Times for re-thinking, re-learning and networking
Ljubljana, February 2009
A conversation with professor Walter D. Mignolo, doctor of semiotics and literary theory, professor of decoloniality at Duke University, and professor Madina Tlostanova, doctor of literature and postcolonial studies, professor at People’s Friendship University of Russia.
It was late in a cloudy morning as we met in their for-two-days-lend apartment in Slovenian capital. First spring sun was few days away, while global economic thunderstorm was closing in fast. They came from Transmediale festival in Germany and were flying on to America. They were hosted by a Slovenian group ReArtkulacija – an artistic-political-theoretical-discursive platform that goes about thinking space and time in new, original, decolonial and alter-modern ways. We talked as Wall Street and world economies were diving deeper and deeper in the abyss of despair, before Israeli elections and after the massacre in Gaza, as Obama was a president of losing hope and in Bolivia land was no longer subject to property rights.
American politicians are focused on putting out rescue plans to save the economy from financial crisis. But you pointed out that question “How to save the system as we know it?” is wrong. Rather we should ask ourselves “Why save it at all?” Let me ask you, why should we not save it?
Prof Mignolo: Because we have become a civilization of death. We have the food crisis, the oil crisis, wars of all kinds… Even asking why save capitalism is wrong. The question should be how can we save the life of our planet and therefore human life? This should be the main question. I call it putting the horse in front of the cart. If capitalism or state worked, it would be ok. But they do not. We should not be saving institutions. The problem of our civilization is that institutions come first and this goes on the expense of life on the planet and human life.
But people feel connected to institutions. Institutions present their livelihoods. It makes sense we want to save them.
Prof Mignolo: Of course you need institutions, but institutions should be there to help human beings. Not the other way around. Obama said something very interesting in his inauguration speech. He said: “We are not going to spend time discussing whether a small or a big state is better, we will ask what works.” We have to see what he will do, but here is the problem: if you put the institutions first – be it state or capitalist institutions –, you encourage people to take over the institutions. People start to believe that success is to be part of an institution and to accumulate wealth. If in order to accumulate wealth you have to destroy the environment, you do it. If you have to make more and more people live in poverty, you do it because the goal is to accumulate wealth. We do not think of justice or well-being of people. Evo Morales would say that the question has to be, how can we live well. It is not about how to live better than my neighbor – a thought that underlies our civilization of competition and success. This kind of mentality creates the capitalistic subjectivity that makes you want to have a bigger car than your neighbor. We are taught to believe that it will make us feel better and more powerful. We do not care about things themselves, we just accumulate. We buy and so more and more things are produced. We equate happiness with capacity to buy things. We throw old away, buy new, we accumulate waste. Why would we want to save capitalism? Or the state? We have to change our priorities.
One answer might be, that this is the best and the only system we know that works this well, especially with the negative experiences of communism in the Soviet Union.
Prof Mignolo: Well, we have also the decolonial option. We are not pursuing socialism. Socialism is the same system as capitalism, only with different content. Liberalism says free enterprise, free trade, individuality. Socialism says state, communality. Both are western, 18th century ways of societies’ conceptions. Both are imperial projects – imperial socialist Soviet empire or imperial liberal capitalist West. The question therefore is how to step out of this imperial colonial system of organizing life, economy and society. And here comes the decolonial option. One of its basics is that economy should not be economy of exploitation and accumulation but economy of administration of scarcity. There are limited resources. We should not be fighting for natural resources, for control of the land and to accumulate wealth. Nor is the solution the socialist plan from the above that has the same vices as capitalism. We have to conceive a new, different way of life that is neither capitalist nor socialist, as we understand the last after Marx and Soviet Union. This is where decolonial thinking is going. We are learning from social and economic organizations of the indigenous communities in South America, from their indigenous leaders and intellectuals. The question is how to re-inscribe the economy of reciprocity into the contemporary world. An economy that is aware of scarcity. Future is neither capitalist nor socialist. Our problem is we think these are the only ways how to think future. We want to change this by what we call de-linking. This system has worked for 400 years but it is not working any more. World has changed. There are 6 billion people on the planet, soon there will be 8 billion. We are not talking of a revolution, of Russian or French kind. Something else is going to happen. We can see it. On one hand we can see that socialism destroyed itself with a little help of capitalism. But now capitalism is destroying itself! Hour of its destruction is not an hour of socialism that will fight and destroy it from the outside. Capitalism is killing itself. In Iraq we have the control of authority and of economy. Yet we can not do it anymore. Not in the way that was possible to think and do it in the 19th century. On the other hand we witness emergence of the global political society. It is not the state, it is not the economy and it is not the civil society that buys 4-wheel trucks and votes. It is a political society that brings together all kinds of movements – environmental, women of color, sovereignty of food, fisherman in Indonesia … From there something new is emerging. I am not sure what. However, times of master plans like the Lenin’s or the plan of free-trade society are over. All these global movements join in their antipathy towards capitalism as well as socialism. They are not thinking from Marx’s or Hobbes’ perspective. They are thinking from their own national perspective. This is the new kind of thinking that is emerging. It can be found everywhere. If we read Hobbes to decide what to do, we are actually saving capitalism. We are trying to save Hobbes. We forget to think where we stand and what is going on around us. We need to start thinking from our bodies, their geopolitical position. Then we can realize that we are not alone. You are a woman, a Slovenian, you are white, but then again your white is not the same as British white. So you start to think that you are an active, productive part of a specific community. That is what decolonialisation is about.
So saying that we are seeing capitalism redefining itself really comes down to saving Marx?
Prof Mignolo: The colonial matrix was basically constructed by the Christians. It was towards the 18th century that colonial power becomes controlled by this new emerging class we today call bourgeoisie. They had built the world they wanted to build and up to today they have kept their control. We are still running behind trying to critique them. At the time the colonial matrix of power was renewed but from the 18th to the 20th century it was in the hands of the Euro-American white male bourgeoisie. They fought but when China and Russia or Ahmadinejad emerged they stood together. What is happening now with this constant renewal of capitalism is that China, Russia, Iran and Venezuela are standing up as well. The colonial matrix of power has got out of the hands of previous Euro-American elite. The conflict of the future could be like WWI and WWII because for five hundred years colonial matrix has been used by the same people – white Christian Euro-American male. Now “slaves”, people left behind, dubbed second class citizens are taking up this matrix. How will capitalism renew itself in this situation? I think it will create a conflict. However, this can create and open wonderful spaces for the emerging political society. A society that is pluriversal and global. It is today’s equivalent of the bourgeoisie of the 18th century that fought for the emancipation from church and monarchy. This I think is a close-future. Capitalist polycentric world with an emerging powerful political society. It is unknown to us because CNN does not show us it exists. This political society does not have its CNN. What it is doing for the time being, what we are doing is networking through video, internet, the new-thinking newspapers …
Prof Tlostanova, you seem to be more pessimistic. You talk of Russians, who are disillusioned, who see no solutions for how to change things?
Prof Tlostanova: The problem with the post-Soviet space – Russia and its proper colonies – is that any kind of indigenous subjectivity that could have existed there has been strangled by the Russian, the Czarist or the Soviet empire in many levels of colonization. In Central and South America there are all sorts of indigenous thinking still alive and they create beautiful systems that have dialogues with contemporary reality and interact with it in many interesting ways. In Russia there is nothing like that. It goes back into history to the orthodox Christianity that sees human being as a worm, worth nothing. The lack of any civil or political society goes back centuries. The problem as I see it in Russia is that there is nothing to go back to. There is no living tradition of thought, alternative to both capitalism and socialism. There is no group of people able to offer something that is not derived from capitalism or socialism. Russian intellectuals either turn to nationalism, its fascist kind, or they repeat the liberal talk. There is nothing in between. No mediation, which is unfortunately another feature of Russian culture. It thinks in dualities. It does not have mechanism to find something in between, to join these dualities and see what could be constructed out of both. The only hope is in the ex-colonies of Russia, mainly the non-European ones – the Northern Caucasus, Chechnya, ex-colonies in the Central Asia – Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan … they have experienced Russian colonialism up to its highest degree, yet there has remained certain subjectivity, that has got round and has not only survived but has created certain resistance. If there is to be any hope it is to be found there rather than in Russia.
You write that Islam in this area played a similar role as Christianity played as a tool of colonization. Can you explain more?
Prof Tlostanova: Islam today is mostly the victim. It is a religion whose people suffer most because of neo-capitalism and the hysteria that came after 2001. However, historically Islam forced itself on certain territories with the same crimes and violence Christianity had. It has happened in the Central Asia and in the Caucuses. There was a long tradition of these people’s fights against Arabs who were bringing Islam. This has been erased from the history. Only now it is beginning to slowly surface again. However, Islam is now incorporated in this peoples’ culture, which creates a special mixture of pagan religion and Islam. It is similar to what happened to Indians in the New World, when they incorporated Catholicism into their beliefs and cosmology. It is a very particular kind of Islam that you find there.
And you feel certain originality is coming from this mix?
Prof Tlostanova: Yes.
Has the present economic crisis got the potential to change the atmosphere of compliance in Russia?
Prof Tlostanova: I really hope that this can be a starting point. But the problem with the Russian mentality is that people are so very used to doing nothing. They no longer believe they can change anything. However, in the new generation, in my students, in people in their early twenties I can see serious dissatisfaction with the system. They clearly see that there is no future for them if the system continues as it is now under Putin and Medvedjev. With highly populist slogans for the West they present the image of the state in control of everything. But if you look what is happening in the country and how they treat their citizens, it becomes clear that people start to ask themselves, if they need such government at all? It does not protect or help us, it robs us and lives of oil, that might be there for another twenty years but then what? Economy can not be built on oil and human beings can not be treated like shit on the long run. These are very Russian features, though. Our lives are worthless there and this tradition continues. I believe the new generation might bring change but they need a tool. My students are not happy with the communist, socialist or nationalistic discourse. Maybe some find themselves in the last one, as there are is a lot of Nazis-discourse present. However, if I give my students an interesting text, for example Walter’s, it is a revelation for them. They read it, they start thinking and they come up with really interesting ideas. What is therefore missing is that there is no older generation who would be familiar with such thinking and could give them this tool. Therefore the danger of nationalists’ and populists’ revival is lurking. I feel very insecure in Russia, especially as I am not ethnically Russian. I am black for them. Russia could become a sort of a third Reich – the fascist discourses are very obvious and on the surface. There was a big project not long ago on the television. They wanted to learn who in people’s opinion is the greatest person in Russian history. In the end they said that a certain Russian prince, mentioned in our history but of no importance won. In reality it was Stalin who won.
With the rise of China and Russia, Iran, we seem to be put in front of the option to choose between freedom and progress. Do you feel such division exists and that we will have to choose?
Prof Mignolo: I do not see freedom here and progress there. If freedom and progress here try to stop freedom and progress in China, and China fights the freedom and progress that go against its way forward, than I think it is more complicated. There is the colonial history that needs to be observed.
But is it not that in Russia, China, Iran, maybe even in Venezuela progress is put in front of freedom and its lack is justified with the strife for progress?
Prof Tlostanova: The picture in the media is certainly such. Progress at any rate.
Prof Mignolo: But progress is a Western invention. Europe and America have always been interested in progress. The colonial method was based on bringing development and modernization. Even after the WWII through IMF and the World Bank. Progress has been an European concept – first as a civilizing mission of the British, then even more clearly with America and its neo-liberalism. For China and Iran freedom is crucial. True, they do not want freedom within the West, but freedom from the West. The term laissez-faire – this was what the bourgeoisie was saying to the church. Now Ahmadinejad and China are saying laissez-non-faire. The problem is that freedom and progress are concepts of the West. West today tries to defend the progress and freedom against the economic menace of China. Chinese menace is presented through accusations of human rights abuses. This is bullshit. Kishore Mahbubani is brilliant as he writes about freedom from the West. It is not about economics, it is about dewesternization. They are saying: “Thank you very much, we will do capitalism our way.” Mahbubani contributes to the modernity because he sees it through the abuses of the West. The decolonial option does not want to go his way, as he heads towards polycentric capitalism, but he makes a strong argument. In Singapore there is a whole school of capitalism with Asian values that US criticizes. Mahbubani’s previous book was titled Can Asians think? It began this rearticulation and distinction between freedom and progress. I think this can not be observed and judged from the Western perspective. We must read people who know the West but also have other kinds of knowledge. In polycentric capitalist world concepts of liberty, freedom and progress, that are Western, are being contested and developed in new directions by Iran, China … I am not saying I agree or disagree with these politicians, I am just trying to analyze what is happening and what occurs when capitalist system is disputed on the level of different states and economies. Decoloniality moves in a different direction. We are not invited to Davos or to G8. Civil society allows the state and the market to control life. A new force – the global political society disputes this power with the state and the market. Colonial matrix of power is slipping out of Western hands. It creates new spaces for political society to act because the West still functions on the level of the state and the market.
Prof Tlostanova: But you are evading the question of freedom. You analyze the situation from the outside. Someone who lives in China or in Russia is not free. The state strangles him whenever he wants to say something different. I have this problem in Russia. Many political theorists brilliantly criticize the West. But then they sing odes of wonderful Russia, with no problems and freedom for everyone. It makes me sick. True, we want to decolonize, become free from the West, from Western ideas and the myth of progress. Great. But this does not diminish the problem how Russia treats its own citizens. We need a double critique. Russia always acts like a teenager. When someone criticizes it, it turns to denial and defense. Recently my university asked me to prepare an article about the Shanghai rating of the universities. The underlying question was why are there no Russian universities on the list. They did not ask themselves what is wrong and what should be changed and improved at our universities. No, they turned to the rating, saying something must be wrong with it, someone should check it. It can be a legitimate question, but it becomes a problem if you use it to avoid self-questioning. They have a very strange position that anything that comes from the West is wrong. This is dangerous in these semi-periphery places of Russia and China, because it creates the duality between the image the West sees and the reality of people who live in these countries. Therefore we can not ignore the problem of freedom. It is a big question.
Prof Mignolo: I agree. Question of freedom must not be ignored. But we talk of freedom on two levels. One is internal, where people fight for freedom inside the state. However, there is also the freedom these states fight for on the international stage. We see it this with Russia, Iran, Venezuela. There are two simultaneous fights. But freedom always comes from freedom within a state, you are right.
Prof Tlostanova: People still live in states.
Prof Mignolo: I think it could be a simultaneous process. While Putin, Ahmadinejad or Chavez fight for freedom on the international stage, they restrict freedom on national level. However, the question that perplexes me, is how come the West is still able to maintain such level of freedom inside its state. We were very close to lose this privilege under Bush.
Because it is build on democratic principles with institutions that enable opposing ideas to be confronted in a non-violent way?
Prof Mignolo: Some of the reasons West has been able to build democratic societies and prevent conflict and dispute is the exploitation of labor and natural resources, accumulation of wealth and Western control over international law. Democracy and freedom in the West came together with imperialism. Internal freedom can not be detached from imperialism, exploitation and control of the outside. It seemed like western natural history because of the exploitations. As societies try to re-built in these empty spaces, in the voids the West created, it takes time and work. Something has to be sacrificed and what they sacrifice are certain freedoms of the population to achieve freedom of the state on the international level. And it is unfair to draw parallels without making these differentiations of powers built through imperialism.
Can Western democracy survive a democratic world? Is it globally sustainable?
Prof Mignolo: Capitalistic world can not be democratic. Democracy can be faked as long as you control the world and within it China, Iran … There is a contradiction between capitalism and democracies because capitalism is based on accumulation. We should start talking about democratic economy. We talk about democracy when we talk about the state and the politics but when we turn to economy we talk capitalism – that is wrong. If we can have a democratic economy, then it can be global. Democratic economy is economy administered culturally and democratically to be sustainable. Democratic capitalism is an oxymoron – it is democratic only for the elite controlling the global economy.
Do you see signs of such democratic economy in the politics of Evo Morales? You agree with his decision that land can not be property. This contradicts with the basics of our world.
Prof Mignolo: It contradicts with socialism and liberalism, yes.
And also with the idea of human rights as we know them. Is Evo Morales here to be trusted and followed? Chavez turned sour.
Prof Mignolo: The potential I see in Evo Morales is that he has brought a new discourse up to the level of the state. It is no longer the discourse of the Indians, he made it a state issue. However, he lives in a world controlled by the capitalist economy. He can not easily do big changes. Yet, constitution has been changed and important is that the idea that land is not property won a new ground. Maybe some consider it a communist action. It violates human rights by Locke. But his ideas are colonial. Important is that the discourse is there. The history of colonialism, coloniality of being and coloniality of knowledge, have prevented emergence of powerful intelligencia. Therefore, Morales has to rely on white Marxists, like his vice-president, and on others, who surround him. He has to make many concessions. The question is how smart is he to succeed in advancing this different agenda that is present in all his discourses. If you read his book, you can see that he brilliantly conceptualizes decolonization, without actually using these terms. I think it simply comes with the territory. 500 years of struggle, of thinking differently the relations between the ayllu and the state. Because ayllu has never disappeared. Chavez is different. He and Correa are important in other aspects. They have been first Mestiso or Mulato presidents acting as Mestisos and not as whites. There were Mestiso presidents before but they were all white: silent, unaware of the racism, of racial problems in their countries, they were puppets in the hands of US, France or England. To summarize, there are two movements – with Evo Morales there is a new kind of knowledge being put on the table. In case of Correa and Chavez we see a new kind of politics that fights for freedom of the state in international relations.
Where does Mugabe fit in here?
Prof Mignolo: I wrote an article when Mugabe visited Rome for the Food Summit. He said: “Enough of this kind of hypocrisy.” In saying this he was absolutely right. He knew what he was talking about. It is pure hypocrisy that you create a crisis and then present yourself as a Good Samaritan. However, at the same time Guardian and other international press were also right to write that Mugabe does not have the right to come to Rome preaching hypocrisy, as his politics cause hunger in Zimbabwe. Mugabe is a very interesting case. He knows what it means if control of state and economy is in the hands of the whites. However, in order to prevent it he commits excesses. So Mugabe knows a lot, and we can make a certain parallel to Morales, but at the same time Mugabe has gone beyond acceptable. His actions make him difficult to defend. West takes advantage of his abuses to erase the potential he had brought but then managed very poorly. His reactions against West have been too extreme and he has done the same things West had done before. However, I think it is important to engage this new, different way of thinking that bases itself on the premise that land is not a property. It is a decolonial way of thinking. Colonialism was made possible through international law that justified land as a private property. We are not talking Marx nor Locke. This is something else.
You write that communication between different parts of the world moved mostly through Europe as the center. At the same time you talk about destruction through language. English today is lingua franca. Do we gain or lose with this?
Prof Mignolo: I followed Victor Borge, a Danish comedian. He said: “English is not my language, I just use it.” There are places where English is the mother tongue, where English is like Spanish in South America the imperial, colonial language. Then you have people like us, who use it as a communication bridge – we just have to accept this. However, we should feel free to use English in ways other than what western dictionaries or rules of academy want us to do. We should use it, abuse it, destroy it. I speak English, but I think Spanish, my whole body is build and lives in Spanish.
Prof Tlostanova: All of post-colonial literature came about with English. Salman Rushdie writes a lot of use and abuse of language. Also in the Caribbean literature, they had to play with language a lot to create a whole different way of thinking. I see nothing bad in our use of English. It is better than if each of us used his own language and we would be unable to understand each other.
Prof Mignolo: There is actually something wonderful here. Epistemology comes in a language. Modern epistemology was first based in international languages we know and only later in national languages. They were a kind of monolanguages and monocultures. The fascinating thing is that border epistemology emerged out of this. Border epistemology has always surfaced out of a “southern” position. If English is your mother tongue, you are not interested to think from the border between Hindu and English. But if your mother tongue is Hindu or Urdu, you have no choice but to think in between. You might think: “Oh, what an unlucky situation I am in.” but later you become aware of how lucky you are and what a tremendous potential this is because the kings or queens are monolingual. They do not know what you know. This is becoming ever more obvious today and it is a vital part of this new political society and of de-linking of epistemology. It is very rich and important. Not just on the level of the state and the market, but on the level of subjectivity. We have been controlled through imperial languages and those of us who were not born into them always had the feeling of inferiority. French always seemed so smart when I was at the university! And the British and Germans! So smart that I was scared! This is how language through epistemology controls subjectivity and it has been build into a kind of a racial system. You do not speak the language – you are inferior – you are white but not the same! The colonial matrix of power is how all these things work together and control people. It is not just control over state and economy but also over subjectivity, gender, sexuality …
You write about writing that does not represent speech – can you explain more about that?
Prof Mignolo: Important stage in every language is the alphabet. The Greek-Latin alphabet especially. The written signs that represent certain sounds. Other writing – writings without words, the sign system, Aztec system for example – does not present sounds, but strings, beats, colors, nuts – like a rosary. In history it became logocentric – there was complicity between the writing system and colonialism. Alphabet became the base for another racial system. People who have no writing are even today considered to be people without history and with lower level of intellectual development. This is how a modern state was formed in the colonies – alphabet and writing were a tremendous tool of control. They excluded 60 or 70 percent of the population, who were un-alphabetos and therefore non-citizen. Today indigenous people make videos, films. They talk about the decolonization of knowledge and because they use video they bypass the control that the state has over literacy. They are returning to speech and images. It is very interesting.
What is today’s alphabet – what do we use today to shut out 60 or 70 percent of the population?
Prof Mignolo: I would think technology. Access to the internet.
Prof Tlostanova: But it depends how you use internet. If it offers only video games in the third world countries than this can actually become the alphabet of today …
Prof Mignolo: I thought more of people who do not have access to the technology.
Prof Tlostanova: But almost everybody today has access to it to some extent. It is the thing to make a photo of someone on a camel with a laptop. For me the question is how technology is used. Who creates the knowledge that is put on the internet?
Prof Mignolo: There is another dimension. There was a photo in a newspaper of a woman in India, with a baby and a cell-phone. She was obviously of lower class and the article was about: “Wow! Everybody today has one!” But at the time that the state used the alphabet, it still controlled economy. Today economy is in control and it functions differently. Economy is not interested in marginalizing people, it is interested in making more and more consumers. And it is successful. Market functions differently than the state and sometimes there is a conflict. We can see that with the digital technology, ipods etc. There was a comic of a salesman someplace in the Chinese mountains. To a Chinese farmer with a hat and a hoe on his field the salesman offers and tries to sell a notebook! Where would he plug it? It was a good presentation of contemporary excesses of the search for the new consumers. However, I believe that access to literacy is still important today – control of literacy remains a tool to control education.
Prof Tlostanova: At the same time in today’s culture words seem to be ever less important when confronted with images. You no longer need to know how to read, you can just watch television.
From East European, post- Soviet perception – how can we understand human trafficking and migrations in this context?
Prof Tlostanova: Many people feel that in the Soviet times their lives were worth more. As they were thrown into neo-liberalism their lives became really really worthless. Human trafficking, organ donors … there are growing numbers of victims, especially children and women. Does technology play a part? Not in the question of access. It is trickier. There is a man who transports illegal immigrants from Africa to the US in more or less a banana boat. However, in this small boat he has all the satellite equipment that can be bought. It is an incredible combination of a pre-historic boat, people forced to risk their lives and a satellite that leads them. It is a crazy mixture of high-tech with most brutal and primitive ways of dealing with people. An Uzbek artist Vyacheslav Useinov made an installation on similar issue. Many people leave Uzbekistan to come to Russia and get the lowest-paid jobs. They are hated by the Russians. There is a lot of racism. My mother was from Uzbekistan. I was born in Moscow, my father was from the Northern Caucasus. Useinov’s installation shows a plane made of bricks used to build poor Uzbek houses. They are a sign of the poorest and most primitive living spaces. This plane takes the gastarbeiters to a new reality, which is presented with the clothes Useinov made of plastic fabric, widely used in Eastern Europe for cheap bags homeless people and refugees use when they move. These clothes look like prison uniforms. From primitive houses technologically most advanced transport takes these people to a new kind of slavery and same kind of misery.
What if any is the difference between colonization and genocide?
Prof Mignolo: There is a difference, though I never really thought of it. The first thing that comes to mind is that genocide is a consequence of colonialism. Another question is can this be claimed for all genocides?
Prof Tlostanova: Holocaust, for example.
Prof Mignolo: Ooh. Let’s start the other way round. One of the features of coloniality is its connection to economy based on dispensability of human life, which is seen as a commodity: you sell sugar or you sell slaves. Genocide means we do not care. Therefore, genocide is possible because certain human lives are dispensable. Iraqi lives are more dispensable than American lives. Holocaust, however was based on stripping human life of legal rights, as Hannah Arendt writes. So it was not about the dispensability of human life in terms of economy but it presented bareness of life in relation to the state and law. For white European bourgeoisie Christians the really horrible part of holocaust was not the crime itself but the fact that it was committed against white people using the technique Europe learned in its colonies. Economic dispensability of human life that build the system of the economy liberals and Marxists call capitalism came back on the level of the state. Jews were internally inferior. I will not say that all genocides have been a consequence of coloniality, but I would make these two connections.
The third one could be Rwanda. There colonialists, especially of the second wave after the Enlightenment created the idea of national identity. Before there existed communities of faith, not of birth. Genocide there was therefore a consequence of conditions colonialists left behind. We could think of other genocides … How can we think Stalin’s genocide?
Prof Tlostanova: I was just thinking about it. It was not framed in racial terms, though many scholars today question this. They ask if Stalin’s genocides were connected with people’s ethnic origins and race or only with class. There was no racial discourse in Soviet Union but crimes were often committed on racial grounds – nobody has ever put Russian in jail for nationalistic reasons while all other nationals were imprisoned, if their belief in the Soviet idea was not strong enough. I think it was based on race although it was masked as a class fight.
Prof Mignolo: So there is the underlying notion of dispensability of human life as an economic category, while genocide on the level of the state also includes the idea of elimination of an enemy. Be it Hitler’s Aryan state or Stalin’s communist state.
Prof Tlostanova: But Hitler tried to make Jews economically efficient as well. In concentration camps there was the McDonald’s logic – before Jews were killed they took everything of use and value from them – clothes, hair, teeth … Stalin made enemies build things, sometimes useless. They have built the Moscow State university.
What about the genocide as a tool for eradication of culture or religion?
Prof Mignolo: I think this in included in the notion of dispensability of the human life – be it organs or something else. Another thing is if these are used to present the enemy you want to eradicate. Islam or the criminal inside the society, or the Communists in the US during the Cold War. There seem to be two types of genocide – one motivated by economics – and here we do not have the notion of an enemy … it is just a tool.
Prof Tlostanova: You do not kill on purpose, it is a consequence of use.
Prof Mignolo: Yes, you have a horse to work or you have a slave to work. He is not your enemy – on the contrary, it is useful – it is a tool. You buy it, sell it, use it. A different kind of genocide is when you have to eradicate. However, eradication does not necessarily imply genocide. In colonial Peru there was eradication of ideology. They did not kill, they just converted to Christianity. They wanted to conquer souls.
Prof Tlostanova: That is why I think coloniality is wider and deeper than genocide. You can leave people alive but you wipe everything out of their minds to put something else there. In a way this is also a genocide – you leave them their physical lives but you take away their inside …
Prof Mignolo: We call it epistemic lobotomy. Now that I think of, the cleaning of ideology might had been a fore-runner of Hitler’s work. Except that Indians of the time were not the menace for Christian theologians like Jews were for Hitler. Christians are very clear of who their enemies are – at that moment in history it was Islam and Protestants. Catholics controlled the game but they wanted a dangerous enemy eager to destroy them – this was also the Bush discourse after the 9/11.
Prof Tlostanova: This is a very American discourse. It is the only way how to keep America together and form its national identity. To be together against someone. In Europe I think there is bigger common base of religion, roots, culture …
How can we understand Europe and European Union in this decolonial concept?
Prof Mignolo: EU is rearticulation of coloniality. The core of EU are Germany, France, Britain – countries that emerged after the 18th century. Then there are Spain, Portugal, Italy, Belgium … It is a small, colonial, imperial club. The rest are service countries. It is a nicer way, a new form, rearticulation but in its core it is coloniality. Colonies are not politically correct term anymore so you call them members of EU. Consequences can be seen as the Polish engineers work in England as waiters because that way they earn more money. Eastern Europe in relation to Western Europe will be what South America was to the US. It is only a question of time. Most of the countries from the ex-Soviet sphere of influence saw Europe as the Promised Land. I suspect and hope that in few decades this will turn. People will realize that EU is a union for five or six Western states.
Prof Tlostanova: Times have changed. Things happen extremely quickly today and I actually think that many young East Europeans already see and understand this. They can not find a job or they are treated unequally. The question is what do they feel they can do about it? There are good things about being in the EU, but there are also things that put you in a more insecure position. In Eastern Europe this resentment against EU came quickly. Even markets started to feel that the EU is not all that advantageous. Whole economies collapsed when open-market economy was introduced because they could not compete.
What exactly did happen with the Americas? Did also the US lost interest?
Prof Mignolo: I think America diverted its attention. South America would have happened in any case but fortunately it happened in a democratic and non-violent way. Chavez was elected, Morales, both with great majorities. Had US not loosened its grip, it would surely be more violent. After Soviet Union collapsed, Condolezza Rice said in 2000, before Bush was elected, that the US has a problem of national security. They lost their enemy. Events of 2001 killed two birds with one stone – the US got a new enemy – Islam, and it also created conditions to control majority of natural resources and expand American regional control. Natural resources in the Middle East are much more important then what South America can offer. Mexico has been a part of North American treaty anyway. And at the time they probably did not anticipate Chavez. They believed that Washington people can always circulate. South America just did not offer as powerful enemy as Islam did.
If we turn to Obama. If we talk of racism as treating the other as less-human regardless of skin color, is Obama change and progress?
Prof Mignolo: There are more ways to look at it. We have to see what happens. However, I agree with what professor Shelby from Stanford said. Obama was able to win because he stepped out of the historic black-white confrontation. Why did he get such support? This I think is what could change the way how we think race. Obama mobilized the younger generation of all colors. Their parents believed in America as a melting pot – but it was a melting pot of white Europeans that all melted. Now these young people were born into a different, more multicultural America. They were born with Pakistanis, Chinese, Hispanos … For them this mixture is familiar and Obama played this very well not in terms of race but in terms of what he was offering them – the hope, no matter if you are yellow, black or brown. These are two Obama’s victories – he changed America in this sense. What is going to happen? I have no idea. He does not necessarily have to say or do anything. The fact that the president of the most important nation is black is in itself meaningful for Africans, Pakistanis, Iranians … The symbolic capital is tremendous. And it is a question for every one of us – what will we do? It is a significant moment. It does not mean that people will no longer be discriminated. But the question of race in terms of black and white in America is becoming less and less relevant. The problem today are global races. What is on global level today equivalent to this black-white American divide? Who globally can today be Rosa Parks? The blacks of today’s world are Muslims. Our relation to Islam in India, in Europe and in the USA dictates so much. I doubt that the fact his middle name is Hussein will have enough influence.
Prof Tlostanova you write about alter-modernity. Can you explain more about this concept?
Prof Tlostanova: We need our own modernity. Something that will step out of modernity as we know it. Out of its myths. It is not about going backwards, but about changing the glasses. The idea of progress, orientalism, myth of newness, all these concepts control us. They are so engrained in our thinking that we do not even recognize them. It is about not buying into pleasures of modernity so easily any more. Instead of thinking I need a new car, because a friend has a new one, we should maybe think do I need a car at all? We do not have to compete with people all the time. We should stop and think. Think about what we want, need, what is important for us.
We are learned to think of the world and history in terms of progress. If you do not believe in that how can you understand what is happening?
Prof Tlostanova: I do not think in temporal terms, I prefer spacial terms. That is why I like Walter’s concept of local histories-global design. It is the people in a certain place that live certain moment in time. There is no unilateral progress for everybody. There are many different paths, some go around, turn back. This has to be taken into account. World is not just one straight line from the past to the future. There are other perceptions of time and space that exist outside this lineral myth. Time is a very subjective category. And there are different non-lineral concepts of time in other cultures, civilizations and cosmologies. It is ridiculous today to think of time as a lineral model and of progress as it was conceived in the 19th century. Physics and science claim that time is a relative category. If past happened, it does not mean it is far behind. It is just a limitation of a human perception of the world. There are many capabilities in us that we are not aware of. Abilities that seem to be outstanding – but they are not. It is just that we are so engrossed in the modern, rationalistic and materialistic, utilitarian model of life, which is also a kind of colonization. And it is not about telling what the world should be like. It has to be a model in permanent making, something that is constantly re-developed. It is open. It is not a kind of Marxist utopia or a model that turned conservative. What we are talking about with decoloniality is really an open thing, being made all the time. An open-code.
Prof Mignolo: The concept of time was a tremendous tool of colonization of knowledge. In the 16th century there were two simultaneous colonizations going on. One was the colonization of time, done when Europe fabricated the Middle Ages and invented Antiquity and then the Re-naissance and then from there on. But then there was also the colonization of space which meant that Europe colonized the Indian concept of time. Colonization of knowledge in term of concept of time is so powerful that it seems we can not understand what happened in the world if we do not talk about it in terms of progress. It is not a convenient expression but what happened since the beginning of the world, is expansion of human interactions. Why? Because human beings expanded, used tools. Coloniality has been a way of expanding, where a group of people used it as a tool to expand itself and control many other people on the planet.
And what can be bridges between these different realities? Also between the colonialists and the colonized?
Prof Mignolo: The decolonial future of Europe and America is in immigration. People move, they come to different places with a colonial wound. And then there are those who were born in the empire or on its margins. They will realize that they have to join forces with other migrants and listen to their own voices instead of claiming their Europe-ness. This will be the moment of change. With decoloniality we follow the indigenous and black thinkers – our position is not “come with us, we know best”. Progressive Europeans and white Americans are already moving in this direction. We can no longer think in terms of we ex-colonialists did something really bad, but now we are better. By recognizing past crimes you do not become an honest imperialist. This is the position of Christianity and we have to change this. We have to see others as others, as individuals who can take care of their own freedoms and do not need us to guarantee them their freedom. Our societies prepared us to be successful, to be leaders. When you say lets hear them out maybe they have better ideas, this is a huge change. But this was how institutions control knowledge – they need to make their own leaders to keep the system alive.