August 5th, 2009


Shouting from a Peak in Darien*

I needed yesterday in my multiplex game of life to check and see if any dialectical work had already been done - beyond the old saw about how "you can tell the [lived-for] others by their hunted looks" - in the field of sham openhandedness, phony gifting, to avoid any wheel-reinventions - not the simplest con-artist/backscratch-obligation type of fake charity, but the more complex permutations of specious altruism. So I searched for what came to me naturally as the first search term - "false generosity" - and found not anything exactly what I was thinking about (the simple falseness of giving for one's own satisfactions regardless of the recipient's lacks) nor anything I hadn't already encountered conceptually before in other forms and elsewhere, but a discovery nonetheless.

Like discovering in a college theo class that there was this person Dorothy Day, and how come we never heard about her in church or CCD or in any of our Catholic magazines? Or reading John Stuart Mill and having multiple serial dorje moments, I encountered for the first time that I am conscious of, the name of Paulo Freire.


Obviously his ideas are all around us, just as his ideas were part of that tradition going back to and through Tolstoy, but it's curious how obscure he is even among people committed to the same work.

Of course I know why I never heard of him in my old life - heretic! Liberation theologian! Recusant and rebel against the Divinely-Ordained Dominion of Plutocrat over Plebs! but I do wonder that I haven't run across invocations of him in Left Blogistan, particularly the Christian quarters.

Anyhow. Obviously there is a lot here to work through and I haven't had any time at all to more than glance at even his M.O., but I leave you all with handful of quotes that strike to the heart, as they struck me, of so much that we struggle with, and to express our struggles with, on so many levels, the intersectionality of everything, the abused who become abusers on personal as well as political levels, the kick-the-ladder-down-behind immigrant descendants no less than the son who deplores his father's abuse of mother and self, and then rationalizes his own abuse of wife and children, the rampant success of the PTB in hurling the little streets upon the less as we see in these sad efforts in the news to motivate poor white people to denounce any attempt to rectify our unjust healthcare system with pictures of brown "illegals" benefitting from the same improvements, the reasons we feel so uncomfortable with so much corporate "charity" and with much NGO work and yet have so much difficulty articulating, with Orwell's old paradox of the impossibility and necessity of the self-empowerment of the Proles --

From a book that is only a little older than I am, and to which I will not even attempt to add emphases in these excerpted passages:

Any attempt to “soften” the power of the oppressor in deference to the weakness of the oppressed almost always manifests itself in the form of false generosity; indeed, the attempt never goes beyond this. In order to have the continued opportunity to express their “generosity,” the oppressors must perpetuate injustice as well. An unjust social order is the permanent fount of this “generosity” which is nourished by death, despair, and poverty. That is why the dispensers of false generosity become desperate at the slightest threat to its source.

True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity. False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the “rejects of life” to extend their trembling hands. True generosity lies in striving so that these hands — whether of individuals or entire peoples — need be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work and, working, transform the world....

....But almost always, during the initial stage of the struggle, the oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors, or “sub-oppressors.” The very structure of their thought has been conditioned by the contradictions of the concrete, existential situation by which they were shaped. Their ideal is to be men; but for them, to be men is to be oppressors. This is their model of humanity. This phenomenon derives from the fact that the oppressed, at a certain moment of their existential experience, adopt an attitude of “adhesion” to the oppressor. Under these circumstances they cannot “consider” him sufficiently clearly to objectivize him — to discover him “outside” themselves. This does not necessarily mean that the oppressed are unaware that they are downtrodden. But their perception of themselves as oppressed is impaired by their submersion in the reality of oppression. At this level, their perception of themselves as opposites of the oppressor does not yet signify engagement in a struggle to overcome the contradiction; the one pole aspires not to liberation, but to identification with its opposite pole.

....The oppressed suffer from the duality which has established itself in their innermost being. They discover that without freedom they cannot exist authentically. Yet, although they desire authentic existence, they fear it. They are at one and the same time themselves and the oppressor whose consciousness they have internalized. The conflict lies in the choice between being wholly themselves or being divided; between ejecting the oppressor within or not ejecting them; between human solidarity or alienation; between following prescriptions or having choices; between being spectators or actors; between acting or having the illusion of acting through the action of the oppressors; between speaking out or being silent, castrated in their power to create and re-create, in their power to transform the world. This is the tragic dilemma of the oppressed which their education must take into account.

...Pedagogy which begins with the egoistic interests of the oppressors (an egoism cloaked in the false generosity of paternalism) and makes of the oppressed the objects of its humanitarianism, itself maintains and embodies oppression. It is an instrument of dehumanization. This is why, as we affirmed earlier, the pedagogy of the oppressed cannot be developed or practiced by the oppressor. It would be a contradiction in terms if the oppressors not only defended but actually implemented a liberating education.

...The same is true with respect to the individual oppressor as person. Discovering himself to be an oppressor may cause considerable anguish, but it does not necessarily lead to solidarity with the oppressed. Rationalizing his guilt through paternalistic treatment of the oppressed, all the while holding them fast in a position of dependence, will not do. Solidarity requires that one enter into the situation of those with whom one is in solidarity; it is a radical posture. If what characterizes the oppressed is their subordination to the consciousness of the master, as Hegel affirms, true solidarity with the oppressed means fighting at their side to transform the objective reality which has made them these “beings for another”.

.....The central problem is this: How can the oppressed, as divided, unauthentic beings, participate in developing the pedagogy of their liberation? Only as they discover themselves to be “hosts” of the oppressor can they contribute to the midwifery of their liberating pedagogy. As long as they live in the duality in which to be is to be like, and to be like is to be like the oppressor, this contribution is impossible. The pedagogy of the oppressed is an instrument for their critical discovery that both they and their oppressors are manifestations of dehumanization.

Liberation is thus a childbirth, and a painful one. The man or woman who emerges is a new person, viable only as the oppressor-oppressed contradiction is superseded by the humanization of all people. Or to put it another way the solution of this contradiction is born in the labor which brings into the world this new being: no longer oppressor nor longer oppressed, but human in the process of achieving freedom.

This solution cannot be achieved in idealistic terms....

--Go in peace.

*okay, taking considerable poetic geographical license...