti-ad campaigns blaming advertising for playing a central role in creating, and maintaining consumer culture. They argue that the advertising industry goes to great effort and expense to link our identity with commodities and brands. “Are you a (product name here) man or woman?”

These movements need to be seen against the recently released figures from the Department of Statistics, Community Survey 2016 which show that 3,3 million South African households reported running out of money to buy food in the past year. The Eastern Cape total for this phenomenon was 464 838 households. The survey also measured the possession of household appliances and stated, “Ownership of household’s goods is crucially important in measuring the standard of living for the household. Ownership of some household goods such as a cellphone, electric stove, TV, fridge, washing machine, DSTV, motor vehicle and a computer have seen significant increases in 2016 as compared to in 2011.” (the last census)
It is great that more people can live comfortably, but one has to ask how many of those appliances were bought on credit? And could debt be the reason that there sometimes isn’t money for food in over 3,3 million homes?

Christopher Lasch the American social critic and author of “The Culture of Narcissism” wrote, “It is the logic of consumerism that undermines the values of loyalty and permanence and promotes a different set of values that is destructive of family life.”

Let’s be careful not to destroy our families while shopping for them.

We can never go back to paradise

flamin-sword-angel-paradiseWe all want to live in paradise. Americans have just voted to go back there. Something in every human heart wants to return to the wholeness of the Garden of Eden. We long for a place where everything is perfect. A utopian kingdom where everyone is at peace and our daily evils are gone.

Englishman Thomas More coined the word “utopia” when writing his book by that name, creating the word from the Greek, “ou-topos” meaning “no place” or “nowhere”. He was punning on the almost identical Greek word “eu-topos” meaning “good place”. More’s little joke that there is no place that’s a completely good place.

More was also finance minister (treasurer of the exchequer) to King Henry VIII who beheaded him 1535 for opposing his divorce plans. No public protector back then!
Written in 1516 More’s utopia was an elaborate democracy without hierarchies and corruption, similar to the biblical paradise where Adam “walks with God in the cool of the day”. What wonderful equality and freedom!

Just as Thomas More’s utopia referred to no possible place, our dreams of returning to paradise somehow ignore that in the biblical narrative there’s an angel with a flaming sword guarding the entrance. A sad reminder that we can never go back home.
How evident that is in South Africa’s life right now! With almost everything we fear being expressed in some trending hashtag, it seems #paradisehasfallen.

How did South Africa come to this? The rainbow nation in 1994, we were the world’s newest and most envied democracy with an equally enviable economy too. Now we teeter on the edge of being rated with the world’s junk both in economics and political ethics.
Were we deluded in 1994 to think in Milton’s words that we had “regained paradise” from the hell realms of Nationalist Apartheid? Was the “New South Africa” an illusion? Are the 101 ANC stalwarts who back Pravin Gordham against King Jacob, just nostalgic old folks trying to salvage our non-racial democracy? And was Mandela, the ultimate utopian idealist whose dreams made sense on an island off Cape Town, but couldn’t survive the relentless heat of the African sun?

If we aren’t deluded utopians, exiled from the paradise of our democratic dreams, who are we? And how far will we wander into this political wilderness before we become another Zimbabwe ruin? Interesting to archaeologists, but with no practical currency in the unfolding global story.
How the hell we get here? Simple. We gobbled the forbidden fruit of self interest, croneyism and greed.

There is an old joke about Adam and Eve’s sin that got them expelled from the garden. When God called them to account, Adam blamed Eve. She blamed the snake, and the poor serpent didn’t have a leg to stand on.
Outside the gates of our Saxonwold paradise the blaming has just begun. The axe is swinging and who knows who will slither away when it’s over?

Religion is more than promises that are out of this world

It is a truism that no one person suffers in the same way as another. The African-american song lyric made famous by Louis Armstrong puts it like this: “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Sometimes I’m up, and sometimes I’m down, Yes, Lord, you know sometimes I’m almost to the ground. Nobody knows but Jesus.”

happy-old-man-nepal
To listen to the songs of the poor is to hear the voices of hope and longing. Somehow faith is fuelled in the deep struggles of daily life. This could be the reason the only place the church is still growing is in the poorer third world. Sadly, in many cases religion has done little to remove the suffering of people in their present situations and has rather deferred the solution of life’s problems to another lifetime. Heaven is promised to those who faithfully bear the pain of the present. Listen to the words of slave hymns and you will hear the delayed gratification for current injustice. “When the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there” “Oh when the saints go marching in.” A favourite Xhosa hymn is “Jerusalem Ikhaya lam” the first verse translates as “Jerusalem,my home, that which I love; when will you hear my striving, so I may rest in you.”
It is this delayed reward for current wrongs suffered that led Karl Marx to observe, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”.
Despite questioning the justice and ethics of substituting future salvation for current reparation, it cannot be denied that these promissory songs have the power to enable their singers to bear the unbearable. It never ceases to amaze me that the deepest joy is to be found amidst the most abysmal human conditions. The starving child smiles, the penniless widow sings, and the overwhelmed single parent opens her heart to care for others in her community.

Contrast that with the attitudes of the affluent whose entire lives collapse at the smallest inconvenience. A chipped finger nail, not finding a parking space for the flashy car, or the shirt on sale but not in your size. Despite our complete conversion to materialism as the object of our devotion, we seem unable to synchronise our wealth with happiness and contentment. Is there more joy in Motherwell than Mill Park? More satisfaction in Sidwell than Summerstrand? (See note)
How can those with so little of the material have such soulful contentment?
The error materialists make is a simple one. They look in the wrong places. Peace of mind is exactly what it says. If we cannot convince our minds of the intrinsic joy of life in any circumstances we will never be satisfied. Buddhists have known for centuries that suffering exists when we keep resisting the changing nature of reality. Peace arises when we allow the impermanence of life to bring us to that place of non-attachment to anything or anyone.

 

Note: In Port Elizabeth South Africa, Motherwell and Sidwell are poorer housing areas, Mill Park and Summerstarand are theelite suburbs.

Diabolical definitions

newdevilsdictionaryDuring the 1870’s, French novelist Gustave Flaubert had a custom of creating humorous definitions for words. These were eventually published as a “Dictionary of Received Ideas”.
Here are some examples:

  • Absinthe – Exceptionally violent poison: one glass and you’re a dead man. Journalists drink it while writing their articles. Has killed more soldiers than the Bedouins.
  • Architects – All idiots; always forget to put staircases in houses.
  • Omega – Second letter of the Greek alphabet.
  • Waltz – Wax indignant about. A lascivious, impure dance that should only be danced by old ladies.
  • Englishwomen – Express surprise that they can have pretty children.
  • Old People – When discussing a flood, thunderstorm, etc., they cannot remember ever having seen a worse one.
  • Sex – Word to avoid. Say instead, “Intimacy occurred…’.

Simultaneously, American Ambrose Bierce a columnist in the “San Francisco Newsletter” from 1869 onwards produced definitions titled “The Devil’s Dictionary.” These were later gathered into, “The Cynic’s Wordbook”.
Here are examples of his work:

  • Conservative – A statesman who is passionate about existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.
  • Cynic – A scoundrel whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. Hence the custom among the Scythians of plucking out a cynic’s eyes to improve his vision.
  • Egotist – A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.
  • Faith – Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.
  • Lawyer – One skilled in circumvention of the law.
  • Marriage – A household consisting of a master, a mistress, and two slaves, making in total, two.

Pretending to be a writer of similar calibre, I came up with my own “Diabolical Definitions”. Somewhat more colloquial and provincial. Enjoy!

  • Phone – a device filled with apps to distract you from actually making calls.
  • Taxi – a life threatening vehicle less concerned with transportation than disrupting orderly traffic flow.
  • Radio – used by people who want to look elsewhere whilst being informed.
  • Television – used by people who don’t want to do anything else while being misinformed.
  • Public protector – an historic office used to protect the Constitution from abuse by government. Currently under reconstruction to reverse that process.
  • President – historically a person of morality and honour leading their nation. Currently in USA and SA, the person best able to embarrass themselves and all citizens.
  • Judiciary – a sacred fortress against chaos. Constantly under attack from dark forces of government.
  • National Prosecuting Authority – a collective of legal minds and tools.  Some being applied inappropriately.
  • SARS – the body tasked with collection of state funds to be used by government without accountability to the funders.
  • Springbok – an emblem previously used to designate the best rugby players in the country.
  • Investor – a person to be completely ignored when formulating Presidential decisions.
  • Constitution – a historic document like the Bible, intended to guide and protect life. Largely ignored by those in power.
  • Social Media – a forum for conducting the trial of accused persons before they reach court.

Do you have some to add?

There is nothing wrong with me. I’m just different.

“What is wrong with you?” It’s a question usually asked with exasperation when we just can’t understand another person, their behaviour, their attitude, or their beliefs. Asked of an adult the question is damaging enough, but when a parent uses the phrase as an expression of frustration a child grows up believing there is something wrong with them.

what-is-wrongwith-you
Asking, “What is wrong with you?”, assumes there is an answer. A condition, a label, some explanation of the difference or deviance being experienced by the questioner. A satisfying response might be, “Oh sorry I’m bi-polar” or “I’m British”. Perhaps, “I’m not well”? We want a name, a reason, a label.
I can’t help wonder what would happen if asked “What is wrong with you?” we replied, “Absolutely nothing.”?
Part of counselling is helping people see there really is nothing wrong with them. We come to counselling, as we go to our family doctor expecting a diagnosis and a prescription. In truth we are human beings doing the best we can in responding to the challenges of life. Living with the consequences and choices that precede us and about which we can do very little. Yes, our actions may be more or less skilful. In trying to pursue our needs we may resort to destructive behaviour. We could be less than helpful towards those around us when we are hurting, angry or stressed. But these are ordinary human behaviours.

The #WhatIsWrong? Approach to the world assumes that there is something that can and must be fixed. It is an attitude toward human behaviour that wants to make everyone carbon copies of myself.
There is a ridiculous Victorian hymn that says, “Even now we speak and think the same, and cordially agree. Concentred all in Jesus name, in perfect harmony.” Rubbish! I have never experienced that in any church or other community. It’s just not the way humans are together. We are different and diverse and because of that we struggle and strive. Nothing is wrong, it is just different from who we are and what we prefer. Yet we persevere in our prejudice. What is wrong with students, presidents, teachers, rugby coaches?

If there is anything that characterises human life in the past ten years it is a growing sense of our rich diversity. My parents only ate British and Boerekos (Tr. Afrikaans food) I now eat Italian, Thai, Japanese, Indian, Chinese, African American, and Jamaican cuisine and love the variety.
If we can be so globally inclusive with our palettes why not with other parts of life? What is it about our herd consciousness that wants our viewpoint and no one else’s to exist?

Our religions, political groupings, ideologies, cultures and clans exert huge power over us to be suspicious of anything different.
If we listen only to them we will never transcend our partisan perspectives. We will also not progress beyond language and cultural ghettoes. Much needed global and universal consciousness will never be found in this way.

The origins of “Decolonise the University”

It is said, “Some people change because they see the light, but most people change because they feel the heat.”
Fascinated by words, I have been intrigued by a phrase being used in student protests currently taking place across the country. “Decolonize the University” is a provocative statement that first appeared in the #RhodesMustFall movement of 2015 and is now a slogan for the #FeesMustFall demands of many students.
My search for the coiner of “Decolonize the University” led me to Joseph-Achille Mbembe a native Cameroonian with a delightful Afro-French accent. Born in in 1957, Achille (pronounced Asheel) is married to Sarah Nuttall the director of the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER) where he is a staff member.

achillembembe
Mbembe’s academic record is in itself a tour de force. With the Sorbonne in Paris as his Alma Mater (PhD 1989) he has worked at Columbia, Berkeley, Yale, Duke and Harvard Universities. He is currently a research professor at the last. He is referred to as a “post colonial theorist” largely because his central work translated into English is titled, “On the Postcolony” (2001).
Given his academic prowess, Mbembe’s writing is dense but powerful and probably best understood by that ironic-comic story that tells of Africans encountering colonial powers. “When we met the colonists, they had the bible and we had the land. They told us to close our eyes and pray. When we opened our eyes, we had the bible and they had the land!”

kenyatta_portrait_1953
Mbembe’s thought is informed by the French Caribbean psychiatrist, philosopher, and revolutionary Franz Fanon (1925-1961) who published “Black Skin, White Masks” (1952) and “The Wretched of the Earth” (1961) in which he justifies the use of violence by colonised populations to root out racist and dehumanising colonial structures simply because the coloniser had no qualms about employing violence in conquering native lands to begin with. Mbembe also employs Freudian psychology to recognise the power of symbols, space and place names that imprint the colonisers projection of inferiority on conquered peoples.

However, the theme of Postcolony is to criticise post-colonial governments as much as the colonisers. Observing his native Cameroon, Mbembe argues that modern African governments have not completed the necessary structural and political transformations that take the diversity of present day African metropolitan nations seriously.

Mbembe is not about iconoclasm and overthrow. He is about building inclusive futures. He provocatively states, “Decolonizing the university starts with the de-privatization and rehabilitation of the public space – the rearrangement of spatial relations. It starts with a redefinition of what is public, i.e.,what pertains to the realm of the common and as such, does not belong to anyone in particular because it must be equally shared between equals.”
He powerfully trashes the argument that Rhodes donated the land to the University of Cape Town by asking, “How did Rhodes acquire the land, and from whom?”

This is an intelligent and reasonable argument driving protesting students.