The Myth of the Post-Colonial

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The Myth of the Post-Colonial

“Some people just can’t seem to let go of colonization; they still continue to blame it for their living conditions even though they have had local governance for years.”

Of all the myths that were established in colonial times, the myth of post-colonization is perhaps the most oppressive. This is because the discourses of post-colonialism, and its ensuing practices, which are at the foundation of how we are governed today, are fake news. A people cannot be post-colonial until colonization actually ends. Colonization of peoples’ ways of being, knowing, and doing.

Colonization today is grounded in the subservience of our socio-semiotic systems (ways of being, knowing, and doing) to our colonizers (this may include layers of global and/or local colonizers). We can observe this in the fractal patterns of oppression around the world: those dominated often dominate in turn. From a handful of the people who manage the majority of the resources of the world and dictate policies and practices to a child bullied into submission in school – a pattern of suppression that is indicative and constitutive of the oppressive world that many of us live in. Very few are free of such oppression. However, these fractals, as fractals in any complex dynamic system are unstable and can change. And, these changes can be triggered by creating alternatives.

One way in which prosperity or oppression is created and managed is through an engineering of socio-semiotics. Socio-semiotics can be engineered to create stability and prosperity; or, they can be engineered to create disability and poverty. How we envision and create our own communities is largely based on how our socio-semiotics are engineered – through creation of beliefs, policies, practices, and possibilities. We can either own our own socio-semiotics and thus take responsibility for and respect our own ways of being, knowing and doing; or, we can accept someone else’s theories and beliefs and try to adopt them even if they were not designed for our benefit or contexts.

For example, there is a broad belief that a major indicator of success is money. The modern belief in money as a measure of success is a quintessentially colonial thought that has permeated most colonized places and peoples. Economics, and the use of money as a symbolic currency, allows for money to become an exploitative tool that keeps us colonized today. Note that money in itself does not need to be exploitative, but it can be used as such. In other words, money can be weaponized and used to force others to submit. Note also that while money existed in many parts of the pre-colonial world, it was not global. For example, most Aboriginal languages in Australia did not have a word for money; and they did not believe in human ownership of land and resources.

The desire to succeed is embedded in our current societies. Which, in itself can be a positive indicator. Unfortunately, many of our current models of success are based on our colonial experiences and the models set by pockets of population in the “developed” world. These models are and were based on exploitation of minorities and Indigenous populations. The great wealth that allows the “developed” world to exist continues to be drawn on the exploitation of their colonies, done in the guise of development, democracy, globalization, and corporatization – to name a few terms used today to mask colonization.

Development discourses are so naturalized in today’s world that most people – including much of our current political leadership – just assume that our own architectures (material, social, political, semiotic) should be similar to the “developed” world.

Trying to attempt to recreate what we see as symbols of development in our own contexts has consequences. For example, many of the labor resources from across parts of Pakistan work or are linked with different types of jobs and work in the Middle East. My own family history is linked to the migration of people from across South Asia to the Middle East in the 1970s. Today, parts of the Middle East may have some of the highest linguistic, cultural, and national diversity in the world. Yet these are not seen as a resource by any of the Middle Eastern countries. They all support and empower English, often at the cost of their own language, Arabic, which has a long historical, political, and geographical outreach. And, they all operate based on a need and desire for money. A lack of local economies fuels migration and leads to unquantifiable personal and social consequences for local, minority and Indigenous peoples.

The problem here is not with a desire to succeed; but, with ways in which success is defined. Success can be defined in terms of the self-respect and satisfaction that one achieves in contributing to their work and life, rather than in terms of money earned. Notice, for example, the language that we use to demarcate life span: birth; school-goers; workers; retirees. We are normalized into following this timeline, which is based on an industrial and colonial way of identifying periods of a person’s life – and each stage of these life stages are supported by various corporate, commercial and economic interests. Notice, it’s often only after one retires and if one has sufficient savings and in is relatively good health, that one is relatively free to do things as they please.

We abandon our languages and peoples and lands to become developed. But often we end up in spaces that none of us imagined or planned for. For example, today there is a growing number of older migrants in the Middle East, whose children have migrated to the West. These parents, without appropriate visas, cannot live with the children in the west; and because they no longer work or have local sponsorship, they lose their visas to stay in the Middle East and return to their home countries. Homes that they are foreigners in. This is one social consequence of migration to the Middle East. There are others.

For example, Indigenous architecture has become a sign of a lack of development for many; as opposed to concrete, metal, and glass structures, which have become a sign of development. A shift in people’s opinions of ‘developed’ architecture has led to a replacement of Indigenous architecture in favor of concrete/brick homes and glass (sliding) windows (which can only be afforded by money). While the architectural style of the Middle East might work for them, given their access to cheap (and environmentally polluting) energy, it leads to problems in other parts of the world. For example, it was over 32,000 brick/concrete structures that crumbled with the 2005 earthquake in northern regions of Pakistan killing over 80,000 people. And, even in non-emergency contexts, they are not designed for the local climate or environment and often lack appropriate ventilation. These new architectures have a higher demand for energy, a limited and exploitative resource – and one that is environmentally devastating.

This desire to develop and/or leave one’s colonized lands for a “better” future elsewhere is a global issue. I have yet to visit a colonized country where a large proportion of people I interact with have no desire to leave their homes for a more “developed” place. And, I have yet to visit a part of the world where the differences between the rich and the poor are not becoming more pronounced and visible with time.

In Lagos, Nigeria, where people experience regular power outages, the rich are building high-rise glass and metal towers which require enormous power supply (and cost a lot to build). Nigeria, a country with immense natural resources, has some of the poorest people in the world – why, because they stay colonized.

In Philippines, another country with immense natural resources, the rich are reclaiming land along Manila Bay – property to be sold for millions of pesos. While, on the other side of the road, people in slums can hardly afford to feed their children three meals a day. These are signs of how colonization continues today – oppressing millions of people.

The development discourse, which is infatuated with the desire to become “developed” is one symptom of our hegemonized socio-semiotics. Our beliefs and ways of being are often influenced by what we see and read through media, books, or experience through travel (often facilitated by a colonizing language). And these are often designed to support corporate agendas and serve their political interests. There is a dearth of independent publicly funded and sustainable research in the colonized world that creates practices through projects and designs that enable local communities and sustainable economies. In other words, our academia, which is responsible for creating the knowledge base that enable sustainable economies are weak. One reason for this is our subservience on western knowledge and languages.

What we often neglect to see in our disciplinary studies (disciplines that are often mirrored on western academic traditions, rather than Indigenous ones) is the impact of our research on our communities: this includes both a lack of impact as well as negative impact. It lacks impact because the social, economic, and environmental problems in our communities stay largely unresolved and unaffected by our research and publications. And, it can have a negative impact because we continue to “educate” others to also write papers following western norms, traditions, and practices – which support western knowledge building and economies, not of the colonies.

Have we not asked ourselves this question: Why do we continue to suffer when we know the causes of our suffering? Why don’t we create local economies that strengthen our communities and bring peace and prosperity?

To achieve these goals, we need models of education and media that create such a shift. To do this, we need curricula, teaching resources, and responsible media practices that help build participatory citizenship through education, media, and training. Education, media, and training that is designed for action that protects our environment, resources, and life.

In education, this will require material to be developed that teaches our students to design and create material, rather than just teach them to read and write [and not just to follow rules like robots]. Literacy skills should support creativity, not restrict it.

Our curricula should aim to produce participatory citizens. Participatory citizenship implies that the curricula is about doing and creating things to support and build our communities. This can be done best in local languages, with the aim of creating local economies and communities. One, which is respectful of diversity, including other biological creatures.

It is only after cycles of retraining and reeducating our populations by creating alternative practices and policies that we will start to see a reharmonization our own societies. A sign that we have finally shed colonizing socio-semiotics.

The push for western-style modern democracy as part of the socio-semiotic attack on Indigenous and non-western communities has also resulted in empowering exploitative and disrespectful governments in many parts of the colonized world. The problem with modern day democracies are many, one of the most crucial ones is its placement of human interests over all others. This can be seen in the very way in which democracies operate based on one-human (conditions apply, e.g. age): one-vote. Those who win (let’s not critique the election process and procedures) create policies that influence not just humans but all other life forms on the planet. Western democracy, as opposed to Indigenous ways of governing, do not embed understandings of and respect for environment and other life forms.

Many of the traditions and beliefs that western sciences ridicule(d) and made fun of as being primitive and backwards were those that showed how Indigenous and non-western cultures made sense of their environment and contexts, serving their own purposes. The push for western-style democracies – as the only acceptable form of governance by the colonizers – and western-style sciences – as the only acceptable form of knowledge making by the colonizers – are two socio-semiotic weapons used by the colonizers to maintain control of their colonies.

The very notion of ‘country’ as a sovereign political state is a creation of the colonizers. Countries did not exist in the way we see them today in the pre-colonial era. A study of the shifts of the meaning of the word ‘country’ can reveal how the etymology of this word is related to changes in the geo-political landscape, and the emergence of new “post-colonial” countries.

The forms of government in pre-colonial era allowed for much greater human independence, diversity, and heterogeneity to exist – especially in areas far from cities and larger towns. In comparison, modern countries, shaped by non-Indigenous ways of governance, attempt to administer and dominate Indigenous communities and peoples by forcing them to assimilate and accept the government’s (dominant) views, even if these views and beliefs are not based on any particular reference to the local people, climate, environment or other beings.

The use of human demographics as the only criteria for assigning the number of representatives in government in modern democracies implies that human interests are the basis of political representation. This, in Indigenous ways of governance, would be frowned upon as disrespectful of other living beings and the environment.

English, one language of colonization – the language that I was educated in and taught to write in, is particularly discriminatory to non-human life forms. For example, Urdu, my mother tongue – along with many other languages from around the world, assign gender to everything. Its grammatical system does not distinguish between human and non-human things (including non-animate entities): everything is assigned a gender. This can be seen as one aspect of a system of personification, where non-humans are assigned human characteristics. By assigning things human characteristics, they are considered living – and, hence, respected within the grammar. English does not do this. In fact, the pronominal system of English does the opposite: it assigns two pronouns (he and she) to humans and one (it) generic pronoun to refer to anything non-human (including other animates). This system of identification and discrimination in English allows humans to be treated in special ways, with little regard of everything else. This allows colonization of other peoples, because they are seen as less than human. The idea of savages, bush/jungle people, primitive are all discourse strategies of creating ‘others’ within human populations and dehumanizing them. Once dehumanized, they become fuel for ‘civilizing’ or ‘developing’ these people. To do this, western socio-semiotics are given as examples and models of what other people and countries should try to imitate. This discourse builds influence and power through which the colonial world continues to prosper, at the cost of the colonized.

The goals of the colonizers are aided by use of particular languages and genres. Through language and education, certain values, beliefs, and ways of thinking are promoted while others hidden or villainized. Language and education, in addition to other tools, enable discourses that promote certain ways of thinking and acting as opposed to others. This creates barriers against Indigenous and dis-empowered people, who do not find their own voices reflected or welcomed in discourses of nationalism or globalization (other than for marketing and ceremonies).

One example of this can be seen in academia. The top ranked journals are written in English and are considered authoritative and credible. Other forms of publication are ranked less and are considered less trust-worthy. This ranking system in academia influences how policies are shaped across the world – in order to improve university rankings. These top ranked journals have relatively narrow ways of doing and writing research, which are described and regulated by genre and disciplinary specialists. These specialists tend to be all either based in or trained in universities in colonizing countries (including myself). Ranking systems as well as our organizational structures in education are designed to regulate what kind of work is done and recognized by the universities. Since our universities desire ranking (another symbol of success, like money), our academia spends time writing papers, which is a frustrating and expensive endeavor for many scholars in the colonized world. Instead of spending countless hours writing research papers, which are often read by a handful of people (if that), our academia can spend that time creating and doing things – the results of which are visible in their communities.

People in academia in the colonized world are just as hard working – if not harder working – than those in the colonizing world. However, while academia in the colonizing world contributes to the development of their own communities, the academia in the colonized world mostly fails to do so. One key reason for this is that our socio-semiotics are colonized: our ways of knowing and doing are colonized. Instead of considering how the grammars of our own languages and communities operate and enable respect and diversity, our academia is colonized. Our communities will find it difficult for things to change unless we have decolonized our institutions of knowledge building.

We need to carry out an independent audit of our educational systems and curricula (including research) to evaluate the impact of colonization; and, at the same time, actively create alternative pathways that enable local, Indigenous, and diverse ways of being, knowing and doing.

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