Saturday, August 17, 2019

For Those That Want to Think-About and Act-To Change The World for the Better (2019)

Michael D. Benton: For Those That Want to Think-About and Act-To Change The World for the Better (2019)

For years on both sides of the ocean, groups of hard-liners have tried to present to their people unrealistic and fearful images of various nations and cultures in order to turn their differences into disagreements, their disagreements into enmities and their enmities into fears. Instilling fear in the people is an important tool used to justify extremist and fanatic behavior by narrow-minded individuals. -- Asghar Farhadi (Oscar winner for best foreign picture A Separation in 2012; Oscar nominated for Best Foreign picture The Salesman in 2016; banned by the Trump administration from entering the United States to attend the 2016 Oscars.
What is needed is to hold oneself like a sliver to the heart of the world. -- Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (Grove Press, 1967) 
If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time.
But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together. -- Lilla Watson, Indigenous Australian/Murri artist, activist & academic (1985: she refers it more properly to originating from aboriginal activist groups in Queensland in the 1970s)
(These are focused on what we can do immediately and what we can cultivate in ourselves in order to realize a better society. The focus is on how we think and being critical about what we feed our brains. Of course, there are huge systemic issues that must be addressed -- wars, inequality, racism, misogyny, imperialism, the environment, etc -- I believe this is an initial step for preparing ourselves to think through these problems.)

For those that want to think about changing their community/society/world for the better. Develop this in yourself and cultivate it in others:

As citizens of a globalized world it is imperative that we begin to develop a broader awareness of the interconnected cultures and societies that influence and shape world events. Anyone remotely aware of the American social/cultural landscape must recognize that many of our citizens are unaware of the broader relations and connections of the world in which they live in. Many Americans tend to have a narrow understanding of world history, they are educated through ethnocentric American textbooks and informed through mediatized narratives filtered through the lenses of the dominant center, both of these effectively ignore the realities of the margins (culturally, economically and socially). Many concerned citizens struggle to carve out meaning in the contemporary data stream and suffer the neglect of a mainstream media that limits itself to predigested dualistic positions. In this simplified media environment, vast regions of the world (and in the USA) are presumed to be unable to speak for themselves and rarely, in the mainstream corporate media that serves as the news for a majority of American citizens, do we receive sustained and in-depth critical analysis of issues through the voices and experiences of multiple interested parties.

Recognize the power of questions and do not let others silence/stifle your curiosity. Remember all knowledge is incomplete and in development. Life is too vast for any one
person/group/theory/discipline/profession/religion/culture/nation to grasp and understand. Take responsibility for your education/understanding. Learning is not passive. Any teacher/mentor worth the title knows that they are at best facilitators for your learning. Good teachers lay out a map, point out the paths for potential discovery, detours and connections. Remember education (of any type - if it has a narrative, it is constructing a worldview) is never objective - pay attention to the way that knowledge is presented/represented to you.

Do not be afraid to be sensitive. Resist the defensive mechanism of building a shell that insulates you from the realities of the world and cultivate empathy for all beings. A major stumbling block is believing you have to be perfect - we are humans, it isn't going to happen. However, do not solely become focused on your flaws/insecurities as that can paralyze you. Be critical and honest with yourself. Work on what you can, be honest with others as much as possible. Be careful of taking too much on ... do not overload yourself unnecessarily. Figure out what is important to you and what you can actually do.

Resist the social pressures to fear that which is different. Seek out different ways of being and seeing. Develop an understanding/knowledge about your world based upon engaged interactions/experiences with different people/cultures/beings. You do not have to accept what others say or do, but you do need to be open to what they are saying in order to learn from them (good or bad). Be suspicious of those that fear interaction with different ways of seeing/being as some kind of social/moral contamination - it says more about the corruption/insecurities of their beliefs/identity/associations than it does about those they fear.

Develop your empathy for others and fight against social injustices. Investigate/research the broad historical context for why something is the way it is. Avoid accepting the simple explanation/histories (and stereotypes). Be suspicious of the single, simple story that only provides one perspective, voice or cause. Ask what is missing from the frame that someone provides to understand an issue/problem. Map out your own perspective/beliefs - where did they come from? Are they the product of your own explorations/experiences, or, were they learned at the knees of others? If your perspective/beliefs are genuine they can withstand examination & questioning - be as critical with yourself as you are with others. Think thoroughly through any proposal/resolution you wish to make. What are the implications and consequences of doing this or that? Remember many of the horrors of our world (historically and contemporary) are the actions of people believing that what they are doing is the right thing to do.

Resist sliding into solipsism. Get outside. Build coalitions. Know that there is power in collective struggle (this is why authoritarian power structures often try to brutally suppress it). Recognize that you can't do it all yourself. Be critical of those who pursue/profess the fantasy that they have done it all on their own (including communities and nations). Develop your voice and perspective (very important and necessary), but make sure you always engage with other voices/perspectives. Just as important as actively engaging/learning with/from those we admire, is actively discussing/learning with/from those we disagree with. Do not be afraid to admit you do not know about something, use it as an opportunity/inspiration to learn from another (or later on your own). Regularly think about and question your own perspective/beliefs - it is easy to slip into a feedback loop and hard for us to perceive what is outside our goldfish bowl.

When developing a critique/argument learn what you are discussing as well as, if not better, than the proponents of what you are critiquing. Use their direct statements in order to build your critique upon. Read/watch as much as you can from their side and if at all possible discuss directly with supporters/advocates of what you wish to critique. Think about what your intent is, if it is to convince people to understand and maybe even agree with your perspective then do not engage needlessly in rude/insulting dismissals/attacks.

Be suspicious of any attempt to state: “this is the way it is and the way it always will be" or "that could never happen." Do not make 'blanket generalizations' about groupings/classifications of people. Avoiding slipping into usage of stereotypes. Know your history (individual/family/community, society) and make the connections to other histories. Notice similarities and differences. Do not look down on another culture because they drive on the "wrong" side of the road - learn to recognize the social construction of reality (practices/rituals/laws/taboos/values etc...). Remember that nothing human in this world simply came out of a vacuum and nothing will last forever.

If you feel the call to lead, cultivate transparency and demand the same of anyone else that attempts to lead. Leadership is service to your community, be suspicious of those that use leadership positions for self-aggrandizing stroking of their own ego. If you are in a leadership position, do not seek to punish or marginalize those that ask critical questions. Use their engagement to sharpen your own awareness and as an opportunity to think about how you can serve your community better. Most importantly, do not allow yourself to become isolated from the community you serve. Admit your mistakes and never fear to change course. Only fanatics/dictators/bullies believe they are always right (or that they know everything) and everyone else is wrong.

Recognize that the world we experience is heavily mediated (and what we call "mainstream media" is controlled by 5/6 corporations). Be critical about the information and entertainments you absorb (and recognize that in our media they work hand in hand). Learn about propaganda/disinformation techniques so that you can defend your headspace (and not mindlessly propagate misinformation). Seek periods of silence and reflection in order to be open to the universe in yourself. Constant noise/chatter is destructive to critical thought/awareness. Remember that technology/entertainments can act like a diversionary drug distracting us from the actual details and doings of the world (even the intense pursuit of knowledge can isolate and distract if it becomes all consuming - think of the political junkie, isolated intellectuals, fundamentalist mystics or sports' obsessives).

Read a book - I repeat, read a book. Even if it is just one book a year carefully absorbed and reflected upon. You will learn immersively about that subject more than any surfing/sifting of endless internet texts/videos can provide. Use it as a training model for slowing down at times. Cook a meal and eat without distractions. Hang out quietly at a favorite outdoor place (I'm quite fond of babbling water sites). Enjoy the wordless company of a special person. Just be at times.

Take the time to reflect. I like writing out my thoughts, but that is not the preferred medium for everyone and should not be over-privileged as the only/best way. Artists, in their art, of all sorts (many are non-textual), think through and reflect upon their existence in this world and their observations. Draw, make music, sing (even badly), bodily art (in adornment and through meditative exercise), dance as if nobody's watching, the options for reflection and thoughtful presence are endless. Cultivate a conversational style, a great form of reflection, making sure that you take breaths, providing openings for others to engage, because dialogue can never be monologic (single voiced).

Be passionate and love fearlessly.  I'm a great admirer of Dr. Cornel West whose thinking/speaking style is always developed from a place of love for others, even when he is fiercely critiquing them.  Listen to the way he talks (and in doing so thinks) - it is powerful. Also cultivate your love for other living beings (and places - which, for an animist like me, are living beings). Resist our culture of cynicism and superficiality. Learn/practice radical love, that is not controlling or dominating (this is no way a critique of the pleasures of consensual sexual play, it is instead a rejection of the forms of controlling and dominating the essence of another to feed one's ego).

The historian Howard Zinn reminds us that mindless obedience is more dangerous than disobedience (anarchists, like me, also believe we should consciously cultivating thoughtful disobedience). He also rejects the notion that we can never truly be objective or free of bias ("you can't be neutral on a moving train"). Noam Chomsky's intellectual lifework has served as a lesson that the "myth of objectivity" always serves the interests of abusive power (and creates a monologic culture - the most dangerous form of culture). Speak truth to power, even when your voice shakes.  Resist dogma, especially your own. Check your privilege, if you don't think you have privilege, ask others.

Take care of your body. What you feed your mind and body matters. They are not separate, each depends of the health of the other. Exercise both ... but be comfortable with your own particular body/mind and do not let others (or your culture) try to squeeze you into a limiting, pre-determined, box.

If anyone is struggling. I can't promise you it will get better or all of your problems will be solved. However, I do know that the struggle is worth it and there is so much to learn/experience/share. Get outside, do things with other living beings (human or otherwise - I find animals & plants to be great friends), learn about your world (intellectually and experientially - learn-about/experience other people's/cultures/ways of being), do not shut yourself off or isolate yourself (including in the funhouse media mirrors). Keep your elasticity (think of the wonderful elasticity of your mind when you were a child) - be open to the wonders of the world. Reach out when you need someone! Be there for those that reach out to you.



  1. I love this! Hope you don't mind if I quote briefly with a link on facebook.
    "Remember education (of any type - if it has a narrative, it is constructing a worldview) is never objective - pay attention to the way that knowledge is presented/represented to you." - A brilliantly succinct encapsulation of a complex concept I've had such a hard time verbalizing.
    Other good bits include the reminder to find information sources that let other the peoples from from other cultures speak for themselves. This is so key, and so easily missed. And all of the other bits.
    Not sure how you got up the reproductive fortitude to write a thing like this: ambitious in scope, sincerity, and optimism. Thanks.
    Have you noticed how, these days, reporting, especially on politics, skips straight from the providing data about things that happened bit to the overly meta faux-sophisticated analysis? What's your take on that? I do actually think that question is related to the OP topic.

  2. Thanks Jacob, feel free to quote and definitely share the link. As for your question, I would need some clarification on what you mean by "the overly meta faux-sophisticated analysis?"