Letting go To unlearn conquest, we have to listen to our bodies, writes Zahra Dalilah
The soft release of air as a coach door opens seems such a perfect representation of the deflated sigh of a person returning home after a holiday abroad. Hit with a cold gust of British wind, you enter immigration, where signs on the wall remind you of exactly what you’ve just walked back into. “Welcome to Great Britain” – you can feel the pride puff out of the bold black font high on the wall.
The ‘greatness’ of Britain of course harks back to the former glory of the Empire, and it is always there, Empire, whenever the name Great Britain is evoked. The great conquest of which 44% of British people still believe we should be proud, according to one YouGov survey. The logic of conquest, which belies this constantly recurring colonial nostalgia and the fantasy of greatness and domination that is so embedded in the British psyche, can be found in endless structures in our society. From the zero-sum interpretation of neoliberal capitalism to the constant normalising of rape culture and the controlling, abusive behaviour it cultivates, we are at the mercy of superiority, competition and domination as essential ways of being to survive in our world.
But at what expense? Inherent to the practice of domination and superiority is separation. To have power, you cannot connect with or be too close to those you wish to assert your superiority over. Separation is therefore a must, and isolation is inevitable. Loneliness, as Resurgence & Ecologist readers will know, has deadly consequences (see George Monbiot’s article Rebuilding with a Sense of Belonging, Issue 305).
And what or who is it that we are separated from? Perhaps the story of separation, as Charles Eisenstein calls it, is a good place to start. The story of separation is the story some humans have been telling for centuries about the relationship between ‘man’ and ‘Nature’. It is a simple story in which man is the superior, the dominant, whilst Nature is wild and menacing and must be tamed so that man can take what he needs from this inhospitable other without bother.
Imagine the Maori haka, internationally renowned as a fierce pre-rugby-match ritual. The literal translation reveals a call to ‘become one with the land’, to feel the power and the force of the land and let it flow through, as beings of and from the land, as beings who are the land.
The story of separation is essentially the direct inverse of this.
The term ‘man’ is not an accident here: this story of separation is also the story of a gender binary that celebrates the masculine as the cerebral and inherently undervalues the feminine, disregarding it as ‘other’, as too emotional, too ‘of the womb’. Black, brown and Indigenous folks are also exempt from this definition of ‘man’. Throughout colonialism and slavery, ‘natives’ were not considered human but rather savages, animals. The logic of taming the wild beast, inherent to the story of separation, has quite clear resonance with the story of colonial conquest and gender oppression too.Calm the hysterical, civilise the savage – relentless ‘othering’ of life that is not white and male in the name of systemic oppression captures hundreds of years of British history.
We can undo this separation, unbreak these broken bonds
In order to live the logic of separation, we first have to separate from ourselves. The suppressing, for example, of the feminine and the emotional is, in the words of feminist theorist bell hooks, “the first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males”. Cutting the self off from its own emotions, we shut down our capacity to feel love and joy in the purest and highest dimension, because we will always be slightly dulled.
The dulling of emotions – or the stiffening of the upper lip – facilitates, then, the next step of separation, the domination through a violence that, were we fully in touch with ourselves, we would have no capacity to commit.
But we can undo this separation, unbreak these broken bonds; and in times where collapse is social as well as ecological and environmental, repair and reconnection are vital. Misery – the Scrooge-like misery of separation and ‘success’ – has only one antidote: joy.
To unlearn this suppression of the self, this mechanisation of our own bodies, which, given the freedom to, can remember wisdoms going generations back that
36 Resurgence & Ecologist
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