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The House That Modernity Built

The House That Modernity Built

  • Susana Cravo • Consultant & Founder of Kutsaca and the Platform

“Close your eyes. Imagine a crop of corn, husked. Does what you imagine look like this picture?”

The question was posed by Vanessa Andreotti, a university lecturer and researcher who is part of the transnational and interdisciplinary collective GTDF, and a reference point for me in the field of Global Citizenship Education, which I have already alluded to in my earlier articles.

After her opening question, almost everyone in the audience was surprised to see a photo of coloured maize, taken in Peru, because they had all imagined yellow maize.

This teacher uses the idea of yellow corn as an analogy for our (in)ability to imagine different coloured corn. It’s also a metaphor, which she often uses to address the way knowledge is disseminated and produced in education, telling a unique story of progress, development and the evolution of humanity.

In this single story, we all systemically see the “developed countries” associated with intelligence, benevolence, merit, honesty, cleanliness, leadership, and the “underdeveloped countries” associated with ignorance, violence, destruction, rubbish, disease and servitude.

I’ve already touched lightly on my perspective on the state of education as one of the most colonial systems I’ve experienced, both as a student and as a worker.

However, as I’m compiling and structuring the experiential learning of my last decade of life, I decided to make a brief foray into postgraduate education in Portugal, even after being warned by close friends about the risks of approving counter-narrative theses in traditional environments. I went through African Studies (developed mainly by non-Africans), lots of things in the area of intelligence and benevolence (Development Co-operation) and gave up when I found a master’s degree in “History of the Portuguese Empire”.

Vanessa Andreotti believes that our current global problems are not related to a lack of knowledge, but rather to a habit of being inherently violent

Focused on the coloured corn, I have already consciously chosen another way to bring to life everything that runs through my soul, veins and viscera, which, although it will bear my signature, will be a collective legacy.

Returning to unique history and how knowledge is produced, Vanessa Andreotti believes that our current global problems are not related to a lack of knowledge, but rather to an inherently violent habit of colonial modernity.

Four negations structure this habit of being: (and it’s worth remembering them, even though I’ve already brought them up here, because of their pertinence, both in this article and in the face of everything we’re experiencing)

The way knowledge is disseminated affects the way the world is conceived

1The denial of systemic violence and complicity in harm (the fact that our comforts, guarantees and pleasures are subsidised by expropriation and exploitation elsewhere);

2The denial of the planet’s limits (the fact that the planet cannot sustain exponential growth and consumption);

3 The denial of entanglement (our insistence on seeing ourselves as separate from each other and from the earth (and always from the good guys) rather than entangled in a wider living metabolism that is bio-intelligent; and

4The denial of the depth and magnitude of the problems we face: the tendencies:

a) To look for hope in simplistic solutions that make us feel and look good;

b) To turn away from difficult and painful work (for example, to focus on a “better future” as a way of escaping a reality that is perceived as unbearable. (“Gesturing Toward Decolonial Futures”, Vanessa Andreotti).

Another fundamental aspect that this Professor brings up is the profound change that has taken place in education over the last 30 years. Since 1993, with the opening of the World Wide Web, the emergence of multiple platforms, social networks and, now, in the presence of artificial intelligence, the main mission of education is no longer to “serve a meal” (carefully chosen content) and although there is an important role in curating the information that is made available, the main mission is to help process information, to digest the immense, diverse, diffuse (erroneous) and complex wealth of information that comes our way. That’s why the author suggests that we’ve stopped serving the meal and have moved on to a probiotic education.

Stories and metaphors have always accompanied me in all my training and group facilitation processes. We can’t go into the richness of each of these here, but we can point out two relevant aspects:

  • The first is their ability to grab (and/or not scare away) people, because it’s not about them, it’s about the corn, the thing, the others.
  • The second is precisely because we see ourselves portrayed in the story of the corn, the thing, the others.

In addition to the obvious capacity for synthesis, comprehension and integration (digestion).

The house of modernity that we have built is another metaphor used by this author, which I think it is crucial to illustrate with the original image from the same source (“Gesturing Towards Decolonial” Futures, Vanessa Andreotti), even though it is not subtitled in Portuguese.

This story has four parts and should be viewed from left to right:

The first part concerns a house that exceeds the limits of the planet. This house has its foundation based on the separation between humans and the planet, it believes that humans are superior to all other living beings and it is from these beliefs that hierarchies between species and cultures are generated. The walls of this house are the “nation-state” that protects capital and property and the “universal reason” that, by telling a single story, kills the others.

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The roof is global capital, which today is based on what the author calls “algorithmic speculative capitalism”, becoming autonomous and anonymous, making us lose track of responsibility.

The second part talks about the hidden costs of this house. Inside the house we have unsustainable growth and excessive consumption, which depends on the expropriation of resources, based on violence (which I’ve covered several times in other articles) and the disposal of waste derived from this excessive consumption.

The third part tells us about the “floors” of this house. We have the “north of the north” – people who have had a high income for a long time. Then there’s the “north of south” in the middle of the house – people who want to reach the “north of north” through social mobility. Then there’s “south of north” at the bottom of the house – people who don’t have access to social mobility, but want the security of this house. And finally we have the “south of the south” – people who live outside this house, but receive “the sewage” and die cyclically in the struggle for a different way of existing.

This third part also invites us to reflect on the false promise of a universal middle class, that not only are we getting further and further away, but that if it were possible and according to the standards that are lived in the north, we would need four planets.

In the last part of the story we have climate change, economic instability, cancellation of rights, precariousness and populism pressing on the roof, economic, social, political, ecological and health crises inside the house, and the planet mined with violent conflicts and mass migrations.

And the questions are:

Do we fix this house? Do we expand the house? Do we build another house? Do we live without a home? Do we look for other planets?

For this teacher, there are three types of answers that can be given:

  • The light reform – which envisages minor repairs to the house, closing the doors and moving on, with the same kind of leadership, in favour of more modernity. Same questions, same answers.
  • The radical reform – we want to keep the house but open it up to more people, we want a different type of leadership and make bigger arrangements. Same questions, different answers.
  • Beyond reform – The house and modernity are not an option, given the violence they require and the limits of the planet. Here we want different questions and different answers.

Don’t rush to choose your answer. Stay, breathe and let the options inhabit you. There are probably different voices inside us, wanting different things. Identifying what each of our inner voices wants is a big step.

And I’ll end with this question: why is it still difficult to find “In-depth education” (Vanessa Andreotti) on these topics, in Portuguese, in such a diverse academic offer?


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