This July 20 is the 95th anniversary of the birth of the revolutionary theorist and Caribbean psychiatrist Frantz Fanon
The Caribbean psychiatrist and writer Frantz Fanon, whose 95th birthday it is this July 20, was a lucid author of two famous essays: Black Skin, White Masks, 1952, and The Wretched of the Earth, 1961 – of which he only managed to see one copy that was taken to him before he died. Among the concepts included in these essential texts, he stated: “each generation, within a relative opacity, has to discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it”, he was referring to the individual, as well as the collective, role in the search for the role that we play in each historical moment as components of a society. He was talking about the ethical and humanist mandates that we can either address or ignore.
Fanon (who was a revolutionary committed to the cause of Algeria and an active humanist who sought to unravel the phenomenology of colonialism in the deep psyche of the individuals subjected to it) summons us with that phrase to strive to understand the most immediate reality, the one that surrounds us daily. An indispensable condition to achieve real changes. It announces to us that we must investigate and then work to achieve constructive paths. Our individual action could be “fulfilled or betrayed,” he said.
The current civilization, massively contaminated by slogans destined to satisfy the market demand for products, the consumerist exercise and the uncritical acceptance of the consequences of such consumption, makes the task of visualizing the factors that condition us difficult. Mapping out the real forces involved in global dynamics thus becomes a task within the reach of few.
In a strict sense, and without any hint of metaphorical intentions, we could say that we march blindly in a world designed by liars, since it is the organized lie that operates in our collective psyche, defines our tastes and provides us with a totally apocryphal, or at least a partially distorted, vision of the world (which are forms tangent to the false).
Whether it is due to the action of the media, or to the fragmented information that reaches us about the events in other societies, or to our own passive tendency not to look beyond our most immediate interests, the world becomes dangerously unrealistic as a consequence of these fragmented narratives that describe it.
As a psychiatrist, Frantz Fanon gave a preponderant role to the psychological reading of events, especially in his first book Black Skin, White Masks, where he incisively dissects the psychosocial mechanisms that make colonialism possible, as a domination of the mind and spirit, and not only of culture and land.
“IN A HUMAN AND MERCANTILE SOCIETY THAT BUILDS ITS DYNAMICS AROUND FALSE CONCEPTS, THE SIMPLE EXERCISE OF INVESTIGATING TO FIND THE TRUTH BECOMES AN INEVITABLY SUBVERSIVE ACT.”
For Fanon, this fallacious or idealized construction of reality (whether imposed by a colonizing force, or by the culture that also colonizes one’s motivations and vision), arises from a very deep need for stability, for ego reinforcement, and thus for avoiding possible internal collapses by accepting that we live in an atrocious world, plagued by iniquity and injustice, and therefore dangerous to one’s existence.
It is through these legitimate mechanisms of self-preservation and resistance that we build an alienated vision of reality, even though the very concept of reality may be ungraspable from a philosophical and psychoanalytical perspective.
However, although it may seem an impossible exercise – and even worse, an uncomfortable and unsatisfactory one – we should be able to pierce the superficial layers of the information that floods us, of traditions, of culture in general, in order to get a glimpse of a principle that will make us immensely free as people and as truly organic societies: the approximate knowledge of the constants and variables that govern our world and our time. And to do so without the self-complacent fissures or the crude simplifications with which the world is presented to us in the dominant discourse. We could almost say that the old colonial forces that emerged from an expansive Europe contaminated by dehumanized doctrines, have now been replaced with tremendous success and destructiveness by market forces. Today they are the ones that alienate human beings, degrade them and humiliate them by imposing a culture that we identify with but that distances us from the true multifaceted dimensions of humanity. Or, as the title of the famous work of Herbert Marcuse’s philosopher says, it makes us a “one-dimensional man” whose realization is subordinate to capitalism. To a consumerism that makes us unsupportive and an alienated part of the brutal gear of the markets.
To undertake an individual campaign of knowledge of the environment (if it were too pretentious to aspire to real and effective knowledge, we could replace the word knowledge with research into the environment) can be a tiresome and arduous task in a society that invites us to superficiality, to consume thoughtlessly, to immerse ourselves in forms of leisure that lack didactics, and that inundates us with decidedly narcotic contents.
Within a human and mercantile society that builds its dynamic around the falsity of concepts, the omission or distortion of information (communication sciences define this as disinformation) and that seeks by all means to partialize and obscure the understanding of the masses, the simple exercise of investigating in search of the truth becomes an inevitably subversive act.