[2021] Hospicing modernity

  title={Hospicing Modernity: Facing Humanity's Wrongs and the Implications for Social Activism},
  author={de Oliveira, V.M.},
  publisher={North Atlantic Books}

In openlibrary.

My highlights:

When language manifests as an entity, it “worlds the world” and this opens other possibilities for experiencing existence within the world. In worlding the world, stories are living entities that emerge from and move things in the world.

Modernity is a single story of progress, development, human evolution, and civilization that is omnipresent. Being carried up a ladder of social mobility that stands on the broken backs of piling bodies of other human and nonhuman beings. Modernity is full of paradoxes: of war and humanitarian support, of ongoing colonialism and reconciliation, of imperialism and education, of poverty creation and alleviation, of exponential growth and sustainability.

Although modernity always sees itself and behaves as if “young,” it has grown old and is facing its end. Most people will not willingly let go of the enjoyments and securities afforded by modernity. Acting with compassion to assist systems to die with grace, and to support people in the process of letting go— even when they are holding on for dear life to what is already gone. The sense of separation and superiority implanted by modernity is a social disease in all of us, that requires collective healing.

Clear space and build collective capacity for us to reflect on the role of education in confronting the potential or likelihood of social and ecological collapse in our lifetimes— and beyond. Finally we could see that we were addicted to arrogance, consumption, and unaccountable autonomy. From the day children are born, their education should prepare them to become healthy, wise elders and good ancestors for all relations.

Many of these expired stories give us a sense of security, purpose, and direction— precisely because they seem stable and solid. Thus, we become attached to them and get used to their weight in our lives. Figure out a way to release these stories, and— for at least a minute— to sit with the mystery of the void we feared.

Modernity is not a concept, label, or object of analysis. Rather, it is a worlding story, a complex adaptive living system that actively does things, including conditioning the habits of knowing and being of those whose lives and livelihoods are intertwined with it. Many who benefit from modernity would be prepared to fight to secure its continuity. Many of those who are exploited by modernity would prefer to benefit from it, regardless of the costs. Many would like to see modernity replaced by a different system. Some believe a genuinely new system is only possible if we are able to learn the lessons that modernity has to offer in its decline.

Modernity is not a corrupt project of the West that needs to be defeated and replaced with a more righteous and virtuous non- Western alternative, but rather something that is now (unevenly) part of all of us, conditioning the ways we experience reality. The benefits we associate with modernity are created and maintained by historical, systemic, and ongoing processes that are inherently violent and unsustainable. Modernity cannot exist without expropriation, extraction, exploitation, militarization, dispossession, destitution, genocides, and ecocides. In many stories of modernity these effects are considered the collateral damage of modernity rather than the necessary preconditions for modernity to exist.

Coloniality refers to the enduring manifestations of colonial relations, logic, and situations— even after the official decolonization of formal structures of governance. This deeper, older violence is the imposed sense of separation between ourselves and the dynamic living land- metabolism that is the planet and beyond, as well as the theological separation between creature and creator.

[The] technological shift contributed to the perception that the trees and the land could no longer teach us anything of value and that human progress is to be found in cities. The capacity to reason in a legitimate way, or at all, is attributed to particular human bodies and particular cultures. This is the source of hierarchies where the worth of bodies and cultures is tied to their perceived ability to produce knowledge in a specific way. Cultural supremacy secures a position where certain bodies are perceived to naturally embody authority and to be the legitimate arbiters of justice who are best fit to impose on other bodies what they believe to be objective and universal parameters and protocols for morality, ethics, economy, politics, and science.

Modernity/ coloniality has the capacity to imprint the wording of the world as the only possible relationship with language, meaning, knowledge— and, consequentially, with the world. This obsession with meaning overrides other sensibilities to the point where we can only register what we consider meaning- full, and we may numb to sense- fullness (in the broadest, most sensorial sense). It also imposes its own meanings as neutral and objective representations of reality.

There are at least four main constitutive denials sanctioned within modernity/ coloniality that severely restrict our capacity to sense, relate, and imagine otherwise: the denial of systemic, historical, and ongoing violence and of complicity in harm (the fact that our comforts, securities, and enjoyments are subsidized by expropriation and exploitation elsewhere); the denial of the limits of the planet and of the unsustainability of modernity/ coloniality (the fact that the finite earth- metabolism cannot sustain exponential growth, consumption, extraction, exploitation, and expropriation indefinitely); the denial of entanglement (our insistence in seeing ourselves as separate from each other and the land, rather than “entangled” within a wider living metabolism that is bio- intelligent); and the denial of the magnitude and complexity of the problems we need to face together (the tendency to look for simplistic solutions that make us feel and look good and that may address symptoms, but not the root causes, of our collective complex predicament).

Academia as we know it today (and formal education in general) has been created to uphold modernity, to recruit supporters, and to secure modernity’s future. Academia must reproduce the denials. Modernity predetermines what can be heard; what can be deemed real and possible; what can be imagined as desirable and ideal; and how we are supposed to feel, behave, and communicate within these parameters.

Create some generative chaos in your existence in order to make you somewhat uncomfortable and activate learning in your “stretch zone.” Grapple with the limits of these structures and how they are gradually becoming obsolete, and to take account of the often invisibilized costs of sustaining them.

In order to make possible deeper engagements and better relationships we will need to reactivate capacities for sensing, relating, and imagining that have been deactivated within modernity.

Amongst all other animals humans are the youngest. Amongst all human cultures the modern culture is the youngest.

What if you find motivations and responsibilities you won’t be able to ignore, but no one around you will understand you anymore?

Depth education, a mode of engagement designed to prompt us to dig deeper and to relate wider, disinvest in harmful desires, activate accountability and responsibility before will (not as an intellectual choice or a transactional calculation), and become open to being taught by the world in unexpected ways. [It] focuses on complexities and paradoxes and it invites all of us to sit with difficulties; unpack investments; confront resistance; disarm affective land mines; relate beyond meaning, identity, and understanding; rationally explore the limits of rationality; and face humanity within and around us in all its complexity: the good, the bad, the broken, and the messed up.

Worlding stories invite us to experiment with a different relationship between language and reality.

Within modernity, maturity is associated with the rule of mind and reason over emotions and the body. [It] severely limits our capacity to face and address plurality, uncertainty, ambiguity, and unknowability— both within ourselves and in the world at large.

Modernity conditions us to think in only a singular, linear layer based on an objective description of reality. [It] limits our capacity to develop discernment and to hold space for a range of multiple and conflicting thoughts, feelings, desires, and relationships. Sometimes an insight may be problematic in one layer, but not in another.

Everyone reproduces, to different extents, modernity’s violence. [There are] important differences in terms of sensibilities, vulnerabilities, sacrifices, types of labor, workloads, and sense of time and urgency. I invite you to experience the absurdity of modernity within and around you as a form of connection, endearment, and liberation from the grip of arrogance; as a way to laugh at yourself and be taught by the precarity, brokenness, and imperfection of our collective existence.

Can you see yourself as cute and pathetic? Can you laugh at yourself?

Disillusionment is a condition for clearing the way for other forms of existence to be able to emerge without being suffocated by our modern desires, projections, and expectations. This process involves realizing our entanglement not only with beautiful things in the world, but also with the saturated collective and individual “shit” of different forms of violence, greed, unprocessed traumas, harmful projections and addictions, narcissism, hedonism, hyperindividualism, and consumerism in all its forms.

Interrupt addictions to consumption, not only of “stuff” but also of knowledge, experiences, and relationships. Stop fearing fear, uncertainty, and emptiness. Surrender without collapsing. Listen to nonhuman authorities, and care about our relationship with them. Be open to what you can’t and may never understand. Look into the mirror and release the fear of disappointment, rejection, and abandonment. Embrace yourself as both cute and pathetic, be courageously vulnerable. Activate the sense of hearing in all parts of your body, so that through witnessing we can heal one another. Notice how you move between your comfort, stretch, and panic zones. Turn the heart into a verb: corazonar, senti- pensar. Feel the pain of the earth piercing you. Collectivize your heart so that it breaks open and not apart. Allow yourself to be guided by a metabolic intelligence. Enable neurogenesis and learn to breathe water. Be water. Offer palliative care to the dystopian world that is dying, both within and around us. Digest the teachings this death offers. Assist with the birth of something new, without suffocating what is being born with projections and idealizations.

HEADS UP patterns: Hegemonic practices (reinforcing and justifying the status quo) Ethnocentric projections (presenting one view as universal and superior) Ahistorical thinking (forgetting the role of historical legacies and complicities in shaping current problems) Depoliticized orientations (disregarding the impacts of power inequalities and delegitimizing dissent) Self- serving motivations (invested in self- congratulatory heroism) Uncomplicated solutions (offering “feel- good” quick fixes that do not address root causes of problems) Paternalistic projections (infantilizing the other and seeking gratitude from those who have been “helped”)

[If these patterns] are challenged all at once, the resulting narrative can become largely unintelligible. The more critical, well- thought- out projects that try to be mindful of (or address) more than just one set of the problematic patterns rarely, if ever, get funded, because the funders simply might not understand what the project is trying to achieve and how. Efforts to interrupt these patterns also tend to create paradoxes, where a solution to one problem creates another problem or even a chain of problems. Interrupting the workings of modernity within modernity is complex, complicated, and deeply frustrating. Stamina, humor, flexibility, and resilience are required.

(Methodological Layer) Critiques that focus on ways of doing conclude that the system is not operating as it should— that is, at its optimum performance level— and must be adjusted in order to realign better with its underlying principles and goals. Lack of efficiency within capitalist markets, a lack of access to Enlightenment knowledge, and a lack of trust in a nation- state’s politicians or democratic processes. Single story of development as economic growth, assimilation, and social mobility as universally desirable outputs.

(Epistemological Layer) The politics of knowledge are deeply linked to the naturalization of ongoing historical and systemic inequalities. Our dominant frames of reference favor certain ways of knowing over others and thereby determine what is intelligible, desirable, and imaginable. Reconsider what and how we know— and how we might know differently. What is perceived as natural, normal, and common sense.

(Ontological Layer) We cannot expect capitalism, the state, or Enlightenment humanism to fix the problems that capitalism, the state, and Enlightenment humanism have produced— we therefore need to learn to exist otherwise. The problems will not be eradicated until the foundations of this system expire, and until we learn from the current system’s mistakes, mourn its decline, and assist with its passing with integrity, we won’t be able to create different possibilities. Who and what we are. Explore the boundaries of what we perceive to be real, intelligible, possible, and relevant and look for alternatives that are viable but unimaginable within modernity’s frames of reference and desirability.

Development is identified as a theory of change that no longer offers a compelling or ethical narrative vision for the future— if it ever did. Separability removes the intrinsic value of life that grounds relations of equanimity and an individual’s inherent sense of self- worth. If your life does not carry intrinsic value, you will need to produce value within the economies of modernity in order to justify your worth, and why you deserve to be alive. [In a] hierarchical value that rank allegedly separate beings and cultures against one another according to their perceived utility within modernity’s economies. Separations between humans and the earth and other- than- human beings are premised on conquest, domination, and property ownership.

While the house modernity built offers shiny promises of endless consumption, comfort, safety, and social mobility, these promises are subsidized by a colonial underside: the externalized and invisibilized costs of building and maintaining the house. Through historical and ongoing destitution; dispossession; and epistemicides, genocides, and ecocides. The expansion of the house through exponential growth also requires the expansion of its violence.

Low- intensity struggles are marked by the availability of choice to engage or disengage according to one’s stated commitments or contextual conveniences. Those who live inside the house are deeply conditioned by its structure— intellectually, affectively, and relationally.

Since modernity sees itself as the apex of civilization, it places modern subjectivities (modern humans) as the apex of human social evolution. Assume that those who are functional and well adapted to producing value in modernity’s economies are “normal,” well- adjusted, and in a position to judge and to “help” those who are not, to “catch up” with modernity’s program. What other neurochemical and neurofunctional configurations would be possible if we were not bound by those economies? These types of research are both unthinkable and unfundable in modern science.

Modernity reorients the production, release, and absorption of serotonin. We feel compelled to seek connection and the external validation for our sense of worth through participation in modern affective, intellectual, relational, and material economies. Modernity convinces us that we can fill the (insatiable) existential gap created by separability through the consumption of goods, knowledge, relationships, critique, experiences, praise, and other forms of capital.

In many ways, the only way out of the intellectual, affective, relational, and creative limits imposed by modernity is to intentionally pay more attention to modernity’s death rather than try to fix, replace, or escape it. Modernity is faster than thought. This is why we cannot simply think our way out of modernity.

The practices of alphabetic literacy currently taught in schools are about stories that are fixed, and that attempt to fix things in place and in perfect form. Such ways of relating to stories comes from modernity, and we do not pay much attention to what these stories do to the children and to the world at large. We romanticize and idealize humanity by associating being human with virtue, beauty, goodness, greatness, benevolence, and innocence while associating being inhuman with evil— or with whatever does not fit modernity’s picture- perfect frame of humanity. This supports the rationalization of why these others do not deserve to enjoy what we feel entitled to, and, at its extreme, to justify why they should be eliminated. Challenge this dichotomy and support people to “face humanity” in its full spectrum: the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly, the broken, and the messed up.

Long- established expectations of order, safety, security, stability, and predictability that were created by modernity are becoming increasingly untenable. The logical response from modernity’s patterns of knowing is to impose more fixed meanings to control the rebellious world at any cost, to give up on the world through cynicism and nihilism, or to use violence against others or oneself.

Colonization involves the systematic belittlement and attempted elimination of Indigenous peoples’ knowledge and governance systems, so that settlers can have access to their land. The sense that because we work or study at a university, we are exceptional people (exceptionally intelligent, well- educated, and virtuous) who are uniquely positioned to see reality more objectively than everyone else and to suggest (or impose) steps to improve it. We feel we can and should codify the world to our hearts’ content using our particular cultural referents, thinking we are doing it with neutrality, objectivity, innocence/ benevolence, and universal relevancy. We also feel this status is constantly under threat (with some good reason), and therefore this position needs to be continuously defended and reaffirmed, using multiple strategies of taking space.

Other( ed) knowledges are frequently dismissed on two grounds. Most frequently, they are interpreted as too similar and therefore irrelevant and incapable of offering any substantial thing of value to “progress.” Alternatively, they are deemed too different and unintelligible, which either renders them irrelevant (again) or places them in a position where their credentials are subject to constant scrutiny by those who can evaluate them in allegedly neutral, objective, and universal ways.

When those who cannot fit modernity’s molds end up in modern institutions, the experience of “inclusion” can be quite violent and painful. Having one’s stories instrumentalized, commodified, and consumed can be painful and retraumatizing. The narratives necessary to build my legitimacy and credibility as a university professor before my academic peers are precisely the narratives that could frame me, standing before Indigenous community relations, as personally invested in an oppressive dominant culture.

Some people choose to stay with a single narrative of who they are that works in building legitimacy and belonging within the groups they want to associate with. Others develop the capacity to translate themselves from one context into another, with different narratives about who they are. Such translations can be perceived as dishonest by those who have never had to translate themselves into other contexts.

Systemic violence is complex and multilayered. One thing that cuts across layers is the disproportionate amount of labor that Indigenous and other visibly racialized bodies bear when they are expected to teach other people about systemic colonial and racial violence in equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) initiatives.

Expect it to be, at times, incoherent, messy, uncomfortable, difficult, deceptive, contradictory, paradoxical, repetitive, frustrating, infuriating, boring and painful— and prepare for your heart to break open to be stretched. Take a step back from the center, the frontline from visibility, relinquish the authority of your interpretations, your choice, your entitlements, relinquish that which you are most praised and rewarded for. Don’t try to teach, to lead, to organize, to mentor, to control, to theorize, or to determine where we should go, how to get there and why.

Within modernity, any form of politics in order to be legible must have a dialectical description of a problem (critique) and a prescription of solutions (proposition). The seemingly paradoxical position of deep respect and deep suspicion or deep skepticism is extremely important for hospicing modernity. Imagining a political practice beyond representation, recognition, and redistribution is almost impossible within modernity.

We tend to homogenize and romanticize marginalized communities, denying them the complexity and fallibility that characterize the full spectrum of humanity; turning them into characters in order to affirm our fantasies of solidarity, redemption, futurity, and continuity. In order to expand modernity (to include more people) or replace hierarchies within it (change who is at the top), other marginalized people and the environment will have to pay the price.

Stories of rites of passage and initiation are very rare within modernity. They usually start with an interruption or severance that makes it impossible for the familiar way of being to continue as usual: you are stripped naked so that you can shed your old skin. Then there is the element of the “liminal,” a threshold where you are really vulnerable, but allows no going back and no other option except to be taught by the dis- eases, monsters, shadows, and shit— without guarantees that you will come out alive. The liminal is a space of great danger: where the work gets done at a cellular level in the flesh and in the bones, or where you die. The last element is the long return home, the growing of new skin, which involves a voluntary relinquishment of something previously deemed foundational, but that is no longer useful or necessary. You begin to integrate the unique lessons you have learned and you finally find your way back— and soon enough you start a new cycle. Modernity dying, not on our terms, can also be considered a rite of passage for humanity.

There is knowledge that can be known and described, there is knowledge that can be known but not described, and there is knowledge that cannot be known or described.

The world is changed through love, patience, enthusiasm, respect, courage, humility, and living life in balance. We have made it sick and thus made ourselves sick, either we heal or we die. Because it is urgent and we are running out of time, we need to slow down in order to grow up.

It requires an interruption of harmful desires hidden behind promises of entitlements and securities that people hold onto, particularly when they are desperate or afraid. we would need to withdraw safely from the numbing sedatives we have become addicted to. No wonder this is a difficult sell, but do we really have any other option?

We understand that our decolonial gestures and attempts to undertake this work will undoubtedly and inevitably fail. However, how we fail is important. It is actually in the moments of failure that the deepest (un) learning becomes possible and we can get a glimpse of the depth of our collective predicament. Failing generatively requires both intellectual and relational rigor.

More highlights: https://ia800501.us.archive.org/14/items/elopio-kindle-highlights/Hospicing_modernity_facing_humanitys_wrongs_and_th%20-%20Notebook.html