Epistemic Disobedience

(4) Our fourth and current focal point is centered in our efforts to identify and engage in the creation of a uniquely Latin American philosophy. In this context, there are two aspects that need to be considered as we move forward. The first aspect for us to consider involves an imaginary line of succession from Zea to Dussel and now to Castro- Gomez. The second aspect follows an imaginary line of succession from Bondy to Baró and now Mignolo.

(A) In our first aspect we can say that the focus of concern has been expressed with a focus on epistemology. This should not be taken to mean that the frameworks that were provided failed to be grounded in empirical facts. In this aspect we are provided with a radical exteriority with which to better understand the oppositional stance of Latin Americans with respect to colonial powers. In Zea we engage in the restoration of our historical memory and identity while in Dussel, we not only engage in this restoration, we are also provided with an epistemological method to de-struct the colonizer’s mechanisms of oppression while liberating Latin Americans from their colonialized thinking as well as having provided a narrative space outside of the colonializing mechanisms of oppression in the radical exteriority of the system of control itself.

Today we are concerned with two different points of interest and inquiry. The first point of interest seeks to arrive at an analytical conclusion regarding our epistemological ability to write from the radical exteriority of a system of colonial domination.  Stated differently, we do not begin our approach to writing Latin American philosophy from the exterior of the colonial system without a foundation. Instead, we must first begin our analysis  of  what  it  means  to  be  on  the  exterior  by  examining  our  perceptual understanding of the present (Foucault: 1992) to ensure that our existence, as we understand it, is not emanating from within the mechanisms of domination and control. The advantage of proceeding in this manner is that along the way we will learn of the inner workings of the system of domination and control. Once this is accomplished we may proceed to de-struct these mechanisms and gain our own voice with which to create our own Latin American philosophy.

In this sense, then, what Foucault seeks is to advance toward a “history of the present” that no longer departs from a normative model of “humanity” – that is,  from  a  particular  (modern)  idea  of  what  it  means  to  be  “human,” abstracted from the historical contingencies that gave rise to it. It is a matter, then, of examining the ontological status of the present, foregrounding precisely the historical contingencies and the strategies of power that configured its humanistic claims to universal validity. Foucault recognizes here a new form of approaching philosophically the problem of modernity in which, before discovering the “truth” of its inherent promises (freedom, equality,  fraternity),  what  is  sought  is  to  reveal  the  technologies  of domination that aided in its fabrication, as well as the different forms in which such a truth constitutes our contemporary subjectivity.

Santiago Castro-Gómez

To this point in our consideration of the colonized, we are able to reveal the manner  in  which  Latin  Americans  have  taken  an  oppositional  stance  towards  the colonizer through a radical exteriority. From our understanding of the mechanisms of domination and oppression and our own ontology of the present, we are better able to see the mechanisms of domination and oppression in their procedural functionality. While we do not question Foucault’s methodology for its stated purpose, we need not refocus our point  of  view  to  explicating  the  mechanisms  of  domination  and  control  to  better  understand how they have functioned to produce us. However, his project does seem to be well suited for reconsidering the Western European’s colonial line of reasoning.

We can certainly admit that knowledge of the mechanisms of domination are useful in the psychological decolonization process. As Paulo Freire once said, only the oppressed can liberate the oppressor (Freire: 1976). However, is this the mission of Latin American scholars? If we give consideration to Foucault’s approach, what will we gain for ourselves as Latin Americans? In following Foucault’s approach as suggested above, we would most certainly find an oppositional positioning of Latin Americans in relation to the colonial mechanisms of domination and control. Furthermore, we would also gain our own process with which to de-struct the colonizer’s mechanisms of domination and control from an ontological perspective, while reconstructing our own historical memory and identity.

However, in giving further consideration to Foucault’s approach it occurs to me that  perhaps  we  should  be  more  concerned  with  Latin  America  rather  than  with refocusing our attention on the mechanisms of domination and control. Stated differently, we already have an oppositional stance towards the colonizer and we are able to de-struct their colonial mechanisms of domination and control as well as reconstruct our historical memory and identity. It would seem to me that discovering and explicating the “dispositifs” of the colonizer’s mechanisms of domination and control are more suited to the mission of contemporary anti-modernists efforts. Choosing Foucault’s exteriority over that  of  Dussel  is  completely  unnecessary,  especially  in  light  of  Dussel’s  use  of Heidegger’s notion of being in the world.

(B) Our second aspect of consideration, running from Bondy to Baró and now to Mignolo, we find that Heidegger’s notion of being in the world is more metaphysical in scope and nature. Here the referent of concern focuses on our own sense of identity in our radical exteriority. In this context, let us consider Walter Mignolo’s notion of epistemic disobedience.

Epistemic disobedience takes us to de-colonial options as a set of projects that have in common the effects experienced by all the inhabitants of the globe that were at the receiving end of global designs to colonize the economy (appropriation of land and natural resources) and  the  authority  (management  by  the  Monarch,  the  State  or  the Church) and police and military enforcement (coloniality of power,), to colonize knowledge’s (languages, categories of thoughts, beliefs systems, etc.) and beings (subjectivity). “De-linking” is then necessary because there is no way out of the coloniality of power within Western (from Greek and Latin) categories of thought. Consequently, de-linking implies epistemic disobedience rather than the constant sear for “newness”. Epistemic disobedience takes us to a different place, to a different “beginning” and, to spatial sites of struggles and building rather than to a new temporality within the same space.

Walter Mignolo

Mignolo takes as his focal point the Latin American’s own sense of being in the world. In this context, Mignolo makes the de-structive process clear enough for us to understand. The task of Latin American philosophy is to visualize our own sense of being in the world by engaging in the process of “De-Linking”. Here the process centers on our own colonial difference from that of the colonizer. The notion of our colonial difference is revealed in our engagement of epistemological disobedience. In other words, instead of engaging in a process of dismantling the mechanisms of domination and control to reveal how we came to be in our current predicament, we engage in a process of de-linking from such mechanisms that focuses on ourselves and our own sense of being in the world. In this way we are able to decolonialize ourselves while simultaneously dismantling the mechanisms of oppression.

The Latin Americans’ sense of being in the world focuses our consideration on the concrete everyday experiences of being in the world and in our own communities. In this context, Latin American scholars would no longer need to seek abstract epistemologies  such as Zea’s approach of examining our own historical evolution from our own perspective or Dussel’s de-structing of the mechanisms of domination and control, as part of the Latin American’s recuperating of their own historical memory or identity. Instead, everything follows from our understanding of the present in our radical exteriority. That is, our radical exteriority inherently places us in an oppositional position with respect to the conqueror and his mechanisms of oppression while critically assessing our own sense of being in the world.

The significance of our cumulative considerations to this point is that the amount of importance that is given to resolving issues of Western rationality is amazing. Our indigenous and mestizo ancestors possessed what Octavio Paz has described as a form of poetic consciousness, a consciousness that emanates from the spirit within (Paz:1973). Such a worldview is said to be our rightful heritage which has been imprinted in our blood.  If we suspend our colonialized understanding of rationality, that is, if we begin from the radical exteriority of Western epistemology, we could say things that do not concern themselves with Western intellectual rigor. For example, it has been said by someone, somewhere, that in the evolution of the colonizer’s intellectual maturation, it was necessary to go through a stage of development that focused on what they called the “social contract”. Are we, as Latin American descendants of our indigenous and mestizo heritage, now in a position to reclaim our own state of nature? Couldn’t we simply say that the colonizer has breached their social contract with us as Latin Americans and be done with it? Could we even claim ownership of every existing resource within our lands as our own? Who says I need to reveal to my own sense of being in the world, the implications of my posturing ourselves, as Latin Americans, in this manner? Yes, this is simply a make believe scenario that I am not advocating and yet, it does give pause for wondering what options the colonized has over the colonizer in today’s Globalization efforts.

We need to understand what Latin American scholars have been trying to accomplish. Western European consciousness contains the Modernist ideological mechanisms of a self perpetuating apparatus that leads to global expansion, colonial conquest and the domination of others that are not of Western European descent. The ideology, which is inherent in all social, political, economic and cultural institutions, which work in unison to control the ideas and behavior of all members that live under its system, can itself only be manipulated by sheer wealth. Western European descendants are given favorite status based on the ideological operations of the mechanisms themselves. Concomitantly, women and people of color are institutionally treated as second class citizens through the ideological operations of the mechanisms themselves. In other words, for example, anything stated by any political line of reasoning at any time will ultimately have no real impact on the institutions of domination and oppression that control the lives of its’ citizens. That is, in the end, the colonizer’s institutions will ensure and maintain control over the domination and oppression of Latin Americans.

Latin Americans have arisen from the slumber of the very history that has been written under the accepted structure of Modernist ideology. As Latin Americans, we have come to realize that the status quo’s history of our people and our land has been designed to ahistoricize our own consciousness, making us forget our own true history, our own identities and our own beliefs. If Latin Americans are to be their own people, on their own land, they must find a way to successfully oppose the colonizer’s mechanisms of domination and oppression and we must learn to speak with our own interests and identities in mind. This is in fact what our Latin American scholars have been trying to accomplish. In our current state of philosophical efforts it is appropriate to say that Latin American philosophers have indeed been able to realize their collective objective. The path beyond our current understanding is to refocus our efforts into developing a positive philosophy based on the needs of Latin Americans.