Sorry for the long wait! Check out part 1 here if you haven’t checked it out!
Here in part two I would like to integrate what we learned about “the emotional brain submerged in the left” with some political strategies and outlines for organizing and reorganizing our leftist community. I will draw largely from Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which I find to be full of insightful and intuitive criticisms and proposals for our fractured political landscape. In the previous part, I wrote largely about how our brain’s emotional mechanisms give rise to our basic political program and how our emotions can manifest themselves in the form of sectarianism or other unproductive political practices. Here, we will flesh out in depth many of the processes we briefly touched on in part one while also criticizing and supplementing some of Freire’s theories and observations with some neuropolitical dialectics.
Paulo Freire dedicated decades of his life to working with oppressed workers, educating and learning from them. His book is largely the fruit of the knowledge he acquired in investigating, as the title implies, the pedagogy of the oppressed. In it, he dissects the strategies of education that characterize the oppressive ruling class and the fractured political parties of his time. In doing so he counterposes a pedagogy that is truly revolutionary. Freire’s insights stemmed from decades of research through observation and interaction with the oppressed class in Brazil. He shares a collection of tendencies which reflect class distinctions that capitalist societies implant in the minds of the oppressed and oppressors. I stress that these are tendencies rather than scientifically concrete and proven data. Again, this is not a shortcoming of his work, it is merely an objective assessment of the resources available to him at the time. With what we know about the emotional brain, I will provide an emotional neuroscientific framework which further legitimizes the intuitive tendencies Freire discovered. I hope this adds another dimension to an already phenomenal work.
Freire begins is book by establishing his humanist understanding of humanity.
“Concern for humanization leads at once to the recognition of dehumanization, not only as an ontological possibility but as a historical reality…Within history, in concrete objective contexts, both humanization and dehumanization are possibilities for a person as an uncompleted being conscious of their incompletion. But while both humanization and dehumanization are real alternatives, only the first is the people’s vocation. This vocation is constantly negated, yet affirmed by that very negation.”
Indeed, humanization is the people’s vocation. As a reader of this blog, you (hopefully) feel this desire to further humanize society. Freire insightfully states that even the negation of efforts of humanization affirms that humanization is the people’s vocation. This is a dialectical fact which Marx and Engels embraced and built upon in their work. Dehumanization is the suppression of otherwise revolutionary forces. It is the effort to retard growth, to oppress those who desire humanization. Dehumanization is the force a ruling class employs to oppress another. But if this is so plain and true, why are some of us on the side of humanization and others on the side of dehumanization? This is the first point I’d like to discuss. I believe the answer lies in every individual’s personal development.
In part one, I mentioned political development within an individual, stressing the importance of understanding how this is a reflection of one’s exposure to oppression. The political program a person chooses for him or herself is essentially his or her personal rationalization of those experiences. How this program changes and develops is largely at the mercy of one’s particular track of education be it in a university, through the lens of the media, or through political education within an organization. This is what is often referred to as a person’s worldview. I propose to replace “worldview” with a “seat of consciousness.”
What constitutes a ‘seat of consciousness’ and how does that differ from a ‘worldview?’ A seat of consciousness represents all environmental experiences, including how a particular person processes them. All contributing factors such as one’s family, nationality, gender, race, religious upbringing, education, and the like are encapsulated in this term. Ultimately, one’s seat of consciousness embodies the information needed to understand why an individual, at any particular point in time, chooses a certain political rationale (program, worldview, etc.) and expresses it. This term represents the unique perspective of an individual who interprets the experiences he or she has had, is having, and will have. A person’s seat of consciousness changes as each experience emotionally affirms or denies one’s accumulated understanding of the world. It is not permanent. On the contrary, it is marvelously plastic and fluid. Rather than approaching a person’s opinions as indicative of an abstract “worldview” which somehow represents a specific type of thinking that a definable population uniformly subscribes to, we root one’s unique perspective in a simple material fact; that all humans have a starkly individual life with a rich private history—a fabric of memories and subjectivity inextricably woven together. It is this that constitutes an individual’s seat of consciousness.
Unfortunately, due to the forces of dehumanization utilized by the oppressing class of our society, political development does not expand and improve so easily. There are many obstacles purposed solely for impeding this humanizing process of development. Freire identifies many of them clearly and boldly, synthesizing them with the humanizing forces present in a person’s seat of consciousness. The tendencies that characterize a particular epoch he terms its “thematic universe.”
“An epoch is characterized by a complex of ideas, concepts, hopes, doubts, values, and challenges in dialectical interactions with their opposites, striving towards plenitude. The concrete representation of many of these ideas, values, concepts, and hopes, as well as the obstacles which impede the people’s full humanization, constitute the themes of that epoch. These themes imply others which are opposing or even antithetical; they also indicate tasks to be carried out and fulfilled. Thus, historical themes are never isolated, independent, disconnected, or static; they are always interacting dialectically with their opposites. Nor can these themes be found anywhere except in the human-world relationship. The complex of interacting themes of an epoch constitutes its ‘thematic universe.’”
It is this “thematic universe” that an individual’s seat of consciousness is born out of and ultimately navigates, deconstructing each theme with every tool available. In each system ruled by a class of oppressors there is a goal of purging attitudes of rebellion from the minds of the oppressed. Under imperialism there is a plethora of tactics with the ultimate purpose of political assimilation to the oppressor’s rule. The oppressor’s seat of consciousness is forged in luxurious capital, towering above the oppressed.
Emotion is the foundation upon which the strategies of humanization and dehumanization are built. Without emotion, we would not recognize oppression, much less understand and recognize our freedom and the liberating ecstasy it entails. It is because of emotion that obstacles to freedom take root. Obstacles scare us from discovering our own power, obstacles give temporary relief when we have been beaten badly, and obstacles give us hope and faith in the system which rules. Obstacles confuse our emotions, blinding us to what we know to be true: this system is oppressing us. It is for this reason that our oppressors have an interest in political assimilation. It is for this reason that we are assigned roles which are safe and logical under a system of oppression. These roles keep us safe and sterile in the eyes of the ruling class. These roles isolate us from the truth so much so that reality becomes an unfamiliar friend—a stranger to be feared:
“One of the basic elements of the relationship between oppressor and oppressed is prescription. Every prescription represents the imposition of one individual’s choice upon another, transforming the consciousness of the person prescribed to into one that conforms with the prescriber’s consciousness. Thus the behavior of the oppressed is a prescribed behavior, following as it does the guidelines of the oppressor. The oppressed, having internalized the image of the oppressor and adopted his guidelines, are fearful of freedom. ‘Freedom would require them to eject this image and replace it with autonomy and responsibility. Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift.”
The process of numbing us to our own chains interferes with our seat of consciousness. The strength of this authoritative prescription causes us to abandon our unique experiences as the oppressed, and and as a result, we adopt the perspective of our slave drivers. We internalize their methods of dehumanization. Freedom becomes an uncomfortable topic, left only to the oppressors to discuss and frame. It is in this fragile state that we look to our rulers for mercy. We develop faith in their decisions. We line up for their gestures of false charity. Dazed, we come to be more focused on the symptoms of our diseased society rather than the disease itself and the ruling class indulges this change of interest. They pose as the generous crusaders against such “causes,” sending us further into a dizzying state of confusion. We come to fetishize the “good fight” against these symptoms, organizing narrowly around them instead of searching for our freedom. But Freire casts light on true generosity for us:
“True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity. False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the ‘rejects of life,’ to extend their trembling hands. True generosity lies in striving so that these hands—whether of individuals or entire peoples—need be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work and, working, transform the world.”
In acknowledging how the discussion of freedom in some becomes more uncomfortable than submission, we come to understand the necessity of fighting for and educating others about freedom. We need a praxis that is devoted to uncovering the causes of our oppression, both through education and action:
“It is only when the oppressed find the oppressor out and become involved in the organized struggle for their liberation that they begin to believe in themselves. This discovery cannot be purely intellectual but must also involve action; nor can it be limited to mere activism, but must include serious reflection: only then will it be a praxis.”
In realizing who and what this political struggle is against, we must consider how to fight this battle. How this battle takes place is a topic where our unity as the oppressed disintegrates, dropping us into the cesspool of sectarianism. It is here that we see hierarchy develop in political parties, centralized around a party’s program. In looking to further their political development, people join organizations seeking knowledge, comrades, and tools for fighting oppression. It is in this emotionally affirming environment that an individual begins to cement their viewpoint once more; yet still not from themselves, but from a seat prescribed to them. At the top of these hierarchical organizations, a seat of consciousness is decided for the entire group to represent and adopt.
“Many political and educational plans have failed because their authors designed them according to their own personal views of reality, never once taking into account (except as mere objects of their actions) the men-in-a-situation to whom their program was ostensibly directed.”
As I referred to in part 1, sectarianism stems from these organizational methods which callouses individuals from being able to effectively discuss their abstract political differences in fruitful dialogues. The vanguard party, by engaging in democratic centralism, becomes a doctrine designed specifically to blind outsiders to a party member’s individual seat of consciousness. This is done in order to keep outsiders focused on the party’s program, which is a grave and serious obstacle to healthy dialogue. Other organizations utilize reactionary emotional tricks designed to arouse feelings of disgust and intolerance before discussion can be had. Red baiting is one of these tricks which has often been deployed at a moment’s notice. With this said, what organizational methods are healthy?
This will be the topic of part 3.