Human Supremacy is Toxic
And it lies at the core of white supremacy, colonialism, and the soul-killing aspects of Western materialist culture
Hear me out, folks. By “human supremacy,” I mean an assumption I grew up with as a liberally educated, white woman in the US: that humans evolved to be smarter and therefore superior to other species. It’s all about IQ, right? Dissect Descartes’ famous, “I think, therefore I am.” This dictum implies that beings who don’t think (who don’t engage in the particular rationalist machinations that created Western civilization and all its complexity)…kind of don’t exist at all.
I don’t think, therefore, I’m not actually…real?
But what is thinking? The West still has a long way to go here. The materialist, rationalist mind is not the only human mind. There are different minds, some connected to ancient traditions.
An African man born in the 1950s puts it best. Malidoma Somé was a healer from the Dagara people of Burkina Faso, in West Africa. He also had two PhDs from Western universities to his name. At the age of four, Malidoma was kidnapped from his village by a Jesuit priest. He grew up in boarding schools. He could not return home even once until he escaped at the age of 20, after a thorough (and abusive) indoctrination in Western pedagogy designed to turn him into a Catholic priest. The French colonial project may have failed politically, but it continued economically, spiritually, and culturally. After returning to his village, Malidoma felt completely out of place. He no longer spoke his native tongue, and few in his circle could speak French.
He speaks of this painful dichotomy in his book, The Healing Wisdom of Africa. He was desperate to feel kinship with his people, for whom the word “supernatural” did not exist, because it was simply part of their daily lives.
I now realize that I was my own worst enemy in the quest for the magical and supernatural. Because of the Western consciousness I had absorbed and its grandiose notions of superiority, I was slow to accept any interference…from an indigenous worldview. It was as if one type of knowledge had colonized my thoughts, with a territorial instinct of the most vicious type…My literacy came with a mind that loved to affirm itself by wielding the sword of analysis. When my mind failed to fit events into its various rational slots, it was prompt to dismiss them as primitive trickery unworthy of civilized thinking. As long as new knowledge did not fit the desired specifications for proper control, my Western-trained mind regarded it as an alien with hostile intention.
We may think we aren’t prejudiced, but maybe that’s because we romanticize indigenous ways. Romanticizing the exotic “other” keeps us safe in our assumptions.
It’s fashionable to honor Native Americans for their earth-honoring ways. It’s certainly a step up from kidnapping Native children, shoving them in boarding schools, cutting off their hair, and beating them for speaking their home language. But. We “spiritual” whites love to hear about Native Spirituality, in which rocks and ravens and prairies have personality and agency (and interfere and interact with humans).
Many spiritual types consider the indigenous claim that spirits are real as a lovely metaphor. It’s real for them. Or you explain it in terms of brain chemistry. Someday, the scientism of the West believes, our Phds in lab coats will pin down whether the visions produced by psychoactive plants are simply a side effect of neuronal dice-tossing, or whether they are REAL…in the same sense that your Tesla is real.
Wait, what? We’re asking scientists, whose experience with these substances is recent, reductionist, and disconnected from traditional knowledge, to answer this question? Why not ask folks who have engaged in plant spirit medicine for thousands of years…People with tested ritual technology behind their claims?
And consider this, if people aren’t your jam: What if the spirits want to connect with us, to help us in our pain, loneliness, and isolation?
The stance of human supremacy is toxic because it is closeminded. What if reality is not the set of ideas we’ve been taught in our Western educational/religious systems? What if reality has more to do with direct experience of our physical bodies, nature, the world, than belief in something Out There? ‘Out There’ can mean a set of religious doctrines or political beliefs. Dare we trust our senses? Dare we open up to the raw, uncharted terrain in which we find ourselves when we no longer adhere to One Right Way of Belief?
Since extremes tend to reinforce their opposites, there’s another danger in the West: Embracing all things “Spiritual” as Good and therefore, Safe. Here again, we can learn from indigenous traditions, where ritual protection and safeguards are built in. Even our Western Bible says: Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God. 1 John 4:1
There are a lot of solo spiritual channelers and mediums out there, and the fact that some have such large followings concerns me. Are people being lulled into thinking they’re safe when they may not be?
I can attest that to let go of mental constructs of reality is a freaking scary journey, even surrounded by people who are truly helpful and who practice safety. I was propelled into it by a spiritual crisis, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever faced. I could not be more grateful for where that process has led me. I am no more important than the tree outside my window, or my neighbor who is kind of an asshole, or the teenagers who annoy me with their shrieking laughter at Starbucks…Or the deer munching on hostas I just planted.
Does this mean I should hate myself for being pissed off at the deer? No! How can I hate myself when I walk in the woods near my house and feel so loved and held by all that surrounds me? To renounce human supremacy I choose relationship, not dominance or control. Maybe I just stop planting hostas. Or I decide to keep providing a deer salad bar.
Ultimately, to give up on human supremacy reveals that lovingkindness is the magic which keeps relationship from being twisted into a game of control and dominance. You can’t say the world doesn’t need this.