Healing superiority, individualism, and materialism

How many of our problems are rooted in flawed perception? How often do we mistake the surface for the depths and see separation when there is only ever interdependence?

“I think we all sense in our bones that there is a closer and more organic connection than we would comfortably like to admit to between the kinds of energies we humans pump into the atmosphere as the fruit of our moral actions and the tangible effects of this ‘imaginal pollution’ on the biosphere. We sense this, but we do not know why, for the traditional metaphysical maps are still based on outmoded science…”

Cynthia Bourgeault


As a former academic and student of literature, I understand that the stories we tell and the ways in which we tell them shape how we perceive and experience reality. As a trauma therapist, I know that the unconscious – including the implicit memories stored within us across generations – has a powerful influence over our thoughts and actions. At this moment in history, we are being challenged to see how the dominant narratives and our own unconscious conditioning have created and upheld a society that is not only radically unjust, but so founded in extractive violence that it is endangering life on this planet. There are many sites of change that need our attention if this is to shift – concrete action and policy changes are needed, but they are not sufficient. The institutions that shape every aspect of our society are made up of individuals; they are made up of you and me. And we need to understand how the stories we tell and embody, both explicitly and unconsciously, are part of the violence.

In part one of Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck’s documentary “Exterminate All the Brutes,” he includes a musical sequence from the 1949 movie On the Town. The song, “Prehistoric Man,” embodies how whiteness and civilization rely for their existence on the creation of brutish savages. The sequences in the video in which the white actors mimic indigenous and African peoples are slick with the superiority that is also a form of consumption: I need my version of you to exist so that I may know myself; I need to make you an object so that I may be a subject; I need to consume my version of you to go on existing.

To watch “Prehistoric Man” on Youtube, click here.

To read more about whiteness as cannibalism and indigenous scholar Jack Forbes’s concept of “wetiko disease,” click here.

When I watch this clip, I do so from my particular social location and as someone who did a long apprenticeship in patriarchal institutions. I have absorbed and practiced the superiority that dominant society offers me as a white cis-gendered heterosexual human, while also internalizing the inferiority it demands of me as a woman.

My healing from superiority and inferiority pulls me on different journeys to the same place, which is to the end of the dominant way of seeing that has shaped the history of “civilization” on this planet.

Because I am socialized as white, and numbed and disconnected by various forms of privilege, I am still unaware of many things and reliant on strengthening my capacity to listen to those beings who are rendered inferior by my distorted perception. When I am able to open to the means of perceiving that I have always been told are inferior (intuition, right brain, the soma, the imaginal realm, heart- and gut- vs. head-based perception), there is no shortage of information. It is not an accident that hundreds of bodies of indigenous children murdered in Canadian residential schools are being unearthed, or that the evidence of climate change is becoming impossible to ignore – the messages grow louder in proportion to our refusal to heed them.

To witness the healing of a man by an octopus: “My Octopus Teacher

To read about the possible use of quantum data by honeybees

To learn about the granting of human rights to Muteshekau-shipu River in Quebec

In his book Columbus and Other Cannibals, Jack Forbes is clear in identifying that the societies seen as “civilized” are suffering from wetiko disease or cannibal sickness, which is the consumption of beings. He is also clear that these societies, the ones currently running the globe, are fundamentally materialist.

Materialism – not only the tendency to highly value physical possessions but the philosophical doctrine that nothing exists except matter – is so ingrained in everything taught within the dominant society that it has hampered our ability to perceive the world accurately. Those most impacted by the distortions are typically the most able to see and describe them.

For a “gentle needling of the patriarchy” from a queer, neurologically atypical viewpoint, watch Hannah Gadsby’s “Douglas.

For a revelation of the American Dream from the point of view of a Black man: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

As much as there is urgency to attend to the problems that exist in the material realm – environmental crises, poverty, oppression – and the work to address these issues cannot cease, our solutions to these problems will not bring about the necessary shift if they remain grounded in distorted materialistic perception. We cannot come back to being at home on this planet if we continue to see Her (ki) as an object.

Robin Wall Kimmerer: “Nature Needs a New Pronoun

Within the logic and (English) language of materialism, in which almost every being has been rendered an object, it appears that what is required is a material exchange: what must happen is for the haves to give to the have-nots; for the wealthy to give to the poor; for men to grant equality to women; for humans to replant the forests and rescue the animals – there is urgency in finding effective ways to do this. But the terms of these exchanges and attempted solutions are still dictated by our flawed perception; they are still shaped by the diseased lens of the materialist who can only see the objects of his own creation.

If we (white) materialists are to learn anything, we must slow down long enough to hear the voices of those we have rendered objects – people of colour, women, trans, queer, disabled, animals, plants, rivers, insects and stones. This is not a quick process, and the messages we will receive are not the delivery of an easy Kumbaya. Before there is reconciliation there must be truth, and the truth is bloody and devastating.

In reality what those whom patriarchy, white supremacy, and other forms of superiority have rendered objects are communicating is stop feeding on us; your existence depends on rendering us into things; you cannot exist in your current form without killing and consuming us in this way; you must evolve or we will all die.

In the journey from internalized superiority back to spirit, there is a long way to go. It requires humility and repeated facing of the disconnection, disorientation, not-knowing, inertia, and fear that keep superiority and all its binaries in place. What is it like for a man to be vulnerable? For a capitalist to be unprofitable? For a white person to be uncivilized? For an atheist to kiss the ground? All these moves require practice; they require integrating the parts of ourselves we have rejected and projected, and re-membering and re-encountering the beings we have rendered into things. It is so much easier to maintain comfort and the status quo.

The journey from internalized inferiority looks different, and I have less access to it from my white body. The access to spirit (which is always already right here) is blocked by the internalized projections, and what is required is the refusal to take in and identify with the projection any further – I will not let you take from me – while also refusing to hate or become superior.

As Kimberly Jones says, whites are lucky Black people want justice, not revenge.

To heal ourselves we must find the oppressor, the materialist cannibal inside each of us, and the distorted vision that is blocking our capacity to be in and of this world. This is the internal work that will address the illness of the world on a deeper-than-material level; on the plane of energy, not matter. This is where epigenetics (western science’s name for our ancestors) operate, and it is where we are being called to attention. As long as we are looking only out there for the good works we must do to make right, or for the bad guy who is causing the harm, we are not addressing our own disconnection from spirit and from this place.

Sometimes this work for those healing from superiority is as unsatisfactory as naming that we have been caught taking again, we are numb, we do not know, we cannot (ever) feel spirit and in this moment there is nothing to “do.” Sometimes the work for those healing from inferiority is as unsatisfactory as saying you cannot even see that you are taking from me right now, but I can see it and I will not abandon myself or my people by joining you in your ignorance; I will not see myself as your object.

Those who have been carrying our shadows are handing them back and we need only receive them and bear the transition (and ego death) this brings. It is hard and sacred work; just as sacred for those receiving our projections back as for those beings refusing to be made objects any longer. We need to know this work as sacred because it is hard and deadly and our need for material solutions can impede it – privileging matter over spirit, doing over being. We need to hold this work within the knowing that mass extinction is possible and approaching, and that every being’s interdependent liberation is at stake.