Monthly Archives: February 2016

Authenticity and the African Answer

Authenticity and the African Answer

Not quite yet, but, soon, my reason for living in the UK will be coming to an end. As such, we’ve begun to have a look at what comes next – where to go, what to do. Given that we are here as “Europeans,” the upcoming Brexit vote could have major implications for whether we stay on or not – granted, it’d be remarkably dumb to not grandfather any changes following a mandate to distance the UK from the Euro-zone, but, stranger things have been known to happen.

Irrespective of that, on the whole, we’ve started looking into whether a move back to Canada would make sense. Certainly nothing has been set in stone yet, but a move to Montreal looks possible. My initial reaction to the prospect was telling, and worth interrogation. I’ve mentioned it before, my reservations regarding being/appearing demonstrably foreign, and the alienation that that causes, but I can unpack this in more of a pointed manner.

I should start by saying, that, of course I don’t regret my decision to move to the UK – it’s afforded me a great many opportunities that would have been otherwise closed to me, culturally, geographically. It’s also done a good job at dispelling misguided assumptions of mine – what it’s like here on the ground in England, what the general political dynamics are and how engaged the average person is. Surprise surprise, things look a lot like they do back home. Turns out, Anglo countries are similar. Despite that, though, I still feel as if I’m somehow on the outside of things.

What excited me most about the possibility of a move to Montreal/Quebec is the opportunity for an “authenticity” that that would provide. Which is in itself a bit troubling. I’m no fan of identity politics, as I’ve said numerous times, but this is a tough one to get past – the position I’m trying to describe is relational, in that it isn’t merely up to me as to what I am, I need to be accepted by others to become a legitimate part of the community. When I was still considering involvement in the Labour party/Momentum, one of my reservations was the belief that, as a foreigner, I had little right to speak to English people on this level. That there would have been something fraudulent about it, that I wasn’t part of the community in a real sense. I’m open to the idea that this concern was merely a convenient excuse for something I didn’t want to do anyways – I’ve distanced myself since, but largely due to ideological differences as opposed to feeling disingenuous or something of that nature. Hopefully, the better reason.

For all they will have rippling effects, effects that either support or reduce struggles elsewhere, I still have a tough time believing that the fight to protect the NHS, the push to re-nationalise the rail system, the cleaning out of Blairite scum from the party, that these are fights that I should involve myself in. To do so seems like it would have an unhealthily performative aspect, a LARP-style leftism that is far too common these days. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to my fair share of demos, marches and talks while I’ve been here, but, to do more than offer what little help I may – to insert myself into these things as if they were my own – simply feels wrong.

Inevitably, if we are to experience any manner of long-term success, our efforts have to be internationalist. Recognition of this fact further troubles my position here – it shouldn’t matter where I’m from or where I find myself, the struggles we engage in ought to be those that supersede national boundaries and reactionary notions of identity and personhood – the reality of neoliberal capitalism does, so too must we. A large part of my unease is likely to also come from the ambivalent position I find myself in. I’ve been in a bit of a holding pattern over the last year, not really committing to setting down roots – if this were otherwise, I might feel as if I could set something up here, difficulties be damned.

Though I’ve been mulling this over for a while, what crystallised my concerns most recently was an episode of Philosophy Bites, featuring Professor Flikschuh of the LSE, talking about philosophy in Africa. Of course, “Africa” is a nebulous concept – huge place, with any number of different viewpoints, traditions and cultures – and Flikschuh and her interlocutors recognise this. That being said, there are a few currents that could be described as a trans-continental school or research program.

As could be anticipated, most philosophical work does seem to draw from colonial predecessors, whether that be Anglo-analytic or French-continental, depending on the local context. Many of the established theorists and professors are Euro-trained, several of the names Flikschuh references are Oxbridge alums. Unfortunately, the recording was a short one – it’s not called Bites for nothing – and the breadth of the topic didn’t allow for much depth in discussion, but what I found most interesting, and certainly most relevant to this, was the division between individuals and community, and the way that local history plays into this.

By-and-large, most of the areas discussed are post-colonial territories, and, as we all know, the history of the areas, and their relationship with Europe, is fraught. This was particularly highlighted with reference to discussions on human rights. There are some, says Flikschuh, who are quite critical of “human rights” as they are considered under the Euro rubric, seeing them as an element of neo-colonialism, an acceptance of a foreign, alien mode of thought inappropriate to the cultural context, “…the trap of the possible neo-imperialism or neo-colonialism, whereby African states are simply constrained to taking on the whole liberal-democratic value package.” I certainly wouldn’t go that far – I think that the Enlightenment project, whatever that might mean today, needs to be critiqued, but that there were plenty of beneficial and progressive things to come out of it.

I am interested, though, in the idea that there should be more stress on the duties, and the ways in which these duties form the identity, of the individual in relation to the community. As Flikschuh puts it, “[the idea] of the person owing their identity to their community. You become a person through taking on obligations and entitlements, playing a role in your community, and that’s what makes you a moral person.” A “moderate communalism,” as opposed to some of the ways human rights are articulated in the West, whereby they position the individual against the community. One of the more insidious elements of neoliberalism is the thorough-going atomisation of the person, the carving up of class, community, gender and what have you, to the point where we are all left horribly alone with only our isms for company. If there is a way of pushing back against this, of regaining the ability to struggle as a collective, it will be necessary to foster it. Marxism has always been an international effort, and we would do well to learn our lessons from whoever can best teach us, without prejudice or preconceived notion.

It is in this vein, then, that I’ve become worried, or, perhaps, have begun to articulate pre-existing worries, about authenticity. To my mind, part of the project, one of the goals, of communism is to re-situate the individual in terms of their experience of the world and the community. We’ve seen that this cannot be a top-down affair, cannot be autocratically imposed. The obvious answer, then, is that this must be organic. I suppose the idea of resuming my Canadian-ness, despite its artificial and divisory nature, seems like it removes at least one impediment to the development of that organic community position. Maybe I just want to experience a full battery of seasons again, and do away with this grey-scale monotony they call weather here. One or the other, probably.