Friday, February 1, 2013

Society of Individuals

"The colonist bourgeoisie hammered into the colonized mind the notion of a society of individuals where each is locked in his subjectivity, where wealth lies in thought. But the colonized intellectual who is lucky enough to bunker down with the people during the liberation struggle, will soon discover the falsity of this theory. Involvement in the organization of the struggle will already introduce him to a different vocabulary. 'Brother', 'Sister', 'Comrade' are words outlawed by the colonialist bourgeoisie because in their thinking my brother is my wallet and my comrade, my scheming." - Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, On Violence

Fanon couches his discussion of the colonized intellectual and the force of colonial brainwashing in the greater debate of marxist verses capitalist dogma. Here he projects this debate into the "colonized mind" an interesting meta-representation of the general social consciousness of a colonized people (or more specifically the mind of one colonized individual, I think he could be speaking on either or both). The colonial aim, to make one assume an attitude of complacency and adherence to values that would lubricate colonial control, is facilitated with a dialogue of faux-intellectualism, drawing agency from supposedly "eternal" western values. Fanon discovers an integral psychological key to this process: the colonized must feel isolated, not simply in his struggle for freedom against the colonizer, but he/she must be isolated in the inherent nature of his human interactions.

To unpack that idea, it is not enough to strip the colonized of his sense of local community, rather, he must be conditioned to perceive a "society of individuals" so that there is no community, simply individual players in a competitive game.  Here the colonizer takes the stigma of "enemy" or more benignly "competidor" and disperses it across all people, making trust, organization, collaboration, and collective identity intellectually troublesome. In doing so, the colonizer hopes to achieve his ultimate goal of human domestication, which is the ultimate form of dehumanization, to control and manipulate people to live willingly under the yoke of external control.

This is a society Fanon, and hopefully most people, would consider abominable; however, to a lesser degree the capitalist mindset we assume in America today perpetrates a similar social end. Within the United States, ideas like social programs to help fellow americans, are extorted as "handouts" and there is severe pressure to cut social programs first in any time of fiscal concern. Sounds like the colonial ideology of "my brother is my wallet" to me, what is explained as "financial responsibility" is expected to trump a human being's integral connection/duty to one another . Empathy, a state of mind most would consider essential to defining one's humanity, is shucked aside for the doctrine of self reliance. Once we as a people accept this kind of thinking as the penultimate "eternal" philosophy, we do the colonizers work for them, isolating each other and permeating the "money rules all" mentality that rewards the richest people not the most deserving.

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  1. Response by Matthew Gennari:
    I am doing my class presentation in March on Marcus Garvey and the UNIA, and have been trying to figure out what the focus should be. I think Fanon’s theory of a society of individuals ties in well and might be a good place to start a discussion with the class. While Fanon proposed organizing for an armed revolution, Garvey was one of the first to advocate organizing around economic and capitalist collectivity amongst blacks.

    One of Garvey’s largest contributions was laying forth the groundwork for fighting capitalistic inequality through capitalistic methods of economic organization. He realized that capitalism must also be restrained, however, and also believed that black capitalism would at some point fail in America. This led to Garvey’s belief that eventually racial separation would be necessary to maintain equality as black enterprise grew because he did not believe they would ever have even stakes in American capitalism.

    Garvey and The UNIA established the Black Star Line as an enterprise intended to provide a means for African Americans to return to Africa while also enabling black people around the Atlantic to exchange goods and services. “The colonized mind” you focus on from Fanon was still common amongst African-Americans in the beginning of the 20th century. This seems to have worked to the benefit of Garvey’s cause, as he recognized that their confidence was low, and basically like you reference to, they were losing their confidence because they were losing an increasingly competitive game where all individuals were fighting for themselves.
    The UNIA sold stocks at their conventions, and through capitalism were able to promote world wide commerce amongst black communities world wide. The Black Star Line would have a short lived life unfortunately, and Garvey was actually exiled. It is not clear whether he was shut down by the Bureau of Investigation because he was a threat or if he actually made the economic mistakes and overpayments they claim he did.

    Du Bois would later dismiss Garvey’s plans as a failure. Part of this might be from Garvey’s allegiance to Booker T. Washington whose self-reliance and business ownership was greatly admired by Garvey. Regardless, Garvey’s economic theory and the U.N.I.A movement as a whole combined self-reliance with a united movement, and although Garvey’s Black Star Line failed he both inspired following generations to organize seek economic achievement and offered others a model in which people could learn from both his success and his failure.

  2. Response by Denise Francis:
    This post was thought provoking for me. Sometimes it is hard to set out of my experience and view the world from someone else’s eyes. I think that “Society of Individuals” describes this perfectly where everyone is trying to get ahead for themselves and not focusing on their communities and the people they come in contact with on a daily basis.
    I also related this reading to the culture change of community service and what it means to give back to the community. Working in undergraduate admissions, I see applications where students “volunteer” places as a form or charity work and it holds no true value for them. I’m well aware that students often volunteer to just add it on their resume and college applications. It only services to make them better and not improve the life of someone else. It’s really sad to see and I hope that the culture shifts to bring back the importance of a community feel.


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