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The following reflections come from my recent experience living with the Bhutanese community in Dallas/Forth Worth, TX for the 2.5 days (Nov. 24-26, 2016). Upon an invitation to speak as a guest about the philosophy of fearism and its implications for their diasporic community development, art and literature and general literary criticism in regard to the Oriental (East) and Occidental (West) complementarity and contestations, I immersed myself by living with some of the organizers and learned much that I wish to share in this blogpost of their good work and my interests therein. 

Their theme for the event this year was “Peace, Progress and Prosperity,” their 3rd time holding this yearly event called Grand International Creative Ceremony-III, in Forth Worth, co-sponsored by The Global Bhutanese Literary Organization (Dallas/Fort Worth) and Bhutanese Legacy Youth Club-Fort Worth. This conference is put on every two years.

            LARGER CONTEXT: POLITICAL CASCADE OF CRISES

All of us, the Bhutanese community living in the US diaspora, or whomever, are facing what blog writer Charles Einstein put so well in reflecting critically upon the post-2016 US election atmosphere:

Anything becomes possible with the collapse of dominant institutions. When the animating force behind these new ideas is hate or fear, all manner of fascistic and totalitarian nightmares can ensue, whether enacted by existing powers or those that arise in revolution against them.

That is why, as we enter a period of intensifying disorder, it is important to introduce a different kind of force to animate the structures that might appear after the old ones crumble. I would call it love if it weren’t for the risk of triggering your New Age bullshit detector, and besides, how does one practically bring love into the world in the realm of politics? So let’s start with empathy. Politically, empathy is akin to solidarity, born of the understanding that we are all in this together. In what together? For starters, we are in the uncertainty together.

We are exiting an old story that explained to us the way of the world and our place in it. Some may cling to it all the more desperately as it dissolves, looking perhaps to Donald Trump to restore it, but their savior has not the power to bring back the dead. Neither would Clinton have been able to preserve America as we’d known it for too much longer. We as a society are entering a space between stories, in which everything that had seemed so real, true, right, and permanent comes into doubt. For a while, segments of society have remained insulated from this breakdown (whether by fortune, talent, or privilege), living in a bubble as the containing economic and ecological systems deteriorate. But not for much longer. Not even the elites are immune to this doubt.[1]

Yes, we live in very challenging, if not dangerous times now and soon to come, especially as global warming extremes put enormous pressure on human survival. At the same time, this larger context of crises on planet earth is going to bring us all to better see that we are all on the ‘same boat’ and we can work together to help each other, or fight to try to dominate. No doubt there will be a bit of both tendencies, and yet, the great opportunity is before us to cooperate and operate beyond fear, domination and oppression. I do think our collective fear and uncertainty can be managed and transformed to create a much better world. We’ll see.

            FEARISM BACKGROUND: MEETING of EAST and WEST

A brief background before I offer some detailed reflections on this amazing experience I had with this American-based Bhutanese community:

(1) my first meeting online with Desh Subba in late 2014 has led to a collaboration, and this conference (creative ceremony) was planned (in part) so Desh and I could meet and present in person for the first time. Subba is a well-respected philosopher-writer from Nepal (now living in Hong Kong). He is currently touring the USA speaking to universities and various Nepalese groups on philosophy of fearism. He is the first to have coined the term “philosophy of fearism” as a new philosophy and wrote the first substantive text (Subba, 2014) outlining his approach to such a philosophy, where “fear” is given central conceptual and real importance as the major historical and evolutionary shaping force. His work on this topic came from a broad curiosity about the human condition and how we can help humanity move forward, with less suffering, to a better human potential.

(2) various communities in Nepal, Bhutan and especially N. E. India, have been picking up on Subba’s work and enriching it, especially the literary communities of these areas. It seems the arts in general are very open-minded to adding a new “ism” of thought in the 21st century to other isms that have been influential in shaping literature and art and have also grown out of art movements to some extent. Subba was positing that fearism, like other movements of philosophical thought (e.g., spiritualism, rationalism, existentialism, surrealism, idealism, etc.) has its place in history. These communities are, in some areas, at least beginning to explore how fearism may benefit the development of their nations, culture, communities, youth and the world.

(3) although Subba and I have communicated by email for two years, it was great to come together with the support of the Bhutanese diasporic community in Texas at this event. This allowed us to converse despite the language and cultural barriers (I am an English-only Westerner from Canada, living in the USA for the past 9 years). We gained a great deal from this time in Texas of which I’ll share some of our insights here. For those interested in our first writing collaboration see Philosophy of Fearism: A First East-West Dialogue (Fisher and Subba, 2016).

          GUEST: BHUTANESE STYLE

The Bhutanese at this event really know how to celebrate and treat people well. Before I return to that experience, let me say a few opening remarks of relevance to my being a “special guest” as it said in the letter of invitation I received on Sept., 17, 2016. I was addressed in the letter as “American Writer and Philosopher” and on the plague I received on the last day of the event as “a special guest and presenting on FEARISM, representing CANADA/USA.” So far in my career, being asked to present on my own work on the topic fear(ism) and fearlessness is extremely rare. I started this specialty of research and education in 1989, some 10 years before Subba began his work on fear(ism). I shared with the Bhutanese audience, in a dialogue format with Subba up on stage with me, that Westerners are heavily embedded, if not invested and addicted, to carrying on a fairly dysfunctional relationship with fear that is causing major local, national and global problems. They typically like to avoid talking about fear together as communities, societies, and as an Occidental civilization. At least, that is my experience. I’ve tried a long time to engage them. So, to be welcomed as a special guest to speak on the topic was overwhelmingly joyful and still is a surprise and bit of a shock.

However, I quickly learned that the Nepali-Bhutanese culture has a long tradition of treating the “guest, as god” as one young couple expressed to me in a half-joking way, but they really meant that, not literally, but sincerely. When these people meet each other for the first time in the day, or met with me, it was always “namaste” with hands palm-to-palm in front of their heart (namaste, more or less translated into English is ‘the divine in me greets and respects the divine in you’).[2] I felt highly valued and included from the beginning moment of my arrival at the airport. The young men in the car, who picked me up, treated me so graciously and respectfully and some said they had either read about my work on fearism or heard of me and the work and they felt very honored to be able to share time with me and my thoughts at this event. Again, like with Desh, despite the language and cultural barriers of communicating, what mattered most to me was the non-verbal communication of real action of caring for the other—in this case, the guest. I never forgot I was a welcomed and honored guest from beginning to end. I have never in my own country or in the Western world where I live and work, experienced anything remotely close to this respect and dignity of a people for each other, and for their guests. Although, I have noticed this is often the case in some Indigenous peoples’ communities as well that I have visited.

Because of this communicating at the deeper level of the “heart,” which several of them told me about as part of their tradition and culture, I never felt much of an alienated feeling being the ‘outsider’ (white person, English-speaking only). Truly, I will be thinking and reflecting on this experience for a very long time. The entire conference was held in the language of their own country of origin, Nepalese. I never expected what it would be like to immerse oneself in a community like this, where only minor bits of English translations were given for mostly my benefit. I respected that they honored their own language when they came together as a community. I was the guest, but in reality I was the visitor and observer too. It is not my community by geographic or cultural origin. Yet, by the last day of events, with various speakers and poetry readings, dance and singing, I noticed myself in a light semi-trance state, my heart-overflowing and emotions of empathy, sadness, and joy and respect flowing. I could have cried but I held back the tears. In the words of the Bhutanese poet, who was at the event, Narad Pokhrel a former refugee now living in the USA: “Tears drop, Tears flow; Tears remain within for long.”[3]

Again, I didn’t understand a word they said most of the time. It didn’t matter to me as a human being connecting authentically and spiritually with other human beings. Culture is not the most important thing for this greater connection in spirit. I did not feel greater or lesser than anyone. I felt a balance. I was in a mindset where mind no longer allowed divisions. I felt I was channeling much of their emotions and thoughts through me, cleansing me of my Western life experience and identity dysfunctions, privilege, and ignore-ance. I was being educating and I loved it. I sat. I sat. I sat. There were even moments I wanted to get up and dance with them.

        HEALTH & DEVELOPMENT THROUGH FEARISM

When I first talked with Denzome Sappang, the primary organizer and community leader of the Bhutanese in Dallas/Fort Worth, he was looking at what kind of accommodation could be provided for me. I mentioned that he need not bother with anything fancy, “I am a philosopher, and those things are of little matter. So, keep it simple. I don’t need much.” As it turned out, I stayed at the Bhutanese Community Center, a small half-sized unit at the same townhouse complex where Denzome and his family live. It is a lower-working class, multi-ethnic, gated community. I never learned the details of exactly what this housing complex was or who designed it but I had a sense it was for the more vulnerable and likely many were refugees. It was not the most well-managed environment and at times I wanted to go around and lure the children playing there to perhaps help to pick up the garbage litter.

The United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN Habitat) estimates that nearly one billion, or one-third, of urban dwellers in the world live in slums or near slum-like conditions or informal settlements or camps in 2007. I can imagine that rate is much higher since that survey especially with the ongoing waves of migration and refugees from war-torn and food-short environments around the world, often linked to global climate change and political instability. Housing adequacy and health environments are going to be a huge pressure humanity must face head-on in the coming decades to prevent escalating cascades of other problems, of which health issues is no. 1. I want to come back to this issue in regard to diasporic and vulnerable communities settling in North America, and especially in the USA recently and how a philosophy of fearism may play an important role.

In principle, I personally have always been against the trend of gated communities in North America especially. The main reason is because the rich people who build them and want to live in them keep themselves, more or less, isolated from the rest of the community. Many critics are pointing out that this trend is producing a class of citizens who do not have any sense of obligation to the larger civic mandates of all-taking-care- of-all, as an ethic of social justice. No, they live in a bubble and do not even care much about politics and voting. They like their segregation, their elite schools and privatized clinics and hospitals, and their own security forces, etc. I critique this because I see that all as fear-based by design; urban planners called it “white flight” for many years but it is moving beyond merely a racially-signified exodus from civic participation—it is very unhealthy and a way that continues the great divide of communities and cities by class status. Many gated communities build high walls between themselves and others. Now, the USA under a Trump leadership has a goal of building a great wall between Mexico and the USA. The wealthy can afford to live on the ‘right side’ of the security systems, which keep the growing numbers of poor and vulnerable away from them, unseen, uncared for by the wealthy. As I mentioned, racism traditionally is a significant part of the gated community phenomenon as “white” people take flight to the suburbs, leaving a type of inner city ghettoization encompassing many people of color and the vulnerable and poor in the USA.

My point is to say that I stayed with the way reality was during my short visit. If this is where Denzome and his family live and where they operate their community organization to teach ESL and Civics and yoga to new refugees and immigrants—then, I wanted to experience however briefly, the struggling to make it in America. I don’t care if it is uncomfortable and even a little scary as I was the only white person I saw the whole time there in that gated community.

I’m glad I was raised poor working class and was son of a mother who was an uneducated immigrant to Canada in the 1940s onward. I knew what my mom suffered in not speaking English and having to take jobs where she was given little respect. I saw the tears from her, and the anguish and anger. I know the shame I experienced when my friends and others made fun of our old run-down house, a lower-class neighborhood, and a car that was old and cheap and they’d stare at the patches in my clothes at times. Of course, as a young child, I never understood what was going on. I never understood the reason my mom was so unhappy and became alcoholic. Later, I put the puzzle together and realized how classism, racism, ethnocentrism, and sexism all intersect to create social problems that individuals suffer from. I learned that most everyone wants to blame to victim, the vulnerable person for their fate in life. I see the error of that kind of thinking now. I also see the error of treating people in the margins of society, like the refugees, as only “victims” because they certainly are not that alone. If you spend time with them, as I did, as a privileged white person, I could see a creative vibrancy and drive to be much more than a victim of circumstances.

So, I am now accepting of my lower-class background and my own struggles with poverty as an artist and as an independent scholar and philosopher. I guess, what I am saying is that I really ‘felt at home’ with these people I met at this event. I don’t mean to claim they felt ‘at home’ and comfortable with me, necessarily. I do not know for sure what everyone felt. What’s more important however, from the larger cultural, political context of contemporary America, is that the general public is still largely fear-filled when it comes to the concept of “refugee.” Call it xenophobia (fear of the stranger; the Other) or just call it simply fear of refugees and immigrants and anyone else who, in some people’s minds, “don’t belong here and are up to no good.” I don’t take that stance. But unfortunately, fear is still central in the lives of the diasporic communities in America because they feel often that negative association from the larger society. The recent racist-based headlines of the news reports “OSU attacker Identified Somali Refugee” and one could go on and on with the cases of how targeted populations are named in extreme violence cases like this one, rather than merely reporting a name of a criminal. If the attacker was white and “American-looking” (so-called) would anyone giving such a report in headlines say “Identified Irish-American” or such? Of course not! Targeting “refugee” in the headlines, in this case, easily generalizes peoples’ fear to include all refugees as dangerous like this one individual, who drove down and knifed several students on OSU campus. And this is what Trump’s agenda is all about, always was in the election campaign, fearmongering and xenophobia. I feel for my diasporic brothers and sisters who have to live with this kind of climate of fear, culture of fear, and its relentless unnecessary attacks on “the Other.”

       FEARISM AS POTENTIAL ‘CORRECTIVE’ TO FEARMONGERING

This leads to my last short discussion on how fearism is potentially important. Desh and I shared some of our thoughts in our dialogue at the event, but it was much too short, as many other people came up and told me. I agree, we had great questions from the audience[4] and we have a lot more to say in trying to answer them. But that will all come in time. What I realized from this event and in talking with Desh and so many others, is that fearism is still relatively hard to understand in all its implications and all its liminal and unknown mysteries. Much of it is still intuitive thought that makes up the philosophy and thus, more systematic writing is yet to come. It is often poetically described and speculatively derived. Desh and I plan to write a short Manifesto on Philosophy of Fearism to help readers and students of our work. Some people told us, especially a few young people, it would be great to have an online course on this topic taught by Desh and I. Yes, that would be great. I’d like to see the Bhutanese diasporic communities or any communities take on studying the nature and management, and transformation of fear, just like a basic “fear education” (analogous, to say, a basic “sex education or "moral education").

The one thing that kept coming out in my mind about this experience was how powerfully important the diasporic communities are to the rest of the world and global change processes. I will be only brief in sharing my thoughts here. It seems that the places of change and transformation of human beings and their societies always function best under difficult challenging and even oppressive and “crisis” conditions. There is no comfort and stability much in these sites generally nor in the diasporic communities—especially, when they are refugee-based and/or poor. How to keep these communities healthy and developing forward, rather than falling into fear-based patterns of apathy and despair and pessimism—loss of culture and dignity, etc.—this, is a great challenge. I saw how Denzome and so many others worked tirelessly for this conference to be a success. I also stayed in their little community center and saw how it is a place of adult education and development for their Bhutanese community members and others who wish to participate in some way. Volunteers. There is minimal resources available at this time to them, and they do so much good work for what they have. I felt greatly inspired.

I kept thinking that fearism, if they continue to study it and apply it, with my help and with Desh’s help if they want it, has so much to offer to the health and development of the diaspora. The Nepal-Bhutan connection to fearism and fearlessness, all the way into the USA, is a great site, in the margins of the greater USA society, for learning, restoration, transformation and liberation. These big types of change rarely are instigated from within the ‘center’ of a society of the so-called “normal” people. I for one want to offer my allyship to this movement along with my heart-felt thanks for all you did for me at this event. I feel I was transformed and helped to see the world-reality in a more realistic way, than before when I had not had such an enriching experience in Bhutanese-Nepali culture and creative thoughts. I wished there was more time to talk with people, but that’s okay because the event was for their community to celebrate their achievements and enjoy connections with each other.

At one point on the last day, three white Americans showed up, two of whom presented on their work with the Nepalese in Nepal. They were speech instructor specialists and philanthropists. As much as I was interested to see the good they were doing, I was also disturbed at times personally by their attitudes toward refugees and immigrants. I noticed how different the American attitude is re: “melting pot” approach and how the one speaker literally gave a lecture to the Bhutan community on how they ought to “assimilate” and then Americans will be more kind to them. More or less, that was what was implied. In Canada, this is not, generally, the way we look at “the Other” but rather we see they have gifts to teach us about being human in a globalizing world. This is a much larger topic I don’t have space for in this blog. I will say, I perceived a lot of fear from these Americans, and I’m sure they are not even conscious of it, when they are in the presence of people of color, difference, and who aren't speaking in English, and they are not in control of them and the situation.

My hypothesis, after talking with Desh and having this experience, has led me to thinking there is a particular diasporic learning site of change that could be a great model for others in diasporas but also beyond that. For example, the Bhutanese diasporic, say in America, could be leaders of human change and global transformation, showing alternatives of love and care for “the Other” and of better ways humans could do things—the latter, which are turning out to be very destructive to humanity and the environment we depend on—that is, how to do them without pathological and neurotic and despairing fear and terror motivating change, perceptions, thoughts, actions. But rather to make the creative changes based on a new relationship to fear and fearlessness—one that is healthy and constructive not destructive. This is the lesson the rest of the world needs to learn, in Desh’s and my opinion. Philosophy of fearism is based on this basic assumption.

I look forward to my ongoing connections with these communities. There is a lot of work to do. I am full of renewed energy to be part of the solutions. I also learned in my experience at this event to be a good listener, no matter what, even if I don’t understand all the language and some of the behaviors and cultural traditions and rituals. That is not so important, as to listen-to-connect, then we’ll be human together without fear getting in between our differences. That’s the future I want to live and pass on to the children for generations to come.  

****

     References
Fisher, R.M. (2010). The world's fearlessness teachings: A critical integral approach to fear management/education for the 21st century. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
Fisher, R.M., and Subba, D. (2016). Philosophy of fearism: A first East-West dialogue. Australia: Xlibris.
Subba, D. (2014). Philosophy of fearism: Life is conducted, directed and controlled by the fear. Australia: Xlibris.


[1] Excerpt from “The Election: Of Hate, Grief and a New Story”; thanks to Emmett Coyne who sent me this essay by Charles Einstein http://charleseisenstein.net/hategriefandanewstory/

[2] My reading of this ritual, both at the cultural and spiritual levels, is one of a “gift of fearlessness” (dana abaya) offering: that is (in English translation), I bring not fear to you or your loved ones, and I expect you to likewise return that gift. Elsewhere, Fisher (2010) I have written about the gift of fearlessness based on theological scholars’ work on this topic in Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism.

[3] Excerpt from the poem “Tear” from The Pathetic Journey. Discourse Publications, 197.

[4] Three of the questions from audience members were, as best I recall: (1) What is the role of fearism in giving us a new perspective on how leaders of all kinds in societies everywhere tend to use fear to manipulate others?, (2) What is the difference between Subba’s philosophy of fearism, and Fisher’s philosophy of fearism?, (3) What is this philosophy of fearism, in simpler language, so that more people can practically understand this and make use of it?

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