There is an artist named Molly Costello who drew this image. In their drawing, it shows a person uprooting flora from their bodies, with text written “uproot tendencies toward policing others that exist inside you”.
This, to me, was such a wonderful way of illustrating and understanding the process of unlearning — where we reach to the root of the harmful tendencies we have towards others and to yank it out. One of the greatest feminist thinkers, Angela Davis, once said that “radical simply means ‘grasping things at the root.’” What this means that, in order to create social change, we need to unlearn the oppressive and harmful tendencies that we have cultivated toward others, from our peers, our elders, our communities, and to grasp the root causes of those tendencies and discard it. We do not need these weeds of hate and domination.
In the previous blog post, I discuss the desire to dominate and how our social systems very specifically reward those who can rationalise and maintain their desire. This exists just about everywhere, and it adapts according to its social-political contexts. It exists in our homes — when the patriarchs of the family enact violence and sexualised violence against women, or when adults commit acts of sexual violence against children. It exists when a domestic worker is expected to take a lesser pay because they do not work too many hours per week. It exists when men are afforded a higher wage than women. It exists when people of so-called “lower castes” are given an incredibly low pay — with no prospects of social mobility — on the basis of their caste. It exists when we attack marginalised communities because they are structurally weak enough to scapegoat. These are the atrocities that are committed on the daily because there is a desire to dominate in order to create and maintain a higher position in society.
It is hard to demand those with power to give up on their power. Those in positions of power do not typically give up on their privileges for obvious reasons — they do not want to lose power. And yet, in order to bring about any form of social change, and if we happen to be people who walk the world with unearned privileges, it becomes our responsibility — our duty even — to unlearn and dismantle our desire to dominate, to relinquish our myths of entitlement, to reconnect and relearn empathic capacities and tendencies that have been made dull by a world that insists that exploitation and domination is good or better because another world is impossible. It becomes incumbent upon us to become accountable of the damages that we may have caused because we are acculturated to a social system that rewards domination.
There are a lot of discussions that are had about bringing about policy change in order to facilitate better conditions for social change — and I emphatically agree — but what if the driving force to enact social change comes from a place that refuses the myths of patriarchy and capitalism? When we create a praxis that rejects domination as a driving force, when we believe that this world cannot sustain itself by harming one another, that we must believe the capitalist patriarchal myth that we are destined to be combative when in reality, in times of environmental calamities for instance, people are predisposed to helping one another because we empathise with the grief and loss that others have faced and that combat and competition is simply unimportant and useless, we are able to create a moment in time when cooperation based on nurturance, sustenance and care is not just necessary for survival, but because we need this care.
Social change functions on the idea that there is hope beyond such grief and loss over human dignity. But in order to imagine and envision a world that is void of such inhumane atrocities, it is essential that we abandon, ostracise and actively stigmatise acts of domination — that the abuse of power is obscene and unwelcome — and that we uproot those very tendencies in ourselves by unlearning the thirst to be rewarded for harming others.