In this article the author traces the colonial origins of “post-truth” politics, and ponders whether we are witnessing the final iteration of neoliberalism — where colonial racial templates of social ordering have been liminally deracialised and adopted by the profit-obsessed market in order to subject an ever-widening demographic to social inequality.
Our Colonial Legacy….
In a recent community discussion about Frantz Fanon’s essay Concerning Violence,1 (as brutally visualised by Goran Olsson’s 2014 eponymous film2) I remember arguing why I rejected the idea that we are entering a new phase of fascism with a rebooted far right ideology that the mainstream media is now rebranding as “post-truth” populism. I have often argued that colonialism and its tools of racist and racial subjection have long existed before this so-called new populist phenomenon and these tools have even been used as a template for current political developments.3 But upon reflection, I am coming to realise that what is new is not the barbarity of current social inequality or even its methods of subjection but its maturation as the ultimate product of capitalism. Frantz Fanon, in Concerning Violence tracks an unerring timeline that organically traces the development of colonialism into capitalism. He also explains how the brutality of colonial oppression was far more than just a physical reality because it penetrated deeply to an internal psychic level in the subject. Colonialism had perfected its methods of oppression and suppression by gnawing away at the layers of human agency. For Fanon, colonial objectification challenged the very core of understanding of what it is to be a human being.
To be a human being is to have an internal world (as well as an external one in relation to others). However, when that interior world is denied to the subject because only their bodies are recognised as instruments of agency (only for others), we arrive at a pernicious form of psychic violation. A violation of privacy that paradoxically has been stripped away from the individual by its denial. What is even more violent is that by the time the replacement of the subject’s innate interior world is supplanted by a psychic representation of their external subjugation, their personal agency has all but disappeared. Nearly.4 When Fanon was treating his patients, he tried to remedy their stolen agency by getting them to see just how hollowed out their colonial psyches were. He also showed them how they could choose to respond to their distorted interiors and generate personal agency.5
Ornette D. Clennon is Visiting Research Fellow and a Critical Race scholar in The Research Centre for Social Change: Community Wellbeing, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK where he leads the Critical Race and Ethnicity Research Cluster. He is also Visiting Professor at the Federal University of the Amazonas, Brazil. He has written and published widely on a range of topics including community engagement, education and multiculturalism.
1. See F. Fanon, ‘Concerning Violence’, in The Wretched of the Earth, C. Farrington, (trans), Grove Press, New York, 1963, pp. 35 – 106
2. See Concerning Violence, film documentary, Final Cut for Real, Helsinki, 5th December, 2014 (US)
3. See O.D. Clennon, ‘Populism, the era of Trump and the rise of the far right’ in openDemocracyUK. December 4th 2016, viewed on December 19th 2016, https://www.opendemocracy.net/ornette-d-clennon/populism-era-of-trump-and-rise-of-far-right
4. See W.E.B DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches (Second ed.). A. C. McClurg & Co., Chicago, 1903, p. 264 for his thoughts about “double consciousness” (p. 8) that describes the internal struggle for personal agency for the racialised as black subject. Also see O.D. Clennon, Polemics of CLR James, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2016, p. 129 for a parallel argument that uses Lewis Gordon’s ‘bad faith’ to describe a comparable internal struggle for personal agency for the racialised as white subject.
5. Nelson Maldonado Torres introduces us to Fanon’s concept of sociogeny, which seeks to explore the interior nature of hierarchical colonial oppression within the subject. See N. Maldonado Torres, ‘Frantz Fanon and C.L.R. James on intellectualism and enlightened rationality’. Caribbean Studies, volume 33(2), 2005, pp. 149 – 194.
6. See P. Bourdieu & J.-C. Passeron, Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture, R. Nice (trans), Sage, London, 2000 , p. 288 for a discussion about the symbolic violence of education and how it is used to oppress us on behalf of the state.
7. See B.J. Fields, ‘Ideology and race in American history’. In J. M. Kousser, & J. M. McPherson (eds), Region, race and reconstruction, Oxford University Press, New York, 1982, pp. 143–177 and B.J. Fields, ‘Slavery, race and ideology in the United States of America’. New Left Review, volume 181(May/June), 1990, pp. 95 – 118 for a full explanation of racial contract theory and its role in fixing racial hierarchy in place .
8. See J. Butler, The Psychic Life of Power, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1997, p. 228
9. See Clennon, Polemics of CLR James
10. See O.D. Clennon, ‘The Black Face of Eurocentrism: Uncovering Globalisation’. In O. D. Clennon (ed), International Perspectives of Multiculturalism: The Ethical Challenges, Nova Science Publishers, New York, 2016, pp. 91 – 128 for an exploration of the psychopathological structures of the Hegelian whiteness/blackness dialectic that are in turn transformed into market relationships.
11. See L. Gordon ‘Disposable Life’ in Histories of Violence, February 10th 2016, viewed on December 19th 2016, https://vimeo.com/154827028 and P. Nora, P. (1996). General Introduction: Between Memory and History. In L. D. Krtizmann (ed), Realms of Memory: Rethinking the French Past, Vol 1: Conflict and Divisions, A. Goldhammer (trans), Columbia University Press, New York pp. 1-20 where both Gordon and Nora describe the post modern tendency of the market to constantly reinvent the present.
12. See G. Simmel, G. (1971). In D. Levine (ed), Georg Simmel: On Individuality and Social Forms. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1971, p. 412
13. See M. Horkheimer & T. Adorno (1944). Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments, G. S. Noerr, Ed., & E. Jephcott, (trans.) Stanford University Press, London, Stanford, CA p. 304
14. See D. Graeber, ’Turning Modes of Production Inside Out: Or, Why Capitalism is a Transformation of Slavery’. Critique of Anthropology, volume 26(1), 2006, pp. 61–85.
15. See “corporate globalization is thriving precisely by emptying out the subversive potential in culture” p. 108 from R. Krishnaswarmy, ‘The criticism of culture and the culture of criticism at the intersection of postcolonialism and globalisation theory’. Diacritics, volume 32(2), 2002, pp. 106 – 126.
16. Clennon, The Black Face of Eurocentrism
17. See F. Hayek, ‘The Market-order or Catallaxy’. In F. Hayek (ed), Law, Legislation and Liberty (Vol. 2), Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1976, pp. 107-32
18. See J. Bentham, Panopticon: or the Inspection-House. Thomas Byrne, Dublin, 1787, (online book https://library.villanova.edu/Find/Record/889906#description)
19. See P. Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. R. Nice, (trans), Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1984, p. 613
20. See A. Flood, ‘’Post-truth’ named word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries’ in The Guardian. November 15th 2016, viewed on December 19th 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/nov/15/post-truth-named-word-of-the-year-by-oxford-dictionaries?CMP=twt_books_b-gdnbooks and also see M. Weigel, ‘Political correctness: how the right invented a phantom enemy’ in The Guardian. November 30th 2016, viewed on December 19th 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/30/political-correctness-how-the-right-invented-phantom-enemy-donald-trump?CMP=share_btn_tw that describes how the established discourse around social equality has been labelled as ‘political correctness’ in order to push back against any perceived loss of historical racial privilege. This is an interesting development that explains the rancour and pent up frustration behind the post-truth voting intentions of the white working (and middle) classes.
21. S. Sodha, T., Helm & P. Inman, ‘Economists overwhelmingly reject Brexit in boost for Cameron’ in The Guardian. May 28th 2016, viewed on December 19th 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/may/28/economists-reject-brexit-boost-cameron
22. See C. Phipps, ‘British newspapers react to judges’ Brexit ruling: ‘Enemies of the people’ in The Guardian. November 4th 2016, viewed on December 19th 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/nov/04/enemies-of-the-people-british-newspapers-react-judges-brexit-ruling
23. See Clennon, Populism
24. I am particularly reminded of the castration of Uranus by his son Kronos in Greek mythology, as an apt allegory for describing contemporary political developments.
25. From the provision of social care for our elderly and the vulnerable, to the closing down of local bus services, to the closing down of libraries, to cuts to mental health services, to cuts to children services, the list goes on and on.
26. They are hemmed in and partially blinded to these growing inequalities by their knowledge of the market for personal gain.
27. See “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” (p.131) from A. Lorde, A Burst of Light: Essays, Firebrand Books, Ithaca, NY, 1988, p. 134
28. See D. Cameron, ‘Big Society Speech’ in GOV.UK. July 19th 2010, viewed on December 19th 2016, https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/big-society-speech
29. See L. Casey, ‘The Casey Review: a review into opportunity and integration’ in GOV.UK. December 5th 2016, viewed on viewed on December 19th 2016, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-casey-review-a-review-into-opportunity-and-integration
30. Dada & Ferjani write passionately about how gentrification is negatively transforming many parts of inner London. See Z. Dada & B. Ferjani, ‘Immigrant hustle in the face of gentrification’ in Media Diversified. December 5th 2016, viewed on December 18th 2016, https://mediadiversified.org/2016/12/05/immigrant-hustle-in-the-face-of-gentrification/
31. See Clennon, Populism
32. Nigel Farage publically attacking Brendan Cox, the widower of the murdered MP Jo Cox, for supporting the anti-hate/racism/fascism campaigning group Hope Not Hate is a case in point that graphically illustrates post-truth Lordean subversion. See N. Ferrari, ‘Farage: Brendan Cox Knows More About Extremism Than Me’ in LBC. December 20th 2016, viewed on viewed on December 20th 2016, http://www.lbc.co.uk/radio/presenters/nick-ferrari/farage-brendan-cox-knows-more-about-extremism/
33. See L. Haddad, “Speaking the truth in the post-truth era” in Aljazeera.com. December 19th 2016, viewed on December 19th 2016, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2016/12/speaking-truth-post-truth-era-161218111206262.html