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Cultural Imperialism in Said’s Critical Thought: a Remembrance

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Text too are worldly in as much as they have a way of existing that even in the most rarefied form are always enmeshed in circumstances, time, place, and society” -Edward Said in The World, the Text and the Critic

[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] E [/yt_dropcap] dward Said, even 13 years after his untimely death, remains today a powerful, well-reasoned voice of the voiceless, as well as a courageous critic of cultural imperialism. His mind was like that of Leonardo: where others saw an abyss between East and West, he saw a bridge that needed to be constructed. His serene fair critique of cultures is very much needed as we weather the latest fierce storms in the Transatlantic dialogue and a resurgence of the Cold War.

While writing a Ph.D. dissertation on Vico at Yale University, some thirty five years ago, a book appeared which attracted my immediate attention. But it was not its author, still relatively obscure at the time, rather it was its title which urged me to buy Beginnings by Edward Said. To my mind, that title echoed immediately Vico’s notion of “origins.” And in fact, as expected, Said not only acknowledges Vico as the book’s inspiration and methodology, but dedicates a whole section to him. It turned out to be a kind of epiphany for me, in the same way that Ignazio Silone had previously been, not so much for what the book revealed about the problematic in the New Science that I was then grappling with (i.e., that of transcendence and immanence in Vico’s notion of Providence), but for what it said on the crucial role of the intellectual vis-à-vis the culture he lives and works in.

One of the most pregnant passages in that book is this: “The writer’s life, his career, and his text, form a system of relationships whose configuration ‘in real human time’ becomes progressively stronger (i.e., more distinct, more individualized and exacerbated). In fact, these relationships gradually become the writer’s all-encompassing subject” (p. 227).

Here was a writer who did not see his role as that of the neutral “objective” scholar but as that of the engaged “worldly” critic who refuses to separate his work from his life’s experience. In doing so, Said was able to speak truth to power, rather than merely analyze power. In effect he becomes the well reasoned voice of the voiceless, within the tradition of “the conspiracy of hope” initiated by Ignazio Silone (see his Pane e vino, Fontamara, or Il seme sotto la neve). He therefore succeeds in making his life work relevant to the general public, especially the culturally powerless.

Later on in his The World, The Text, and the Critic Said would assert that not only individuals, but text too are worldly in as much as “they have a way of existing that even in the most rarefied form are always enmeshed in circumstances, time, place, and society” (p. 35).

And indeed, even if Said is no longer with us in body, his powerful voice is still heard via his texts. He was born in Palestinian Jerusalem, studied there and in Cairo, then moved to the United States. He acquired a “Western” education (Princeton B.A., Harvard Ph.D.), becoming the Old Dominion professor of Humanities at Columbia in 1963. As a displaced Arab and an American citizen studying European literature in America, he became the voice of the voiceless and the dislocated and in as much as he understood well both East and West, he was eminently qualified to bridge those two disparate cultures.

This concept of bridging of cultures is vitally important, at a time when the transatlantic dialogue and relationship can best be characterized as one of mutual suspicion, misperceptions and near political disasters. A turbulent time when the very concept of multi-culturalism is being dismantled.

In one of his essays critiquing modern education, Said mentions that there was a passage on Leonardo Da Vinci by the French poet Paul Valéry which haunted him. In it Valéry describes the mind of Leonardo; its beauty and power and elegance and then says that Leonardo could only think of a bridge whenever he thought of the abyss. Metaphorically speaking, an abyss is the equivalent of what is presented to us as immutable, definitive, impossible to journey on. No matter how deep and problematic the scene that presented itself, Leonardo’s beautiful mind always had the capacity to think of some alternative, some way of solving the problem, some gift for not passively accepting what was given, any hopeless scene could be imagined and envisioned in a different more hopeful, way.

Then Said went on to say that he believes that education at its best should train students not so much in methods and skills but in the ability to see things differently and try ways of constructing bridges across the abyss. For Said knowledge is more than the amassing of information. He quotes Jean Paul Sartre who once said about a friend who had studied at a prestigious scientific college (Ecole Polytechnique): “my friend is really incredibly brilliant. He knows everything. But that is all he knows.” Echoes of Pascal’s “the heart has reasons that reason knows not?”

But let us go back to Said’s beginnings (also the title of his above mentioned book) from which continuities follow, and apply a non-linear conception of career to his own career. If we take a look at his Ph.D. dissertation we discover that it is concerned with a novelist of Western imperialism: Joseph Conrad. This gives us a clue as to where Said’s “beginning intentions” were in his life-long criticism. Three such can be discerned: 1) a desire to make critical work out of the fabric of one’s life experience, 2) a refusal to separate the imperialism of the mind from that of nations (an eminently Vichian concept), 3) a will to forge literary criticism into an act of political intervention in the production of cultures.

In his very first book titled Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography Said shows how the past was re-narrated (another Vichian concept: history as narration from the beginning) in Conrad’s writings as a remedy of sort for his fear of personal disintegration. Then in Beginnings Said continues his study of the narrativization of personal experience tracing the changes culminating in the modern novel. Eventually he arrives at Orientalism, and culture and imperialism as history through which Western scholars have fictionalized the Orient, in collusion with their governments, to arrive at fictions such as “Arabs” and “Islam.” Those books are now considered by many scholars as foundation documents in the history of post-colonialism. In any case, one thing that stands out in Said’s writing is the notion that the history of cultures and personal histories are hardly separable.

All of the above begs the question: what exactly was the main topic of Said’s life-work? Were I to choose one, it would be Eurocentrism, especially as manifested in imperialism. In the above mentioned early book on Conrad, Said shows that Conrad’s identification with “Europeanism” was an act of secular salvation by which he rescued himself from “the heart of darkness.”

But a shift occurs in Beginnings. Although apparently a history of the modern novel, the book is more properly a history of the imperialism of the mind reducing human subjects to functions of systems. In this respect Said is uncannily similar to Levinas. Be that as it may, in his subsequent Orientalism, Said explores the relation between the production of knowledge and the invasion of territories. He points out that imperialist history is the precondition for European imperialism per se; that is to say, Orientalism precedes the European Empires in the Orient. There was indeed a cultural preparation to Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt at the end of the 18th century, just as there must be one before forbidding Moslem women to wear a scarf in public schools. In other words, the imperialism and colonization of the mind must precede that of the physical territory.

A careful reading of Orientalism can teach one how to understand other nations for themselves, rather than through the distorting lenses of Western imperialism. But Said is not just an observer of cultures happy to merely offer a diagnosis of what hails them. He considers it a responsibility of a critic to intervene in the formation of cultures which he sees as a mixture of pre-texts, texts, and para-texts just as Vico saw history as a mixture of pre-narrations, narrations and para-narrations. Genuine intellectuals should be “oppositional” and not mere observers and analyzers.

Beginnings is permeated with this issue of the critic’s responsibility not only to analyze but also to intervene in the discursive formation by retelling its history; retelling the story, so to speak. Said does exactly that in Orientalism. In so doing, much as Foucault had done before him, he intervenes to show how a discourse is formed, thus offering an alternate view of the media’s coverage of Islam. Said is convinced that it is the critic’s responsibility to challenge the hegemonic power of cultural formation because of its “elevated or superior position to authorize, to dominate, to legitimate, demote, interdict, and validate: in short, the power of culture to be an agent of, and perhaps the main agency for, powerful differentiation within its domain and beyond it too (The World, the Text, and the Critic, p. 9).

In a world of political and cultural “correctness,” it was a veritable tragedy to lose a very public intellectual like Edward Said. But I have no doubt that his legacy, like that of a Silone or a Havel, will be an ongoing one. He will continue to be the voice of the voiceless and the dispossessed, in any culture.

Many intellectuals, even among Palestinians themselves, will continue to resent his frankness and his calling a spade a spade. But that is nothing new, it begins with Socrates being branded a gadfly. It behooves us not to forget that truth is an equal opportunity critic. If they were sincere with themselves those critics would acknowledge that Said, as a quintessential humanist, has taught us how to see the foreign Other as oneself instead of constructing him/her as one needs him/her to be for one’s own self-justification. That would by itself constitute a signal contribution to a Western imagination sick with extreme rationalism, positivism and reductionism. Some sicknesses are unto death unless the courage is summoned to reverse them with a reclamation of the very concept of truth. Said can certainly help us do that.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

New Social Compact

Grace and a Tennis Celebrity

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image source: Wikipedia

Among the character traits we cherish in fellow humans, grace is often more noticeable in its absence.  The recent saga of a Serbian tennis player and his manner of entry into Australia and subsequent events come to mind.  A champion athlete cannot help but serve as an ambassador for his country, and in Serbia’s case, after the horrors of the Yugoslavia civil war and its prominent role, it is a country that needs all the help it can get. 

Novak Djokovic is ranked number one in the world and is in Australia to defend his title.  He appears to have lied on his Australian entry form:  False declarations are grounds for revoking a visa, and immigration officials acted.  But as world number one, he is a draw for the tournament … and money talks — he is already scheduled to play his first match as this is written. 

Mr. Djokovic’s lawyers went to court which overturned the immigration officials’ order against him on the grounds they had not followed proper procedure.  Then the immigration minister, Alex Hawke, who had been thinking about canceling his visa actually did.  So it’s back to court.

But it gets worse:  Djokovic has not been vaccinated.  He claims that having had the illness, he is immune.  Scientists have found that to be of short duration.

He also broke isolation rules after he had tested positive, particularly by not isolating himself, thereby endangering his contacts.  Cavalier his behavior maybe, perhaps careless but possibly a sense that rules are not for celebrities, only for lesser mortals.

That it caused a sense of outrage is apparent.  A leaked video has a couple of news anchors discussing Djokovic in not very flattering terms:  “Novak Djokovic is a lying, sneaky asshole”, says one.  Yet the comment also is evidence of a coarseness that has gradually pervaded language.

In the meantime, Mr. Djokovic’s father has his own take on the affair.  He calls it a conspiracy to prevent his son from breaking the previous record of 20 Grand Slam title wins held by Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer because they are all against Serbia.  But Serbia, which still believes in little Jesus and is thus protected, will prevail.

Would aphorisms like ‘a storm-in-a-teacup’ or ‘mountains out of a molehill’ be descriptive?  Not if it’s news across the world.  Yet, if he continues to rant on the tennis court and win, it could be his way of getting rid of nerves, an eternal bugaboo. 

He must have another crucial concern:  the biological clock.  At 34 going on to 35 in five months, and with much younger rivals snapping at his heels, it has to be a race against time to win that 21st major title.

Just like grace notes relieve tedium in music, perhaps Djokovic’s rants relieve the boring baseline game that modern tennis has become.  No more a Frank Sedgman or a Pancho Gonzales charging up to the net to put away a dramatic volley, tennis now needs a grace note, or two, or three …  

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New Social Compact

Age No Bar: A Paradigm Shift in the Girl Child’s Marriageable Age in India

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Image source: indiatoday.in

India is a country known to have diverse culture, languages, social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, belief system, religions and their personal laws. With personal laws governing succession, adoption, divorce etc, one of the most important aspects governed by the personal laws is Marriage. Indian society has a deep-rooted belief of marriages being the most sacred bond between two people. Every religion of the country gives utmost importance to this sacred bond. Since this bond is of such great importance to the Indian society and to the people of the country, the legal system and the personal laws have made efforts to legalise the sacred bond. There are conditions and requirements laid down for the marriage to be solemnized and get a legal sanction. One such important condition is “age”. According to most of the personal laws and The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 the legal age for a man should not be less than 21 years of age and a woman 18 years of age. Recently the government introduced The Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021 to raise the age of marriage for women from 18 years to 21 years

Introduction of this bill shall prove to be a ray of hope for people struggling to curb the evil of child marriage in our country. One cannot claim progress unless women progress on all fronts including their physical, mental and reproductive health. The Constitution guarantees gender equality as part of the fundamental rights and also guarantees prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of sex. This bill would bring women equal to the men as far as the legal age of marriage in concerned. Under the National Family Health Survery-5, it is stated 7% of the girls aged between 15 and 18 years were found to be pregnant and nearly 23% of the girls in the age group of 20 to 24 were married below the age of 18 years. There are researches to point that from 2015 to 2020, 20 lakhs child marriages have been stopped.

In my opinion, increasing the age of women from 18 years to 21 should not be seen solely as an equal opportunity for them to choose their life partners at the same age as that of men, but this is a step taken by the government to eradicate child marriages that still find way in to our society. It should be seen as an effort to bring down maternal mortality rate and infant mortality rate. It shall also try and curb the teenage pregnancies, which are extremely harmful for women’s overall health as well as the infants born out of it. We also have to take into consideration that a large part of our society still lack basic education and awareness about these laws and the advantages attached to it. We as educated citizens of the country should take extra efforts in making people aware and to make them understand about the disadvantages associated with child marriage and the overall consequences their children would face in the future. We should appreciate the efforts taken by the government to tackle gender inequality and gender discrimination adequate measures taken to secure health, welfare and empowerment of our women and girls and to ensure status and opportunity for them at par with men.

*The Views Expressed are Strictly Personal

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New Social Compact

Post Pandemic – What’s Next

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Setting aside the omicron hysterics leading to marshal law lockdowns, the absurdity of a last chance vaccine or risk a long winter of death; or the charade of standing in a ridiculously long line of humanoids seeking a covid test after being fully vaccinated; the more contagious omicron variant with much milder symptoms, akin to the common cold, looks more and more like a natural vaccine being wind swept across the world. If we are at the beginning of the end of the pandemic as the mountain of positive cases peak and immunity engulfs the herd of humanity, what is the next step for governments, businesses, health officials, and the people of earth?

We have entered our third calendar year with the pandemic, and one must wonder how society will move forward and under what guise and endgame. First, there are many questions on the more immediate future for the everyday person, and secondly, what is the impact of the actions taken by government, big pharma, and healthcare officials throughout pandemic, and lastly, will there be any accountability for the actions taken, whether mandating experimental medicine and the potential long-term implications to one’s physical and mental health, societal lockdowns and the economy, children’s learning and coping, and civil liberties removed.

Close to home, what will happen to our jobs and will those who refused the injections be allowed to return to the workplace that terminated their employment?  How will schools and colleges catch students up after all the disruptions? How emotionally and mentally stable will we be? What of broken marriages and abusive situations, bankruptcies, deaths from missed surgeries and acute care, drug overdoses and suicides. Will people refrain from shopping in-person, attending church, or traveling? Will families heal their rifts over the vaccines and find a way to move forward?

On a more macro level, it was not long ago that we were told one shot was safe and effective. During an April 2021 MSNBC interview, Rochelle Walensky, the Director of the CDC, unequivocally claimed vaccinated people do not carry the virus. President Joe Biden, during a CNN Townhall in July 2021, was emphatic that you cannot get COVID-19 if you are vaccinated.  Now, the vaccinated are being told not to attend restaurants or large gatherings with a tsunami of breakthrough cases, and you are required to go for a third shot and then a fourth new and improved injection currently being formulated. Explicitly, any expert telling you to get vaccinated or take the booster to prevent you from getting COVID or spreading the virus is not being truthful and potentially creating further damage.

The ineffectiveness of the vaccines to prevent COVID is clear; however, no one really knows how safe the experimental medicine will be with forgoing normal clinical research over five years of testing prior to the FDA’s regular approval process. This vaccine may have provided a level of support to make your symptoms better, but it never immunized the subject. Unfortunately, there is preliminary research coming to light that the vaccinated are now more likely to get COVID than the unvaccinated. One might even argue the longevity of the pandemic and viral mutations is now a pandemic of the vaccinated.

It was not long ago that some front-line healthcare workers were saving lives, and then were told they had to take the injection or lose their job. Now, many vaccinated healthcare workers are being infected with COVID-19 and being told they can remain at work or isolate for only five few days; yet the unvaccinated nurses who have not been infected could easily wear a n95 mask and be reinstated to provide care.

Sadly, many businesses and corporations abetted the enslavement of their employees by forcing them to choose between an experimental medicine or lose their job and ability to provide for their family’s survival. A gun was held at their head to take a vaccine that is not effective and perhaps unsafe, and they lost their basic freedom to determine one’s own health and medical treatment. These decisions need to be revisited in the future with ensuing tribunals and inquiries.

In the much bigger picture, a large segment of society has lost touch with reality and descended into a time warp of delusion through the relentless fearmongering fastened with the censorship and intimidation ploys to obey the rules or be labeled an anti-vaxxer conspirator. If science cannot be questioned, it is no longer science. It’s propaganda.

The policies nurtured by the national healthcare agencies and their cohorts on the daily news networks may have created the greatest mental illness ever witnessed where the long-term psychiatric effects evolved into a mass panic of irrationality.

“Mass Formation Psychosis” is a term gaining prominence after Belgian psychologist and statistician Dr. Mattias Desment proffered a theory for what he concludes as a global behavioural phenomenon derived from the coronavirus pandemic. Desment states several things are required to exist if you want a large-scale phenomenon to emerge. First, there needs to be a large population socially isolated that lack social bonds and who experience a lack of sense-making in life. Then it must be coupled with a lot of free-floating anxiety and psychological discontent without people being able to connect it to something – then society is highly at risk for the emergence of the mass phenomenon.

These findings can account for the form of mass hypnosis or a madness that dismisses scientific principles and adopts the government’s noble lies and dominant narrative concerning the safety and effectiveness of the genetic vaccines. What one observes is about 30% of the population is brainwashed and indoctrinated by the bombardment of daily misrepresentations and attack anyone who shares alternative information that contradicts the propaganda they have embraced to the point where families, friends, and workplace networks have been torn apart. The 40% of the population in the middle simply follow along with any alternative information being censored and deemed as anti-vaxxers not following the science or some right-wing conspiracy. The remaining 30% continue to question the narratives and in some cases fight against it.

We can compare the current “Mass Formation Psychosis” to the highly educated German population between the two world wars when they became decoupled into a free-floating anxiety and a sense that things have gone awry. Their attention was then focused by a leader or a series of events onto one small point where they literally went mad. A good percentage of the population got behind the hatred of Jews while a large swath of the nation simply went along, and a smaller percentage of dissenters were exposed and systematically removed. The famous French philosopher, Voltaire warned us of our civil liberties being lost when he said, “Those who can make you believe in absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”   

Parents are being further coerced by the irrational fear of death being obfuscated through the news media to line up your child up for a potential life altering injection that has not come close to being assessed for long health implications. Even when data points to a very low fatality rate among children measuring .002% and young adults at .01%, the FDA throws mud at the wall with announcing a third shot in adolescents 12-15 years old five months after their previous injection.

We are on the cusp of an immense dedication to counselling for mental health and perhaps medical malpractice class action suits at a tremendous cost for many years to come. Imagine your child never seeing their teacher’s face all year as she pronounced words or smiled with encouragement. Imagine some students alone all day in a room on the internet and never socially interacting. Imagine the cost of a child breathing cotton fibers in the mask all day. The unleashed cruelty against our kids is a crime and will have lifelong consequences.    

In a trending microcosm across many jurisdictions, the CEO for OneAmerica, Scott Davison, a $100 billion insurance company located in Indianapolis since 1877, said during a news conference on December 30th, that the death rate is up a stunning 40% among working-age people 18-64; and that the data is consistent across every player in the industry and the highest ever seen in the history of the business. Davison shared just how bad it really is when he said a one-in-200-year catastrophe would be a 10% increase in deaths of this age group so 40% is just unheard of. Most of the claims for death being filed are not classified as COVID-19 deaths.    

During the same conference, Indiana’s chief medical officer said the number of hospitalizations in the state is now higher than before the COVID-19 vaccine was introduced a year ago – a weekly count ending Nov. 8th had 195 reported COVID related deaths where most of these were elderly compared to 1,350 people from other causes. The president of the Indiana Hospital Association added that hospitals across the state are being flooded with patients experiencing many different conditions and noted the average person’s health is now declining. The president confirmed the extraordinarily high death rate, and it was noted that the vast majority of ICU beds were occupied by people with other conditions than COVID-19.

What is responsible for the stunning 40% in deaths? Could it be one’s health condition in decline over the stress of the COVID mandates and lockdowns, or perhaps delayed medical care? Could there be effects from the vaccine? The Governor of Indiana and the various state level experts did not have a clear answer; however, they were clear that the high number of deaths and hospitalizations followed a year after the vaccine rollout.  

Dr. Robert Malone, an internationally recognized scientist/physician and original inventor of mRNA vaccination as a technology and the mRNA platform delivery technologies, including holding numerous patents in these fields with over 100 scientific publications and 12,000 citations, places him in the “outstanding” impact factor. The proven 30-year vaccinologist and inventor of the mRNA technology has recently become known for questioning the safety and bioethics of how the COVID-19 genetic vaccines were developed and forced upon the world.

Malone discovered many short-cuts, database issues, lies told in the developments of the Spike protein-based genetic vaccines; while advocating for drug repurposing and the rights of physicians, and finally the unethical mandates for administering experimental vaccines to adults and children by authoritarian governments being manipulated by large corporations (big pharma, big media, big tech) to such an extent that they no longer represent what is in the best interest of humanity. This once acclaimed doctor has been attacked, censored, and suspended permanently from Twitter for dissenting from reciting the government’s narrative.

Governments, the CDC, FDA, and leading healthcare officials will not willingly relinquish their grip on power and will continue to weaponization of the pandemic and prolong the totalitarian measures to silence scientific opposition and silence political dissention. How much longer will the unvaccinated be the scapegoat for the extended pandemic? Will the unvaccinated ever be allowed back into society to work without this vaccination? Will we ever accept ‘natural immunity’ that provides up to 27 times the immunity against the virus than the vaccine? Will we push injections into young children who are not at risk of death but may be at greater risk from the vaccine? For now, the answer from the top is clear. President Biden on January 4th maintained that COVID-19 to be a pandemic of the unvaccinated. 

One might hope that answers and culpability will take place once society looks back and realizes that the vaccines and mandates caused more damage across all spectrums of society, however it is unlikely anyone will be held accountable. One must consider whether the oppressive pandemic pendulum has swung too far never to swing back where our freedoms are peacefully reinstated. We must keep in mind that the mandates and lockdowns, Big Tech censorship, news media collaboration, and the fear-laden ‘Mass Formation Psychosis’ leading us down a path to a China-like Neo-Marxist society removes any notion that our civil liberties and democracy is preordained. We the people have a choice over collective self-annihilation.    

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