It will be 30 years next year since I began my post-Burma life as a Burmese, living, studying, working and being activist in the western world of academics, media, activism, human rights, etc.
Friendships have died; friends died literally. Comrades have turned foes. Some foes became friends. Some have taught me about activism, politics, research, etc. Others I have taught or simply shared what I know. All this is normal, typical and nothing extraordinary.
But one thing that has deeply disturbed me to the core of my existence is what the late Edward Said called, and popularized as, "Orientalism".
The ugly realities on the ground make this ground-breaking term "Orientalism" a bit too mild, too subtle.
For the phenomenon that Said captured in his seminal writings is in fact really crude, pathetic and pathological.
It is the knowledge/propaganda/culture industry's equivalent of White Settlerism. By this I mean a bunch of western men and women, usually White in exterior, and "acting White" in Judith Butler's sense of "social power-privilege", who "move in" or "settle" in non-white societies, insert themselves into other people's worlds, usually of wars, conflicts, internecine fights, etc. AND arrogate to themselves the sole privilege of determining and describing what is true, what is fact, what is analysis about the places they "settle" or "adopt" as their new "knowledge colonies".
Typically incompetent or utterly lacking in local command of languages, many ill-equipped intellectually, conceptually, analytically, they begin producing country-specific or region-specific "expertly" knowledge, while again acting typically without humility, modesty.
To me they typically cut pitiful figures - far worse than the proverbial 6 blind Brahmins attempting to describe the Elephant.
I am reminded of an arrogance-filled remark made by the head of Balliol, one of the oldest colleges of Oxford, at the turn of the 20th century:
"I know knowledge. If I know not it ain't knowledge."
This age-old colonial presumption to know, to name things, people, phenomena, to describe, to decide which is knowledge and what is non-knowledge, IS in fact an integral lump in the bigger White Cancer, that can't know itself to be terminal.
You find its pervasive spread - and entrenchment - across mass media, academia, "think tanks", governments, schools, culture industry, INGOs- in short, what the late Althuser called State Ideological Apparatuses.
Sprung out of its 500+ years of ignoble history - and the political economy that has developed around it - this cancer isn't going to go away. Not any time soon.
But when you see this phenomenon all around the least you can do is call out on it being repeated, reproduced, and reinforced generation after generation.
You play along and you perpetuate your own plight as a subject.
We are not Zombies.
Each of us can and do make our choices.