On 12 March 2015, you inaugurated the “Unmapping the Renaissance” Symposium in Florence, tracing a line between global linear thinking to the multipolar world order. Shall we start from point A, and talk about what is linear global thinking?
German legal scholar, political theorist and philosopher Carl Schmitt, at some point connected with the Nazi party, published a fundamental book in 1952 (some versions said 1950). Whether one or the other date is correct, I leave to academics. What is relevant is that the book was published after the end of WWII and the fall of Hitler. Schmitt was Catholic, and for that reason was also connected with Spain and was able to know and feel the extreme relevance of the sixteenth century in the making of what I describe as the modern/colonial world–which is another name for what is officially described as Western Civilization. As a legal scholar, he understood how important the historical foundation of International Law was at that point. Before 1500, there was no such thing as international law. In the Roman-Latin tradition, there was divine law, natural law and human law. But international law was unknown. It was not necessary. International law emerged with the necessity to justify the possession and expropriation of land after Spaniards landed in territories unknown to them that they first called the New World and Indias Occidentales.
Global linear thinking was and still is the politicization of spatial orders through legal argumentation. European hegemony began to appear on the map because maps, lines of demarcation, and global knowledge systems were crafted in the image and the benefit of European civilization, which Schmitt clearly recognized and stated. This is the birth of the unipolar world. We are now at the moment of the re-emergence, the resurgence, the re-creation of all that was dumped beyond the lines. That is, the re-emergence of the non-European world, which includes the growing presence of immigrants in Europe and the US.
The School of Salamanca lead by Francisco de Vitoria in mid sixteenth-century Spain, Hugo Grotius in Holland at the beginning of the seventeenth century, and John Locke in late seventeenth-century England were the architects of international law, global linear thinking and the foundation of inter-state relations. What international law did was to legalize the partition of the earth and divide the planet between the emerging Western European imperial states (Spain, Portugal, Holland, France, England). Schmitt described the processes enabled by international law as global linear thinking. But what is meant by that is that European actors and institutions began a process of dividing the planet for their own benefit. Global linear thinking was the instrument of the Eurocentric partition of the world. From there, I derive that global linear thinking allowed for the constitution of Western Civilization (an idea that was not there before the Renaissance and obviously an entity that was not there either), the historical foundation of Western imperialism. The conditions were created to support the fictional idea of modernity as justification of Western expansion and therefore coloniality, the darker side of Western modernity.
Now fast-forward to 1884 and the Berlin Conference and do a Google search of “Africa, map, 1900.” What you will find is that Africa was by 1900 under the control of European imperial states in its entirety. That is, global linear thinking has not ceased since the sixteenth century. There were internal conflicts nonetheless. When the US entered into the game of global linear thinking, it came up with the idea of the Western Hemisphere. That is, the motto was “America for the Americans,” not for Europeans. By America, they mean the US. The foundation of the Soviet Union introduced another internal conflict within Western rules of the game. Global linear thinking politically, economically and geographically divided the planet between liberal and socialist/communist states. WWII was the explosion of such conflicts within both Western civilization (Europe and the US) and countries lying beyond this realm (Soviet Union), run according to Western civilization ideals, i.e. socialism.
In terms of linearity and multipolarity, also in view of the current proliferation of borders that have become an existential dimension of delay, what are the relations or frictions between the remapping of space and the remapping of time?
It is necessary to decolonize Western concepts of time and space in order to liberate the sensing of all living organisms that have been caged, deformed and colonized by Western concepts of time and space.
Time is not an entity, although we have become used to treating it as if it were. And that is the problem. Time accomplishes two main functions. It is a device of time reckoning, and serves to identify and date changes and repetition. Now, let us start with the basics: time is a human concept that is projected on what humans identify as nature outside of ourselves. Here is a short story told by biologists and reproduced in Anthony Aveni’s The Empire of Time: Calendars, Clocks, and Cultures (1989, 18) that I retold in my essay Coloniality at Large: Time and the Colonial Difference (i) that summarizes what I am trying to say:
In the early 1950s, biologists pulled about a dozen oysters from the New Haven harbor and shipped them to Northwestern University in Illinois, about 1,000 miles away from New Haven and in a different time zone, one hour earlier. The oysters were submerged in their original harbor water and kept in total darkness. To explore their feeding patterns, the researchers tied fine threads to the shells that could activate recording pens every time the oysters’ muscular movements caused the hinged shells to part or to close. Just as expected, the oysters continued to open and shut their shells as if they were still snug at the bottom of their home harbor, even though they had been displaced to another time zone, more than 1,000 miles to the west. Then, after about two weeks, something strange happened. Gradually the hour of maximal opening of the shells began to shift. Now, anyone who lives near the shore knows that the high- and low-water marks also shift gradually from day to day. Tides are synchronized not with the place of the sun in the sky; rather it is the moon’s schedule of appearance that matters, and the moon runs about 50 minutes behind the sun cycle. However, the biologists in Illinois were witnessing a daily shifting that did not corresponded to the one in New Haven. After four weeks of recording and analyzing the data, the biologists determined beyond any doubt that the oysters had restabilized the rhythmic opening and closing of their shells to the tidal cycle that would occur in Evanston, Illinois, if there were an ocean in that location.
And I continue this quotation with the following observations, summarized from my article quoted above. The biologists were using the category of time and space in their experiment. The oysters were not. The oysters did not know about time, but apparently they knew quite a bit about the cycles of the moon. Their living organisms were not patterned, so to speak, after an internalized time, though, as time is not an existing entity but a human concept to organize repetitions and transformations. First, the repetitions and transformations of our biological body and the bodies of and in nature: equinoxes, solstices, sun rise and sun set, birth and death, menstrual cycles, moments of harvest and moments of storage, etc. etc. Repetitions and transformations in the life of the cosmos seem to be a useful descriptive metaphor at this point. And it may not be out of place to surmise that living organisms self-identified as human beings have a biological sense of cosmic repetitions and transformations. However, once the categories of time and space are introduced and inscribed in our mind, our body feels time and loses track of the universe that inhabits our bodies, and our bodies are an invisible particle in the life of the universe. Sure, a CEO or equivalent could say: this does not help economic development, technological advancement to conquer time. And that person will think without saying it: colonize (probably this person will say subjugate) people. This means that once the categories of time and space we introduced to organize and describe transformations and repetitions not only in the patterns of the oysters but also in the memory of human beings, the organization itself takes on a life of its own. Whether or not human beings are somehow patterned like oysters, the experience of cosmic changes and repetitions has been increasingly repressed by the very artifice built around concepts such as time and space.
We can make a distinction between—on the one hand—the cosmic and biological way of experiencing repetitions and transformations, like that of the oysters and each of our own bodies, and - on the other hand – the concepts and numbers used to keep track of repetitions and transformations, like the biologists observing the bodies of the oysters but not their own. Time is a category of reckoning, not a category of experiencing. It is a category attributed to culture not to nature. In fact, in the second phase of modernity (the eighteenth century), it became a crucial concept to distinguish culture from nature. Time was a crucial epistemic category to map the ontology of the world by means of colonial difference: a) the distinction between nature and culture was nailed down and b) the distinction between traditions and modernity solidified. All these concepts are in the heads of biologists, philosophers, scientists and the like, not in the ontology of the world. The world, including our bodies, continues to live its own life. We cannot prevent our own death with all these distinctions, which means that the universe does not care much about our concepts. But I do not have time and space here to go into elaboration of the complicities in our minds (not in the ontology of the world) between culture, time, space and modernity.
But let us leave the domain of the universe (the oysters, our own bodies) and the beautiful vegetation that surrounds us in this villa in Firenze now that spring is approaching and life is rejuvenating itself, with our bodies being part of the rejuvenation. We sense the coming of the spring and seasonal change; we do not just reckon it on the calendar. Let us concentrate our speculations on a monument of culture, such as the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi. This is a monumental monument, to be redundant, of culture that makes us forget nature to the point that walking through the magnificent gardens one may have the sensation of walking through a monument rather that walking in nature like walking in a forest on a mountain trail. Time and space here acquire another dimension. Imagine the Palazzo was built by a legion of oysters. If that were the case, we would forget how the oysters experience repetitions and transformations here or there, and will concentrate on the building culture and forget about living nature.
Now going back to your question. Remapping space today has to go through state confrontations. Take the example of Ukraine, and just leave aside the history of Europeans appropriating the space of the planet, dividing it and distributing it among themselves. Carl Schmitt did a superb job in describing the process of global linear thinking and international law that allowed Europe to legalize, and after Europe, people of European descent in the Americas (South and North) to do the same. By doing so, time was associated with progress and then with development, and the existing civilizations (Mayas, Aztecs, Iroquois, Incas) disposed of their own ways of distances, directions (what Europeans called space), repetitions and transformations (what the European called time). More so, from the eighteenth century on, in European cosmology and its domain of influence, time is privileged over space, contrary to the cosmology of the civilizations of Anahuac and Tawantinsuyu and their continuity what today are identified as Pueblos Originarios.
A recent dissertation by Daniel Astorga Poblete begins with this sentence: “The Aztecs do not have space.” (ii) The provocative sentence frames the argument of the dissertation. If you want to correlate, not to compare, the Náhuatl word tlacahutli, it names a complex conceptual and symbolic configuration in which at one level, the point where the sunrise is related a given colour, the point where the sun sets another colour, the point to the right and the left from where the sun rises also have their own distinctive color. And there is a center of this organization. The center is the center of the flat configuration I just described, but also is the point where the line that connects the above and the below crosses the flat surface were plants, and animals, and humans live. Furthermore, the center is the center of a process of building the world in four stages, and the fifth, the First Sun, is the sun under which life on is constantly being regenerated.
Now, I could have said this in a simpler way. For example, tlacahutli refers to the four directions in which space is organized horizontally. But there is also a vertical organization of space that connects the above with the underworld; the world where the moon, the sun and the stars circulate when it is dark on the surface and above. But also, the center is the present of time, the Fifth Sun, and it is the present sun that was created after the first Four Suns did not satisfy the deities that created the universe. The question is that Christians and then secular European philosophers like Kant believed that space and time was for them universal and therefore they proceeded to demonize or ignore concepts like tlacahutli as well as the experiences lived around these concepts. But if I say it like that, the reader may continue to dismiss tlacahutli and sit comfortably believing that time and space are universal.
This is one small example of the work needed to decolonize time and space, which means changing our belief that time is the universal line of universal history that leads to its center, Europe, as we have in Hegel’s common sense and after him.
I am interested in the fictionality of the historical narratives of colonization and imperialism. What about the most recent narrative of space conquest? Can we trace a similarity with the cosmological conquest of colonizers in the XV-XVI centuries?
Yes we can, and we should. It is the same logic that underlines the formation and expansion of Western civilization and imperialism. But today it is being contested; global linear thinking can no longer be controlled by the West. China, India, Indonesia, Turkey, and the other BRICS member countries are disputing the control of coloniality of power. I describe this phenomenon as de-westernization. And therefore, at the cosmological level, Confucianism has become a force not only to stop Western cosmological fictions, but it is advancing in many countries. Territories are being disputed, Indigenous People in the Americas inhabit Abya Yala, which is today symbolic but it is a symbol that legitimizes their fight to recover the land of which they have been robbed.
Michel-Rolph Trouillot, a Haitian anthropologist who unfortunately passed away too early, wrote among several key articles and books one that I always use at the beginning of my graduate seminars: “North Atlantic Universal: Analytic Fictions, 1492 – 1945.” (iii) I trace the theoretical history of the formation of the North Atlantic as a space of trade and knowledge, the fictions of Christianization, civilization, progress and development, all encompassed in the concept of modernity. Modernity is not an ontological moment of universal history, but a narrative fiction built by Western Christians first and then secular philosophers later, always in the same frame of mind and presuppositions.
In the sixteenth century, there was colonization of space but not of the mind. Indigenous cosmologies were made invisible by Christian cosmology, and later on by modern state secular ideology, but Christians and Secular philosophers did not colonize their minds. And we are seeing it today in the resurgence of Indigenous thinking, claims and organization. They are reclaiming the land, which is not private property for them, but where life and spirit resides. On the other hand, if we look at the situation today, land is being disputed. Western imperial states can no longer move and take. Look at what happened in Ukraine. The West never colonized the Russian or the Chinese mind, and that is what we are seeing today, the resurgence of state control of their own economy. That means knowledge, it means to know how the World Bank operates and to initiate a Chinese Bank that will avoid the imperial misgivings of the World Bank. Whether China Bank would do the same with foreign debt we have to wait and see. For the time being, it seems that it will operate on different premises, that is, on different knowledge and goals.
The fictional narrative of modernity, Christianization, civilizing mission, progress and development justified Western genocides from the early ones of Indigenous population and enslaved Africans, to the constant march to trace and extend the line (global linear thinking) that would ensure the territory conquered by Western imperial formation (Iberian, Italian, Dutch, French, English and German). That is indeed the West, the core and the second tiers of the European Union. Greece has the glory of being the fountain of Western civilization, and then vanishes to reappear as a colony of the European Union in 1982, I think. And now we know what happened and understand how fictions can be effective in supporting political, economic, religious, ideological, etc. moves. To build such fictions you need to control knowledge, for fictions are not ontology but epistemology, that is, are based on certain principles and beliefs that anchor your emotions and your arguments. The first moment of the fictional narrative of modernity happened during the Renaissance, in its double dimension: the re-naissance of Europeans in their own local history, supported up to 1500, by its own trajectories, the economic and the religious. We could refer to this as a primitive accumulation of meaning and money. Economically, as you know, Venice, Genoa and Florence were the powerful and growing city states. Merchants and bankers were all mainly looking South, to Fez, Timbuktu, Baghdad, the Silk Road, etc. None of them were looking West of themselves, as they were placed at the West of Jerusalem.
It was the primitive accumulation of meaning and money that made possible the launching of the ventures, religious and commercial, that opened up the Atlantic commercial circuits (North and South) and the conquest of space (by naming a continent America and appropriating its meaning), by destroying economic structures based on tributes and connected to the sacred by an economy of accumulation detached from the sacred and from humanity: transforming African human beings into commodities, and dismantling great civilizations and transforming Mayas, Incas and Aztecs (the main civilizations when Spanish arrived) into Indians and lesser human beings to be controlled, despised, and exploited. North Atlantic universal fictions sustained the arrogance of power of what would become Western civilizations. The Dutch, British and French built on the first steps of the Iberians, and, by the nineteenth century, Western Christians became Europeans, expanded through Africa and Asia, and reduced the Southern Europe to the will and power of the North.
Today universal Atlantic fictions fall in desuetude, as Proust would say. The non-European world is waking up and building their own fictions, which in this case are fictions of liberation for being at the level of politics and economy (like China or Russia or Indonesia) as well as the level of subjectivity (genders, sexuality, spirituality, esthetics/aesthesis). But no one can avoid what Western civilizations did, and there is no need to do so, for Western civilizations as many others before contributed to the history of humanity. But at the same time, it was an aberration. The aberration was the arrogance of power based on the belief that the world will be better if the entire world was Christian and liberal-capitalist and adopt the same values, memories and skin of Western Europe and Anglo US. Well, people around the world have their own memories and skin and there is no need to inhabit some strange one. These are the conditions of living in the borders, thinking and doing in the borders, which is a powerful feeling: the feeling of using what the West contributed in order to delink from it. These are the two contemporary trajectories of de-westernization and decoloniality. De-westernization is a state-led project, economically, politically and cultural (e.g., the Sharjah Biennial or the Museum of Asian Civilizations in Singapore). Decoloniality today is not a state project but of the growing global political society (e.g., the sector of society that is organizing itself following their own needs, beliefs, convictions) parallel to the state but not entering its spider web. This is not new, indigenous people and those of Afro-descent in the Americas did this from the very first moment, otherwise they would not have the force that continuity has given to their history. People of European descent in the Americas (Anglos and Latins), still control the state, but there is a growing presence in all the Americas of Indigenous and Afro re-surgence, re-emergence, re-existence. But there is no Medici in this re-mergence. It is the re-emergence of people pushed to the margins by global linear thinking. Going back to the current phenomena of remapping the world, is there any possible common field or any common vocabulary to initiate a discourse out of the Eurocentric logic? It is happening all over, in various spheres of life. It is not visible yet in French or Italian television or in The Guardian or the New York Times, but it is going on for sure.
Let me start with the most visible of the invisible. Sometimes it is visible but it is not seen because of the old habits of sensing and understanding the Eurocentered world order after 500 years of its making. But be attentive. When you see this kind of news, “Stampede to Join China Development Bank Stuns Even its Founder,” (iv) you may not relate this to moving away from Eurocentric logic because the vocabulary is still development and banks. But something drastic is happening here.
Eurocentrism built itself and its vocabulary upon economic accumulation that supported a political, military, artistic, epistemic hegemony that affected the sensing and subjectivity of people in Europe and in the non-European world. Well, that is changing. A word from this vocabulary is de-westernization, and this is what is going on here. China is not imitating Europe and they are not eager to be like Europeans and even less to celebrate and dance because now Eurocentrism is controlled by them. Eurocentrism was the westernization of the world, now we are in the process of de-westernizing the world through state politics supported by economic growth. If you prefer to keep believing that this is westernization and that, well, Eurocentrism will continue although in Chinese hands, you may be wrong.
Second, the vocabulary has been building up at least since the 1950s during the process of decolonization of Africa and Asia. In Paris and then in Algeria, Fanon was contributing to this new vocabulary. What happened is the process of building non-Eurocentric ways of sensing and thinking, of being and living, not celebrated by Feltrinelli or Maspero on CNN. What Fanon said in 1961 is alive and well, and it is growing. Europe was the center of the world and the present of time, Hegel told that narrative fiction. That is fading away. Europe will continue to be Europe, and that is wonderful. But the arrogance of being the center of all and the guiding light for humanity is rapidly dissipating. Here is Fanon, in the closing chapter of The Wretched of the Earth (1963): (v)
Europe undertook the leadership of the world with ardour, cynicism and violence. Look at how the shadow of her palaces stretches out ever farther! Every one of her movements has burst the bounds of space and thought. Europe has declined all humility and all modesty; but she has also set her face against all solicitude and all tenderness. She has only shown herself parsimonious and niggardly where men are concerned; it is only men that she has killed and devoured. So, my brothers, how is it that we do not understand that we have better things to do than to follow that same Europe? That same Europe where they were never done talking of Man, and where they never stopped proclaiming that they were only anxious for the welfare of Man: today we know with what sufferings humanity has paid for every one of their triumphs of the mind. Come, then, comrades, the European game has finally ended; we must find something different. We today can do everything, so long as we do not imitate Europe, so long as we are not obsessed by the desire to catch up with Europe.
Third, there was a debate in Al Jazeera a couple of years ago that is another indication of how things are moving in another direction, and that the de-sacralization of Europe and Eurocentrism is furiously under way. The debate in Al Jazeera started with an article by Hamid Dabashi responding to an article by Slavoy Zizek, titled Can non-Europeans think? (vi) Next month (May 2015), Hamid Dabashi, an Iranian thinker, will publish a book based on the debate in Al Jazeera with the same title. But the first chapter is titled Can Europeans Read? If you just check the table of contents and the blurb, you will see who is writing the blurb: not many who circulate in the corridors of European thoughts and philosophy. (vii) I wrote the preface for that book.
I can go on and on giving you examples of the powerful movements around the world, some in Europe and in the US, but in these two places this kind of work does not appear on the front lines. What European have to understand is that Europe cannot be the place where dismantling Eurocentrism can be done. But believe me, Middle Eastern, South African, Indonesian, Chinese, Bolivian, Argentinian, Uzbekistanis, Indians, etc. etc., do not need any more European thinkers to tell them/us how to think. This attitude is crucial, Eurocentrism is ending, but many Europeans are not yet aware.
Among the illegal political monsters created by the Eurocentric linear global thinking you mentioned is the Islamic State. Do you think that, speaking in terms of narratives, we are terrified by their fiction because we play by the same drama rules?
Let me say two words, for the readers, about the Islamic State, a monster created by Eurocentrism. The secular, modern, European and secular state is indeed a consequence of global linear thinking in Carl Schmitt’s conceptualization. Global linear thinking operates in two directions. One is, as Schmitt has it, the International Law of the Jus Publicum Europaeum. And the other was the partition of Europe after Westphalia into a set of nation-states. The form of the nation-state was an idea and a need in Europe. On the one hand, it contributed to solve the problem of religious war. On the other hand, it legitimized the ascent of a new ethno-class, the bourgeoisie. And in third place, it was legalized through the League of Nations. At that point, the European nation-state form (for there were no nation-states in Asia and Africa at that point, and in the Americas the state began to emerge following the model and theories of European thinkers) became the national anchor of international relations and of the new era of European colonial expansion (the first was under the Church and the monarchic state).
When the state is legal, the state can commit legal crimes. At the time that the Islamic State was decapitating, one at a time, white and Western males, mounting the decapitation in a dramatic scenography and using the media to increase the impact of horror and terror, the State of Israel was killing, legally, thousands of Palestinians. Protests from Western statesmen and mainstream media were issued, but not with the horror they expressed when the victims were European or US citizens. The point here is between valuable and dispensable lives. What are considered valuable lives cause more consternation than what are considered dispensable lives. Now if you coupled these events with the legality or illegality of the State under which killing was executed, you have to consider also the materiality of the killing instruments: a knife in one case and the top-of the line army on the other. In one case, the victim was kneeling down with his hands tied behind his back. In the other case, the victims were thousands of free Palestinians (they were not kneeling down with the hands tied up), looking for shelter when they could. Racism played out in very complex ways in both scenarios, and it has to be understood by accepting that racism is ingrained in the subjectivity of racist distribution of the population, nationally or internationally. The racial classification of the world was created not by people who are racialized. Obviously, it was created by people who invented racism as a tool to devalue, control and when necessary eliminate undesirable people, given sectors of the population.
The Islamic State is illegal. But it is built on the idea of the state, the Western idea of the state with its own territoriality and sovereignty. The fact that it is illegal shall not stop at its condemnation. We should understand that the builders of the illegal state are people who felt or were marginalized by the legal state. On the other hand, they are not building a nation-state but a religious State, a Caliphate. The Caliphate-form and its derivations (like the Sultanate or the Shahanate—they were not empires, they did not have an emperor, like Rome, but a Sultan and a Shah), were dismantled by the Western nation-state form in the process of European global expansion. The logic seems to be very simple: if you do not have room to feel good in the world, you have two options: you surrender or you fight. And here you have another two options: you fight legally, like Russia and China, or illegally, like the Islamic State. Not understanding the logic that brought the Islamic State into being means to fight against windmills. But perhaps world leaders do not want to understand it and prefer to fight windmills. And let me add, to complete the picture—the Drug Cartel. The Drug Cartel is a monster created by Western capitalism. If you create a desire for money and know money gives you good room to maneuver, but you do not have access or chance to enjoy the benefits of being in the high spheres of the state, the corporations, the banks, or the army, and you are a creative and ambitious person, you do business with drugs instead of with money, like the banks for example.
It should be obvious that I am not justifying the Islamic State and the Drug Cartel. But there are always readers assuming that if you do not express horror for things like this, you are supporting it. For me the horror is why they exist and the fact that people who are horrified for their existence do not think that we are living in a social formation, a civilization, that created the conditions for the emergence of these horrors and that their horrors should not hide ours. The illegality of the Islamic State killings is not different from the legality of the State of Israel killings, and both are entrenched in the formation of nation-state in Europe and all its avatars. (viii) I understand that the type of reader I am imagining prefers not to understand that the two monsters are the consequences of modernity and Western civilization. If I talked about the darker side of the renaissance at the conference I also mentioned the darker side of Western modernity. And here we have two examples of today darker sides of modernity and postmodernity, consequences of the legacies of the renaissance.
The term “renaissance” is often used in relation with phenomena of social and cultural rebirth – let us take the example of the Harlem Renaissance many years ago – but against its “darker side”, what do you think could be a fairer metaphor to explain the rise of remapping subjects?
I think at the time the term Harlem Renaissance was used, it was used more in the sense of today’s notion of re-emergence, re-existence, re-surgence. Who are using these concepts and why? These concepts are being used precisely by different projects in different parts of the globe that were the victims of the European renaissance, the people located in the shadows of the darker side of the European renaissance. I imagine that if it took place today, the Harlem Renaissance would be named the Harlem Re-emergence.
I will give you two examples of what I mean. One example comes from the sphere of art and biennials, the other from the sphere of the political society organizations taking the lead on their own re-emergence from the repression of global linear thinking. Sharjah Biennial 11 has an interesting title: Re-emerge: Towards a New Cultural Cartography. I wrote an essay on the significance of this biennial and of the title. (ix) Basically, It was a biennial devoted to regain the dignity and presence of what has been repressed and blocked by the walls of global linear thinking: in this case, the non-Western European and US world. Out of 102 artists invited, two were from the US, twenty from Europe and eighty from Asia, Africa and Latin America. The other example comes from the First Nations, in Canada, both their socio-indigenous organizations and their organic intellectuals, to use Antonio Gramsci’s expression. Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, among other public intellectuals, prefers speaking of re-creation, resurgence and new emergence instead of seeking recognition. (x) What matters in all these cases and many others is that global linear thinking mapped the world not only geographically but racially, and racialization is not just of people but of regions (regions on the wrong side of the line) as well as religions, knowledges, languages, and all creativity that the concept of art and aesthetics colonized by disavowal.
Global linear thinking, Schmitt’s expression, is for us (the modernity/coloniality collective) one dimension of coloniality of power, or the colonial matrix of power. And it presupposes a locus of enunciation (institutions, actors, languages [both vernacular and professional]) that could enact and get away with the partition and appropriation of the planet. It means that between broadly speaking from 1500 to 2000, coloniality, and one of its tools, global linear thinking, presupposed a mono-polar locus of enunciation. To divide and appropriate the planet is not a physical operation, or not only physical. It needs above all to control both knowledge that legitimizes your acts of violence and appropriation and knowledge that convinces the population and friendly states that what you are doing is right.
And that worked well during the past five hundred years. The conflicts were, let us say, internal family feuds between Western imperial states mentioned above. Which means that coloniality of power and global linear thinking were founded, transformed and managed by these said imperial states. But things began to turn sour after WWI and above all since and after 2000. By 2000, two trajectories were already marching, interrelated but at the same time different. The first trajectory has its point of origination in the Bandung Conference of 1955. That conference planted the seeds of two trajectories: decolonization and de-westernization. It was a state-organized conference and the most heard word was decolonization. That was because the conference was organized at the inception of the struggles for decolonization in Africa and Asia, and at that time decolonization was a matter of the natives taking hold of the state and establishing their own governmental organizations. The conference was held in Indonesia, convoked by the first Indonesian President of Indonesia, and welcomed the representatives of twenty-nine countries, from Asia and Africa.
The Bandung Conference mutated into the Non-Aligned Movement, which arose in 1961. While the Bandung motto was “neither capitalism, nor communism,” and despite the fact that decolonization implies struggles against racism and affirmation of non-Western religions, the Non-Aligned Movement diminished the scope of the struggle to a political and economic confrontation with liberal capitalism and state communism. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Non-Aligned organization lost ground since there were no longer two contenders in relation to which it was necessary to claim non-alignment. But a different seed of the Bandung Conference began to sprout: the emergence of Singapore as a global financial center, toward the end of the 1960s and beginning of the 1970s; and the change of orientation in China — certainly not unrelated to Singapore — in the late seventies under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping. It is well known that Deng Xiaoping consulted with Lee Kwan Lew at the beginning of the change of direction that he imprinted in China.
Because this was a turn to capitalism, it looked to Western eyes that was a welcome turn around and that the Cold War was already ending before it ended. Unfortunately for the West, the Chinese government appropriated the economy of accumulation, created a significant middle class (consumerist for sure), and lifted millions of people out of the minimum level of poverty. Simultaneously, China increased the exploitation of labor to sustain its economic growth, polluted the environment of major cities to levels unknown before 1978 when in Beijing mostly everybody rode bicycles instead of driving cars, and asserted a well organized and rigid State management. These two apparently contradictory aspects are neither new nor contradictory. They are not new because this is how modernity/coloniality worked for 500 years—creating wellness for some and engaging in war, genocide, racism and exploitation of labor. However, neither Singapore nor China (both flourishing at the time neo-liberalism and the Washington Consensus were managing politics and economy) embraced neo-liberalism. And this is a crucial point: economic coloniality (capitalism in another vocabulary) that emerged under the arms of the Church from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, and was taken up by the European bourgeoisie in Europe where liberalism embraced openly economic coloniality (capitalism in another vocabulary). Since then capitalism and liberalism were governed by the political and economic sphere of coloniality of power.
What began to happen in Singapore and China was that capitalism traveled to the East but neo-liberalism (and of course liberalism) was left behind, they were not invited. This is one important mutation of coloniality of power: created, transformed and managed by the West, but no longer controlled by it. Singapore and China, and more recently, Russia and Turkey, and now Indonesia and Brazil are disputing the control of the colonial matrix of power. This is what I call de-westernization, meaning, basically: capitalism, yes; order, no, we do it our own way. For that reason in China it is already clear that Western ideas and ideals of democracy, which are the core of liberalism (and neo-liberalism uses it at the same time as violates it), are not going to prosper in China. Meaning that China is un-democratic by design? Of course not.
Democracy has two dimensions: democracy as end and democracy as means.
Democracy as an end means to work towards a just and equitable society. Democracy as a means implies at least two political parties and citizens voting to elect representatives. Well, Western ideals of democracy are not universal and not the only road toward creating a just and equitable society. So that the end shall not be democracy but a just and equitable society, and that end could be achieved by different means. And indeed there are already debates around the concept of Confucian constitutionalism and the prospect of harmony in China; debates around Ubuntu in Africa and debates on Suma Kawsay in South America. What do we have here? A multipolar world in the making not only economically (cfr., the BRICS countries) but also politically, as mentioned in the previous paragraph. The proliferation of borders had two outlets.
One was the making and transformations of the colonial matrix of power in the hands of Western power. The modern bourgeois and secular state, which by the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries displaced the monarchic and theological states in Europe, became a weapon of colonial expansion, both by exportation and by importation. In America, the end of monarchic imperialism in both North and South/Central America transformed existing Spanish viceroyalties in South and Central America into a hand full of new Republics. In Europe the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed, and many modern states emerged from its ruins. Shortly after, the Ottoman Sultanate collapsed, and many modern/colonial states emerged in the former Ottoman territory. When the Soviet Union collapsed, another set of new modern/colonial states emerged. Briefly, the history of linear global thinking is the history of international law and the formation of new territoriality.
But now the story is different since the colonial matrix is being disputed by de-westernization. That means that it is no longer Western imperial states that are partitioning the world for their convenience, sometimes in conformity with actors of former colonies (like the partition of India in India and Pakistan, Hindu and Muslim respectively), but now governments that have been drawn by imperial global linear thinking: just to list a few examples, the recuperation of Crimea by the Russian Federation and the dispute for the belonging of the so called Senkaku Islands in Japan, the Diaoyu in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Diaoyutai Islands in the Republic of China or Taiwan. Lines are being redrawn by the emergence of what we can call “illegal states” like the one inaugurated by ISIS. ISIS territoriality erases the lines that divide Iraq, Iran and Iraq, Iran and Syria.
(i) Walter Mignolo, Coloniality at Large: Time and the Colonial Difference, in Enchantments of Modernity: Empire, Nation, Globalization, ed. Saurabh Dube, Routledge, 2009, 67 – 96.
(ii) Daniel Astorga Poblete, La Colonización del Tlacauhtli y la Invención del Espacio en el México Colonial, PhD diss., Duke University, 2015.
(iii) Michel-Rolph Trouillot, North Atlantic Universals: Analytical Fictions, 1492 – 1945, South Atlantic Quarterly 101/4 (Fall 2002), 839-858.
(iv) Jane Perlez, Stampede to Join China’s Development Bank Stuns Even Its Founder, New York Times, April 2, 2015, accessed May 23, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/03/world/asia/china-asian-infrastructure-investment-bank.html?_r=0.
(v) Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Constance Farrington, Grove Press, 1963, original French published 1961.
(vi) Hamid Dabashi, Can non-Europeans think?, Al Jazeera, January 15, 2013, accessed May 23, 2016, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/01/2013114142638797542.html.
(vii) Hamid Dabashi, Can Non-Europeans Think?, Chicago: University of Chicago, distributed for Zed Books, 2015.
(viii) I explored some of these issues in my article Decolonizing the State. Zionism in the Colonial Horizon of Modernity, In Deconstructing the State. A Critique of Political Metaphysics, ed.s Michael Marder and Gianni Vattimo, Bloomsbury, London, 2013.
(ix) Walter Mignolo, Re:Emerging, Decentring and Delinking: Shifting the Geographies of Sensing, Believing, and Knowing, Ibraaz, May 8, 2013, accessed May 23, 2016, http://www.ibraaz.org/essays/59. Also see the official press release for the Sharjah Biennial 11, accessed
May 23, 2016, http://universes-in-universe.org/txt/2013/sharjah/13-02-20-SB11-press-release.pdf.
(x) Leanne Simpson, Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back: Stories of Nishnaabeg Re-Creation, Resurgence, and a New Emergence, Arbeiter Ring Publishing, 2011.