You may remember the affair of Dr. Stella Immanuel, now long buried under the detritus of the news cycle. I’d like to exhume it for a moment, as its remains reveal a hidden cultural racism that afflicts the supposedly anti-racist left nearly as much as it does the traditional right.
Dr. Immanuel, who hails from Cameroon and received her medical training in Nigeria, participated in a right wing-associated press conference in which a succession of medical doctors expressed dissenting views on Covid public policy. She described her clinical success treating Covid with a combination of zinc, Zithromax, and HCQ (hydroxychloroquine) – the latter of which, of course, has been tainted by its association with Donald Trump and virtually eliminated from the Covid pharmacopeia of the US and many other Western countries. Dr. Immanuel also spoke of its wide use in Africa, where doctors are well familiar with it as a malarial drug, and admonished American doctors to trust that their colleagues in Africa are real doctors who wouldn’t be using it if it didn’t work.
I hold no strong opinion about HQC, a chemical which clinical studies in the United States have shown to work quite well on Republicans. Joking aside, it is impossible to discern much about the drug through the haze of political pettifoggery that surrounds it, a haze that also obscures deeper issues than whether or not it is effective: issues around Big Pharma, the funding of medical research, and cultural imperialism.
Within hours the press conference was scrubbed from Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter, and the media descended upon the doctors with a furious vengeance, especially Dr. Immanuel. Here is a typical takedown from the Daily Beast:
Immanuel, a pediatrician and a religious minister, has a history of making bizarre claims about medical topics and other issues. She has often claimed that gynecological problems like cysts and endometriosis are in fact caused by people having sex in their dreams with demons and witches.
She alleges alien DNA is currently used in medical treatments, and that scientists are cooking up a vaccine to prevent people from being religious. And, despite appearing in Washington, D.C. to lobby Congress on Monday, she has said that the government is run in part not by humans but by “reptilians” and other aliens.
Other commentators dug up videos of Dr. Immanuel performing exorcisms to drive out evil spirits. Surely, the reasoning goes, we shouldn’t listen to a person like this on matters of medical policy.
The racism of this criticism has little to do with the fact that its target happens to be black. Rather, it embodies a cultural superiority complex so entrenched that its precepts seem, to those immersed in it, like reality itself.
Let’s look first at the “bizarre” idea that gynecological problems are caused by dream sex with demons and witches. In fact, such ideas are commonplace in indigenous and traditional cultures, the more general idea being that improper or unlucky interactions with the spirit world, ancestors, sorcerers, etc. can result in disease, injury, or financial misfortune. Accordingly, healers treat disease by exorcising bad spirits, lifting curses, negotiating with the ancestors, driving away ghosts, and so on.
People in those cultures widely consider such methods to be effective. Why do they believe in them? Here are two possibilities:
(1) Mired in ignorance and superstition, they have yet to emerge into the light of modern science, which would lay bare the absurdity of their primitive beliefs and usher them into the enlightened world of evidence, reason, and truth. They are less advanced than we are, and their progress is a matter of adopting our, superior, way of engaging the world.
(2) They believe in them because they work. Which means, these people are no less intelligent, no less empirical, no less rational, and no less astute than we are.
Would you ridicule a Hindu villager for saying that the earth rests on the back of a turtle? Would you ridicule a Hopi or Diné for saying that Spider Grandmother weaves the world? Most of us know better, yet a shade of that ridicule colors the ready dismissal of other culture’s ideas of health and disease.
The Bizarre Other
A bit of personal history here. When I arrived in Taiwan in 1987, still a teenager, I found a culture in which beliefs and phenomena I considered bizarre were commonplace. People would hire dangji (Taiwanese for the Mandarin jitong, or shaman) and Taoist priests for all kinds of situations: illness, business problems, family problems, misfortune on a construction site, ghosts, etc. People were generally satisfied with these services, and even highly educated people and large business enterprises would engage them (along with fengshui experts, astrologers, and so forth) when breaking ground, planning a wedding, or launching a business. Having already at that age been influenced by post-colonial thinking, I was loath to dismiss these practices out of hand, which would have required a patronizing certainty that my ways (of living and of knowing) are superior to theirs. I recognized such a dismissal to be part of a familiar colonial pattern of subjugation. Are we really so sure that our ways are the best ways?
The kind of exorcism that Dr. Immanuel performs, representing a syncretic overlay of Christianity on prior pantheistic worldviews, is only “bizarre” to the insular, culture-bound Western mind. The media have called Dr. Immanuel a “witch doctor,” a “crazy,” and in the words of Live Leak, a “religious lunatic voodoo priestess,” who went to medical school in “Yes…. THAT Nigeria” (presumably the one of internet scammers? One of Trump’s “shithole countries”?) The very use of the word “voodoo” as a term of disparagement illustrates my point, since voodoo exemplifies the rich syncretic traditions through which native peoples met the onslaught of colonialism and Christianity, appearing to have been converted but actually performing a reversal by incorporating the religion of the conqueror into their own culture. Anyone who uses the word “voodoo” to connote someone else’s ignorance only demonstrates their own.
A similar disparaging tone infuses the mainstream media’s treatment of other, non-Western treatments for Covid-19 (and non-Western medicines in general). Let’s take for example Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which has been used on over 90% of patients in China with Covid-19. While the Chinese people and government are quite confident in the therapeutic effectiveness of the six main herbal formulas (some thousands of years old) used to treat Covid, the Western popular and scientific press know better. Here are some representative quotes:
“China is promoting coronavirus treatments based on unproven traditional medicines.”
“For TCM there is no good evidence and therefore its use is not just unjustified, but dangerous,”
From NBC News (subheadline: “Scientists warn against it”):
“[TCM] can also give patients a false sense of security, leading them to neglect proven medications or therapies.”
“Herbal remedies — which China is exporting as part of its efforts to combat the coronavirus around the world — pose both direct and indirect risks to patients.”
From the BBC:
“A lack of standards and almost no clinical trials have hampered the widespread adoption of TCM.”
“Critics say China is now using the pandemic as a way to promote it [TCM] abroad.”
An attitude of cultural respect wouldn’t be so quick to write off a medical tradition with thousands of years of clinical experience and refinement practiced by literally hundreds of thousands of doctors. Chinese people alone make more than 2.5 billion visits to TCM doctors annually. To imagine that they have somehow been in the grips of a collective mass delusion for thousands of years is a kind of lazy cultural arrogance. It is the mentality of, “They must not be as smart, as rational, as evidence-based as we are. Their advancement means to adopt our medicine. We can improve them by bringing our ways to them, because we know better than they do.”
It would be an error to attribute the dismissal of TCM to overt racism. The Western medical establishment rejects it in large part because it is unwilling to seriously look at it in the first place. After all, how could anything match science? Furthermore, a cultural misapprehension of the basic philosophy of TCM reduces a sophisticated, coherent, and self-sufficient set of paradigms to a crude, haphazard corpus of placebo, superstition, and guesswork. This cultural superiority complex assumes that we know better, that our standards of proof are higher, that we can see obvious flaws in reason and evidence that they cannot. Thus, the experts quoted in Nature and NBC belittle TCM for “Using vague terms and nonpharmacological concepts or testing too many combinations of herbs to parse out their specific effects.” What are “nonpharmacological concepts”? Things like “wind heat,” “spleen qi,” or “liver fire.” To the culturally bound Western scientific mind, these are nonsense. They are sensible only if one admits the possibility that another culture might apprehend the world as astutely and fruitfully as ourselves using an entirely different conceptual vocabulary. As for “too many combinations of herbs,” this bespeaks an even more fundamental blindness. TCM is holistic and its formulas are irreducible. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, because its herbal formulas are synergistic. The normal experimental method of isolating variables and identifying active ingredients (that can then become the basis of pharmaceutical drugs) is antithetical to TCM’s basic diagnostics and therapies. As for a “lack of standards,” that is because prescriptions and doses are tailored to the individual. The demand that TCM research abide by standardized and reductionistic practices is an act of cultural imperialism, justifiable if and only if our own culture’s framework of knowledge is superior to theirs.
I could make similar points about African medicine(s). Although these may not have thousands of years of written history, they too arise from intelligent worldviews and systems of knowledge. Even scientifically trained African medical doctors like Dr. Immanuel might usefully draw on them in their medical thinking. Maybe that explains the popularity in much of Africa of Artemisia annua, or sweet wormwood, for treating Covid-19. Like HCQ, Artemisia annua is a malaria remedy, and it has been savagely suppressed by the pharmaceutical industry. (Watch this compelling film produced by French public television.) Also used in China for febrile diseases for thousands of years, it is banned in many countries on the pretext that it contains toxic components. Well, yes, if you go through its scores of active chemicals you will find some that, in large, concentrated doses, will cause illness. (That is what was done to justify its prohibition.) In any event, the herb is on the radar today after the president of Madagascar (yes, THAT Madagascar) touted its efficacy in treating Covid-19. The Western media responded predictably with headlines like “Amid WHO warnings and with no proof, some African nations turn to herbal tonic to try to treat Covid-19.” Oh, those backwards Africans. The favorite term in these headlines was “unproven.” Also, “miracle cure” (a rabid mischaracterization – I’ve not read any actual African claiming that.) I thought, of course it is “unproven,” when herbal therapies lack the billions of dollars of research funding that go toward pharmaceuticals, and when the medical establishment is ignorant of how to use them or outright hostile to them. My point here is that this ignorance, this systemic and rhetorical belittling of herbal medicine, is also part of a cultural hegemony that spreads its scientistic gospel to the benighted with missionary zeal.
None of this is to say that modern medicine has nothing to offer traditional cultures. Indeed, Dr. Immanuel herself went to medical school, practices medicine in Texas, and advocates a combination of three modern pharmaceutical substances. This ability to operate in multiple realities or multiple mythologies is a central characteristic of non-modern psychology. It stands in contrast to the ontological domination of ‘white” culture, that tells everyone else what is so and either excludes other systems of knowledge, writes them off as superstition, tolerates them as anthropological subjects, assigns them a second-class metaphoric truth, or fetishizes them in the subtly patronizing category of “indigenous wisdom.”
I put “white” in quotes here, because it has only an incidental relation to skin color, as any light-skinned Sami or other indigenous person would affirm. Yet there is also a sense of whitewashing here, a painting of the entire world in the pale tones of a single homogenizing paradigm. Furthermore, it happens to be light-skinned cultures that developed to its fullest degree the mythology of modernity and spread it around the world. Christian missionaries set the example that economic and scientific missionaries have followed.
So there are two levels of ontological imperialism running here. First is simply “We’re right and you’re wrong.” The second, more subtle level is, “Only one of us could possibly be right, as our views are in contradiction. It’s either-or.” But a Hindu might have no problem saying that the world rests on a turtle’s back, and that it also originated by accretion of meteorites. Further, he might say this without relegating one to a realer status than the other – i.e. that the accretion disk is real and the turtle is metaphorical. Neither need dominate the other.
Can you see the kinship between ontological domination and other forms of domination (economic, political)? The habit of ontological domination is what might lead you to ask me, “But surely Charles, you don’t believe that demon sex can actually cause gynecological problems? Surely you don’t believe that there is actually alien DNA in medical treatments or that reptilian ETs have actually infiltrated the government?” We as a culture are not well practiced in engaging multiple mythologies, of shifting from one to another as useful. The above questions eoncode ontological primacy in the word “actually.” To model another way, I would answer them like this: I do not normally operate in the world-story of witches, demons, aliens, and reptilians. I do not normally think in those terms. More often, though still not normally, do I think in terms of spleen qi or wind heat. Neither, though, do I disparage or dismiss any of these world-stories out of hand. I adopt an attitude of curiosity and respect. What is their power and what are their limitations? What does one become inhabiting them? What is gained and what is lost? What is it like to see the world in their terms? What thoughts and perceptions are available when speaking that language? I ask these same questions in engaging modern science and medicine.
This non-attachment to a standard, homogenizing world-story offers several advantages. First, one is able to avail oneself of the benefits of TCM or a competent neighborhood voodoo exorcist when modern medicine fails (because of its own configuration of “power and limitation”). I have in my life certainly benefited from all three (TCM most of all, but also an exorcism helped me once, and I am grateful to modern emergency dentistry, without which I’d probably be dead right now). Secondly, unattached to any One True Reality, one becomes less fearful of uncertainty and change, more adaptable, flexible, and resourceful. Third, one is able to engage people of other cultures and other world-stories respectfully, without the unavoidable patronizing racism of thinking you know better than they do. This is true respect. Respect is a willingness to be hosted in another’s world, to honor their customs and learn their language. Today’s contentious debates around cultural appropriation might dissolve if we understood the spirit of guest and host as we take a seat at each other’s cultural banquets. If you have ever traveled abroad, you may have experienced how people appreciate even a feeble attempt to learn their local language. Respect opens the portal of welcome. The same is true for the language of beliefs.
Do not mistake this as an argument for the post-modern idea that truth is but a power-fraught human cultural construct. There is a mysterious way in which it is true that the world rests on the back of a turtle, and in which it is not true that the Flying Spaghetti Monster created the world. Truth is discovered or revealed, not made.
Perhaps it is because it rings with truth that the World Turtle appears in numerous unrelated mythologies from India, China, and North America. As for primordial planetary accretion, there is significant disagreement among astronomers about how planets form. Just sayin’.
Now somebody can go edit my (already wildly inaccurate) Wikipedia page to say, “Eisenstein claims that the world really does rest on the back of a turtle.”
Inclusion or Erasure?
A lot of ostensibly anti-racist activism carries with it the baggage of the cultural racism I am describing. Fully believing in one’s own cultural superiority, the resolution of racial injustice lies in granting the oppressed races equal access to its fruits. The Victorian doctrine of the White Man’s Burden lurks within the zealous campaign to “develop,” to “modernize,” to bring the benefits of technology to all the world, to remake their medical, educational, agricultural, economic, and political systems in the image of the West. We must remember that some of the most heinous acts of racial oppression were done in the name of uplifting the savages, Christianizing the heathens. For example, the abduction of two or three generations of Native Americans into boarding schools that purposely expunged their language and culture was infused with high-minded ideals. The idea was to bring them into the “melting pot’ of America, to make them like us, to supersede a backward, superstitious, inferior culture with a modern, superior one.
We sound an echo of that attitude today when we make anti-racism too much about how people of color are under-represented in (fill in the blank: the one percent CEOs, doctors, professors…) or over-represented among the ranks of the poor or incarcerated. While these disparities come from real racism, current and especially historical, focusing on them alone risks overlooking deeper systemic injustice. It would not be very disruptive to the status quo to merely insert people of different skin color into its existing roles and relations. Those roles and relations themselves draw from the hegemonic cultural matrix we call white. So yes, if we take that matrix for granted as unchangeable then racial justice is indeed a matter of representation. But is that breaking the monopoly of whiteness, or is that to become white themselves? This is what the Nigerian (yes, again, THAT Nigeria) intellectual, poet, and author Bayo Akomolafe rejects when he writes, “Needless to say, a steady undercurrent of self-loathing flowed through our lives – urging us to civilizational heights of whiteness. Urging us to wear three piece suits under a quizzical sun. Urging us to demonize our own traditions so that we could catch up with you.”
It is quite understandable that in a situation where one culture has vanquished another, that the vanquished should wish to join the victors. Traditionally, conservatives have said, “Too bad, we won and you lost,” while liberals have said, “Oh, we must be nice and make a place for the less fortunate.” Neither questions the desirability of the victory itself that spreads modern medicine and education, politics and science, money and markets, to all the world.
It may also look like here is a white person telling everyone else that they shouldn’t want what I have, when all the world actually does want modern medicine, modern schooling, and economic development. They themselves say they want it – case closed. One must question, though, the context of this wanting. If I may quote myself, here is a passage from The Ascent of Humanity about how to destroy a culture and make it want to be like ours:
“Disrupt its networks of reciprocity by introducing consumer items from the outside. Erode its self-esteem with glamorous images of the West. Demean its mythologies through missionary work and scientific education. Dismantle its traditional ways of transmitting local knowledge by introducing schooling with outside curricula. Destroy its language by providing that schooling in English or another national or world language. Truncate its ties to the land by importing cheap food to make local agriculture uneconomic. Then you will have created a people hungry for the right sneaker.”
As you can see, to argue, “They want their Nikes (i.e., modern lifestyles) and it is racist of you to tell them they can’t have it,” leaves the whole process of colonization unexamined.
Please don’t take this as an argument to do nothing about racially unequal access to medicine, food, power, and money. To the contrary, it is about meeting those needs outside the hegemonic white model. And do not take it as a criticism of those in oppressed groups who have striven to succeed in the white world. Theirs is a natural response to circumstances. What I am saying is that racial healing (and reparation) is much bigger than inclusion in the white-constructed and whitewashed world.
“Inclusivity” is a byword of the anti-racism movement, but it would be no victory for humanity if black people alongside white occupied the helm of the world-destroying humanity-exploiting machine. Too often, “inclusion” has meant erasure; it has meant acquiescence to the final, global victory of white culture. A true undoing of racism would not be to magnanimously “include” the formerly marginalized in the dominating culture, but rather to end the patterns of domination altogether. Many white people intuit this, which is why they yearn for inclusion themselves in cultures outside their own. While sometimes diverted onto cultural appropriation, the yearning also comes from a growing humility that recognizes maybe our culture isn’t the best after all.
A similar point applies to another byword of race discourse, “privilege.” The privilege discourse says, “White people, you have a seat at the banquet table, and others do not. Furthermore, you are directly benefiting from the deprivation of others.” True as far as it goes, this narrative leaves out whether the banquet is really worth having. Blindly holding it to be a consummate feast, we assume that justice, equity, and advancement means to make room for everyone at our table, with its menu of modern medicine, free markets, mass schooling, and neoliberal democracy.
Hot Dogs and Cheese Fries
I think the situation is more as follows: in fact, the banquet is an orgy of gluttony, and the main dishes are hot dogs, cheese fries, and soda pop. The oppressed races and classes, in this system, receive but scraps from the banquet table – the same menu, but less of it. They receive an inferior version of liberal education, modern medicine, political freedom, and the rest of modern life. With due apologies to fans of hot dogs and cheese fries, it is no real solution to extend the orgy of gluttony to one and all. That would only make sense if hot dogs and cheese fries are all that there were. In truth, the situation is that all the best dishes have been purged from the menu. Justice is not to include everyone else in the banquet of whiteness. It is to stop imposing its menu on everyone else, and respectfully sample and share each other’s dishes to create a diversity of co-evolving banquets.
If hot dogs and cheese fries are all that is available, it is better to have them than to starve. Absent wealth equality, it is better to be rich than to be poor. Absent a system of communal land ownership and vernacular architecture, it is better to afford to buy a house than to be homeless. Absent community-based ways to regulate social behavior, it is better to have the police on your side. Absent strong traditions of folk medicine, it is better to have health insurance than to be locked out of the only healthcare available. Absent robust local food systems, it is better to be able to shop at Whole Foods than at the convenience store. Absent a robust gift culture, it is better to have money than to have none. In current circumstances, one is better off privileged than not; however, the privilege discourse implicitly elevates its own values. It posits the life of the wealthy suburbanite with full medical insurance, well-funded school, secure investment portfolio, friendly police force, well-equipped modern hospital, and easily accessible Whole Foods as the good life, if only it could be available to all, if only room could be made for others to sit at the banquet of whiteness.
Such a life, if expanded to all, is ecologically unsustainable, but the problem is deeper than that. It is also socially impossible to expand it to all, since the wealth of some rests necessarily on the poverty of others. Actually the problem is deeper than that too. The banquet of whiteness is actually destitute of any real nourishment, as demonstrated by relentlessly rising rates of depression, suicide, mental illness, addiction, and divorce among those with the very best seats at the feast as well as those scrambling under the table for discarded bits of hot dog roll. Is this really the vision of the good life we would bring to one and all?
If you want to find the world’s happiest people, don’t look in Beverly Hills or the Hamptons. Look instead among the Hadza or the Q’ero, or go to a village in Ghana or Bhutan. It is not the West that has most highly developed the art of being human.
As for happiness, so also for health. What we might call “white medicine” has recorded miraculous successes, especially in emergency medicine. Overall though, it is debatable whether our society is healthier than traditional societies. It is not only mental and social illnesses that are on the rise; chronic physical ailments are as well, for which modern medicine can sometimes palliate symptoms, but offers little in the way of cure. Autoimmune diseases, allergies, metabolic disorders, and especially childhood chronic conditions run at unprecedented levels, increasing in each society in tandem with its modernization. In 1960, incidence of childhood chronic disease in the US was 1.8%; today it is over 50%.
The association of modernity with declining health was observed in the early 20th century by Weston A. Price, a dentist who traveled to remote parts of the world to document the health of people untouched by modern diets. From the outer Hebrides to Polynesia, from Inuit villages to Masai encampments, he compiled 15,000 photographs and innumerable descriptions of the magnificent health normal to those places: spacious palates with all 32 teeth, little tooth decay, no heart disease, easy childbirth, no chronic disease, and so forth. It was only with the introduction of modern foods and lifestyles that the maladies of modernity – which we take to be normal – became common. Once white diets and living patterns took hold, white medicine was also needed to handle the consequences. (Again, “white” – the cultures under assault were of every skin color.)
With the food and habits of the colonizers came the diseases of the colonizer. With the religion and worldview of the colonizer came its medical practices. If our own “modernity” is the inevitable destiny of the world, then so are the diseases of modernity, social or physical. Progress for the “underdeveloped” then means to bring them the medicine, education, and political systems developed to cope with those diseases.
That also means that to embrace TCM or African traditional medicine must go along with broader changes in thinking and living. Neither works very well as an add-on to an otherwise fully conventional life. That is why they are often a point of departure from a conventional life.
Given the menu most people have in their hand, given the realities of modern life, palliative care to manage a disease is a lot better than what the poor and uninsured often receive, which is no care at all. Within its horizons, the privilege discourse is irrefutable. It takes for granted, however, many of the values and assumptions of the very world it is trying to overthrow.
What is Real?
One way that well-meaning anti-racism activists try to grapple with the aforementioned ontological imperialism is to celebrate non-rational, experiential “other ways of knowing,” contradistinguishing them from linear, rational, evidentiary white science. This attempt unfortunately smuggles in the same cultural superiority complex I’ve described. It is not that TCM or the belief systems underlying exorcism are illogical or ignorant of evidence. They merely issue from a different set of postulates, a different theory of change, and a different metaphysics. And, they emphasize pattern logic over linear logic, synthetic thinking over analytic thinking, and teleology over reductionism.
Immersed in non-Western, non-scientific, non-white mythologies, one soon encounters evidence that makes them real. Modern thinking holds that there is reality, and then there are beliefs about reality. In so thinking, it stands at odds with other cultures in which the relationship between belief and reality, between subject and object, between name and thing was mysterious. Enter a worldview, utter its names, perform its rituals, and its denizens will come to greet you. Enter deeply the world of an actual voodoo priestess or Andean shaman or Taoist priest, and you will experience things that are impossible in the standard scientific worldview.
I once heard a story about the great anthropologist of religious Taoism, Kristofer Schipper, who served long apprenticeship under Taoist priests in Taiwan. In the dead of night a knock at his door roused him from bed. Opening the door, he saw three animated corpses staring at him. “You have the wrong house!” he barked, slammed the door, and went back to bed. Relating the story to my friend, he said, “When you enter the world of folk Taoism, sometimes the undead pay you a visit.” In that mythology, they are real.
What is real in our own (mainstream) mythology? Viruses, for one thing. (Note that our religion – science – bears its own heretics who don’t believe that SARS-CoV-2 causes Covid-19, and they are treated, indeed, as exactly that: heretics.) Accordingly, we enact a set of rituals to ward off the evil spirit we call a virus. We don that most primal of ritual gear, a mask. We keep our distance from the unclean for fear the spirit will jump from them to us. We go through sanctification procedures like hand washing and disinfectant booths. Those seriously afflicted go to special temples (hospitals) where highly trained acolytes in ceremonial garb apply various magical potions, tablets, and ritual devices. However real and sensible these procedures are to us, that is how real and sensible the beliefs and practices of another culture are to them. We are tempted to privilege our own by saying they aren’t rituals, they are based on real cause and effect, verifiable through the Scientific Method, not realizing that we may be inhabiting an self-reifying mythology.
Our present historical moment is one of transition in our mythology, in the basic narratives by which we know self and world. Having corroded the other cultures of the world, it now dissolves itself. The ingredients of the innumerable feasts of world cultures are strewn about the kitchen. To assemble them into something more sumptuous than ever before, we must first give up the idea that our dishes were the best. A new mythology is beckoning. For it to become real, we must develop the courage to release the old one, even though it once seemed like absolute reality itself. Fortunately, courage has an ally – reality has been falling apart for a while now. There is no doubt that economic reality and political reality have shifted. But the process of dissolution won’t stop there.
Science itself is changing as long-held truisms collapse. For instance, for my entire life the scientific-political establishment derided the notion of extraterrestrial visitors to earth, explaining away, with full weight of scientific authority, UFOs as just so many weather balloons, swamp gases, illusions, and hoaxes. Now even the New York Times and the US Navy admit to numerous accounts from trained observers of aerial phenomena far beyond the capabilities of current technology. Even science’s basic metaphysical assumptions are wavering. Foremost among them are observer-independence and the isolability of variables. Meditate on quantum non-locality and the measurement paradox, or on non-linear emergence and order out of chaos, or dig down into topics like the placebo effect, water memory, psi phenomena, the Bengston method, etc., and science, including medical science, looks more and more like the knowledge systems it has long demeaned. Rather than bringing other traditions to our banquet table, the future might have us leave the table to be hosted at others.
What applies to science and medicine extends into the rest of life. As our political systems putrify, will we continue to try to impose them on the rest of the world? As our chemical- and machine-intensive agricultural system founders, do we continue to push it on Africa? Instead, we might acknowledge the crying need for all those things I listed a few paragraphs ago as absent, let go of the superiority complex, and adopt the humility necessary to relearn about folk medicine, local food systems, gift economics, experiential education, ways of ceremony and prayer, and the mindset and perceptions necessary to live in harmony with each other and the earth.
To be sure, this knowledge is not held exclusively by communities of color, but the dominant culture we are calling “white” has long suppressed or ignored it. Thankfully, it still remains in what Orland Bishop calls “cultures of memory”: indigenous, traditional, and marginalized cultures, as well as hidden lineages within the dominant culture. Maybe Western civilization did not conquer the world after all. The appearance of conquest is temporary. The apparently vanquished cultures are still here, awaiting the exhaustion of our own. Some survive in remote places, relatively intact. Others persist in cultures like India and China that were too massive to be fully Westernized, and among minorities who have resisted full assimilation (expressed in practices like voodoo). Some are wrapped up within the main culture itself, imprinted onto its wisdom lineages, customs, superstitions, underclasses, and countercultures . Even peoples that seem to have been totally extinguished bestowed seeds upon the future, suffusing the land with wisdom that may yet be recovered, ancient seeds awaiting the thousand-year flood. These cultures of memory provide the ingredients and the cookbooks from which humanity, collectively, might prepare a true feast.
My appreciation, as always, for your insight and willingness to look deeper. I know these essays are a challenge/risk; I know that they are appreciated. Thank you.
Todd Lejnieks says
I do so love being challenged to think about these things, Charles. Thank you for these perspectives and loving invitations to go deeper. Calling our rituals and beliefs “modern” (medicine, science, commerce, etc.) seems to be our way of making our mythologies true. Which isn’t to say they are not true but negates any other possible truths.
People like Charles have a self-confidence combined with humility that allows for openness and curiosity. The insecurities (fears) and self-loathing of so many give rise to imperialism arrogance and self-righteous poses. Until we have a widespread acceptance of looking within and dispelling the programs of our own worthlessness we continue to need to use (and/or create) external evidence of our worth by comparison (to those much less than us). The shift to the more beautiful world our hearts desire can only occur from more beautiful hearts. All else will then be easy and organic as humanity engages in healing the wounds of the past.
Thank you for bringing so much openness, insights and wide perspective to the world. This is what we need right now.
Mary Beth says
Thanks for sharing so eloquently and clearly all that you do. Personally I may not be able to talk the talk but I am doing my best to walk the walk and when I trip, I rebalance and move forward. Your words help me rebalance and validate that which I cannot always express and sometimes re-act to in dis-accordance. I see you, not as a teacher or guru as you were recently referred to in not so kind way, but rather one who helps us remember our essence and true purpose and brings to light circumstances we’ve have become distracted into that have contributed to paths we find ourselves in and are now ready to change direction.
Kimberly Dorsey Bronow says
Thank you Charles. One of the things I appreciate the most about your essays are how you help bring to light assumptions, frames, perspectives and unconscious or unchallenged conclusions I hold.
Merrilee Baker says
How my heart hums with joy, and I hear myself saying yes, yes, yes. Thank you Charles for expressing so eloquently what I want to sing or maybe even shout out to the world. I love your menu analogy. What I want to talk about, write about and change towards is rarely, if ever on the menu in my ‘white’ culture.
valerie ariel van haltern says
When the conquerors came and murdered or tortured healers/medicine people/shamans because they would not cease practices and accept the conqueror’s “religion” – many shamans were able to escape and go underground. Though thousands of their ritual / ceremonial objects/sacred drums were confiscated or destroyed in bonfires some of these sacred object were successfully hidden away and secretly passed on to the next generation. Knowledge of herbs and nature, sacred drawings etc, as well as healing treatments were passed on. When it seemed that certain wisdom might have been lost – therefore not passed on to others then the ancestors appeared in Dream or in ceremony to once again reveal these gifts of seeing and understanding to those of pure heart. Can wisdom then be erased or destroyed – things of the heart and soul – this power that aligns and keeps the channel clear between all levels of “beingness” and source? Over the centuries many would have died without TCM, herbs, ritual/ceremony and so on. Chinese herbs have saved my life – as well as ceremony – We are fortunate, I hope, that we have a choice – to choose what works for us as individuals – Choice to me implies some understanding of what exists, the context, an awareness of all cultures, honoring of belief systems and so on. In Nepal w/shamans we’d see the walking dead one night, and be following traditional ceremonies and shamanic methods of healing the next- Some cases would need what we called medical doctors of western medicine- and, what they could administer quickly. The shamans knew when to get them involved and had no qualms about including their western ideas in the circle of healing. It was their belief that one way of doing things should not discount the other or suppress it. They would say, “all medicine has its good use when applied with pure heart.” Appreciate your work on this Charles and for sharing bridges and doorways that invite us to the circle where we may embrace deeper understanding of these issues, as well as our diversity and our oneness.
Dr. Dean Raffelock says
As someone who was an Integrative doctor for 37 years and earned 5 board certifications (including one in TCM), I want to communicate how profoundly helpful it was when deciding which treatment modalities to utilize, to be able to have my thinking and observations toggle back and forth between profoundly different Western and Eastern concepts of health and disease. Given that Western allopathic medicine as practiced in the U.S. is ranked 37th in the world, it’s hard to fathom where all the falsely superior, exclusionary hubris comes from. There is just as much cult mentality and magical thinking in allopathic medicine as anywhere, it just has a massive Big Pharma financial clout to continually try to program us with thousands of drug commercials offering symptomatic relief (turning off the fire alarm but failing to look for the actual cause of the alarm go off) so we don’t question its smoke and mirrors and “demonic greed” that hopefully one day will be exorcised from our culture. Yes emergency medicine can be miraculous but the average medical doctor’s skill set usually ends there. The art of being a doctor is largely missing from medical training.
Although exorcisms seem bizarre to many off us, why not apply the whole concept of psychoneuroimmunology to them? This term means that a change in our beliefs can influence our nervous systems and immune systems. The term really should be psychoneuroimmunogastrointestinalcardiovascularendocrinmusculoskeletal…you get the point. Our thinking and beliefs can affect every system in our bodies.
There is so much more I could comment on but Charles said it all so well.
James R. Martin says
I found the conflation of ethnocentrism and racism present in this essay both confusing and unhelpful. Ethnocentrism does share some commonality with racism, but the distinction between these two remains very important.
Pat Wolf says
WOW! Thank you for opening up my mind & culture. Much to think about and digest!
Anita Evans says
Thank you Charles! I shared this far and wide including nuggets I found delicious in their truth
Doreen M Tanenbaum says
You have done it again Charles…allowed me to question my reality that I thought was open. Beautifully crafted a true spiral of undoing.
Nicole Mitchell says
Hi Charles. I have much respect for your work because you are one of few people who offer new visions for moving us forward towards building a new world rather than just tearing down/critiquing our failing one. In my response to this article, I wanted to ask if you’ve read Ibram X Kendi’s book? ( https://www.ibramxkendi.com/how-to-be-an-antiracist-1 ) I don’t think Kendi would disagree with your points regarding anti-racist work. I agree with you that increasing representation of people of color is not the FULL solution. I agree that increasing representation of people of color in leadership too often ends up perpetuating the “world-destroying humanity-exploiting machine” in most cases and that the “machine” needs to be redesigned, overall (not just redecorated with new colors). However, that doesn’t mean that inclusivity as a principle should be dismissed. It is still important, and it’s a wholistic principle found in nature. I’m sure you agree that it’s crucial for someone in your position, of helping develop a new narrative for the new era, to be working constantly to decolonize your mind from western programming that the entire globe has been immersed in. I’m concerned that you are dismissing this important work of anti-racism, which is a useful tool for us to discern aspects of the “humanity-exploiting machine” that you speak of, and help people to make less assumptions about each other and learn to treat each other more equitably. When you speak of “privilege” have you read Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work on intersectionality (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersectionality)? Crenshaw helps us to understand how our identity (gender, sex, race, religion) and economic status impacts our lives (because of the western system). And yes, the appearance of our physical bodies, along with our religion and economic class often results in tangible privileges and discrimination that we face in westernized life. Understanding white privilege, economic privilege and/or male privilege is not meant to be disabling or to be a guilt trip. The purpose of understanding privilege is to understand ones position of power so that you can use it for good. For example, I know you have used your privilege for good to open doors and mentor women and/or people of color in the things you have learned to create an independent career for yourself. Do you also consistently seek to expand the diversity of people around you that challenge your ideas so you can continually expand your worldview and cultural understanding? How much do you connect with others outside of your regular circle who also want to help re-design the world and minimize human and planetary suffering? How many Black friends do you have? For example, have you read adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy (https://www.akpress.org/emergentstrategy.html)? The intentions and the great work that brown and you are doing would be amplified globally by the two of you connecting with each other. Does your worldview persist in its westernism and Eurocentrism, or do you seek to see and build beyond the creation of a new world where white people continue to be at the center? How do you create a truly egalitarian world without having full awareness of how to dismantle the pitfalls of our dystopic system while including a balanced, diverse representation of voices from around the planet? Should the concept of white male privilege become a regular part of your discourse as a way to disarm it? If the concept of Euro-centrism is not what you intend for our future, than being anti-racist is a consciousness to help us all to be continually critical and not perpetuate white supremacy in the new precious world, the More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible. We need a multitude of voices seeking to stretch our consciousness towards a new paradigm for true equity of all beings on the planet. To do that, our voices need to be positioned to collide, cooperate and improvise towards that co-creation of a positive future. Much respect, Nicole Mitchell.
Well said, all of it. There are more and more of us who will attest to the truths you express so clearly, Charles. Thanks for being willing to do the work.
Larry Waite says
Savanah when you stated “the shift to the more beautiful world our hearts desire can only occur from more beautiful hearts ” it just ressonated with me very deeply. Part of my spiritual journey is too continue to open to the more beautiful heart within myself and every being. Thanks
Dee Romesburg says
Thank you for calling out the underlying assumptions (again). It’s constant work!
Yannis Grigoriou says
This is a beautiful essay! Is it a war we witnessing right now or the accelerating collapse of the narcissistic paradigm so prevalent in the West? It seems to me that the catalyst for this collapse will be the utter greed of big farma and the 1% plutocracy forcing societies unintentionally to rethink values, stereotypes, life itself with humility.
Love this one. Have long loved TCm and herbalism and I also love the terms “ontological imperialism.” “Teaching” a complex undergrad class at a private college, it involved an “overview” of liberal arts and science and as I basically see it much as Charles does, I was very pleased when a very smart Kurdish student said “you know science is not a religion.” I was so happy he said that. A good friend currently is absolutely a rationalist and cannot imagine other realities except in rare moments of lapse especially when we laugh and I point it out to him. Makes for very narrow friendship, sadly.
This is a new economy writer I have been exploring, not love based and much wanting to rid the world of money. Here he is interviewing Isabel Wilkerson who just released her new book: “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” that we might appreciate or not as in a quick review may have some relavance here.
Thanks for this rich piece, Charles, especially the hot dogs and fries (a definite ontological imperialsim to me) which was sort of what made me upset over your piece Numb, as I do see this as a “root cause”.
And do forgive me if I am off base in some way.
The reverse colonization taken up by part of the movement toward change forcefully flips leadership to indigenous or people of color in order to dominate and punish whiteness. Maybe this shattering of old thinking is useful, but it does not bode well for the new culture.
Generosity seems like a trait that should be emphasized. Nonviolent communication does rhetorically do this, but I have seen its adherents operate with a lack of it.
Thank you, Charles, for showing a way to open ourselves to real humanity.
Suzanne Grenager says
This may be your most brilliant and important piece yet. Thank you for your insight, your courage (coeur) and your shining humility. I am so glad that you ARE!
On days when things seem hopeless, an essay like this pops into my mailbox and satisfies my hunger for language that can help the blind see. Respectful and humble, this article gives everybody a way to become a better human being, and to question the very bedrock of our beliefs to see if they ware even worth having, much less building an entire life upon. Thank you once again for your brilliance.
Frances Harris says
Exquisitely expressed Charles. Thank you so much for this much needed perspective.
Lene Santora says
A Giant Wake Up call to white humility, if they can hear the Call at all, being so immersed in the image of their own splendor.
Thank you Charles, for writing this so astutely and comprehensively accurate.
This should be required reading for everybody, for the whites, to learn about humility, and non whites, to restore their true hetitage and their authentic pride in that.
Barb Jarmoska says
Indeed, “truth is discovered or revealed, not made” and you, dear Charles, continue to be the most extraordinary of discoverers and revealers. I am deeply grateful to you. Your words are a banquet for the heart and soul.
Bravo, well said. With empowering words of compassion, thanks for greatly changing the tides of misinformation that have kept us unknowingly living small “just under the radar” of bondage.
Thank you for this. I’m a natural/alternative health advocate and I’ve been getting berated left and right for my beliefs. Called anti-science, Trump supporter, superstitious….all because I question a fast tracked Covid-19 vaccine that may be made mandatory. I have no problem with those who want it using it–but I travel a different path and vaccines are not on the menu.
Cathy Lee Brandstetter says
Bravo, Charles! And thank you again and again!
P. S. Small typo in “Hot Dogs and Cheese Fries” section: If hot dogs are cheese fries are all that is available
Laurie Young says
Thanks, Cathy! I fixed it. 🙂
This is heaven-sent – literally all the ideas and topics I have been mulling over for years, and struggle to express to exactly those linear-thinking western science minded people (friends even). As a (white) student of Ayurveda I can so relate to this. Incredibly grateful.
Generalisations abound here, ‘ white culture’, ‘ western hegemony’. It’s ironic that the author above would defend Chinese medicine yet say nothing about Chinese inroads into Africa economically, while at the same time decry white western ontological and political/ economic hegemony. Does he believe that China was forced, convinced or manipulated by the west into spreading its economic wings through consumption and growth, and to try and exploit untapped markets in Africa to maintain there own power and financial prowess? He grants them no agency whatsoever? That’s sounds a bit of a stretch to me.
Patricia Aguirre says
I appreciate immensely your reflections out of the box!!!!I just finnished being interpreter to portuguese of Mantak Chia, my Taoist teacher, of an international online course…and science would laugh at many of the amazing things he brought. Pure synchronicity. Thanks Charles. Super thanks ! Never give up!!!
Martyn Robinson says
There is something about travelling early in our lives that causes a questioning of the culture from which we have been formed.
Charles reports he was a teenager when he went to Taiwan.
My journey to India as an 18 year old caused such a questioning.
The mind is still open to ‘otherness’ which it approaches with a sense of curiosity, if not awe!
Fortunately this openness to other ways has continued to inform Charles and remains the inspiration for his ongoing exploration into realms where ‘Angels fear to tread ‘
What a gorgeous essay. thank you thank you……..
As Shakespeare said, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” What a fun, wise, whack job of an essay, and that’s a compliment! Keep having fun riding the wave!
Mark Tripzville says
Absolutely stunning piece Mr Eisenstein. Humanity must accept that we have wandered far from the path the cosmological constant has repeatedly asked humanity to follow. The future is Unity in Diversity. You may enjoy our little offering of light in these dark times thru our music and messages [from many sources] . Simply go to Youtube and type in Tripzville. TOGETHER WE ARE STRONGER.
Kerry Snyder says
Thank you for clarifying what I have been experiencing as an unarticulated distrust for western medicine. It is now apparent that my suspicion is founded upon the closed-mindedness of the ‘white’ medical institution. Having only a hammer and nailing away is decidedly cretinous, but refusing to accept a proffered wrench when faced with a bolt is beyond the pale.
‘White’ hasn’t seemed ‘right’ to me for as long as I can remember. I appreciate your courage in shining light upon the specter of oppression that is still hiding in the shadows of white culture. We have much self-enquiry ahead.
Would we rather hold onto our dogmatic assumptions and continue to suffer predictably and exponentially, or shed so many *unproven* premises and make a play for liberation and (gasp) bliss?
Margaret Jones says
This essay moves me to tears with its truth. I have lately decided to turn the dark occult references of mask-wearing and hand-washing into my own private form of observing retreat, to turn the dark agenda around, as a form of preparing for our world to transition into a new story.
Juda Bacon says
Maybe evolution is the process of being able to sit with different ideas, health modalities, practices, faiths or absence of, societal structures, myths and legends, and being able to respect and be curious about all of them? I only think like this after reading one of your articles, Charles. I only think we are capable of it after reading said article. A close friend of mine died a week or so ago. He was a practicing Catholic. And he was also a champion of social justice who did not shy away from the evil his church commits, and has committed, whether it was child sex abuse or the subversion of cultures by its missionaries. He could hold two opposing ideas and find a way to the good in each of them. He would have loved reading your article, Charles, and would probably have wanted to talk all night about the ins and outs of it, with a Jamieson’s in hand, and maybe a song or two to add to the craic.
When I first saw the title, my eyes played a trick on me (they do that these days) and I read it as The Blanket of Whiteness. All I can say now, after finishing this article, is it is time for me to take the blanket off more often, and enjoy the banquet in all its many splendoured colours. Thank you.
Thank you for writing this; it expresses many of my own thoughts so very articulately. As a ‘white’ person I can say that I’ve never felt welcome at the ‘banquet of whiteness,’ however much I have indisputably benefited from being born white. At the risk of being seen as ‘appropriating’ other cultures, I’ve been a lifelong, and grateful, student of Yoga/Ayurveda, Chinese medicine, and Amazonian plant medicine. I’ve also submerged myself in the less ‘evidence-based’ psycho-therapeutic models like Jungian and IFS. These latter two may be what you refer to as “hidden lineages within the dominant culture” since they use stories/meaning to initiate healing, much as shamanic work does.
I want to quote something that Jeremy Narby wrote in The Cosmic Serpent, as it so beautifully echoes the points you’ve made: in the midst of his first plant medicine ceremony, Narby sees that “I am just a human being. I feel my mind crack, and in the fissures, I see the bottomless arrogance of my presuppositions. It is profoundly true that I am just a human being, and most of the time, I have the impression of understanding everything, whereas here I find myself in a more powerful reality that I do not understand at all and that, in my arrogance, I did not even suspect existed. I feel like crying in view of the enormity of these revelations” (p. 7).
May the white dominant culture be blessed to cry in view of the enormity of its collective revelations.
It’s been too long.
I fell off the Charles train for a while. I’m happy to be back on.
Just when I think I know what’s going on… I read something written by this man.
This is dope Charles.
I have read much of your work. This essay is my personal favorite. Thank You for your continued devotion to opening eyes and hearts with your writing.
I was lifted up and taken places by engaging with the essay. It cast a light on some important things – contaminating (in the best meaning .
of the word).
Thought comes to ivory: elephants and rhino tusks – that command a high price and costs the earth; used in medicine, so I understand.
What to make of it?
I love this essay. It rings true. I am one of those white weidos that has yearned for inclusion in a culture outside my own, which started by reading a shortened Reader’s Digest version of Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee back in the Old Country. Then I emigrated, looking for ways to get closer to it.
I have made a living in research labs in academia, but never went to graduate school, so luckily didn’t have the rest of me, the side that could never get developed due to the culture we live in, completely knocked out. I have watched it knocked out of graduate students, though, that have been put through the grinder and come out as changed people in the end, more mature, yes, but not for the better in terms of innovative thinkers. Due to this essay, I just had this conversation with our Chinese grad student, who also confirmed about the use of TCM to treat COVID in his homeland.
Again, Charles ability to show us the depth and broadness available when openness is present is faultless. My only critique lies in important omissions in presenting Dr. Immanuel’s character. Although I understand the author’s focus for this essay, omitting Dr. Immanuel’s fervent homophobia, who has called our community vile and accused us of “ homosexual terrorism” is wrong. The respect you speak about in the essay must come from all cultures, not just the failing, dominant one, if it is to work. Also, Charles omitted to discuss Dr. Immanuel’s religious view which is apparently more aligned with modern (intolerant and hateful) Christianity than with a traditional African one of spirits and demons. To me, these facts indicate that maybe Dr. Immanuel was not the ideal candidate as a springboard to the ideas of openness suggested in the essay. I support and admire Charles work as it is essential in these shifting times, but had to make this point…
I would love to vision toward and experiment in anti-racism that holds these perspectives close.
Oh I’d love an audio version of this essay. 🙂 I find reading a long essay in the computer tiring these days. Any plans for someone to read this aloud?
And what I have read, I’m very grateful for. Thank you, Charles.
I am sure your Mother saw that she had an exceptional son. And what better gift of love than to know that she was held in deep reverence throughout her whole life, by you. May she continue to stand by your side, with her hand gently guiding you towards your ever evolving & expanding radical greatness. XX much love, Tracey
U help me 2 keep myself sane.
Thank u x
Hey Charles, is there any way to get this (and all of your articles) in audio version like when you read aloud Coronation? I would really appreciate it.
Making the abstract simple…what a well timed workout in mental calisthenics–tackling the deeper questions…thank you for working the edges.
Ingo Erik says
Thanks for the interesting essay, as usual a very different and more open view onto our world. I think that a part of what you described has a reason in how we see science today. Decades ago when religion answered everything we need to know about how reality works science was just a small part of it and every scientist said that science offers just a model of how the world works.
Today science not only explains all of our reality and claims that there is only one view of the world, but also no one says anymore that this science is just a model. That there may be other sciences that describe the reality in other cultures like you explained does not exist for them.
It felt like the essay was done just before the section on Inclusion or Erasure. Part way through that section I thought to myself, Is the horse dead yet?
But then came the stark equalization of mask-donning medical practitioners with sanctification rituals and cleansing, all rituals of old. I wonder if that point could have been made earlier, but the essay leads up to that segment and I’m sure that Charles wrote it that way because of the context-setting explique brought that juxtaposition very much home.
Not knowing Eisentein’s oeuvre, a deeper dive into belief and the power it holds might be something Charles goes after, next. I imagine a keen intellect such as his could untangle the twist of using words to talk about language, not unlike the phenomenological exercise of stepping back, stepping back, stepping back to the point of perception itself.
Hi Charles, if you were diagnosed with Covid, or another life threatening disease, would you seek out empirically proven treatments or would you embrace ‘other ways of knowing’
Your overall premise is very thoughtful and interesting. I know this is a bit narrow of a comment but, in thinking of the video of Dr. Immanuel, I remember her saying she had treated 200-300 patients with no deaths? Isn’t that statistically insignificant if the death rate is around 1%?
Charles dont ever give up on the work you put out there. the world needs you!!!!!!
Raúl Quiñones-Rosado says
More than a social movement, anti-racism is a developmental process that is long and deep, simultaneously personal and collective, inextricably structural and cultural. Anti-racism is central to the ongoing work of everyone committed to the sustainable development of humanity —of people and of human culture— as racism is implicated in every challenge we face.
Far beyond changing personal attitudes, beliefs and behaviors, antiracism is concerned with cultural transformation, or more specifically, transcending white culture. Now, white supremacist culture is only one of modernity’s off-spring born of European patriarchy and religious imperialism and must be examined along with its siblings: capitalism and colonialism. Therefore, antiracism demands that we understand and dismantle systems designed for the purpose of creating a legacy of advantage for white people (especially if they are male, Christian, wealthy, heteronormative, etc.).
As a veteran antiracism educator, community organizer and scholar-practitioner in liberation psychology, I am increasingly encouraged by people’s willingness to embrace the discomfort of the brutal facts of racism’s history and present and their place in confronting it today. It remains to be seen how many will remain committed and engaged, particularly as the way of life we have all inherited and which is rooted in the matrix of white cultural supremacy, global racial capitalism, imperialism and patriarchy is collapsing under our feet and before our eyes. To be clear, Covid-19, the rise (and fall) of Trump, the Movement for Black Lives, and the emergent Uprising of the 2020s are merely symptoms of the collapse … and, hopefully, signs of our entrance into humanity’s next developmental stage.
BTW, Charles, you might be interested in the works of philosopher Enrique Dussel, sociologist Aníbal Quijano and other Latin American thinkers on the coloniality of power, knowledge and being. Dussel’s work not only serves as a critique of a Eurocentric worldview of modernity, but also lays groundwork for the development of ethics of liberation that may lead to a transmodern era of human development.
Peace! And Justice!
About Creativity says
Charles, I would like to see/experience a summary at the end of your writings. I s this possible?
Simply magnificent! A masterpiece in thought, insight, creativity,
literary Beauty. I am so grateful to be a recipient of your wisdom . I have been spreading the seeds of your offerings with all that I know have ears to hear. But perhaps more potent is the consumption of this nourishing and refreshingly new perspective, that once assimilated and digested in my own consciousness, are born anew through me and shared with my own creative unique expression. Thank you for sharing so prolifically. I am deeply grateful.
Neil Harrison says
Thank you for revealing the presuppositions that are creating the ‘conflict compliance’ all around us and for doing so in a way that gives me ways to disarm them. Your contribution is powerful and urgent: our ability to generate productive dissatisfaction is determining how much benefit we are converting out of this moment of crisis.
There is one line that jarred a bit for me: “Absent strong traditions of folk medicine, it is better to have health insurance than to be locked out of the only healthcare available”. The first phrase here seems to suggest that the way forward lies in a return to the ways of the past, or at least in following its projected patterns more assiduously. As I understand it, the idea of a ‘New and Ancient Story’ is a kind of forward looking reintegration of truths, if that’s accurate how does this sentence align with that?
Particularly on health – where there is increasing agreement that we only have a partial grasp of the dynamics of the whole – it is tempting to subscribe to a monolithic philosophy instead of resting in the bigger truth of the mixed story space. My personal experience has shown me that better outcomes lie in the intersection and interaction of the stories we have about health and healing, so I am passionate about making many pathways to well-being.
I offer this with the aim that it may be a helpful ‘there be dragons’ warning for fellow readers, to dodge unhelpful polarised thinking, and humbly for your consideration. Another wonderful piece of work, thank you.
Dr Elizabeth S Allen says
I live in accordance with almost every word of this essay. I only want to say that this line of thinking is consistent with helping good folks do the work of repairing cleft palates. It is not necessary to impose the whole medical industrial complex to repair prolapsed pelvic organs on the 10% of women who live in developing countries who live with it.
Morgine Jurdan says
Beloved Charles, While you posts are most often very long, they are so Potent one can rarely stop reading! I literally almost cried reading this post and wish it could appear in publications around the world! We all need to look in the mirror more often and “own our blind spots” for sure. I so honor other cultures and what they have to teach us. I read too many books of what conquering and colonization had done around the world and cried every time. Our history books in the U.S. were written only to inspire patriotism! They could not and would not tell the “real stories” because it would be way too gruesome and horrific for children of all ages to read and study and be proud about! I still find it difficult to understand why we celebrate the birthday of a man (who did not really “discover this country”), who expressed in his own journals, the pleasure he experienced cutting off the extremities of the natives who refused to become Christians!
We have So Much Healing to do here and around the world as we finally learn to Celebrate Diversity, respect and honor our differences, and understand the Oneness we all share. Thank you for making that so clear. Coming from the same Source growing us from microscopic cells to adulthood (beating our hearts, breathing us, digesting our food, eliminating waste, healing our cuts and millions of other things), all without needing our conscious attention our entire life. Every human being, regardless of color or culture or beliefs! The same Energy inside all things from ants and birds to whales, every tree and mountain, oceans and deserts and all of life!
Having gone to a naturopath the past 40 years, I also highly value their different perspective on health, which once in a while includes something from the allopathic side. I am grateful regular doctors exist to patch broken bones, fix hearts, sew on a cut finger and all the rest. There is room for all different kinds of medicine. I too was surprised to be offered an exorcism once and it was an unusual experience.
Thank you again for this inspiring article which I sincerely hope is read by billions of people around the world some day!
Thank you for this essay. As with so many of your other essays it makes me to ponder my worldview. As appealing as I find many ideas, I am still not completly sure what to make out of some of them.
Let me give you an example: Our dishes were certainly not the best. From my (western?) point of view some other (non-western) dishes don’t taste so well or are even poisonous. I don’t want to operate in a reality, where I have to fear illness because I’m masturbating. At least this is what I get from my superficial googleing of Dr. Immanuel. Dreamsex can cause cysts. That might be harmful to some juvenile psyches, right? Or is this still my western worldview that hinders me from respectful understanding? Let’s take it one step further: What about Female Genital Mutilation? Hopefully no one would agree that this should be part of a sumptuous feast.
My point is: how do we establish moral guidelines for a new mythology? They are surely hard to find among the strewn ingredients. Can we pick eclectically? Which postulates do we apply? Rational ones from post-enlightenment Europe? They couldn’t prevent the horrible atrocities of the World Wars. Emotional ones from our hearts? My heart might know something different than your heart. Should we include metaphysical guidlines? Too much appaling stuff has happened under the name of god, allah, Jehova, Brahma, Buddha, or pagan gods.
So, to give up the idea, that western mythology is the best is only the first step. Soon after this step I sense a vertical wall that we need to climb… Do you have some more climbing gear?
kamir bouchareb st says
kamir bouchareb st says
stephen harrod buhner says
great article Charles, thanks for writing it and for the depth.
Phyll Perry says
Wonderful article. Gets us all thinking. Excellent.
Lauren Ayers says
Once again, Charles’ image-filled prose playfully jars us out of our habitual ways of thinking and we see reality with fresh eyes.
Lord Action’s classic phrase, “All power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” could just as well be revised as “Hierarchy corrupts, and stubborn hierarchy is the water we swim in. “What water?” says the goldfish. “What hierarchy? say any who benefit from it, thereby locking out justice. (Admittedly, Acton’s 10-word sentence elegantly covers all the bases, I just want to show how power inevitably leads to an uneven playing field.)
It’s worth pondering if this corollary is also true: “Powerlessness tends to corrupt… and absolute powerlessness corrupts absolutely.”
kamir bouchareb st says
Oona Chaplin says
Hi Charles, and thank you for your thoughtfulness.
I work in cultural exchange between indigenous and non-indigenous communities (Aniwa.co) and this reflects a lot of what we dance with in our gatherings. I read an essay some time ago by a woman whose name now escapes me called “these Long and Burning Times”, where she elaborates on the 3 papal bulls that tore a large portion of the globe from their connection with their land and therefore their understanding of the world and their place in it. I’ll explain here as I don’t know if the essay is widely available, but if you can get it read it, it’s good.
1455- Romania Pontifex, in which the Vatican gave permission to King Alfonso of Portugal to take over the land and people of Africa. This was arguably the first time people’s identity was based on the colour of their skin rather than the place they were born.
1484: the Witch bull, which legalised the burning of witches and demonised earth honouring pleactices and herbal remedies. This 300 year genocide coincided with the rise of allopathic medicine (white men in white coats), and the decriminalisation of rape and prostitution. Francis Bacon, the “father of science”, encouraged the torture of witches, and was an advisor to the trials.
1493: Inter Cetera, in which the Vatican granted Spanish royalty permission to take the Americas, land and people, “civilise” the savage and make a buck.
These 3 bulls centralised culture, agriculture, worship, medicine and values, whilst doing a pretty good job at exterminating, demonising and ridiculing any other understanding of life.
I still wonder how it was made possible that the Vatican took hold in the world so successfully -not in isolated cases, but covering such vast expanse of land. On a good day it leads me to prophecy, and the purpose of darkness in the great cycles of time, giving us an ever more palpable opportunity to see the trick and remember who we are to greater depths. On a bad day it makes me want to find a tunnel to the center of the earth and wait there for it all to pass.
Despite what the blind man says holding and elephant’s tail, and elephant is not like a large paintbrush.
Thanks for always celebrating creation.
Malcolm Clark says
Engaging ideas and wonderfully articulate as always. I would find expressions like this more complete if you included the social engineering aspect beneath much of the cultural phenomena alluded to herein. Social engineering is foundational to more of it than most of us know, and than even more of us are willing to believe.
Sacha Horowitz says
I was at once delighted and perplex reading Charles’ “Banquet of Whiteness”. The thoughts that follow will seem contrarian in many ways. They might shock readers who have unwittingly internalized values that they regard as vital when they’re really derived from a self-destructive trap the modern West has set for itself.
Charles’ text helps to clarify how worldviews alien to the modern, rationalist mindset are in fact vital to our civilization if we are to move beyond the dead-end it finds itself in.
However, framing the rejection of such worldviews as a form of “racism” might be yet another way of perpetuating the mindset that rejected traditional worldviews.
For one thing, the unholy alliance of Churchmen and Renaissance rationalists that led to the burning of witches was obviously not motivated by “racism”. The witches – herbal medicine experts really – not only had the same ethnic origins as their unenlightened persecutors, but they were representing their very spiritual roots going back all the way to pre-Christian traditions.
Modernity has continued the onslaught on the roots of the West and postmodernity has seen an even more frenzied attempt to erase, reject and condemn whatever was inherited from the recent or distant past.
On the other hand, there has been an increasing trend favoring non-European cultures over one’s own. When looking for ethnographic sources for his “Lord of the Rings” saga, J.R.R. Tolkien lamented that, in his time already, British research on pre-modern cultures had done much less work on European traditions than on non-European ones. After World War II, the discovery of the extent of the horror perpetrated on European Jews led many to question the roots of Western political and religious traditions. In our days, this has culminated in a situation where, to atone for past sins of the elites ruling their ancestors, perfectly innocent, well-intentioned “white” people should scrutinize their hearts for traces of racism, whereas those people of non-European origins who commit crimes are often seen as being the unfortunate victims of racism or colonialism.
Racism is a capital sin of the postmodern West. Moral flaws that were seen as much worse in the past come second after it. Fighting racism also seems to have a priority over many other sound imperatives. At times the rule of law or, even more absurdly, economic opportunities for the disenfranchised have to come second.
This is not so in the very cultures that Charles correctly identifies as having features that could regenerate our civilization. Although a measure of cosmopolitan spirit, courtesy and intellectual curiosity about alien cultures can be found in major non-European civilizations, cherishing their own traditional values, their ancestors and historical triumphs above everything else is seen as being of sacred value. Careful criticism of these is permissible, but only to a very limited extent. The modern West has reversed this universal guarantee of a civilization’s basic functioning. It has gradually developed an ethos that most highly valued the rejection of traditional religions, of the misdeeds of one’s previously celebrated ancestors and of collective sins of the past.
The discovery of the greatness of other civilizations’ traditions that were less disfigured than ours should prompt us to recover what was lost in this deplorable historical process. Drawing the opposite conclusion by insisting on the false priorities set by modernity would be tragic.