TalkSeries JHB: Vol.5 - The ego & need for power, is this an obstacle to achieving an intersectional & decolonized equal existence?

Context and background behind our views on the topic:

“You are not your mind”  is such a weird construct. What then, are you if not your mind? I often ask myself what the world would look like if there was no racism, no sexism, colourisism, homophobia, class issues etc. Can we really imagine a world where humanity is respected and all humans are truly equal? What scares me is that I think that we might be doomed to inequality because of the ego. Our inability to reconcile ourselves with our true being (one who is secure, has joy and does not need constant validation) would soon lead us to creating a different set of power structures in an attempt to divide & create a false sense of worth. 

Volume 5 of talk series has by far been the most difficult. In working on the structure of the topic and the questions, it soon became clear that this would be a very philosophical and in some cases very high level discussion. We anticipated that a lot of our guests would probably have very differing frameworks within which to understand this. However, we soldiered on. We did this because of our conviction of the importance of these concepts. In our own lives we are constantly confronted with situations were we have to deal with the ego and its impacts; either with our own egos or that of others. As Adhila put it; “Sometimes when I am in a room I feel like I am not talking to people, it feels as though I am talking to their egos…..which are very real and occupying the chairs in front of me”.

The question of ego is important to ask in the context of the individual choices we make everyday. It is also worth exploring when we talk about the collective - how groups of people create structures and systems. 

Our hypothesis for the discussion was that perhaps the ego remains an obstacle to achieving a non-elitist, non-partriachal, non-racists, intersectional & decolonized equal existence. This is based on the premise that inequality is fuelled by power imbalances. Where power imbalances exists, injustice will invariably exist as people use their power to their advantage at the cost of those around them.

The second premise here is that power is fuelled by the ego. The question we were really interested in is; if the above hypothesis and premises hold, how do we deal with the ego, then? Are we to dismantle it completely? How does one even begin to do this? Is it possible to be conscious of the ego & put in place structures which make it difficult to thrive?

Despite the differing views on what the ego is;  many of us seem to understand the ego to be a constructed self; one that is tied to ideas, emotions and certain views of the self. The self being the true you. To some, the self is seen as a set of lived realities while the ego is what you think of these realities or how you reflect on them. Some even described the ego as power, i.e. that a well fed ego, is indeed power. 

One of our guest made an analogy which stayed with me: 

When you think of the body’s connection to the shadow; depending on the position of the sun, there are instances when one cannot tell the difference between where the shadow begins and the body ends. Other times the shadow moves away from the body. 

Part B: Now that we had exchanged ideas on our our different understanding of the ego, we moved on to discuss its relationship with injustice. The very first question to ask here is: how do we define injustice, who’s justice are we concerned with? Justice for black people? Justice for low to middle class? Justice for black women? Justice for all of humanity- is this even possible? The problem here is that we don’t all want the same things. 

We have been indoctrinated with the notion that democracy is freedom and justice. Something we deem virtuous and strive for……something that a lot have died for and continue to die for. In addition to all of the problems with democracy that I was already aware of, it completely blew my mind to think that democracy can be seen as a mechanism to feed the ego. 

I guess the biggest flaw of discussing this topic is the notion that humanity is universal. The idea that humanity is universal is what leads us to believe that systems of organising thought and emotions should be similar to solve what we think of as ‘universal problems’. I’m beginning to doubt this more and more. 

There are also those of the view that colonisation., genocides, apartheid, oppression etc. have nothing to do with the ego. One guest made it very clear that she believes that material conditions cause injustices. People perpetuate existing unjust systems because their conditions drives them to do so. I don’t completely disagree with this; the fact that most of us do all sorts of crazy stuff under the entrapment that is capitalism….we kill to consume because the system requires us to kill to consume. This does not answer the question of how those material conditions were created, since they have not always existed.

This can very easily become a conversation on the meaning of life….and maybe it already is. But what I took away from this discussion is that viewing injustices from one realm is flawed. Trying to explain history and its effects through one linear understanding is even more flawed. Human systems are complex and intricate, therefore the product of those systems will also be complex and intricate. This is why we need to constantly interrogate and question. This is why we need to appreciate the luxury to change our minds when new information is presented to us and that information is turned into knowledge. As someone very wise once said; reassessing what you know, to know if you still know.


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