Moving out of the West and into Industry
February 16, 2015, 3:10 pm
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In this series of essays on (re)definition I will be exploring how the language we use in our everyday speech contributes to furthering the political, economic and plain old power games of people who don’t have our best interest at heart. There are many things that we take for granted as simply the way the world is. One of the keys to a true liberation is understanding the fallacy of this belief. The world is the way it is because people made it that way. From the design of our education system to the design of the toaster you pulled breakfast from this morning, someone else made decisions about how all of these things work and we usually simply do what we can with the decisions they’ve made.

Language is different yet also falls within this dynamic. It is no coincidence that the word black in used to denote only the most negative of things and circumstances in the English language. While the word itself is neutral our usage of it is anything but. This is called coded language, words and phrases we use to illustrate meanings that are not explicit in the words themselves. Its how when a tea party politician mentions “welfare queens” you know they mean a large black woman; no, they never said the words large, black or woman but anyone with a reasonable knowledge of reality knows that this is exactly the image they intended to conjure.

While this may seem somewhat inane its not. Studies show that even with regards to race, people respond more positively to people of African descent who label themselves as African-American rather than Black. When primed with the various words, people are more likely to find an African-American more kind, educated & easier to relate to than a Black person, despite them being the exact same person. As I have mentioned in the preamble to this series Understanding Privilege as Priority, being Black is a distinct reality than being Negro, being Indigenous a distinct reality than being Indian, and being queer a distinct reality from being “funny”.

While much of what I look at focuses on what’s happening in this country specifically, I feel it is also crucial to understand this country in context. Unfortunately, our context is regularly skewed by politicians, busyness people, the media and anyone who is prioritizing profits over people. One of the legacies of Europe’s colonial streak is the redlining of the entire globe to ensure that some places stay flush with resources while others chronically struggle. Ironically it is the places often bereft of natural abundance which are now flush while places where Nature abounds are systematically impoverished. All of us do this on a micro-level when we engage in conversations defining the world as West, East and fail to even remember we can also go South and North.

In the geographical world of European colonialism, there is no North and no South, only the West and the East as civilization, and humanity, by definition this culture does not exist below the equator (a reflection of some sexual repression perhaps…). Our conditioning tells us that Europe is the Center of the World so despite the fact that it lies in the geographical North it becomes the fulcrum around which all world events swing. Much can be healed in our relationship to the planet by shifting this perception of how she is made.

What do you think of when you think of the West? Most of us think of Europe and the Americas. We think of Socrates, and the Alamo, Zeus, Homer, the Renaissance, we think of the cultural lineage that defines our society. Ironically, since so many of those enslaved and brought to this country came from West Africa, how many of us call to mind drums, Ogun, and camels as part of our lineage? If we do bring these things to mind they are often encountered as examples of otherness, things from outside of the place we live and come from. What about even the concept of aloha? Hawaii, and the Pacific Islands we colonized, heck Hawaii is part of the United States! Even so, the culture of its people still doesn’t make it into the cultural fold of belonging. And you can forget about the Inuits.

When I bring to mind the “West”, especially as it is casually used in context, I think of mainly the material resources at our disposal through a combination of colonial manipulation tactics and the natural resources from countries relatively near the equator; I think of the mindset of Industry. Industry is what makes a product more important than the process required to create it and although Industry has many ideological forefathers, with the most direct being the conceptual separation of human beings from all other forms of Nature, the simplest way to fully understand it is as the prioritization of economic, material benefit over all other forms of benefit.

What’s interesting about this is that the Industrial mindset, that of prioritizing products over processes, sprung up in tandem with a massive shift in culture that has gotten progressively more dysfunctional, greedy and violent. Agriculture, animal husbandry and crafts as the focus of human activity came into prominence around 10,000 years ago though humans as we think of ourselves came to being around 200,00 years ago. So the hippies got something else right, this state of excessive competition and drive towards material gain isn’t our natural state, but it is what defines the West as a state of mind far more than any geographical area on a map.

If you visit the State Department’s website you will see that only the “Americas” are included in a description of the Western Hemisphere which is factually inaccurate. The Western hemisphere, as defined by the Prime Meridian, of the globe is comprised of these lands masses as well as: Western Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Morocco, most of Mali, Ghana, Burkina Faso and a bit of Algeria. Oceania, Iceland, Greenland, Portugal, France, Spain, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, a bit of Russia and most of the United Kingdom are also a part of this area although Italy, Germany, Holland, Greece, Austria, Belgium and Switzerland do not make the cut.

What is even more interesting is how even the cultures that do get included do not get equitable representation as being a part of this “West” we speak of. The Indigenous peoples of the Americas are also not who we’re talking about when we talk about people in the “West”. Again, how many images of acorn mash, the Sun dance, and the medicine wheel come to mind when you conjure the “West”? This colonization of the geographical mind plays an important part in keeping our perspective shaped the way those who actually benefit from Industry like it so they can continue to benefit from it.

What is called for in these transformative times, more than many other things like ever more products, is accuracy, the simple precision of knowing what we’re talking about and knowing when we’re talking about it. The way our language has been shaped for us often makes this more difficult than we think, and far more difficult than it really needs to be. I think all of us agreeing on the four quadrants thing as a reasonable way to understand the shape of our world to be fair; cardinal directions, how we orient ourselves from the core of the planet outward by its magnetic lines, are an important aspect of many Indigenous cultures and serve as easy, universal grounding points for reality.

To reconnect to this universal understanding of where we are in the world and in our relationship to it we must align ourselves with what we really know, and underneath it all we know the “West” is misleading; just like we know undocumented immigrants means Latinos and not Estonians, and that when Tea Partiers are talking about ineffective government they’re talking about Obama as opposed to the pho-kery we call Congress, but I digress. We do ourselves no favors by living with a false sense of inclusion, an intentional misreading of the words we use.

To truly live in the West we must live with Taema and Tilafaiga, Sedna, Estsantlehi, Maui, Freyr, Mami Wata, Efua, and Guruhi as well as Hercules, Bacchus, Venus, Apollo and the rest. We must eat corn, tomato, cous cous, acorn, potato, blood pudding, peanut, cassava, dandelion, okra, pineapple and pine nut; this is the least of what we must do. Whatever geographical lines exist to orient our minds, the people who now live in the West are from all over the world and we do ourselves equally few favors pretending they don’t belong here as equal citizens of this planet. As with our individual selves, our larger self, this society, cannot truly welcome those who travel into its reaches until we first understand who we are, and to do that we must first understand where we are on and in this world.


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