Some thoughts on the work of the GTDF collective

In this podcast Vanessa Andreotti offers some thoughts on the analyses and directions that motivate the work of the Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures Collective.

Click here for a related video in Portuguese.

Transcribed text (audio):

In the Decolonial Futures Collective, our main analysis is that colonialism doesn’t start with subjugation of people or occupation of lands. It starts with a fundamental sense of separation between humans and the land or between humans and nature. And this can be traced to a separation also between humans and the cosmos and between creature and creator, which in other disciplinary languages would be associated with transcendence, and the debate would be transcendence vs. imminence. This debate doesn’t quite capture what we are talking about, but it helps.

So part of the argument is that the problems we’re facing are not problems that are informational problems. They are problems of a harmful habit of being. And this idea is coming from indigenous scholar Dwayne Donald. So if we’re talking about a habit of being we’re not talking so much about an epistemology, but about onto-metaphysics, about ontology. And when we talk about habits of being that are harmful, we’re talking about desires that are harmful, of ways not only of knowing, but of wanting and hoping that are harmful.

And we can’t talk about that without talking about the unconscious. But the unconscious here is not the unconscious of Western psychoanalysis that we have where everything then gets traced back to the body or to meaning. This form of psychoanalysis, that we are talking about is a non Western form, perhaps a form of indigenous psychoanalysis … [that] traces everything back to the land. And the land is not just the physical land or the metabolic land, land represents much more than that. But in many in many ways, this is very important because the land is a living entity. It’s a metabolism too, that is alive, that dreams through us, that that we need to see ourselves as an extension off rather than seeing the land as an extension of us, which is generally how ecological thinking goes in its anthropomorzation of the land. So we tend to see ourselves reflected in the land rather than the land reflected in us.

So that’s an important caveat as well that the psychoanalysis that we’re talking about here and the unconscious we’re talking about is not a human unconscious only. It’s entangled with an unconscious that challenges time and form.

So starting from there, if you’re talking about the unconscious and desires that are harmful, we need to be thinking about how our current social structures are also limiting our neurobiological possibilities both in conscious and unconscious ways. So if we have unconscious desires that can become addictions, how is it that modernity itself or modernity-coloniality itself has designed or allocated these desires in ways that restrict other neurobiological capacities that we do have?

And in this sense, it is very important to challenge the coloniality of science and the coloniality of neuroscience. When we’re talking about the prefrontal cortex, for example, and the modern human being who is perceived as the apex of evolution. So our science and neuroscience are evolutionary in their nature. And this assumption of progress teleology and anthropocentrism and creates a very strong perception of civilization and the modern man as the apex of evolution. If we remove that, if modern man is not the apex of evolution, but one amongst many possible evolutionary configurations, we can start to look at the limits of that and at the capacities that have been exiled from this configuration. And we can look at indigenous people that have practices that disassociate themselves from this specific configuration to check and see if there’s if if there’s anything that we can learn about neurogenesis from these experiences. And then we go back to the crisis of modernity and understanding that the neurophysical neurochemical and neurofunctional configurations that have created the problem won’t get us into a different space. We will have to expand our neurobiological capacities to be able to even start to imagine and want and hope for something different.

Otherwise, we will want more of the same. So in this sense, it is interesting to speak metaphorically about… and speculatively too about modernity as a drug dealer and drug pusher that creates … certain gaps that are filled with other drugs that are specifically sourced so that we can become hooked in certain forms of consumption. So we’re thinking, for example, about dopamine in the sense of reward that it that it creates and dopamine … it’s a neurotransmitter that the body produces, but … there’s no value attached to it. It’s something that is in the body. But when it’s sourced through Facebook, for example, through the likes that you get on a post, then it becomes a form of addiction that is very difficult to interrupt. We’ve been thinking about several of those in the collective and trying to map them into conversations and seeing in educational processes where people are looking for, for example … dopamine. We mapped oxytocin. We mapped endorphins, which are hormones and we mapped adrenaline. And it’s very, very interesting to see how people come to educational processes seeking either reward or validation or transactional relationships or this excitement or pain relief and because we get caught up in a circularity of these desires, it is very difficult to talk about anything else. It’s very difficult to invite people to want something beyond … these things, because then in many ways it becomes unintelligible or unthinkable to want something different. And then people demand to have what they’ve paid for.

So in that sense, we’ve also been thinking about – again, metaphorically and speculatively – serotonin. And looking at how serotonin has been seen as the neurotransmitter that gives us the sense of connection with the land and with one another, with everything in the world, with the cosmos. We understand it’s much, much more complex than that, but this is coming from studies of psychotropics and in entheogenic practices of indigenous communities and also in the clinical use of psilocybin, mescaline and DMT for the treatment of addiction. So taking serotonin metaphorically, we could say that modernity might be creating a deficiency in the production of the sensation of deep entanglement and interconnectedness: it individualizes people, it atomizes people. And as it does that, it takes away the intrinsic value of life as you are separated from nature, as you’re separated from the land, you have a constitutive gap that then needs to be filled with participation in intellectual, emotional and material economies where you consume to create value so that you can have the external validation that gives you the sense that you deserve to be alive. So if there is a deficiency in our sense of interconnectedness, …. This efficiency is actually designed and it is neurobiologically structured, what kinds of practices could help us tap the capacities that exist beyond this configuration?

This is one of the things that this collective is asking. What can help us rewire ourselves so that we can feel very differently in the world and with the world, and in this metabolism where we are part of each other, we’re entangled with each other, not just humans, but humans and non humans? Where can we find the help to do that? Can we do that only intellectually? Can we do that intellectually and effectively? Do we have to do it also relationally? Can we do it economically? Can this be the grounds for a very different ecological project? These are the kinds of questions that we are interested in and we have been doing several experiments in terms of what kinds of thinking can take us to the limits of thinking, what kinds of rationality can rationally explored limits of rationality. What kinds of pedagogical objects and tools can we use to invite people to stay at that edge? We have been looking at what kinds of educational tools we could use to help people to relate differently to their own unconscious, to their fears, to their insecurities, to their traumas and compost these into new fertile soil. What kinds of processes can help people relate beyond the need for meaning, identity or understanding: how they can relate viscerally to everything without this relationship being mediated by articulated knowledge that provides people security in the current ontology, where knowing and being are conflated, or where being is reduced to knowing or to meaning? So we’ve been experimenting with that. We have been also experimenting with thinking through the ethics of exchanges. So if we’re working with several Indigenous communities and Indigenous peoples and working through questions of how we can learn from each other and bring different knowledge systems or different systems of knowledgs and ignorances together in ways that can address past wrongs and historical violences. And this is part of economic justice that we’re engaged in. And we’re also trying to metaphorize this process at an organic level through various types of metaphor is one of them is mycelium, but the other one is the uterus of the earth and the potential and the functionality of the uterus in regenerating life that can be used as an anchor for us to think about our vital compass, our compass of vitality, and the need to calibrate this compass towards the diversification of life that happens through the uterus.

We also have a distinction between desires and yearnings and desires being kind of allocated and planned like things that, you know what you’re going to get out of something that you desire and yearning is deeper existential: a sense that we’re looking for wholeness. And this is coming from Jackie Alexander saying that the separations that have happened cause a psychic fracture that creates a deep yearning for wholeness that really messes up the sociality of our lives, because we tend to want to desire wholeness in coalitions as belonging. So we confuse wholeness with belonging.And then we want to create coalitions so that we feel better when we are amongst our equals or peers, but that this very search for belonging creates the same separation that the yearning is trying to respond to. So it never is never completed. It’s never fulfilled. And, in that sense, she says that the only thing that we’ll be able to address that yearning for wholeness is the space of the divine, the space of the soul. And that requires us to acknowledge a deep, sacred connection that we have with each other and with everything, which then for only requires a different the activation of the brain of a different kind of brain functionality or neurofunctionality, neurochemistry and neurobiology.

So this all goes back to the question of neurogenesis and what we would like to experiment with. So what we’re doing is not critical pedagogy, which is about just getting people to perform the right form of politics. We’re not trying to create a new church that gets people to find a guru and go with it. We’re not trying to create the kind of social innovation that will solve all problems. We are trying to figure out how we can learn from past mistakes with wisdom in order not only to make different mistakes in the future, how to hospice, the systems that are dying so that we can assist with the birth of something new, potentially wiser, but not necessarily, and not to even take credit for it because the the avant garde dimension of it is actually part of the problem. It’s part of the what we are mapping as one of the ditches that we have fallen into before and continue to fall into.

So part of the work is to create radars for where the ditches are and where mistakes have been, especially the recurrent ones that we we go back to. What these desires are that end up taking us in a circular direction and mapping this thing so that we don’t waste resources and energy and time just doing the same thing, wanting the same thing, hoping for the same thing.

So how do we really open up something that is qualitatively and substantially different from what has led us to the problems that we have today? I think that’s it.





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