A Call for the Desuperiorization of Philosophy and the Foundation of Superaltern Studies
Time & Location
About the Event
Western thought, most notably since the beginning of the Enlightenment, has been permeated by the sense that it is the standard-bearer of thought. With an unprecedented violence, Western philosophy asserted itself as the one right way to peace, prosperity and happiness for all human beings. Within the framework of philosophy, thousands of years of contributions beyond the so-called western traditions have been largely ignored. If we look closely at many of the important thinkers of the Enlightenment, such as Kant, Hegel or Voltaire, we find vile testimonies of racism or sexism, of, in a word: superiorisms. The superioristic thinking asserts itself above the other and makes itself decisive for the other. The superiorisms of the Enlightenment resulted in the fact that a multiplicity of human beings were and continue to be excluded from the project of the Enlightenment, even if this is rarely acknowledged explicitly. The persistent claim of the Enlightenment thinkers to address the needs of all human beings seems in sharp contradiction with, for instance, the exclusion of non-white people from the Enlightenment. It seems even until the present day it is not clear how this could happen. Therefore, we would like to address questions such as the following:
Did the thinkers of the Enlightenment manage to be humanists and racists at the same time? Or did they dehumanize those excluded from the Enlightenment so that the contradiction just dissolved? Are the values of the Enlightenment such as democracy, autonomy, freedom contaminated by the superiorism of some of their architects or not? Might this sense of superiority be an explanation for the fact that western thinking remains deeply convinced of its own rightness and for the on-going superiorism we see in our divided societies?
Those subjugated by the West and its philosophy have provided foundational works on their – alleged – subalternity. We find extensive work to decolonize philosophy from those who suffered from the – alleged – superiority of Western philosophy. We find extensive efforts to, as we would like to say, adseridate – derived from the Latin expression ad se redire, to come back to oneself – to make one’s thinking one’s own (and not the other’s) thinking again. But, to the disreputation of Western philosophy, we rarely ever find Western philosopher’s working on questions of their – alleged – superalternity. We need – parallel to the Subaltern Studies established in the late seventies – to establish Superaltern Studies. We need to find answers to the questions above. We need to understand the superiorism of Western thought. We need to understand it deeply to be able to identify and avoid it. We need to understand why Western thought and Western action so often brought exploitation and humiliation with it. The Enlightenment did not only introduce a new understanding of the value of the human being, it also introduced a new level of dehumanization. Philosophy did not only argue to treat all human beings humanely, it – implicitly and explicitly – worked at the same time on reducing the numbers of those who were human enough to be treated humanely. This seems to have been one the most important intellectual self-deception moves that enabled so many philosophers to be humanist and anti-humanist at the same time: to simply disregard the humanness of those mistreated. We have to ask:
How should we – in the West and elsewhere – not be affected by this past? Don’t we find the same degradation of exactly those who were not like those allegedly superior thinkers everywhere in the world today?
This mistreatment of women, of non-gender-specific people, of non-Western people, of black people and the mistreatment of so many non-human beings is ubiquitous in the world today. The outcome of the pervasive and unexamined conviction of superiority in Western thought – with its genesis or at least its new foundation produced in the Enlightenment, is a humanistic self-understanding which presumes its ethical rightness based on its selective rhetorical memory and, thus, is oblivious to its culpability in horrible actions, like the colonization of the African continent. Today, African thought is continuing the process of freeing itself from colonial usurpation, however, Western thought has never consciously released African thought. Western thought did not itself recognize its own injustice, and, even worse, it did not want to recognize this injustice as an injustice. It was the same thought that brought forth the idea of human rights and equality before the law and yet committed a genocide of continental proportions. It is of fundamental importance to find out:
How could (Western) philosophy and its protagonists fail so radically? And if they could, can we still?
It seems Western thought, to this day, has not sufficiently recognized its superioristic danger as the danger that it is! When considering contemporary contexts, this danger remains real. The foreign, the other, is stigmatized or re-stigmatized. Western thought remains dangerous. The West must finally take this seriously and critically evaluate its value as a normative authority. It would hardly be surprising if we indeed find that a lot of contemporary problems have grown forth from the pseudo-self-evident superiority of the white, heterosexual, male human being many of the Enlightenment thinkers tried so vigorously to defend by manipulating philosophy. The West needs to understand itself, needs to understand all the intricacies of its superiorism, its superalternity and finally start working on the Desuperiorization of its thought. We want to stimulate a discussion that Western thought must understand that its central task must be its Desuperiorization. Adseridation is the task of the violated people, Desuperiorization is the task of the violator. A world constituted in authentic postcolonial terms needs not only Adseridation of the violated, but Desuperiorization of the violator.