[eDebate] Reply to Tom Meagher

Tom Meagher meagher.tom
Sat Apr 26 03:53:33 CDT 2008


Calum,

I'm sorry for the extent to which I overstated your arguments on Russia. I
used them as a jumping off point because I found them frustrating in the
context, and that context was of course immanent to my own perception. I did
indeed make bold claims without backing them up much, and hopefully the
length of this post will indicate why.

The idea that I attribute the Cold War solely to the US is laughable. To me,
anyway. Soviet politics bore 100% of the influence of global coloniality. In
my initial post, I referenced Aime Cesaire's Discourse on Colonialism,
which, though written at the very beginning of the Cold War, argued that the
forms of humanity that emerged globally as a result of colonialism were at
the heart of WWII and the US-Soviet conflict. He famously termed this the
"boomerang effect" of colonialism. By this, he was arguing that
prescriptions for normative subjectivity became, within a few centuries of
colonialism, fully inextricable from Europe's misanthropic philosophy and
definition of humanity; these phenomena emerged out of Europe's intellectual
burden of creating a discourse on human reality that would facilitate
continued colonial exploitation. Fascism was an application of colonial
philosophy and systems of management to the interior of Europe. Stalinism is
in the same boat. Similarly, Frantz Fanon's writings, to name just the most
important thinker in the field, were arguing that the Soviet Union's actions
were fundamentally colonialist and that they were in the same boat as the
US. Contemporarily, there is much scholarship related to this point. To save
time, I'll give you just one citation: the South Atlantic Quarterly, 105:3,
is dedicated to the relationship between coloniality and the contemporary
post-Soviet Union.

"Blaming the Cold War on a papal bull promulgated in 1455 just returns
Western Europe to the same position at the center of history. Colonialism,
and ONLY colonialism, by these European states determined the ENTIRE COURSE
of history. This is just a more subtle way to focus on the West."

My argument is that what emerged in the wake of 1455 was historically unique
and has not merely impacted but rather shaped the global phenomena that have
ensued. You are not citing examples of other imperialisms that I am unaware
or unfamiliar with. Few Ethnic Studies students I'm aware of have too big of
a knowledge defecit when it comes to the colonial history of the Aztecs.
Scholars like Sylvia Wynter, Enrique Dussel, Walter Mignolo, Immanuel
Wallerstein, and Janet Abu-Lughod, to name only a few of the most renowned
scholars, make comparative arguments on these points to argue that 1455/1492
is historically unique, and none of them are doing so from the perspective
of Western European thought.

Allow me to synopsize the point. Prior to the 15th century, each human group
had an ethnocentric cosmogony and cosmology; each human group has been
defined by a shared language or linguistic form, and each has used that
language to serve its adaptive needs. Each had a conception of divinity that
was inextricable from how they understood the world; societies developed
their own sciences in terms of their . Hence, the phenomena of
ethnoastronomies the world over capable of making very precise calculations
without having a purely scientific framework in place or having an accurate
understanding of the cosmos.

The great bulk of scientific advances that Europe has made since the
15thcentury have happened to some extent in a dialectic relation with
colonialism. For a brilliant and earlier text that makes this point, see
Fernando Ortiz's Cuban Counterpoint. For an in-depth and contemporary
explanation, I would suggest reading every Sylvia Wynter article you can
locate, (for starters, try
www.phillwebb.net/regions/caribbean/Wynter/Wynter.htm) and then email me for
copies of the ones you cannot find. These scientific advances completely
overthrew the ethnocentric theological order of knowledge that gripped
Christendom, *just as ethnocentric theological orders of knowledge gripped
every other human society*. However, these advances were likely only
possible because of a very different division of global labor that emerged
out of coloniality, not to mention that Europe quickly gained immense access
to scientific advancements from around the globe. (Consider, for example,
the roots of the so-called Industrial Revolution in England colonizing
India, exporting its techniques for manufacturing ? then the most advanced
in the world ? back to England while destroying these capacities in India
and converting Indian resources into, among other things, tea production.)
Each scientific advancement, since it contributed to a significant degodding
of Christocentric/Eurocentric epistemology, was cross-indexed with claims to
the general superiority of a Eurocentered humanity. This, in turn, meant
that Europe (I do not mean this in a geographic sense; Europe, strictly
speaking, refers to the ideal to which the bulk of that geographic area
aligned itself to starting with its degodding and hence inability to remain
simply Christendom) was using the fruits of colonialism to build the
technologies of domination that maintained colonialism (including
intellectually) at the same time that it was using its ability to do so as
evidence that this colonialism was necessary and for the good of all
humanity.

Perhaps the main reason for this historical uniqueness is laid out in Jacob
Pandian's Anthropology and the Western Tradition. Christianity was fairly
unique in having a core division between the true self and the untrue self.
As Eurocentric thought emerged and progressively degodded itself, *this
distinction between true and un-true selves was transumed instead of
abandoned.* Anthropological thinking emerged that attempted to define the
true self of Europe in contradistinction to the peoples of the rest of the
world. As such, the racial/sexual/religious/etc. other is subject to
misanthropic skepticism, as Nelson Maldonado-Torres has put it (see his
Against War, in stores on 4/30, or his article in Cultural Studies vol. 21).
In other words, the other must prove its own humanity, and the (Cartesian)
subject emerging out of Europe was conditioned to begin with the assumption
of its own validity ? cogito ergo sum. In this way, colonialism generated a
coloniality of being; our very consciousness, and I am far, far from
excluding myself or any being on the globe from this, is shaped to varying
but large extents by the theorizing on human reality that emerged out of
Europe's need to explain in positive terms the global phenomenon it was
carrying out. And of course, Europe actively sought to spread the
coloniality of being, and conducted evangelizing missions the world over.
Frantz Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks (and I strongly suggest reading Lewis
Gordon's elaboration of this work in his Fanon and the Crisis of European
Man as well as in the journal Parallax 8:2) makes this point with chilling
effectiveness.

Alongside of the coloniality of being are a coloniality of knowledge, power,
and freedom. For more on the coloniality of knowledge, consult Mignolo or
Wynter. I think that that concept is pretty straightforward, but will
elaborate if need be; consider the role of the Kantian/Humboldtian
university in disseminating Eurocentric knowledge and disrupting other
knowledge practices, and the subsequent corporate university model that
broke out in the 20th century. The coloniality of power was first termed by
Anibal Quijano, and his English-language piece in Nepantla from 2000 is a
must read (it's on Project Muse, for those who have access). Where
colonialism receded, the new institutions of social power were taken up by
white, often bourgeois elites; "Latin America" is the deepest and earliest
example. The institutions put in place by colonialism have generally been
maintained or quickly returned to, and rarely for "democratic" reasons.
Consider, for instance, what it means for realist international relations
theory, which takes the nation as the building block of analysis, that the
vast majority of the nations in the world came into existence not through
the type of nation-building seen in the so-called first world (as in the
famous text Imagined Communities) but rather through colonizing states
deciding that colonialism was not worth the effort and splitting up land
accordingly (this is an over-simplification; Quijano's article makes the
point quite well).

The coloniality of freedom refers to the notion that the terms of liberation
have also been dictated and/or distorted by coloniality. This is a very
complex issue and since it is not particularly germane (except to Marxism,
which I will discuss below) I'll just encourage an examination of the
history of Haiti.

A crucial point here is Sylvia Wynter's argument that Man, the subject
assumed in Eurocentric discourse, over-represents itself as if it were
humanity. Man is a gendered subject, as nearly any debater is somewhat aware
of, but if we look at the etymology of the word gender, we see that it is
essentially the same as the term genre (see her essay in Not Only the
Master's Tools on this point). Man is a genre of humanity that has produced
an order of knowledge premised on the notion that it is the only truly valid
genre of humanity, and that the less human humans, the (post-Darwin, anyway)
dysgenic others to Man's eugenic self, are to be legitimately subordinated
to Man. The genre of being that is dictated by the Eurocentric experience
has been violently imposed on others at the same time that these others are
systematically denied the possibility of meeting its standards.

This has a bipartite implication (it is obviously more complicated than this
distinction). Man's genre has a neurotic attachment to the technologies of
colonialism/domination, leading, inter alia, to its fascination with
militarism and nuclear warfare; techno-rational solutions to all or nearly
all problems, leading to global environmental problems, to say the least;
capital accumulation in excess and fetishism; a misanthropic and violent
sexuality. At the extreme, as Cesaire argued, is Hitler (see Nelson
Maldonado-Torres' article on Cesaire in the Radical Philosophy Review,
2006).

For those on the underside of modernity, whose humanity is at all times in
question, this genre of being ? which, through the multifaceted cultural
technologies of colonialism and subsequently coloniality, is part and parcel
of subject formation (e.g., identification with white heroes in films and so
forth) ? creates the phenomenon DuBois defined as double consciousness. This
concept is greatly elaborated on in Fanon and Fanonian scholarship in terms
of self-aversion. The person of color develops a subjective understanding of
their own self grounded in the consciousness of Man at the same time that
this consciousness is anti-Black, anti-poor, anti-etc.

That is a very hasty outline of the argument for the centrality of
coloniality in analysis of the contemporary world.

Now, I understand why you make the argument that this puts (keeps) Western
Europe at the center. But my reasoning has nothing to do with an
epistemology centered in Western Europe; my reasoning has everything to do
with epistemologies centered in Martinique, in Chiapas, in Algeria, in
Jamaica, in the US Southwest, and so on. The best response to a Manichean
schema is not always to merely deconstruct Manichean logic.

With regard to the Cold War, it does not seem that I need to provide much of
an explanation for the relation between the US's role and coloniality. But
allow me to list a handful from a large number of salient issues:

1. Capitalism has not existed independently of a racialized global division
of labor (i.e., coloniality). There are many arguments to be made about the
variety of related human "economies," but Quijano, Mignolo, Ramon
Grosfoguel, and the world systems analysis school have elucidated the
reasons for this distinction at length. Capitalism is the result of the
bourgeoisie's revolution against feudalism, which is inextricable from the
opportunities opened up by racializing labor. Debaters who rail against
capitalism ? and their intellectual inspirations, like the
avowedly-Eurocentric scoundrel Slavoj Zizek ? tend to downplay this quite
considerably. Similarly, the defenders of capitalism have no empirical
analysis of it that does not stem from a world where a complex system of
coloniality defends the division of labor that makes it not only possible
but thinkable.

(I'll address 'Why 1455' here. This division of labor starts with the papal
bull, and within a century the Pope's decree that heathens can be justly
enslaved produces the disputation at Vallavolid where Sepulveda, a scholar
and translator of Aristotle, made a non-theological argument for racial
slavery on the basis of 'natural slavery.' At Vallavolid, the indigenous
peoples of the Americas were determined to have the (largely unfulfilled)
potential for humanity, while the indigenous peoples of Africa were not even
debated: it was assumed that they were not human. So 1455 makes reference to
the institution of the capital accumulation system and the revolution of the
bourgeoisie, the racial system, and the origins of misanthropic skepticism
later fleshed out in Cartesian reasoning. It also coincides with the
degodding of the natural world, culminating with Columbus' 1492 voyage that
disproved Christendom's ethnogeography and that was based on his poetics of
the propter nos ? that is, that god invented the world 'for us'
(Christendom) to spread the gospel.)

2. The US does not exist independent of coloniality. Period. Other forms of
punctuation, and then repeated, and then another period or three.

3. The interest in maintaining capitalism and markets beyond rational
arguments to do so stems from coloniality, as does the willingness to devote
huge sectors of production to this end.

4. The ontology behind the cold war mindset is inextricable from the
coloniality of being.

5. Flip Calum's argument about city planning and nuclear war. The
development of nuclear weapons, as well as the escalation that ensued, were
possible in large part because stratification made the consequences more
palatable. I don't think we disagree on this one.

6. The competition for satellite nations is inextricable from the
coloniality of power.

Your point about Russian expansion is not lost on me. I have no problem
admitting that Russian consciousness was more greatly influenced by forms of
domination preceding coloniality than was US consciousness. That having been
said, Marxism is an intellectual history steeped in and inextricable from
the coloniality to which I was referring. Simply put, Marxism attempted to
correct the excesses of coloniality by valorizing the proletarian class and
labor more generally. In doing so, it only borrowed the misanthropic
philosophical anthropology that emerged out of the bourgeoisie's
valorization of capital in its revolution against feudalism. Coloniality
meant that Europe would not commit itself to a humanist philosophy but
rather a discourse of requiring the other to prove its humanity. This, I
argue, is the cornerstone of all subsequent Eurocentric thought. The
bourgeoisie successfully established the main criteria for this misanthropic
skepticism along a set of totemic valuations based on degree of difference
from the bourgeoisie's avowed characteristics. Hence, coloniality
established humanity on the basis of maleness, Christianity, the
nation-state, capital accumulation, and quickly emerging racializations. The
contention is that Marx, who started off by making an argument of
philosophical anthropology (that is, he defined humanity on the basis of its
productive capacity, to reduce it significantly), only replicated this.
Compare Marx's philosophical anthropology to those of Guaman Poma, Frederick
Douglass, or Antenor Firmin. The result is Leninism, Stalinism, the gulag
archipelago, et cetera. I will confess to being under-informed on the roots
of major Soviet figures in Russian political discourse as opposed to Marxist
political discourse. I will concede that other factors played a role in the
Soviet buildup to the Cold War. But it is entirely evident that Russia's
epistemology and totemic valuation of human life stem largely from the
entirely globalized phenomenon of coloniality, which I contend is best
defined as starting with 1455. I don't have my notes on this subject
(Marxism) handy, so I will try to produce more citations when I can.

So that is the late Friday night, why did I stay home writing this instead
of going out version of why the Cold War is fundamentally rooted in
coloniality, its engine. I did indeed attempt to use provocative language in
my initial post, but it is language that I will defend and with only a few
possible exceptions continue to advocate for the near future. This is a
technique that Calum is clearly not unfamiliar with. I do not claim that
there is no other hermeneutic available; certainly to go more broadly, the
root of the cold war is that humans broke from other species in developing
linguistic capacities that allowed for the adaptive evolution of human
knowledge and societies; while other animals must reproduce and depend on
bioevolution for the bulk of their adaptation to the world they inhabit,
humans are able to develop narrative understandings of that world that can
be communicated and debated intersubjectively.

So why do I make a big deal about coloniality? The significance is not to
blame Europe. To do so accomplishes nothing. It is to develop an analytic
clarity in order to overthrow the present order of knowledge and create a
new one. I felt compelled to raise these issues because the coloniality of
knowledge militates against them, and debate is closer to the belly of this
beast than its hindquarters. The new order of knowledge is not one premised
on either a return to the past (as Cesaire went to great lengths to make
clear) or on being a Bizarro Europe that says badbye when it is leaving. It
is to develop a humanist philosophy, and not a Eurocentric misanthropy
masquerading as humanism. To do so requires new approaches and new
discourses emerging from the people on the underside of modernity. It is my
contention that debate as presently constituted is to a large degree at odds
with the methodologies that are requisite for this (see: Wynter, Linda
Tuhiwai Smith, and Sandoval, among many others). At the same time, debate
can be an explosive tool against coloniality, and in many ways already is.
Thus, my vested interest in advancing the discourse and research on racism
in the debate community.

This previous paragraph seems skimpy. It's where my big alt card is supposed
to be. Once again, I'm having a hard time conceptualizing a way to spell
this out. So I'm going to try again to ask the reader to do some work on
this one. Consider the following concepts advanced by these authors, and I
can scrounge up the specifics if you need them:

-Love / A New Humanism ? Frantz Fanon

-Transmodernity ? Enrique Dussel

-Border epistemology ? Anzald?a and Mignolo

-Towards the human, after Man ? Sylvia Wynter

The fundamental point is about liminality. The subjects excluded from the
reigning order, or the subjects on its very threshold, gain access to the
order's knowledge at the same time that they experience their own exclusion
from it (debaters may be familiar with a different version of this concept,
the so-called epistemic privilege). The great changes in any episteme come
from its margins; the Iberian peninsula reacted to its marginalization from
a world centered around the Arabic-speaking world by beginning the global
process of colonialism. It would bring me great joy to see the debate
community begin its research processes at the margins of contemporary global
reality. Ultimately, the criticisms of modernity emerging from these sites,
as well as the utopistics for the future, are a prerequisite to adopting a
humanist philosophy. Reparations is an appealing topic because it does not
only ask what is wrong in the status quo (and, unlike previous 'race
topics', does not confine itself to civil rights, privacy, court decisions,
etc.) but also requires a utopistics from the margins. Reparations debates
require a vision of the future, and they require an epistemology that starts
with the underside of modernity (though surely we all agree that many
debaters will evade these requirements).

What we have at present is a global reality that privileges the
subjectivity, knowledge, institutions, and forms of life of Man. This global
reality is, as such, related to Man's narrative capacity; human life has
changed at an alarming rate because the ability to alter behavior so
radically intragenerationally is unique to humans, at this time anyway. The
human narrative capacity, however, does not function teleologically. To
elaborate this point, consider the discourses of natural selection and
evolution. On face, these are descriptive phenomena: over time, the species
that survive are those that are best adapted to their environs. However,
many seem to view this as a teleological phenomenon, a view rooted to
significant extent in coloniality's discourse of Progress: over time, the
BEST species live on and the worst ones die out. Evolution does the dirty
work of making the world better, according to this view. Man sees its own
narrative capacity as functioning as a teleological adaptation. Its forms of
life are the best, and its job as a species (or genre of humanity) is to
eliminate its dysgenic elements and promote its eugenic elements. However,
Man does this on the basis of its belief that Man is isomorphic to humanity
(or true humanity). As we are seeing, Man's belief in the promulgation of
its ethnocentrically-derived criteria is not good for humanity at large and
leads to a myriad of global problems. This is to be expected, because Man
bases its understanding of the world on only a subset of the knowledge of
the entire world. And it is powerful enough that it crowds out and often
exterminates other forms of knowledge and being rather than learning from
them. Man is actively promoting itself as the fittest and is subsequently
threatening the survival of its others. It does so not on the basis of
veridical truths (as no human knowledge can meet this standard, at least at
present and on a wide scale) but rather on the adaptive truths it has
narratively produced in its own experience. It has produced these adaptive
truths out of its experience of colonizing the globe. This is a disastrous
and tragic ethnocentrism that threatens to wipe out the planet and that
wipes so many of its people on a daily basis.

To advance beyond this state, and to develop criteria for being that are
based not on the adaptive truths of Man but rather on the adaptive truths of
humanity writ large, requires a revolution of consciousness. Such a
revolution requires a reverse anthropology of Man carried out by the liminal
subjects of the order.

I do not oppose a Russia topic, or any other topic (at least of those on the
table? I will admit to hating the high school WMD topic). I choose to offer
arguments in support of the topic that has the greatest potential to improve
the debate community, and I can only do this from my own perspective,
dependent though it is on a commitment to unearthing the perspectives of
those condemned by coloniality. Nor do I oppose Calum's defense of Russia
(the topic). Indeed, I chose it as a jumping off point in large part because
it is such compelling argumentation.

Unless something happens that I don't currently foresee, I'm not going to be
working in college debate next year. As I've said, I don't have much to gain
from a reparations topic. I am making an intervention in a community that I
care about, and doing so did require or seemingly require a handful of
rhetorical moves that I do not wholly agree with. My argument is that
adopting a reparations topic has greater potential for utilizing the amazing
research resources of college debate for genuine good. I'm not going to
convince anyone single-handedly, and I'm not trying to.
My best wishes to anyone reading and anyone not,
Tom
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