Surmounting Cynicism

Surmounting Cynicism

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July 27, 2012

It appears that a cultural transition is in the making here in the US, where people who’ve gotten into a habit of righteous ridicule are now facing an opportunity to do some popular education and community organizing. For some of them, this is going to be a time for soul-searching; do they have the fortitude to take some risks, or will they seek refuge in cynicism?

For those of us who are fortunate enough to have acquired knowledge, the choice of how to use this gift bestowed by our mentors and teachers can be a tormenting task. Given the institutional pressures to apply knowledge in a manner contrary to public benefit, it can also be a demoralizing one. Taking note of the vast resources devoted to undermining social morale, it is not surprising that many of those inclined toward creating community find the monumental institutional duress overwhelming. It is, in fact, designed for that purpose.

Incapacitating the spirit of resistance through the science of coercion — also known as psychological warfare — is most successful when those who are targeted by state and market propaganda inadvertently assist public and private media in the mission of indoctrination. Having channeled the anger, resentment, and righteous indignation of the kindhearted into a knowledgeable cynicism and informed despair, all that remains is for the ruthless to consolidate their power. Once the unhappy subjects believe they are indeed helpless, the prophecy is mercilessly self-fulfilling.

This is not to say that there are no difficulties ahead, that there have not been battles lost, nor that the present is not discouraging. What I am asking of those blessed with the intellect and motivation to prevent harm despite the odds, is that they consider the harm done by ceding the field of battle, by counseling surrender, by failing to shield young minds before they can become strong–by the arrogance of affirmation.

While the current process of creating new transitional structures gives me hope, it is not without reservation, but cautious optimism is a much more healthy attitude than the cynicism and hopelessness that presently pervades our society. The new era of nations and states we are entering is full of possibilities to build a democratized international community. For those charged with the task of training our future leaders, it is of the highest order that they inject their students’ discussions with the knowledge and hope of these self-determination movements underway.

In describing the betrayal and decomposition of the Mexican political class, Zapatista spokesman Subcomandante Marcos in 2006 observed that by turning their backs on the just demands of the indigenous and other dispossessed in their country, something was definitively ruptured beyond reform. Looking at the dominant neoliberal socioeconomic model as the source of their misery in Mexico, the Zapatista leader goes on to note how this consolidated betrayal by the entire political class has foreclosed their rights as indigenous peoples.

Acknowledging that they once thought the process of dialogue and negotiation with the federal government by civil and peaceful means would strengthen the path of dialogue and negotiation as an alternative for the resolution of conflicts, they now admit that they were wrong.

Building on the success of the autonomous indigenous communities in constructing independent social infrastructure, the EZLN chose to commit to a new initiative against the system–an initiative where capitalism is opposed from the outside. While the military aspect of the EZLN remained prepared to defend itself, they chose to stand aside to allow the indigenous communities to develop without becoming targets of the state. To do that, they also intensified their political efforts of global solidarity.

Speaking of solidarity, a little-known fact about Sinn Fein’s struggle for equality and unity in Ireland is the active support they received from Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress. During the 1998 negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement that led to a power-sharing executive in Belfast, the ANC sent a senior delegation to lend its assistance by sharing stories of their own struggle against apartheid, then only recently ended.

At the Sinn Fein congress, ANC deputy secretary general Thenjiwe Mtintso said,

Sometimes people talk about the miracle in South Africa. The problem with that is that they reduce our struggle to the supernatural. There was no miracle in South Africa. There was the blood and tears of South Africans.

What is crucial is not to lose sight of the strategic objectives in whatever it is you are doing in negotiations. We had to weigh everything against the strategic objectives of complete transformation in our country.

Good words to live by in America today.

As the Occupy movement begs for definition, the struggle to lead an authentic life, that began with the counterculture movement in the 1960s, remains relevant. So, too, does the larger narrative that examines more fundamental aspects of identity.

In November 2011, Center for World Indigenous Studies associate and University of Victoria professor Taiaiake Alfred spoke at the University of Ottawa on The Psychic Landscape of Contemporary Colonialism. Recounting his own intellectual preparation in understanding the struggle for self-knowledge, self-governance, and maintaining integrity, Taiaiake examined the transformative power of pathways to wisdom. As a collective activity in the pursuit of happiness and the good way of life, Professor Alfred asked the most pertinent question–Who are you?

Earlier generations made sacrifices battling the symptoms of greed, gaining concessions to human dignity, yet leaving in tact the sociopathic system. We now know, however, that the institutions of greed themselves must be conquered if we are to survive. Defeating these institutions that deny us the ability to live decent lives is our greatest challenge.

The private equity system, amassed by greed over many generations, is a formidable foe. It controls our governments, our economies, our lives. Freeing ourselves from its relentless grip requires sacrifices yet unimagined.

As leading humanitarians have noted, this sacrifice is not optional; we will either vanquish greed as the dominant value, or our children will experience horrendous misery and suffering. Indeed, the suffering has already begun. Soon, many more of us will be faced with the choice of struggle or surrender.

In his talk Indigenous Resurgence and Traditional Ways of Being, Taiaiake Alfred examined the fundamental challenges facing indigenous peoples and their friends in confronting the nation-state and the corporations that fund it. Foundational to his vision of decolonization is the restoration of community through overcoming individual fear of confronting the colonialism within ourselves, part of which is comprehending how institutional power has patterned indigenous peoples.

In his distillation of the collective wisdom of indigenous communities, Taiaiake emphasizes that strengthening connection to a place is crucial to fortifying emerging coalitions, connections and networks devoted to universal justice. As a person who is committed to living in a respectful way, Professor Alfred implores us to engage in this spiritual battle with an awareness of the meaning of place in our own cultural heritage.

With all the forces amassed to pull us in other directions, staying on the pathway of peace and righteousness, says Taiaiake, requires re-rooting ourselves in order to mentor others for the long struggle. As he reminds us, “The struggle’s not over”.

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