Donald Moi from Papua New Guinea was our first guest blogger and now I’d like to introduce you to David Walker from Seattle in the US, who I profiled this weekend. Here’s a short intro to David:
David Walker PhD (USA), a Missouri Cherokee psychologist, writer, and musician, has consulted for years with the 14 Confederated Tribes and Bands of Yakama Nation, won awards for his fiction books, and aims to expose the Western mental health movement’s complicity in the oppression of indigenous people. [Blog] [Film] [Music Video]
‘I am so honored and grateful to David Clark for inviting me to become involved in this virtual endeavor known as Sharing Culture. Although he wrote such a marvelously flattering blog about me, I apparently haven’t the sense to not try to preempt it by offering some critical thoughts on what we’re attempting to do.
Despite being a practicing psychologist myself, I’ve been drawn toward challenging many of the assumptions going into applied mental health practice over the years. Depending on your perspective, I’ve either gotten better or worse at this activity. I recall being referred to as an ‘outlier’ not so long ago and am mildly amused to discover myself depicted more recently as a ‘critical psychologist.’
Growing up, I always got into much more trouble for being dishonest than for exhibiting poor manners. In fact, certain personality tests suggest that I may be ‘undersocialized.’ Perhaps this is because I often feel I have a duty to speak up.
In being critically minded about my profession, I don’t mean to be rude or offensive, but I believe that the widespread failure to look more closely at what’s taken for granted in psychology, psychiatry, mental health counseling, and the like has harmed many people. Because of my experiences, I’ve tended to situate my criticisms at the boundary between cultures, where psychology and mental health ideas are at their very weakest conceptually.
It’s unfortunate that the use of English language as a means of exporting Western mental health ideas toward ‘un-indoctrinated’ parts of the world often masks and obscures their damaging suppositions and assumptions. I’ll be bold and try to illustrate how this happens by taking apart the very words used to describe our own noble efforts through Sharing Culture.
This word ‘sharing’ I tend to like very much, but it seems to be a major challenge to enact its positive features today in the Western world with so many things being monetized or otherwise converted into commodities – mental health practices very much included.
Up for sale, we have a worldwide enterprise of medications, various services through inpatient psychiatric facilities, outpatient therapy centers, and counseling practices, treatment programs, tests and assessment systems for clinics, workplaces, and schools, self-help books and DVDs, media gurus, conferences, retreats, and seminars. Educational institutions sell rigorous training programs to vet and endorse one set of humans as ‘professionals’ to sell and deliver these Western-based mental health knowledge systems to another ‘non-professional’ set of people.
I can’t bring myself to call all that enterprise sharing so much as trying to make a living. I understand the ancient Greeks used to toss coins to philosophers for their ideas, and so I have no major objections to the value of selling ideas.
I had a wonderfully cantankerous supervisor while I was in training as a psychologist who suggested that being paid money to listen compassionately and dispense ideas in response to the expressed cares and concerns of others has much in common with a much older profession but doesn’t involve the necessity of getting naked. There’s not so much sharing involved in being a psychologist as exchanging.
But when we investigate the Norse-Germanic historical roots of this word share we do discover a European concept pertaining to dividing up some desirable possession or objects owned by an individual by taking a part for oneself and giving remainders to others.1 A scearu is a portion or cutting or division in Old English, while the later Old English share likely refers to the fork or dividing line in a body of meat to be butchered at the groin and divvied up.
The right of taking and possessing land is a derivative extension of this kind of application of the word share and lies at the heart of European colonialism and domination alongside its various presumed excuses and entitlements seeking to legitimize that right.
Heathens, pagans, and savages, for example, have not been viewed historically as being as entitled to sharing in possession of the land as have people of European descent. The Christian Church was of great assistance in legitimizing this distinction (for more on this phenomenon in North America, take a look at blogs from my friend, Steven Newcomb, of Indian Country Today).
That the languages of indigenous communities may not contain any concept similar to the English share has always been more of an interesting feature but mostly irrelevant except where it has served the designs of treaty-making Europeans.
Well, this is not a nice way to think about sharing, and I do apologize for leading us down such a dark path. Yet when I try to go in other directions, I run into similar dilemmas.
For example, we could take a look at share as being applied within Sharing Culture in a more recent form – as in exchanging viewpoints, stories, and ideas. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, this way of depicting sharing first emerged from the international Moral Re-Armament movement of the pre-World War Two era developed by Frank Buchman, a naïve Lutheran minister (and apologist for Adolph Hitler who hoped to convert the dictator to Christianity).
The evolution of this Christian movement certainly hasn’t been all bad – it has sought to prevent war and promote peace and decolonization through the sharing of “sins” between aggrieved parties as in “everyone admits his own faults instead of spot-lighting the other fellow's.”2
In this sense, sharing as a word form expanded from an English concept about dividing objects and possessions (including spoils of war and invasion) into a newer Christian idea more closely related to religious confession before one’s adversaries. I call this a newer Christian idea because of the role of Christianity prior to Moral Re-Armament in actively supporting its exportation and imposition through the more antiquated concept of share as seeking to possess, dominate, and colonize lands occupied by indigenous people.
By now, I’ve backed myself into a corner in pointing out certain inescapable truths that the history of English words like sharing bring along with them, so I’ll try stepping sideways into the thick of the word culture.
I can’t readily locate an updated reference that detected over 700 different definitions in Western social science for culture (I’ll keep trying), so I’ll simply remind you that an older analysis found 152 different meanings– and this was way back in 1952.3 Culture remains a much-bandied-about English word that no one seems entirely in agreement about. At the risk of writing the first endless blog piece, I’ll suggest you might wish to dig in further by clicking here and here.
I do apologize profusely for this critical analysis of the words Sharing Culture because I’m honored to be involved in the mission of this initiative, particularly in regards to ‘healing historical trauma.’
However, you may wish to consider that even the words historical trauma have begun to be subjected to similar deconstruction (I’m thinking of the work of indigenous psychology professor Dr. Joseph Gone and colleagues which you can find here). I’m only mentioning it so you’ll notice I’m not the only one doing this sort of thing.
I did my doctoral dissertation research in a relatively obscure field called ‘cultural psycholinguistics,’ and this may at least partially explain why I’ve been prone to making trouble in such an inexcusable manner.
I continue to believe that psychologists and others wishing to make themselves useful to indigenous communities seeking to heal from oppressive and genocidal forces have a responsibility to open themselves toward learning as much as they can be permitted to regarding spiritual and traditional ways of experiencing life and the Universe as well as the relevant languages thereby involved.
As to the concepts and words emerging from the Western world of mental health and psychology – I assert that they should be entirely deconstructed and subjected to considerable critical analysis for their oppressive underpinnings before being applied to real human beings. This is one means by which I hope to approach assisting with Sharing Culture.
1Online Etymology Dictionary. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=share
2Buchanan, F. (1947). Remaking the world. Blandford Press. p. 46.
3Kroeber, A. & Kluckhohn, C. (1952). Culture: A critical review of concepts and definitions.