Monday, December 31, 2018

Resisting and accepting change in society: Part I

Photo: Global Teen Challenge
The 1960s is a period that might not, perhaps, come back even when common knowledge has it that 'history repeats itself.' Whether it repeats itself as a tragedy and then as a farce as Karl Marx once put it, the 1960s is unique in goodness and badness. The radicalism of that era will never be replicated. Undoubtedly, the historical importance of this era is transformatively reflected in many impactful and fundamental political, economic and cultural changes that endure to the present. 

This period saw the youth rebellion in drug use and sexual expression and the general counter-cultural revolution that still makes cultural conservatives and religious leaders groan in anger; the passage of the civil rights act and its affirmative action provision; the independence of African countries; the assassinations of Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, John Kennedy and Robert Kenney; the increasing acceptance of bikini use in society and by women generally; the near descend of the world into nuclear annihilation; the economic prosperity that would open the way to the rise of neoliberalism and the fundamental form of capitalism (which Noami Klien calls 'disaster capitalism') in the mid-1970s...among others. 

While people always talk of  'good old days' or that "old is gold', it is good to note that these comparative expressions are usually ways we escape contemporary realities even if there might be some truth to them. Indeed, there are times when past historical realities are preferable to contemporary changes. An example is the lives of American natives pre and post-Columbus. There is no doubt that the destructive effect of European voyages makes native Americans long for the 'good old days' of pride, cultural and linguistic expression of their human-ness. Before Columbus, they were indeed 'good old days' for indigenous peoples.

And for Europeans (continental, in the Americas and Oceania), the past (with slavery and colonialism) was 'good old days' given their then unbridled control of the world and the ability to act without any (or with little) moral accountability. Good old days indeed for far-right Europe as it is trying to re-dream their past glories and our past dreads as exemplified by Brexit and the resurgence of right-wing extremism and populism in western and eastern Europe. 

Against our dreadful past (colonialism and slavery), African scholars are now moving toward this pre-colonial African 'good old days' reality for better (because of paradigmatic importance of African viewpoint) or for worse (for this good old days is not well known). For Europeans, however, 'good old days' may be the 'dreadful old days' for Africans and Native Americans.

However, historical changes in values of society and the normative resistance to such value changes are part of the numerous dyads of history that repeat themselves like Siamese twins. Change is instigated by others within society and resisted at the same time by others within the same society. No change is accepted by everyone in society and at the same time unless there is a coercive force behind such a change instigation. Whether it is in society, at the church, in schools, in universities, at work, change is both necessary and dreadful. But what makes change necessary yet dreadful? 

Essentially, change is usually proposed by people who have found a flaw in contemporary structural and functional norms, or by those who don't benefit from that contemporary, normative structure. The former case can be seen in resistance to proposed changes in paradigms in scientific research as explained by Thomas Kuhn in his influential book, The Structure of Scientific Relovution. As Kuhn explained, older scientists whose scientific theories have been received, find it hard to accept that new research pieces of evidence undermine their theories so they resist these new pieces of evidence until their death, after which their theories die.

The latter case can be seen with minority groups in the west, especially in North America. In this case, minority groups are challenging dominant ideologies and paradigms that benefit those who created and functionalized such ideologies and paradigms. What minority groups see as a rational quest for inclusion or representation as Stuart Hall would call it, the dominant party sees as an unreasonable demand to either wrestle power away from them or to undermine their cultural essence. To the latter group, it is not about inclusion but the cultural destruction of their dominance. The change-resistance is a historical dyad that is repeated in history. The change group, whether slowly or rapidly, always (I risk saying) wins. 

However, it is good to note that those who resist change don't necessarily think that change is a bad thing in society; they just don't like its disruptive effects and the time it takes for them to readjust. Change always target the elites so they only embrace change only if they've found a way to embrace change without any fundamental effect on their bottom line. 

While change-instigators are usually those who fight for inclusion, it would be naive to see all change-instigators as always acting as moral agents who are only after egalitarian agendas. There are those who are indeed after either the destruction of the very playing field or the upending the balance of power. 

So what am I suggesting here? What I am suggesting here is DIALOGUE no matter how naive and unrealistic it may sound. A dialogue with hate groups might sound very naive when it comes to change, which they perceive as a power-upending project. 

Admittedly, those who resist change have a number of reasons that should be put into consideration instead of assuming the moral imperative that necessitates that change is enough a reason for everyone to accept change. People need to be listened to even when we think that their reasons are not worth listening to. Avoidance of dialogue is what we do with the so-called 'white supremacists groups', who are dismissed as nut cases without the need to listen to why they hold hateful views.

No one is born with hateful views. They are learned as Nelson Mandela and develoment psychologists tell us. So instead of seeing these people as unworthy of any dialogic process, we should keep the dialogic door open. As historian Nell Painter has argued, what we believe is what our culture has trained us to believe.

Hate groups (for there is nothing supreme about hatred) are products of their cultural ecologies so blaming them without addressing the deterministic forces that make them assume such a dangerous mind set, is to add to the problem rather than address it. 

On the other hand, those who fervently and ideologically resist change need to understand historical realities and the futility of resisting change without listening to its moral imperative. Slavery, segregation, scientific racism, European superiority, and racial segregation, were accepted historical truisms. There used to be a time when they were considered established, immutable facts. Now, only the waste bin of history knows them well even when some conservative writers try to reanimate them into the popular discourse on racial identity. 

While change-instigators suffered gravely when they attempted to inspire societal change that would later engender their abandonment, they still had the last laugh. While change was resisted through blood and politics, history still took the day: slavery ended, segregation (the officially sanctioned one, that is) ended, colonialism ended, scientific racism ended etc. It is therefore futile to resist the irresistible. 

The Alt-Right movements in Europe and North America are trying to bring back a history that will only give them pride; it will never materialize.  While critical scholars talk of history as not linear or as being discontinuous as Michel Foucault tells us in The Archeology of Knowledge, I will bravely say that there are parts of history that, though not continues, are linear. We are never going back to overt racial segregation and slavery however nonlinear history is. However, I can accept that these things repeat themselves as Marxian farces as we see in the rise of Donald Trump and the far-right groups in Europe and North America. 

Anyone whose way of life is challenged will always resist or turn violent. This is not unique to European far-righters. African leaders and their cronies have a similar survivalist mindset. My advocacy for a dialogic process with these hate groups is not out of naivety but out of a practical, solution-focused necessity. You cannot influence people you ignore; or people who once saw themselves as sharing in the control of the world but now feel condemned to oblivion. 

My advice to far-right groups, however, is to try something new, something that seems almost non-European to them: BEING NICE and EMBRACING INCLUSION. For this group (not all Europeans), to be European is to be controlling, powerful, stoic and merciless. How else do you see an African student walking innocently in the streets of Moscow, Warsaw, Berlin or Mississippi, and just beat him to death for being simply dark-skinned? In what 'civilized' society does that make sense? It would only make sense if this student had attached her/his attackers.

The world has changed so dreaming of a homogenous European society is a depression-engendering, needless project.

Instead of resisting the inevitable, it is better to embrace it and try to work with it to see if there is a way to embrace change but maintain one's power and economic advantage. The idea of a blanket hatred against people who have not done anything to you but simply looking for means of survival is a great moral stain on Europe and people of European descent in North America and Australia. 

How on earth do you hate people you don't know and who don't hate you just because they are different from you? There are changes worth resisting, but there are changes whose resistance is futile and unnecessary.



Kuir ë Garang is the editor of THE PHILOSOPHICAL REFUGEE. Follow on twitter @kuirthiy

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