DE-LINKING EPISTEMOLOGY FROM CAPITAL AND PLURI-VERSALITY – A CONVERSATION WITH WALTER MIGNOLO, part 1
Walter D. Mignolo (born in Argentina) is semiotician and professor at Duke University, USA, who has published extensively on semiotics and literary theory, and has worked on different aspects of the modern and colonial world, exploring concepts such as global coloniality, the geopolitics of knowledge, transmodernity and pluriversality (http://waltermignolo.com/).
Marina Gržinić: Prof. Mignolo, you suggest that one of the most important processes in liberating ourselves from the grip of neoliberal global capitalism is that of de-linking epistemology from capital. In order to do this, it is necessary to put epistemology under the systematic process of de-coloniality. I deeply agree with you on that point! Therefore, I would like to first ask what the relationship between de-colonization and de-coloniality is? And secondly, which way there is to push this important process of epistemological de-coloniality within the First capitalist World, where it is clear that Western Eurocentrism and Western American imperialism would rather kill than get rid of its male, white, universalist, rationalist foundations, which are intrinsically connected to colonialism?
Walter Mignolo: Let me start in the middle, with the distinction between decolonization and de-coloniality. Decolonization was the keyword during the Cold War, describing the struggles for liberation in Africa and Asia, mainly from the imperial control of France and England. At that moment, the US was vehemently for the liberation of the colonized people and silently fighting the takeover role that France and England occupied, in the global order, since the eighteenth century. But in order to answer the rest of the question, and build a frame of reference for the subsequent dialogue, I would like to start with a couple of points quite relevant to addressing most of your questions, starting from this, the first one. I will state them succinctly here, as succinctly as I can, and expand whenever and whatever is necessary throughout the rest of the questions. Allow me then to start with these two points:
a) How do we work? “We” refers to the collective project identified as modernity/coloniality/decoloniality. There is a core group of about 14, half of us more or less based in South America (Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Argentina and Mexico), and half of us based in the United States (originally from Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina, and Colombia), but working constantly and consistently with our colleagues in South America, including Brazil. The collective gathers people trained in different disciplines: philosophy, sociology, literature, history, anthropology, pedagogy (e.g., Paulo Freire’s school), political theory and religion. The collective is constituted by nodes of a network. That means that we are not organized as an “interdisciplinary team” that has an object of “study” and analyzes it from the perspective of different disciplines. Quite the contrary, what unites us is that we all accept, as our starting point, the concept of coloniality for short, or the colonial matrix of power (the longer version).
b) What are our assumptions, theoretical frame and vision? We (the collective of this project), start from a few basic assumptions:
There is no modernity without coloniality; coloniality is constitutive of modernity. Modernity is not a historical period, but it is a rhetoric grounded on the idea of salvation by the agents telling the story and placing themselves at the last moment of a global historical development and carrying the flag and the torch toward the bright future of humanity. The rhetoric of modernity has been, since its inception, the rhetoric of salvation: by conversion (Spanish and Portuguese mendicant orders), by civilizing missions (British and French agents); by development and modernization (US experts in economy and politics guiding the Third World towards the same standards as the First); and salvation through market democracy and consumerism. President George W. Bush addressed the nation a week or so after 9/11, and the message was: things are under control, go and consume safely. These four movements are not exclusive in the sense that once the second comes, the first goes away. Such a narrative would really be a modern-framed narrative, based on the idea of “novelty” (that started indeed with the idea of “the New World”). In our view (we, the aforementioned collective), the four movements co-exist today in diachronic contradictions. What is eliminated by the narratives of modernity (and post-modernity) is not its own past, but all knowledge and life-forms that have to be integrated, marginalized or destroyed, so the salvation mission of modernity can continue, like a juggernaut, to roll over the differences. In other words, the narrative of modernity constructs and invents differences in order to eliminate them or keep them under control (in multiculturalism). During the sixteenth and the seventeenth century, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French and British agents of the Church and the monarchy, officers of the state and men of letters were confronted with the marvels and difficulties of vast proportions of land, unimaginable riches by extraction (gold and silver) and by cultivation (sugar, tobacco, coffee, cotton) and the possibility of enslaving, selling and exploiting Africans. There were different interests in the five aforementioned countries, but for an ex-slave like Ottobah Cugoano (I will come back to this), there frankly, was not any difference between them. Ottobah Cugoano was de-linked in his narrative from the rules of the game established by the first imperial states to control the economy of the Atlantic (Spain and Portugal) and their followers (Holland, France and England). Let’s read a paragraph by Cugoano (Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil of Slavery, London, 1786): “The practice of kidnapping and stealing men was started by the Portuguese on the coast of Africa, and as they found the benefit of trading human beings for their own wicked purposes, they soon went on to commit greater depredation. The Spaniards followed their infamous example, and the African slave-trade was thought most advantageous for them, to enable themselves to live in houses and affluence by the cruel subjection and slavery of others. The French and English, and some other nations in Europe, as they founded settlements and colonies in the West Indies or in America, went on in the same manner, and joined hand in hand with the Portuguese and Spaniards to rob and pillage Africa, as well as to waste and desolate the inhabitants of the western continent. But the European depredators and pirates have not only robbed and pillaged the people of Africa themselves; but through their instigation, they have infested the inhabitants with some of the vilest combinations of fraudulent and treacherous villains, even among their own people; and have set up their forts and factories as reservoirs of public and abandoned thieves…etc.” Cugoano’s new history and political treatise was published ten years after the publication of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations (1776) and of the American Revolution. The “Bill of Rights” had already been written in England, after the Glorious Revolution (1688) and in the USA, Cugoano published his book three years before the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.” It was published a few years before the revolt in Haiti that would end in the Haitian revolution of enslaved and freed slaves, in 1804 and five or six years before Immanuel Kant defined equated “enlightenment” with “emancipation” by defining the former in terms of the latter: “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed nonage. Nonage is the inability to use one’s own understanding without another’s guidance.” Who speaks for Man? “Man” is not an essence in the world about which all “we” Men speak. Kant himself had a clear ranking of Man on the planet. Ottobah Cugoano was doing exactly what Kant preached a few years later, but Cugoano was Black, and for Kant, Blacks were not exactly members of the category “Man.” In section four of Observations on the Beautiful and the Sublime (1764), he stated, following Hume, that “The Negroes of Africa have by nature no feeling that rises above the trifling…still not a single one was ever found, who presented anything great in art or science or any other praise-worthy quality, even though among the White, some continually rise aloft from the lower rabble and through superior gifts, earn respect in the world.” Cugoano published his book, which was an-other history and a decolonial political treatise, before Kant defined “enlightenment” based on an ethno-class centrism geo-historically located in the “heart of Europe,” which according to Hegel, was formed by England, France and Germany. However, Cugoano was unthinkable. Kant believed that “So fundamental is the difference between these two races of man (White and Negro, additionally mine, WM), and it appears to be as great in regard to mental capacities as in color.”
Thus, modernity conceived in terms of a rhetoric of salvation, goes hand in hand justifying the logic of coloniality: control and appropriation of land, exploitation of labor, human lives converted into commodities; control of authority; control of gender and sexuality; control of knowledge and subjectivity. All spheres just mentioned are interrelated and integrated into the logic of domination and exploitation: the logic of coloniality. Modernity and coloniality are not part of a binary structure: they are two sides of the same coin. Together, they engender decolonial thinking and action. Cugoano is one example. There were others back in the sixteenth century. What holds the spheres of life and society, in which the logic of coloniality operates, is a locus of enunciation grounded in patriarchy and racism. The diagram of such relations is as follows:
The colonial matrix of power (CMP) is described in four interrelated domains in which the struggle for control, accommodation, resistance, re-existence, etc. takes place: the control of economy (labor, land, natural resources); the control of authority (government, army); the control of gender and sexuality (control of family life and reproduction of the species based on the Christian/bourgeois family) and the control of knowledge and subjectivity (epistemology, aesthesis). We further assume the colonial matrix of power was formed in the sixteenth century, within the process of Spanish and Portuguese control over the New World and later America. That is, the colonial matrix of power is not a cookie cutter that conquistadores and missionaries used to mold the New World with, but a complex structure, constantly in the making.
Three observations would be helpful to understand how we understand the CMP. First, once put in place in the Atlantic during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it was continued by the Dutch, British and French imperial expansion from the end of the eighteenth century to the period of decolonization after WWII. Although it is true that colonialism ended with twentieth century decolonization, coloniality was again re-framed by the leadership of the United States. How can we understand the invasion of Iraq if not as a reframing of the colonial matrix of power, in terms of control of authority, economy, gender and sexuality and knowledge and subjectivity? The entire rhetoric of modernity, development, democracy justifying the invasion, hides the dismantling of local forms of socio-economic organization, knowledge and subjectivity. Secondly, world history is not just the local history from Greece to Rome to the Europe of the sixteenth century to the United States, but the complex and conflictive co-existence of many other local histories that at different times were colonized by Euro-Atlantic imperialism (the Americas, India, Africa) or interfered with Russia (since Peter and Catherine); and again with the emergence of the Soviet Union in 1917; China (since 1848, since the Opium War) entangled Japan (since the Meiji Restoration in 1865). The colonial matrix of power remained as a matrix of control, domination and exploitation. Today, the situation is becoming more complex, because of the polycentric characteristic of global capitalism. I have described such co-existence structured by the colonial and imperial differences.1 Third, patriarchy and racism are placed at the center of the diagram because both constitute the epistemic foundation of Western epistemology (e.g., Greek, Latin and the six modern European and imperial languages). The material apparatus of enunciation was structured not only formally (as Emile Benveniste theorized it), but also geo- and body-politically. The epistemic agents were, and have been, male, Christian and European. Ottobah Cugoano, instead, was male but Black-African, captured in Africa, transported to the Caribbean, and then to England. Cugoano’s de-colonial move starts from the material conditions and experiences of someone who has been cast in the exteriority of the world. As you can see, I am being quite Marxist in this statement.
Patriarchy was already in place in the sixteenth century, and it was the structure of knowledge that justified the expulsion of the Moors and the Jews from the Iberian Peninsula and offered the epistemic foundation of the Renaissance University. Patriarchal foundations of knowledge invented the notion of “woman” and imposed it on societies in which such a concept did not exist. Of course, distinctions between male and female or sun and moon, were made and were basic for the organization of society, but “women” in Western Christianity and its secularization in the bourgeois family, was one dimension of the colonial matrix of power (e.g. a package of economic, political and ethical control and domination). Notice that slavery never stopped. The human being continues to be a commodity, like any other commodity (e.g., dispensable life), but are no longer Black Africans, but women from the ex-Second and Third World. The global trafficking of women, is not a trafficking of women from Norway, France, the US or Germany. Enslaved women are from Moldavia, the Ukraine, East and South Asia, Argentina, Russia and several other non-European locales.
My (and our) idea of de-linking is de-linking from the colonial matrix of power, of which the neo-liberal version of capitalism is one component, both in terms of time and space: in terms of time, neo-liberalism is the latest version we know of the history of imperial modernity/coloniality and capitalism as lifestyle, in which growth and accumulation takes precedence over humans and life in general. The distinctive and most pernicious feature of capitalism is this: making of life, human and life in general, dispensable. First comes economic benefit, reduction of cost, all kinds of “legal corruption” (as is well known in the pharmaceutical industry and in the uses and abuses of transgenics – e.g., Monsanto). De-linking from the colonial matrix of power implies a gigantic, collective and global diversity or pluri-versity – not like the global revolution of the proletarians or the global conversion to Christianity or Islam, but in a coordinate diversity of vision towards a society in which the goal is not living to work or living to consume, but instead, working to live and consuming to live. This is, in a nutshell, an orientation of life that President of Bolivia Evo Morales stated as “bien vivir” (living well) instead of “vivir mejor (que los otros)” [living better (than the others)]. De-linking from the colonial matrix of power is a subjective and theoretical operation, and it is hard, because it is not just economic transactions we are talking about, but the control of knowledge and subjectivity. The massive “cultural industry” is one example where control of knowledge and subjectivity go together. Look at what is going on now with the spectacular marketization of Frank Sinatra, like in that famous story by Bioy Casares, La invención de Morel, that Alain Resnais and Robbe-Grillet translated into a film (Last Year in Marienbad). Frank Sinatra appeared on stage at the recent Grammy Awards (2008), a good decade and a half after his death, singing as he did in the 1950s. Thus, de-linking is also the imagining of a world in which authority is not regulated and controlled by the hegemony of Western political theory. For example, the Zapatistas’s dictum, extracted from ancient indigenous knowledge (instead of Western knowledge, that is, the political theory from Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Leo Strauss, etc.) summarized in terms of “to govern, while simultaneously obeying,” instead of living in a world in which those who govern do not obey, and those governed do not govern. In a political theory, such as the one expressed by the Indigenous Zapatistas, there is no room “for the state of exception.” There is no sovereign in that political organization, who can decide on the state of exception. And of course it is hard. But in order to do it, it is necessary to have a de-colonial vision and conviction. De-linking from the imperial/colonial control of gender and sexuality (e.g., through the invention of the concept of “woman” and the Christian, and then of the liberal heterosexual normativity) implies envisioning a world in which gender distinction and sexual preferences are not determined by a moral code dictated by the truth of a transcendental behavior or by the needs of the market, but basically, by dignity and love not regulated by economic needs of capitalism and the concurrent collaboration of state institutions. The control and reproduction of a type of economy we describe as capitalism, is part of a larger cosmology that we (in the project of modernity/coloniality) describe as the colonial matrix of power. Feminists of all color, including white feminists, as well as queer theorists and activists, are hard at work in that sphere. De-linking, then, means de-linking from that matrix and engaging in a process of de-colonial thinking, whose historical origins can be found in the sixteenth century. In other words, the emergence of a regulatory structure – the colonial matrix of power – engendered by necessity, strives for de-colonial responses. Briefly stated, de-linking requires epistemic disobedience (http://subalternstudies.com/?p=193).
Now, to answer the heart of your question, I would say that capitalism is not just capital, but a complex structure that, among other things, controls subjectivities. De-linking begins from there, from being able to de-link from the life-form that capitalism promotes. Capitalism has become the most effective mode of conversion. Suppose three-quarters of the world’s population, coordinated by using new technologies (internet, cell phones) decides to consume to live rather than live to consume, and work to live instead of living to work. That would be a beginning. Imagine Bill and Linda Gates’ Foundation, with an endowment of $37 billion. The foundation is larger than the budget of Bolivia, and larger that many non-private institutions working on global health and other areas, such as agricultural development in Africa. What would you say? It is a noble cause – the foundation is helping many people. But of course, it maintains the non-questioned assumptions of a life-style, of global dimension, that promotes accumulation of wealth not just to exploit and expropriate, but to benefit. Of course, it requires a certain amount of intelligence to achieve what Bill Gates achieved. But the problem is not Bill Gates’ personal intelligence, but the society in which he grew up and was educated, and the vision such a society encouraged him with.
M. G.: How we understand the process of epistemic de-coloniality, depends not only on how we understand the colonial division, but even more so on where we stand on it. Therefore, can you conceptualize this colonial division further as well and explain what the difference would be in struggles against capital and coloniality by those coming from Europe (which is not one!), for example, being those with ex-socialist/communist European backgrounds, and the others, for example, coming from Latin America, being Zapatista peasants and part of the Zapatista struggle?
W. M.: Let’s start by “coming from Europe.” There is a persistent misunderstanding, perhaps due to what Portuguese sociologists describe as “lazy reason,” which remains in denial, with respect to the distinction between Europe and Eurocentrism. You are right, it is difficult to pin down what Europe is and who Europeans are. The same thing happens with any classification of people by continent. I am not interested in Europe, but in Eurocentrism. However, a few words about Europe are in order. The key point in your question is this “not only on how we understand the colonial division, but even more so on where we stand on it.” The colonial matrix of power and the particular kind of manage and control of economy that we refer to as “capitalist economy” has been – since the sixteenth century – one of the four legs of the CMP. The CMP is not an object to be studied by sociologists, anthropologists, economists, political scientists, historians, and bio-technologists in all the known varieties, nanotechnologists and the like. On the contrary, all the disciplines just mentioned are already embedded in the CMP. It is the CMP that created the conditions for their existence. Thus, it is necessary to shift the geography of reason and the ethics and politics of knowledge (e.g., geopolitics of knowledge in short) and work towards the de-coloniality of knowledge and being.
The de-colonial shift consists in de-linking from the hegemony of the epistemology of the zero-point (Santiago Castro-Gómez, Cultural Studies 21, 2-3, 2007) of Christian Theology (sixteenth-seventeenth centuries) and its secularization in philosophy and science from the eighteenth century on. The first step then, is epistemic de-linking, because while knowledge is controlled, as it is now, by the reproduction of the colonial matrix of power in the name of development – technological advancement and marvelous gadgets, the privilege of economic and military progress, the last and forthcoming “post” – we will remain within the colonial matrix, engaged in radical internal criticism (like Bartolomé de las Casas and Marx, for example), but still believing that there is only one game in town: the game we are in, and that there is no possibilities of de-linking. In other words, it would be impossible to think of getting out of the bubble of The Truman Show. The naturalized belief that has now spread around the world is that progress and development is good for all; the more you produce and the more people consume, the happier they – the consumer – are. Within that structure, those who are in it, live to work; live to consume. Success is the final horizon. In this sense, Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign became a paradigmatic case of this naturalized blindness: the more she advanced in the campaign, and the difficulties in getting ahead increased, it became more and more obvious that what she wants is to be president. The vision, and the concerns of why she wants to be president, was relegated to a second-place position. One wonders now, if she ever had another goal than just being president, just making it, because she was trained from the early days in her life, in her family, school and college, to succeed. Well, I am not promoting failure. I am just saying that a society whose subjects are encouraged to personal success and the accumulation of wealth and prestige is a sick society. Becoming the president became the ultimate success for her. A paradigmatic example of living to work and be successful, living to consume (commodities or institutional locus); she is the most dramatic example of a philosophy of life that consists – as Evo Morales often states – in living and doing better than the others, rather than in doing to live well with the others. I believe that in telling you this story in the way I am telling it, I am already in the process of de-linking, of moving away from The Truman Show bubble of modernity/coloniality. And, in the last analysis, the differences in how the CMP is confronted in relation to the place we occupy within it, start with the awareness implied in your very question. Very often, I have white, Anglo-students in my class who ask similar questions. My answer is that they are not guilty of being born into a high middle class family in the United States. And once they become aware of their location within the CMP of power, they have the choice to shift gears and join de-colonial thinking. Since there is a choice, there is not just politics but ethics involved. They, the students, have to understand that they are not students of color who have to join their way of thinking, as progressive as it may be, but the other way round.
M. G.: To put it differently, how do we develop an inter-epistemic field between those coming from the Western Eurocentric world, nevertheless aware of a proper colonial past and neocolonial present, that want to work with those on the other side of the colonial difference that had been colonized in the past?
W. M.: Pursuing the line of argument that is hinted at in my last paragraph, I would say that in principle, it is by taking the geo-politics of knowledge seriously, which goes hand in hand with de-colonizing knowledge and being. What do I mean by that? That de-colonial projects shall come, are coming, from the non-Euro-American world as well as from the articulation of immigrant consciousness within Europe and the US. See, the accumulation of money went hand in hand with the accumulation of meaning (e.g., knowledge): major banks, major stock markets, major museums and universities are in France, England, Germany, Spain, Italy, Portugal and the US. It is only recently that history has been moving toward a polycentric accumulation of money, although the control of meaning (e.g., knowledge) is still in the hands of Western (countries mentioned above) institutions. Our work (“we” scholars, intellectuals of all strands in the media and in the streets) as the dissenting and educated elite, is no longer only of white stock because “we” come in all imaginable colors: Indigenous of the Americas and Aborigines of New Zealand and Australia; Blacks in Africa, the Caribbean, the Andes and the United States (Kant would be surprised today); Brown Middle Eastern Muslims and Brown Latinos and Latinas in the United State, as well as Indians and Pakistanis; and also Whites from the Caucasus and Iran. And of course “we” are not only White and heterosexual males but of variegated colors and sexual preferences. That is, a variegated spectrum of subjectivities is what matters under the visible and metaphorical language of “the color of your skin” and “the composition of your blood” (in West Virginia one voter was quoted in a newspaper as saying that he will vote for McCain over Obama, because he wants a president of “American blood.” That is, geo-politics of knowledge goes hand in hand with body-politics of knowledge. How then, can “we” (all of us around the world, who in one way or another have been touched by the colonial wound, in Europe, the United States, Africa, Asia or Latin America) work together? Taking geo- and body-politics of knowledge seriously would be one way. That would mean abandoning the dream of a “new abstract universal,” which is good for everybody, although such an abstract universal is premised and conceived, based on the experience of “my community and interests.”
a) Since the sixteenth century and the modern/colonial foundation of racism, certain regions of the world, and people dwelling within it, were classified as “lesser.” Who was in the position to classify? Not Black Africans, American-Indians or Arabic Muslims. No, they were classified, but had no say in the classification. The classification, and success, was invented and implemented by Western Christian theologians, and later on, by secular philosophers and scientists. Thus, knowledge was cast as uni-versal, although it was created and enacted in one region (Western Christianity) and by a particular community of bodies (White Males publicly assuming the rightfulness of heterosexuality). They did not perform such classification as such, as white, heterosexual, Western Christians and males. They did it, because they believe in a uni-versal, non-located and disembodied truth. These men felt that they were just the mediators of a universal and transcendental way of living and being. Santiago Castro-Gómez (a member of the collective modernity/coloniality) has been describing such epistemology as “the hubris of the zero-point”: the knowledge of the observer who cannot be observed. Today, this principle is at work in all schools of management, for example: looking at the valley from above, seated on a rock on the mountain, planning how to manage the population below.
b) Geo- and body-politics of knowledge are key words in the vocabulary of de-colonial epistemology that operate in two directions: in one direction, they unveil the silenced geo- and body-politics of knowledge of Eurocentered (remember: Greek, Latin and six modern European imperial languages) modernity. Research had already been done disclosing the hidden geo- and body-politics in Martin Heidegger’s philosophy. His link with Nazism is already well known (body-politics), but the fact is that his philosophy was built under the presupposition of the centrality of Germany within the global centrality of Europe (cf. Charles Bambach’s Heidegger Roots, http://www.amazon.com/Heideggers-Roots-Nietzsche-National-Socialism/dp/0801472660). On the other hand, geo- and body-politics of knowledge affirm the right and the legitimacy of knowledge disqualified by the imperiality of Eurocentered epistemology as myth, folklore, native, traditional, non-sustainable, demonic, subversive, irrational, etc. “Oh, you are talking about situated knowledge” is a common response from post-modern colleagues. Sure, but situated knowledge in the colonial matrix of power. Border thinking and de-colonial projects shall emerge from the receiving end of Western expansion, as I suggested with the examples of Evo Morales and Sun-Yat Sen. Pluri-versality comes into being as far as connectors can be established and the hegemony of one of the nodes avoided. In a pluri-versal world there is no place for one hegemonic node. This is a problem with Ernesto Laclau’s empty signifier. Laclau still believes in the need for one hegemonic project, rather than in the hegemony of the connectors, thus avoiding the hegemony of one-and-only “abstract universal.” Pluri-versal hegemony lies within the connectors that link the global diversity of de-colonial projects.2
Once such principles are accepted, the question is what kind of de-colonial projects can emerge from colonial local histories: from Eastern and Central Europe (that is, the Europe at the margins of the imperial states, and with dense and diverse histories, languages, and religions); from colonial immigrants within Europe and the US and from European (in senso largo, including the Balkans and Eastern Europe) scholars and intellectuals who want to de-link from Eurocentered (senso stricto – Hegel’s heart of Europe) conception of life and knowledge and join the “ex-Third World crowd” and the mass of migrants from the ex-colonies to the heart of Europe and the US.
c) A more specific way to understand what I am trying to argue is to elaborate on the distinction between “objectivity without parentheses” and “objectivity within parentheses.” The distinction was introduced by Chilean neurophysiologist Humberto Maturana. Basically, the argument is the following: Objectivity without parentheses leads to an epistemology of obedience, to a closed political system open to be taken by totalitarian regimes, and to an economy in which increases of production and wealth, take priority over human lives and life in general. Inter-cultural dialogue or inter-epistemic dialogue between epistemologies, based on the premise of objectivity without parentheses is, on the one hand, limited within a given system, and on the other hand, could be deadly when agencies defending opposite objectivities without parentheses, confront each other. Dialogue becomes unsustainable. Objectivity within parentheses, on the other hand, opens up the doors for true inter-epistemic (and intercultural) dialogues. Its realization, however, had the difficult task of overcoming objectivity without parentheses. In a world where objectivity-in-parentheses is hegemonic, the observer accepts explanatory paths, political organization, economic philosophy that is secondary to life, human lives, as well as life in general. If the final horizon is the flourishing, creativity and well-being, and not the control of authority and the control of the economy, which are predicated as the primary ends to insure the flourishing of life, then objectivity in parentheses would be the necessary path to insure true inter-epistemic and intercultural dialogues. I quote Humberto Maturana: “There are two distinct attitudes, two paths of thinking and explaining. The first path I call objectivity without parentheses. It takes for granted the observer-independent existence of objects that – it is claimed – can be known; it believes in the possibility of an external validation of statements. Such a validation would lend authority an unconditional legitimacy to what is claimed and would, therefore, aim at subjection. It entails the negation of all those who are not prepared to agree with the “objective” facts. One does not have to listen or try to understand them. The fundamental emotion reigning here is powered by the authority of universally valid knowledge. One lives in the domain of mutually exclusive transcendental ontologies: each ontology supposedly grasps objective reality; what exists seems independent from one’s personality and one’s actions” (Maturana, 2004: 42). The other attitude is defined as objectivity in parentheses. In this attitude: “[…] the emotional basis is the enjoyment of the company of other human beings. The question of the observer is accepted fully, and every attempt is made to answer it. The distinction between objects and the experience of existence is, according to this path, not denied but the reference to objects is not the basis of explanations, it is the coherence of experiences with other experiences that constitutes the foundation of all explanation […] We have entered the domain of constitute ontologies: all Being is constituted through the Doing of observers. If we follow this path of explanation, we become aware that we can in no way claim to be in possession of the truth, but that there are numerous possible realities […] If we follow this path of explanation, we cannot demand the subjection of our fellow human beings, but will listen to them, seek cooperation and communication” (Maturana, 2004: 42; emphasis added by W. Mignolo).
It would take too long to explore the political and ethical consequences of a world in which objectivity and epistemology in parentheses would be hegemonic. But I could add that Maturana’s reflections from the sphere of sciences, states in a different vocabulary the Zapatistas’ dictum: a world in which many worlds would co-exist. The realization of that world, built upon intercultural dialogues, will require the hegemony of an epistemology in parentheses. Maturana has conceived it as “multi-verse,” the Zapatistas as “a world in which many worlds will co-exist.” In our project, modernity/coloniality, we talk about “pluri-versality as a uni-versal project.” No need to debate which one is the best, the correct, and the right one. Such a debate will place us squarely into the epistemology without parentheses where each of us wants “to win.” Notice also that “multi-verse” and “pluri-versality” are quite different from the idea of “pluralism” in the vocabulary of the liberal political theories critiqued by Carl Schmitt. And both concepts are quite different from Schmitt’s “pluri-verse,” which he conceives as a plurality of states. Both liberal political theory and Schmitt’s, are based on the paradigmatic example of modern-imperial societies (England, France, Germany), while Maturana’s multi-verse, our (the collective) “pluri-versality” and the Zapatistas, are based on the experiences of modern-colonial societies. The first takes the modern states as a model, the second, the colonial state. I suggest a thought experiment: take both, the pluralism of liberal political theory and “apply” it to Bolivia, and see what you get. And take Schmitt’s pluri-verse and “apply” it to Latin America and see what you get. The option is the de-colonial one: shift the geography of reason, think from the experiences of Bolivia and Latin America, and confront the regional and limited scope of liberal political pluralism and the Schmitt pluri-verse.
1 For instance, “Theorizing from the Borders; Shifting to Geo and Body-Politics of Knowledge,” http://est.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/9/2/205, 2006.
2 An extended argument on the topic can be found in Walter D. Mignolo and Madina Tlostanova, “Theorizing From the Borders; Shifting to the Geo- and Body-Politics of knowledge,” in European Journal of Social Theory, http://est.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/9/2/205.