How We Understand the Crisis Is Part of the Crisis
How We Understand the Crisis Is Part of the Crisis
By Bayo Akomolafe / therules.org

It was something I heard one dissident professor say when I was an undergraduate studying psychology in a Nigerian university. He didn’t quite say it; he whispered it. When the white men came, they brought us schools and the bible, he intoned. And then we gave them our own stories. That colonial Faustian pact made us orphans in the world, erasing the sky and the lands and the mountains we had learned to speak with, and replacing that intimacy with the more appropriate gesture of staring at them through the microscope. Through the interstices of a ledger. Through the plot device of development and prosperity for all.

It wasn’t long before I too learned to connect the dots. I learned to see that the austerity-induced Structural Adjustment Program of General Ibrahim Babangida in 1986, then lauded as an ingenious economic solution to Nigeria’s problems, was a creature of the IMF, the World Bank, and the Trojan sentiments of free trade.

I saw connections between the incredible rise of charismatic Pentecostal preachers peddling a ‘prosperity gospel’ and the growing divides between the rich elites and the virulently faithful poor.

I understood that when electricity was snuffed out for the umpteenth time in one day, when people fanned their faces with newspapers at the airport to make up for broken air conditioners, or when more potholes riddled the federal highways after they had been fixed for billions of naira, there was a single story at work.

For many Nigerians, the marching instructions for life we had received in the shadows of our colonial past were incontestable. It was inconceivable to think about life except along the lines of social mobility – going to school, earning a degree or two, getting a job (if you are lucky, with a petroleum company), making more money than one could spend, and – for the religiously inclined (which isn’t saying much in Nigeria, since almost everyone is religiously inclined), making it to heaven on the strength of your tithes. When something disturbed that single story, the newspapers liked to call it corruption – or, with the caricaturized accent of the Hausa people of northern Nigeria, kwarrapshun. I called it breathing. But, to me, now a young academic, it seemed no one else strayed long enough to notice the contours of this suffocating monster – this giant Cthulhu with its tentacles in the machinated kitchens of McDonald’s and the poisoned soils of our lands; in the influx of foreign products and the loss of indigenous languages; and in the craze for leggings or whatever the Kardashians were wearing and the limp body of an anonymous factory worker in Vietnam, hanging by the rope she had given up on.

I dedicated my waking moments to connecting dot to painful dot. With every line drawn to complete this picture of despair, the need for urgency was more and more obvious. All the reports agreed with me: if we continue down this line of unfettered consumerism, of trickle-down economics, of championing neoliberal techno-utopic capitalist narratives of always-impending happiness, our children will have no world to walk on or play in. Africa would be a continent of plastic bottles and old Sony television boxes Germany thinks is outdated. My daughter, Alethea, would most likely grow up in a barbaric world, its id finally released from whatever moral moorings currently hold it in place. A Cthulhucene in all its glory.

However, as I connect the dots and negotiate what it means to respond to a world in crisis, and how we are already a part of the world that we desperately seek to understand, to fix, and to transcend, I realize that I have missed a dot. The one on my forehead. The one wrapped in my blind spot. The one that is entangled with our way of figuring crisis and co-producing the world. It is an easy spot to miss: in connecting the dots, we often invest the emergent picture with an externalized fixity it doesn’t have. We remove ourselves from the equation and pretend to be observers just observing pre-existing things.

Over the years, seeing has become more tactile. Less passive. The Cartesian idea that when we look ‘out’ upon the material world we are merely transcribing the stimuli of the outside to the scripts of consciousness within is losing its potency. At least in scientific circles, ever since the mere act of observation altered the ‘fundamental’ nature of nature – in experiments designed to figure out what light really is – scholars have been called to sit with the disturbing recognition that seeing is not reflexive at all. It is performative. Tentacular. Like Cthulhu. Even more intriguingly, what is ‘nature’ or ‘real’ (or seen) is entangled with the visual apparatus in play, which means that for each strange biological organism we meet (for instance, the brittle stars or ophiuroids) the world is different (not just appearing so).

This is not the same as saying that everything exists in the mind – a position that invests words, language, stories, culture, consciousness and other forms of representation with undue power. In fact, it is to say the ‘opposite’: that the material world is alive and agentic and ethically involved; that matter matters; and that the mind/matter binary we inherited from western frames of knowledge-making blinds us to how truly entangled ‘we’ are with the world. That’s how much things are entangled and connected: even the way we see ‘things’ is part of their production.

African elders – an increasingly legendary group of wisdom holders I have only read about in books and stories – came around to this argument through other means. They said that in times of urgency slowing down was an appropriate response. For them, urgency wasn’t apocalyptic or even a human imperative. It was an opportunity to ‘reconnect’ with a world in trance – a world that is never still. A world layered with multitudinous temporalities and charged with dead ends and surprising detours. A world that is always an ethical disruption of our fixed notions of justice. Slowing down was a way of taking care. It happened by sitting at the intersection points where it was no longer easy to exteriorize blame or a unilateral cause of a ‘problem’. It is how we know that there is more at stake, and that our moral victories our conventional tools of activism have wrought against the 1 percent, against Monsanto, or against ‘systems’ leave a lot to be desired.

What I call attention to is the last dot: us. Our way of seeing. Our ways of touching – and how the effects of seeing this way have perpetuated a white architecture of responsiveness. An uncontested gentrification of political action. I am saying that Cthulhu’s tentacles have infiltrated our eyes, blinding us to other spaces of power, keeping us in the anaesthetic hallways of protest-making and advocacy.

This is not to say making protest and ‘standing up’ to a ‘system’ that touches us in harmful ways is not worthy of our attention. How we respond to crisis depends on the specificity of the context that evokes a response. The point is that the very particularity of the frame excludes other responses from mattering, making other possibilities meaningless and unintelligible. This is all worth struggling with: knowledge and justice are just as embodied and entangled and connected as we suppose the world ‘outside’ is. Drawing charged lines from neoliberal capitalism to ecological devastation to the Ebola virus and psychopathology and to the surge of prosperity gospel in Africa will always be inadequate until we account for the epistemologies, the ways of knowing and seeing, that are complicit in their materialization.

Connecting the dots is sacred work. Now I take it seriously enough to wonder how mountains would do it.

0.0 ·
0
What's Next
Trending Today
Rap News Special Edition: Hillary Clinton Vs Donald Trump
7 min · 14,898 views today · Hello world. RAP NEWS is back for a special episode on the 2016 USA Election mayhem, feat. Hillary Clinton vs Donald Trump + a touch of Jill Stein & Gary Johnson. This one's...
Ten Ways We Misunderstand Children
Jan Hunt · 12,659 views today · 1. We expect children to be able to do things before they are ready. We ask an infant to keep quiet. We ask a 2-year-old to sit still. We ask a 3-year-old to clean his room...
The Little Engine That Couldn't: How We're Preparing Ourselves and Our Children for Extinction
Daniel Quinn · 9,587 views today · In a recent semi-documentary film called Garbage, a toxic waste disposal engineer was asked how we can stop engulfing the world in our poisons. His answer was, "We'd have to...
When You Kill Ten Million Africans You Aren't Called 'Hitler'
Liam O'Ceallaigh · 5,692 views today · Take a look at this picture. Do you know who it is? Most people haven’t heard of him. But you should have. When you see his face or hear his name you should get as sick in...
Debt, Inequality and the Logic of Financial Violence
David Graeber · 4,310 views today · Five years after Occupy, organizer and anthropologist David Graeber speaks to ROAR about the power of finance, the history of inequality and the legacy of the movement.
Prince Ea Just Put The School System on Trial and Found it Guilty of Killing Free Thought
6 min · 3,663 views today · Albert Einstien once said "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid". Today Prince...
The Culture of Maximum Harm
Daniel Quinn · 2,631 views today · People have lived many different ways on this planet, but about ten thousand years ago there appeared one people who believed everyone in the world should live a single...
Incredible Photographs and Witness Statements from Charlotte and Baton Rouge Protests
Mankaprr Conteh · 1,938 views today · On September 20, a black father named Keith Lamont Scott was fatally shot by an officer of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. It is not clear if he was armed...
The Left Deserves Better Than Jill Stein
Kate Aronoff · 1,699 views today · Stein’s Green Party run doesn’t offer a plan to win, or to build power. The Left is capable of so much more.
How You Can Support Standing Rock
Thane Maxwell · 1,638 views today · This is your pipeline battle too. Whatever you have to offer, we need it. Wherever you are, take one step deeper. Find your voice. Find your own front lines.
Yemen's Forgotten War and Famine Fuelled by Weapons from The West
3 min · 1,559 views today · The world has forgotten the war in Yemen but you'll remember these shocking images of its starving children.
18 Empowering Illustrations to Remind Everyone Who's Really in Charge of Women's Bodies
Julianne Ross · 1,130 views today · When Brazilian graphic designer Carol Rossetti began posting colorful illustrations of women and their stories to Facebook, she had no idea how popular they would...
Kids Killed by Guns: America's Daily Nightmare
3 min · 1,017 views today · On an average day in America, seven children and teenagers will be shot dead.Gary Younge tells the stories of the lives lost on one random day - 23 November 2013. Ten children...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 989 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Olympian John Carlos on the Power of Protest
3 min · 951 views today · 1968 Olympic athlete John Carlos protested racial inequality by raising his fist in a Black Power salute on the medal stand. He has some advice for athletes like Colin...
Schooling the World (2010)
66 min · 891 views today · If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children. The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th...
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 824 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
This Satirical Trump Vs. Bernie Debate Is Both Hilarious and Highly Disturbing
44 min · 812 views today · Comedians James Adomian (Bernie Sanders) and Anthony Atamanuik (Donald Trump) bring two of the most controversial candidates in history, head-to-head, or rather bald-to-toupee...
Gabor Maté: Why Our Culture Makes So Many Of Us Unhappy
3 min · 654 views today · Dr. Gabor Maté explains why it is that our culture makes so many of us unhappy, unkind to one another, miserable, alienated from ourselves, etc. Watch the full interview in Part 2.
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 625 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
How We Understand the Crisis Is Part of the Crisis