My masters program in ecophilosophy has been a mixed experience so far. Two of my classes are radical and challenging to modernity, scientific materialism, and Western colonialism, and these have been quite enjoyable. Yet my other class, the one that is the introduction to my program, has been disappointing, but in a very educational way. It has brought me an insight that I think we ecologically-minded settlers and people of European heritage need to be mindful of: an environmentalism without decolonial politics at its core is guaranteed to perpetuate the causes of our present ecological and humanitarian crises.
What does it mean to align our magical practice against oligarchy, against empire, to dismantle the patriarchy and the capitalist-colonial machine? How did our ancestors utilize their animistic understandings of the world in defiance of the capitalist project to objectify and desacralize Nature?
I find this quote from Silvia Federici inspiring: “Eradicating [magical] practices was a necessary condition for the capitalist rationalization of work, since magic appeared as an illicit form of power and an instrument to obtain what one wanted without work, that is, a refusal of work in action. ‘Magic kills industry,’ lamented Francis Bacon...”
- Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch
The other day I had an energetic conversation with an fellow radical. Sitting together on a bench in the tepid April sunshine, our discussion centered around education. My comrade educates young adults to awaken to the waters they swim in; that is, she helps them become aware of the unacknowledged belief systems they are socialized to accept. As the old saying goes, fish have no idea they swim through water. While I cannot speak for fish as a whole, we humans certainly repeat that pattern.
Humanity seems to have an easier time reflecting upon the past than the present. When learning about the European medieval era, we moderns can speak lucidly about the Christian worldview and how that religion shaped European society. We can talk cogently about religious beliefs, comparing and contrasting them with the beliefs of other religions that also existed at that time. But if we were speaking about the medieval era from the medieval perspective, we would not be using the word belief. Few of us would have understood that we were believing anything. We would have simply lived what we knew to be true. For most medieval Europeans, there was no alternative reality to the Christian one; thinking outside of it, seeing it from a critical reference point, was nearly impossible. It was the invisible water they swam in. Only later, when mercantilism increased international trade, did Europeans awaken to the fact that there were other realities besides the Christian one.
There is an irony in this detached reflection on the past, I think, for in contemporary times we are just as unaware of the water we swim in. Though the waters have changed a little, perhaps becoming slightly clearer, many of us fail to name or reflect upon this fluid. So I will name it now: modernism.