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.
I’ve identified as an environmentalist since I was 10, and have moved through various political and spiritual explorations of this identity. I shifted from misanthropy to “big green” environmentalism, then to revolutionary progressivism, and finally to animist anarchism. But it wasn’t until I came to understand decolonization that all my spiritual and political beliefs were finally integrated into one coherent ethic. I now have a life goal that is aligned with both the forces of Nature and many Indigenous politics: to participate in the dismantling of Euro-American colonialism, capitalism, cultural hegemony, globalization, and the settler state.
This is far to the left of mainstream “big green” environmentalism which places faith in technology and state mechanisms to regulate “bad” behavior and reward “good” behavior. That way is firmly located inside the Western colonial machine. That way still objectifies and commodifies Nature; still believes in the subject-object, Nature-culture divide; still believes that modernity has been a positive “civilizing” force for good; still believes that its luxuries have raised the “standard of living” to such an extent that the cultural genocides have all been justified.
What galls me—now that it is no longer invisible to me, as it was for so long—is the “big green’s” image of itself as a world leader in the march towards an “ecological civilization”. My understanding of the history of civilizations precludes me from using this word in any proffered solution. The definition of civilization usually includes centralized authority, a state, social hierarchy (class), commodification and exploitation of labor, exclusive ownership over land and food, patriarchy, state violence, imperialist expansion, and an identity of supremacy. The West has a nasty habit of creating imperialist and hegemonic ideologies that believe themselves to be superior (either genetically, spiritually, or intellectually) to the barbaric other—a “chosen people” destined to lead the world to salvation. Nothing could be further from the truth.
What then, do we believe in, if not the West’s noble, innocent intentions? What will settler environmentalism look like when it has rejected Western colonial hegemonies? I wish to participate in this kind of visioning, guided by BIPOC and queer leadership. I know one thing for sure: if our species is to survive these unprecedented ecological and humanitarian catastrophes, it requires decolonization. Lands must be given back to Indigenous peoples, capitalism, colonialism, and the settler state must be dismantled, and settlers must learn who their ancestors were before they were “white”. We settlers must unlearn whiteness, which is not an identity but, in fact, an absence of identity.
Who were our ancestors when they prayed amidst the sacred groves and sang praises to the twinkling starlight? Who were those people who whispered their blessings to seedlings; who made love to the land, caressing the black soil with their hands; who were fierce protectors of the rivers and the green growing things? I wish to know them and re-learn their wisdom. But this cannot be primarily for my own benefit—it takes no part in New Age individualist spiritual fetishism. The goal is primarily decolonization, and so I may benefit (spiritually, though not materially) if I align myself with this movement.
Samhain is the time of reclaiming: of our ancestors, of our enchantment, our grief, and ourselves.
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