Are We Happy Yet?

Breaking the Chains of Modernity

Reimagining old ways of life and death.
Breaking the Chains of Modernity

XAVIER LE ROY

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The philosophical and spiritual problems of our age are so great that what our time calls for are new manifestos of knowledge and being. We need a kind of spiritual change that exceeds the political. Unfortunately most of us in the Westernized world spend more time trying to escape from ourselves (sex, shopping, addiction, fashion, entertainment, success), than we ever spend reflecting on the state of our existence, our heart or our soul. We are people driven by our desires: desires which destroy our hearts and any ability to have a connection to the greater spiritual realities that are all around us. As the Qur’an says, “God does not change the condition of a people, until they change their own condition.”

In the classic decolonial manifesto, Discourse on Colonialism, Aimé Césaire described Western life as a poison infecting the planet. Césaire wrote that to understand our existence, “First we must study how colonization works to decivilize the colonizer, to brutalize him in the true sense of the word, to degrade him, to awaken him to buried instincts, to covetousness, violence, race hatred, and moral relativism.” For Césaire, “a gangrene has set in … a center of infection has begun to spread …” The poison Cesaire warned of is a philosophical and spiritual poison that infects each of us today.

In the American Indian scholar Vine Deloria Jr’s final book, The World We Used to Live In, he writes: “The secularity of the society in which we live must share considerable blame in the erosion of spiritual powers of all traditions, since our society has become a parody of social interaction lacking even an aspect of civility. Believing in nothing, we have preempted the role of the higher spiritual forces by acknowledging no greater good than what we can feel and touch.” The de-sacralization of the self and our lifeworlds is leaving our spiritual hearts dead.

To save ourselves, to avert catastrophe, we need to make what Walter Mignolo calls an “epistemic geopolitical move.” That demands a form of critique that is deeply engaged in what is known in Arabic as muhasabah, or self-examination, on three levels: examination of the self and one’s spiritual state; an examination of the dominant hierarchies that we all interact with such as gender, race, class, sexuality, and religious domination; and finally an examination of one’s local knowledge and the place from which critique is emanating. In recentering on the sacred in this process of self-examination, we can learn from Chicana feminists and the emerging idea of “decolonial love.”

Laura Pérez, UC Berkeley Professor of Ethnic Studies, connects “decolonial love” to the Mayan principle of In’Laketch: tu eres mi otro yo (you are my other me). Pérez explains that “not only are we interwoven, we are one. I am you and you are me. To harm another is thus to literally harm one’s own being. This is a basic spiritual law in numerous traditions.” This shift in the geopolitics of knowledge involves a turn away from Descartes and Western modernity’s centering of human consciousness in the mind, to a recentering of consciousness in the spiritual heart (qalb). This idea of a heart centered knowledge is central to many spiritual traditions including Christianity, Buddhism and Islam, and is echoed by Subcommandate Marcos and the Zapatista adage to center politics below and to the left, where the heart is in Aztec and Mayan cosmology.

Similar to Gloria Anzaldua’s concept La Facultad, a form of inner knowledge, is the Islamic concept of Al Basira, the eye of the heart, which is the center of spiritual perception if properly developed. As the great Mystic philosopher Al-Ghazali put it in his masterwork of the inner sciences of Islam, Ihya’ ulum al-din, “Creation refers to the external, and character to the internal, form. Now, the human is composed of a body which perceives with ocular vision (basar) and a spirit (ruh) and a soul (nafs) which perceive with inner sight (basira). Each of these things has an aspect and a form which is either ugly or beautiful. Furthermore, the soul which perceives with inner sight (basira) is of greater worth than the body which sees with ocular vision.” In seeing with the eye of our heart we can begin to differentiate between form and meaning, as the outward forms of things are not always their internal and spiritual reality.

The vision of our hearts has become blinded by the poison of base materialism. In the verse poetry of the early female Sufi saint, Rabi’a al-Adawiyya: “O children of Nothing! Truth can’t come in through your eyes, Nor can speech go out through your mouth to find [God], Hearing leads the speaker down the road to anxiety, And if you follow your hands and feet you will arrive at confusion. The real work is in the Heart: Wake up your Heart! Because when the Heart is completely awake, Then it needs no Friend.”

To break from the chains of modernity, we must learn both from philosophers of decoloniality and the spiritual sciences. Ultimately, we must walk down the path of love, to see each other in the divine light we were born into. As the great mystic philosopher Ibn Arabi said, “I believe in the religion of love, whatever direction its caravans may take, for love is my religion and my faith.”

Dustin Craun is a writer, educator and community organizer who lives in Berkeley, California. This essay is excerpted from his forthcoming book titled Decolonizing the Heart in an Upside Down World.

34 comments on the article “Breaking the Chains of Modernity”

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Anonymous

Yeah, looks like the Chinkies beat your Superior Intellectual and Spiritual Capacity (SISC).

Sorry Snow White. (SSW)

Muhammad

But isn't that the point of the article? Are non-western societies reflections of their former selves or are they reflections of a poisoned westernized existence as Cesaire would have it?

Anonymous

Shit dude, I don't think that because the author quoted al-Ghazali that means they think Iran is a wonderland because that country once produced a thinker that is still worth drawing on today.

Anonymous

If the author critiques Western society and points in a different direction by drawing on thought outside the Western tradition, then all that means is that they are drawing on thought from outside the Western tradition.

It is not some kind of romanticization of non-Western societies to say "here is a concept from this society that illustrates what I am trying to talk about."

Anonymous

I could not agree more. I was born in south east Asia and the new generation's obsession with materialism is as bad if not worse. I no longer live in the country but was brought up there long enough to notice the difference where ppl have mansions(literally) next to bostis (e.g slums, fevelas ) or drive 7 series beamers (the tax rate for cars there is double so a 7 series is literally costing 200-300 US $). The post-colonial era in the Third World has brought about a new sense of control by the elites in these parts of the world and now they control the practically non-existent middle class and lower class. So take away the Caucasian master and replace it with your own brother. It may sound harsh but its 100% true. Coming from an above middle class family(but not extreme or extravagant) I have seen both sides of the picture and now living in the Western world, they both have +ve and -ves. But the OWS and the 90-10 is a joke compared to the class disparities in the Eastern world of "peace and bliss".

Anonymous

I think most anti-western critiques are largely overblown. Sure, the A-bomb was developed in the West, and Nazism, some of the world's first truly nihilistic philosophies, exploitative capitalist industrialization colonialism and most of the plasticized consumer world mostly originated in the west. But look at history, all these things were on the cusp of emerging elsewhere, too. (Look at Japan during WWII...and don't say they were passively "corrupted" by the west! To argue such a view is to make an entire civilization look infantile by perpetuating illusion that non-western civilizations are childishly dependent on cultural influence from the Europe.)

But to focus on all of this is to downplay the great things western civilization has achieved--like understanding what MATTER IS ACTUALLY (quantum physics), figuring out how ALL LIVING THINGS CAME TO BE (evolution), all of western literature (Shakespeare, Faulkner, Balzac, the whole gamut) and its art (Da vinci, Rembrandt, van Gogh). Many more things could be identified to highlight the merit of western civilization, and anybody who suppresses this information is operating under an ideology that forces them to be unhistorical.

Anonymous

The same thing can be said about any other view.. At the end of the day its a view. Im in complete agreement with you in regards to western contribution to the world. However, we have erased the civilization that have contributed (with out which, we would come this far) to the Western civilization from our text book; ever since the early 1900s.

The concept of the author is on the dot, as far as we becoming too materilistic. And yes, think the author have gOne too far with blaming; as the older generation in the west dose not like where we came to.

Anonymous

Dude, everything you listed is EUROPEAN. And as an actual European, let be be the first to say:
Get stuffed you twit wannabe.

Anonymous

I'm sorry, did you just say that Europe isn't part of "the west"? Europe conquered FOUR CONTINENTS. (Africa, Australia,South America, and North America(don't try to pin that one on the US, European countries had occupied every part of it before the US did)).

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