Monday, October 21, 2013

Anti-Slavery campaign Interview Series. Carl Stauffer (Part 3)

Carl Stauffer

Deconstructing and Processing Systemic Violence

"Energetic Africa" (Yago)
Yago: Carl, let us move to the third part of this interview. You have shared with us your experience as a peacebuilder guided by the imaginary from african traditions. I would like to ask you now about the gift of resilience in the African people. You are amazed by African's resilient capacities to dance, sing, mourn...  Could you share with us what you have witnessed on this regard?

Carl: It is beyond the African culture too. Many indigenous cultures have elaborate processes of dance and music and ritual to mediate the difficulties in life. To give meaning and understanding, I think they are important forms of releasing the energy that is locked inside of a person. These rituals of dance and music are important for keeping the equilibrium in society. I couldn’t imagine better cultural ethos to do the work of trauma healing, justice and peacebuilding because of this ability to integrate ways in which people can release their anger, frustration and pain.

More specifically, music in South Africa played an invaluable role as an instrument in the liberation struggle. And then, I see this same function translated in the Church too. Why is it that the Pentecostal Church is growing so fast, so rapidly in the Global South and amongst the poorest of the poor? Okay, you could be cynical and say that part of it is this theological promise of the blessing of the future, of heaven’s streets of gold, and of wealth and prosperity here on earth. However, I also experienced this here in the USA amongst the urban poor. The Pentecostal movements were rapidly growing and these churches offered a place in which people could leave their trauma, worries, pain, and grief behind them. For a few hours a week all of the horror of the unnecessary deaths, criminal activity, loved ones being put behind bars, overwhelming substance abuse was laid to rest, even forgotten. All of this could be brought to the Church, and there was this release through song, dance, shouting, shaking, and going into a trance. Yes, all of this has to do with the body and the spirit movement, and the release. So I find even now, that’s why my wife and I choose to fellowship in an African-American Church. We have personally been part of African-American or African churches since 1988. I say we are spoiled for the ordinary, for us to worship it means an embodied experience, it cannot be a mental assent for us, that is not integrated enough for us. I understand for someone this may sound strange, they would say: “that’s extreme”, but for me it is an integrated process, so when I am worshiping I am using my body, mind and spirit/soul. For us, the issue is not whether everything makes sense or not, but whether what I am sensing or feeling, and what I am processing consciously or subconsciously as I worship is Spirit-led.

The other part of resiliency in the African people would be their focus in community and the focus on relationships. So, you can see how important the greeting is, you must greet another human being whenever you see them. It is unheard of to be so busy that I cannot greet you. I like the translation of the greeting in isiZulu - “Sawabona” that literally translates “I see you,” and if it is a group of people it is “sanbownani” which translates “I see all of you.” It is a rich image - “to see.” I see, I recognize, I acknowledge your humanity, not just with an “hello” or “chao”. It is a very dignifying kind of acknowledgement.

Yago: Carl, let us shift our conversation to the challenging topic of systemic violence. After all your experience on the field, how would you describe and define modern slavery in its broadest sense? Could you describe the energies that enslave humanity today?

Carl: I think I should start by being clear on my ideological bias at this point (I draw from critical theory substantially), which was greatly influenced by my time in South Africa. So, I have to start with the origins of all the modern-day institutions/ structures which we struggle with so much in the present, whether that be in the form of government, military, justice, education, religion, media or economic systems. At the root of all this is how we understand colonial history. What were the energies that drove colonialism? And how did the outward trappings of colonialism become coverings for internal expressions of a much deeper process? I am fully aware that these are highly contested arenas of thought and feeling. I’m not only applying critical thinking to the European enlightenment era. There were many important evolutionary discoveries, scientifically about health and many things, about art. So it would be naïve to write off Euro-centric enlightenment as something only wrong or dark. 

On the other hand, one has to look at the philosophical and spiritual roots of the scientific/modernist enlightenment movements and what were the motivations and impulses. I have less positive feel for that, because the impulse was that rank had become quite important in the understanding of world. And Europe was at the top of the ranking order, and the rest of the world was at the bottom of that ranking system, and we were ‘right’ intellectually, spiritually, physically, in many ways ‘advancement’ was discerned or defined by this motivation of one culture, or a particular group of cultures – the European cultures. It was not just one culture, but the sort of white male of the 1700-1800s was dominating much of the socio-economic thinking and political institution building and at that point it was a climax for the white European male, he was on top of all things in his known world. At that time, there were grave power dynamics at play that had no checks and balances - there was destructive greed, a sense of moral and intellectual superiority, which to me become the philosophical and spiritual roots that drove the modernist enlightenment process. And speaking as a white male with privilege, we are still trying to figure out how to get rid of the dread of those legacies; the sludge that we have carried with us because of that history. It is taking a lot of undoing, and will continue to need a lot of unpacking.

Yago: As you are mentioning, we are struggling how to get rid of that feeling of superiority. This “colonial energy” is very much subconscious and behaves in very subtle ways. As we know, the abolishment of slavery in America didn’t stop racism in this country. It took many decades for the real emancipation of the African-American. Energies of enslavement do not disappear at once. It often takes many years of deconstruction, processing and forgiveness.

Carl: For us here in the United States, I think there’s nothing more clear than the way we’ve treated the history of the enslavement of African peoples as well as, before that even, the genocide of the people who inhabited this land before the white European came. By the very fact that we have refused to publicly acknowledge these historical harms, particularly the genocide of the indigenous native peoples, these historical wounds have become foundational to the corporate identity of this nation. We have tried to rewrite our history and make it nicer, kindler, gentler, but we cannot. That energy remains until we surface it and begin to collectively and publicly work with it. 

The same with slavery, the energy surrounding race relationships, even until today carries the aftermath of slavery. Even though yesterday we inaugurated our first African American president for his second term, a very historic moment, that process on its own has not erased a deep-seated legacy of structural racism that we’re still working with. It’s deep-seated in many of the public institutions that we have come to take for granted, and have not looked at carefully because they have existed for decades and centuries.

Yago: Let us go in depth into that. As a whole, American society is living from the surface, not acknowledging its past in its whole truth. America is not dealing with its collective unconscious; America is not processing its life history as a Nation; America is not lamenting; America is projecting to the world its unresolved issues being controlled and dominated by unprocessed energies. Would you agree with this?

Carl: I am fully aware of my privilege as an American, and I love to live here, it’s a beautiful place, and I live in a place here in Harrisonburg where it’s calm and peaceful. It’s an amazing place and there are multiple things I’m thankful for that I have been blessed with. I don’t want to sound like I don’t have any grateful acknowledgment for the good things of this country. 

On the other hand, it does us no good to simply whitewash over that history and pretend it wasn’t there - and continue to convince ourselves, and each subsequent generation of a patriotic history that simply isn’t giving the authentic story. Because of the violence of such things as the mass killing of indigenous people, and not dealing with that, the foundations of our nation have been built on violence - like many other modern nations. So therefore, the institutions we have grown to love have many good things about them, many positive things that democracy and freedom have allowed, and yet, I don’t care how prominent, successful and powerful a democracy is, if it is built on violence, then that violence seeps into the institutional mindset and framework. And so you have almost a violence DNA, which infiltrates into the socio-political and religious structures of society.

So for instance, Michelle Alexander, an African American lawyer, just published a book here on what she calls the “New Jim Crow.” The Jim Crow was the era of post slavery but pre civil rights, where the African American was supposedly ‘free’, but not free to live amongst the dominant white public. They were still in extensive segregation. Those were called the Jim Crow laws and they separated the black and the white. The caricature of the black American became a form of entertainment for the white, the black person’s music and dance were something to enjoy, but to give them freedom, to give their children equal opportunity, was not on the table. The Jim Crow era was a time of social and legal restrictions for people of color in the USA, and these conditions made it ripe for the civil rights movement to gain momentum.

Michelle Alexander
What is so profound is what Michelle Alexander has discovered? Her book is a deconstruction of the criminal justice industrial complex and the evolution of our corrections system as a racist structure. Large percentages of African Americans are incarcerated. Why is that? Clearly statistics have indicated that African Americans do not commit more crimes, they don’t do more drugs per capita, so why are their percentages so high? It’s because institutions are built up about marginalizing these groups of people.  And things that appear to be positive, backfire, and there are unintended consequences. In the 1980s, we declared a war on drugs, what that meant, is we were going to send the law enforcement, and we were going to increase our surveillance of the poverty stricken marginalized communities because that’s where we assumed the drug activity was most prevalent. So, we have more police per capita in the inner cities than in the suburbs, making more people vulnerable to arrest. So many African Americans are in the prison system for minor drug offenses. If we had as many police surveying the white suburbs, we’d have many more whites arrested. But they aren’t being watched as closely. And this is only one example of how a system turns on you. Before we know it, this entire system imploded and became a monster, and that “Frankenstein” monster is beyond our control, even though we have had good intentions. One piece of legislation after another imbued with racial intent, sometimes consciously and sometimes not; but the cumulative effect of all of those pieces of legislation produces a racist structural problem. This is the power of not dealing with a legacy of racist history.

Yago: You were sixteen years in Africa, could you give us an example of how unprocessed systemic violence keeps perpetuating itself in the African continent?

Carl: I can give you an example from South Africa. People lament South Africa because of the high level of criminal violence that we’ve experienced since Mandela’s release and the ANC (majority represented government) has come to power. There are many attempts to explain it. Some say, we did not have the correct statistics during Apartheid, and now we finally do have the correct statistics. Some say, no, those who are affected, the victims of crime, blame the government. The whites blame it on the blacks. The blacks blame it on the whites. All of these are possibilities, none of them are enough; each explanation on its own is too simple. Violence is very complex, for me, the only way to understand South Africa is to go back at least 300 years. We begin to understand that we have cycles of bloodshed in our history. To use a biblical metaphor, the ‘blood cries out from the ground’, when God’s spirit came to Cain and asked, where is your brother? And Cain replied, am I my brother’s keeper? And God said, the blood of your brother cries out from the ground. That to me is both poetic, but also about how the DNA of violence gets transmitted from one generation to the next. It gets reconstructed in our institutions and in our societal narrative so that we can start to live by this transmission of attitude and belief system. And then we find ourselves still living with the legacies of our past – a modern enslavement of ourselves. 

We have to look at layers of violence, like from King Shaka Zulu who originally came from the Congo (Central Africa) region, before the colonizers were on the continent, but he was a colonizer within the Continent, because he had a sophisticated military. He either killed (through mass slaughter) any people groups that would not join him, or he would force them to assimilate. That’s how he built his kingdom and then he moved to modern day South Africa. Now we have violence amongst the African ethnic groups, and that plays out even today with squabbles over which African ethnic group dominates the political leadership of the country or grave stereotypes and prejudices among and between the 9 distinct African ethnic groups that inhabit South Africa.

The British and the Afrikaner had great hatred toward each other, and there was actually an all-out war between them in 1900 called the Anglo-Boer War. In fact, 27,000 Afrikaner women and children died in British concentration camps as part of that war. For the first 50 years after the war, there was such animosity between the English and Afrikaners that they would not even marry each other or send their children to the same schools much less live together. And then there was Apartheid, and we all know about the torture and the violence. Beyond just the violence to the physical body, we also have to keep in mind the emotional, spiritual, identity and cultural trauma. Where people were forced out of their homes and forced to live in certain areas and forced to only get a certain amount of education, forced to have a certain kind of job. This destroys human dignity. So, I’m recounting all of this to say that I believe that these are the strands of what I see as below the surface of the criminal violence being experienced right now in South Africa. And to say that we could somehow erase that would be naïve. We’re not going to be able to do that until we grapple with and understand the depth of our narrative histories and lived experiences from the past.

Yago: As you talk, it comes to my mind the importance of new historicism. Being born and brought up in Spain, I have experienced a collective denial as far as acknowledging the historical harms done to indigenous peoples in America and elsewhere. We have never been invited to lament for all the harm done along history. One of the ways that the system of violence perpetuates itself is through the denial of history, choosing a fictitious narrative where the oppressed is not present. Could you share with us what is meant by new historicism?

Carl: New historicism is a critical postmodern ‘turn’ that is applying critical theory to our understanding of history. And critical theory says we don’t just ask questions about the content of what is being said, we ask about authorship? Who is writing it? We ask about context, we ask about motive, it is stripping the modernist science of historicism, which has claimed for eons that we can record history factually and scientifically, in detailed annals or lists of events. These historical ‘facts’ are somehow devoid (which is another scientific left-over) of any kind of subjectivity, that they are completely objective. When New Historicism began to ask the hard questions about who has been writing our history, and again, this takes me back to the white, European male, they were the ones writing history for hundreds of years. They were the ones interpreting history through the eyes of generals, military heroes, and the economic and political elite.
And the voice of the common person on the ground, unless they were trained to write history (and by then they probably already joined another class of society) their voice was not being heard, unless it was passed along poorly or through music, and it was usually left in the underground - until such a time that the new historicism movement began to surface. And so, there was this practical deconstruction of history as we know it, by using literary criticism, which asks these questions of author, and intent and voice. There’s also the symbolic side of that which says that our work is to find platforms and public space for the voice of the silenced and the marginalized to come out and speak. Sometimes it’s almost hard to find that voice, because it has been so long! Forced assimilation has taken its toll. One of the reasons why it is very hard to find that voice here for the indigenous people of this country is not only because so many of them were wiped out, but so many of them were forcibly assimilated into our society, they no longer know their cultures or their roots, for generations. So their numbers have become so small, in the scheme of the large number of the population of the country, and they have lost voice.

Yago: Do you know any attempt to recover the real history of ethnic groups before colonization? Do you have any example from the African Continent?

Herero chained during the 1904 rebellion (source:wikipedia)
Carl: I was privileged to present at a conference in 2004 in Namibia, hosted by the University of Namibia. It was a historical conference and it was dedicated to reestablishing and retelling the story of a genocide that was inacted upon a particular ethnic group in Namibia called the Herero people. They were almost completely wiped out by the German colonizers between 1901 and 1904. And of course, at the turn of the Century, we had no instruments of accountability for human rights abuse or genocide. We didn’t even have that language. There was no global entity, in the world scene, to police the Germans, and to stop this atrocity. The colonizers had what seemed to be unlimited power to do as they will, and now, a hundred years later, we are running a conference in Namibia, and desperately going back through documents, oral histories, and trying to resurrect a vision and a narrative of what actually happened. All that was completely buried - never written down by any German military leaders or others at that time. They couldn’t or wouldn’t. And, if someone did write about it, the evidence was destroyed, or its references were opaque, sanitized discussions of ‘quelling a rebellion’ or other such military strategies. That’s about as much as we know from history.

Yago: What you are saying is of extreme importance. If we don’t remember it becomes extremely difficult to deconstruct the energies of enslavement that we carry. It is crucial to remember, if we want to acknowledge the pain, if we want to restore history and to take responsibility, if we want forgiveness to happen.

Carl: In fact, it was out of that conference, or simultaneously, there was a movement to ask the then German prime minister, to publicly acknowledge this chapter in German history, which she did. It was a very symbolic move the German government to say, “We establish this as another element of the truth of what really happened and we are sorry.”

I would say, the other critical academic essence in this is the voice of Foucault, who talked about dominant and subjugated narratives in a society, and the fact that all of our nations have a great deal of subjugated narratives that have been silenced. We have to allow those marginalized narratives to surface in order to counter the dominant meta-narrative if we are going to deal with this at a national level, at the level of the collective psyche of a country. And so, that’s much of what I wrote about in my PhD on Zimbabwe. In 1980, the ZANU-PF (one of two black revolutionary movements in Zimbabwe) won a landslide victory at the polls. And in order to solidify their power, the ZANU-PF unleashed a torrent of violence on the opposition party ZAPU (the other black revolutionary movement at the time) and its civilian supporters. It is estimated that 20,000 people were killed in a 7-year period. Those who suffered under this torturous violence have been subjugated, and I believe that the future of Zimbabwe depends on allowing those voices of anger, pain, lament, loss and injustice to emerge. I interviewed many of the primary and secondary victims of this violence in my research, and tried to allow their voices to emerge as part of the public story; part of the history taught in the schools to outweigh the patriotic history and the political agendas framed by the current ZANU-PF government, and the kind of institutions and services they have constructed to suppress the people. That’s the only way we’re going to see a new Zimbabwe.

Yago: Does the writing of new history go together with the creation of new narratives? Is new history written through new narratives?

Carl: For sure – a new historicism project should always be tied to rewriting the public narrative of a nation. And the beauty of it is that it is not only the public narrative, but also the personal narrative, because they are so closely related. So, when the individual victims who have suffered so severely under violent systems are given public voice, and given a public place to lament, you are rebuilding their narrative individually, as a family and a clan, and it builds into a spiral on a community, national, and regional level. 

There’s this tremendously powerful interplay between the collective and the individual in the narrative building process. It’s exponential. It’s much bigger than the sum of its parts. The meta-narrative, or the dominant narrative is not just all of the small stories that have multiplied over time. It is the subconscious of the nation that is built on the deep, sometimes unspoken societal mores, norms, values and structures that we construct from our sense of victimization, identity, violence, and aggression. What is desperately needed in this case is a retelling of the story in a moment of deconstruction. Retelling the story invokes the need to reconfigure relationships, networks and reconstruct the socio-political institutions that guide us so that a new society can emerge. In the direction of what we call durable peace.

Yago: In order to meaningfully accompany this process of deconstruction and reconstruction of history it requires from us to be reflective practitioners. Very often we are not just objective witnesses of the process. Deep within we share a collective history of oppression and liberation. We must be very much aware. Deconstruction and reconstruction happens in our personal histories as practitioners as well.

Carl: Very much so, and this is why especially if we’re moving and working across cultures, (and in this global age we are doing this all the time), we are working with people who are trying to deconstruct multiple histories of conflict and violence. This requires us to do extensive analysis: preparation, interviewing, reading, understanding so that we in fact can carry some of their stories as we go into any given location. Because if that story, narrative or history is not invited into the intervention, our work is shallow, very surface oriented. This is why we see so many aborted peacebuilding processes. 

To negotiate the rebuilding of a nation without taking into consideration the mythical-histories and the social narratives, and the political-economic discourses, all of the narratives, it is almost a waste of time. We need the cease-fire of guns; we need to stop the killing; that’s really important. But to assume that a negotiated agreement that ushers in a new configuration of politicians and possibly some new institutions is enough is simply another relic of the modernist exercise of diplomacy. The idea that if we adjust some government structures and physical change leaders, somehow we can start anew, is preposterous. There’s too much of a deep psychology and an emotional and spiritual dynamic of this transformation at an individual and collective level that we have to start to carry these constructed narratives with us. And carry them, not as a burden of trauma, but as a way of knowing. I think if we carry these narratives, even if they are hidden, seemingly to the people around us, we’re going to hear the voices of pain and perpetration in a different way. We’re going to hear what people are saying in a deeper way because we have a ‘thickened’ layered backdrop: A new spiritual, emotional, physiological worldview that we are embracing and it is inside of us. So we’re going to hear with new ears. We’re going to see with new eyes the undercurrents, the impulses that are not obvious in the surface ruptures of the conflict, and in this way we become more effective and shall I say intuitive in what we’re trying to do.

Yago: What new science is telling us these days is that we literally become our thinking. As already mentioned in a previous interview in this blog with Annemarie Early, Candace Perth, in her book “The Molecules of Emotion”, argues that our thinking process determines who we are, even at the physical level. The discovery of neuropeptides shows that the body is fluid enough to match the mind.

I believe that narratives must be constructed from deep within (spirituality) weaving them with diverse fields of knowledge. We are invited to go beyond a rigid specialization on the peacebuilding field. Meaningful interaction between disciplines is essential for a wise and holistic approach to peacebuilding. During the last spring semester we had a new course at CJP called “Transforming Trauma: Individual and Collective Approaches”. We explored trauma from the Counseling and Conflict Transformation fields. It has been a very enriching experience. Could you share with us the new areas of innovation present in the educational system of CJP?

Carl: Yes, there are a number of parts to that question. Most recently, our university has begun talking about integrating its practices and academics across undergrad and graduate, and then, amongst the graduate schools. In the past, our educational system was built on difference, and so our disciplines were focused on niche identities and becoming more and more refined, differentiated and separate. Our modernist education insisted that a pure psychologist must be able to precisely define the distinctive of psychology from the other sciences, or from religion or theology. Now, these compartments and categories are falling away. They must fall away. It is a form of violence through education. It causes competition in a sense because we have to fight over scarce resources. As opposed to seeing this learning environment as interdisciplinary, and that our disciplines cross-pollinate each other. Thankfully, peacebuilding has always been interdisciplinary in nature, because it is a new field, we have drawn from others, but we have not always had the openness to collaborate as freely as we are now. 

So we have new promising partnerships forging with our graduate colleagues in theology, counseling, and education. It is my hope that we will grow to understand that neurobiology is deeply important for peacebuilding as much as it is for biomedicine to prepare to be a doctor or nurse or a medical professional. Recent neuroscience research is introducing a new way of being and doing and living. As you said, we think into what we are. Our narratives are what we live-in, we act on, and we love with. And so, I find this cross-pollination, this integration, this working together, collaborating across disciplines very important, quite refreshing and the way of the future.

CJP logo
The strength of CJP will be not to generalize our study, but to delve into the intellectual undercurrents flowing from this multi-disciplinary conversation, and at the same time remain broad in our understanding in how these various fields are intricately connected. We can profoundly learn from each other. Therefore, we must be in cooperation. For instance, CJP has modeled this by leading the field in the integration of trauma and peacebuilding since the early 1990s. In contrast, many of our peer organizations would separate these disciplines out and trauma healing work would be under psychology, counseling or mental health. I think the examples of how this is happening on a global scene, and not just locally, are found in the rise of structures like truth and reconciliation commissions. Because in essence, a truth and reconciliation commission is acknowledging that trauma is part of peacebuilding and reconstruction, and therefore we have to hear the victims and we have to bring in the psychological and mental health and trauma components of our existence into our discussion; and it actually informs justice. It informs peacebuilding, it informs nonviolence. It informs the kinds of transitional institutions, instruments that we build and use to try to transform society. So we are seeing a rise in global consciousness on the importance of peace in a much more philosophical, cohesive and holistic way.

Yago: Attachment theory lens allows us to have access and understand the very core and origin of a conflict. It is an invitation to the below of the conflict where we begin to deal with issues of dignity. Could you share with us on the importance of the below (feeling, emotions, body awareness) in situations of conflict?

Carl: The evolution of attachment theory is a case study on its own, of moving from the modernist, scientific, categorization of limitations, to a much more holistic perspective. Because its origins were strictly around parent-child relationship and much of the research was confined to analysis within the family unit. Now, as its grown, we are beginning to understand that attachment theory applies to all relationships. We are beginning to understand child soldiers and traumatic bonding to the commander. Why a child soldier who might be captured at age 7, and forced to engage in traumatic killing of maybe their own family, find themselves deeply connected to this commander who ordered them to kill. What we know from attachment theory and child psychology, development theory, that by age 7 a child is only beginning to individuate from their caregiver. So if they are caught early on, before that differentiation has happened, they cannot even make a distinction between the commander as the caregiver who gives them food and clothing and protects them, and their parent. No matter how twisted this kind of protection may seem, the commander ultimately fills the need for a parent role or function in a very distorted, violent system. This gives us fresh insight into the child soldier. 

If you recall, in class, Annmarie Early talked about the spiral, first the child protests when they don’t get the caregiver’s attention, then they cling, then they get depressed, or they become quiet, and then they detach. This is very applicable to a child soldier. So, they protest, they can only protest for so long, because if they protest too much, they get killed. And they are killed in front of the others. And the commander says, “If you behave like this, you will die next.” And so their protest does not work. They cling, but the commander in the violent system will never allow you to cling. The child soldier will always be pushed to fight, to destroy, to separate, to pillage, and to become a killing machine, so to speak. We know that they drug these young boys in many situations, too, because that’s the only way they can get them to fight – to sear their conscious. Then they become deeply depressed. Many of them talk about almost feeling numb – both the drugs numb their minds – but also the trauma of the violence, and so they walk in sort of a foggy cloud. And so when they’re freed, when the war is over, when they may be able to escape, by then, their only way of survival, has been to completely detach themselves. And this is where the media or the community can say this person has become less than human - like an animal. Well, they have become detached from human existence and dignity as a matter of survival, and they have lost touch with what it means to have meaningful relationships. So the trauma healing and reintegration of the child soldier back into society becomes an extremely difficult task because of these dynamics.

by Sarah Hollick

Yago: So, attachment theory becomes a guideline to understand how a person engages in violent behavior and what can be done to restore that person to a dignified life again.

Carl: Absolutely! So, one of the first things that they recommend for child soldiers, other than intensive trauma healing work, is to place them in family again. If their own family is nonexistent, they are placed in other families. The immediate priority is getting them back into school where they have to relate to peers and integrating them back into regular human routines of sleeping, eating, working, socializing, etc. And then beginning to work with trust of others, and the ability to reimagine themselves as human once again. All this is dependent on whether or not they can even remember what it was like to be a dignified person – located in a web of community relations, how you behave, how you expect to be treated, how you treat others.

Yago: Attachment theory also gives us insights about the quality of service offered by the practitioner. The practitioner very often has gone from a process of moving from victim, to survivor, to wounded healer.

Carl: That is a nice progression, victim to survivor to wounded healer. Unfortunately as practitioners we have the other side, we can move from victim to aggressor to wounded offender. And we can also have practitioners who stay in the victim mode. Some of us are doing a lot of damage in the name of peace.

Yago: As peacebuilding practitioners we have to be very humble and be rooted in our humanity, becoming aware of our own traumas.

Carl: Yes, if we are not aware of our own ‘unfinished business’ that we bring into the situation, we may reinforce the trauma of others. Sometimes we can become trauma enablers meaning we are always rescuing the traumatized person and thereby denying them the experience of actually regulating their own responses to pain and difficulty. We may internalize the anger, the aggression of others – a kind of vicarious trauma – and end up more angry than the victim themselves. We may become helpless and feel that there is nothing we can do, because of our own secondary trauma, and the trauma of the other has made us feel helpless. We may feel the need to manage, to control or make decisions for the recovery of the traumatized person. These are all dangerous ways to help, they are not useful, and can cause codependency that can make our peacebuilding work ineffective. So, we have to work with our own story and always be prepared to name/identify our own vulnerabilities.

Yago: In the system of violence we can say that both the oppressor and the oppressed are suffering. Although in a different way, both are losing their dignity and their identity is terribly deformed. What can you say on this regard?

W.E. DuBois
Carl: The first thing that comes to my mind, actually, is from the great African-American emancipator and educator, W.E. DuBois who said, ‘You cannot keep another man down without staying down with him.’ In other words, to oppress others, you have to also be oppressed. As we say in the trauma healing field, ‘Hurt people, hurt people.’ which is my association with what you’re saying about the identity being distorted. It’s deformed for both the oppressed and the oppressor, and this is the great deception and destruction of the violence system, I’m convinced. Many times we glorify the oppressor, because they have the power, we assume that their identity is fine, they can do what they want, they live as they please. This is true to an extent, but on the other hand, their dignity has been greatly distorted, as they have had to live into and enforce a system of dehumanization. And along the way they have deformed their humanity. And in that way they’re denying an essential part of their identity.

And for the people being oppressed, we certainly understand their identity is being stripped from them in a public, material, physical, and social way. It can be seen that their dignity is being destroyed on the outside. But also, we know it’s doing a deep devastation on the inside. And the social narratives are not only formulated by the oppressors to be used against them, but they as victims have internalized those social, political, economic narratives in a self-defeating downward spiral. They have devastated their own identity, or suppressed it or pushed it down, because they’ve been told there’s no place for their voice, there’s no place for them to speak back to the dominant narrative. Their narrative is silenced both in the public domain, and also in the private realm when they have succumbed, and there is seemingly no more fight inside. We call this “learned helplessness,” or the sense of internalized oppression, where you turn the oppression on yourself, or your loved ones.

Yago: We need a strong imagination so to be able to place ourselves into the shoes of our enemy. At the same time, you are inviting us to use our imagination and creativity to understand the subtle mechanisms in which a system of violence operates. But, systemic violence aims at the suppression of the imagination, to reduce our power to imagine to nothing, here the persecutor and the victim are affected.

Carl: The question then is: how and where do we let that imagination come out? In some ways the oppressor has to be extremely imaginative, because they are imagining the world they want, even if that involves oppressing other people who they perceive as a threat. And so they are constructing their world also, in other words, my PhD work was looking at the violence narrative of the oppressor and they’re ability to build their world by their narrative of oppression and the institutions of violence they build up around them. And they are highly imaginative. This is why dictators and despots stay in power for as long as they do.

Yago: In a previous interview in this blog Lisa Schirch agrees with you saying that there is no one who knows better about rituals as the oppressors themselves.

Carl: Like William Cavanaugh, Catholic theologian and well-known author talks about the torture and Eucharist, and he compares them, saying that torture is the ritual of the oppressor. And the violation of torture creates the enemies that the oppressor needs in order to justify his/her illegitimate power. So it’s a self-generating, self-referring process. And the Eucharist is, in fact, a similar process in many ways, except that represents a positive force. In which the Church, in this case, has found the Eucharist, if it’s used correctly and meaningfully, as a ritual for building up the identity of the individual in Christ, and also the identity and unity of the community in Christ. So these two rituals William Cavanaugh talks about, in fact, I think he did his doctoral work around this from the Pinochet era in Chile, and compared these two rituals going at the same time as almost counter-indicated rituals between the Church and the political oppression. 

So yes, I think there is a lot of imagination being used for destruction sometimes, too. But when I talk about allowing us to free our imaginations, and certainly John Paul Lederach was getting at this in his last few books, The Moral Imagination, and When Blood and Bones Cry Out, we have to be able to open a safe-space to think and feel about a better world, to imagine a better world. And, you’re right, one of the other byproducts of the scientific era, of enlightenment, and colonialism, was the science of realism, and especially when it comes to conflict and peacebuilding. So you have volumes of work on realism. Realism when it comes responding to terrorism, military threat, economic and environmental crises. Political science, as a whole, is configured around realism. I find realism constrictive, because it doesn’t actually allow us to use the full range of human ways of knowing, it forces us to use our minds, but in a very narrow way, to use our minds to be analytical about what can “really” be done. I use that in quotes.

I’m convinced that our peacebuilding work, in reconciliation and justice, is an art. It’s an art form; it takes the whole body, mind and spirit. It takes all of our creative energy as the practitioner to not only imagine a different world, but to form a different set of relationships, and to take action in order to live into that. So you have to become like a child and allow your fantasy and your imagination to say, ‘yes, we could behave like this.’ You have to dispel the drive to be mastered by realism alone. But you can only do that if you feel free and your identity is restored enough that you have the leisure to do that. So this is where I believe that even in the worst of circumstances, we know of people who have been imprisoned and tortured who, through the spiritual strength that they have, been able to overcome and keep their imagination alive. 

Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela is an example here. He kept his imagination alive for twenty-seven years in prison! So we know the human body is resilient, the human mind, and the spirit, and it can overcome many of these obstacles. Our first task, then, when we cannot conjure up any creativity, is to build up the identity, and the trust, and the safe-space for the oppressed to work with their trauma. Imagination to see a different world grows out of the place of healing. Which is what Paulo Freire was trying to say in “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” and Augusto Boal said in “The Theatre of the Oppressed,” helping the oppressed, the poor to imagine another world using a different medium. 

Yago: You say that now we are coming to the awareness that power is an unlimited resource, available anytime and everywhere, the issue is how do we have access to it. There is an emergent “bottom-up” movement in humanity that through networking is challenging hierarchical structures. Power is first and foremost within ourselves. This is what new science is telling us about what is the ground of the whole universe, an endless creative vacuum. You also say that the New Social Movements are shifting from ideology to identity. There is deepening in the motivation that moves them. What can you say about this?

Carl: Let me start with the last comment. In fact, we’re in an awkward stage with this ideology vs. identity, because we’re in a new generation that is acting on its identity, which is always in flux. This generation is not willing to just embrace a well packaged, totalizing ideology like in subsequent generations. The generation before maybe was willing to – I’m talking about the revolutionary rhetoric of the first generation of post-colonial leaders in the 1950s and 1960s. At that time you embraced an ideology, a socialist or Communist ideology, you embraced that in its whole package, and it was superimposed above culture religion and personality. This generation, for various reasons, is more self-actualized, or self-centered, however you want to say it. They reinvent themselves, and they reinvent culture - all is in flux and rapidly changing, and the technology is allowing them to be much more informed and to question. And no ideology becomes a whole package anymore - it’s in sound bites, bits and pieces of information. And that has its downside, but I think it also has a positive side, too, because ideology-driven social movements tend to be uniform, they force people into a groupthink, which left unchecked is dangerous, and so it’s good to break that up a bit. But on this other end, this new generation is at times so fragmented in its thinking, personhood, and identity that it becomes extremely difficult to place any value on structure and bounded process. So we’re in an awkward stage.

Let’s take the uprising in Tunisia and Egypt and the young people at the forefront of that drama on the global stage – it was a collision of ideology and identity. My analysis of these uprisings is that the youth that were leading those movements were doing this out of their need to reclaim an identity that they could be proud of, a sense of needing to empower themselves to receive the recognition that they believed they deserved. And there were also realistic needs for jobs, and services, and good governance, and they made their demands clear. But they were exerting their dignity, if nothing else, as the young people, the future leaders. And you see, in both Tunisia and Egypt and other cases, the older generation, the ideologues took over the movement, and this is causing a huge conflict now. This is why it’s such a jagged process. 

Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty Images
So not long ago, the young people were back on the streets in Egypt, and back into the Tahrir Square and were saying, “This revolution was hijacked!” - by their own elders, I mean, the country voted the Muslim Brotherhood in. But they’re saying, “this is an ideology we didn’t ask for – there’s a package coming with this of the way they govern, and institutionally, and everything that we didn’t actually ask for. We wanted something different. Not that we were opposed to a political party, but we must say no to this package in its fullest form.” So it’s a colliding time now.

But when you talk about the broader issue of power, and as I said, power is everywhere, it’s accessible to all of us. It is a liberating thought that is hard to keep reminding ourselves of, because the media and society continue to tell us and they present images to us of power in certain places, and in certain people, and on certain faces. 

So, when we talk about the powers of government, we see the White House, and we see certain representatives in Washington, D.C., and President Obama, etc. But this is very disempowering, actually. And again, I would maintain that it’s a relic of the old era when the Colonial elite ruled, or the Feudal elite in Europe ruled, and needed to stay in power. This was in the times of kings, and kingdoms, and those types of princely hierarchical rules, and they had to stay in power by subjugating. And while we don’t subjugate in the same obvious way maybe as we did in the past, we are subjugated through media and the messages we tell, and the way in which we restrict power, and define power as coming through the gun, or through the military, or through the Congress, or through the President’s Office, or through the mayor. And we lose track on a day-to-day basis, the everyday person, and especially the poor and the oppressed, on a daily basis, because of the daily grind of just living and keeping the cycles of life going they forget. And they have to remind themselves of the powers at their disposal. 

Gandhi, and Gandhi’s movement, Satyagraha, is probably the best evidence on a large scale of the fact that not only did Gandhi articulate a vision that caught the imagination of the masses, but it was the poor and the oppressed masses. He not only caught their imagination, he somehow instilled a sense that the power actually resides with them, and not the British colonial power. And so, there are two dangerous things in life. The one is when you have great power, and you pretend you don’t. And the other is when you are so oppressed or downtrodden that you believe you don’t have any power at all. Both of those are deadly deceptive states. And I think deliberative democracy (whatever democracy means) where we as the people develop social contracts as to how we want to live. This political process is much more authentic, and much more sustainable, durable, and powerful when we all feel like we have access to participatory decision-making power of some kind. And if it’s not only in our own self, it’s outside of us. And if it’s not by us alone, it’s with others. And so when we talk about nonviolence, of course, the language has to change then. Right now power is associated with power-over, almost all the time. Who has power over whom?

Yago: Talking about power and hierarchical structures, in a previous interview of this blog Diarmuid O’Murchu says that a more likely translation, from Aramaic, of the phrase “Kingdom of God” is the phrase “Companionship of Empowerment.” Seeking out mutually-enhanced empowerment seems to have been the primary goal of the teaching and ministry of Jesus. What can you say about Diarmuid’s insight?

Carl: Exactly. And so the language changes to, “I share power with you” or “I give power to you, and you give power to me. And we share power” or there are ways in which we can discuss how power works. Back to your comment about the Kingdom, I often say to church leaders that we have gotten very confused about the language of the kingdom. Well, and we can trace that back to the King James Version, and you know, King James had some political agenda in the version that he used, and the language he used, and so on. And the Kingdom metaphors have become the prominent metaphors when there are so many more metaphors in the Bible. God is spoken about as a hen, a mother hen, covering her chicks, a gardener, the vineyard owner, a Counselor, a Comforter, a well-watered garden, a spring, a cistern that’s full – so many other analogies instead of King, Governor, Prophet-King and Priest. You know? These are the analyses that have become totalizing. And the other thing, in our institutionalized Church, today, I’ve walked into too many churches with such extreme hierarchy that I’ve said it doesn’t feel like an upside-down Kingdom. 

There’s a popular book by Donald Kraybill, The Upside-Down Kingdom. Where he talks about Jesus turning all of these power structures upside-down. In some churches I cannot differentiate between the Kingdom in this Church and the kingdom in this world. It looks the same to me, the hierarchy looks the same to me, there is a man at the top doing whatever he wants to do with no accountability, I can’t see where the difference is, the line is very blurred. Our church communities are an expression, I believe, of how our corporate lives should look different when it comes to power. When we re-arrange that power we release the imagination too, the hierarchy structures refuse to release the imagination. It is not only the west that has had hierarchy. I think that I have mentioned this before. When I was in North-East Asia, particularly in ancient Chinese cultures, there is also a great deal of hierarchy in society, you slotted it and you fit in one place, and that also does not allow imagination, it tells you by your social standing and by the social construction around you, this is your frame of reference, these are your boundaries of thinking, and to think out of that is to step out of the God-ordained natural birth right or your ranking place in Society. The Church has always challenged this. This is what the Apostle Paul is speaking to the Greeks of his day. The Greeks believed that you were born into a certain lot, you were born a servant, a woman, a child and then you had a certain position for life in society (a form of fatalism). So when Paul said there is no Greek or Jew, nor male or female, slave or free, that was a very radical statement for the Greek culture. He was saying that in the body of Christ, when we participate in the ritual of the Eucharist we are tearing down all of this hierarchy, all dividing walls and we are talking about one body and many parts. This idea of ‘one body-many parts’ is not describing hierarchy - it is just describing different parts in the same body, different functions.

Yago: Carl, we have ended our interview. It has been a wonderful sharing. I am very grateful for your generosity. You have shared in depth your experience on the peacebuilding field. Indeed, it is your vocation and passion. Thanks for passing to us your own processing and inner treasures.  

Carl: Thank you, Yago. It was my pleasure. As we would say in isiZulu, “Siyabonga” (Thank you).