Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Free Your Mind

I think phenomena at the individual or psychological level is often neglected by many activists. There are understandable historical reasons for this: individualizing and psychologizing and pathologizing various experiences are important tools via which the potential for social struggle is diverted, neutralized, and strangled. An uncritical turn to individual wellness can certainly lead to becoming excessively inward-looking, and to seeing only the individual manifestations of a sick society rather than the social manifestations. But I think many activists (some more than others, of course) go too far the other way and ignore individual experience in a way that can become oppressive in and of itself.

I am feeling particularly drawn to this issue at the moment because I have been wondering how the process of internal decolonization happens, and also wondering why that topic isn't more commonly talked about among the friends/allies/colleagues that I interact with.

For one thing, I may not be choosing the best label when I use "decolonization." That's applicable in some instances of what I mean, but perhaps not all. What I'm talking about is based in the recognition that the structures, cultural practices, and narratives that control and shape our everday experience are not just external, because our commonsense (or our "gut") is formed in a context shaped by those things. Therefore we internalize a whole lot of oppressive stuff. Obviously what this means and how it plays out varies a lot depending on where you are in relation to the hierarchies of power and privilege that structure society.

As anyone who is the least bit self-reflective should be able to see in their own history, intellectual understanding of something does not automatically translate into one's commonsense. Along with my own experience, I also tend to think of a couple of people I know who come from quite conservative families of origin and dispositions but whose life paths have led them quite far from those starting places, yet whose initial, gut reactions to certain kinds of things (but not their final responses, after due intervention by intellect) are still very conservative in some ways.

At the same time, one's commonsense is not fixed in stone. I know that mine is not the same as it was a decade ago. I know in general that it has changed due to some combination of knowing more, experiencing more, and knowing more people, but I really have no better sense of mechanism than that. How has my commonsense changed? How can such change be consciously facilitated? To what extent is such change limited?

I don't have even provisional answers for those questions, but I think I'm going to start asking other people that I talk to about their experiences and see if I can learn from that.

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