“The oppressed will always believe the worst about themselves…”
is president of his high school class, and holds no issues higher than those of Civil and Human Rights. His earliest political memory is the re-election of George W. Bush in 2004. His avatar lives on Key West, Florida.
19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was a counter-cultural figure in the Western tradition, often appropriated by the right, who saw themselves in his Übermensch or “Superman.” Frantz Fanon was a West Indian political philosopher and revolutionary whose work continues to influence post-colonial and Marxist studies. A staunch critic of colonialism, Fanon, in his seminal 1961 treatise, The Wretched Of The Earth describes, in detail, its implications on the human psyche and what must be done to become truly free. While literally worlds apart on multiple levels, the writings of these thinkers, when read together, are positively simbustible, and give us an understanding of not only what liberation means in the realm of colonialism but what it means more generally, at a time when so many (of us) are feeling trapped.
In his most totemic analysis, Fanon recognizes that even after colonized people can vomit out colonizers and their direct rule, the issue of colonialism will continue in new forms. In order to get the capital necessary to develop, business must turn to the Western capitalists. The capitalists are unwilling to invest in any country where their wealth won’t necessarily be secure and, at the same time, the “appalling” conditions that follow post-colonialism make it difficult for developing countries to provide any kind of security. As a result, those countries, which were once occupied, enter into military and economic agreements with their former colonizers. This is the means by which not only wealthy nations, but even wealthy corporations, secure the power of force, once again, over their former vassals. Throughout, Fanon describes the means by which a colonized people become a liberated people. It isn’t merely in social or political terms that either of these philosophers prescribe their solution. Rather, there is some sort of internal, almost metaphysical, change that must take place.
Oppression for Fanon begins with dehumanization. The nature and inner workings of a colonized person aren’t something that emerge innately or naturally, rather they are conditions that manufactured by the colonizer because of the attitudes held by colonizers from the beginning of their occupation. “In Algeria,” writes Fanon, “there is not simply domination but the decision, literally, to occupy nothing else but a territory. The Algerians…form a landscape the natural backdrop for the French presence.” Just as a farmer’s business is to cultivate and condition their land, the colonizer sees it as their duty to condition the colonized. For this reason, Fanon describes decolonization as “the creation of new men.”
What are the means, however, by which these new men are created? The transformation begins when the oppressor decides it is “not enough” to express their authority through the land, and instead chooses to demonstrate their power in the colonized person him/herself: “the ‘native’ is declared impervious to ethics, representing not only the absence of values but also the negation of values.” When the colonized people register the contrast between the way they are perceived and treated by the colonizers and their actual being, this is the moment that “they begin to sharpen their knives.” It is also at this moment that the most subversive means of oppression intensify on the part of the colonists. A kind of cultural war is waged, where the colonizer’s values are exported to colonized countries en masse, to inculcate its people, but in the time of decolonization, the colonized “thumb their noses at these very values and vomit them up.”
It’s this kind of reckoning which protects the colonized from falling victim to the cultural violence of the colonizer; there is a conflict between the abstract moralisms delivered by the West and the reality of the colonized person’s condition, which makes the majority of colonized people “impervious to such issues.” These moralisms don’t stop the colonizer from beating the farmer, or assaulting his wife, or imprisoning his children. How can the Western liberal ideal of “equality for all” carry any meaning for the colonized person, who in his whole life has never participated in the equality of the colonist? As Fanon observes, “no jargon is a substitute for reality.” The only Western “value” which is remotely consequential to the colonized is the land: “the land which must provide food and, naturally, dignity,” which implies to colonialism’s victims that “to be a moralist quite plainly means silencing the arrogance of the colonist, breaking his spiral of violence, in a word ejecting him outright from the picture.”
This is fundamentally an issue of a deep hypocrisy in the West: a conflict between the abstract expectations that Christian values have forced upon the world and the realities of the human condition. This conflict, in turn, is largely the subject of Nietzsche’s The Genealogy of Morality. Nietzsche finds that the fundamental fault of Christianity is in its understanding of humanity as an infirmity that must be overcome. He claims that people of ressentiment view culture as a vehicle to tame human beings, removing all that is aggressive and bold, making human beings into timid little animals. Humanity under the Christian ethic becomes something to be ashamed of.
Just as Fanon demonstrates in his case studies that “when colonization remains unchallenged…the colonized’s defenses collapse…and many of them end up in psychiatric hospitals,” Nietzsche argues that the conflict between Christian ethic and reality, when left unchallenged “causes people to be weak and ineffectual.” The result is that “we have nothing left to fear in man…the ‘tame man,’ this hopelessly mediocre and uninspiring being, has already learned to feel himself as the goal and pinnacle of history, as ‘higher man.’” Nietzsche calls this arrogance the “slave revolt in morality.”
The greatest issue which Nietzsche finds with this ideology is that its basis is in saying no to oneself. If humanity is an issue which must be overcome, then morality consists in denying one’s own humanity: one’s own desires and appetites. Nietzsche argues that happiness comes from saying yes to life and oneself: “Whereas all noble morality grows out of a triumphant yes-saying to oneself, from the outset slave morality says “no,” and this “no” is its creative deed.” He goes on to argue that by saying “no” to oneself, one by necessity acts passively.
“Noble” persons (the standard of aspiration) can act to the full extent of their own being. Happiness for such fortunates comes from the active use of their power (i.e. accepting that their power is a virtue and not a vice to be tamed). For the noble, “being active is of necessity included in happiness.” By contrast, for people of ressentiment, happiness is a kind of relaxation, a passive “stretching of the limbs.” This comes from a denial of one’s own powers; in essence, happiness for the person of ressentiment comes from lying to oneself or denying one’s own nature. The person of ressentiment hates his own capabilities and lies to himself about what he truly desires: “the human being of ressentiment is neither sincere…nor honest and frank with himself.”
By denying one’s own passions, one’s own desires, and one’s power, there is no possibility for the oppressed person to liberate themselves. As Fanon says, “the colonist’s world is a hostile world, a world which excludes yet at the same time excites envy.” In creating a set of values where the oppressed are forced to resent the feelings of envy within themselves, Nietzche argues that the Christian ethic makes it impossible for any oppressed people to liberate themselves. Instead of using their power to seize control of their lives, people of ressentiment bury their heads in the sand: “his soul looks obliquely at things; his spirit finds hiding places….everything hidden strikes him as his world, his security, his balm.”
Fanon recognizes a similar form of behavior in the colonized. Fanon claims that a common response to colonialism is to express violence towards each other as opposed to the system which oppresses them. Fanon argues that the phenomena of inter-tribal blood feuds are often exacerbated by colonialism. Despite appearing to be an expression of power, violence between the ethnic groups of Africa, under colonialism, is just a means of ignoring colonialism: “by throwing himself muscle and soul into his blood feud, the colonized subject endeavors to convince himself that colonialism has never existed, that everything is as it used to be and history marches on.”
This parallels what Nietzsche describes as the catharsis of ressentiment, arguing that in the wilderness, away from the eyes of people that might judge them, people of ressentiment exercise the full extent of their cruelty. When they are removed from the Christian institutions that cause them to behave passively, such as “worship, custom, and gratitude,” they relieve the “tension that comes from a long enclosure.” For Nietzsche the relief of this tension comes from horrific violence, which the resentful person very happily engages in, convinced that they have done something meaningful and acceptable, when their action is spastic and monstrous. Fanon argues that the violent behavior of colonized people’s is similarly cathartic: “On the way there [some violent event] these men and women were stamping impatiently. On the way back, the village returns to serenity, peace, and stillness.”
Nietzsche writes of the character necessary to escape this type of evasive behavior. He calls this figure the antichrist, who by isolating himself and refusing to accept the ideals which are forced upon him, can shed light on the curse which those same ideals have placed on so many people today. Liberation for Fanon has similar implications. After being put through torture by his colonial masters, the colonized person “discovers reality and transforms it through his praxis.” During the decolonization process, Fanon argues that spirituality, especially the fear of ghosts and zombies and the like, disappear.
What is this praxis however that can transform reality? Fanon argues that there are languages by which one can communicate with institutions. The language which a colonized people use is violence, because “the colonial regime owes its legitimacy to force.” The use of force, therefore, represents the highest form of work in the liberation movement, because the process of violence liberates the actor: “This praxis enlightens the militant because it shows him the means and the end.”
How can we generalize this logic in order to apply it more universally? Generally, we may say that there must be some reckoning process whereby enduring the pain, forced onto them by the oppressor, enables the afflicted to be able to see the systems which oppress them for what they are. By seeing reality, the oppressed person can learn how to communicate with the oppressive institution. Finally, the oppressed person is enlightened through the implementation of this praxis because it allows them to have hope and a sense of destiny, a means to the end of decolonization. More importantly, on an individual psychological level, the process of violence allows the individual to rid themselves of their “passive and despairing attitude.”
In the end, for both Fanon and Nietzsche, each strengthened by the other, there’s a method in common by which an oppressed people liberate themselves. First, the process of decolonization of any kind is the creation of a new person, one who is able to recognize the institutions which oppress them and how to respond to them. Second, the oppressed person must recognize who they are in relation to the oppressive institution: how they are perceived and who they are commanded to be, versus who they are and who they desire to be. Third, the oppressed person must say yes to their desires instead of repressing them. They must take ownership of their own desires and demonstrate their command over them by behaving actively. Fourth, they must direct these desires appropriately towards the institutions which oppress them instead of seeking the catharsis of spastic violence.
Finally, by falling victim to violence, through reflection, they can learn the language through which they can communicate with the institution, and by communicating their desires through this language, they can improve the quality of their condition. So, if the language of international capitalism is capital, then the neo-colonized person must do all they can to get it. They must not fight amongst themselves in a frenzied rush to the top of a system that oppresses them. Fanon says that the most successful revolutions don’t focus on abstract concepts like rights and nationality, rather, successful anti-colonial movements focus on “how…we go about getting bread and land.” As one who sees the suppression of even the most basic desires as core to oppresion, Nietzche would agree.
Part of The Spiricorps Chronicles
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