Eve Tuck elevates and centres the question, “how shall we live?”, in her 2018 talk, “I Do Not Want To Haunt You But I Will: Indigenous Feminist Theorizing on Reluctant Theories of Change.” This is available to watch here. She takes the question from the conversations of Daniel Wildcat and Vine Deloria Junior. You can read their work on Power and Place: Indian Education in America, here.
Her centring of description over abstraction is hugely important, as we consider environmental, political, social, cultural catastrophes unfolding within and across ecosystems. And as we remember those communities and ecosystems that have already suffered, resisted and survived. Eve Tuck argues that the question has an almost unbearable agency. And that it is pedagogical. And it makes me question how it might be applied to our organisations and ways of organising,
And in thinking this through, and the ways in which the control and violence of structure has been deliberately migrated into culture, my friend and colleague Mike reminds me of DuBois’s Peace is Dangerous. In thinking about “how shall we live?”, peace is dangerous. And so is silence.
How shall we live? How shall I live? As men bomb children. As vengeful men bomb the children of others. Men unable to contain their own toxicity; unable to process and compost their own shit.
Men, unable to demonstrate courage and care and love. Men faced by the impossibility of reconciling themselves to difference. Men with no dignity.
Men. White men. Settler-colonial men. Addicted to settler-colonial violence.
Men with power, so abstracted from their humanity that all they have is the desire to kill the children of others. And to throw their shit around because they cannot contain their shit. They lose their shit and children die. Wantonly.
Purposeful in their wantonness.
And I feel that all I have is lamentation. The energy of my sorrow, pain, confusion and desolation. What can I do with this energy of lamentation? My incandescent energy of lamentation?
In this moment, how shall we live? How shall I live? How can I live? How can I answer that email, or draft that report, or write this proposal, or think about the next project, or whatever this academic work demands? How can I live this work, which feels so pointless, and so antithetical, and which looks to take the energy I need to lament this genocide? And then to act, somehow.
Tomorrow, how shall we live? How shall I live? How can I live? When I look at my calendar, and see what is planned, in the project review, the review of the committee, the induction session? How can I find the energy for that work, which feels so pointless in the face of this genocide?
How can I work in these times? I cannot face the bureaucratic, functional, operational, humdrum, whilst genocide plays out in the phone on my desk. Whilst genocide plays out in my pocket whilst I ride or walk. Whilst vengeful men bomb the children of others.
And I wonder, how can I work in these times, when I cannot face the business-as-usual? I cannot abide the business-as-usual, and the demands it makes of me.
I cannot bear the silence of those around me, and those who pass for our leaders or who claim leadership of our universities. I cannot bear the ignorance of those around me. I cannot bear the cognitive dissonance of those around me. Whilst genocide plays out.
But what can we do? What can they do?
Not this. Anything but this. Silence.
The violence piled upon violence piled upon violence. The trauma piled upon trauma piled upon trauma.
More than anything, I cannot bear the silence of those around me.
The silence blackening our souls.
Look at what they make us give, in order to survive.
The silence emblematic of the ways in which our academic work feeds into the militarisation, securitisation, authoritarianism of states and corporations around the globe. The ways in which our academic work reproduces policy and practice that enable technologies and techniques and bureaucracies of control. And worse. And the ways in which we hide behind public engagement, impact, knowledge transfer or exchange, and build careers on the back of work inside a system that contributes to living death. And worse.
How can I work in these times?
I cannot bear the inhumanity of the unfolding and never-ending culture wars. The ways in which the Government seeks to double-down on its brutalisation of those with less privilege. The ways in which the Government seeks to colonise our responses to the trauma of watching, hearing, feeling settler-colonial, vengeful men bombing the children of others.
And in response, the silence of those who claim leadership in academia.
And our unwillingness and inability to disinvest from the supply chains of trauma.
The unspeakable horror. Perhaps that is why we are silent. It is unspeakable, and this leaves us with the unbearable silence.
And this feels like I am hungover, in a trance, or in some terrible fever dream. It must be so, because this unspeakable horror cannot be, can it? Our silence cannot be, can it? The lack of collective protest and the lack of a collective scream of rage and the lack of a collective, “No!”, from inside and across our universities.
So I must scream and rage, “No!” elsewhere. I must march on Saturday, and think about the march, instead. Because I cannot demonstrate anything inside the university and inside the sector. I protest our silence. And try to begin conversation. And still the inertia of the university and the sector is claustrophobic. Seeking to bury me alive in its silence.
The violence of its silence.
The unspeakable horror of its silence. Mirroring the unspeakable horror of vengeful men bombing the children of others.
I cannot be still and I must scream. “No!” And I must do that somewhere that is not here. Somewhere that will exhume me from the silent tomb of academia.
A line from here to there. A line of flight for my scream of “No!” A scream against the pointlessness of any of this work; of any of my bureaucratic, functional, operational, humdrum, everyday work, whilst genocide plays out 2,298 miles away from here. How can I justify my work on equality, diversity and inclusivity, race equality, decolonising, whilst genocide plays out 2,298 miles away from here? Whilst here is silent about there.
And I know that it has taken me some time to work with and through my despair after 7 October, and all the death, and all the trauma. And it has taken me some time to work with and through my despair as vengeful nationalism seeks to punish indiscriminately. The vengeful nationalists who have the tools to be forensic, but instead who realise their desires through general and careful, genocidal carelessness. And it has taken me some time to work with and through my despair as this trauma is folded inside the inhumane re-election narratives of what passes for political leadership in these days.
Trauma unfolding through trauma. So that our Alpha and our Omega are death, and death alone. Living death, emotional death, corporeal death. When what we need are acts of love.
And I know that it has taken me some time to work with and through my despair at the realisation that we have been silent in relation to the Uyghurs, Yazidis, in Nagorno-Karabakh, and countless other traumas. That these traumas point us towards further, historical traumas, visited against countless other, indigenous cultures and communities. And our inability to see those traumas in our here-and-now, makes me question the authenticity of our truth and reconciliation with the screams of the past. In our academic work on equality, diversity and inclusivity, on race and gender equality, on decolonising.
And I know that it will continue to take me some time to work with and through my despair at the realisation that countless authoritarian regimes around the planet are using these days to test our limits and our boundaries. In the face of their inhumanity, what we will bear? What will we bear as climate catastrophe unfolds, and as more people need mutuality and reciprocity and care? What will we bear as climate catastrophe unfolds, and as our ecosystems need mutuality and reciprocity and care?
And I wonder, will the university ever give us the space and time to scream, “No!”? Without, at the same time, asking us to distil its impact, or its exchange-value, or its knowledge transfer.
How will we bear witness, when we cannot bear these unspeakable horrors?
How will we bear witness, when our organisation inside our organisations is so compromised?
Where will we bear witness, and move our scream of “No!”?
Move our scream towards something more generative.
Is it possible to move our scream towards something more generative inside our higher education, and inside our universities?
And I know the answer, as these unspeakable horrors unfold.
Peace be with you.