Sharon Stein created an exercise called “CIRCULAR” (first published in this article) that identifies eight expected intellectual, affective and performative dispositional patterns that modernity has imprinted in our unconscious and that it rewards. These patterns may prevent us from sensing, relating and imagining otherwise, but since they are perceived as normal and natural, there is virtually no incentive to notice or to interrupt them. In fact, for you to be functional and intelligible within modernity/coloniality, you have to use them.

The exercise invites you to do three things:

  1. Spot these patterns as they pop up unannounced in your responses  to things going on in your life during the next seven days. You can also spot them around you, in the responses of others. You could create a bingo game with the patterns as well—lighten it up, otherwise you risk mobilizing this exercise for virtue-signalling (which is definetely not the purpose here);
  2. Observe the reward mechanisms that exist for these patterns and how you and other people derive pleasure and satisfaction from them. Reflect on the depth of the challenge of trying to change these patterns in a whole culture (but don’t despair);
  3. As you spot and observe, you are invited to “sit with” what is in front of you, with self-compassion, without praising or condemning, without vilifying, demonizing or weaponizing, without seeing these patterns as problems to be fixed.

The idea is for you to build stamina to hold space for difficult and painful things without becoming overwhelmed, immobilized or wanting to be rescued from the discomfort (e.g. by focusing on solutions, or seeking affirmation or innocence).

The intention is not to use this exercise to overcome these patterns or to establish a moral high ground – quite the opposite actually. This exercise is about expanding capacity for 4Hs: humility, honesty, humor and hyper-self-reflexivity. This gives you a glimpse of the work of hospicing modernity that the GTDF collective engages in.

Circular patterns

Continuity: Seeking the perpetuation (and perhaps expansion) of the existing system and its promised securities, certainties, and entitlements. This pattern leads people to approach change in conditional ways wherein they calculate the perceived benefits of change against potential losses, and generally do not make choices (or renounce choice in ways) that compromises their own futurity or position of advantage. E.g. “I want to transcend colonialism without giving anything up.”
Innocence: Positioning oneself outside complicity in violence, often because of one’s stated commitment to be against violence. This pattern erases how our implication in harm is largely the product of our structural positions within harmful systems, and our learned, unconscious habits of being, rather than a product of active intellectual choices to hurt others. E.g. “Because I say that I am against violent systems, that means I am no longer complicit in them.”
Recentering: Privileging the feelings, experiences, and perspectives of oneself and/or the majority group/nation/etc., rather than looking at systemic dynamics of inequality and violence, and discerning from there what actions are needed in order to work toward developing healthier possibilities for co-existence. E.g. “How will this change affect me/make me feel?”
Certainty: Desiring (and demanding) fixed, totalizing knowledge, simple and guaranteed answers to complex problems, and predeterminable outcomes before taking action. This pattern denies that all knowledge is situated and contextually (rather than universally) relevant, and that all solutions are partial, imperfect, and may reproduce the problems they seek to address, or create new ones. E.g. “I deserve to know exactly what is going to happen, when, where and how.”
Unrestricted autonomy: Placing primacy on one’s free choice and independence at the expense of honoring interdependence and responsibility. Further, this pattern envisions responsibility as an intellectual choice, often based on a cost-benefit, utility-maximizing analysis, as opposed to a visceral pull to do what is needed in order to maintain respectful reciprocal, relationships premised on trust and consent. E.g. “I am not accountable to anyone but myself, unless I choose to be.”
Leadership: Framing oneself, or another person or community, as uniquely worthy and deserving of the power to determine the type, mode and direction of change. This pattern positions the exceptional person or group above critique and outside of complicity, thereby imposing unrealistic expectations that make it difficult to acknowledge the complexities and the good, the bad, the ugly, and the broken in everyone. E.g. “Either I, or the person or group I designate, is exceptionally qualified and entitled to direct and determine the character of change.”
Authority: Appointing oneself (or a designated person) as the moral and political authority with the right to arbitrate justice, and/or an epistemological authority with the right to adjudicate the truth and the most desirable path toward change. Generally, this pattern re-silences those who are systemically ignored, and imposes one’s own desires and expectations onto others’ existence. E.g. “I should be the one to determine who and what is valuable and deserving of which rights, privileges, and punishments.”
Recognition: Seeking affirmation of one’s righteousness, redemption, and exceptionalism (often to justify one’s merit and the enjoyment of privileges). Often recognition is sought by curating (and trying to control) one’s public image and attempting to ensure that one is seen and heard as being and doing “good.” This circular pattern serves as a distraction from focusing on the work that is needed in order to interrupt harmful systemic behaviours and desires in oneself and others. E.g. “But don’t you see that I’m one of the ‘good’ ones?”

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