Wednesday, 9 March 2011

administering to a just society

I have a couple of friends in academia who've spent at least part of their career's struggling with the idea of power imbalance between "professionals" and "clients" (labels that must be used only with irony) especially in the context of mental health and education.

As insidious sometimes and as necessary as pedagogy and tending to the needs of the soul are in the "acultural", "classless", "secular" context (ie white-on-white, say), the paradoxical subtleties of the imbalance of power are even more so in the aboriginal service industry where billions of dollars are spent on a bureaucracy that never seems to have enough money to spend on the needs of the ground level where jurisdictional ambiguity and trickle-down economics (or if you like, corruption) prevail.

The inescapable logic of history that justifies and normalizes and sometimes glorifies violence and brutality can also be used to hide social injustices in plain sight by desensitizing the larger (and target) populace by insinuation that there is something wrong with us aboriginals, that our "racial heritage" makes us so.

But, what I really wanted to talk about here is the problem of solipsism inherent in the professions. Solipsism, by its very nature, in the form that infects the professionals denies the rightful (and plain) existence (of the other) of viable alternatives to method and interpretation. It is a problem that Buber spent his noble life struggling with.

Not all "alternatives" are ignorant or inferior, the layperson is not invariantly an "independent thinker" in terms of the professional's concern. Though it is much easier to fall back on the "what we were taught", the first principles and logic of teaching and mental health are really mere guiding principles that tend to become platitudinal without critical thought. Nazi Germany counted on this type of thinking. Euphemistic thinking and brand-naming (profiling) does that.

Do not get bogged down by questions of cultural appropriate approaches. This is a chinese finger-trap. Instead take a step back and see the other as a human being (ie, not as a client) and ask yourself what you can do to help (people don't expect you to change the world all on your own). Remember always that human relations are, at the quick, one-to-one relations that make up the many. Try and see the forest for the trees: the "I-Thou" of Buber's philosophy.

Jay

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